CliF Notes

A curriculum for families and small groups

 

September 2017

 

Week One – September 3rd

What is Theology?

Supplies Needed: Largish glass or ceramic bowl—probably available from your local thrift store, acrylic paints (from craft store) and brushes and/or hot glue gun and decorative items such as pretty pebbles, craft “jewels”, etc.

Chalice Lighting (Note: if you don’t have a chalice you can either look for something like a compote dish that has a fairly shallow bowl on a pedestal or make one using a terra cotta flower pot for the base and the matching saucer glued on top for the bowl. Tea lights make an easy and safe flame, but votive candles work fine, too.)

We light this flame to guide our search for truth, and to remind us to look on the world with bright eyes, and to meet the world with warm hearts.

or

We are Unitarian Universalists (shape hands fingers up to form two “Us”)

This is the home of the open mind (touch fingers to forehead and open out)

This is the home of the flaming chalice that lights our way to truth. (cup hands thumbs out and hold up)

This is the home of the loving heart (fold hands over heart)

This is the home of the helping hands (hold hands out)

Together we care for our earth

And work for peace in our world. (join hands amongst the group)

 

Or, for older kids:

 

In the freedom of truth

and the love of justice

We bring all that we are

to shape what we yet can be.

 

 

Check in

You may wish to start this check-in time with the words “We are a family (or community). What touches one of us touches all of us, and so we take this time to listen to each person remember and share one thing from the past week that made a difference in their life – something that made them happy, or sad, or proud or sorry or grateful.

 

Centering

Have everyone holding hands seated in a circle. Ask everyone to close their eyes, then say: “Imagine that at the center of our circle is a fire – maybe you see a flaming chalice, or maybe it looks like a camp fire or a burning candle. Watch this flame in your imagination, how it moves, what color it is. Know that this flame is pure energy, the life energy that makes plants and animals grow, the energy that started with the big bang at very beginning of the universe. This flame cannot burn you—it is the light of creativity and curiosity and inspiration. In a moment, when we are all perfectly still, that flame will leap out into our circle, and be passed around. When you feel a squeeze on your left hand, pass the flame along by squeezing your right hand – but don’t squeeze until you feel the pulse that tells you the flame has made it’s way to you.” After a moment, when all is very still, start the hand pulse around the circle.

 

Introduction

This year our religious education time is going to be centered on doing theology. “Theology” is a fancy word for looking at the big questions of life – questions that we can’t ever have certain answers to. Science is very good at answering some kinds of questions like “How tall is that mountain?” or “How can you build a rocket ship that goes out in space?” or “How long ago did dinosaurs live?”  But science isn’t much help with questions like “Why are we here?” or “What is God?” or “Why do bad things have to happen?” For questions like that, we can’t use laboratories or microscopes or telescopes. But we do have a set of tools that we use for doing theology: we have the stories that people around the world have told to try to make sense of things, we have the ideas of thoughtful people across time who have tried to understand the big questions, we have our own minds to try to make sense of the world and we have our own feelings to tell us what feels good and true.

 

Making a Question Bowl

Since doing theology is all about asking and trying to answer questions, we need a place where we can put our questions. Now, we could just write them on a piece of paper, but it might be better to have something sturdier and more beautiful to hold our important questions – whether they’re written down on paper or spoken or even just trying to form in our hearts and minds. So, together we’re going to decorate a question bowl, which we can use all year to be the container for our questions. What do you think might be some good things to draw on our bowl to remind us that it’s for important questions as well as to make it beautiful?

 

(Making sure that you have paint which will adhere to the bowl you have chosen, have each person take a turn decorating the communal bowl.)

 

Discussion

What questions can you think of that might be the sort of question that we try to answer with theology, rather than with science?

 

Closing

Have each person write down a question they would like to think about. (Younger children who can’t write easily can dictate to an adult.) Share questions aloud, and place them in the bowl.

 


 

Week Two – September 10th

Can I Believe Anything I Want? (Theodore Parker)

 

Supplies Needed:

 

Chalice Lighting (Note: if you don’t have a chalice you can either look for something like a compote dish that has a fairly shallow bowl on a pedestal or make one using a terra cotta flower pot for the base and the matching saucer glued on top for the bowl. Tea lights make an easy and safe flame, but votive candles work fine, too.)

