Academic journal article Journal of Buddhist Ethics

Attitudes Arising from Buddhist Nurture in Britain

Academic journal article Journal of Buddhist Ethics

Attitudes Arising from Buddhist Nurture in Britain

Article excerpt

In the words of a 12-year old Thai Buddhist girl commenting on how she learned about Buddhism despite growing up in the UK (Thanissaro "Preliminary" 71):

   I start with questions by talking to my mum. If I want to find out
   more, I ask at the temple. And at school, when I learned about it,
   I had a better view of it.

Such an observation indicates some sort of awareness in Buddhist children about the mechanism by which they pick up an understanding of Buddhism from the world around them. However, a more systematic study of how Buddhist values are transmitted to children when the tradition is passed down to a new generation, and speculation about the mechanisms facilitating this, requires examination of previous research concerning mechanisms of nurture, Buddhist child spirituality, and identifiers of Buddhist religiousness.

Nurture of Religious "Values"

Although there is only modest empirical evidence for transmission of values from parents to their children, it is most evident for political orientation, religious beliefs, and lifestyle (Kohn). In a multicultural context, for example, parents might portray their religion to their children in a positive light in order to instill in them the view that their own religion is superior to others (Goodnow 350). It used to be assumed (3) that religious values were instilled uni-directionally from parents to children. More recently, however, the transmission of values has come to be considered a more bi-directional process with parents as facilitators (Kuczynski, Marshall, and Schell). This would recognize that children are not merely passive recipients of values, but have an active role in socializing their parents into accepting a more "contemporary" set of attitudes. If the transmission is bi-directional the negotiation process may have to navigate alternative values that often compete with parental goals. Parents either may condone intergenerational change or may actively foster differences between their own socialization attainment and those of their children (Kuczynski, Marshall, and Schell 34). Whatever the process may be, it has been shown that children have the resiliency to grow up as competent adults even in adverse surroundings if they have a warm and affectionate relationship with an adult who cares for and supports them (Benard).

Buddhist Child Spirituality

The scarcity of discourse on children and adolescents in Buddhism, not to speak of general theories of nurture mechanism in Buddhists, has been attributed to Western scholastic bias and to a preferential emphasis on Western converts to Buddhism (Gross 412). Whatever the reason might be, there is so little field data about child spirituality in Buddhism that most scholars are forced to draw on textual exegesis to present a Buddhist stance on childhood (Nakagawa 33). Nonetheless, even without considering the training of novice monks, a handful of studies have touched on the lay education of children through parental guidance or "immersion" in Buddhist culture that deepens the child's experience of religion (Gross 417; Rinpoche 180).

In my small scale study in 2011 of the contrasts between school and home presentation of Buddhism in the UK, I found that daily nurture at home included thinking of the Buddha, keeping the Five Precepts, (4) tending a home shrine, bowing to parents, chanting, and meditation. Weekly practices included visiting the temple to present meals to the monastic community and keeping Eight Precepts. (5) Buddhist temples were also visited on special occasions, often for festivals in the Buddhist calendar or for the anniversaries of the passing of relatives. Mothers were found to have a major role in answering the questions children asked about Buddhism and in nagging them to practice. They hoped that their efforts would instill in their children good moral values, a sense of right and wrong, ambition, good educational results, respect for the elderly, the wish to look after aging parents, modesty, gratitude, and humility (Thanissaro "Preliminary" 65-66). …

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