It is often said that Buddhist groups in the West are not very welcoming of children, and that we lack some things (found in both Buddhism in Asia and in other religions in the west) to communicate basic teachings and practices to kids. In both Asian Buddhism and for other religions in the west (but, somehow, not so much for "Western Buddhism"), "religious holidays" can be a time for families to unite, to bond through customs and practices, and to bring children into the spirit of the time through the celebration. Holidays can be an important time to expose children to Buddhist teachings and values in ways that leave a lasting, positive impression for the future. Is there a way to make various Buddhist holidays more "kid friendly" while preserving the traditional message, values and customs of the original?
This is something that weighs heavily on many Buddhist parents at this time of year, when the other religions have their big celebrations. Buddhist children might feel left out, and we may be missing an opportunity to teach them important lessons while making them feel included in our Practices and have a positive feeling about Buddhism as they grow up. Also (and most importantly), I feel that we can do so BOTH while preserving the true message of this Buddhist holidays AND avoiding the crassness and commercialism that has come to represent this time of year.
I want to "redesign" a couple of traditional Buddhist holidays to suit western needs a bit more, and especially the needs of families and the teaching of good lessons to children. I have asked our "KellyRok" (Kelly) to head up and form a committee to do just that, and to gather with her parents of small children on the committee (I feel they are more closely in touch with these issues than folks without kids) to build these holidays. I have asked her to contact folks to work with her, and please write her if you feel you might be interested. Kelly is the Holiday Czar!
Here is where I am coming from: In Judaism, "Hanukkah" was never traditionally a major Jewish holiday until folks in the west decided that Jewish families and children needed a holiday at this time of year (it is, in large part, an "invented holiday"). Likewise, "Kwanzaa" was a holiday pretty much "invented" in the 1960's to celebrate African-American heritage at this time of year.
WITHOUT the department stores (by emphasizing, for example, giving to charity, unselfish giving to others, the making of homemade or giving of Buddhism related presents), WITHOUT the glitz and commercialism, we can turn Rohatsu and some other holidays such as Vesak into FAMILY FRIENDLY events WHILE PRESERVING THE TEACHINGS. The central messages of the holidays ... selflessness, generosity, non-attachment, peace, awakening, compassion, loving kindness ... can be both PRESERVED and PASSED ON to children through the vehicle of these holidays. The message on these holidays is now conveyed through chanting and ritual ... so why not through joyous songs and home rituals that the whole family can partake in? NOTHING of the meaning, traditions and authenticity of these holidays need be lost.
What is more, I do not want to be accused of merely "trying to copy" Christmas, but we could offer western Buddhist Children some feeling that they too have a "Buddhist Christmas" perhaps. I do not think we actually would want to go so far in overtly copying Christmas, but we should have symbols, songs and rituals that kids and parents can relate to. Both Rohatsu (celebrating Buddha's enlightenment) and the other holidays share in being joyous events. I would like to see the holiday cover the period from Bodhi Day (Dec. 8th) until New Years Day, just like Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.
In the Spring, I would like to see Vesak (celebrating Buddha's birthday, April or May in different Asian countries) become a Buddhist "Easter" of sorts ... emphasizing messages of the Buddhist Teachings in ways children can understand.
That is why I asked Kelly to be in charge of forming a committee to design these holidays, from top to bottom ... commissioning the writing of new songs (I foresee a "song writing contest" to find the next Buddhist "Irving Berlin"), stories to tell the children at celebratory meals, symbols (the equivalent of the Christmas tree, Manger scene or Menorah candles), how to handle gift giving in a positive way (for others, not ourselves), other customs and rituals, where traditional rituals fit in ... top to bottom. We should respect current traditional content (meant for monks in monasteries mostly, not families at home), and express and fully maintain those too.
I think that parents with kids need to be the primary driving force of the committee, as they know best what the families would benefit from and need. So, I would like to have most of the folks on the committee be primarily mothers and dads with kids. Of course, everyone in the Sangha is welcome to add their ideas to the soup in threads (I may start a special section of the Forum specifically for this project).
My plan is that, first, we design holidays mainly for our own Sangha, looking toward 2011 (too late for this year). Then, when we come up with some nice content, I would like to start encouraging other Zen Sangha in the west to follow our lead. Then, after that, other western Buddhists of all kinds.
What do you think (and non-think) about it?