Strength

Post sayings or stories from Buddhist traditions which you find interesting, inspiring or useful. (Your own stories are welcome on DW, but in the Creative Writing or Personal Experience forums rather than here.)
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Mr. H
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Strength

Post by Mr. H »

I am currently working on devising a unit for a class of Year 3/4 students about what it means to be strong, and what strength looks like.

The idea is to first look at brute, physical strength in nature/the material world, then gradually get the students to think more abstractly about their own strengths, inner-strength, and where strength comes from? :thinking:

I thought I would put it out there in search of stories/quotes/videos/fables that may be useful in this regard. Are there are Buddhist tales or sayings or examples that come to mind when you think about strength? Any examples that demonstrate to your way of thinking strength in action, in whatever form you see fit.

Any and all suggestions appreciated, bearing in mind the topic is aimed at school children.

:yinyang:
avatamsaka3
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Re: Strength

Post by avatamsaka3 »

Are there are Buddhist tales or sayings or examples that come to mind when you think about strength?
Welcome to the site. I hope you find it useful.

Maybe it's just a pet peeve, but I get a bit agitated when people talk about Buddhism in terms of "tales or sayings". You might wonder why... Well, I recently listened to a presentation from the leader of a local religious congregation with open-minded tendencies. He introduced Buddhism to adults using a fable. As a practicing Buddhist, I didn't recognize the story, nor did I understand what the point of it was. When he talked about Christianity, he presented it as a mature tradition with a theology based on quotable scripture. When he presented Buddhism... he talked about rabbits and lions. I can guess there were two reasons: 1) He looks down on the tradition as something childish and inferior and 2) He hasn't bothered to read the profound, helpful, and edifying texts of the tradition. (In other words, he hasn't bothered to read the stuff that is intellectually and spiritually mature and challenging.) Now I'm not accusing you of doing the same. It seems you're just asking so you can present this to your students. But I feel I should clarify this. If you just spend two seconds investigating the Heart Sutra, or the Lamrim, or the best suttas of the Pali Canon, or the Abhidharma, you'll find enough material to spend a lifetime studying and practicing. Buddhism is not just a bunch of pleasant-sounding quotes that people print on cards and things. Take compassion, for example. It's very easy to print something on a t-shirt and sell it, but what does it really mean? How can we practice it? I'd say the practice of compassion requires an immense amount of strength: of conviction in the value of compassion itself, and mental solidity generally to uphold the conviction. There's a master from the past named Shantideva who would totally agree...

I hope I've helped.
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PadmaVonSamba
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Re: Strength

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

Dharma practitioners might refer to things such as Strong connection with the Dharma, or strong power of concentration, strong dedication,
or that sort of thing, but these aren't specifically Buddhist applications.
Strong connections can also apply to cell phone reception!
I don't recall any stories of Herculean achievement, or anything like that,
If you think about Shao Lin monks, for example, they would probably tell you that physical strength is not very important.
I don't think that the idea of summoning up some kind of inner-strength is really a thing in Buddhism.
Even if you read stories of Buddhist practitioners facing incredible hardship, the idea of overcoming those hardships,
which requires strength, that isn't really going to come up very often, if at all,
because rather than conquering a problem, Buddhism sort of absorbs the problem by taking it as part of the path one is on.
So, there isn't usually that kind of dichotomy, or dualism.
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EMPTIFUL.
An inward outlook develops outward insight.
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Queequeg
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Re: Strength

Post by Queequeg »

You might consider the Buddha's biography to illustrate the full arc of your class.

