Grandmaster JinBodhi Talks About Raising Children
Grandmaster JinBodhi Talks About Raising Children
Interview by Lotus Seed
Compilation by Xuemei Li
All parents love their children and all parents want their children to develop into individuals that are healthy, happy and successful. How do we achieve this? What are the pitfalls to avoid? With these questions in mind, I interviewed Grandmaster JinBodhi. Below is a summary of the interview.
Lotus Seed: So many parents have high expectations of their children, wishing them to become “high-flying and powerful dragons and phoenixes,” as the old Chinese idiom puts it. What is your opinion of this kind of expectation?
Master: Not every child will become a high-flyer, nor is it necessary. I think the best parents are the ones that don’t have rigid expectations of their children, but rather are there for them as much as possible to provide support and nurturing. Such parents allow their children to develop naturally, discover their own talents and follow their own destiny, offering gentle guidance and encouragement along the way. No matter where our children are and what they do, if we know they’re safe, healthy and happy then we should we feel satisfied and relaxed.
L: How can we nurture our children so that they become healthy and happy?
Master: First of all, respect them as independent individuals instead of regarding them as “dependents” that we can control. Even if your children are still small, you have to respect their individuality. For instance, when you ask your child to close the door, make sure to say “please” and “thank you” to them. When you talk to your little child, it is wise to kneel so that your heads will be at the same height and you can look into each other’s eyes. By doing so, you make it easier for the child to communicate with you.
Secondly, we need to watch what we say. Some parents have an arrogant attitude toward children and often say threatening words to them, like “If you don’t do such-and-such, you won’t find a job in the future,” or “If you don’t eat well, you won’t get strong,” and so forth. Some kids may take this pressure as motivation to do better; however, lots of kids will feel depressed about the future – it becomes a daunting prospect that they lose confidence in.
L: Many parents believe that their children have to master as many skills as possible in order to succeed in life, and therefore enroll them in extracurricular activities like music, dance, sports, etc. How do you feel about this?
Master: If it isn’t too much of a stretch in terms of finances, time and energy, I support the idea of letting young kids learn some extra skills outside of the classroom which will be useful and enriching throughout their lives. Parents should observe and listen to their children carefully, and thereby get to know their children’s wants and needs. Parents must be aware of the different physical and psychological phases their children will go through at different ages.
L: How can parents help their children when they encounter challenges or criticism while attempting to learn a skill?
Master: This really goes back to a point I made earlier: Adults need to be careful of what we say to children. Each child has a unique learning style: Some learn fast but perhaps superficially, while others learn slowly but perhaps profoundly. If a child doesn’t seem to be making adequate progress, some teachers and parents get annoyed. However, it’s very possible that the child has been absorbing everything quietly without showing it. Adults need to be patient and refrain from jumping to premature judgments. Any negative comment you make might block a young mind’s confidence about mastering a skill. Here I’d like to add another point for parents of very little children: Try to accompany them when they are learning something new. Little children are easily threatened by new things: people, settings and challenges. Youngsters who are in the early stages of learning a new skill feel more at ease if they are accompanied by a parent.
L: Some parents are too insistent that their child learn a certain skill, or disapprove of their child’s choice of hobby. What is your advice to parents in such cases?
Master: Allow your children to follow the call of their heart and make their own life path. Guide your children’s energy and attention wisely instead of blocking it. Apropos this guidance, a Buddhist maxim says it well: “Go along with the conditions and relevant elements.” If a child often gets into fights, he might need to play sports in order to release the strong energy inside of him. Criticism and punishment alone may not stop such a child from fighting – a positive way to channel intense energy would be essential.
I strongly suggest all parents read one or two books on children’s development so that they can have some idea of how children evolve physically, psychologically and spiritually. Looking at a child’s behavior from an adult’s point of view is not always helpful, as it can lead to judging typical behaviors as unreasonable. For instance, little children often ask parents to read the same story repeatedly. An adult’s mind is always looking for new stimulation and thus repetitive activities are boring to a grown person. But if parents know that they are a normal part of childhood development it is more likely that a youngster’s need would take precedence over an adult’s boredom.
Children have different requirements at different developmental stages, and sometimes what they need is not what the parents are ready to give. Parents should step back from their personal judgment and treat their children with compassion. Even if you are starting to lose patience, be aware of your feelings and refrain from saying things like, “Stop crying! Otherwise I’ll leave you here by yourself!” or “You are such an annoying child!” Threatening words are very damaging to young children who don’t know that what they are hearing is untrue.
L: Understanding and guiding a child who is entering puberty is a headache for many parents. Children who were once gentle and placid can suddenly become defiant and moody during adolescence. Serious conflicts have been known to develop between parents and teenagers.
Master: Yes, puberty is a delicate period of growth in a person’s life, but parents should be happy that their children are pubescent as it is an indication of normal development. Hormones drive the physical and psychological changes that occur during adolescence, and these changes can create pressure and anxiety within the child. Curiosity about the opposite sex also contributes to inner turmoil. Emotional outbursts are common to the adolescent experience. Parents need to be compassionate. Even though teenagers may look like adults, they can still be childish psychologically. Be patient and loving, give them space, provide a tolerant environment and offer timely guidance. Do not let a teenager feel oppressed or isolated – adolescent depression can have serious consequences if left untreated.
