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Teaching God and Self-Knowledge to Children
Grant: Ever since I read and contemplated the meaning of Isvara which you had kindly offered me as written satsang some years ago, it’s been a deepening and unfolding experience of sweetness and receptiveness of Isvara prasad. Now when I meet people, friends or new people or family, I so often wish I could make them feel the difference between a life with and without Isvara. So many problems would just fade in an instant. I am trying to do that now with my granddaughter in an indirect way. I am thinking of ways now how to be more in touch with her. Maybe if you have the time, I would love to talk with you about this?
Sundari: We can definitely talk more about this. It is such a blessing when the full import of loving Isvara becomes firm knowledge for us. I feel so sorry for people who do not love God! I have expanded on this topic in a chapter I have written for my Lifestyle book. Many people who come to Vedanta have had negative experiences with traditional religion and moved past it to become inquirers, so their attitude to God needs some work. Whether we know it or not, we all seek God because we want to be happy. What most people don’t realize is that whether they are atheists or true believers, everything they do is looking for God because God is the Self. Being happy involves understanding our minds and being in tune with our environment. Life would be a lot simpler if all we had to contend with was our physical survival, but the human being is a combination of self-reflective, discriminating intellect/mind (spirit) and body (matter). We need to understand both aspects to have happy, fulfilling lives.
One of our greatest challenges is learning to navigate life free of the psychological and physical suffering that ensues when we don’t understand what’s going on, make bad decisions and don’t get what we want. To do this, we must develop the ability to assimilate the meaning of experience so that we can learn and grow from it. We cannot do that unless we understand the Logic of Existence, which entails a threefold process: understanding who we are, understanding the natural laws that govern the Field [of existence] we are a part of and live in and understanding how we relate to it. For that, we need God-knowledge because God and the Field are synonymous.
What Vedanta teaches about God/Isvara is not “spiritual” nor materialistic. It explains the relationship between spirit and matter – how God/consciousness and all sentient and insentient beings share the same essence. We teach that God is not only not “supernatural” or divine, but the only natural “thing” there is. In fact God is ALL there is, and not some remote extra-cosmic superhuman deity beyond our reach doling out good and bad karma. You cannot divorce yourself from God, no matter how much you try. God is the essential part of the equation without which life makes no sense. Without an intelligent source, our existence has no foundation at all. Denial of this is a waste of time, energy and joy. The only sane way to live is to embrace God.
That said, I understand how hard it is to impart this knowledge to others, especially children. The qualifications for Vedanta are unavoidable, and if the mind is not ready, it just cannot assimilate the knowledge. Recently I have been thinking about how to share God-knowledge with people who are not ready for Vedanta, and to emphasize the importance to those who are. I too wanted to share this with my granddaughter too, who is already a little inquirer at five years old.
I have been relating to her as the Self of course, but also as her “Nonna,” and she as a normal little girl who is waking up to this strange world of duality she lives in, already starting to wonder what it’s all about. I started off with discussions about objectifying her body, which was not that difficult, though not fully understood, as to be expected. But then she started having bad dreams and scary thoughts, and she wanted to know why and where they come from. I must work with the parents on this because, of course, they have their own ideas. We both explained to her that thoughts and dreams just happen in your mind, and they are not real. Objectifying her thoughts and feelings is still a bit of a stretch, as she is too young to understand that “real” is what is always present and never changes, and thoughts and feelings always change, so do not qualify. So she was not totally satisfied. She wanted to know why thoughts just keep coming back, and it was harder to explain to her that the thoughts do not come from her, that they come from the collective unconscious, and she can discard them; this is too advanced. But we made some progress. I expect she will be back with more on that topic soon!
She also wanted to know who or what God is. Neither of her parents is religious and neither of them is what we call dedicated inquirers, but she is lucky that both parents know how to love, are wise and very close to Self-knowledge, without knowing or calling it that. They are excellent parents. They told her that God is the universe and everything around her. I went a little further and told her that God is love and creates everything, takes care of us and gives us everything we need, and to whom we must give thanks. She kind of got that, even though it is only half the story. At school, she is being sold the father-God idea, but she takes to giving thanks quite naturally because it is natural. Then she wanted to know if she would die and if her mother and father would too, and if they would die before her. I told her that everyone dies, that it’s just like going to sleep, except the body does not wake up. Only you “wake up” because you are awake regardless of whether the body sleeps or dies. She did not get that and found it very confusing, also understandable. She wanted to hear something else, to be comforted. She said, “Yes but that still means my mom and dad won’t wake up if they die!” What to say to that?!
Her mom could only calm her down with a quasi-religious explanation (though she is not religious and against religious programming) that when we die, we go to a beautiful place where there are angels, fairies and unicorns, and if she died before her, she would wait for her there. Unfortunately, we must give the child what it can take on. This made her happy and she said she can’t wait to die! At least she can talk about death in a positive way and not avoid the topic, as many parents do.
You can definitely impart your love of Isvara to your granddaughter in simple terms. Start by explaining gratitude and why it so important. Gratitude is the key to devotion and makes everyone happy. Bring her attention to how much is given to her, the beauty of the natural world, how her body works to digest her food, keep her heart beating, etc. If you have an altar, explain to her why and share with her the simple joy of just being present in a sacred place in silence, lighting a candle. Keep it simple. And it is so important to explain to children that they are not their body-mind, that their thoughts/feelings are known to them, so they can start to manage them with that knowledge. If we can help children with mind management from a young age, we give them the most powerful tool they will ever have to cope with life. Even though usually Vedanta is not taught to small children, because they need to experience the world until the mind is ready to turn inward, I believe it is possible to start planting seeds from an early age.
~ Much love, Sundari