We light this flame to guide our search for truth, and to remind us to look on the world with bright eyes, and to meet the world with warm hearts.

or

We are Unitarian Universalists (shape hands fingers up to form two “Us”)

This is the home of the open mind (touch fingers to forehead and open out)

This is the home of the flaming chalice that lights our way to truth. (cup hands thumbs out and hold up)

This is the home of the loving heart (fold hands over heart)

This is the home of the helping hands (hold hands out)

Together we care for our earth

And work for peace in our world. (join hands amongst the group)

 

Or, for older kids:

 

In the freedom of truth

and the love of justice

We bring all that we are

to shape what we yet can be.

 

 

Check in

You may wish to start this check-in time with the words “We are a family (or community). What touches one of us touches all of us, and so we take this time to listen to each person remember and share one thing from the past week that made a difference in their life – something that made them happy, or sad, or proud or sorry or grateful.

 

Centering

Have everyone holding hands seated in a circle. Ask everyone to close their eyes, then say: “Imagine that at the center of our circle is a fire – maybe you see a flaming chalice, or maybe it looks like a camp fire or a burning candle. Watch this flame in your imagination, how it moves, what color it is. Know that this flame is pure energy, the life energy that makes plants and animals grow, the energy that started with the big bang at very beginning of the universe. This flame cannot burn you—it is the light of creativity and curiosity and inspiration. In a moment, when we are all perfectly still, that flame will leap out into our circle, and be passed around. When you feel a squeeze on your left hand, pass the flame along by squeezing your right hand – but don’t squeeze until you feel the pulse that tells you the flame has made its way to you.” After a moment, when all is very still, start the hand pulse around the circle.

 

Introduction

One of the questions that people ask a lot about Unitarian Universalists is “Can you believe anything you want?” Sometimes UUs answer “Yes,” because we don’t have a creed, which is a statement of what everybody in a religion believes. Unitarian Universalists don’t all have the same answers to the questions of theology that we talked about last week. BUT…that’s not the same thing as saying the UUs can believe whatever they want. What if you wanted to believe that people should have everything they liked, even if they had to steal or hurt someone to get it? That wouldn’t match with the UU principle of believing that each and every person is important, since it would mean treating other people like they didn’t matter. What if you wanted to believe that people had a right to use up all the natural resources they could, chopping down all the trees and polluting the air and water, so they could have more stuff, and didn’t have to worry about cleaning up after themselves? That wouldn’t match up with our UU principle of honoring the fact that people are a part of nature, and that we all belong to the “interdependent web” of all life.

  

Story

Some people, including Unitarians and Universalists, have given up a lot to express the truth of what they believed – not what they wanted to believe because it was easy, but what they had to believe, because that’s what their hearts and minds told them was true. One of these people was Theodore Parker.

Theodore Parker was born almost 100 years ago, the youngest child in a large farming family. Most of his family had died by the time he was 27, probably due to the disease tuberculosis. Perhaps because of his losses, he grew to hold a strong faith that the soul lived on forever after death. He also came to believe in a God who would not allow anyone to suffer after death– a belief called “Universalism” (sound familiar?). His belief in God's kindness and mercy made him decide that that common theology of the time, that God would punish many people in hell after death, was cruel and unreasonable.

Theodore considered becoming a lawyer, but his strong faith led him to theology. He wanted to go to Harvard Divinity School to become a minister, but couldn’t afford it, so he read all the books in the Harvard curriculum on his own. To say that Theodore was smart would be an understatement! To support himself, Theodore became a school teacher, but when he was 24, in spite of the fact that he had no college degree, Harvard Divinity School allowed Parker in as an advanced student. A generous patron paid his tuition. While he was at Harvard, in addition to all his regular studies, Theodore decided that he wanted to learn foreign languages. He wanted to study religious books like the Hebrew and Christian Bibles in the language they were written in, as well as being able to read scholarly books written by people around the world. He learned a new language a month, and by the time he was 26, he could read in some twenty languages!

