Swami Veda Bharati holds the prestigious title of Mahamandaleshwara in the Swami order of monks. He is also the Chancellor of HIHT University, Dehradun, which was established by Master Swami Rama. He has authored approximately 18 books on Indian spirituality including a 1500 page comprehensive commentary on two of the four chapters of Patanjali's Yoga-sutras. Before taking the vows of Swamihood in 1992, Swami Veda Bharati was known as Dr. Usharbudh Arya.
Many times seekers ask me questions about spiritual upbringing of children.
Often these questions are asked after a baby's birth whereas the right time to ask the question is even before getting married.
I have answered these questions in some detail in lectures and writings. Gurudeva Swami Rama has written giving some necessary and inspiring messages.
However, the questions are still repeated. So, I shall repeat here what I have taught before but in a summary form. At whatever stage of the presence of your child you are at, you may start on these suggestions/instructions applicable to that stage.
1. First principle: children do not need to be trained. Parents need to be trained. All adults need to be trained. Children will pick up spirituality the way they pick up language without being taught. What is the level of spirituality in your joint life, dear parents?
2. A child's education begins minimum three years before conception. You are responsible for the samskaras you are are creating in yourself during that period. Three years of intensive gayatri mantra practice, and your child will be so intelligent that he will never need to go to school. I have similarly taught appropriate Buddhist mantras to people from Buddhist communities as three-year preparation for conceiving a child.
3. In the ancient Vedic Indian society, of which a few rare fragments are struggling to survive today, there is a (a) special sacraments performed just before conception. There are (b) (c) two sacraments performed during pregnancy. In the absence of formal sacrament, or as an addition to it, keep your meditation practice with your diksha mantra (mantra received at yoga initiation).
4. As soon as you know you are pregnant (this is addressed to both parents), ask for gayatri mantra initiation and practice the same throughout pregrancy. People of different religion may ask their spiritual guides to do similar practices each according to his/her religion.
5. During pregnancy,
A. you are not only nourishing the child's body through the umbilical chord. You are (a) creating his/her pranic body (b) nourishing/creating his/her mind.
Whatever thoughts, feelings, emotions you carry in you, whatever impressions you give to your mind, are passed on in a subtle way to the child in you.
B. So, see what pictures you hang in your rooms at this time, what movies you watch, what books you read, what discourses you listen to. Do use this time to read the life stories of spiritually advanced beings.
C. It is the duty of the spouse, the whole family and society, that they provide a peaceful, calm, non-agitating environ for the pregnant one because you are doing this for the child, that is, for the future constitution of the entire society.
D. I wish that the world economic system was not so intentionally hostile to women, to mothers, to children. I wish it was not geared to destroy mothers and children. In some societies, like India, mothers have three months maternity leave. In some crass and over-exploitative economic systems they do not have a weak!
I wish that economically, and without harming their professional carriers, it was possible for mothers to take the entire nine months off to concentrate on the child, and for the fathers also to be able to take a long paternity leave as is happening in some societies.
E. Parents, family, meditate together at least during these 9 months.
F. Do remember that the major education of a child is during the nine months of pregnancy. It is during these months that you are creating the child, forming/shaping the child.
A. The fourth sacrament of a child is soon after birth when (a) the parent or the family Guru first recites OM into the child's ear (b) the mantra
Thou art Veda; thy name is Veda (Wisdom, Knowledge, divine inspiration)
Is recited into the child's ear and (c) a bija-mantra is written on the baby's tongue with a gold stick dipped in honey - that's not easy but the thought counts.
7. In many societies
A. it is felt that the child's sub-conscious is still tuned to his/her past life. S/he is not yet yours. In these societies no one makes purchases of child's clothes and things before birth; does not start pulling the child's consciousness to us that early. They swathe the new born in some sheets and that is all. Till later.
B. No one in these societies chooses the child's name beforehand for the same reason. The time of the child's birth is immediately given to an astrologer. The astrologer matches the time with one of the 108 stations of the moon. The figure of 108 is arrived by the spaces between constellations each divided into four quarters. Depending on in which quarter between which two constellations the moon was at the time of the child's birth, accordingly, a matching syllable is chosen as prescribed for that constellation-quarter. You may name the child beginning the name with that syllable. It is commonly called raashi-naama, constellation name, and is kept secret, like a mantra, except for ceremonial occasions. These days this rule of secrecy is not strictly followed and the same may also be the popular name.
