When challenged by a philosopher that his explanation of the Buddha’s teachings was so simple that a four-year-old could understand it, a Zen teacher replied that, yes, this was true, but that an 84-year-old could have trouble putting it into practice. Although some of the principles of Buddhist meditation are indeed so simple that a young child could understand them, there has until now been an absence of instructional material aimed at children.
In fact, Kerry Lee Maclean’s book is the only book I know which aims to introduce young children to meditation. In traditional children’s storybook style, with attractive illustrations and simple language, Maclean’s book shows how much our lives consist of rushing around, and shows how the practice of sitting quietly and following the breath can help to settle the mind.
Maclean’s illustrations show little piggies rushing around at school, playing competitive video games, having fights over toys, and getting frustrated over things going wrong: scenarios that all parents (and children) are familiar with. Having outlined the problems that our overloaded young piggies are faced with these days, Maclean goes on to offer an alternative, introducing the practice of mindful breathing (anapanasati) in simple language that even a four year old could understand. She uses simple, attractive, and evocative language such as, “Peaceful piggies sit like a king or queen on their throne, feeling the solid earth beneath them and the big sky all around them”. This imaginative yet grounded approach is likely to be very effective with young children.
The youngest people that I’ve taught meditation to have been around 10 or so, but Maclean’s book is aimed at a much younger audience, and should be suitable for four to seven year olds (the advance publicity says five to nine year old, but I think most nine year olds would find the illustrations too childish, and that some four year olds would love to follow the storyline and illustrations).
Maclean is well qualified to write such a book, having been meditating since se was 14, and now being the program director of the Colorado Shambhala Children’s Rite of Passage project. More importantly, she has raised five children and taught them to meditate to help the family weather a domestic crisis.
I welcome this book as a valuable tool for parents and teachers (including meditation teachers who are more used to working with adults), and hope that Kerry Lee Maclean will produce many more books introducing children to meditation.