children’s programming

Creating Villages of Peace

Summer Camp in Texas

Terry  Masters

One day at my  summer  camp for gifted children, MasterSchool, the children created different villages from around the world. Using their imaginations and whatever materials they could find around the ranch, they built villages in Mexico, India, Israel, France, and Japan.

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In France, in addition to several houses and a lumber yard, there was a sidewalk cafe on the River Seine (a three-legged card table propped on a stump beside a dry creek.) A small protestant church, which was constructed mostly of imagination, stood between the café and someone’s cardboard box home.

There was, in Mexico, a large field of corn (rocks painted yellow) and pumpkins (orange rocks) on the outskirts of the village. On the plaza in town stood a simple Catholic church (a painted refrigerator box topped with crosses made by tying branches together with yarn) and a busy mercado.

The residents of Israel built a kabutz. A child brought his cello from home and played traditional Jewish pieces while his friends taught us tourists to dance.

The girls in India painted their hands with henna and wore saris made of old bed sheets. There were brightly painted Hindu gods perched in trees around the houses where the natives of India lived. Flower petals were strewn on the path leading to the village.

In Japan, next to a computer factory (old computer parts inside a circle of stones,) a child named Tommy designated the space between two trees as a Buddhist temple and announced that he was a monk. He hung lengths of blue yarn from a low branch to the ground, forming the door to the temple. Just inside the door, in a fork of a tree, he placed a Tupperware sandwich box filled with holy water from the swimming pool. Angie brought incense and a candle from home.  Laura shaped a beautiful Buddha from mud. On a length of butcher paper, with a black magic marker, Jane copied from a Zen painting a tiny canoe in a calm lake, rimmed by huge mountains in the morning fog. A fisherman lay in the canoe, not fishing. Jane tacked her painting between the two trees in the temple. I told Tommy that I knew a Zen Master. Would he like the Zen Master to visit their temple? Oh yes, he said, he would!

The next morning I dug through the costume box and found a black high-school graduation gown with the zipper torn out. I put it on backwards, wrapped a man’s tie around my waist and walked slowly and peacefully to the temple. Several curious children followed me. I walked through the blue yarn door and bowed to the mud Buddha. Watching me, the children put their hands together and bowed, too. We sat cross-legged on the dirt, except for Joshua who lounged in the fork of the tree above the holy water. Tommy lit the incense and the candle. We sat together quietly.

Finally, I smiled and bowed to the assembly. I complimented monk Tommy on his beautiful temple. He smiled monastically. I said that Terry had invited me, the Zen Master, to come.

“I have come to listen to your stories and to tell you some of mine,” I said, smiling.

“When we students of Buddhism want to talk,” I continued, “We put our hands together like a flower and we bow. We use the same sign to say we have finished talking. But this offering of flowers is not just a way to get attention, because when we make our hands into a flower, we are also saying to our friends, ‘You are as beautiful as a flower; you are a flower and I want to hear what Flower You has to say!’”

The children sat still, listening respectfully, moving only to swat fire ants away. “Would you enjoy doing this while we talk today?”

The children said nothing, but they smiled and nodded their heads.

Looking around the temple, I nodded to Jane’s beautiful painting thumb-tacked between the trees.

“I enjoy looking at this fisherman’s special place. Does anyone in this temple have a special place like that?” I asked. Hands together, I bowed. The children bowed.

After a pause, Laura put her hands together and bowed. We all bowed to her. She told us about a place under her grandmother’s porch at her lake house.

“No one knows about that place,” she said, softly. “It is cool there, even in the summer time. I can see out but no one can see in. I can think there.” Laura paused, then carefully put her hands together and bowed. We bowed to her.

Each child, very quietly, very earnestly took turns telling about their special places: in a closet behind the coats, in a special chair in the living room, at the back of their yard at home, behind some trees, in tree branches, under the bed. After each story we bowed, honoring each child’s contribution. I then told about my special place, in the rocking chair on my front porch. The candle and incense burned.

After a while the bell rang for our camp to have our morning recess. No one in the temple moved. I smiled and rose slowly. The children smiled and rose. We bowed to each other. Then slowly and mindfully we left the temple through the blue yarn door.

A little teary with joy, I walked back to the costume box where I left my robe and sash, relieved in a way to be out of the hot polyester. When I walked back to the playground, Joshua called, “Hey Terry! I met a Zen Master that looks just like you!” “Really?”  I said.  “Yep!”  He grinned, putting his hands together and bowing. “Oh my,” I said as I bowed back, smiling, honoring the flower in him.

Terry Masters, True Action and Virtue, lives in Manor, Texas and practices with the Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas.

