Monday, November 16, 2009

Talk on Buddhism for First Parish Church Sunday school.

The kids at FPC Sunday school recently visited a meditatation center. I was asked to put together a discussion on Buddhism to try to help them understand the topic better. Here is what I wrote:

Buddhism is a method to improve personal happiness. Premise: everyone wants happiness and deserves to be happy. We have a right to be happy and so does everyone else in equal measure.
Buddhism gives us a roadmap of the path to attain happiness. Two of the important ideas are:
1.Emotional Management
2.Compassion for ourselves and others.

Emotional Management: Buddhism gives us a method for incrementally calming and steadying our emotional state of mind. Our minds are like a pond. In high winds things aren’t clearly reflected. We want our mind to reflect reality and the truth.

We want to exercise control over which thoughts that we entertain and which thoughts we let go. Thoughts give rise to emotions. We have a thought and that evokes feelings. We want to limit the impact of the afflictive emotions of: anger, fear, frustration and greed. These are the biggest trouble makers in our experience and need our focus, attention and mindfulness. We want to limit the actions we take when we are under the influence of these emotions. When we are under their influence we don’t see the truth. Evolution delivers us blind energy when anger is present.

Story of the angry samurai:
This Buddhist story summarizes the effect of the afflictive emotion of anger:
A samurai warrior visited a Buddhist monk and said: “Master, explain to me the difference between heaven and hell.”
The monk replied: “I have no time for a simpleminded brute like you. Leave my temple.”
The samurai unsheathed his sword and shouted: “I could cut your head off right now!”
The monk replied: “That is hell.”
The samurai sheathed his sword, bowed his head and said: “Thank you, master.”
“That is heaven.” The monk proclaimed.

Sample meditation: One type of meditation involves letting go of all thoughts as they arise. An example meditation is one where we watch the breath. Let’s do a 5 minute breath meditation where we watch the breath and let go of all thoughts as they arise. This will enhance our ability to let go of toxic thoughts when they come into our experience, because if we can let go of all thoughts we can more readily let go of toxic ones when they are recognized.

The topic of attachment is important in the Buddhist framework.
We want to insure we don’t get caught up in praise or blame, fame or disrepute, pleasure and pain, gain and loss.
We don’t want to cling or grasp to a sensation because, by its nature, it is going to change. We need to welcome the present moment and we need to be ready to accept events as they unfold. One day we are the best at our sport, the next day we feel like we are an amateur again. Our bodies change and the world changes, but our calm, tranquil state of mind should be constant.

My 9 year old presented me with this joke the other day: “Why couldn’t the Buddhist vacuum in the corners of his house? Because he had no attachments!” She gets it, too.

We want to seek the truth in our experience. A Buddhist tries to resist falsehoods, exaggerations and sarcasm. The famous Japanese Buddhist poet Basho wrote: “The old pond, the frog jumps in, plop.”
Often in the West we use exaggerations to add excitement or humor to a story. Buddhist prefer truth because it is safer.

Meditation on the emotions:
Think of the last time you got really angry? Reflect on this event as a neutral third party. Reduce your ego and examine the events while taking all sides into account. Try to discover the truth in the experience.

The final topic I would like to introduce is emptiness. Buddhists believe that objects don’t exist in the way our minds initially interpret them. Everything is interconnected in our world and nothing exists in its own right. Everything that comes into existence depends on something that helped create it. Objects are constantly changing and cannot remain indefinitely or be completely destroyed. The table that we are using was build from trees and will eventually break down and return to the earth. Life and death are examples of another continuum. We think of our life starting when we were born, but we lived as a fetus prior to our birth. We were also a part of the apple that our mother ate that nourished her eggs. Another meditation is to contemplate where you were when your grandmother was born.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dave- what a great explanation of the concepts of Buddhism. .