How to transmit Buddhism to children?

- through Fabrice Groult

Published on

The answer is indisputably: without taking their heads, by showing them a way of life, non-proselytizing, free from beliefs and dogmas, and by making them taste the daily life, without theorizing, of an experience, their own, simple, progressive, which will highlight how the basic principles work for them, based on their experience: benevolence, generosity, their relationships with others, the consequences of their actions. This non-violent, spontaneous and pragmatic learning involves letting them discover for themselves, through action, the proposed values. With a bonus for us parents, learning patience and smiling with gratitude at the discoveries we will make about ourselves, thanks to them.

No buddhist is perfect, no parent is perfect

Being "Buddhist" (help the labels!) since adolescence, my children and their friends have grown up in an Indo-Tibetan atmosphere, surrounded by bookcases full of very serious books on the practices and philosophical thought of Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana; inspiring biographies of masters; works of art on the cultures of the Himalayas and the world; of a plethora of books of Western and Asian tales of all kinds: Tibetan, Vietnamese, Laotian, Mongolian, etc., and by rubbing shoulders with our secular and religious friends of all traditions. Thus, no doubt because it changed them from the encounters they had with their friends, they loved having dinner with us in the evening when we received our monk friends in dazzling robes. I remember their eyes widening when, during our conversations, they tried to decipher the “weird” A-words: karma, samsara, nirvana, which we used and which echoed in their ears in mysterious ways. From time to time, they also accompanied us during certain teachings. Their discovery of Buddhism was therefore made in a natural way, in family or friendly immersion, and was often summed up on my part in teaching them to become children then good, responsible, tolerant, joyful, non-violent, respectful and independent adolescents. Did that influence them? Without a doubt. But what always mattered most to them was undoubtedly the example we gave them at home and outside, while shopping, in traffic jams, with our loved ones... The truth of who we are is revealed in the simplicity of ordinary acts, it is obvious to children. We betray them as soon as we break our rules and recommendations of life. The example we set for them is not only instrumental in their understanding of what this path truly represents, but also the greatest gift we can give them.

The trace in their memory of the words in “A”

Children are sponges. My daughter, for example, very quickly adopted the theories of karma and samsara. Already at nine years old, when I reprimanded her, she said to me, with a big smile on her lips: “Be careful, mom, what you tell me if you don't want to have bad karma! She made fun of me nicely, we both knew it, and did not escape the deserved rebuke, but her mischievous reflections prevented me from taking myself seriously and from being carried away by an emotion of annoyance, or worse with anger. Without realizing it, she forced me to put into practice what was still too often, for me, only theory.

Our role as parents does not consist in providing them with boring “Buddhist” catechesis, but in showing them through experience, without dogma, without proselytism, how “it works” in their everyday life.

My son, more reserved, had meanwhile, a pre-adolescent, a period when, captivated by the illustrations representing mandalas and Tibetan deities, he remained for long periods of time observing them. Around twelve years old, he took a passion for reproductions of Buddhist samsara. Children are torn between fear and the fascination of watches, and Yama, the lord of death, who holds the worlds of rebirth between his hooked paws, has nothing to envy to the terrifying characters of American comics. Intrigued, I asked him what he liked in these images. He had answered me with a spirit of synthesis that I then envied him: “Everything changes and depends on the state of our hearts, Mom. I'm not afraid of Yama, he reassures me, he watches over the humans”. The simplicity of his answer struck me and taught me one thing: accumulating concepts scrambles our thoughts and sometimes leads to confusion.

Our children, our greatest teachers 

Thus, there is no need to teach our offspring the subtleties of emptiness or impermanence: they are connected to it spontaneously. There is also no need to transmit to them the complexity of conditioned co-production or of the principle of the interdependence of beings and phenomena: they also know them. The fact that every action has results too. Our role as parents therefore does not consist in providing them with a boring "Buddhist" catechesis, but in showing them through experience, without dogma, without proselytism, how "it works" in their everyday life, in their relations with their friends and adults, and the consequences on their well-being, their happiness, their enthusiasm, their joy. Giving them the opportunity to learn to coordinate their thoughts, words and actions is more enlightening than any theory. So get to work parents!

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

Leave comments