While he started with a strong faith, over time he began to ask questions. He learned of the new field of historical study of the Bible, which was starting up in Germany, and he found that people were starting to read the Bible not as something that was handed down direct from God, but as a book that people wrote over time. The idea that you could study the Bible as something from history meant taking a whole different view on its meaning than most people had at the time. If the Bible came straight from God, then you pretty much had to accept the whole thing as fact, including the miracles and stories that involved things like the sun stopping in the sky. Theodore came to disagree with these traditional views. In the end, he rejected all miracles, and saw the Bible as full of contradictions and mistakes, but still full of important stories with truths to teach about life and religion. Although Theodore changed his understanding of the Bible, he kept his faith in God.

Parker was attacked when he said the miracles in the Bible never really happened, and when he said that neither the Bible nor Jesus were absolute sources of truth. Some felt he was not a Christian, and almost all of the ministers in the Boston area, even the Unitarians, refused to let him preach at their churches, or to preach at his small congregation.

However, not everyone thought that Theodore’s views were wrong. Parker accepted an invitation from supporters to preach in Boston in January 1845. His supporters organized the 28th Congregational Society of Boston in December and installed Parker as minister in January 1846.

His congregation came to include many famous people, including Louisa May Alcott (who wrote Little Women and many other famous books), Julia Ward Howe (another famous writer, and worker for peace), and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (a major leader of the movement to give women the right to vote). Before long they had to move to a bigger building for their church services, as thousands of people came every Sunday to hear Theodore preach on his new beliefs about religion. In addition to supporting rights for women, Parker also supported the abolition of slavery, at a time when the American union was beginning to split over the issue. There are stories of him writing sermons with a pistol on his desk in case he should need to defend a runaway slave who was hiding in his house.

The more traditional ministers of Boston were shocked by Parker’s beliefs, and his willingness to defy the law when it came to slavery. A group of Unitarian ministers came to his home and asked him to resign from their fellowship. Parker, however, refused, saying there was no reason why he could not belong to the group of Unitarian ministers.

Boston's Unitarian leadership opposed him to the end, but younger ministers admired him for his attacks on traditional ideas, his fight for a free faith and pulpit, and his very public stances on social issues such as slavery. Now most Unitarian Universalists regard him as a hero, a brave man who stood up for his beliefs, many of which are now shared by the majority of Unitarian Universalists.

Activity

I’m going to read some theological statements—sentences that state beliefs that people might have. We’re going to have three places you can go in response to these statements. If you agree with the statement, and feel that it is a true statement of what you believe then walk over to _______________(leader indicates location).  If you disagree with the statement, and feel that it’s not what you believe, but you have no problem with other people thinking that way go _______________(leader indicates location). And, finally, if you think the statement is flat-out wrong, and that anybody who thinks that way is making the world a worse place, then go _______________(leader indicates location). Got it?

 

God is inside of us.

 

People who do bad things are punished in hell after they die.

 

People who aren’t saved by Jesus Christ go to hell after they die.

 

Plants and animals and people all have God inside them.

 

God is up in the sky.

 

The world was created by God about 5000 years ago.

 

People do bad things because the Devil directs their actions.

 

When you die, that’s it, you’re just plain gone.

 

People should do whatever feels good, no matter what the cost to someone else.

 

All religions have part of the truth, but nobody has the absolute right answers.

 

People are happiest when they feel like they are making the world a better place for everyone.

 

There is no such thing as God.

 

It is important to share what you have with the poor.

 

It is important to follow the rules set out in the Bible.

 

There are many gods and goddesses, but they are all ways of understanding the big idea of God which is beyond anything we can describe.

 

All the people of the world are family.

 

Discussion

Are you ever in situations where your religious beliefs are different from those of your friends or others around you? Does anyone ever give you a hard time about your religion? What do you do if that happens?

 

Closing

Have each person share one statement from the earlier game they thought was true.

 


 

Week Three—September 17th

Where do I look for Truth? (The Story of Buddha)

 

Supplies Needed: Story, props if desired, slips of paper with four noble truths and the eight-fold path printed on them (hidden before session starts)

 

Chalice Lighting (Note: if you don’t have a chalice you can either look for something like a compote dish that has a fairly shallow bowl on a pedestal or make one using a terra cotta flower pot for the base and the matching saucer glued on top for the bowl. Tea lights make an easy and safe flame, but votive candles work fine, too.)

