A Short Story about Buddha and Buddhism for Children.

Like all of you, Buddha was once a young child with eyes of wonder.  And like you, as he grew up his parents taught him who he was by showing him where his family came from and what their traditions were. They told him what he should believe and what he should become in life.

Little Boy Buddha sleeping photo by Malcolm Tredinnick https://www.flickr.com/photos/malcolmtredinnick/3937146752/

Not all children are taught about the same things. You see, except for love, which all humans have in common, all people approach their beliefs from a different direction. This is like many roads all leading to the same place, which allows us to use different routes to get to that place. That’s why our friends can all be different than us.

Buddha, who was called Siddhartha Gautama when he still lived at home, was a very wealthy prince in northern India. He lived around 2,500 years ago.  He grew up in a family with a lot of money and he was always happy and contented.  He got married and he had a wife and a son.

One day, when he got a little older, he went outside his palace with an older friend and saw people who were unhappy and hurting.  Some were very poor. Some were sick. Some were disabled. Some were very old and dying, and some were already dead. He had never seen such a terrible situation, and he began to feel uncomfortable in his life.

What he saw made him very, very sad. He had never seen poor people, people in pain, or old disabled people before. As he got a little older, he couldn’t forget what he had seen. He realized that he had not been told the total truth about these bad things in life. He began to see that most people were not rich like him and that they struggled with many things. This made him want to change the world by finding a way to end the unhappiness and misery that people can have in their lives.

Buddha Leaves His Home to Find the Answer to Life’s Suffering:

One night, against his father’s wishes, he left his wife and son at home in their palace. He got rid of his expensive prince’s clothing, jewels and money, and cut his hair. That way no one would know who he was or where he was going.

A statue of an ascetic man.

An ascetic. Photo by Tim J. Keegan https://www.flickr.com/photos/suburbanbloke/48966806217/

Thinking it was the answer to life, he joined a group of men called “ascetics.” These men ate very little, worked very hard and got very weak and sick. But that didn’t help answer his questions about life.  Then, when his life as an ascetic left him too weak to go on, a young girl saved him. She gave him milk and rice to eat, and he started to get stronger and healthier.

He pondered his search for life’s meaning and a way to end people’s suffering. Unable to answer his own questions, he sat under a large and very old fig tree that historians call the Bodhe tree. Bodhe means “tree of awakening.” He meditated there for a long time. Under its old branches, sitting near its roots, he began to develop thoughts that were contrary to the ascetics’ way. Thoughts that were about the path to life happiness and “enlightenment”. 

2012_11_090408 – Bodhi Tree. Photo by Gwydion M. Williams https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/8235457704/

One day, after very many days under the Bodhe tree, he became “enlightened!” He finally had found a way to end the suffering he had seen before he left the palace.  His way was to believe in what he called the “Four Noble Truths.”  It was an honest way of describing life as it really is and accepting human suffering. But he now believed that by controlling our very thoughts about ourselves and others, we can be joyful for the good fortune of our human birth.

The Four Noble Truths of Buddha:

1) All life is suffering (he used the word dukkha). We suffer because we compare what we have to what others have, or what we believe they have.

2) The cause of suffering is desire. Desire makes us whine, cry for and crave things.

3) Get rid of suffering by getting rid of desire. When we control our thoughts of desire, we end our suffering.

4) To do so, follow the eightfold path. There are eight ways to end unhappiness and misery.

Let’s think about #1.

Help! Image by Lucie Bluebird-Lexington https://www.flickr.com/photos/dream_catchers/15499865623/

Life can be suffering and unhappiness, especially when we only think of ourselves. Remember, there are many, many other people in our world.  We all will get sick sometimes. We all will get old, and we all will die one day, as all people do. But we can handle that suffering by our actions.  Life is really a happy and joyful event when love is present, but we should realize that we will suffer if we only think about our problems and don’t try to help other people.

Let’s think about #2:

Suffering (dukkha) comes to us when we want too much, or we want better stuff than our neighbor. Sometimes we want what our friend has but we cannot have it.  If we feel like we can never get enough and we keep craving those things then that hurts a lot (dukkha).  It’s okay to want but if wanting gets too strong for us to control we certainly will suffer. That’s why desire and craving are suffering.

Let’s think about #3:

Greed Photo by Jane Gross
https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/14491038301/

We can end suffering by not letting ourselves want too much. Just think how life can be happy when we have enough toys. Sometimes, people feel like they should get more things, become like someone they admire, or become a famous contributor to the world. But really, we should just think about others and what they want or need. Maybe we can do something together to get those things.

Let’s think about #4:

Buddha believed there were 8 ways for people to get rid of their desire and end their suffering. The Eightfold Path consists of eight practices: right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right samadhi. Samadhi means that with meditation we can focus our mind on achieving all of these things. Remember, it was through meditation under the Bodhe tree that Buddha became enlightened. It was there that he realized the 4 Noble Truths. So, he believed that if people followed these 8 paths they would also achieve enlightenment, as he had done.

Prayer Lookout. Photo by Binny V.A. https://www.flickr.com/photos/binnyva/35175892172/

So What Should You Remember About The Buddha Boy?

This story was written to show you how the Buddha boy grew up to become enlightened and what he had to say about life 2,500 years ago.  He believed the way you think effects how much suffering you will feel. Buddhism teaches that it is fine to have enough of what we need, but we shouldn’t be greedy or think only of ourselves.  We should use empathy, which means we can understand and even feel the feelings of others, to help us think of others. And we can use compassion, which means caring about other’s else’s feelings, to help them overcome their suffering. You may have heard other people say, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Well, that’s pretty much the same thing. Finally, Buddhism says “experience what you have been taught, what you see and are told, and follow only what you believe works for you.”

Learn More about Buddha and Buddhism in these books:
For kids:

Letters to Will, Letter 4, What Is Buddhism by Leonard Swidler

And for parents wanting to know more:

Buddhism Made Plain by Antony Fernando