April 4th to 8th, 2007 were memorable days for those taking part in the first Children Course Workshop organized by the Vipassana International Centre, Singapore. The workshop was conducted by Mrs. Sabrina Katakam, based in Hyderabad, India and recently appointed “Teacher” in the tradition as taught by Mr. S. N. Goenka. She effectively facilitated the activities which energized and inspired the participants apart from training them to become knowledgeable in the theoretical aspects of Dhamma.
The aim of the workshop was to acquaint existing Children Course Teachers (CCTs) with recent developments in the children’s meditation courses, particularly in India, and also familiarize the volunteers who serve in various capacities in these courses, with the proceedings. For the thirty participants (from both Singapore and Malaysia), there was never a dull moment as they had plenty of opportunity to discuss and clarify their doubts with a teacher who is articulate, approachable and who has the unique gift of explaining the Dhamma as applied to everyday life.
The day began with an hour of group meditation followed by rigorous exercises –a common feature especially in residential courses for children and teenagers. The first day of the workshop was spent in orienting participants to a brief history of children’s courses as well as its development and spread to different countries. The highlights of the day were a refresher on the Noble Eightfold Path in an interactive and interesting manner as well as completing a self assessment paper (on the theoretical aspects of meditation). The answers to the paper were discussed and completed so that everybody had the benefit of participation.
The following two days saw the participants’ role-playing as children and teenagers while the CCTs rehearsed conducting meditation sessions. Apart from being a fun-filled activity it also prepared the CCT to face a group of children and the questions that they might raise. Narration of stories as well as games was also carried out and there was a total sense of involvement and participation by all members. All days had three one hour group meditation sessions to calm, recharge and refocus one’s energies and the day ended with a metta session from the teacher. The workshop culminated with a Teenager’s course on the last day.
The course attended by nine girls and six boys 13 to 18years of age, was conducted by Sabrina herself who has years of dedicated service in children’s courses, to enable the workshop participants to get a first hand practical demonstration of the ways in which they could interact with teenagers. While instructions in a meditation course come from the Principal Teacher Goenkaji, the CCTs have the responsibility to conduct it on his behalf. Before and after each meditation session, the conducting teacher briefly interacts with the children, first orienting them to the session and at the end of it asking a few questions to make sure that they have understood the instructions. This both inspires the children and also keeps them involved in the proceedings of the sessions.
The course began with a discourse explaining the precepts (sila) and anapana meditation in a simple language at a level that the teenagers can relate to. This was followed by three meditation sessions each of about 45minutes duration interspersed with short breaks in which the teenagers engaged in non-competitive games. The final session was a discourse on the benefits of the practice and also suggestions on how this practice can be maintained. The discourse ended with ‘metta bahavana’ where the teenagers learn to spread the happiness and peace they have received to all people around them.
In these days of chaos, confusion and a plethora of dangerous avenues thrown open to young people, parents are constantly in search of providing an anchor for them which can help in keeping them safe and focused. The importance of meditation for youngsters can never be overstated. For this we need a trained group of adults to conduct and teach in meditation courses for young people.
It is in this context that a workshop such as this becomes very significant and pertinent as it helps participants understand the theory behind the practice and how to respond to issues raised by children during a meditation course.
For further details on courses for children (8yrs-12yrs) and teenagers (13yrs-16yrs) conducted by the Vipassana International Centre, Singapore look out for their newsletter or an announcement in this magazine or visit http://www.sg.dhamma.org/
Note: This article was written long back for a Buddhist magazine in Singapore but for various reasons was not published.