Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades


Activity time: 10 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint list of future discussion topics from Workshop 9
  • Chalice, candle, and lighter or LED/battery-operated candle
  • Optional: A copy of The Dhammapada

Description of Activity

Have everyone sit in a circle or semicircle around the chalice. Light the chalice with these words:

We light this chalice in celebration of Unitarian Universalism and the sustaining faiths of all people of the world. May the flame represent the fire of our commitment to understand all faithful people and to build bridges that connect us as one human family.

Wrap up any topics you put in the "parking lot" during the last workshop's comparison of the seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism with the Eightfold Path of Buddhism.

Remind participants that in the previous workshop, the group discussed the way Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha and the Four Noble Truths he realized on becoming enlightened. Ask the group if they can repeat the Four Noble Truths.

Discuss with the youth how all branches of Buddhism share a belief in the Four Noble Truths and the teachings of the Dhammapada but take different approaches to attaining enlightenment. Today, the group will look at Zen Buddhism.

Say, in these words or your own:

Most of the world's most populous religions have branches that differ in their approach. Buddhism has two main schools: Theravada and Mahayana. Theravada teaches that the best path to walk involves a solitary life of contemplation, while the Mahayana school emphasizes living in community to learn compassion and how to give service to others. Zen belongs to the Mahayana school.

Part of Zen's approach is humor. While studying with an individual teacher, peaceful surroundings, and very structured meditation are important elements of Zen Buddhism, humor, surprise, and absurdity are also essentials of Zen. Absurdity serves the purpose of surprising us out of our set point of view and opening our eyes. A Zen monk once said, "If you're not laughing, you're not getting it!" A famous instruction from a Zen master that demonstrates the use of surprise is, "If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha!" If this makes you stop short and ask yourself "Why?!" you are on the right track.

The goal of Zen is to surprise us out of our complacency-to strip away our old, stale assumptions and habits to make way only for what really is.

A koan-pronounced "KOE-ahn"-is a nonsensical or paradoxical question or story used for teaching in Zen. A famous koan is, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" Although koans like these seem ridiculous, they are intended to have an answer or resolution that the seeker will realize if their thinking is truly free.