Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts: Dharma-Parenting Workshop

Buddhism is a great way of life but how do we ensure that it is passed down to future generations? The Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts (DILA) invited Rev. Sumi Loundon Kim, Buddhist chaplain of Duke University and minister to the Buddhist Families of Durham (BFD), North Carolina, to conduct lectures in addition to a dharma-parenting workshop on July, 5. This workshop was held at DDM Yun-Lai Monastery with more than 50 lay-people as well as monastics as participants.

As her first trip to Taiwan, Rev Sumi indicated that the dharma-parenting workshop was not intended to produce better parents but to help parents cultivate greater self-awareness in order to foster harmony between family members. She suggested that parents should take a “deep breath” to relieve tension when they feel that they were on the verge of losing their temper. In addition, parents could cultivate mindfulness in their daily life through meditation. As meditation is practiced differently in the East and the West, she suggested that parents in the West meditate 5 minutes every day and develop mindfulness in all their daily activities.

Sumi observed that many parents neglect their children due to addiction to digital devices; so engrossed are these parents with their devices that they even overlooked to give a simple hug to their children. This phenomenon is prevalent in today’s youth as well; heavy engagement in the virtual world caused many to lack the ability to communicate face-to-face. Sumi stressed the importance of setting aside time for one’s children as neglect is one of the most difficult psychological trauma to overcome. It is also important for parents to accept their children as they are instead of trying to mold them to a preconceived ideal. Practicing to be comfortable with silence during family time, hugging meditation as well as mindfulness through articulation could help children to connect to their spiritual self; mindfulness could be cultivated by simply being aware of the present moment and voicing this to their children. It is essential to apply key ideas of Buddhism into parenting as parenting is a dharma practice in itself.

In the United States, Dharma programs are mostly designed for adults wishing to pursue spiritual practice and to learn meditation. There is no program catering to the needs of children. In addition, children have difficulty sitting quietly to learn meditation or to receive traditional Buddhist education. In light of this, Sumi initiated a family Dharma program in the United States where courses are tailored to the needs of parents and children who are unfamiliar to the Buddhist practice. These courses begin by introducing meditation as a method to reduce stress and induce calmness; these are gradually extended to caring for the community and subsequently, all beings. The emphasis on community prevents individualism to re-manifest. Programs for children utilize children’s engagement with senses; for example, story-telling, music, handicrafts and incense as well as motion. Meditation is also taught creatively, for example, children are taught to lie down and rock their teddy bear to sleep with their breath as a technique to be mindful of their breathing.

Professor Wei-Ren Deng of DILA indicated that Buddhist families are generally more lax in their children’s spiritual education compared to those practicing monotheistic religion; children from families practicing monotheistic religions receive strong religious education as part of their tradition. As such, it is hoped that Buddhist will take up the challenge to provide their children with solid foundation in Buddhist practice through education and enable future generations to benefit from the wisdom of Buddhism.

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