Siddhartha Gautama Buddha For Kids

Close your eyes and imagine you’re a prince or a princess, living in a giant, luxurious palace. There your parents make sure that you have everything you could ever want or need: lots of toys, fine clothes, the best education. You’re surrounded by beautiful gardens and expensive things. You have servants to clean up after you, bring your food, and help with everything. When you’re not learning from private tutors, you spend your days swimming, practicing archery and swordsmanship, and riding horses. The palace is so massive, it’s your entire world and you never even need to leave. 

Now imagine you decide to give that all up. You’re not happy with that life. You wonder if life has a greater meaning. You wonder if possessions can ever make people truly happy and content. This was the life Siddhartha Gautama found himself in. You might have heard of him: now, we call him Buddha. 

The story of how Siddhartha became Buddha begins even before his birth. Siddhartha’s father was king of a small kingdom in northern India in the sixth century BCE over 2,500 years ago!  Several years before Siddhartha was born, the king was visited by sages, or wise men, who told him his son would be either a great king, or a great holy man. Of course, Siddhartha’s father wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and be a great king.  So when Siddhartha was born in 567 BCE, his father decided to shelter his son from the world, so he wouldn’t know about suffering and death. He thought that if Siddhartha never saw bad things in the world, he wouldn’t want to fix them, and so he wouldn’t want to become a holy man. 

So Siddhartha grew up surrounded by all the comforts and privileges money could buy. When he became a young man, he married a woman named Gopa. He seemed to have it all, but the plan Siddhartha’s father made for him to become a great king was about to fall apart. Instead of accepting the life of luxury that he was given, Siddhartha grew restless living in the palace. One day, he asked his father to let him go on a chariot ride to see the city around the palace. His father agreed, but told the chariot driver to stay in the richer parts of the city, close to the palace, to avoid letting Siddhartha see people who were poor or suffering. 

Siddhartha set out in the chariot with his driver. Before long, they saw an old man, slowly hobbling along the road, looking as if he might fall over at any moment. Siddhartha had never seen such an old man, and he asked his driver what was wrong with him. 

His driver replied, “He is very old. His body has grown weak with age. You too will grow old someday. All people do.”

Siddhartha was disturbed, but asked him to drive on. Later in the ride, they saw a sick man lying by the side of the road. He was groaning and looked very unhappy. Again, Siddhartha asked what was wrong with the man. 

His driver replied, “He is sick with a terrible disease. Everyone gets sick sometimes. Someday, you will get sick.”

Siddhartha felt terrible, seeing this man suffering, but they continued their ride through the city. 

On their way back to the palace, they came across a funeral procession. People were crying and moaning. For a third time, Siddhartha asked his chariot driver what was happening.

Again, his driver replied. “Someone has died, and these people are his friends and family. They are mourning for him.”  

When Siddhartha returned home, he could not stop thinking about the old man, the sick man, and the funeral. He thought about these things happening to his father and mother, to his wife, and to himself. He realized that all the treasure in the palace, all the servants waiting on him, all the beautiful things surrounding him, could not prevent him or anyone else from the sad things he sad. He realized that he wanted to find a way to help people overcome suffering. 

Once he realized these things, Siddhartha knew he could no longer live an easy life in the palace. So one day, he said goodbye to his family, and set out to find the cause of suffering. He cut his hair and lived as an ascetic – someone who chooses to live in poverty and simplicity. He studied meditation with great holy men and discussed the problem of suffering with them, but after many years of living this way, he still didn’t know why it happened, or how he could prevent it.

Finally, he decided to sit and meditate under a bodhi tree. He vowed not to leave until he had the answer to the problem of human suffering.  Siddhartha sat meditating day and night, still and calm as a statue, for six days. On the sixth day, he opened his eyes and realized he understood the nature of suffering. He became enlightened and from then on was known as Buddha, which means awakened one. 

For the rest of his life, Buddha travelled throughout India, teaching others about what he had discovered. He taught people the four noble truths he had realized about suffering. The first truth is that everyone suffers and has hard things happen to them. It’s just part of life. 

