Will I Raise My Children Buddhist?

Person in Training not Buddhist in Training

Person in Training not Buddhist in Training

I was posed this question by another blogger a few months back and the answer alluded me for some time.  My own religion upbringing was open but the emphasis was on Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism.  My own difficulties stemmed from the fact that religions placed so much emphasis into the minutia.  The Greeks were huge on explaining that statues were bad (false idols) and icons were fine but the Virgin Mary was just Mary.  Okay….

The Catholics were pretty big on statues and the Virgin Mary.  Fine…

But I could give a hell about either the statues or the Virgin Mary.  Whether one places emphasis on either aspects of those specific religions – neither had squat to do with my spirituality or personal growth but had everything to do with creating spiritually abusive dichotomies to push an agenda and keep the numbers high and the coffers heavy.

Organizational Buddhism functions in the same way.  They exagerate the differences and expouse certain methods.  They place one way and viewpoint over all the others.  People are answerable, not to their own development, but to a Board of Directors.

Why would I want to be the Board of Directors over the spiritual growth of my child?  Why would I want to place the same trappings that I impose on myself (for whatever reason) on a slate of a completely different experience and story? 

Of children raised Buddhist, half do not continue to practice when they reach adulthood, 28% percent stop practicing any religion, and 22% change to another faith. Buddhists and Jehovah’s Witnesses are the two religious groups showing the lowest retention rate. (from Buddhism by Numbers – Tricycle Magazine)

Pushing a child into one particular religion is just as bad when it comes from a Buddhist perspective as when it comes from a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ perspective.  Holy shit!  Pushing is pushing – whether the drug is crack or cocaine – it does the same damage. 

I was given the opportunity to grow and develop a spirituality that worked for me and my personal experience.  It was form-fitted and adapted to what I have seen and done, not to what I expect my daughter to see and do.   I can pretty much guarantee that there will be a bit of Buddhist practice and philosophy simply through osmosis and proximity to my practice but her growth is her own.

In the end I just hope that I can impart the “bigger picture” aspects of my practice.  The secular ones to be specific – Mindfulness, Compassion and an understanding that all fingers point to the moon but only from the viewpoint of the pointer.  It would be great if I could help her point to the moon but I would never expect that her vantage point be the same as mine.

Be a compassionate and mindful Buddhist or secular humanist or Christian or Hindu or (fill in blank here).  Just don’t insist that yours is the only finger that points at the moon.

But I’ll worry about that when the time comes.  Right now I am just glad she falls asleep on my zabuton rather than the dog’s bed.

Cheers,

John

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10 thoughts on “Will I Raise My Children Buddhist?

  1. I have 2 grown daughters now Sarah and Margot. In spite of my “best” efforts, really the only thing I succeeded in brainwashing was their names, a curiosity about life, some loving kindness for themselves, some compassion for others. They tell stories too and some are gentle reminders of the foolishness of their Dad

    They got older, I got wiser it seems, or maybe it is the other way around. Your daughter looks very fun…

    • Sounds like you did a great job. I can’t believe I forgot about metta. I will hopefully impart some metta on my daughter as well since she has been the recipient of much mega metta from my meditation practice.

      • John, I am proud that you are striving for spirituality in your life and that of your daughter’s life. All travelers make their own way to peace and God. You are all wonderful. Keep up the good work in keeping the little one off the dog’s bed! Miss you

  2. I agree. Buddhism isn’t the kind of “religion” to be “forced” upon anyone. The beauty and strength of it comes with discovery. Nothing wrong with teaching basic mindfulness and breathing techniques to help them de-stress at school, etc.

    Then again, I’m not a parent.

    • I agree that mindfulness and breathing are great things to teach but I disagree that Buddhism isn’t forced upon people. Just as with Christianity, Buddhism can be a barrier b/t parent and child when the parents attach their identity to their child’s spirituality.

      Cheers and thanks for you comment James!

      Love your blog.

  3. Not only am I not forcing it on my daughter, I’ve pretty much left my wife out of the loop as well. We’ve already been through so much when were fundamentalist Christians that I’ve become very private about my practice. I admit it isn’t something that I like talking with her about as well, simply because I don’t want her to even feel the slightest hint that I think that she should do it to because I am. We talk about mindfulness, compassion, and suffering, but I don’t talk about the religious aspects of my practice (the devotional aspects such as chanting and such). I truly want them both to make up their own minds and find their own paths. So far, it’s been a good approach.

    • I felt that I forced something of my original religion (Orthodox Christianity) on my wife when I insisted that we marry in a Greek Orthodox church. My wife hated the judgemental tones and hints at conversion. When I went into confession for the first time before the wedding, I pulled no punches. Everything was explained in awesome detail.

      As per now, I don’t share my practice with my wife. She tends to eye-roll when I talk about going to sit and I am comfortable with her opinions of my practice. She is pretty much a secular humanist (for lack of a better label) and I think that we agree that there will be no pushing of religion on our children.

      Cheers,

      John

  4. I see it a little differently. Maybe put it this way–someday you’ll say, “look, there’s the moon,” and point at it. She needs to see you point at the moon before she points at it herself–and at first, she’ll do it like you. Children are like their parents, always. So if you introduce her to the practices that work for you, you’ll give her a good start in practices that work for her. That’s parenting, not pushing. As long as you find joy instead of fear as you watch her path diverge from yours, you’ll be fine. And in the end, you will both find that your paths and practices have more in common than you realize.

    At least, that’s my experience as the adult child of a spiritual parent. I’m a Protestant minister, and just had a great conversation with my postmodern/relativist dad about the deeply shared values that run beneath our apparently different ideas.

  5. In his first book Noah Levine talks about having Buddhist parents and his rebellion against that. And now after much turmoil he’s come to see the value of it. It seems no matter what religion children will test it just because it is part and parcel of the authority figures of their lives.

  6. I was raised Methodist. I don’t regret it at all. There was a great emphasis on being open-minded and interpreting the bible for yourself. My father wasn’t really a Christian, he just wanted me to be raised as one so I could experience the discipline of organized religion. He let me make my own choice when I was 13…if I wanted to keep going or not.

    I’ve been a self-practicing Buddhist since I was 14 (I’m 20 now). I believe that regardless of the religion that the child is taught, many times, that person will come to discover their own beliefs. I’m glad that my family let me choose for myself and supported me.

    Regardless of how you choose to raise your children, I think you should do it in a mindful, educational, open-minded way, not dogmatic, scary, or brain-washing. Teach a religion, talk about others, and leave things open for interpretation. Give the child the freedom to choose on his own.

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