 

We light this flame to guide our search for truth, and to remind us to look on the world with bright eyes, and to meet the world with warm hearts.

or

We are Unitarian Universalists (shape hands fingers up to form two “Us”)

This is the home of the open mind (touch fingers to forehead and open out)

This is the home of the flaming chalice that lights our way to truth. (cup hands thumbs out and hold up)

This is the home of the loving heart (fold hands over heart)

This is the home of the helping hands (hold hands out)

Together we care for our earth

And work for peace in our world. (join hands amongst the group)

 

Or, for older kids:

 

In the freedom of truth

and the love of justice

We bring all that we are

to shape what we yet can be.

 

 

Check in

You may wish to start this check-in time with the words “We are a family (or community). What touches one of us touches all of us, and so we take this time to listen to each person remember and share one thing from the past week that made a difference in their life – something that made them happy, or sad, or proud or sorry or grateful.

 

Centering

Have everyone holding hands seated in a circle. Ask everyone to close their eyes, then say: “Imagine that at the center of our circle is a fire – maybe you see a flaming chalice, or maybe it looks like a camp fire or a burning candle. Watch this flame in your imagination, how it moves, what color it is. Know that this flame is pure energy, the life energy that makes plants and animals grow, the energy that started with the big bang at very beginning of the universe. This flame cannot burn you—it is the light of creativity and curiosity and inspiration. In a moment, when we are all perfectly still, that flame will leap out into our circle, and be passed around. When you feel a squeeze on your left hand, pass the flame along by squeezing your right hand – but don’t squeeze until you feel the pulse that tells you the flame has made it’s way to you.” After a moment, when all is very still, start the hand pulse around the circle.

 

Introduction

We’ve been talking about theology – asking the big questions of life. But where do we go to look for answers for those big questions? This week we have a story about one of the great theological searchers, a man named Gautama, who was born over 500 years before Jesus.

 

Story

You may wish to have participants act out the story as you read, or take turns reading and acting out, or you may just want to read the story.

 

The Story of Buddha

From Holidays and Holy Days

by Brotman Marshfield and Buddhism by Madhu Bazaz Wangu.

 

Characters:
Siddhartha Guatama
Queen Maya
An elephant
A charioteer (Channa)
A sick man, an old man and a dead man (one person)
A monk
Siddhartha’s wife and child
A large tree
Mara, the evil spirit

Props:
an umbrella
a large tree
a belt with sword
paper flowers
cane
bathrobe

 

Scene 1: Buddha’s birth, 563 BCE in India
Characters: Queen Maya, elephant, Siddhartha
Props: paper flowers

 

One night Queen Maya had a wonderful dream in which an elephant with six tusks, carrying a lotus flower in its trunk, touched her right side. At that moment a child was miraculously conceived. When Queen Maya told her husband of this dream he called the Brahmins (or wise men) to interpret it. They predicted that a son would be born who would become either a great king or a great religious leader. His name would be Siddhartha, which means "he whose aim is accomplished." According to legend,Siddhartha later emerged as an infant from his mother’s right side, walked seven steps in the four directions of the compass and said, "No further births have I to endure, for this is my last body. Now shall I destroy and pluck out by the roots the sorrow that is caused by birth and death." According to tradition, it rained flowers at the time of Siddhartha’s birth.

 

Scene 2: Siddhartha grows up
Characters: Siddhartha
Props: umbrella

 

The King very much wanted Siddhartha to grow up to become a great king, not a religious leader. So he decided to give him everything he desired and protect him from all sorrows and trouble, so he would never want to leave the palace. The prince was never allowed to go alone outside the palace grounds. He never saw sick, injured, or old people, and he was never told of death. He learned all the arts of royalty: to shoot with a bow and arrow, drive a chariot. ride a horse. He wore silk clothes and always carried an umbrella over his head to protect him from the sun and dust. At age 16 he married a beautiful princess. In time they had a child and were very happy together.

 

Scene 3: The "Four Sights" that changed Siddhartha’s life
Characters: Siddhartha, Channa (charioteer), old man, monk
Props: cane, bathrobe

 

At age 29, Siddhartha called his faithful charioteer Channa to take him for a secret ride outside the palace grounds. As they drove through the city, Siddhartha saw three things he had never seen before. One was an old man lying on the road, groaning with pain. "What is the matter with this man?" he asked Channa. "He is sick and in pain," Channa answered. "But why should anyone have to suffer such pain?" Siddhartha asked. Channa shrugged his shoulders, "It is the way of life." And they traveled on. Soon they came to another man, all bent over and hobbling: along with a cane. "What is the matter with that man?" Siddhartha again asked. "He is old" answered Channa. "It is something that comes to all people who live a long time. Bodies become tired and weak." Finally, they came on a man in rags, Iying beside the road as if he were asleep."What is wrong with this man?" asked Siddhartha. "He is dead," came the answer. "What does "dead" mean?" Channa answered, "I cannot tell you, but it happens to all people, rich or poor."