The second truth is that we suffer because we are always wanting more, and trying to hold onto what we have. This might sound surprising. Didn’t he start his quest because he saw people who were suffering because they were old, sick, and dying? Buddha thought that the real reason we suffer is not because bad things happen to us, but because we allow negative feelings and desires to take over our thinking. If we’re sick, we lie around feeling sorry for ourselves, and wishing we were well. But then when we’re healthy, we think of other things we want, but don’t have, and we still suffer. 

Think about a time when you really wanted a new toy or game. It probably felt very unfair that you didn’t have it, and then, if you did get it, you might have been happy for a short time, but then you were just back to normal and wanted something new. We become attached to things, or even ideas of things, and those things are not permanent. This keeps us spending all our time wanting things we don’t have, and worrying we’ll lose what we do have. He taught that things like toys and games and other things we might buy don’t really make us happy deep down and any happiness we do feel doesn’t last.

The third truth is that we can overcome suffering. Once we overcome suffering, Buddha thought, we could reach a state of nirvana, or perfect peace and happiness, just as he did when he meditated under the bodhi tree. 

Finally, the fourth truth tells us how to overcome suffering. The way Buddha thought we overcome suffering is by following what he called the “eightfold path.” I won’t go over all eight parts of the path, but basically, to follow the eightfold path, we must always try to improve ourselves: this means being kind and honest; try not to harm anyone or anything; and act with compassion. We must also learn to pay attention to their own thoughts. As we pay attention to our thoughts we can better understand the thoughts that make us feel sad. This helps us think in a new way. This paying attention to our thoughts is called meditation.

Buddha taught that following the eight-fold path creates good karma.  Karma is the idea that everything you do has a consequence, whether good or bad. Kind actions tend to have positive consequences, and unkind actions, negative consequences. This isn’t a consequence like a reward or a punishment – it’s just a thing that happens as a result of an action. He taught that by building up a lot of good karma, you can reach nirvana, a state of true enlightenment. 

Buddha spent the rest of his life travelling around India, teaching what he had discovered to anyone who wanted to learn. He encouraged his followers to try out the practices he taught for themselves, to see how well they worked, and to gather in communities to learn and help each other. Community was important, because Buddha knew that to be truly happy, people need to feel compassion and kindness for both themselves and others. This is called metta in Buddhism.

After its beginnings in India, Buddhism spread throughout South and East Asia, and was practiced widely in Tibet, Bhutan, Thailand, China, and Japan, among others. Today, people around the world practice Buddhism in different forms. For some it’s a religion, but for others it’s simply a way of looking at life.

Like Buddha taught, you can take the time to meditate each day. Meditating is a good chance to breathe deeply and slow your thoughts. It can also help you look closely at your thoughts. Your thoughts often lead to how you’re feeling. So if you have lots of negative thoughts those may be causing negative feelings. Breathing deeply and clearing your mind can give you the positive energy you need to help yourself and help others. There are a lot of great ways to start meditating. You can find videos, podcasts and apps, that can get your started. But the simplest way is to just set a timer and try and sit and relax during that time while breathing deeply. 

Also, like Buddha taught, remember that things that we buy won’t always make us happy. Toys eventually break, or they go out of fashion, and we’ll always want something new. Think about how you might turn your attention to more important things like spending time with your family and friends, learning something new, or doing good for others. These are things that last longer and will give you greater, deeper joy.   

I hope you enjoyed this episode about Buddha. Be sure to check in next Monday for a new episode!

Sources

Fields, Rick. “Who Is the Buddha?” in: Tricycle, Spring 1997. https://tricycle.org/magazine/who-was-buddha-2/

Meyers, Rachel. Curiosity Chronicles: Snapshots of Ancient History. Little Monster Schooling, 2017.

Nagaraja, Dharmachari. Buddha at Bedtime.Watkins, 2016.

