MN 58 Abhayarājakumārasutta: How would you teach it to teens/tweens

MN 58 Abhayarājakumāra: The leader of the Jains, Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta, gives his disciple Prince Abhaya a dilemma to pose to the Buddha, supposing that this will show his weakness. Things don’t go quite as planned.

I know how I would teach it, but I’m looking for ideas from others to maybe up my game.

I’m happy to hear any ideas at all. My current context is a class for 12–14 year olds where they will get a copy of the sutta to read and then we discuss after. While/after reading I ask them to make a very brief outline of the sutta and write a short summary. I’m thinking about coming up with some questions to give them for reflection as they read, but I don’t want to be overwhelming.

Edit to add: Most of the kids have been attending sutta-based Dhamma School for some time.

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I’m sure you have it covered. But as requested here are some thoughts of possible not immediately obvious angles…

Q1 What was Natikas intention? (Towards Buddha, towards the Prince)

Q2 What are the Princes intentions? (Towards Natika, towards the Buddha)

Q3 What is the Buddhas intention?

Q4 How does intention affect the (qualities of) choices made and the results of those choices? ie what is the outcome for Natika versus the Prince :slightly_smiling_face:


Maybe some other questions that come to mind:

  • Does speaking the truth always lead to beneficial results?

  • Does speaking with good intentions always lead to beneficial results?

  • Does speaking the truth with good intentions always lead to beneficial results?

  • If not, then how does one know the difference between what is beneficial and what is harmful?



Apart from the whole teaching in the sutta, there is a message relevant for impressionable 12/14 year olds — not to launch into some venture just because someone goads you or entices you into it with visions of fame and fortune. Investigate anything anyone says first. Pressures from elders, peers, siblings, etc. is a constant factor in their lives.

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I have never taught in classroom, only privately and rather students who already were good at the subject, so perhaps I underestimate difficulty, but it is always good to lear something entirely new. And the Sutta, gives opportunity to speak about strange phenomena, namely the wisest one is not one who knows answers to all questions, since there are questions which are wrongly stated and as such they have no answers.

While this particular type of question does not appear in the Sutta, but the two other types, question which has to be analyzed and has no one-sided answer, and question which has to be treated by contr-question are there. So you may teach about 4 kind of questions.

But perhaps it may be too complicated for your students. You can check it and tell us later :smiling_face:

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Thanks everyone! I appreciate it all and welcome any other thoughts folks might have.

I’d also be interested to hear any issues anyone has ever had understanding this sutta so that I might proactively explain those.

I wouldn’t have anything to say about that, but Soseki’s Three-Cornered World comes to mind as a look at this.

I can totally see this sutta cast as an attempt to make a prank video on TikTok.

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workshop it. design scenarios where they get challenged like the Buddha did and see if they can answer like the Buddha.

Eg. you either support Ukraine self defence (justifying killing) or you’re an enemy to freedom, how then can you call yourself a buddhist?

I am not sure if at that age they are well equipped with such complex reasonings.

Can do for abortion issue, where it’s hot topic for monks are fixed to one side only by vinaya, for other hot issues of today’s world.

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Bravo, Ven. Snowbird, for your energy & zeal to teach suttas & dhamma to these kids! :heart_eyes: I would like to be so compassionate with kids. Maybe one day… :hugs:

For me, this sutta has always resonated with how the Buddha shows up in a compassionate posture & response. This when he fully knows he is being goaded into useless speculation and not for the sake of seeking things as they really are (or, not for the sake of liberating insight).

For 12-14 year-olds, my inclination is to highlight how we can choose to respond with compassion in situations where our peers come across as aggressive, trying to get us joining them in hurtful, crude, snide, etc. kinds of conversation. Not dissimilar to helpful comments above, my questions for them would be something like:

  • What kinds of conversation does the Buddha teach are helpful and inspiring for our friends?

  • How do you see other kinds of conversation show up when your with your friends? How would you characterize those conversations, the kinds of speech used?

  • How does it feel when your friends are asking you to join in? (Also, is there mindfulness of body present? Can you imagine cultivating that in those moments?)

  • How might we be compassionate with our friends without joining in and participating? What would that look like? What would our speech be like in those situations? What would walking away look like?

  • Do you have faith that you can influence your friends in this way? Why or why not?

For adults I’m not sure I would deviate too much from the general direction of the inquiry. For 12-14 year-olds, peer groups are so front-and-center for how they manage their lives. At that age, for girls it’s getting supremely important (perhaps a couple of years later for boys).