8. Form the habit of relaxed, deep, diaphragmatic breathing. Every child is born breathing diaphragmatically. Later s/he sees that parents and other adults are chest breathers and s/he quits the in-born nature and picks up the bad adult habit. Then, later in life, s/he has to go looking for yoga classes of the Himalayan Tradition to re-learn diaphragmatic breathing.
If the parents have formed the habit of diaphragmatic breathing and then hug the child, his/her natural habit is re-enforced, confirmed as correct and s/he continues to breathe the way s/he did upon birth. Otherwise, many ailments like asthma may occur. My surmise, for which I have no scientific data, is that it is the chest-breathing adults who cause asthma i half the cases of that disease in children. So. Hug the child, breathing diaphragmatically. That is his/her first lesson in yoga.
A. Spend some time daily this way: wrap your meditation shawl over the child, hugging the child while doing your relaxed deep breathing and mantra.
B. Here an aside: the women in India have the anchal - free-flwoing corner of the sari, or a dupattaa or chunree over the shoulders. This serves as a source of emotional protection and feeling of security for a young child; it is like the continuity of the placenta outside the womb. It also solves teh problem of modesty when suckling the child in public.
Place the sari-anchal, dupatta or your meditation shawl over the child and do your mantra and relaxed breathing while suckling the child on the breast.
Fathers, you, too, wrap the meditation shawl around the child and sit silent, doing relaxed breathing. The child will learn quietness of the mind. That is the most profound training in meditation.
C. Hum or sing sacred hymns and verses or mantras, or prayers of your own religion while holding the child. Recite these often.
D. Play the appropriate recordings of the above as well as softer kind of classical music even as a child is falling asleep.
10. Once the child begins to understand verbal thoughts,
A. Hold the child in your lap and hum, sing, recite from sacred books. A large number of children are still brought up in India listening to the mother reciting the Ramayana. Fathers need to do the same.
B. There are graphic art cartoon books of spiritual stories available by hundreds to show to the children and to read to them from those.
C. Tell the child the stories of the spiritual accomplished 'heroes' like the Buddha, St. Francis, the Sufi saints and so on.
D. You may devise games of enacting the episodes from these inspiring lives.
11. When the child is 3 years old, or may be a little older, it is time to put him to sleep for a siesta or a night's rest by giving him/her a relaxation practice in a soft meditative voice. For this to succeed, the adult's own mind needs to be calm.
12. Some cultures have lost the habit of the family praying together and eating together. If you have lost the habit, restore it; it is URGENT and important. There is nothing like meditating together and eating together -- besides playing together -- to create family bonding. Later, the child will not go looking for drugs.
If you follow the above, and add your own improvisations, by the age of five you have completed the child's spirituality training. The rest is filling in the intellectual niches and continuing to the above practices as much as possible.
Some may ask : What to do with the effects of negative thoughts that may have arisen. For example, someone worries that she had thought aborting the child in the early stages of pregnancy but then changed her mind. What undesirable unconscious effect would it have on the child's psychology an development. The answer is : do not worry about few moments of dark thoughts that occurred.
Moonlight wipes off darkness. Follow the above guidelines, improvising on the basis of the principles implied. The human mind is very resilient. Do not sit there and flog yourself for some past negative thought. Rejoice in the current moonlight.
Above all, as I said in the beginning, it is the spiritual training of adults that is important; the children will pick it up the way they pick up your language.
Also important: Do NOT
force the child; let him/her develop;
over-protect from undesirable company; simply explain. Children have good judgement if they have been given proper values.
let the child experiment with alternatives and choose. If the foundation you have given is firm, the edifice will hold. TRUST in the child's innate wisdom.
So, from before conception, through all these periods of 'child training', it is important that you learn your own Personality Orders like:
saumyataa: generating moon like calmness and pleasantness,
chitta-prasaadanam: making the mind a pleasant, thereby a clear, space.
As it develops in the adults, so it will impress itself upon the child's mind.
This is not the end of the story but it is a good beginning.
Enjoy the peacefulness of your child's mind.
[The article has been written based on (a) author's own upbringing (b) experiments in rearing spiritually inclined children in the USA.]