He was born into a warrior clan, raised from birth to be a general and leader of men, trained in the martial arts (this training may have been pivotal in establishing the sangha). He lived in luxury, with a harem and different palaces for the season. And yet when he was confronted by illness, old age, and death, he renounced it all. He then became homeless, sleeping under trees, in caves, in shrines, in graveyards, and singlemindedly pursued awakening to solve the problems of illness, old age and death. After mastering extremely advanced meditative states and not finding the answers he sought, he undertook extreme ascetic practices like cessation of the breath and extreme fasting. You can find images of the Buddha during this stage - he is little more than a skeleton. The degree of discipline (and volitional strength) required to overcome the impulse to live might take some time for the modern person to appreciate, but anyone who has undertaken even a nominal degree of yogic practice will understand the fortitude involved. When he realized that such ascetic practices were only going to get him killed, he abandoned them, and his peers who had admired him for his fortitude criticized him and abandoned him for his lapse into "luxury". Thereafter, the Buddha took the seat beneath the Bodhi tree and did the one absolutely most difficult task any being can undertake - he relinquished grasping - and awoke.

Awakening is why the Buddha is revered - and the strength required for that is unsurpassed.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta
avatamsaka3
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Re: Strength

Post by avatamsaka3 »

Thereafter, the Buddha took the seat beneath the Bodhi tree and did the one absolutely most difficult task any being can undertake - he relinquished grasping - and awoke. Awakening is why the Buddha is revered - and the strength required for that is unsurpassed.
True, true.

You should look at people like Master Empty Cloud. His determination to practice was so great that he endured a kidnapping (or two?) by his uncle (if I recall correctly) and continued to totally dedicate himself to the dharma.

Or, look at His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Lost everything at one point in his life, had to make a tough, long journey, and didn't turn into a jerk. In fact, has been doing a lot of positive things since (but still human).
I don't think that the idea of summoning up some kind of inner-strength is really a thing in Buddhism.
I beg to differ:
Monks, there are these five strengths for one in training. Which five? Strength of conviction, strength of conscience, strength of concern, strength of persistence, & strength of discernment... Thus you should train yourselves, 'We will be endowed with the strength of conviction that is the strength of one in training; with the strength of conscience... the strength of concern... the strength of persistence... the strength of discernment that is the strength of one in training.' That's how you should train yourselves. (Vitthara Sutta, AN 5.2)
When we have these five qualities — conviction, persistence, mindfulness, concentration, and discernment — constantly with us, there's no need to doubt that the results will appear as our reward, clear to the heart, in line with our strength and abilities... These five qualities — principles in following the path — are called the five indriya or five bala. 'Indriya' means dominant factor. 'Bala' means strength. As for the Vinaya, it's a fence guarding both sides of the path to keep us from straying from the way to the paths, fruitions, and nibbana. The Buddha closed off both sides and then opened the way — the five strengths — for us to follow as much as we like. ("Things as They Are")
Apart from working under Seppō, he did not seek out any other Master to train with. Even though he kept to just one Master, he certainly found within himself the spiritual strength to become the heir to his Master’s Dharma. (Shobogenzo, Ikka Myōju)
In order to ultimately realize the prediction of Buddhahood, just as ever so many Ancestors of the Buddha have done, one trains in order to manifest one’s genuine enlightenment. And utilizing one’s strength in the effort to affirm one’s Buddhahood brings forth the Buddhas en masse. (Shobogenzo, Juki)
If enlightening beings associate with good people, listen to true teaching, and think about it reasonably, and thereby transform inferior will into superior will, and can also attain higher aspiration, this is called the transcendent way of power. By this power (i.e. strength), they have the capability of inner mental stability, so I say the transcendent way of power is an aid to the transcendent way of meditation. (Sandhinirmochana Sutra)
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Ayu
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Re: Strength

Post by Ayu »

When my kids were small we had a picture book called "I am the strongest" ("Ich bin der Stärkste").
A little wolf learned that it is poor and easy to be violent against smaller beings. Instead real strength is to overcome one's fear.
This was one of the best and most consoling books for the kids.
For the benefit and ease of all sentient beings. :heart:
avatamsaka3
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Re: Strength

Post by avatamsaka3 »

