This is a recent photo I took during a Buddhist Sunday service we had at the local Jodo Shinshu temple in Seattle. At one point in the service, we recite the Juseige which is an excerpt of the Immeasurable Life Sutra, and that’s what you see in the service book.
My little girl is nearly 4 years old now and her communication skills are much stronger now than they were six months ago, and she is more aware of the world around her. This includes the subject of religion.
For her, the temple is called “Namu Namu“, which I mentioned back in a much older post. It’s actually from the phrase “Namu Amida Butsu” where “Namu” is means “praise to” and derives from Sanskrit originally. But I digress, for her the temple is Namu Namu, and she goes there and sees a bunch of adults chanting, bells struck, and sometimes talking long-winded speeches. It’s funny because she likes to imitate this at home now, where she makes up her own “service” and I am required to sit and participate while she bangs on the bell a lot and pretends to chant long, incoherent syllables. Lots of fun to watch.
This also includes Sunday School, which is something unique mostly to the Buddhist Churches of America. While I personally have given up on the Jodo Shinshu Buddhism in particular a while ago,1 my wife is a devout follower, and I do like the temple community and am still happy to go, so it’s our usual Sunday routine. Having a sense of structure and routine is very helpful with kids and makes them feel more secure, less agitated. I have to say overall, she is a bright little girl and well-behaved, so something’s working right.
(Yeah, I am sure every parent says this. I am just saying…)
To be honest, my little girl is not really interested in Buddhism yet, but she seems to like the social aspect. She has new friends in Sunday school, likes the snacks (sometimes), and is intrigued by the service itself. She likes to play with our home altar at home, and as mentioned previously, likes to hold her own services.
However, she is not interested in Buddhism as a religion. That’s to be expected at 3 years old, and we don’t like to teach her the religion per se but we still strive to teach her Buddhist values indirectly:
- She learns to appreciate where her meals and her toys come from.
- We try not to teach her violent games or let her watch violent TV shows.
- We teach her to be nice to animals and other people.
Also, as mentioned in an older post, we like to lead by example, so we avoid harsh words with each other (especially now since she’s good at picking up what we say!), and help each other, and also try to be respectful to our parents which is also a good practice in gratitude to cultivate.
One difference from the last post is that she’s more curious about the subject of death more than before. My wife, who’s from Japan, has a good way of dealing with this. In Japanese Buddhist thought along with much of East Asian Buddhism, the notion of the Buddha’s Pure Land is pretty prominent across the board. So, she tells our little one that when someone has passed away, they have “become Buddha” or “gone to the Pure Land”.
This sounds like she is sugar-coating the truth, but far from it! Unlike me, my wife has a real talent of articulating complex Buddhist truths in very simple terms, which I really struggle to do. So, while these are simple teachings children can understand, as they get older, they can appreciate the depth of those teachings more and more as they get older.
Articulating these truths to children in the West is a challenge all Buddhists parents, converts and Asian-immigrants, probably face. Much can be taught without words (how’s your daily conduct in life?), but we shouldn’t fear the teachings that we Buddhist converts criticize as irrational or “cultural accretions”, but they reflect a tried and tested way of teaching Buddhism to the younger generation.
Parents can learn a lot from parents in other cultures.
Namu Amida Butsu
P.S. I wrote a related piece here on In Culture Parent recently as well. They overlap somewhat, but focus differs.
1 More information here about my choice to follow Jodo Shu Buddhism instead. Not a drastic change, since they have common origin, but one that I felt suited me better.