Zen Center’s Dharma Kids builds decision making skills

— Jennifer Waters has a wish for the children who walk through the doors of Zen Center of Syracuse Hoen-Ji as part of her Dharma Kids program:

“To give them a foundation for decision making in their life.”

The program is designed to teach children ages 5 and up about Buddhist practice and how to live life according to the teachings of the Buddha, and help to guide children in their decision-making process.

“I find that a lot of adults are unclear on teaching their children how to act – to be honest, generous in their everyday life,” Waters, a practitioner at the center, said. “Today it’s hard, with parents working and trying to get ahead and provide for their family, to have the time to teach them the foundation of how to learn and act in the world, how to be and why.”

She relies on the classical teachings and practices of Shakyamuni Buddha, relating them to daily life using art, music and poetry. The goal of the program is to experience basic Buddhist teachings of compassion, inner peace, mutual respect and responsibility for one’s environment, providing tools the children can rely on for the rest of their lives, fostering self-confidence and inner comfort. The teachings that will be the focus for the 2011-2012 year will be the Four Noble Truths, particularly the fourth: the 8 Fold Path; and the Six Paramitas.

Waters, who has been a Buddhist for more than 20 years, said you don’t have to be a member of the faith to attend the program. In fact, the center’s abbot, Sherry Chayat, is Jewish, and a lot of the practitioners and members are Jewish, Catholic or Christian.

“You can be Catholic, Jewish or Pagan,” she said. “You don’t have to convert to come to the center. The Dalai Lama says, ‘If you are Christian, be a good Christian.’”

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