Attack of the Buddhist Body Snatchers

Oh, look! I wonder if a Buddhist is going to pop out!

I don’t like clones or pod-people.  I don’t want to raise little pod-people.  And that is exactly what I would be doing if I ever tell my children that “We are Buddhists”.  It is just as bad as taking little Christian kids and telling them “We are Christians”.  Or non-believers. 

We aren’t anything like that.  We (my wife and daughter) are a family but we are not Buddhist and I don’t want to raise or convert anyone to Buddhism.  I don’t want to raise a religion.  I want to raise a person.  A free-thinker.  An individual.

In a recent piece by The Statesman on “How Buddhist Parents Struggle to Pass on their Beliefs”

More-established religions in the U.S. such as Christianity and Judaism provide structured religious formation for children through baptisms, bar and bat mitzvahs, Bible and Hebrew schools. But, Strand argued, Western Buddhist centers are not always as family friendly.

Yes, religious indoctrination at an early age is very family friendly.  Western Buddhist Centers that want to provide some child care is fine but when it is something that involves religious indoctrination it makes me ill.  I know that this is going to come off as insulting but when I think of anyone of any tradition or religion telling my daughter what to believe it makes me physically ill.

There’s a comfort in knowing — or at least believing — in a religious narrative that provides answers such as the promise of heaven or the threat of hell. And those explanations might be easier for children to grasp.

But Zuniga said his Buddhist tradition embraces not knowing.

If his Buddhist embraces not knowing then why are we talking about telling kids what to believe rather than letting them discover it on their own?  My practice is organic in nature.  It grew and developed from my own practice.  It would not have developed had I had it forced down my throat (or if you want to call it nurturing, fine).

Children also can begin to understand Buddhism at a very simple level by talking about the importance of compassion and mindfulness, said Carlene South, an ordained layperson and member of the Austin community of Plum Blossom Sangha , part of the lineage of Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

The secular aspects of Buddhist practice (wisdom, compassion, concentration) are things that we should empart on our children  despite our religious background.  I empart these things as well (or at least try to do so) but I will not insist on framing it in a Buddhist context.  That is indoctrination of religion into a young mind.

The goal is not indoctrination, David Zuniga said, but rather a spiritual template his daughters can use in life.

“Hopefully (we’re) offering spiritual underpinnings that can be relevant regardless of what path they’re on,” he said. “My position is I want them to choose the path they will follow. I want them to find their own way.”

Well, the article ended on a high note and I hate to commit the fallacy of “slippery slope” but it seems that once you go down this path it leads to indoctrination and as I stated in the beginning of this post….

I hate pod-people.  I don’t struggle with rasing my child Buddhist.  The decision was quite easy.  Raising a good human-being…now that is hard.

Barbara’s Buddhist Blog also posted on this with an interesting comment from MommaZen

I’m so glad this question is never satisfactorily resolved! Whenever we are trying to impose anything – a way of thinking, a belief system, the expectation of an outcome – it is not satisfactorily resolved. We resolve this question only through our own practice, as we let go of the notion that there is anything dogmatic that will benefit either ourselves or our children. Satisfied with things as they are, we can be ourselves, and let our children grow up to be themselves as well, each of us on a path that is entirely our own (Amen, sister! ~ John)  Who knows what my daughter will do? Who knows? I will respond with love and acceptance along the way, because that’s how you raise a Buddhist mother.




19 thoughts on “Attack of the Buddhist Body Snatchers

  1. Excellent post, why should we worry about raising a child in an indoctrination of religion when we should first worry about raising a child to be good human beings.

    • With a caveat, perhaps, that it’s not an either/or proposition. I’ve heard tell that a Buddhist way of life sometimes produces good human beings. And yes, badgers know how to use fancy words like ‘caveat.’

      • Two things I have learned during my time on earth:

        1) Never get involved in a land-war in Asia

        2) Never trust a badger that uses big words

        I agree that the Buddhist way of life can produce good people. But you can live it without being Buddhist. If you know what I mean….



