I was born into a big family: three girls and two boys, in family photos we appear gathered like little satellites around our mother who was by then a single parent. It is an understatement to say that my mum was always busy. I don't recall her ever having the luxury of reading me a bedtime story, just the two of us sitting cozily together.
From experience I know that it is heartwarming to cuddle up with your small child and a good book, particularly now as the nights grow cooler. The mellow mood, your child's eager anticipation and the unfolding story create a sweet closeness.
For such times the delightfully engaging Buddha at Bedtime is an ideal choice for children aged six to 10. This is a collection of 20 stories from the Jataka Tales, ancient narratives attributed to the Buddha and retold for a modern audience. The richly illustrated Buddha at Bedtime takes the reader on a journey from the humble farmyard to the depths of the forest, to royal courts and fantastic realms beyond. There, a charming array of characters like the brave little parrot, Delightful, the loyal bull, and gentle hearted Roslina encounter adventures and mishaps, which serve to illustrate universal values such as kindness, generosity and wisdom.
Buddhist teachings emphasise compassion, peace and tolerance while acknowledging that suffering is an inevitable part of life. Distressing as it is, children too experience suffering, perhaps as a chronic illness, bullying or the loss of a beloved pet. The wisdom of the Buddha teaches us how to approach even complex problems with a positive attitude and find inner calm when we most need it. Before beginning each story you can set a relaxed mood with your child using the fun visualisation included in the book. There are also three short meditations at the back of the book, like the rainbow meditation, which introduce young ones to this valuable practice that may well stay with them for life. They will be happier and wiser for it.
Buddha at Bedtime is authored by Dharmachari Nagaraja, a guest presenter of "Pause for Thought" on BBC Radio 2's Terry Wogan Show in the UK . His work in radio broadcasting taught him that nothing captures a person's attention and imagination like a good story. Stories can provide an entrée into talking with children about complex issues like acquisitiveness or forgiveness.
Children feel it keenly when they're wronged or treated unfairly and it is often difficult to broach the subject of forgiveness in a way that they can relate to and understand. Actually, even as adults this is not an easy thing to do - just look at the numerous wars, conflicts and family feuds taking place around the world! One of the tales in Buddha at Bedtime is "The Kind and Wise Stag". Dinos is a magnificent bejewelled stag who saves the life of a drowning man, Arthur.
Many years later, Arthur betrays the stag after learning that the king has offered a reward for Dinos's capture. When the king discovers Arthur's betrayal he wants to punish the man, but Dinos intercedes on his behalf, showing a deep compassion that ultimately benefits all the characters in the story.There was a time when I wouldn't have picked up a book like Buddha at Bedtime thinking it would somehow contravene my Christian faith. This is limited thinking because the values espoused by the Buddha are universal and uplifting. Buddhists and non Buddhists alike can benefit from these tales.
Buddha at Bedtime is likely to become a favourite in any household with young children, and deservedly so.
Nicola Silva is a journalist and writer based in Sydney