Later that same night, when Channa and Siddhartha returned to the city, they saw a man dressed in a yellow robe with a shaven head, begging for food. Siddhartha stopped the chariot and questioned the man, "I am a monk," he replied, "I have adopted a homeless life to win salvation. I search for the most blessed state in which suffering, old age, and death are unknown."

 

Scene 4: Siddhartha leaves the palace
Characters: Siddhartha, Channa, Siddhartha’s wife and child,
Props: belt with sword, bathrobe

 

Shocked, Siddhartha returned to the palace and thought about what he had seen. For the first time he was aware of suffering in life, and he felt he could no longer enjoy his own life of ease and riches. That very night Siddhartha decided to leave the palace. "If I were to live like one of these monks, perhaps I could learn the truth about suffering and how to end it." Silently kissing his wife and child goodbye. he asked Channa to drive him to the outskirts of the city. There he took off his jeweled sword and cut off his hair and beard. He took off his Princely clothes, put on the yellow robe of a monk, and told Channa to take his possessions back to his father.

 

Scene 5: Siddhartha’s wanderings
Characters: Siddhartha

 

For years Siddhartha wandered throughout northeast India, seeking holy men who taught him, among other things, techniques of meditation. He studied the teachings of Hinduism, the ancient religion of India. He was most interested in Samsara, or reincarnation, the idea that after death a person’s soul is born again in a new body. The common Hindu belief at the time was that only by leading a highly spiritual life (or several lives) could a person break the endless cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth. Siddhartha was attracted by this idea and he adopted a life of extreme self-denial, not eating or sleeping and meditating constantly. For six years he stayed along the bank of the Nairanjana River, eating and drinking only enough to stay alive. He was determined to force himself to this highest state of being through self-denial. But over time he only became extremely weak.

Scene 6: Under the Bo Tree
Characters: Siddhartha, evil spirit Mara, Siddhartha’s wife and child
props: large tree

 

One day, Siddhartha realized that his years of denial had weakened his body to the point where he could not think clearly about the world or religion. So he started to eat normally again. Refreshed by food, he sat down under a fig tree (known to Buddhists as the Bo Tree, the Tree of Enlightenment) and entered a state of very deep meditation.Buddhist scriptures say that during this meditation an evil spirit, Mara, tempted Siddhartha with all sorts of pleasures to distract him. But he was not swayed. His deep meditation continued until he had recalled all of his previous rebirths (550 previous states of existence). He gained knowledge of his cycles of births and deaths, and was able to cast off the things that bound him to the world. He had attained enlightenment, "Nirvana," the end of suffering.

From that day on Siddhartha was known as the Buddha, "the enlightened one," or "the one who has found the light." The light that Buddha found was not the kind that you see with your eyes. It was an inward light that makes you feel peaceful and helps you to think more clearly. Tradition says that when Buddha reached Nirvana, he could have cast off his body and his existence. Instead he turned back to the world, determined to share his enlightenment with others so that all living things could end the cycles of their own rebirth and suffering.

During his lifetime Buddha institutionalized his teachings by forming Sangha, a community of monks and nuns who practiced the religion and taught it to others. Buddha’s wife and son joined him in the Sangha, as well as other relatives. Today members of the Sangha continue this tradition and provide an important link with the religion’s founder.

 

Activity

Gautama Buddha left his comfortable palace in search of the answers to his great theological questions about why there is suffering and how we can prevent it. We’re going to do a search of our own, to find the truths that Buddha found. These are called the four noble truths, and the eight-fold path. They are hidden on slips of paper (give boundaries of where children are to search). Your job is to find them, and bring them back to arrange in the right order and share.

(Before lesson, print out the four truths and eight-fold path below on slips of paper, and hide them for kids to find.)

