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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Baby Buddhas

I like to think that if the Buddha were alive today, he would hang out at the local playground. I could imagine him playing on the swings or goofing around the water fountain on a hot summer day. He would, I suspect, encounter several kindred spirits in the sandbox. The boy digging a hole and singing to himself. The two friends burying each other's feet. The mother nursing a baby.
I didn't start to picture the Buddha at the playground until I had a child of my own, and also became an elementary school teacher. I had thought a lot about the Buddhist principles of mindfulness and compassion, but it wasn't until I was living and working with small children that I truly began to try and put those principles into practice. Two questions kept occurring to me: How can the principles of mindfulness and compassion enrich our parenting? What can babies and young children teach their parents about mindfulness and compassion?
In his account of the Buddha's life, Old Path White Clouds, Thich Nhat Hanh describes a discussion about mindfulness that the Buddha has with a group of village children. To demonstrate the value of living in the present moment, the Buddha explains the difference between eating a tangerine with awareness and without awareness. With awareness, the sweet fragrance and flavor of the tangerine can be fully savored, but when eaten without awareness, the tangerine's smell and taste remain unnoticed.
This discussion occurs early in the Buddha's spiritual journey, just after he has discovered the path he will follow, but before he has set out to formally teach his wisdom to monks and other seekers. It is noteworthy and highly appropriate that children are the Buddha's first audience for an account of mindfulness. Unlike adults, who are often preoccupied with the past and future, young children and babies intuitively know how to live in the here and now.
--Jennifer Soalt

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