Primary Current Assemblies
(8 December 2012)
To look at how Buddhism began and understand that learning something new can change the way we think about things.
Preparation and materials
Display a Bodhi tree, if possible, or a picture of one. For a photograph of a Bodhi tree, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodhi_Tree and click on to the image.
- You may like to prepare some children to act out the story as you tell it (see section 4).
- Tangled/Rapunzel soundtrack – ‘I see the light’.
- Quiet music for the ‘Time for reflection’.
- Children enter hall to song 'I see the light’ (Tangled/Rapunzel soundtrack).
Ask the children to think about everything they know (for example, that the earth is a sphere, that there are 24 hours in a day).
Talk about how valuable knowledge is.
- Say that in some countries governments try to stop people learning new things. They are afraid that if people get hold of new knowledge and new ideas, they may start to think for themselves, and this may lead to uprisings against the government.
- For Buddhists, knowledge is important. In particular, there is a special kind of knowledge that they call ‘enlightenment’. This means having direct knowledge of the true nature of things, knowing what is important. This is not second-hand knowledge that you are told by somebody else, but understanding that you get from your own insight.
- Almost 2,500 years ago there was a man called Siddhartha Gautama, who had an experience of this ‘enlightenment’. This is the story of what happened. (You may prefer to paraphrase the following account, or make a play out of it.)
Siddhartha Gautama was an Indian prince. He grew up in a small kingdom in north-east India, in a place which is now part of the country of Nepal. His father, King Suddhodana, was a powerful and rich ruler.
Before he was born, his mother, Queen Maya, felt that he was going to be a very important person in the world. The baby’s name, Siddhartha, means ‘the one who brings all good’ or, ‘he who achieves his aim’.
Siddhartha was born in a garden, and Buddhists tell of how great peace fell on the whole kingdom at that time.
News of the prince’s birth spread, and many visitors came. One of these visitors was a holy and wise man, whose name was Asita. Asita told the king and queen that the prince would be either a great king or a great saint.
Both the king and queen were very happy. But, very sadly, soon after the baby was born, his mother became seriously ill. She died when Siddhartha was only seven days old. However, Pajapati, the queen’s sister, loved him, and brought him up as though he were her own son. The prince lived a carefree, happy childhood within the palace walls.
King Suddhodana wanted his son to be a great emperor and not a saint. Therefore for years he gave Siddhartha every luxury he could desire. The king also made sure that Siddhartha had the finest education. The prince learned quickly. In fact, it is said that after only a few lessons he had no need of teachers for he had learned all they could teach him.
As Siddhartha grew, his gentleness and kindness were equal to his intelligence. Unlike his friends and family, he spent a great deal of time alone, wandering through the palace gardens, making friends with the animals and birds.
When he was grown up, Siddhartha married a princess, Princess Yasodhara, and they lived quietly until after the birth of their son, Rahula.
Siddhartha decided to see the rest of the world, and began to travel. His father had tried to hide from him all knowledge of the sadness that is in the world – sick and dying people, poverty and injustice – but as the prince travelled he could not help seeing that the world was full of suffering and sorrow.
One day Siddhartha saw a holy man sitting very still and silent under a tree. He thought a lot about this man, and when he came back to the palace, he decided that he also was called to live a holy life like this man. He thought this would help him understand why the world was so full of trouble and sadness.
Siddhartha joined a group of holy men in the forest. He was 29 when he joined the group, and he spent six years studying and thinking, living in great poverty, and eating very little. But he could not work out how to solve the problems in the world, or how to help people work to make it better.
One day, when a young woman offered him food, he took it, and then sat under a Bodhi tree in the town of Bodhgaya. There he sat for many days until he achieved enlightenment: now he was sure that he understood the cause of suffering, and how to help people. It was after this that he was called Buddha, which means, ‘the enlightened one’.
Siddhartha travelled all over India teaching people. He became one of the world’s greatest teachers, and is one of the most important people who has ever lived.
- Those who follow his teaching are called Buddhists. Every year, many Buddhists celebrate the day when Gautama was enlightened, calling this day Bodhi Day.
Time for reflection
(Light a candle, and play some gentle music to help the children meditate.)
Buddhists spend a lot of time in meditation. For Buddhists, the way to start is by being very still and quiet, and emptying the mind of thoughts.
For the next minute I want you to try and think of nothing. Empty your mind and think about nothing. You may find it extremely hard to do!
May my words and actions today
bring light and life to others.
‘Father, hear the prayer we offer’ (Come and Praise, 48)