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founded by S. N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin

 

 

 

 

 

Anapana Meditation for Children

-By S. Adaviyappa

No human being can remain unaffected by the tensions and conflicts in society, by the misery that is so palpable, so intense. Each passing day seems to be bringing more and more problems, problems which cut across all ethnic, social and state boundaries. This country of India, the country of the Enlightened One, has lost peace. There is tension everywhere. Some may blame poverty for the sad situation. And indeed, any country, any society has to be reasonably comfortable on the material and financial front to be happy, peaceful and contented, to be truly a welfare state, a welfare society.

But if we look at our sister countries all over the world who have no financial problems, who are materially comfortable, we see that they are equally miserable. Whether a country is rich or poor, Eastern or Western, makes no difference.

When we look at our past, we find that India was the world leader not only on the material front but also on the spiritual front. It was a country where riches and comforts were ubiquitous along with all-pervading peace and nonviolence. When we take a closer look at the ills of society today, one thing becomes very clear: today's educational system has failed miserably in developing healthy and happy human beings, responsible citizens. All that children get at school is some information about a few subjects which may or may not help them in earning a livelihood. They become neither confident nor responsible, neither happy nor healthy from this information loading. There is no education in the true sense of the word. The most fundamental issues of life are never addressed.

How to Impart Moral Education?

Someone may make a sincere effort to inculcate positive qualities in children at school. However, teaching morality without being dogmatic or pedantic is very difficult, unless a suitable method, an effective technique is available, to teach mastery over the mind. Also, being pedantic is likely to be counterproductive, even dangerous. Everyone will agree that there is a need to impart basic values to children, and that morality is a part and parcel of life that leads to one's own happiness and to the happiness of others. Everyone will agree that mastery over the mind is essential in all human activity; that purification of mind is essential for true peace and happiness, but mere preaching is of no use.

There has to be a way where spiritual training can become an integral part of school education. Since, fortunately, children belonging to different sects and different castes study together in schools, this training has to be nonsectarian. Since the problem is universal, the remedy has to be universal. A Hindu should be able to learn it, so also a Muslim, a Jain, a Sikh, a Parsi, a Jew- everybody should be able to learn it. No one should find it objectionable. It should be acceptable to all. It should be simple and appealing to all. Most important, it should be effective; it should make the child mentally strong. We have such a technique in Vipassana. Children can learn the first step of Vipassana-the technique of Anapana-at an early age. In Anapana they find a technique that is simple, easy to learn, always available, objective and scientific. Children are by nature active and enthusiastic with an eagerness to learn, to explore. At this age it is so appropriate to offer them an opportunity to explore themselves and their minds with all their hidden faculties, latent abilities and subtle complexities. When so much that society offers to children is based on materialism and the quest for instant gratification, Anapana provides a much needed method of getting in touch with their inner selves and a way to deal with the very fears and anxieties of childhood and adolescence. The children rise to this challenge very naturally; they easily understand the scientific and universal nature of the technique.

Anapana Meditation Course

"Anapana" means the objective observation of one's own respiration. Natural respiration is an object of meditation, of concentration; it is acceptable to all, irrespective of caste and creed. This wonderful object was given to us by Gotama the Buddha, the Enlightened One. It is the only bodily function that is conscious as well as unconscious; that is intentional as well as unintentional; that is voluntary as well as involuntary; that is constant; and that is so closely linked with our mind, our mental state. It is truly a sublime object. Courses conducted exclusively for children are a wonderful opportunity to make available the manifold benefits of the Anapana technique. These courses are held at educational institutions as well as at Vipassana centres. They last from one to three days. The timetable has been developed after considerable experimentation. The courses are specifically designed to meet children's interests and capabilities and are conducted by junior assistant teachers and assistant teachers of Vipassana who have been specially designated to lead them.

The courses impart essentially a mental practice, but care is taken not to let meditation be a burden for the child. The focus is the practice of Anapana meditation, the observation of natural respiration-mere objective observation-to make the mind concentrated and tranquil. The courses include activities suitable for children, such as stories, games, creative activities, and keeping a diary. The children, who range in age from eight to fifteen years, are assigned to counsellors in small groups. The counsellors monitor the programme, help the children to better understand the teachings and practice, and help them integrate the experience into their daily lives. In these groups the children learn interactively. The message is simple, straightforward and logical. A good child is one who does not harm others by mental, vocal or bodily actions; who helps others; who has mastery over his or her mind and who purifies the mind. If a Hindu has these qualities, he or she is a good person. A Muslim who has these qualities is a good person. A Sikh, a Jain, a Buddhist, a Jew, an Indian, an American, a Japanese, of this colour or that colour-whoever has these qualities is a good person. Children really like this universal definition of goodness.

