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I'm in the process of organising a family day at my Local Buddhist Centre. I'll be taking my 4-year-old daughter with me and she will once again ask me who is the Buddha? Previously I have always given really weak answers such as 'he was a very nice man who lived a long time ago'. Not very satisfying to anyone. So what would be an age appropriate way to describe who the Buddha is?

I want the description to be accurate and accessible to her. Obviously the more complete the better but realistically things are going to be left out. Also I don't want to slip into using Christian type words for Buddhist concepts - for instance not using heaven for nirvana, church for sangha etc...

So what would be a good way to describe who the Buddha is to her. I'll be honest I think I want a Dr Phil script of the month type answer for this.

Many Thanks for all/any help on this one.

  • Tell her the Buddha was God. – ThisIsNotAnId Jan 20 '15 at 4:10
  • But later then you must tell her there is no God, and there is only isness, the whole. – ThisIsNotAnId Jan 20 '15 at 4:17
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    Hello @ThisIsNotAnId. Your statement that "Buddha was God" would be considered untrue by many Buddhists. But there is at least one master, (Thích Nhất Hạnh), who has written about a concept of God in Buddhism; maybe more. If your idea is more than to simply tell a child something untrue, please consider expanding this as an "Answer" to clarify what you mean. Just a suggestion. – Robin111 Jan 20 '15 at 10:56
  • In my comment above, I'm not suggesting Thích Nhất Hạnh said that Buddha was God in a conventional sense. I'm referring to his book "The Energy of Prayer" where he explains a concept that includes God as part of a whole. – Robin111 Jan 20 '15 at 11:04
  • What I mean by that is you can tell a young child Buddha is God. Any deeper explanation will unnecessarily complicate things. And then there's my second comment too. The word God can be interpreted in any one of a number of ways, but by saying that Buddha was not God, you are already interpreting the word in a particular, incompatible manner (with Buddha). To put it shortly, she will understand something like Buddha was God. – ThisIsNotAnId Jan 20 '15 at 18:28

12 Answers 12

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A 4 year old can be told that the Buddha was a man who wanted to understand how to be happy and free and he worked very hard to understand how to be truly happy and free. Then he taught other people what he learned.

For many years the Buddha taught:

  1. Sometimes people feel sad.
  2. Sometimes the thing that makes people sad is not getting something they want or getting something they don't want.
  3. There is a way not to be so sad about not getting what you want or getting something you don't want.
  4. The way is to not think so much about what you want at all, but instead think about how you can be kind and helpful to your family, your teachers, your friends, other people, animals, bugs, and everything that lives. :)
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    I believe my little one would understand this. Good answer. – RubberDuck Jan 19 '15 at 1:36
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In simple terms this can be along the lines of:

Do you get sad, angry and low? The Buddha taught the way out of it, and how to be a good person!

5

Lord Buddha was no GOD nor Saint but an human being who was born in a wealthy royal family. As prince who gave up his wealth to seek happiness of the mind and body. He understood that being attached to materials only make people suffer from these. the word Buddha means 'the enlighten one'. in summary it means he who found the right path of happiness...

I often taught my kids.. always remember his wisdom words ..: "not the right, not to the left but the middle-way is your guide!"

For 4 old, it's simple to clarify that with an example of a music instrument such like a guitar.. has strings..if you tighten the string too much then the string will break.. but if you don't then no sound will come out of it.. :)

In English words.. do everything with moderation and don't do and go to the extreme path!! (especially with what happened in the world in recent weeks).. ;(

If your little 4 is fast learner then you can explain further that the Buddha was no God, he didn't cure people's diseases nor make miracles. He only taught people to be happy with what they need and not with what they want! for example.. people need/wish little foods to eat to survive and they are happy... but there are people want to have beautiful car or fancy clothes to be happy.. :)

I hope that would help little kid to understand.. my kids were 4 and 5 when I started to explain to them the wisdom of the Lord Buddha! And since they never questioned me why I had to say 'no' sometime... lol :D

Hope these will teach your child to appreciate his/her world better. :)

Best wishes..

Phoebe

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    You've described how to tell a child about Buddha's teaching, and who he isn't and what he didn't do (under the assumption that who he is and what he did was already decently explained), but this doesn't appear to discuss teaching them who Buddha is. Note that the asker never said they explained Buddha as a god. – doppelgreener Jan 20 '15 at 3:30
  • I wonder what was missing from my words to describe who was the Buddha?? You can surprise of how many people who never understood what is Buddhism means.. do believe that Buddha is actually a Buddhist god!! lol – Phoebe Jan 20 '15 at 11:30
  • Luckily me .. I started with the first sentence describing that Buddha wasn't a god but a human being... lol – Phoebe Jan 20 '15 at 11:35
  • Right, isn't the whole point that he was a human being which can give us all hope that we an attain a similar transcendence? To allude deity indicates his experience is beyond our capacities. – sss4r Jun 13 '15 at 16:41
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Lord Buddha said that if you do good things to others , good things happen to you and you will be happy , if you do bad things to others , bad things will happen to you and you will be sad , so do good things and be happy .

3

That the Buddha was a man, and lived a long time ago, are not the most interesting facts.

And even the question 'who was he?' reminds me of 'the unanswered questions' ...

