“Polly, Mandana, Franziska and Adrian, all between the ages of seven and nine, are supposed to be lying still on their mats – a tall order after having just been chasing each other around the school halls, playing to their hearts’ content with their classmates,” writes Oliver Cech, writing on the website of the German broadcaster Deutsch Welles.
“Their teacher, Werner Heidenreich, is losing patience, despite his Buddhist cool.
“You’ve already talked me into doing the meditation while you’re lying down. Now do it right,” he says, somewhat exasperated.
Cech continues in an article re-published on the Buddhist Channel’s website:
The Internationale Friedensschule (International Peace School) in Cologne offers Buddhism as a subject in their curriculum, with Heidenreich as the teacher. He also runs StadtRaum, a Buddist center in Cologne.
At the moment, he’s trying to get Polly, Mandana, Franziska and Adrian to close their eyes, keep quiet, listen to their own breathing, feel their bellies move up and down, and sense the warmth in their hands and the tingling of their feet. In other words, they’re learning to meditate.
Meditation is an art
The kids are divided on whether meditating is easy or difficult.
“You just have to concentrate; you lie or sit down and just remain quiet and still,” says Franziska. “You don’t have to think; you just open your mind.”
Adrian believes meditating has to be learned. “You have to learn how to concentrate. You may sit down to meditate and have all these thoughts in your head, but you only become good at it once you get to the point when you’re not thinking at all,” he comments.
It’s unusual to put “not thinking” on a lesson plan. Children of all grades can attend the class on Buddhism offered by Cologne’s International Peace School. It is the only school in all of North Rhine-Westphalia – the most populous of Germany’s 16 states – to offer Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism, in addition to Catholicism and Protestantism, in its religion curriculum. Each class meets for two hours each week.
But how do you teach Buddhism to kids, with no real textbooks and no prescribed syllabus? Heidenreich has been teaching the class for the past three years and for him, it’s a constant experiment.
“First, you have to consider what the goal of learning should be. What are we trying to achieve? What should a pupil learn, how should he or she develop?” he ponders. “To be honest, I’m still searching for answers to those questions.”
He says that his lessons are a balance of encouraging personal development, while also relaying information and teaching understanding.
Theory and mindfulness
A cymbal rings. “May our friends and classmates feel peace and joy in their hearts,” Heidenreich says, wrapping up the meditation. The cymbal rings again.
Heidenreich begins each lesson with this quiet meditation that focuses on the body. Then, explains Adrian, the “loving-kindness” meditation begins, a traditional Buddhist practice.