On teaching the basics of Spirituality to children and young adults


Recently during a discussion the following question was raised:  “We don’t think of self-reflection and philosophy until we grow old, after suffering through many aspects of life” — Is this the truth or opinion?

At the outset above phrase would appear to be true. Who wants to take the time when one is young to reflect on what is life and how it should be lived? This observation seems to be age old. In a poem Bhaja Govindham written in the 8th century (nearly 1300 hundred years ago) we see the following verses:

When you are young you are attached to your playing; as a grown up you are attached to your desires, passion and sensual pleasures; when you are too old anxieties rule over you. Any one attached to the Supreme (Brahman) at any time?                     Verse 7

Who is your wife, son, family? This family is indeed very strange. Who are you? Where do you come from? Oh brother, think of that Truth here and now.              Verse 8

It may be customary to think that we become “philosophical” as we grow old – and after we are beaten up in the school of hard knocks. May be that need not be the only way?

  • We teach children languages, culture, prayer songs, epics, moral instructions, etc. along with their secular education.
  • May be we can teach them a little bit of philosophy in simple language for their understanding and practice from early ages?

We are taught “Objectivity” at school (through analytical methods and “Science”  – cause/governing laws/effect – in every subject we study). We are taught the difference between Subjectivity governed by limited data, bias, opinions and judgments and Objectivity based on reflection, analysis and reasoning. We are taught that subjective decisions can be partial; hence we have the judicial (judge and jury) system to arrive at Objective decisions.

However when it comes to life and exploring the questions of what is life and how it should be lived, the analytical tools and objective outlook seem to be given up. Instead we become “subjective” – governed by opinions and judgments – unknowingly in our daily life and in all its activities. This starts from childhood! In due course life becomes a heap of “experiences”; not as an organized collection with a rationale for each experience and why it is that way? Is this the ash covering the amber glow of the objective self?

Spirituality starts with probing the following questions:

  1. Is life a clutter of experiences spread all over (like an untidy house)?
  2. Can life be fashioned into a well laid out and organized set of experiences (like a well-kept and a welcoming home? Like a well oiled and well maintained machine that serves the purpose for a long time?)

We start the journey of spirituality by asking the questions of “Who am I? What is life?” and finding the answers in the following order:

  1. Life appears to be a random collection or aggregate of experiences like material objects filling a house.
  2. Guna (Knowledge, Bias and Ignorance) and their roles identify the basis and nature of our experiences – like the contents in a house acquired based on identified needs.
  3. Standing back, introspection and reflection (Meditation, Yoga: Objective assessment) – we can find the experiences that need to be preserved and where they belong – like a house free of clutter
  4. Life is a balancing act between subjective experiences and their perturbations vs. the objective experiences and the harmony they foster.
  5. Vedanta teaches us that we are enabled by an objective life giving force – Brahman – all the time throughout our life. Focus on the laws of nature (Brahman) behind all of the experiences – makes life a well maintained and welcoming home with a common and unwritten purpose that permeates everywhere.
  6. There is no “Perfect” home, but a good home is easily recognized by all. Similarly there is no “perfect life”, but divinity in our action and manner of living is easily recognized when present.

The above are not difficult concepts to discuss and teach. Of course that requires an adult who understands the above – the teacher in the family. A 75 yearlong study at Harvard Medical School on longevity on life suggests the following conclusions:

  • People who are isolated from others and feel lonely live a shorter life.
  • It is the quality of your close relationships that determines the longevity in life. People with good close relationships from their 50s lived well into their 80s.
  • Good relationships protect our brains with better and sharper memory for a longer time.
    • ­Good relationships include active engagement. They do not preclude arguments and emotional exchanges
    • In all of the above consistency is the need and “perfection” is not the requirement

We are also told in the scriptures that learning, understanding and then practicing the basic principles of philosophy leads to:

  • Spirituality is noted when a person is reflective and analytical (and hence objective) at will and not driven by moods and circumstances (subjective)
  • Through such self-reflection one remains one’s own best friend. Through lack of introspection one becomes one’s own worst enemy.
  • Having cleared the mind and emotions of its cob web (by clearing out the emotional and biased view of life and its experiences) the spiritual person is at ease with any one, at any time and under all circumstances.
    • We witness this as divinity in his/her actions and way of living.
    • While this is an ideal situation – with any one, at any one and under all circumstances – “perfection” need not be the only yard stick to measure.
    • Are you at ease with many at any moment? Are you at ease within and harmony with others once in a while? Are you free of moment to moment mood swings and opinions even for a short time? —- These are also evidences of Divinity in daily life.

In other words Spirituality (as described in steps 1 to 6 above) promote engagement and away from isolation. They promote closer relationships with many. Since they are based on active engagement of the mind all the time – living in the present; looking for the balance between subjective vs. objective outlook – they are also good for the body as much as they are good for the mind.

Are you the adult in the family? Are you ready to teach the above to your children and other youngsters?

Are you the child or the young one in the family? Are you ready to seek out such education on Spirituality at your young age? – the earlier you start the better off you will be!

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