A C T I V I T I E S  ии  F O R   T E A C H E R S

R  E  S  O  U   R  C  E  S

This item is written specifically for those who teach Buddhist 'Sunday' school or Religious Studies (as part of a wider curriculum), or the like. It gathers together a few principles I work with when teaching Buddhism to younger people. Other items in this section contain numerous activity suggestions; this item tries to put them into a teaching context. I contemplated preparing lesson plans but thought that a more general discussion might be more flexible. I would easily devote space to a whole set of pages here but time is short (see eMail).
I have evolved a list of general teaching tips that you might find useful - [§].
Age range: Generally by virtue of interest and the parent-obedience threshold. I find that in Sunday school groups it naturally ranges from about 5 - better 6 - to 12 (slightly older for girls). This is usually fun and not such hard work - there is enough intellect to understand and still a degree of innocence enough to enjoy. I have tried - and failed - extending this range with the only solution seeming to be another group; 12 to about 18. The ideas in this section are ideally adaptable to suit all ages.
Group size: Unless you are very organised or have helpers about 8-10 is optimum - enough to have 'group' energy but not so many as to be a mob. Good helpers allow sub-groups, with the whole coming together, say for stories or sharings.
Leaders should not be afraid to ask (timid) people to speak up - I can't hear you! I worked with one elderly woman teacher who feigned a hearing problem. It forced people to stop mumbling and clarify their thoughts.
I invariably make the shrine the focal point right from the start of any gathering. Even if the meeting place is not consistent it is very easy to build a simple shrine at the beginning of each gathering - see: Craft - Shrine. The only item that might prove difficult is a Buddha image (see: Craft - Buddha) and one of the primary symbols could easily be used instead - as indeed they were in the time of the Buddha (see: ART & CULTURE - SYMBOLS).
Participation: The group could build the shrine. I encourage those interested to light the candles and incense; sticks can be cut into 3 or 4 so everyone can light one - they can be upended if the smoke is too much. This seems odd but making offerings is the issue, not the smoke or fragrance. Discuss the principles involved. Attending to the shrine generally can be an ideal situation to discuss the whole theme of worship, offerings, symbols and ritual.
Bowing: The principle is that by bowing down my head other things are raised up in relation to 'me.' The question to ask is: 'what do you raise up (or bow down to) that is higher than your own, personal, ego-self?'. Try different ways of bowing - alone, to each other, Japanese style, full prostration - Tibetan style, to the shrine, to ... ? [see: LIFESTYLE - RITUAL - BOWING; there is also a lovely action song here]
Chanting: It is such a common religious / spiritual activity. Why is that? Try some. You could download some Pali chants here or create some of your own. It is a very nice way to bring a group together at the beginning. Singing is also good but creates quite a different 'energy / feel.' Try humming or toning; see: Sounds - Noise. Mantras are a very easy way to introduce chanting; see: Sounds - Mantras.
Faith requires a committed relationship with something without proof or evidence that it is or will be. The 'it' in Buddhism is enlightenment - primarily in relation to the historical Buddha's attainment followed by the extension: 'if he can do it then so can I'. Many Westeners like to think of themselves as not being superstitious but sensible, rational, intelligent, 'scientific' people. Faith is a critical element in religion but not being based on reason it can create an obstacle. How to get over the mumbo jumbo factor?
Explore intuition, telepathy, electricity (can't see it, or even explain it). The best key to non-self (the essence of Buddhism) is Love (a deliberate capital here to distinguish from romantic love). Love is not-selfish, it is unitive, not seperative. We can't see it, or explain it. Why can't we let go of selfishness? Because we can't trust. But faith must not be blind - there must be wisdom. What is wisdom?
Kids often have very intuitive answers to all these questions - not always in words. Try plays, art work, stories, puppets to unravel some of them.
Here is a lovely little play - Ug - that exemplifies the difference between faith and truth.
Mummy, Mummy is the world really flat? No dear, NASA has shown us photos that 'prove' it is a ball. Truth is, there was a serious budget deficit so a film studio and some grainy, bouncy film making made 'one giant step' - and we believe what we see and hear. And they got the money.
We often make our perceptions into realities - red sports cars DO go faster! Don't they? We will readily, unthinkingly accept as symbol as a reality. Money. Reproduce a £5 or $5 note as well as you can (not so well that I might be accused of inciting forgery!). Without any preamble ask the students: 'What's this?' Unless there is a clever clogs the answer will be: 'A five pound note.' Give it to the one who answers and suggest they go to the store and buy £5 worth of fruit for everyone. Ah! But it's not a real fiver. Even if there is a clever clogs you can still ask: 'What makes a real anything?'
Names: What we call things is not what they are. When does a cup become a mug?
I often joke about 'real men' - they play sport, drink beer, chase women - and here am I as a monk; tee-total, celibate and wearing a skirt. Am I am man - or what? We create realities from ideas.
America. I've never been there - does it even exist? How can I be really sure? You have been there - and I have faith in your word. What is America? I step off the plane and you say: 'Welcome to America'. I point at the ground and ask: 'This is America?' Well, no, there is more - but actually there is no thing that is America.

The main elements of Buddhism are:
Five Precepts (morality) and the Three Refuges - these are what define a Buddhist
The Four Noble Truths - this is the essence of the Buddha's teaching.
There is more, but not much that doesn't spring from these three groups. If you maintain them as the primary reference point you may avoid getting lost in the mass of Buddhist information available. A lot of it is just these three - packaging will vary, sometimes confusingly but if you can't fit it in don't force it. Don't necessarily dismiss it but keep the initial framework simple.
Impermanence. It is woven through so many aspects of Buddhism. It is so obvious its importance is easily overlooked. Of all the things the Buddha could have chosen to say as his last words - this was it - all things are impermanent. It is very useful as a 'stand-alone' teaching for non-attachment.
What makes Buddhism unique is the teaching on not-self. As a teacher I find it difficult to teach - and I've been trying over a decade. Don't leave it out just because it is difficult. The big question it poses is: 'Who am I?' Keep this question alive in yourself and your students. The opposite of selflessness is selfishness - most people can see the shortcomings of the latter. Generosity is not selfish. It is a key to letting go.
Confusion arises when Buddhism is used to create some kind of world view or social order. The Buddha was talking about your suffering, your life, your mind. It is about the inner world. He assiduously avoided any metaphysics or social commentary. True, the precepts (and vinaya) make moral statements but with an expanding community rules became a practical necessity. The Buddha was pointing to enlightenment - freedom from (primarily mental) suffering. Too often dukkha - suffering - gets projected onto the material world: wars, starvation, crime, etc. There will always be hungry people. The Buddha is saying: 'We can be starving and at peace'.
There are basic A4 presentations of most key teachings on the covers of 'The Nothing Times'. [§]
The 'Bodhi Tree' song [§] is a superb, fun discussion point for the first two Noble Truths. What bothers the kids? Darkness, loneliness, boredom. That bothering thing is Mara - trying to knock the Buddha of the seat of peace (tranquillity, stillness, enlightenment). Being bothered is suffering.