When my kids were small we had a picture book called "I am the strongest" ("Ich bin der Stärkste").
A little wolf learned that it is poor and easy to be violent against smaller beings. Instead real strength is to overcome one's fear.
This was one of the best and most consoling books for the kids.
Beautiful post, many thanks.
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Ayu
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Re: Strength

Post by Ayu »

I found the story at youtube. Schoolkids are reading it in German. The author of the picturebook is Mario Ramos, published in Beltz Verlag.
My memory was a bit poor. The title is "Ich bin der Stärkste im ganzen Land" (I am the strongest one of all).
The wolf is adult and he meets several small entities on his way. He asks them: "Who is the strongest one of all?"
Out of fear the beings say: "You are the strongest."
The wolf enjoys this and he thinks he is the strongest, because he is so bad. He becomes very proud of himself.
At last, he meets a strange little green something. He thinks it's a frog or something.
The small green being answers: "My mom is the strongest one of all. And she's most gently."

The wolf learns that his strength is only relative and that it has nothing to do with malice. Friendly beings can be extremely strong.

For the benefit and ease of all sentient beings. :heart:
Mr. H
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Re: Strength

Post by Mr. H »

Thank you for the replies all, very helpful.
I get a bit agitated when people talk about Buddhism in terms of "tales or sayings"...rabbits and lions...something childish and inferior
Your point is valid. I think there is often a similar problem here with Indigenous culture; focusing on Dreamtime stories, mythology and animal tales, and an idealised version of life prior to European contact, rather than actually engaging in challenging or mature discussions. At the same time, tales and fables and the like can be a great entry point for the uninitiated, and can offer valuable, comprehensible moral lessons, and as I'm looking for classroom material they also work in terms of length, suitability, engagement, etc. So they are definitely not without benefit in that regard.
I'd say the practice of compassion requires an immense amount of strength: of conviction in the value of compassion itself, and mental solidity generally to uphold the conviction.
Yes, I like this, it's just the sort of thing that could get young minds firing; the idea that sometimes it takes an incredible amount of strength to do something kind. Perhaps showing an example of someone doing something unkind using brute, physical strength, then contrasting that with someone doing something compassionate that requires sacrifice, then having a discussion about which act they think took more strength?
Strong connections can also apply to cell phone reception!
This could be interesting too, discussing why we might refer to phone signals/smells/drinks/feelings as "strong".
I don't think that the idea of summoning up some kind of inner-strength is really a thing in Buddhism.
...rather than conquering a problem, Buddhism sort of absorbs the problem by taking it as part of the path one is on.
Hmm, food for thought here too.
Awakening is why the Buddha is revered - and the strength required for that is unsurpassed.
:heart:
You should look at people like Master Empty Cloud
Not familiar, I'll look into him. Thanks.
there are these five strengths for one in training....Strength of conviction, strength of conscience, strength of concern, strength of persistence, & strength of discernment
:thumbsup: Lots to discuss with a class here. Strength of persistence in particular is one that could be very applicable in the classroom setting.
When my kids were small we had a picture book called "I am the strongest"...
A little wolf learned that it is poor and easy to be violent against smaller beings. Instead real strength is to overcome one's fear.
This book looks wonderful, the video too would be great to use. I wonder if it exists in English somewhere...? (Have found a few other of his other books online, but not this one). Still perhaps could do some sort of re-rub, or tell the story through just the images.
strength is only relative and that it has nothing to do with malice. Friendly beings can be extremely strong
Yes, like the wolf that is perhaps the sort of conclusion I would like the students to arrive at.

Thank you all for the feedback, a lot there to work with. If anyone has anymore thoughts/ideas please keep them coming.

:twothumbsup:
avatamsaka3
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Re: Strength

Post by avatamsaka3 »

If you can convey something about Buddhism being a mature tradition, I think many people would appreciate it. For really young students I understand that stories work better.
Mr. H
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Re: Strength

Post by Mr. H »

Thanks again for the suggestions everyone. The assignment was gruelling but it got done in the end, and I borrowed many of your suggestions in the process.

:heart:
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