I. Everything and everyone in existence suffers.
II. Suffering is caused by selfishness, greed, and desire.
III. Selfishness, greed, and desire can be stopped.
IV. They can be stopped by following eight steps:
      1. Believe only what is true, or right belief.
      2. Live in a loving, nonviolent way, or right purpose.
      3. Learn to speak well to others, or right speech.
      4. Treat yourself well but do not overindulge, or right conduct.
      5. Choose a good vocation, or right vocation.
      6. Be alert and sensitive about life, or right effort.
      7. Train your mind to think clearly, or right thought.
      8. Meditate regularly on the meaning of life, or right meditation.

 

Discussion

Do you like Buddha’s ideas? Do you think it’s good to give up on desires? Why or why not?

 

Closing

Sing “Be Ye Lamps unto Yourselves”, the words for which are attributed to Gautama Buddha.

Be ye lamps unto yourselves;

Be your own confidence;

Hold to the truth within yourselves

As to the only lamp.

 

Listen to the music

 


 

Week Four—September 24th

What makes me me?

 

Supplies needed: notebooks with lined paper, magazines to cut up for collage pictures, paste, clear contact paper

 

Chalice Lighting (Note: if you don’t have a chalice you can either look for something like a compote dish that has a fairly shallow bowl on a pedestal or make one using a terra cotta flower pot for the base and the matching saucer glued on top for the bowl. Tea lights make an easy and safe flame, but votive candles work fine, too.)

 

We light this flame to guide our search for truth, and to remind us to look on the world with bright eyes, and to meet the world with warm hearts.

or

We are Unitarian Universalists (shape hands fingers up to form two “Us”)

This is the home of the open mind (touch fingers to forehead and open out)

This is the home of the flaming chalice that lights our way to truth. (cup hands thumbs out and hold up)

This is the home of the loving heart (fold hands over heart)

This is the home of the helping hands (hold hands out)

Together we care for our earth

And work for peace in our world. (join hands amongst the group)

 

Or, for older kids:

 

In the freedom of truth

and the love of justice

We bring all that we are

to shape what we yet can be.

 

Check in

You may wish to start this check-in time with the words “We are a family (or community). What touches one of us touches all of us, and so we take this time to listen to each person remember and share one thing from the past week that made a difference in their life – something that made them happy, or sad, or proud or sorry or grateful.

 

Centering

Have everyone holding hands seated in a circle. Ask everyone to close their eyes, then say: “Imagine that at the center of our circle is a fire – maybe you see a flaming chalice, or maybe it looks like a camp fire or a burning candle. Watch this flame in your imagination, how it moves, what color it is. Know that this flame is pure energy, the life energy that makes plants and animals grow, the energy that started with the big bang at very beginning of the universe. This flame cannot burn you—it is the light of creativity and curiosity and inspiration. In a moment, when we are all perfectly still, that flame will leap out into our circle, and be passed around. When you feel a squeeze on your left hand, pass the flame along by squeezing your right hand – but don’t squeeze until you feel the pulse that tells you the flame has made it’s way to you.” After a moment, when all is very still, start the hand pulse around the circle.

 

Introduction

Each week we’ve been asking questions, and we’ll be asking more theological questions in the weeks to come. But who is it that is asking these questions? What makes me me and you you?

Story

Here is a story of a long ago king who asked just these kinds of questions:

 

The Questions of King Milinda

A Story from India

Long, long ago in Bactria, there was a very unusual king. His real name was King Milinda, but far more often he was called the king-who-is-always-asking-questions.

King Milinda asked questions of his nobles. He asked questions of visitors who came to his palace. He asked questions of his queen. Sometimes he asked questions of his children. King Milinda was always asking questions. And the questions he asked were always difficult to answer. Finally, one day a courtier said:

“Your Majesty, why do you not go to see Nagasena (Nah-gah-SEN-ah) and ask your questions of him?”

“And who is this Nagasena?” said King Milinda. “I have never heard of him.” The courtier answered:

“Nagasena, your Majesty, is said to be one of the wisest men of India. Have you not heard of his famous school? Hundreds of men from all over India—and even from other lands—have gone to live with Nagasena in his school in order that they may learn from him.”

