Venerable Ajahn Jayasaro and Venerable Ajahn Jiew join the school’s morning assembly and Life Skills class. Venerable Jayasaro observed our skit on the Wise Habit samadhi (being calm and focused) and gave students some advice on how to practise it. He then helped Year 3 student Ethan plant a vegetable and asked the youngster to look after it for him until his next visit!
Mattannuta (pronounced ma‐tan‐yoo‐ta มัตตัญญุตา) means ‘knowing the right amount’. When practised, it helps us achieve a healthy balance in life. It is the quality of understanding that, whatever goals we set ourselves, there is an optimum amount of material and non‐material things that we need. It is the ability to assess what is enough, and to know when we are being over‐demanding on ourselves, others or our environment.
The Buddha taught that the middle path should be followed by both body and mind. It is a path of neither sensory indulgence nor extreme austerity, but rather one of thoughtful moderation and balance. This does not only refer to specific actions or thoughts in isolation, for example, consuming the right amount of food, but also to achieving the right balance between all the different things we do each day and throughout our lives.
To illustrate this, Phra Prom Kunaporn refers to the importance of balancing the five indriya, or spiritual faculties: conviction (saddha), perseverance (viriya), mindfulness (sati), concentration (samadhi) and wisdom (panya). For example, if our conviction or faith is very strong but we do not use wisdom, we have a tendency to become gullible, a person who follows without question. Conversely, high intelligence but little faith leads to scepticism, and an inability to look inside oneself for the truth. If our perseverance is strong but our concentration is weak, we are likely to become agitated and stressed. Too much concentration and insufficient perseverance, on the other hand, leads to excessive daydreaming or idleness. To find the right balance between these, we need to use the faculty of mindfulness (sati) to observe and manage the impulses that habitually drive our actions and thoughts.
In today’s world of branded ‘must-haves’ and ubiquitous advertising, teaching the new generation how to consume the right amount is very important. Natural resources are stretched and we are experiencing increasing environmental degradation. Understanding mattannuta, therefore, is vital for our students as they grow up and shape the future of our society and our world. Venerable Ajahn Jayasaro counsels that if we think more is better simply in order to make our lives more comfortable, we will end up just wanting more and more and will never be satisfied. His advice is to encourage children to work out the mattannuta point for themselves. Whether eating, sleeping, studying, playing, using the computer or talking, the ability to find optimal balance through self-regulation is a skill which will lead to maturity and social responsibility. This means not dictating the rules to children, but rather helping them see the results of too much sleep – irritability and heaviness – or not enough – drowsiness and the inability to concentrate, or over-eating – stomach ache – and so on. When we ask our children how much sleep they think they need, how much food they should eat, instead of routinely imposing our own limits, they begin to understand mattannuta. If we encourage children to persevere for just another five minutes on a task they are bored with or wish to avoid, or to stop doing something they really crave a little earlier than they would like, this further helps put into focus the pushes and pulls of the mind and the benefits of balance.
Venerable Jayasaro suggests that a family which practices mattannuta is one where parents and children are able to come to mutually acceptable agreements. This means deciding how long we think children should watch TV or play on the computer, for example, but also respecting our child’s ability to think for himself and come to a sensible agreement on the right amount of time. When the time has passed, we simply remind our child of the agreement. In this age of ever-increasing ‘screen time’, as adults we also need to reflect on the amount of time we spend on ‘smart’ phones or laptops in the presence of children, and the message we are giving them about what we consider to be important.
Mattannuta means understanding that any goals we set should take into account the optimum balance of supporting factors required to achieve the most beneficial result for ourselves, others and the environment. Practising mattannuta helps us to understand the desires and aversions created by our mind, and that understanding, in turn, increases the peaceful moments we experience. Mattannuta is, therefore, a vitally important wise habit to teach our children, but also to practice ourselves if we are to achieve true balance in our lives.
How can I best support my child’s education at home?
By Michel Thibeault, Head Teacher
Relax, have fun together, share your passions and give your child lots of space to be his own person!
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the time spent helping with homework that is likely to make the biggest difference in our children’s education. In fact, research shows that only high school students benefit from doing homework, while elementary school students gain little or nothing. What does make a positive difference then? Well, “Relax, have fun together, share your passions and give your child lots of space to be his own person!” seems to be what is needed!
The usual “What did you do at school today?” rarely yields more than the monosyllabic “stuff” or the extended version, “I don’t know”. What we would like of course is for them to share the exciting moments of their day, the learning highlights but also the challenges they faced and the way we dealt with them. In “How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk”, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish suggest we simply talk about our day first and model what we would like them to do! Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work right away. Staying relaxed and avoiding interrogation sessions is likely to do the trick over time.
