Little Buddhists attend their own version of Sunday school. (And it’s not on Sunday.)

Baby Zen 

Little Buddhists attend their own version of Sunday school. (And it’s not on Sunday.)

Give the average kid some pebbles, and she's as likely to eat them as throw them at her brother. But not the kids in the new Children's Dharma Program at the American Buddhist Center. These kids meditate on pebbles, using them to focus their concentration.

Pebble meditation took a detour last month when one young lad brought dandelions he learned to curl at day care. The group ditched the pebbles and used his creations as meditation tools instead.

"They were so interested and receptive," co-coordinator Maggie Melvin says of the Zen youngsters. The program is open to children ages three and older; parental attendance is required for kids who aren't potty trained. One might ask: How in the name of Buddha is a kid who pees himself supposed to be ready for spiritual enlightenment?

Melvin says most of the kids are six or seven years old, so we're guessing they've attained mindfulness of their bladders. The intent is to introduce children of Buddhist community members to ideas their parents hold dear.

"We're trying to spread the word to children about Buddhism and compassion," Melvin says. "We're doing it in such a gentle manner, it's really fun for them. We don't make them sit silently, but we ask them to be aware of who is sitting next to them." When the kids share a snack, for instance, they pass a pitcher around the circle, carefully pouring each other's drinks.

Melvin admits that two hours of mindfulness is a lot. "It is kind of a long time to ask children not to play," she says. But the adults try to keep the children's attention with a story and a related craft project. At one meeting, kids got a reading of Buddha in the Garden, an illustrated children's book by David Bouchard and Zhong-Yang Huang; the group then decorated framed Buddha pictures with flowers and garden gates.

"The message," Melvin says, "was that, when they meditate, they're opening the gate to a garden of possibility."

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