“India is many miles away,” said King Milinda. “How can I leave my people and go so far off? It would take a month to make the journey. Traveling is dangerous. Do you really think that Nagasena is wiser than all the teachers of Bactria?” The courtier answered:

“I cannot say, your Majesty. I know only what trav­elers from India have said.”

All day long King Milinda thought about the idea. At nighttime he dreamed about it. With each day that passed, he became more and more curious. If there was a man any­where in the world who could answer his questions he would go to him no matter how far away the wise man might be.

So one bright morning, King Milinda and a band of his noblemen stepped into their chariots, whipped their horses, and off they went toward the wonderful land of India to see the great Nagasena. Day after day and week after week they rode. Neither cold nor heat, neither wind nor rain held them back.

Finally, one bright morning in the middle of the hot summer, they all arrived at Nagasena's school. Leaving their chariots and horses outside the gate, they entered the garden. There they found Nagasena with a large group of his students around him, sitting on the grass under the shade of a wide-spreading banyan tree.

King Milinda and his men at first stood quietly to one tide and waited. But it was not long before Nagasena no­ticed them. Immediately he rose and greeted his guests. He invited them to sit down on the grass and join in the talk.

At this King Milinda was very happy. Before long out came one of his questions. He said:

“Noble sir, for many months we have been talking about Nagasena. We have spoken your name a hundred times a day. Over and over we have wondered: 'Is Nagasena a real person? Or is he just a name?' Now I must ask you, are you the same as your name? Or is your name one thing and are you something different from your name?” Then the wise man answered:

“Your Majesty, the name I am called by is Nagasena. It is the name my mother and father gave me when I was born. My friends say: 'Nagasena says this. Nagasena does that.' Yet, the truth is that my name and I are not the same.” King Milinda then asked his second question.

“My noble teacher, you say you are not the same as your name. Does this mean, then, that you are not Nagasena? Is there no Nagasena? If you are not your name, who are you? Are you the same as the hair on your head?”

At this everybody laughed. What a foolish question! That is, everybody laughed except Nagasena. He liked the King Milinda. He liked him for trying so hard to think. Nagasena answered King Milinda very simply. He said:

“No, O King, I am not my hair.”

“Are your bones you, then, O Nagasena?”

“No, O King, I am not my bones.”

“Surely you are not your teeth and your fingernails, are you?” With this question all the men on the grass threw back their heads and roared with laughter. Nagasena wait­ed and then answered:

“No, O King, I am not my teeth or my fingernails.”

“Is your heart you, O Nagasena? Is your stomach you?

Is your brain you?”

To all these questions and many more like them, Nagasena answered:

“No, O King, I am none of these things.”

“But, Nagasena, are you not all of these parts of your body put together?”

“No, King Milinda, even all these parts of my body put together do not make me.”

“Well, then,” said the King, “are you something differ­ent from all these parts of your body?” Again Nagasena answered :

“No,” Now King Milinda was really puzzled. He said:

“Noble teacher, I have asked you every question I can think of, but somehow I cannot find you. Where are you? Surely, you cannot mean there is no you at all. I cannot think that is the truth.”

“You have spoken well, O King. I am here. I am real. I am not my name. I am not the sound of a word. Neither am I the different parts of my body. I am not the same as my whole body put together.

“King Milinda, I am not anything you can touch with your hands. You cannot see me with your eyes. Yet you know and I know that I am. But what I am is beyond our knowing.”

Then King Milinda and all the men sitting around on the grass applauded their wise teacher. They said: “It is wonderful how he answers!” And King Milinda said to his companions:

“I am glad we came. Being here is better than I had hoped for. Let us find lodgings for tonight. Tomorrow I must ask more questions.”

 

Discussion

What makes you you? How would you describe yourself?

 

Activity

Since we are going to be asking a lot more questions in the weeks to come, we’re going to need a place to write down the answers that we come up with. And we’ll want the place where we write down our important answers to our important questions to be something that expresses a little bit of what makes us the person that we are. So we’re each going to decorate the cover of our own notebook with pictures or words, either cut from a magazine or drawn ourselves, that shows a bit of who we are.

(Have kids cut out pictures from magazines or draw on drawing paper and cut out those pictures. Have them lay out their design first, then paste pictures to the front of their notebook. The pictures will keep better if you then cover the front of the notebook with clear contact paper.)

 

Closing

Have each person describe what they put on the front of their notebook and why.