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The happiness of giving
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The happiness of giving
Story by PHRA PAISAL VISALO

Boosting social immunity : Parents not only want their children to be successful, but also to have a happy and moral life. It is meaningless if their children, despite their wealth, are still ridden with suffering or are corrupt and addicted to vices.

But it is not easy for us to live a moral and happy life these days. Youngsters need to be immunised against all kinds of vices around them so they are not lured onto the wrong path. They also need to learn to think, seek virtuous things and live a meaningful life.

Knowledge helps children to be smart. But if you want your children to be happy and good, you need to teach them what boon, or merit, is, because it can help stave off all sorts of vices from your children. It
can help them solve and manage life's problems as well as nourish them spiritually with inner peace and happiness.

Boon means cleansing. Firstly, it is the cleansing of one's deeds so one can live a moral life that benefits both oneself and others. Secondly, it is the cleansing of one's mind from the blues as well as the fire of desire so that one can cultivate a wise mind that is not driven by emotional impulses.

Boon also means the blissful feelings that come from doing good deeds. The givers get happiness : Boon starts when we know how to give. Giving, or "dana", helps erase our self-centredness.

The mind that is always on the take is narrow and selfish, making that person unlikeable and making it difficult for that person to be happy.

Children grow up safe and sound because they receive what they need from others, from the time of their birth. If they do not learn how to give, they will believe that they are always entitled to get things from others.

Kids should learn that life is about give and take. They can learn from the trees, for example: The tree take nutrients and water from the soil, but they also give back humidity and dry leaves to nourish the soil in return.

But giving does not mean an exchange or a duty.

For giving essentially gives us happiness. Teaching kids to give therefore amounts to teaching them to be happy from their own generosity. The truth that the givers get happiness is what all children should learn.

This is why parents in the old days take small children to temples to give alms to monks so they will want to do that on their own when they grow up.

One is blessed for giving alms to monks, but the blessing from boon also comes from giving to the distressed. Children can make merit just by giving away their toys to poor children or by donating money to the handicapped.

Apart from money and materials, giving life to animals is also a merit-making act. Simple kindness such as feeing fish that are stuck in mud and returning them to the waterway, or watering wilted plants, is also considered boon.

Lift the world with generosity : Teach your children that what they give or how much it costs is not as important as the thoughtfulness itself. You can tremendously help your children if you teach them that even when they have limited energy and money, they can equally make great merit as powerful as that of grown-ups if they are thoughtful. You should teach your children that our qualities are not measured by age, success or fame, but the quality of our hearts.

Take 12-year-old Duanghathai Sothisawapark, for example. She is proof that we can give a greater thing than money if we have empathy. When the teenage girl found out that her cousin had cancer, she drew a comic book to raise funds for her cousin's medication. Her comic book might not have been polished, but her generosity powerfully moved many. Thanks to public donations, her cousin is almost cured now.

Or take 14-year-old Gaewjai Laonipon. Every night, she would accompany her parents, who are volunteers of the Poh Teck Tung Foundation, to rescue accident victims. She helps jot down the addresses, car plates, or even takes the injured to hospital. The girl's self-sacrifice is hard to match.

Putting in one's time and energy to help others is also a merit-making deed. Children should learn that they can do this kind of boon every day in their daily life. For example, picking up broken glass or litter, helping out with school chores, carrying things for the elderly, helping the blind cross the street, growing trees in public areas or doing household chores.

Non-exploitation : To help others, we must start by ensuring that our own conduct does not cause harm to other people or to the public. Harmful acts include taking life, stealing, corruption, violating what is cherished by others, or being addicted to intoxicants. The boon from refraining from these acts is called sila (morality, virtue) in Buddhism.

By teaching children not to exploit other people or the public, you give them a fence to ward off harm, for a simple mistake can lead to tragedy. You should not remain passive if the children commit what seem to be trivial mistakes, such as stealing their friends' pens, copying others' homework, cheating on exams or killing ants and worms.

Good deeds not only prevent us from exploiting others, but also from exploiting ourselves. Those who do good bring happiness both to themselves and to those around them.

Wise consumption or simplicity is also part of Buddhist morality. We should not be excessive in our eating and living. We should eat nutritious food and not let greediness harm our bodies.

This includes appropriate use of technology. For example, children should learn how to use mobile phones only when it is necessary, watch TV only after finishing homework, or play computer games moderately.

Children also should learn to save, not to flaunt wealth, not to overspend nor be addicted to shopping or such vices as gambling and night entertainment.