One of the key elements of the Panyaden approach is support the development of the wonderful Wise Habit of Chanda, the love of learning for its own sake. This requires that we create an environment that will be conducive to inquiry, that will support creativity and make discovery and learning a fun activity. Pressuring students takes them in exactly the opposite direction. Whether it’s from Buddhist principles, new data on how the brain works or research by people like Carol Dweck or Alfie Khon, the conclusion is the same: feeling pressured and stressed kills creativity and limits our learning potential1.
Besides modeling, there are many small things that can help boost our children’s learning:
Make sure they get enough fresh air and opportunities to run around after school.
Avoid high sugar and other unhealthy snacks.
Read to them, never mind how old they are.
Read yourself and do it in front of your children: children will follow their parents’ example.
Work together on home activities.
When there is homework, provide a set time and quiet environment for it to happen. Patiently help out if needed but don’t feel you have to do the teacher’s job. Send a note to school to inform the teachers if you encounter any problem.
Look up information together when you’re not sure about something.
Listen to his ideas and respect the level of his attempts.
Understand and accept that while the goal is always mastery of a concept, skill or knowledge, we can only take the next step today. Tomorrow might take us closer to the goal.
If your child is reluctant to do his work, it might help to ask him to estimate the time needed for various sections and set a timer to see if his prediction was accurate or not, “how long do you think it will take you to read the text?”. The next questions, after the text is read, could be something like “how long do you think it will take to answer the first 5 questions?”. You could also build in an incentive such as “dinner will be served as soon as your homework is done”. Or “I hope you’ll be done before I go to your uncle’s house because I would like you to come with me”. In this case, dinner is not withdrawn, nor is his chance to go to his uncle’s house but it’s clear that something else must happen first. The child then has to decide by himself to do his homework and reap the benefits or not do it and assume the consequences. The wording is important to make sure it is not perceived as a reward. It’s best to avoid statements such as “If you do … you will get …”
If, as the saying goes, “practice makes perfect”, let’s allow our children as many opportunities as possible to practice making decisions. If they feel they have a choice – even if it has to be limited – about when and where they do homework or other duties, when to have a break and so on, they are more likely to feel empowered…and from there Chanda will follow.
So, relax, have fun with your child, share your passions and give him lots of space to be his own person!
Understanding difference. Last week, Prathom 2 and 5 students spent a morning with children at a local village school, Wat Prachakasem in Ban Pong. We took a total of 7,025 THB cash donations from parents and teachers plus sales proceeds from ‘My Project’ It’s All Natural Food, to the poorly resourced school, exchanged gifts that both sets of students had made and shared learning activities and games together. A real-life opportunity to practise the Wise Habit, ‘Caga’ (being generous).
Sacca (pronounced ‘sat-ja’) is a Pali word meaning “real” or “true.” It means to uphold integrity by speaking and acting according to the truth and to keep one’s word. It is a wise habit of profound importance and yet in daily life it is one of the most difficult for us to consistently practise.
In early Buddhist writings sacca is often found in reference to ariya-sacca, or ‘noble truth’ and, specifically, the Four Noble Truths, the essence of the Buddha’s teachings. In this context, sacca can be translated as ‘reality’, where the Buddha expounds the absolute truth of suffering, its cause, cessation and the path out of suffering. At a deeper level, therefore, applying sacca is more than simply telling the truth; it is seeing the nature of things as they really are. Buddhist scholar and monk Bhikku Bodhi explains, “Much more than an ethical principle, devotion to truthful speech is a matter of taking our stand on reality rather than illusion, on the truth grasped by wisdom rather than the fantasies woven by desire.’’
One way to define truthfulness is by looking at its opposite, false speech or action. This is not only telling lies – we also have a tendency to add things in or leave things out. We often exaggerate in order to make ourselves and our lives seem more interesting and exciting; because we want to be popular and do not think we are likeable enough as we are. Or we use understatement, saying things like, ‘No, no, I’m not upset’ or ‘It’s no bother at all’ when clearly the opposite is true. We do it to please others or because we fear disapproval, whereas in fact we are being quite false. And there are also times when what we say is not a lie, as such, but because of what we leave out it is not the whole truth. Here the intention can be to convey a completely wrong impression, such as describing someone we don’t like in a one-sided way or describing events without certain unfavourable details to show ourselves in a good light. This doesn’t mean we have to say everything we feel in the name of ‘being honest’. “You don’t have to reveal the entire contents of your mind to others. You must ask yourself, to what extent is it beneficial to yourself and to others, to what extent is it harmful? Will it increase the amount of dukkha (suffering)?” (Venerable Ajahn Jayasaro). If our intentions derive from wisdom and goodwill, it follows that our words and actions will be ethical and skilful.