... so suggest you answer slightly different questions, for example: 'what did the Buddha do?'; or 'why is the Buddha important?'; and maybe make it personal like 'why is the Buddha important to us?'

In general, 'near' (in time and space) and 'personal' (in relationships) are more 'important/interesting' than far away and impersonal/abstract.

If you want to describe what the Buddha did, there are verbs you can use: for example the Buddha 'discovered' (or found out), the Buddha 'taught' (or told), ...

If you want to describe the Buddha, consider the Anuradha Sutta in which the Buddha explained how (and how not) to do that. It ends with,

And so, Anuradha — when you can't pin down the Tathagata as a truth or reality even in the present life — [...] Both formerly & now, it is only stress that I describe, and the cessation of stress.


As for how to describe 'nirvana' and 'sangha':

  • nirvana: Can I presume your daughter knows what 'angry' is? Does someone teach her to recognize/label emotions (e.g. "now, you're feeling hurt/angry because Sarah is playing with your toy", or similar)? Assuming she can label and recognize 'negative' emotions, instead of "nirvana" perhaps you can use negations: "not hurt, not angry, not sad" etc.

  • dhamma: Here is one summary of the Dharma, as adapted for a UK primary school, i.e.:

    The basic tenets of Buddhist teaching are straightforward and practical: nothing is fixed or permanent; actions have consequences; life has difficulties and it is possible to overcome them.

    And this suggests it's possible to teach Dharma (i.e. "key principles of Buddhism in a practical way") perhaps without even necessarily saying a lot about the (historical) Buddha himself.

  • sangha: Would it be reasonable to translate "sangha" as 'friends': e.g. "the Buddha realized [dharma e.g. how to not be unhappy] and then told his friends"? At the famous 'Sermon at Benares' the former acquaintances recognized him as Gautama and addressed him as "friend", and the Buddha told them not to do that (not call him "friend") so I'm not sure about that. I hope it's at least possible to describe the sangha (if not the Buddha) as 'friends'.

Veering off-topic you might also want her to be developing concentration. I asked my mum, who's a Montessori teacher, about 'concentration' in AMI Montessori schools: she said that yes it's important/central, but it (in pre-schoolers) is unforced and comes from the child's interest in the material, that the teacher's role is (to some extent) create an environment with interesting materials and without other distractions / disruptions.

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Show her this video : )

The Story of Buddha
"A short version of the story of Buddha with animations designed for children."

As with most things like this for kids, a lot gets glossed over, so you will have to decide for yourself whether it is accurate/appropriate and covers the factors about Buddha that you'd like your daughter to know.

  • Having watched it I think it's too old (e.g. 'dancing girls' and 'suffering' at about time 2:00, and 'ascetism and enlightenment' at time 3:00, etc.) for a four-year-old. – ChrisW Jan 20 '15 at 2:27
  • @ChrisW Thanks for your thoughts on that. Each parent has different standards and each child has different levels of comprehension, which is why I made sure my answer included '...decide for yourself whether it is accurate/appropriate...'. – David Jan 20 '15 at 6:16
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Ice-cream is sweet, so you like it. Candies are sweet, so you like it. Flower is beautiful, so you like it. You know each of those things are sweet because you had experienced it before.

Just like you, there was another man called Buddha, he also experienced a lot of things and finally found out the sweetest thing in life. He experienced enlightenment and hence he knew its taste.

2

I definitely would have taken the experiential route. I would have sat the child down crossed-legged. I would have asked the child to take a deep breath and while exhaling ask the child to listen and feel the wind, listen to how it changes and even stops, feel how it touches the skin. Then i would ask the child to take another deep breath, this time, while exhaling, feel and see the sunshine. See how the light dances on everything it touches, feel the warmth of the sunshine on your skin. Next, i would ask the child to take another deep breath, this time, i would ask the child to pick up a hand full of dirt/soil, i would ask the child to feel the texture of the soil in the hand and fingers, then smell the soil... i would continue through all the senses, hopefully arriving with the child calm, focused and relaxed.

I would then explain that the Buddha was a very special man who taught people to focus on all the momentary changes within our senses, and in doing so, humanity, wherever they might be, they could always find their way back to this moment full of beauty and peacefulness.

Metta.

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Buddha is a title, not a person. It means 'one who has woken up'.

It is a title given to wise men who seek to help others, and remove suffering from the world. The most famous Buddha is Gotama, who considered his duty incomplete until all suffering was ended, and is regarded as one of the founders of Buddhist philosophy.

  • This explanation might be better for a 10-year old. For a 4-year old we have to keep it very simple. – Anthony Jan 21 '15 at 3:02
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Buddha never a 'was', he is here when we are talking of him. I don't have anything to suggest to tell anybody but i have a massege : in our time (humanity) there were people who are not with us right now (phsically) but they can be with us for understanding the basic of our future.

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What does coke taste like?

Can any intellectual discourse give you the answer? And even if you drink coke, can you explain what it really is to others?

The Buddha was a man who tried to work it all out. Was he right or wrong? or in the middle?

The 4 year old can be a Buddha by using his her mind/heart exploring everything she/he can.

Cheers.

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Interesting and challenging question. I would say Buddha is a person who can help anyone of His friends in any situation and speaks so that everyone can understand Him because He knows everything.

protected by Andrei Volkov Jan 20 '15 at 17:11

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