Let children be Ehipassiko

We need to be very careful about what we teach our children, in the modern world, with their ready access and exposure to information through print and digital media. When we teach them about the life of the Buddha, let us tell them what we can learn from his words and deeds, so that we too can try to live in the same manner. When we teach the Jataka stories, let us take a greater effort to teach the children the lessons we can learn from each story that would be beneficial to us, our society and the world

We have been reciting the Five Precepts for generations. Yet the evil and suffering among us have not abated and in many instances, it has grown. Perhaps we have failed because our attitude and approach have been negative. Children learn and follow what their parents, teachers and other adults do or say. When the adults do not practice what they preach, and when children see how adults can get away with whatever they do, children also learn to get away with what they are not supposed to do. They often try to do what they have been forbidden, and they continue the practice as they grow up. One could hardly blame them as they see most adults disregard and disobey the laws and social norms. The most glaring example is the way people violate traffic rules and traffic etiquette.

The main reason for this could be that our children give up the habit of asking questions, after the early years. They learn to either ignore or accept blindly what they are told, and such blind faith destroys their ability to think for themselves. One such example is how we get children to recite verses written in Pali from a very young age to make them take refuge in the Triple Gem and Pansil.

Understand instead of recite

It is my belief that the Buddha would never have expected his followers, especially the very young, to keep on reciting gathas as though they are chanting a manthra. Instead, what we need to explain to our children is why we need to take refuge in Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. Our children should have the freedom to question how we could take refuge in a person who had passed away 2600 years ago. We should tell them that we can only follow the Dhamma preached by the Buddha and that is what we should accept as taking refuge in the Dhamma and that we should look to the Sangha to guide us.

When it comes to Pansil, there arises the question of why we should tell our children to keep on repeating that they abstain from certain actions. Once we decide to abstain from evil and immoral actions there is no need to keep on repeating them, unless we keep on violating our promise. Let us try to be positive in our thoughts and actions. Instead of repeating we will abstain from certain actions, let us determine to practise the Four Brahma Vihara: Metta, Karuna, Muditha and Upeksha.

Let us teach our children, Metta, Loving Kindness to all life on earth. Then we would not have to try to teach them to abstain from harming other life.

When we love and show compassion for another we will always give and share with them, to fulfil their needs and wants. Then we would never dream of taking what belongs to another. We need to guide the children to be moderate in their consumption, not only in food and beverages, but all material things like clothes, ornaments, and toys, which would, in turn, reduce their greed and envy. When we are satisfied with what we have, when our needs are minimal, when we have moderated our cravings, we can always be truthful and honest, and so, we need not repeat the 4th Precept all the time.

Encourage questioning

When we talk to children we need to explain only three Precepts to them. As they grow up, as they understand the importance of practising Brahma Vihara, they will practise the third and fifth Precepts without being conscious of it.

When we love and respect every human being we would never try to harm or hurt them physically or mentally or act in any manner to cause physical or mental pain, shame, discomfort or displeasure. When we are happy and contented we would never need external or internal stimulants to seek temporary oblivion.

To return to the importance of asking questions, we need our children to keep on questioning us, every time they have a doubt or when they cannot understand something. Parents, teachers and elders should encourage children to question everything around them, and we as adults have to respond with satisfactory, truthful explanations. We should be able to give a satisfactory reply when a child asks why we eat meat and fish while we recite the First Precept, or why we perform Atavisi Buddhapuja but do not show any respect to the other 21 trees under which the previous Buddhas had attained enlightenment.

Another major hurdle in guiding our children towards Buddha Dhamma is that most of our Buddhist literature is still in Pali and sometimes even the Sinhala translations need a Pali dictionary to understand them. Most of the early English translations had been done by Christians, who knowingly or unknowingly distorted the Dhamma. There was a time the English educated elite learned their Buddha Dhamma from these Christian translations.

When I was a child, I recall a Buddhist monk who had composed in Sinhala all the gathas recited on a regular basis, and at this temple, all the pujas were conducted in Sinhala. But it died down after this monk left the temple. A few decades later this practice became a trend for a short period and is found in a few temples today. If we could get into this practice of reciting gatha in Sinhala, not only the children but even the grownups would know what they are saying, and be able to better understand why they are saying it.

Great effort

We need to be very careful about what we teach our children, in the modern world, with their ready access and exposure to information through print and digital media. When we teach them about the life of the Buddha, let us tell them what we can learn from his words and deeds, so that we too can try to live in the same manner. When we teach the Jataka stories, let us take a greater effort to teach the children the lessons we can learn from each story that would be beneficial to us, our society and the world.

Venerable Dr Hammalawa Saddhatissa Thera summed up the Dhamma: “Buddhism is not a religion in the modern sense for it possesses none of the characteristics of a religion and none of the activity of religions.

“It would be more correct to describe it as a progressive scheme of self-discipline and self-purification. The fundamental difference may be put in a nutshell by saying that religion is to be accepted and believed, whereas Buddhism is to be understood and practised.”

What has happened is that the ‘Practical Theravada Buddhism’ that is practised today has adapted many traditions and practices from Mahayana, Hindu, Christian and even Islamic religions. Buddhists are looking at and worshipping the Buddha statue, instead of following the path shown by the Buddha. The situation was described beautifully by Ven Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Thera in 1930, in “Amuthu Katahvak”. (https://www.academia.edu/17272013/A_Strange_Story).

In this world full of hatred, conflicts, wars and genocide, we need to teach our children to live in peace and harmony with all human beings, all other animal beings and plant life. Our children should learn how to respect the beliefs and traditions of other people, of other races, creeds or those speaking other languages. To be able to respect them we need to learn about them.

Let us guide our children to be Ehipassiko, instead of repeating Evam me sutham. 



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