Make merit with your heart : We can make merit at all times wherever we are, whether or not we have money. We can make merit without doing anything if we train our mind properly so that it generates positive feelings such as admiration for others' fortune _ not envy. Teaching your children how to be happy for others will give them the seeds of good-heartedness.

Children should also be taught not to go it alone in their good efforts, but to give an opportunity for others to join in. Wishing others to share the blessings from one's good deeds is also a boon in itself.

Humility is also a merit-making deed. Children should be taught not to look down on others just because they are younger, less educated or poorer. They should also be taught not to be overbearing with household maids.

Humility as a merit also includes not being prejudiced against people of different faiths.

Making merit with our heart leads to a positive and happy mind. Envy and arrogance, meanwhile, lead to anxiety and stress. We should teach children to train their minds so they can smartly manage external stimulants affecting their emotions.

Training for a calm mind : Meditation calms the mind by effectively extinguishing anger. For a start, children should be taught to breathe in slow, deep breaths at least four to five times when they feel angry.

But meditation is effective when practised regularly as part of daily life. The methods vary. For example, focusing on the breathing in and out, or walking slowly and calmly. It will be more effective if parents join the children in meditating. Only five minutes of this practice every day will do wonders in your mental development.

For small children, games can help. For example, the robot game. Ask the children to move each body part slowly and separately, just like a robot. The rule is that they must observe every sensation that arises during the movements. This method helps make it fun for children to learn to cultivate mental concentration as well as consciousness of one's body.

Actually, we can practise meditation with all our activities. We can teach children to be mindful when brushing their teeth, washing dishes, or doing homework, for example. We should also teach them to do one thing at a time. Not eating and reading at the same time, for example. This can help strengthen one's ability to be focused.

Bedtime is a good time to teach children to cultivate mental concentration and calmness. This can be done through simple prayers, followed by the paying of homage to the Buddha, dharma (his teachings) and sangha (the community of monks), and then to parents and teachers.

Children should make their minds calm for a while before going to sleep. Projecting compassion is an effective mental practice that can protect oneself from anger.

Accumulated anger is like fire burning our heart. Parents should teach children to emanate good will and compassion before going to sleep.

Cultivating compassion is also possible through regularly expressing admiration and thankfulness for other people and things around us.

Children should be taught not only to be thankful for their parents and teachers, but also for maids, drivers, janitors, etc, who help to make sure their lives run smoothly.

They also should learn to be thankful even to the trees, the mountains, the sea, as well as things they use _ pencils, bags, blankets, cars, etc. This helps instil gentleness, concern for the environment and frugality.

If children are still very little, teach them to water plants or to keep a pet and teach them to wish the plants and their pets to be happy and free from all suffering. If they do this regularly every morning and evening, their hearts will be brimming with compassion.

Emanating compassion is a great merit. The Buddha says the blessings it brings are greater than giving alms to the Buddha or to 100 enlightened monks. This is because it is the deed that directly makes one's mind positive.

Training for right thinking : After training the mind to be calm, the next step is training it to be wise, or to have right thinking. Your children should learn to use goodness to guide their deeds, not using their likes and dislikes. They should be taught that when rebuked, even when they are not happy with it, they should ponder if the reprimand is correct or not. This attitude will help ease your children's distress and help them to benefit from rebukes.

Likewise, children should learn early that when eating, they should not go for what please their palates, but for that which is useful for their bodies and is also economical. This right thinking helps your children learn what right consumption is, and how not to be slaves of consumerism.

Right thinking also can be cultivated by exposing children to useful information. You should help your children listen to good guidance, to read good books or to watch useful TV programmes. You should also
be with your children when watching TV so you can give your kids appropriate guidance.

Teaching your children to do good deeds is itself a merit-making act. If they follow your teaching, they are joining your boon.

The right boon is one that makes one's mind pure, clear, calm and full with true happiness.

You may be ready to give your children all the material things they want or need. But one thing you cannot forget is to teach them to know what boon or merit is, and to live a life full of merit.

What a great inheritance you can give your children!

This is a translation of the Thai language booklet entitled 'Teach Children to Make Merit', published by the Network of Buddhists for Buddhism and Thai Society

TEN WAYS TO MAKE MERIT

1. Give money or other materials.
2. Cultivate generosity and refrain from bad deeds.
3. Keep the mind calm.
4. Sacrifice one's time and energy for others or the public.
5. Be humble.
6. Appreciate the successes and good deeds of others.
7. Help others to do good or to share in one's own merits.
8. Listen to dharma or good thoughts.
9. Give dharma and good thoughts to others.
10. Think rightly in line with virtue.


Bangkok Post Jul 29, 2001 - Meaningful merit

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