Buddha Enters Seventh Grade in Chicago
Eastern religions are full of surprises for students in my world religions class. There are heavens and hells, plural, not just one each. Also, the heavens and hells are not permanent. After a time, you are reborn, perhaps a human, perhaps not. You might end up as an animal, maybe even edible vegetation. Please Lord let it be on an organic farm.
There is also the whole rule thing. Regardless of whether they had a religious upbringing or not, they expect sacred texts to be filled with rules. Big ticket items like the Ten Commandments, but also more everyday ones about how to dress, what to eat, when and how to pray, etc, etc. Rules, rules, rules, and then more rules, followed by, yes, rules. Uncle!
Eastern sacred texts tend to be very light on rules. Instead, they encourage you to be more reflective about how you go through life. Works like the Buddhist classic the Dhammapada teach that you should consider the consequences of your attitudes and behavior for yourself, for other people, animals, and even the earth. Are my actions harmful? What prompts me to take these actions? What am I seeking to gain? Why do I desire that? Are my actions prompted by some perceived need? If so, why do I believe I need that? On and on.
Wait, what? I imagine my students saying. Let’s go back to the rules. I can just ignore them now and repent later. This self-policing is altogether too exhausting.
Indeed. Fortunately, you have many lives. So, be patient. Chip away at your crappy behavior in this life. Start again in another. Make some more progress and so on. Eventually, you get yourself into a position where you have a chance to finally become a good person. Don’t squander that chance.
That’s all well and good for yourself. Set a goal: be more giving to others three lives from now. But what about if you are a parent? Can you in good conscience foist your outlook on your kids? Make them give up what they want now? Don’t worry honey. You can get into a selective enrollment school in your next life, the one after that at the latest. Unless, of course, you are born outside of Chicago in your next life or are not even a human being again. [INSERT TANTRUM]
Yes, seventh grade in Chicago. Be very afraid. Kids in other jurisdictions have all the hormonal changes and social stress too. But we Chicagoans want a bigger challenge, so we upped the ante. Let’s make our kids’ high school choices completely contingent on their grades and test scores in arguably the most upside-down year of their lives. Oh, BTW, are there special accommodations for girls who get their first period during the entrance exams?
Now we are going through a life change too. My wife and I never paid much attention to our daughter’s grades before. Now, we track them very closely, too closely. It is kind of like following the stock market believing any downturn spells ruin: Math, down 1/8th. Eek! Reading up 3/8ths. Whew.
Feeling our pain, the Buddha might ask why do we feel it is so important to get into these specific schools? Is this about our kid’s welfare or our pride? Do “life prospects” matter that much? And how do you define life prospects anyway? Are they understood exclusively in terms of future income? How about life satisfaction? Being in a non-stressful learning environment, following a different path, one that makes you, God forbid, happy? Or at least not to suffer so much?
Points all well taken Prince Shakyamuni. Let me get back to you on that after the MAP test in the spring.
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