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Watering Seeds: An Exercise for Children

By Terry Masters

This is an exercise I have done with the children I teach. Please adapt it to work in your situation. The teacher’s comments are in bold, the children’s responses are in italics.

Here is what each child will need to do this experiment:
2 clear wide mouth jars or plastic cups or cut the top off a clear plastic water bottle
2 paper towels
Soil
8 lima or pinto beans
1 permanent marker (for everyone to use)

We’re going to plant some bean seeds.

Note: Demonstrate and help the children as you give them the following directions: Wrap the inside of one of your cups with a paper towel. Carefully put soil inside the cup, behind the paper towel. Fill it about 3/4 full. Place 4 beans between the paper towel and the side of the cup. Make a lot of space between the beans. Like us, beans like freedom! Please do the same with the other cup.

Note: We use clear cups and paper towels so that children can watch as the beans grow roots and stems.

Let’s name your bean seeds. One cup will be the home for your Happiness Beans; you will name your beans after ways that make you truly happy. For example, does it make you happy when others smile at you? Does it make you happy when you smile at others? If so, you might like to name one of your beans “Smile”! Other names for your Happiness Beans might be mindfulness, generosity, freedom, safety, love, hope, sharing. What makes you truly happy? Playing with my dog, being with my friends, sharing, irises.

With the permanent marker write the names of your beans on your cup.

Your other cup will be the home for your Unhappiness Beans; you will name yourbeans afterways that do not make you happy. For example, does it make you unhappy when you or someone you know is angry? If anger makes you unhappy, you might like to name one of your beans, “Anger.” Other names for the Unhappiness Beans might be stinginess, fear, sadness, impatience, hurrying, jealousy. What makes you unhappy? Fights, war, stealing, not sharing.

With our permanent marker write the names of your beans on your cup.

Discussion: These beans are seeds. If the causes and conditions are right, they will grow into bean plants. What causes and conditions do you think need to happen to make the bean seeds grow into bean plants? Soil, air, light, and water. You have Happiness and Unhappiness bean seeds. Which bean seeds do you want to grow? Only the Happiness seeds. How can you help the Happiness bean seeds grow? Give them what they need: soil, air, water, and light. How can you keep the Unhappiness bean seeds from growing? Do not give them soil, air, water, and/or light.

Help the children water their Happiness Beans. They should not water the Unhappiness Beans.

We people have things like seeds inside us, just like your bean cups. We all have the seeds of smiling, mindfulness, generosity, freedom, safety, love, playing, and sharing (and lots of other happy seeds!) inside of us. Note: Be sure to include the ways to be happy which children offered earlier.

We all also have the seeds of anger, stinginess, fear, impatience, hurrying, fighting, stealing, not sharing, and jealousy (and lots of other unhappy seeds!) inside of us. Note: Be sure to include the “unhappy seeds “ which children offered earlier.

When the causes and conditions are right, our seeds grow, too. Just like with our bean seeds, if we give our happy seeds soil, air, light, and water, they will grow. Of course, if we give the unhappy seeds in us the things they need, they will grow, too!

Just like with our bean seeds, we are the ones who get to decide which seeds will grow and which will not grow inside us.

What does it mean to give the seeds inside us air?Freedom, space, time.

What does it mean to give the seeds inside us light?To notice our seeds; to shine the light on them.

What are some ways we can water (and not water) the seeds inside ourselves? With some guidance, these are some ways our children thought of to water/not water the seeds of happiness and unhappiness in ourselves: Practice:“One way to water the seed of smiling is to smile a lot.” Awareness: “I water the seed of generosity when I notice that I am being generous.” Don’t concentrate: “One way to not water the seed of anger is to notice it but to not keep concentrating on it.” Check my perceptions: “I can ask, ‘Am I sure?’ when I start to get jealous of a friend. Am I sure what my friend has is what I want?” Act nice: “One way to water the seed of love is to tell our friends that we love them.” Say a Gatha: “One way to water the seed of appreciation, is to say the Five Contemplations gatha.” Breathe in and out: “One way to not water the seed of fear is to pay attention to our breathing.” Don’t watch mean TV or videos or listen to mean songs on the radio: “One way to not water the seed of meanness is to watch only shows that are friendly and kind.” Understand: “When I start to get irritated at my dad or mom, I can try to understand why they did the thing that made me irritated.” Take Three Steps: “One way to not water the seed of sadness is to take Three Steps.

  1. Enjoy things that make me happy.

  2. Notice when I am sad.

  3. Later, when I am not sad anymore, think about what had made me sad and try to understand it and change it.

Invite the children to take their happiness and unhappiness seeds home to care for.

Two sources for grown-ups: Transformation at the Base and The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, both by Thich Nhat Hanh, available from Parallax Press.

Terry Masters, True Action and Virtue.

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