A Way to Give Children a Future

Thoughts along the project "Rich Literature for Poor Children" by Ven. Pajalo (Austria)

Published in "Daily News", - Sri Lanka, Dec. 22nd '99

"What's the use of driving three hours to a school to have a one-hour discussion with children?", a Sinhalese brother-monk asked me recently. It's actual a good question, yet it answered itself, since I have been experiencing what interests the young generation has in spiritual literature and open discussions

Driving miles on neglected roads of remote areas like Laggala (Matale-District), Bibila (Monaragala-District), Kitulotua (Trinkomala-District) or Maho (Kurunegala-District) is not always easy. It takes time. Many villages are poor - some of them very poor.

Tourists seldom end up in such areas. They didn't come to see this side of the 'promised paradise'. Busy, rich Colombo people hardly happen to drive their fancy vehicles along these travicless-roads, beside maybe for a business-trip. Politicians are often not interested to see this dark spots of 'their' country, beside maybe during elections - to catch the votes of simple farmers through promises, sometimes soon forgotten.

To me the value of such trips is getting clearer the more I involve myself in this project "Rich Literature for Poor Children", which I started few months ago. The base for this unique undertaking is the picture book "MAHAKARUNIKA KATHA": 20 Buddhist stories carefully selected by the Australian monk Ven. S. Dhammika, for the purpose to distribute to those neglected in remote areas. Yet it has developed into much more than just passing on easy understandable rich spiritual texts.

In these years, which I have been enjoying to live and communicate with the common folk of this beautiful Island, it got clear to me how great the need of such religious inspiration is. I also understood that children hardly ever have a chance to express openly, in a relaxed atmosphere, the problems they are facing already in their tender age. - How else is it possible that, for example, suicide is happening to such an extent - even among teenagers!It is an amazing experience to sit together with the eldest children of a school; to get them to reflect about their lives: their difficulties they encounter now and their dreams which they have for the future; to get them to talk about things, which they usually don't dare to say and which they carry inside themselves, unexpressed. It's a great joy to see them smiling about foolish unknown habits in the West and about familiar ones in the East; to observe them when they are meeting their own minds in meditation.

Many of them are not used to talk freely; yet those who speak, often express dissatisfaction. "Who wants to live like their parents do, who is satisfied with Buddhism and the monks, what do they actually know about Christianity, what's the reason for taking alcohol or committing suicide?" The answers for these and other - too seldom discussed - questions give me a clue of what is going on in the mind of our future generation.

I'm impressed in what direct way some of the children are questioning me, who came from the West, settled down in the East - and loves to stay here; who exchanged a rich Christian environment for a simple life as a Buddhist monk - and loves to continue in that way.

We as adults, as parents, teachers and monks, have to develop the courage to give them straightforward answers and to be able to admit to them also our weak points. Only this open relationship can be the base for a natural harmony between old and young.

Being aware that one can actually give them some spiritual hope along their difficult worldly paths into an unknown future, that one can give them more than just empty religious traditions or superficial worldly entertainment, nourishes my energy for this project and the hope that others will join and support me therein.

Too often social activities in the past seem to have failed their goal. People have become careful to whom they are giving what. Yet they obviously give me, as a Western monk, a special bonus, even more when they see that this project is already successfully working. Yet soon all these books will be distributed . . .

If and how long I can continue to pass on 'Rich Literature for Poor Children', depends on how much others value this kind of direct 'Dhammadana' to those who will shape the future of us and this country.

In case anybody, organization, company is interested in sponsoring a reprint of "MAHAKARUNIKA KATHA", please get in touch with me. Also simple school-items or duplication of certain leaflets will be of great use on our trips to remote schools and villages.