Untruthfulness often stems from being afraid, of one’s teachers or parents, of being punished, or being looked down on or scolded. The ability to be truthful, on the other hand, is a sign of confidence and emotional maturity. Sacca is a great strength of the mind. Venerable Jayasaro has said, ‘’People don’t have much faith in telling the truth all the time. But sacca is the foundation to all the other wise habits.”
Venerable Jayasaro suggests that children are particularly prone to being untruthful because they are so dependent on others for their well-being. It is natural they may have doubts or anxieties that the people they depend upon will disapprove, or even abandon them. To create a love for sacca from children, we should point out how beneficial it is to speak the truth. We should help them see what feelings arise when we are truthful, especially when it is tempting to create a false picture just to get praise; or how good it feels when we keep a promise, particularly one which was hard to keep. By the same token, we need to show our children the suffering and complications we have to endure when we do not tell truth. When the truth suffers, so do we. ‘’We should teach children that if we do something wrong, we should accept it, and make up our mind not to make the same mistake again. It is up to parents and teachers to gain trust from our children by demonstrating our sense of justice, integrity and our readiness to forgive.”
This most challenging of wise habits is a trial for all of us. Every day we are faced with the dilemma of whether or not to bend the truth, to leave something out or to put too much in or to do what we said we would do. If we are able to model this most pure and precious of virtues to our children, we will give them a truly wonderful gift for life, and one which creates a open and trusting society for all.
Khanti (pronounced kan-tee) originates from the Sanskrit word kshanti and means ‘patient endurance’ or forbearance. It is the ability to tolerate provocation, hardship, pain and all obstacles in your life. It is the voluntary control of mood and temper by the training of the mind.
In Buddhist texts khanti is considered to be one of the ‘ten perfections’ (parami), a high and noble quality that, far from indicating weakness or passivity, is seen as a great strength. It is a patience that endures being hurt without thoughts of revenge, arduous tasks without complaint and illness without despondency. Khanti is the acceptance of the first Noble Truth, the truth of dukkha (dissatisfaction, suffering). As we learn to accept that life is characterised by happiness that does not last and unhappiness that at times seems to have no end, we begin to see how much time and energy we waste trying to avoid or deny dukkha. When we accept the natural instability of life, we stop feeling defeated and sorry for ourselves.
Khanti relates closely to other wise habits, including viriya (perseverance) and samathi (being calm and focused). Without khanti, no matter how much we persevere we will become agitated and frustrated by the obstacles in our path. If we allow the distractions that inevitably arise in our minds when we are trying to stay focused to irritate and discourage us, concentration becomes more difficult than if we simply accept them as natural occurrences. By the same token, without viriya and samathi we are unlikely to cultivate the conditions needed to train the mind to be patient.
Research shows that, contrary to traditional views, there is no direct correlation between high IQ and success in life. The old beliefs in IQ are now outdated. According to contemporary studies impulse or emotional control is a far more important indicator for success in studying, family life and career (this is a key component of what is often referred to as ‘EQ’, or “emotional intelligence”, in modern educational terms). Venerable Jayasaro advises that children who have little tolerance, are selfish or spoiled will grow up wanting an easy life and lacking emotional control. The tendency to later develop destructive habits or addictions becomes high. Having the patience and tolerance to resist unwholesome acts is a virtue that will protect a child from such negative consequences. ‘’If your 5 year old child has khanti, you can be sure that he will have a good future.’’
As parents and teachers we know that patience is one of the most important and yet most challenging requirements in raising children. How many times do we hear ourselves say – or think – ‘’I am losing my patience!’’ In the teaching of children we not only need to control our temper, but also patiently resist the urge to ‘give in’ to unreasonable demands. We all know how difficult this is at times when, tired and fed up, we think ‘’OK, OK, watch another TV show! Anything for an easy life!’’ By helping children appreciate the value of waiting, by delaying their gratification, we are teaching patience.
We should use every opportunity to point out the results of their patience, or lack of it, reflecting back to the child without judgement. ‘’You waited patiently for your turn and now you are playing so happily!’’ Having consistently applied rules at home and school that have been agreed upon with the child gives her the opportunity to practise self-control instead of interrupting whenever she wants or watching cartoons without a time limit.
