Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Children and Others Who Are Reflections of Ourselves

Nathan at Dangerous Harvests brings up the "Buddhist indoctrination of children" question.  As a father of a child, as a father who as a child was indoctrinated religiously in ways that I would agree with Dawkins are pretty atavistic,  and as someone who practices himself and understands that "family practice" is more than just dumping a kid off to some kind of Sunday school, I might have an opinion on this.

Then again, my opinion on this might just be my mind's reaction to seeing someone else's self  and their foibles reflected through their writing, and my mind's desire to "have its way" with that.

I say this last bit because it was triggered in my mind at reading the following sentence:

So, whatever I will say is coming from a somewhat outsider position, and I'd encourage parents who are Buddhist practitioners to chime in on this issue. 

Now, I'm in a pretty good mood today, actually, for whatever reason.  And perhaps it was my good mood that led me to the reaction to write this down now: I never liked the phrase "chime in" as a metaphor for "respond."   I mean, to whom is it intended to chime in, a bell?

And so, yeah, pet peeve...but that peeve's in my mind...that's just the way Nathan writes...I...wouldn't write that way...but I'm sure my writing gets under some folks skin...

And that's kind of my point/theme:  This thing I wanted to fix exists in my mind.  I'm sure Nathan doesn't give a hoot about my linguistic pet peeves and foibles, and why the hell should he, anyway? It's his expression of his writing, and it's my  pet peeve and I'll be peeved if I want to.  Or not.

So there's my little mind reacting to all kinds of stuff here...but...I don't think, now that my kid's 9 years old, that I'm responding to any unresolved childhood issues of my own.

In fact - it may be the rather peculiar nature of my particular sangha that informs my viewpoint here- but I think the whole issue here that Nathan brings up here is really,...with all due respect.

Why do I say this?

Because your practice should be demonstrably practiced at all times, with all people.  Most of the time, in my sangha, it would be inappropriate to have brought my son to a zazenkai when he was younger: the sangha meeting for zazenkai  usually consisted of no more than 4 people.  There was no one to care for my son, save my wife, who was happy to have me "get out of the house" provided that I returned soon enough for whatever she was doing.    But - my practice has been getting less horrible over the years, but still - the  practice on the cushion should also be practice off the cushion, and like going from zazen to chanting, one would should have gone from zazenkai to making lunch or whatever.

It's not that I didn't teach my child about Buddhism, bringing him to temples and all that. I did. Sometimes he likes it; sometimes he doesn't.  But it's just that it's completely unrealistic to "train" a kid in a religion, when the notions of religion in his mind put Christianity, Islam and Judaism in that equivalence class. And my son knows - knew for a while - well enough not to believe anything just because someone demanded that they believe it.  If I am to be a responsible parent, who raises a kid that can actually help people, it's going to be necessary to raise a kid who can think for himself.  Oddly enough, or not, my son seems predisposed to want to do that.

My son at the age of 9 understands now that Buddhism is different from other religions.  While I might want him to become a Buddhist, if only to spare himself and others suffering, that's still a want and an attachment of mine.  It's in my mind.  Better for me to practice my own Buddhism than to try to create thought structures in others minds by sheer indoctrination.  I mean, does that work  so well for adults with properly functioning brains? No? So why in the long run do you think that'll work with a kid; did it work out for you so well?

Better for me to deepen my own practice.

It's like swimming: the better I swim, the better my son wants to swim.  Provided, of course, that I actually swim when my son is around me sometimes.  And he continues to want to swim himself, regardless of how well I get at it.  But so far it seems to be the case.

It's exactly like swimming.

Or, if you don't like that analogy, consider the recent re-make of  The Karate Kid with Jackie Chan: his role is a stereotype (like Uma Thurman's in Kill Bill somewhat) : it is the role of the highly trained and skilled practitioner dwelling unannounced as such amongst ordinary people,  living in a seemingly far more humble station than his training should admit. 

That's where you're supposed to be as a parent, because it provides you an easy entree to be able to teach your child, your boss, your spouse, anyone. Like the Jackie Chan Han character, it's not that you don't act without super force when needed.  But there's no need to bludgeon what shouldn't be bludgeoned.   You can demonstrate it by washing a fork.  By getting your kid to clean up after himself consistently without shouting at him.

True demonstration and teaching of Buddhism.


running42k said...

Great post. We do a short meditation with our two boys each night, but also meditate on our own.

Nice to read another person's experience.

Mumon K said...

I try to teach my son as well...but not formally...