In addition to the good heart, there are seven basic qualities in which to educate children, which I call “Seven Foundations for Happiness and Peace.” These Seven are based on a set of 16 Dharma rules1 compiled long ago for the whole country of Tibet by one of the Dharma kings, Songtsen Gampo, considered to be an embodiment of Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion. The purpose of these rules or guidelines is to ensure that everyone’s life becomes more sane and meaningful, and a source of peace and happiness for others. By following them, people will make efforts to avoid negative karma and ensure that everything they do becomes good karma.
Since children from their own side also need to create positive karma in order to experience happiness and success, they need to be taught at least the Seven Foundations. Just as a beggar on the street is not nourished by someone else eating delicious food in an expensive restaurant, your children will not experience happiness as a result of the good karma you create; instead, they have to create good karma themselves.
The first of the Seven Foundations for Happiness and Peace is kindness. You should encourage your children to practice kindness in their daily lives, not just with fellow human beings (including their enemies), but also with animals and insects. By thinking about others’ happiness and practicing kindness all the time, day and night, they will bring peace to all sentient beings. Also in their own heart, there will be peace no matter what the situation, even when things are difficult. Wherever they are, every day, week and month, they will make others happy.
When they see that their positive actions, their acts of kindness, make others happy, this will, in turn, make your children happy, right now in this very life. But the acts of kindness that they do in this life will also have a long-term effect on their future lives. With every positive action, they create the cause for their own wishes for peace and happiness, both temporal and ultimate, to be fulfilled.
The result of even just one act of kindness is happiness. This is because good and bad deeds—positive and negative karma—definitely bring the experience of happiness and suffering respectively. Another characteristic of karma—the law of actions and their consequences—is that karma expands over time. Because of this, even one small act of kindness done with a good heart, a sincere concern for the happiness of another sentient being, results in experiencing happiness in hundreds, and even thousands of future lives.
Contrarily, by harming someone even slightly, there will be the unwanted consequence of experiencing problems and unhappiness for hundreds and even thousands of lifetimes. Therefore, the very first thing to teach your children is kindness. Their kindness will make them happy, which will make you happy, and then you will make others happy!
The second Foundation for Happiness and Peace to teach your children is that of rejoicing. When good things happen to other people, such as having an attractive body, a good friend, a nice house, a new car, a good education, or a job or business that is going well, it is important for your children to learn to feel happy about it. Instead of being jealous and envious and wanting what others have—an unhappy state of mind that creates obstacles to their own and others’ wishes being fulfilled—you should teach your children to always rejoice when other sentient beings are happy. Delighting in others’ good fortune—like a mother who is delighted when her cherished child experiences good things—will keep their minds happy and give them real inner peace. It will bring them a healthy mind and their lives will be full of ups rather than downs, and they will be protected from depression.
By practicing rejoicing, being glad when good things happen to others, your children will create good karma all the time. Whether they accept the workings of karma or not, by rejoicing in goodness, they will have virtuous thoughts. From them will come happiness and success in this life and in future lives. For hundreds and thousands of lifetimes, they will experience the positive result of rejoicing even just one time. Rejoicing in their own and other’s goodness is therefore the easiest way to collect extensive merit, the cause of happiness.
Rejoicing takes place in the mind, so it can be done while walking, while eating, even while lying down. You can teach your children to rejoice anywhere, any time, so they can practice feeling glad many times a day. With a happy mind, they will communicate well with others and will therefore have good relationships and connections with others. They will then be able to help them and make them happy. Rejoicing is a very wholesome practice and makes life meaningful. It is also one of the very best psychologies and therapies as it keeps the mind happy.
For all these reasons, it is extremely important to teach your children to rejoice in the good qualities and good fortune of others.
The third Foundation for Happiness and Peace that children need to be taught is patience. If children are free from anger, they won’t harm themselves or other sentient beings, including animals, so they won’t create negative karma. On the other hand, if they have a tendency to get angry, that anger will always disturb their minds and make them unhappy, and it will also disturb the people around them. From one act of anger, they will experience suffering not only in the lower realms, where there is unbelievable misery, but also later on in the human realm. This is because when, due to the ripening of a good karma, they once again obtain a human rebirth, they will continue to experience the results of their previous anger, such as having an ugly body and encountering many problems and obstacles. Like this, they can experience the suffering results of one act of anger for hundreds or even thousands of lifetimes.
Anger—the opposite of patience—also destroys merit, the cause of every type of happiness. It destroys the happiness of this life and the happiness of future lives, including good rebirth. It also destroys the merit needed to achieve ultimate happiness—liberation from the oceans of samsaric suffering. And it also destroys the merit that is the cause of enlightenment. So anger is only harmful; it causes unbelievable harm to oneself and to other sentient beings.
Learning patience now will also help your children avoid being angry people in their future lives. It will leave positive imprints on their minds that will bring the effect of their having more patience, as a result of which they will stop harming others. In this way, they will bring peace and happiness to this world now and to sentient beings life after life. In the historical accounts of the world, there are many examples of people in powerful positions who did not practice patience and so killed and tortured even millions of innocent people. By teaching your children patience, others, starting from the members of your own family, won’t receive harm from them and instead will receive peace. If instead, they tend to get angry with others, motivated by that bad mind, they will harm other people verbally, by saying hurtful things, or physically, by striking them and so on. Those people in turn will likely harm them back.