Sitting Bull for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine you are in the middle of a battle in the American wilderness. All around you, American soldiers dressed in stiff blue jackets load their guns and fire at the enemy. Running at them are Native American warriors dressed in loin cloths and leather. They are yelling and charging the soldiers with weapons raised. They clash in battle and fight ferociously. Around you echo the sounds of metal clashing on metal, gunfire, and people crying out. Then as you turn around, your eye catches a peaceful sight.  There in the middle of the fight scene sits a Native man with his legs crossed.  He peacefully packs a pipe full of tobacco and lights in on fire.  He sits silently and smokes while men fight all around him.  This man is one of the famous American Indians, Sitting Bull. 

Sitting Bull was born around 1831. He was one of the Hunkpapa people, a Lakota Sioux tribe that lived in the Great Plains area in what is now known as North and South Dakota. When he was born his family called him “Jumping Badger”.  

Later, his parents changed his name.  He was quiet and deliberate and they didn’t think “Jumping Badger” fit him.  Deliberate means careful and cautious.  His parents gave him the nickname “Slow” instead and he was called this as a child. 

Slow’s father was the chief, which meant someday he would be the chief of his people. When he turned 10, “Slow” killed his first buffalo. Hunting buffalo was very dangerous, but the tribe depended on buffalo for their meat for survival. They ate their meat and used their skins for clothes and shelter. Slow’s family was proud of his first buffalo kill and celebrated to honor him. When he was 14, “Slow” and others from his tribe snuck into an enemy tribe’s village and stole food and other items. This is called a “raid” and was common for tribes in the Great Plains to fight and steal things from each other for survival. Because of “Slow’s” bravery during the raid, his father gave up his own name and gave it to his son.  From then on, “Slow” became known as Tatanka-Iyotanka, or “Sitting Bull.” 

Around this time, the government of the United States wanted settlers to move into the western states even though Sitting Bull’s people already lived there. To settle means to make a permanent home. This meant that Sioux Lakota tribes would have to leave and find a new place to live even though they had lived on these lands for man years.

But Sitting Bull and his family refused to leave and fought against the U.S. government and the people who tried to take over their land. The government sent the army to fight Sitting Bull and his people.  As a young man, Sitting Bull became famous for his fighting skills and people all over the United States heard about him and became afraid of the stories about him. 

In 1872 the Northern Pacific Railroad was trying to build a railroad across the United States. It ran through Sitting Bulls land, so he and the Sioux people were determined to block it. When they did, the U.S. Army was called in to try to remove them and the conflict quickly turned into a battle.  During the battle, Sitting Bull, who was now a middle-aged chief, walked out into the middle of the field where they were fighting and sat down in front of the U.S. soldiers. He invited several other tribesmen to join him.  Sitting Bull and his friends sat in the field and had a long, slow smoke from his tobacco pipe while watching people battling all around him. Legend says that after finishing his pipe, Sitting Bull carefully cleaned it and then walked off, without showing any fear. He was very brave!

During the 1860s, Sitting Bull continued to fight against settlers encroaching on Sioux land.  He and his tribesmen attacked white military outposts and stole livestock, or farm animals, or attacked the soldiers living there. Sitting Bull’s group of men was brave, but he knew that it wouldn’t be enough to keep back the U.S army. So he went and spoke to leaders of other tribes nearby and together, they worked as one group, the Lakota Sioux. They decided to just have one leader and in 1869, Sitting Bull became their new leader.  The group continued to grow and by the mid 1870s, the group also included warriors from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. 

Even though Sitting Bull is mostly remembered as a warrier, he was also a type of holy man.  He was believed to have the gift of prophecy, or the ability to see the future. Sitting Bull once had a vision or dream that the Sioux people were soon going to have a great victory in battle.  Shortly after that, the prophecy came true. 

In 1876, a Lieutenant Colonel by the name of George A. Custer’s and his soldiers rode out against the Sioux to battle. They were known as the Seventh Cavalry. They attacked Sitting Bull and his warriors, but they were inspired by Sitting Bull’s vision and even though they were outnumbered by Custer’s army, the Sioux people won the battle against over 200 soldiers. This became known as the Battle of Little Bighorn. 

Sitting Bull’s nephew, White Bull, and another warrior named Crazy Horse fought bravely at the Battle of Little Bighorn and became famous for their victory against Custer and the Seventh Cavalry.