Each day things happen we do not want and things we want do not happen. Khanti enables us to respond to the ups and downs in life with thoughtfulness and composure, creating the space and possibility for positive change to take place. Khanti is a truly wise habit. It will earn us respect and admiration from others and create success and happiness for ourselves.
Viriya (pronounced wi-ri-ya) is a very important virtue in Buddhism, commonly translated as “perseverance”, or “diligent effort”. It can be defined as an attitude of gladly engaging in wholesome activities and staying with them in order to accomplish the desired results. It is the mind intent on being unshaken and not giving up. It supports the other Wise Habits, in that making progress is impossible without resolution, and is the virtue that follows chanda, for you first need self-motivation to be able to put forth diligent effort.
Viriya originates from the Sanskrit vira which means ‘hero’ and, as such, we can see viriya as the act of conjuring forth the qualities of a hero. Viriya is identified in Buddhist teachings as a critical component of a number of qualities that lead to happiness and liberation of the mind, such as the five spiritual faculties (indriya) and the ten “perfections” (parami). It is also associated with Right Effort, one part of the Noble Eightfold Path, which identifies four types of right effort:
– to prevent negative, unwholesome states of mind from arising
– to abandon them if they have arisen
– to generate positive, wholesome states not yet existing
– to maintain them without lapse, causing them to develop and to reach full growth.
Viriya has to emerge from your heart, from a place of Right View and Right Intention and in balance with other Wise Habits, such as patience (khanti), concentration (samathi), awareness (sati) and wise reflection (yoniso manasikara). If we put our energy and effort into actions without the right mind we will cause more harm than good. Venerable Ajahn Pasanno teaches, “while it is important to put forth effort it is also important to slacken off at times. If you are always pushing, the mind can get on edge, restless and unsettled. We need to gauge and reflect on what is appropriate effort.’’ When we fix our sights too firmly on the goal, will power tends to take over and only gets us so far before we feel frustrated. Viriya is a relaxed energy, a peaceful vitality which continues to sustain us without irritation or despondency.
Venerable Ajahn Jayasaro explains the role of viriya ineducation. ‘’While it is important to be relaxed when we are learning, we also have to teach perseverance and determination. Enthusiasm (chanda) leads to perseverance (viriya) which leads to concentration (samathi) which leads to skilful use of the mind (yoniso manasikara). If we have chanda we are eager to know, learn the truth and value what we do. From there viriya will occur and be followed by patience and tolerance towards any obstacles we find in our way.” When the mind is motivated yet patient, we are more able to make decisions calmly and with wisdom.
For children to understand viriya we can encourage them to reflect on their feelings after completing a task with perseverance. To encourage greater effort, we can try setting mini-goals on the way to achieving a greater task, extending the distance between these steps as the child gets older or gets better at cultivating perseverance. We must also lead by example with our own displays of viriya. When we see others refusing to give up despite obstacles and setbacks, it can be very inspiring.
Having desire to do something is essential because it gets us going, but actually sustaining effort and energy is where a lot of the hard work is. We might have the desire to get off the sofa and get some exercise and even make a start, but in order to achieve the desired long term results such as weight loss or fitness, we need to keep at it!
Our Wise Habit Grandmaster, the Kung Fu Chef appeared at school again today! He came with his young disciple, Chippy, also known as the Carpentry Kid, to teach us about this week’s Wise Habit, Avihimsa (not harming). They were joined by our Prathom 1 students who had made a poster illustrating examples of the some of the harmful things we should avoid. We learned that saying, doing and even thinking something hurtful towards other living things harms ourselves as well as others. Chippy finished off by practising the 12 Wise Habits moves with the whole assembly.
Today’s wise habit sketch was about ‘Yoniso-manasikara’ (โยนิโสมนสิการ) or applying the mind skillfully. Master Yo showed us how to use this wise habit in daily life with a story about Timmy, a boy who was too lazy to pack his own bag for a trip and to clean up his room. Master Yo suggested that he used all 12 wise habits to help him finish his chores, which he did to the surprise of his happy mum.
We started today’s wise habit session on Metta-Karuna (being kind and compassionate) with a sketch from our teachers about two dogs.
Kru Pond is the proud owner of one dog, which is cute and well taken care of while the other is homeless. The homeless pup wants to play with Kru Pond’s dog but she does not allow it to because it is dirty and ragged.
In comes Master Metta Karuna who explains that we should always be kind to people regardless of who they are, as well as animals like the poor homeless puppy. The session ended with Kru Neil and Kru Michel teaching us the Metta song which we all sang along to.