By teaching your children to practice patience and avoid harming others, and on top of that, to benefit them, people will enjoy being around them and their relationships will be harmonious and lasting.
For all these reasons, you, as a parent, need to develop patience yourself and then teach your children how to be more patient.
As a parent, you should also teach your children that when someone harms, disrespects or even abuses them, the best response is forgiveness. Forgiveness is extremely important—it opens the hearts of both those who forgive and those who are forgiven. Rather than holding a grudge, if children are able to forgive others, there will be peace in their hearts, as well as in the hearts of those who harm them. Without learning forgiveness, the meaning of their lives and the purpose of their being born human—to bring peace to themselves, to their families and to other people in the world—will be lost.
Also, if instead of forgiving those who harm them your children return the harm, not only will the person who harmed them want to harm them back, so too will that person’s family and friends. And due to that negative karma of retaliating, in the future, your children will be harmed and even killed for five hundred lifetimes by that same person in different forms. In this way, the suffering will go on and on without end. On the other hand, by forgiving those who harm them, your children won’t harm others, nor will you, the other members of your family and your friends. Therefore, so many people will be saved from creating negative karma.
I once saw an interview on television with a woman in the United States whose young daughter had been kidnapped, raped and killed by a man. Even though she wasn’t a Buddhist, she said that she didn’t want to kill the man and instead forgave him. This amazing ability to forgive him came from her incredibly good heart. Another man who had been shot six times also said, when interviewed, that he didn’t want to kill the man who had shot him. He didn’t even want that man to go to prison! He too didn’t seem to be a Buddhist but he had a very good heart and was very kind. Because of their good hearts, these two people were able to experience so much mental peace and happiness in this very life. You should try to be like them and also teach your children how to be like them.
Another Foundation for Happiness and Peace to teach your children is the importance of apologizing when they do something that harms other people, such as insulting them or speaking angrily to them. If your children immediately apologize for their mistakes, it will bring peace in their own hearts and also in the hearts of the people they harmed. As a result, those people won’t hold a grudge against your children, won’t close their hearts to them or stop speaking to them, nor will there be an uncomfortable feeling between them.
By apologizing sincerely, your children will continue to have a good relationship with the people they have mistakenly harmed. Clearing things up in this way will bring happiness to everyone concerned. As a result, peace will spread from one person to another and your children will be making a contribution to world peace.
Another quality that is absolutely essential for children to develop is contentment. Many problems occur in the world because people are dissatisfied and follow their desires. Even very wealthy people, millionaires and billionaires who have enough money to last them and their families for lifetimes, end up in prison after they are caught embezzling funds that they do not need or cheating others out of their money. In fact, the news is filled with stories of people who, driven by greed, get involved in illegal activities that cause much suffering and unhappiness to others, as well as eventually to themselves.
When young people in particular lack contentment, there is a high risk of them drinking alcohol and taking drugs. Once they are trapped in addiction, they are unable to live a normal life and even to hold down a job, let alone practice Dharma. Eventually, the addiction can totally destroy their entire lives.
Contentment, on the other hand, will protect them from developing bad habits that ruin and waste their lives, prevent them from being useful to others, and cause them to create a lot of pain for their families. Since learning how to give up attachment and desire is very important, you need to teach your children how to be content and satisfied.
The last of the Seven Foundations for Happiness and Peace that you should teach your children is courage. Often people have the tendency to put themselves down, thinking, “I’m hopeless. I can’t do anything.” By seeing themselves as having no good qualities, they become depressed and unable to do anything for anyone. With courage—the thought “I can do it”—your children will be able to lift their minds up and successfully accomplish both worldly and Dharma activities.
Courage will give them the mental strength needed to develop their qualities and the confidence that they can help others and lead them to happiness. It also enables them to bear the hardships involved in giving up the selfish mind. Courage is particularly important in the West, where there are so many people who, due to thinking that their lives are meaningless, become depressed and even end up committing suicide. For these reasons, it is very important for your children to possess courage.
As a parent, you should consider the Seven Foundations for Happiness and Peace as a guideline for educating your children, as well as for your own practice. These seven qualities give a very clear idea of how to raise children and how you can help them. By developing them, instead of causing harm to themselves and others, from life to life, your children will bring benefit to themselves, their families, their neighbors and to the other sentient beings of this world. With these Seven Foundations for Happiness and Peace, your children will be happy and do many good things for others, thereby all the time creating the cause to be happy in the future. Even if they only develop the first of the Seven, kindness, and then treat everyone they meet with kindness, the effect on themselves and on other people will be truly amazing.
I want to emphasize my main point once again: if you choose to have children, you must have a plan as to how to make being a parent beneficial for the world and for sentient beings. Even if you cannot teach your children all Seven Foundations for Happiness and Peace, you must educate them in as many of them as possible. Also, as a parent, you need to practice these qualities yourself in order to set a good example for your children. In this way, your children will learn from you and will be much more likely to develop these qualities themselves. In short, your job as a parent is to educate your children to be good human beings who don’t do any harm and who only bring benefit and happiness to themselves, to others and to the world.