But of course, the U.S. Army was not happy about losing the battle. Instead of backing down, they sent an army of twice as many soldiers to fight Sitting Bull. They wanted to push the Native (or First Nations) people off of the land and force them onto reservations. Reservations were an area of land set aside for them to live on instead of the land the settlers wanted. 

Sitting Bull refused to leave his own land and move to the reservations.  Instead, in May 1877, he led a group of his people to Canada where he spent four years hiding out.  Sadly though, the buffalo in the area disappeared. Because buffalo are what his people needed to survive they almost starved.  Sitting Bull and his people left their camp in Canada and moved back to the United States.  A few years later their camp was attacked and Sitting Bull and his followers surrendered to the U.S. army in North Dakota. 

By this time, Sitting Bull was now an older man.  He spent two years in prison and later was sent to live on a reservation at Standing Rock. He lived on that reservation for the rest of his life. 

Sitting Bull was famous when he got out of prison.  Many people heard stories about his fighting skills and admired him for his bravery.  When they met him they were willing to pay $2 just for his autograph.  He got permission to leave the reservation to go on tour as his own exhibition, or entertainment show.

When Sitting Bull was at a stopover in Minnesota, he saw a show starring Annie Oakley, the famous sharp shooter. Sitting Bull was very impressed with her gun shooting skills. He introduced himself and he and Annie Oakley became friends.  He gave her the nickname “Little Sure Shot” and called her his daughter.  Rumour has it that Sitting Bull gave Annie Oakley the pair of moccasins he had worn during the Battle of the Little Bighorn as a gift.

In June 1885, the showman William “Buffalo Bill” Cody hired Sitting Bull to perform in his famous “Wild West” show. Sitting Bull was paid $50 a week to wear his full chief’s war attire and ride a horse during the show’s opening scene. Sitting Bull considered the job an easy way to earn money and help audiences learn about his people and how difficult their lives had become.  But some audience members didn’t like Sitting Bull because they knew he had killed white soldiers during battle. Sometimes, audiences cruelly boo-ed Sitting Bull and threw things at him. 

Sitting Bull soon got tired of traveling and some of the mean crowds.  And he missed his family.  So he left the tour for good after its final show in October.

Beginning in 1889, many Native American (or First Nations) people started talking about a religion called the “Ghost Dance”.  These people believed that a spirit was going to come to earth and remove white people from the area where they lived, allowing the Indians to return to their old ways. U.S. Authorities started to worry that Sitting Bull was going to use the Ghost Dance movement to lead a group of Indian people to war against the white people.  They always knew that Sitting Bull resisted, or refused to follow, white traditions.  So they believed he was likely to get involved and lead this movement against white people.  

On December 15, 1890, police were sent to arrest Sitting Bull and bring him in for questioning.  Sitting Bull, who was 59 at the time, refused to go with them.  So the policemen dragged him from his cabin.  The noise and commotion caused a large group of Sitting Bull’s followers to come to see what was going on.  One of them fired a shot at the policemen, setting off a brief gun battle. In the confusion that followed, more than a dozen people were killed including Sitting Bull.

Sitting Bull had many hard experiences in his life and there is a lot that we can learn from him.  He showed great bravery from a young age while hunting and in battle. He was also able to stay very calm under stress and pressure. Have you ever practiced trying to stay calm when you feel afraid or angry?  What works well for you?  I know it helps me to take deep breaths and try and clear my thoughts. Sometimes if I go outside or take a walk that helps, too. Reacting to stress that way is much better than yelling or calling names or other things we later regret. It’s completely normal to feel upset. I do all the time. The question is how we will deal with those feelings. Sitting Bull showed us that even in intense situations, we can be calm. 

Sitting Bull also fought for what he believed in and stayed close to his family and his tribe. Even when they were threatened and told to leave their lands, he refused. He put himself in great danger to try and save his people. Sticking up for yourself and your family is a very noble thing to do. Think of what you can do to take care of your family and the community in which you live. Like Sitting Bull, we can all be leaders in our communities and families if we stick up for what we believe and for our loved ones.