Mandala on the Mountain is a weeklong summer camp, for kids aged nine through eighteen who are interested in Buddhism. Dharma Rain Zen Center has been running these camps since 1994. Campers come from a variety of traditions and levels of familiarity with Buddhism, but are willing to try it out. Most of the forms we use derive from Soto Zen, but we include teachings from different schools of Buddhism.
Every day there are traditional camp activities like swimming, crafts, sports, pillow fights and a campfire, as well as Buddhist practices like meditation, a chanting service, silent breakfast and mindful work practice. We meet in small groups to discuss mandalas and the five Buddha families, learning about aspects of our selves and interdependence. The schedule finds room for workshops like acting, juggling, wilderness survival, kite-making and taiko drumming, not to mention water balloon fights, capture the flag and lots of time to hang out & get to know other kids who are interested in spiritual practice.
Besides the Dharma of the mandala, and a few of the basics of retreat life, we learn values of caring for things and people, not wasting, accepting what is offered, and generally maintaining a safe and supportive social environment. This is a challenging lifestyle for our campers and they enjoy bragging about having survived the difficulty of the practices. We try to tailor the rigors of camp to the age and experience of our kids and give them challenges that encourage them to discover their inner resources. Keeping the teaching appropriate for young people makes a big difference in how well it is received and how much is truly usable by the student.