Boys and girls should mix on a daily basis from the time they’re small, which will result in teenagers having a realistic rather than mythological view of the opposite sex.
I’d like to emphasize something here that I think is very important but may have been overlooked by some parents: Guide your children and young adults to be socially responsible people. A person should not only be responsible for him or herself but also carry a fair share of responsibility for society’s welfare. I’m glad to see many universities regard this as an important criterion when admitting new students. One student I know who had an excellent academic record and was popular among fellow students wasn’t accepted by Harvard University because he had failed to demonstrate a sense of social responsibility.
Apropos civic duty, the “dragon” in the Chinese idiom about expecting one’s child to become a dragon originally symbolized the emperor. Thus the idiom came to mean expecting a child to become powerful and gain high social status. However, it’s crucial to remember that a good emperor kept the well-being of all his people in mind and heart. A good emperor ruled by his merits, by the good things he did for his people, by winning their hearts. That’s what people mean when they call someone “a real dragon.”
L: How do you think parents can help their children develop a sense of social responsibility?
Master: Encourage them to visit the home of an elderly person, or a senior citizens’ retirement residence, and offer their help, or provide comfort and joy simply by talking or singing. No matter how small a child’s helpful gesture may seem, it plants a seed of love in a young heart. If this seed is nourished continuously, it will grow into a big love. Through one small gesture of compassion at a time, a child’s heart expands to include many instead of just him or herself. A youngster with a large, loving heart who combines that heart with knowledge and skills grows up to be powerful.
Children are little sponges! A spark of inspiration can ignite a bonfire of positive action. Children’s unpolluted minds know no limits. Give them a drop of water and they will harvest an ocean. Sow a seed of compassion in them, and they’ll do big things for humankind.
L: Grandmaster JinBodhi, you are a well-respected meditation master. You’ve done so much to help others and you have millions of followers around the world. But when you were a child, what were your parents’ expectations of you?
Master: I was in poor health when I was little. I think my parents just hoped that I would survive. When I first started trying long-distance running to strengthen my body, my father told me that if he got a bit of free time he would run with me. He was very sincere about wanting to help me. Whenever I was running and felt tired, I thought of his words and was inspired to keep going.
Then I started to train in the Chinese martial arts. Every evening I had to repeat my exercises. My father would say to me, “Ah, you’re getting better and better. You look so chivalrous!”
L: Later you left home to look for accomplished masters to follow.
Master: Yes, when I was about fifteen I left home to learn from different masters and in so doing improve myself. I had very complex feelings about leaving home, which meant leaving my aging parents who had always been good to me. I felt guilty about going, afraid that if they became sick I wouldn’t be able to help them. I was also worried that if I couldn’t make something of myself, I would have wasted all of their investment in me. I said to my mother, “I might not fulfill your expectations. Please don’t be disappointed and look after yourself.” To my surprise and relief, she replied, “I’ve never met a kinder person than you in my life. As long as you stay alive, I’ll be happy. Nothing else is important.”
L: She didn’t seem to expect you to achieve anything.
Master: No, she didn’t. And because of that, I felt even more motivated to do better. They just wanted me to become an ordinary person, to live safely and happily. Although they didn’t have high expectations of me, they did set requirements. I remember when I started to learn under my first master I was instructed to go to a desolate park to do my physical and meditation exercises before dawn. That meant that I had to get up at 3am every day, even in the winter. Normally I was still tired when it was time to get out of bed. But my parents required that I demonstrate endurance. So every morning my mother would wake me. Sometimes I really didn’t want to move. So she would say, “Your body is much stronger than before and your technique has improved a lot. These positive results are due to the physical and meditation exercises you’ve done in the past. Today is tomorrow’s past. If you continue with your exercises today, your improvement will continue. If you stay committed to getting up at 3am for a little longer, waking up early will get easier. Your endurance will pay off.” Indeed, I’ve developed superb endurance – I don’t give up.
L: Your parents were model parents.
Master: They never scolded me. Once I dismantled the only clock in our house, but couldn’t put all the loose parts together again. I got scared that I would get in trouble so I hid the clock under the bed. My father found out what happened and said, “If you want to know what’s inside a clock, study the parts thoroughly. I can buy a new one.”
I’m so grateful that my parents didn’t stop me from exploring, which is how I acquired a diverse set of practical skills. I became good at using my hands and making things. I can sew and cook quite well.
L: It’s important that we as parents provide opportunities for our children to explore freely in order to discover their own interests and develop a variety of skills.
Master: Yes. Exploring a particular interest can lead to revelations about other aspects of life. Cooking, for example, teaches one about balance and timing, which both apply to relationships as well as many other pursuits and experiences.
L: Your words are so inspiring. Thank you very much, Master, for sharing your opinions with readers.
Master: You’re welcome.