Helping children to take advantage of their dormant spirituality.
THE BHAGAVAD-GITA tells us that a child with good opportunities for genuine spiritual life must have progressed in yoga, or Krishna consciousness, in a previous life. Krishna tells Arjuna some symptoms of such a child. First, the child will be attracted automatically to the yogic principles, even without seeking them. Second, he or she will be an inquisitive transcendentalist. Third, the child stands always above the ritualistic principles of the scriptures. Attracted to Krishna Natural attraction to yogic principles—specifically, to serving Lord Krishna with love—is probably the most obvious symptom of previous devotion. That attraction shows in a child’s delight in seeing a Deity or picture of Krishna and in enthusiasm when chanting in the kirtana. Such a child also quickly and naturally understands a theology that even for scholars seems difficult. Keeping our children’s attraction to Krishna alive—no, increasing it—is simple in theory but not always in practice. Every day we must give them ample opportunities to meet the object of their enthusiasm, and we must keep them from what will divert or dampen that enthusiasm.
The child who daily chants Hare Krishna, sees the Lord in His Deity form, keeps company with other devotees, and reads or hears the stories of Krishna or the philosophy of Krishna consciousness naturally grows in spontaneous attraction and affection for Krishna Such a child does not have to seek that attraction or struggle to cultivate it. Since his or her heart is already fertile and the seed of devotion already there, the simple water and sunshine of devotional life quickly produce a healthy plant of love of God. Yet many children who show natural devotion when very young can become materialistic as they mature. Generally this is because parents, teachers, and society have artificially suppressed, or at least neglected to culture, the children’s innate feelings. We suppress those feelings when, for example, we have ordinary television programs playing in our house, when we send our children to schools full of friends and teachers who encourage material life, or when we in any way surround a child with influences contrary to his own devotional nature.
Besides showing signs of being attached to Krishna, as the child grows he or she will also show signs of being an inquiring transcendentalist. Although children start asking questions practically as soon as they can talk, philosophical inquiry and answers become most crucial to a child’s spiritual development beginning around age ten, when the child approaches physical and intellectual maturity. For the next five to ten years, a child often shows a previous connection with Krishna consciousness by an intense interest in philosophy. True, not all children are philosophically inclined to an equal extent. Yet a supportive atmosphere can often release a flood of interest in what may have appeared a dry riverbed of a child. A supportive atmosphere means that adults who deal with children between the ages of ten and sixteen welcome questions as a sign that the child is a natural devotee. The questions may sometimes seem heretical or disrespectful; still, a wise adult welcomes them with warmth and kindness. Arjuna presents his demons of doubt to Lord Krishna So must our children air their doubts, confusion, or understanding. Of course, happily accepting questions is not enough. The child may be unsure whether discussion is welcome. I suggest setting aside two or three times a week, in school or at home, for discussing philosophy. The child can read a section from the Vedic literature and write down his questions about that section. We can then use those questions as a basis for discussion. Sometimes, of course, we may wander far from the original topic to points the child finds really of concern.
Above the Rituals
When we find a child who is not only attracted to Krishna consciousness and inquisitive about it but also beyond ritualistic principles, we know that this is a soul who has already understood the goal of religion. But this symptom of children with divine consciousness is probably the most difficult to understand and encourage. Why? Because we adults may ourselves think in terms of ritual and religion. We may want to teach our children that Krishna consciousness is their “religion”—that they should identify themselves as “Hindus” or “Hare Krishnas” or “Vaishnavas” the way others identify themselves as “Catholics” and “Muslims.” And we may feel that our religious identity and that of our children depend primarily upon accepting a certain ritualistic formula in contrast to the rituals of other religions. If we present spiritual life in this way, our children will probably reject it. Krishna tells Arjuna that children born in families with good opportunities for spiritual advancement have already rejected a ritualistic concept of religion in a previous life. Why should they accept it now?
We show our love for our children when we emphasize sanatana-dharma. Sanatana means “eternal,” and dharma means “the intrinsic nature of something.” Our integral nature, without beginning or end, is to love and serve God, Krishna If we successfully convince our children that Krishna consciousness is real and universal, they willfully and joyfully embrace it as the goal of their life. We show the reality of spiritual life when we present our child with evidence to support what we’re trying to convey. The best evidence is people who are achieving the spiritual success described in the scriptures. Our children should know such people, not only from stories in the scriptures but personally. Our children should also learn of empirical findings that can be thoroughly understood only from the Vedic literature. Sadaputa Dasa’a book Alien Identities is a good example of this kind of information. Another example is a Krishna conscious study of empiric evidence about the origins of life. We can help our children understand the universality of the Vedic principles by showing how everyone, in various ways, is trying to know and love Krishna While teaching our children about different religions or philosophies, we can show how sanatana-dharma is the most perfect expression of the essential principles of those religions and philosophies. Shrila Prabhupada’s discussions on philosophers and Satyaraja Dasa’s books on comparative religions are very helpful. Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami also has many publications that accentuate the universal principle of sanatana-dharma.
Our children learn further that Krishna consciousness is universal when they see us applying it to every aspect of our life. Everything we do, eat, say, and think can be directed toward loving Krishna Our example can take our children from the theoretical to the practical. They can then accept the practices of Krishna consciousness not as formalities or “rituals” in a negative sense, but as sensible, reasoned ways of achieving the goal of life. When parents or teachers realize they have a prodigy to train—in music or mathematics, perhaps—they generally spare no trouble or expense to give the child the best opportunity to develop his or her talents. How much more we should do for the spiritual prodigy—the child fortunate to live in a Krishna conscious home.
Urmila Devi Dasi was initiated in 1973 and has been involved in ISKCON education since 1983. Urmila’s husband, three children and six grandchildren are all active in Krishna consciousness. She has a Masters of School Administration and a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It seems this article has stuck a cord with many readers—we have received more positive appreciation about this article than from any other. Apparently many devotees struggle with understanding how humility relates to self esteem, or put another way, sometimes devotees equate what is low self esteem with humility, or pride with high self-esteem. There is false humility, beginning or mental humility, and superlative or spiritual humility. True humility goes hand in hand with confidence. Please read on!
Reprinted from Back to Godhead Magazine Volume 29 Number 01,1995 © BBT International; all rights reserved.