Aside from being shamed about my parenting abilities... I found this narrative approach to instruction poignant:
Those adhering closely to traditional views should stop reading here. Save yourself and me the aggravation of arguing about what is actual and figurative in the Buddha's teachings...For thousands of years, the Inuit have relied on an ancient tool with an ingenious twist: "We use storytelling to discipline," Jaw says.
Jaw isn't talking about fairy tales, where a child needs to decipher the moral. These are oral stories passed down from one generation of Inuit to the next, designed to sculpt kids' behaviors in the moment. Sometimes even save their lives.
For example, how do you teach kids to stay away from the ocean, where they could easily drown? Instead of yelling, "Don't go near the water!" Jaw says Inuit parents take a pre-emptive approach and tell kids a special story about what's inside the water. "It's the sea monster," Jaw says, with a giant pouch on its back just for little kids.
"If a child walks too close to the water, the monster will put you in his pouch, drag you down to the ocean and adopt you out to another family," Jaw says.
"Then we don't need to yell at a child," Jaw says, "because she is already getting the message."
One of the things about Buddhism I find really interesting, especially Mahayana and Vajrayana, is the storytelling approach to instruction.
How does one convey the vast scales and infinite dimensions of the mind? By telling literal "tall tales" - like the chairs in Vimalakirti's bedroom. How does one objectify emptiness for the purpose of working out its implications? By embodying it in an anthropomorphic Buddha that is form, and yet unlimited by form, functional yet inert. This expanding approach is found in the heart of meditative practices - for instance, meditating on a kasina, and then removing it. Meditation on infinite space, and then removing the conception of infinite space... I once heard an explanation of the Mahayana sutras as emerging during a golden age of Indian story telling. Anyone who knows about storytelling, its an art of weaving the familiar and unfamiliar together into a cohesive whole that at its best, expands the horizons of our worlds. Stories can encode norms and expectations, ascribe and affirm meaning. That's what these Inuit parents are utilizing, and its what good Dharma teachers do, too. Take for instance, Abhidharma is some truly profound material. Likewise Madhyamaka. Its also, for the vast majority of us, dry and tedious. Consider Mulamadhyamakakarika and the Heart Sutra. Both teach, "Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form." The MMK is in turns pedantic, argumentative... tedious. Its conveys the coldness, even meanness, of the debate floor. The Heart Sutra, in contrast, for me anyway, radiates warmth and kindness, gentleness - Avalokitesvara lovingly and kindly explaining - "Listen, Shariputra..." For those familiar with the Agamas/Nikayas, we know that Shariputra is one of the Buddha's foremost disciples, but also a kind and gentle person who cared for Rahula who was treated rather harshly by the Buddha, who, tellingly, returned to his childhood room at the end of his life to die - a sort of nostalgia that some might consider unbecoming in an Arhat.
Mandala are created as dimensions with certain internal structures and logic that convey certain views - by entering the story, we are able to discern the view of the mandala and internalize it.
Let my inspiration flow
in token lines suggesting rhythm
that will not forsake me
till my tale is told and done
While the firelight's aglow
strange shadows in the flames will grow
till things we've never seen
will seem familiar...
Inspiration, move me brightly
light the song with sense and color,
hold away despair
More than this I will not ask
faced with mysteries dark and vast
statements just seem vain at last
But then we need a story that brings us out of the story... the point where the light dances off the page and you find yourself firmly where you stand. The wizard coming out from behind the curtain... The Doctor explaining, I didn't really die, I just wanted to shock you so that you'd take the medicine. The Buddha explaining... its all a story to bring you along to awakening.
Creation and then dissolution...