Children’s Program at Deer Park MonasteryJuly 3—July 7, 2003
By I-Lynn Teh
Forty children ages twelve and younger and four monks and nuns swarmed into the dining hall of Clarity Hamlet on orientation night of the Family Retreat at Deer Park Monastery on July third. What had been a room filled with tables and chairs was converted into a welcoming space covered with straw mats.
The children sat together in a circle on the floor for the orientation. Their eyes were shimmering with enthusiasm as they tried to remember each other’s names while playing rhythmic name games and “Hot Potato.” They were invited by one of the brothers to listen intently to a sound of the bell and to describe it afterward. A little girl commented on how long the sound of the bell lasted, and a boy timing the duration, exclaimed excitedly that it took forty seconds! In a simple way, the brothers and sisters at Deer Park offered a means of practicing the art of mindfulness to the children.
On the second day of the retreat, Brother Phap Ung offered a Dharma talk directed to the children. He shared the teaching of interbeing, that we are not separate from our parents, that we can find our parents in ourselves if we look deeply enough. Some children were then invited to come to the front of the room with their parents and to share what their deepest wish for their parents was. One girl shared that her deepest wish is for her mother to trust her. The mother shared in turn that her deepest wish is for her daughter to be safe and happy, and that she will try her best to trust her daughter more in the future.
Later in the day, the children learned to make boxes out of popsicle sticks to help raise funds for the construction of the new meditation hall. Everyone put their creativity to work; some made boxes with covers, others made houses, and still others made decorative items for display.
The children continued to practice working together in harmony as they made cookies for a tea meditation ceremony on the third day of the retreat. They were given the choice to join the oatmeal, raisin, sugar, or peanut butter cookie team. Many loved mixing the cookie dough with their hands. In the spirit of deep observation often taught in meditation, they described vividly how the texture of the dough felt on their fingers. Later they made cards for their parents, expressing their appreciation and love.
Parents were invited to the dining hall at Clarity Hamlet for the tea meditation ceremony. Kids volunteered to stand by the door, greeting parents by bowing deeply as they entered. One of the girls was bell-master, breathing deeply before inviting the bell to sound, and being mindful of her breaths while she made three sounds of the bell to initiate the ceremony. Other children served drinks and cookies. Everyone enjoyed eating the snacks in silence for the first few minutes.
Then the children were invited to present the cards they had made to their parents, offering thanks to the wonderful people who brought them up. Parents too were invited to bring little gifts and to offer their gratitude and appreciation to their children.
A pair of parents sat in front of their son and thanked him for always showing patience when things they promised seem slow in coming. A mother shared with her two daughters how much she appreciated their sticking with her when she underwent many ups and downs after separating from their father and moving many times. Her courage to admit her suffering to her daughters of six and twelve was admirable, and her expression of appreciation was deep and sincere. These sharings showed how capable children are of understanding adults when loving speech and patience are employed.
One of the last activities was the Rose Festival, a ceremony celebrating children’s appreciation of parents. Everyone entered the meditation hall with two roses pinned to their shirts, a red rose symbolizing a parent that is still alive, and a white one for a parent that had passed away. Children, teens, adults, parents, grandparents, monks, and nuns sat together and enjoyed a violin performance and a beautiful flower dance put on by the children and a nun. As we watched and listened, we contemplated the love our parents have showered on us. The ceremony concluded with hugging meditation.
I-Lynn Teh is from Singapore. She graduated from Northwestern University in June. Photography by Jan Mieszczanek. Illustration by Nguyen Thi Hop.