by To Nhu
Many parents in big cities are registering their children for Buddhist teachings in pagodas during summer or at weekends in the hope that they will give up bad habits and create good personalities.
Eighth-grade student Tran Minh Khoi from Ha Noi's Dong Da District, describes the opportunity as magic. A voluntary guide at Bang Pagoda he smiles and says hello to everyone he meets – a big difference from the selfish and stubborn boy he was a year ago.
Khoi admits that in the past he did not help his parents – or anyone for that matter. "I fought with my younger brother to get the best food and games," he says. "I hated paying attention to others. I thought I was the most important boy in the world and had the right to ask my parents to do anything I wanted."
Khoi's father tried unsuccessfully to change his bad nature, but decided instead to take him to the pagoda every weekend. In the peaceful Buddhist surroundings, Khoi follows the routines of monks, learns Buddhist philosophy, the do's and the don'ts – and enjoys playing in groups with other children.
"Weekends in the pagoda are very interesting. I participate in a lot of activities with other friends," he says. "We eat, sleep, play and learn wonderful lessons together in a peaceful environment."
His father, Tran Manh Tiem, says people assume that children learn nothing at pagodas because they are too small to understand the philosophy. "However, it is more than just philosophy," says Tiem. "There, children have a chance to learn ways to share with each other, to focus on their work and to live independently without parents' help.
"In the pagodas, they try to catch up with their friends. Any child who is lazy or impatient will become an outsider. So, they all try to be as good as the others. They learn much from these real lessons."
Tiem says it was much better than a load of theory about good behaviour and words that parents and teachers crammed in their children's mind every day.
Minh Khoi is one of a large group of 450 other children who gather in Bang Pagoda at weekends. Abbot Thich Bao Nghiem, the head of Bang Pagoda, says the building opens its doors to all children. They can come and stay as long as they want. Their parents pay no fees.
The pagoda is always willing to help children give up bad habits and learn about the "middle way" to end suffering. Many other pagodas, including Ly Quoc Su, Dinh Quan, Sung Phuc, Di Da and Van Phuc in Ha Noi also hold programmes for children all year around, especially in summer.
Psychologist Nguyen Minh Duc from the Viet Nam Institute of Education Science says children enjoy discovering and learning things by themselves. Instead of being forced to participate in overcrowded summer courses, children at pagodas have a chance to learn useful lessons in an open environment. It is a fast and effective way for them to build up their life skills.
Duc says parents should acknowledge that Buddhist teachings only took hold when children agreed to take part. He says some children would find it difficult to adapt to pagoda life.
Seventh-grade student Nguyen Tuan Anh experienced a week at Di Da Pagoda before insisting on returning home. He says this was enough time for him. He says he enjoyed learning about things he had never been taught at school, such as overcoming temptation, obeying traffic rules and living in an economical way.
"However, I cannot eat vegetarian food all the time and live far away from my family. It is also irritating when I cannot follow my favourite movies. I really wanted to go home. My parents did not ask me if I wanted to stay at the pagoda."
As a parent of two boys, I find it difficult to find suitable activities for them during summer. So do many other parents. This has led to the popularity of pagodas – the first choice now for many parents.
Duc says parents should take their children to pagodas once or twice to see if they like the surroundings and atmosphere. Once a few autistic children were taken to a pagoda, but they could not relate to the other children. — VNS