SATURDAY MORNING, just after breakfast, and a balmy Florida mist is lifting from the damp streets and luxuriant shrubbery a few blocks off the South Dixie Highway in Lake Worth, a city on the outskirts of West Palm Beach. Tom Felt, a third-generation Floridian, middle school English teacher, and father of eight-year old twin girls, Laurel and Taylor, unpacks tubes of printing ink, rollers, and swaths of colored cotton in the parking lot of the Palm Beach Dharma Center, a branch of the Padmasambhava Buddhist Center, an organization in the Tibetan Nyingma lineage. The center, housed in a cushy, low-slung bungalow, is indistinguishable from the other houses on the block except for a demure sign on the front lawn. The ink and flags are for a craft project Felt has devised for a monthly children’s dharma group he founded and leads.
For more than a decade, Felt has studied with two Tibetan brothers, Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche. But when he and his partner, Keith Platt, who teaches social work at Florida Atlantic University, became fathers, his dharma focus shifted from his own instruction to that of his daughters. “When we had the girls, it was easy to become disconnected from the sangha,” says Felt.
“With the class, I feel like I’m doing something purposeful. It’s my way of bringing in people who have children, and it allows the adults to do their practice on Saturday morning while the kids can develop their own—or at least have the chance to taste practice. It was really the only way I could figure out how to bring my family into the practice in a concerted way.”
A handful of kids trickle into the parking lot; their parents veer off to the main shrine room for ngondro— preliminary practice—and Felt leads the children, most of whom know one another, into an immaculate, carpeted room off the center’s store, unfurnished but for a fully-rigged altar and some pillows. There is one new student, Elias, who is ten and has the look of a boy being subjected to what he sees as his mother’s latest embarrassing whim. Tom gently introduces Elias, gives him a cushion to sit on, and passes out handmade booklets on sadhana—spiritual practice—to the group.
“Now the first thing we need to do is develop our generosity,” says Felt, in a careful, teacherly tone. “First, we’ll make the water offering.” The kids rush to the altar to grab a plastic pitcher and splash water into the brass dishes. “Take your time, very nice,” Felt praises. “Water is a good place to start, because water is something we can easily give away.” Then it’s incense time. Maia, eight, burns herself on a match and plunges her finger into her mouth. “It’s okay,” she mumbles. “Elias, you want to try?” asks Felt. Elias shakes his head. “That’s okay, you don’t have to. Now we chant the seven-line prayer.” The children move smoothly through the pages of the sadhana,and each section sparks a discussion:
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