Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ancient World History (India): The Life and Influence of Buddha

I love teaching history and literature!   This past week we have been learning about Buddha.   He taught people to treat others with respect and kindness, to be people-centered (instead of egocentric), to do things in moderation, and to persevere toward personal goals.  All are good suggestions for living, but in my opinion, there is nothing revolutionary in the “truth” he discovered while sitting under a tree.   Like most religions, the focus is ultimately on being “good” enough on our own merits.  In contrast, I have been reading the Old Testament this past year.  I have been amazed at what God did when people depended on Him.   It is a revolutionary idea for me because I have had the “I do it by myself” mentality most my life.   The whole Bible is a testament that we can never be good enough.  It is the reason why Jesus died for us and gave us the Holy Spirit. 
What I respect most about Buddha is his teaching approach.  He taught the people in their own vernacular, shared truth as he saw it with the masses, and treated everyone equally (despite a rigid caste system).  These practices ran counter to his ancient Hindu culture.  In my research I found several valuable juvenile books.  Here are the pieces of literature and the handout I used to teach my children about this influential man of the East. 
Becoming Buddha: The Story of SiddharthaBecoming Buddha: The Story of Siddhartha (ages 5-9) by Whitney Stewart 
Siddhartha’s life is written as a concise narrative in this selection.  His birth and early life are described on the first few pages.  Then, the focus shifts to his realization of suffering and sorrow outside the palace walls.   His quest to find truth and his epiphany under the bodhi tree are covered.  The final part of the narrative is an outline of the Four Noble Truths he taught and lived by until his death.   There is no mention of his life as a teacher or the impact he had on his culture.  Nevertheless, the noteworthy pictures, straightforward text, and unique format (written and illustrated vertically instead of the typical horizontal) make Becoming Buddha a worthwhile read, ideal as an introductory tool or for young children.

The Prince Who Ran Away: The Story Of Gautama BuddhaThe Prince Who Ran Away (ages 7 and up) by Anne Rockwell  
This brilliantly illustrated narrative provides many more details than Becoming Buddha.  Beginning with Siddhartha’s parents’ longings for a child and his mother’s dream before his birth, the circumstances around his early life are delved into with more specificity.  His father went to great lengths to shelter him from the sufferings of the world, especially because of the prophecy of one of the religious leaders.  Despite his father’s best efforts, Siddhartha saw suffering outside the palace walls and even inside them.  As a result, he left the family and life he cherished to find truth.  After years of searching, he found it while under a tree.  Mara, a Satan like character, attempted to lure him away from truth with beautiful women and to scare him with frightening characters and a terrible storm.  Mara did not want Siddhartha to share when he learned with others.  Afterwards, Siddhartha (now known as Buddha) traveled from town to town and sat under the biggest tree he could find in each location; there, he taught the many people who came to him.  At the end of his life, he urged his followers not to be sad.  Instead, he wanted them to be happy for him as he moved on to live in a perpetual state of nirvana.  He urged them to share the truth of his teachings with others.  The Prince Who Ran Away is an excellent tool for teaching about Buddha's life. 

The Life & Times of Buddha (Biography from Ancient Civilizations)The Life and Times of Buddha (ages 9 and up) by Mona Gedney
This juvenile biography is broken into five parts.  The first chapter gives an overview of Siddhartha Gautama by recreating a snapshot of him as a teacher, instructing those people who have gathered around him.  By doing so, his prestige, wisdom, and effectiveness are demonstrated.  Next, his early life as a privileged and shelter prince is discussed.  When he comes into contact with the real world of disease, old-age, and death, Siddhartha realizes the fragility of life.  As a result, he decides to leave his family to find the truth of life.  The third section is about his quest for truth.  He seeks out the two extremes of his culture before settling under a tree to find truth on his own. It is at this stage that he becomes a Buddha, only to later be referred to as the Buddha.   Fourth, the Four Noble Truths and his Eight-fold Path of enlightenment are outlined and described.  The final chapter is on the development of the various denominations of Buddhism and where it spread after Buddha’s death. 
Other information is provided in the back of the book, such as a timeline in history, chapter notes, glossary, further reading suggestions, and an index.  The Life and Times of Buddha is unique from the previous two selections in that it explains the Eight-fold Path, stresses Siddhartha’s significance as a teacher, provides a snapshot of his influence and teaching, and explains the spread of the Buddhist religion.

Also, check out the stories of Buddha.   

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