  2. Awesome post man. I raise my kids the way my parents raised me, free to choose what they want to believe in. My oldest, daughter 13, asked years back to go and check out a Buddhist place. I obliged but specifically after telling her she is making the choice, and if she doesn’t want to, etc… Anyway, we went a few times, it was only once a month for kids, and she stopped asking to go after a while. One of her close friends attends a Methodist church, and a while back asked her if she wanted to go. I talked to my daughter about it, and said it’s your choice. She’s been going there now for a couple years, but I think it’s more for the social thing than the church thing. I ask her what she learned each week and she mumbles her explanations, thus strengthening my belief she’s there to hang out. But either way, the short and tall of it is, she is free to do what she wants, as are my younger sons when they start questioning things.

  3. My experience is completely different. I grew up going to a Presbyterian church. There was such a fantastic sense of community. Nobody ever said to me, “We are Christian so this is how we behave.” Instead, we looked at the teachings in the bible and tried to figure out how to live our best lives.

    I remember going to see Ghandi in the theater with my youth group and discussing the message. Nobody ever said anything about Ghandi going to hell because he wasn’t a Christian. Instead, we focused on taking the lessons and applying them. The same youth group would spend the High Holy Days at a Jewish Synagogue, learning the Jewish faith which, as you know, is the foundation of Christianity.

    I have heard horror stories of people trying to get indoctrinated into churches or religious centers and I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of zombie-style religious study. But that was not my experience and I would hesitate to say that including children in religious study is necessarily indoctrination any more than studying any subject matter necessitates the belief in what you are studying. It’s a tool that one can use as s/he sees fit.

    Church, for me, became a point of reference for my later spiritual studies.

  4. I think I will teach my son about compassion, meta, mindfulness and even frame it in a buddhist context. Beyond that, I’m certainly not going to make him chant or study or meditate. If he wants to, great! If not, great! Go outside and play!

    He might want to pick up some of his mother’s witchcraft/pagan/tarot books, or the bible on our shelf, or the hindu or Taoist ones. And I’m fine with that. In this day in age, I’m more concerned with raising an adult who will be compassionate toward others, connected to his humanity, respectful,reveres nature, and an awesome fucking quarterback cause I don’t want to have to work past 55.

  5. The Buddhist/nonBuddhist divide is a false one, isn’t it? If you believe that:

    1. All people have Buddha nature
    2. Buddhism is not an end, but a means

    Then it doesn’t really matter whether one identifies as Buddhist or not as long as one struggles with illusion and tries to minimize suffering.

    I do not observe this emphasis as much in Asia, but it seems the factionalism of Western religion tends to result in people placing more emphasis on their terms of self-identification.

    • I wasn’t going to comment today since I have deadlines crawling up my ass but I like your comment.

      Yes, we do have an emphasis on self-identification in the US. I don’t know if the same exists in Asia but I would imagine that it would be less compared to here.

      The struggle with illusion and compassion are huge in Buddhist practice which is why I think that anyone that attempts this is, in fact, “Buddhist” no matter their religious leanings.

      But when explaining to a child I would rather have the concepts rather than the labels in the forefront. If my child grows up to be compassionate and wise then I could care less what religion or lack of a religion she chooses to express that compassion and wisdom through.



  6. Does all this apply to nutrition as well? Would it nauseate you to dictate what your 6-year-old eats?

    My husband has had ongoing dental problems because his parents let him decide at age 12 whether or not to have his wisdom teeth removed, and guess what? 12-year-olds don’t usually prefer the long-term benefits if they can avoid the immediate pain of dental surgery.

    At a certain developmental stage, kids want to belong, and they want to have a firm answer when other kids ask what religion they “are.” Telling a 7-year-old that they have to discover that for themselves can leave them adrift in a battering culture, when “I’m a Methodist” or “we’re Buddhists” gives them the identity they want. You don’t have to change anything except the antipathy to labels. “If people ask, you can say we’re Jewish,” for instance.

    There’s magic for children who are allowed to believe in the tooth fairy (for example) until they grow out of the need. When they ask, “Is the tooth fairy real?” you can tell them: “Isn’t it more fun to believe in magical fairies, or do you want me to tell you for real?” and take it from there.

