Gautama finds out for himself

From Long Ago
A curriculum for middle elementary grades by Dan Harper
Copyright (c) 2014 Dan Harper


Find this story in From Long Ago and Many Lands, available online through Google Books — click here.


SESSION FIVE: Gautama Finds Out for Himself

I/ Opening

Take attendance.

Light chalice with these words and the associated hand motions: “We light this chalice to celebrate Unitarian Universalism: the church of the open mind, the helping hands, and the loving heart.”

Check-in: Go around circle. Each child and adult says his or her name, and then may say one good thing and one bad thing that has happened in the past week (anyone may pass).

II/ Read the story “Gautama Finds Out for Himself.”

Find this story in From Long Ago and Many Lands, available online through Google Books — click here.

III/ Act out the story.

This week’s story is just as much fun to act out as last week’s story!

As usual, begin by asking: “Who are the characters in this story?” The characters include: Prince Gautama, the King and Queen, Prince Gautama’s wife, and his baby, his servant Channa, the sick person, the old person, the dead person, lots of supporting characters.

Determine where the stage area will be, and the lead teachers sits facing the stage. As usual, the lead teacher reads the story, prompting actors as needed to act out their parts. Depending on the size of the class, some children make take on more than one role. (Note that the roles of sick person and dead person always seem to be popular.)

If you think about it, take some photos of the children acting out the story, print them out later, and post them on the bulletin board in your classroom.

IV/ Conversation about the story

Sit back down in a group. Go over the story to make sure the children understand it.

Now ask some general questions: “What was the best part of the story? Who was your favorite character? Who was your least favorite character?” — or questions you come up with on your own.

Ask some questions specific to the story: “Why was Prince Gautama surprised to see a sick person?” “Do you think the King should have kept Prince Gautama from seeing sick people and old people? What about dead people? Should children be allowed to see dead people?” “Do you think Prince Gautama was right to leave his wife and baby boy behind without even saying goodbye?” Or any other open-ended questions you want to ask.

Since you’ve been discussing stories week after week, by now the children should be pretty good at it. The children I have told this story to like to think about whether the story is really true or not, and that question has led to some very interesting discussions. Ask them: do you think this story could have been really true? Historically, it probably could have been true — but we don’t have really good records for 2,500 years ago, so we’ll never know for sure — so the question really is: Does this story feel true to you? Some children will probably dismiss this as a fairy tale, others might feel it’s literally true. For both groups, you might want to say to them that though we’ll never really know if the story was literally true, for many people this is a good story that tells us something important and true about human beings.

V/ Free play and snack

Assuming the story and discussion will take a little longer than usual, no other activities planned for this session. But you might want to have drawing supplies out for those who feel inspired to draw (children seem to like to draw the sick and dead people in the story).

VII/ Closing circle

Before leaving, have the children hold hands in a circle. Show them how to hold hands: Hold your hands out in front of you with your palms down; now turn your left hand so that your left palm is up; now both your thumbs are pointing right; now hold hands with the person on each side, with your right hand on top of another person’s left hand, and your left hand under another person’s right hand.

When the children are in a circle, ask them what they did today, and prompt them with questions and answers, e.g.: “What did we do today? We heard a story, right? Anyone remember what the story was about? Etc.” You’re not trying to put any one child on the spot, but rather drawing on the wisdom of the group as a whole. If any parents have come to pick up their children, invite them to join the circle (so they can know what it is their children learned about this week).

Say the closing words together — either these words, or others you choose:

Go out into the world in peace
Be of good courage
Hold fast to what is good
Return no one evil for evil
Strengthen the faint-hearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Rejoice in beauty
Speak love with word and deed
Honor all beings.

Then tell the children how you enjoyed seeing them (if that’s true), and that you look forward to seeing them again next week.



This story is from Jataka-Nidana, published in English translation as The Story of Gotama Buddha, trans. N.A. Jayawickrama (Oxford: Pali Text Society, 1990, 2002). Here are some specific passages in this English translation that are referred to in the story:

The Four Omens, i.e., seeing old, ill, and dead persons: pp. 78-79.
The Great Renunciation, and subsequently leaving the king’s mansion: pp. 82-84.