Anger, hatred, jealousy, fear, passion, craving, etc. are the defilements that make our minds impure, making us miserable. The course starts with taking five precepts. For their own welfare, the children take the precepts not to kill, not to steal, not to lie, not to use intoxicants, and to live a life of celibacy until they get married. Then they are told that merely knowing these will not help-they must be put into practice if it is to be of any benefit.  The children are taught how to put the precepts into practice. Besides stories about the Buddha, stories are also told about saintly persons such as Bhagwan Mahavira, Guru Nanak, Kabir, Prophet Mohammed, and Jesus Christ. The need for respect and gratitude towards parents, teachers and elders and the value of keeping company with wholesome people is highlighted. Children assimilate all this very well because they are meditating at the same time. Children learn to look at their own minds. They learn for themselves how the mind works, how it is not solely governed from the outside but how they can govern it, by making efforts. They observe the habit pattern of the mind-how it keeps wandering in the past and the future. They practise trying to keep the mind in the present with the help of the natural breath. The intimate relationship between breath and mind becomes evident to them. They share their meditation experiences in the counselling groups and seek clarification for any doubt or difficulty they might have.

The Benefits of Anapana

The number of courses being held in India and elsewhere in the world is increasing rapidly. In the last year alone, more than 5,000 children participated in more than fifty children's courses, primarily in India. Courses are beginning to be introduced in the West. The response to these courses has been positive. The immediate and long-term benefits are clearly significant in helping children to become established in lives of positive action with a strong moral foundation at an early age. The academic performance of those children who continue to meditate at home or at school improves because the meditation helps to improve their concentration, memory and self-control. The follow-up studies assessing various behaviours show:  1. An increase in qualities like discipline, honesty, co-operativeness, attentiveness, cleanliness and concentration; 2. A decrease in irritability, quarrelling, use of abusive language and feelings of inferiority. The studies are carried out by administering questionnaires to parents and teachers. It is evident that the courses make a great impact on children, thereby facilitating reform at the basic social and cultural level. The school teachers are asked to participate in the course along with the students. This not only puts an onus on the teachers to lead by example, but it also motivates them to become partners and co-workers in this constructive activity. Positive results occur most readily when the children are given an opportunity to continue the meditation regularly at home or at school.  It is essential that parents or teachers meditate with the children. This is an crucial aspect. Children are wary of preaching; they don't like sermons, but when they see their teacher engaged in the same work he or she is asking them to do, they respond easily and eagerly. This non-dogmatic, non-pedantic nature of Anapana courses is especially appealing. Hence more efforts are now being made to organize courses in schools where there is a firm commitment by the institution to provide an opportunity for the children to continue their practice of meditation. In most institutions, this is done by providing a slot of about 10 to 15 minutes for meditation in the timetable.  The following are some representative comments from children who took an Anapana course:

"After taking this course I feel that everyone should take this course." "It's challenging and tough at first but enjoyable later on. It is good to look at oneself." "I have gained a lot, got lots of calmness out of this course." "It is difficult but essential; will sure help me in my studies."  "I just can't say how wonderful it is here. I wish my elder sister could have come." "I learnt that my mind is like a monkey, always wandering. And I have learnt how to control it." "I did this course last year and it helped me a lot in my studies. Now I have come again."  "I liked the serene, peaceful atmosphere here and though meditation is difficult at times, it is very beneficial." "I hope by doing Anapana I will become a better person." "I get angry very easily, but with Anapana I can control my anger."  The reactions of parents and teachers are also encouraging. A school teacher who used to meditate with students before beginning the lessons was asked by fellow teachers the secret behind the exceptional peacefulness in her classroom. Another teacher found that her interaction with the students had become more harmonious. A mother reported that before the course there was tension between her son and herself; that after Anapana there was better understanding between them; that they were now closer than ever before.

Concluding Remarks

There is a common misperception in India that meditation is something for old or retired people. This misunderstanding is based on a lack of experiential knowledge, and reinforced by various things being taught under the name of "meditation." This myth is shattered when one watches children coming from diverse socio-economic classes and groups, from various sects and castes. They all practise Anapana, understanding its scientific and universal nature. It is, in fact, our serious responsibility to impart this wonderful technique, the pure Dhamma, to the younger generation-for their own good, for the good of the whole society, for a better and more peaceful tomorrow. I hope all of us will make the utmost efforts to fulfil this responsibility. I conclude with a couplet that children sing during Anapana courses:

धर्म न हिंदू बौद्ध है, सिक्ख न मुस्लिम जैन । धर्म चित्त की शुद्धता, धर्म शांति सुख चैन।।

-Dhamma is neither Hindu nor Buddhist, Sikh, Muslim nor Jain. Dhamma is purity of heart, peace, happiness, serenity.

May more and more children walk on this sublime, incomparable path of Dhamma, the path of purification.