    Simplifying information to make it developmentally appropriate is not the same as lying, in my opinion.

    • LOL! Oh, Ellen….stop. No I do impart secular dental care to my child. I do not impart myths that will color here belief structure for the rest of her life.

      If she would grow out of religious beliefs similar to the tooth fairy or Santa then great. No harm, no foul.

      I will not impart meaningless labels to her though. If she wishes to say she is half Buddhist and half secular humanist then that is up to her. But I will not tell her what she is

      I did not want the identity that I was provided as a child and do not see it as developmentally sound or appropriate. I can simplify information without imparting labels and stereotypes.

      Children create their own magic without the interference of the morals and religious trappings emparted on them by parents. I want to see her magic and not my own transferred onto her.



  7. Maybe I should clarify ~ Forcing Buddhist religion and dogma down the throats of my children will not save them from grief. It does nothing but provide them with absolutes that are false and unrealistic. This applies to raising children Christian or Atheist as well.

    I raise mine secular and that is the end of the conversation. This is not to say that I believe this is how you should raise your children. If yo uare a parent with your child’s best interest at heart then you will decide the best method and obviously not leave it up to some random blogger (like me) to give child-rearing advise.

    That being said, not providing religious indoctrination to your child does not stifle the magic that comes of having that beginner’s mind. I recall vividly seeing and hear all sorts of creatures (elves, nyphs, pixies, trolls) when I was a child. To dismiss these imaginations for new and implanted imaginations (Buddhist Deities or Zombie Christ) is just horrific.

    If you are to foster spirituallity in your child then let it develop organically. If you want to build a false community for your child then go to Sunday School.

    But in the end, please have them brush there teeth. No one likes a child with rotten teeth.



    • Yup, raise your children how you see fit, unless it involves Scientology. I’m pretty sure there are age restrictions on pyramid schemes, aren’t there?

  8. I side with Jack and Adam. I don’t see anything wrong with teaching compassion and loving-kindness but why strongly emphasize Buddhist principles to a child? If they are interested, they’ll ask you about. It’s amazing how curious kids are after all.

    • I think most children learn by example and not by dogmatic allegory. Do and act compassionately and mindfully and your children will (hopefully) act the same.

      No need to make a religion out of it. More and more people are classifying themselves as “other” when it comes to religion and that, to me, is a good thing.



  9. I’m late to the party. My son goes to a program at our temple. It’s vaguely Buddhist but mostly its about the concepts of Buddhism being compassionate and such. Just because you are raised one way does not mean that your parents chose your path just that they gave a moral foundation. The trapping become irrelevant when you’r old enough to discern that they are. As a young child it’s important to ahev something to believe in. I live in a small town my child goes to daycare. He gets Christianity be simple transference and the ignorant yokels that live here assuming that all the children must come from Christian households. My sister works there or he would have been gone long ago. The options in this town aren’t great and pretty much all of the daycare programs are going to come with a dollop of Christ. I’m just trying to show him that his parents don’t follow that path by taking him with us to the temple on Sundays.

  10. “But when explaining to a child I would rather have the concepts rather than the labels in the forefront.” –bravo, yes. I was raised Cat’lic (the American Irish variety) and while the experience both nourished my inner life and my love of “the religious spark” in general, it also gave me a dogma that has taken years to address. Yes, that famous “Guilt” lingers but also a sense of superiority –the One, True malarkey that gets pounded into you from your first Mass. I remember sending a little Jewish girl home crying once when I was 8, for example, for that day we’d been taught that Jews are bad. (Or at least, so was my understanding of the day’s lesson…and I thought I was *helping* her…Ah, the mouths of babes!)

    So yeah, I’d rather avoid that altogether, that Branding of our Household, as I raise my 3-year-old son. My hope, though, is to somehow impart that Spark, that sense of relationship with the world that sincere religious/spiritual practice can impart, that that constant questioning can impart. A sense of being a part of something larger, a sense of service, a sense of mystery and humility which arises from knowing you’ll never being able to know it All.

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