My nine year old son loves Lego. Having two boys, we have been fossicking minute Lego pieces from vacuum cleaners, couches and the most unlikely of places for the past nine years. Lego fosters great imagination in kids, it is unbreakable and it’s options for play are endless. The other day, I glimpsed my son, large Lego Batman in one hand and a Buddha that we have on the counter, in the other. I had been listening to him over the previous 30 minutes, actively and enthusiastically, engaging his favourite Lego figures in active battle. You know, those healthy, albeit violent, Lego battles where someone always loses a body part or two! I never know what the storyline is exactly, except to say that there is never a shortage of realistic sound effects, enthusiastically spitting out of the mouth of my son. “… bsssskkkkk…. chuchuchuchuchuchu … vroooommmmmmm … spisushhhhhh …”

It was amidst this Spittoon Symphony that I glanced over to see he had “flown” Batman over to the counter, only to encounter Buddha, same size, eyes peacefully closed, hands resting in his lap, a look of contentment on his face. I could see the mind of my son tick … “How should I incorporate this into my story?” He picked up Buddha and attached one of Batman’s grappling hooks to his head. “No, that’s not right.” He then threaded the hook through Buddha’s arms and held him high, Batman dangling precariously below. Then I assume he decided that this would not do either. So he ‘released’ Batman from Buddha’s clutches and brought the modern superhero to stand, right in front of the iconic, slightly older, superhero figure. My sons animated mouth noises had suddenly stopped. Each one facing the other. Silent. Still. Like a Mexican standoff. Batman had totally lost his “Shazamm.” But my sons play, his story, his imagination was as intense as ever. He was in his own world as I watched silently in the background, wondering how this would play out? I was curious as to the thoughts that were swirling in the mind of my 9 year old. He sat for what seemed like the longest time, just staring at them both in their stillness. His eyes would dart from one to another, perhaps willing them to move … to do something? – I am not sure. (Remember Toy Story?!)

Batman meet Buddha #3

Jordan is familiar with the image of the Buddha. I have different representations of him all over our house. Statues, pictures, symbols. And having just returned from overseas, he can recognise the difference between Thai Buddha, Indian Buddha, fat and happy Buddha etc. And he knows that his Nana mistakenly thinks Buddha was a girl, (because of the breast thing on some “made in China” garden statues). While we were travelling SE Asia, India and Nepal we talked a lot about the different religions and religious symbols we encounted. The boys loved all the representations of the colourful Hindu gods that we came face to face with in India. Some of them they know by name now and what they represent. Ganesh, remover of obstacles, being a favourite. But Buddha – Buddha was a real man, not a God. And there is widespread debate as to whether Buddhism is a religion. Although it certainly appears to be, on the outset, looking at the way he is worshipped. But of course, it is his teachings that are worshipped.

The Buddha’s advice to parents is straightforward - help your children become generous, virtuous, responsible, skilled and self-sufficient adults. Teaching Buddhism to one’s children does not mean giving them long lectures about dependent  co-arising, or forcing them to memorize the Buddha’s lists of the eightfold  this, the ten such-and-such’s, the seventeen so-and-sos. It simply means giving them the basic skills they’ll need in order to find true happiness. The rest will take care of itself. The single most important lesson parents can convey to their children is that every action has consequences. Each moment presents us with an opportunity, and it is up to us to choose how we want to think, speak, or act. It is these choices that eventually determine our happiness. This is the essence of karma, the basic law of cause and effect that underlies everything.” The Buddhist Channel

Now I’m not sure about you, but these sound like all the things that we as good intending parents aim to teach our kids … correct? Whether we label it “Buddhist teachings” or not, I believe, is irrelevant. These things have certainly been at the helm of my parenting from the very beginning, long before I knew much of the Buddha or his teachings from 528BC.

Buddha meet Batman #2

By Jordan aged 9

Back in Asia, the three of us chatted a lot about these things, in a casual way, while we sat on long train rides through dusty Indian villages or after spinning prayer wheels at the Dalia Lama’s temple in McLeod Ganj. The boys always had many questions, about the shaven men, women and child monks they passed in red robes, about the chanting, about their lifestyles, and about many other things – some of which I was able to answer, some I am still searching for… But what became apparent during our travels was that you do not necessarily have to be a practicing Buddhist, sitting for hours in mediation or wearing long red robes to integrate the teachings of the Buddha into your life. I am a yoga and meditation teacher, so I do meditate and I encourage and teach my children to do the same (not always successfully!). But I am a regular Mum with regular kids and we are all just trying to be the best people we can be. Sometimes we slip up, and we steer very far from any righteous path. One of the boys may lie, the other decide to be deceitful. I may raise my voice. But we have constant reminders, all over the house to do better. Every time I glimpse an image of the Buddha I am reminded of that which is important – and I am pulled back on track. So too hopefully, are the boys.

Batman meet Buddha #4

I asked my son after he broke his trance that day and peacefully and quietly walked away from Buddha, putting Batman back on his shelf, what happened with Buddha and Batman? He said he was not sure and found it difficult to provide me with any explanation. I saw deep meaning in his eyes though, meaning that his nine-year-old mind could not yet formulate into words. I asked him, “when you look at the Buddha, what does it mean to you”? He replied with “… compassion, kindness, what goes around comes around ….” I was impressed. Perhaps this is what he was thinking when the ‘standoff’ happened. Perhaps Buddha was teaching an overzealous Batman to chill out. That violence is not the answer. Perhaps Buddha’s energy was kryptonite to a superhero who first thought him an enemy.

So, we have different types of superheroes in our family – modern and ancient. And on a really good day, some real, live human ones too.

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