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Parenting and Spiritual Practice

Interview with Shri P. Rajagopalachari, August 2000, Austin, Texas, USA

Q: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and speak with us today.
We are all parents with children of different ages and we have a number of questions about striking the right balance between our parenting and our spiritual practice, and integrating the two. We were wondering if you might have some advice for us on how to make the right balance between our commitment to the practice and the attention that we need to be giving to our children and making them come together?

PR: Well, my philosophy is Indian philosophy. We don’t split our commitment into different fields. We are committed – period. And the commitment works in whichever direction you turn it. It’s a peculiar feature in the West that you have a commitment to your wife, a separate commitment to your children, yet one more for your work. You are sort of dissecting something which should be an integral whole. So that’s my advice. Don’t split up what is a unity into bits and pieces.

Q: As a parent, I want the children to have good values and behave nicely in society, and at the same time, I am afraid about the outside world when I see that the children who are growing up with spiritual values – we are teaching them to be sensitive and caring for other people, and in the outside world there is so much aggressiveness.

PR: Well, there’s a saying which is ‘as old as the hills’ as they say, that a human being is born into a hostile environment. And environment includes society; it includes the outside, the streets, the schools and the parents. People don’t realise how often the children tend to be like the parents. Till the age of eleven, twelve, they like to emulate their parents. For them the parents are gods and goddesses. And then by age thirteen, the gods are off their pedestals! And that is because the parents are only parents in the physical sense but not parents in the emotional and the moral sense.

In India we have this attitude that, for instance, certain things the children can see and not see; certain things they should read, much they should not read. But in an environment where everything goes, and where the school curriculum includes the most intimate things of life on the contention or in the belief that if they know what they are getting into, there is no danger in it, I don’t see how I can agree with that. Because some things are natural – like a baby, when it is born it knows where to find its milk. You don’t have to give it a three-day course. It knows. Similarly, after marriage we know what to do and how to do it. You don’t have to undergo courses for it.

When you introduce this to them at the age of seven, eight, the tendency of children is to experiment. And you make that possible by giving them whatever additional things they need to protect themselves from the results of the experiment. So it is society which is a problem today, as far as I see it. I don’t mean any disrespect to any particular society, but that’s what it is.

Q: So what can we do as parents?

PR: As parents, number one, your responsibility is to be models for your children. Education starts at home. It starts in the cradle. I believe that when we… this is a typically eastern and an Indian view – but in India the babies grow up with us in the same bed as the parents, and very often till age fifteen, sixteen, they are in the same bedroom. So it calls for discipline in parents – what I should call a bedroom discipline. And it means, perhaps, periods of continence because the children are there. You must learn to control yourselves – not push the children into another room just because you want to be free to enjoy marital bliss.

So here you have in the western world the tendency to isolate the children (babies) from day one – put them in a separate room. Of course you have these modern conveniences like speakerphones, so that if the child weeps you can hear it in your bedroom. The idea behind it is, you should be able to hear the child. Now you all hear about psychological bonding of children. How when you hold it close to your breast – how does the child recognise its mother? It’s by the heartbeat. And if you put it in a crib in another room and you are having a second honeymoon all over, it’s no good for the baby.

In the western world I find, every day I receive letters from abhyasis: from mothers having problems with daughters, from fathers having problems with sons and then of course, you see this tragedy of divorce, where parents put their own happiness, pleasure, before their children’s. So, often we have children born to the woman by a former husband, the children born to the man by a former marriage, and the children of the current marriage together – a lot of hatred. No child wants its father to leave it and go away with another woman. It begins to hate the parent. If the woman does it, it begins to hate the mother. It is all generated by the parents.

I am sorry I must seek your pardon if I transgress into the basic etiquette of not criticising, but you asked a question and I have to answer it! This is my view.

Q: As a mother, one of the things I struggle with is, I feel I love my children so much but there is a lot of attachment with that. And with the attachment then I get angry because I am attached. I push them to succeed because I am attached. And one of the questions I have is how do we cultivate a love that is ‘detached attachment’?

PR: Well, the basic problem is… shall I say there is a duality here, an innate opposition. You want the children to be like you and at the same time you know what you are and you would hate the children to be like you. Again I beg your pardon, but it is so. In your heart of hearts you know you want the children to be something other than what you are. I mean, we have all messed up our lives and we don’t want our children to be like that. We don’t want our daughters facing a divorce, or an unwanted baby before marriage.

So you don’t know how to do it, because you didn’t know how to do it yourself, perhaps. So you use the technique of harshness, of control, of parental authority. It doesn’t work. If you have been a good parent and set an example, the child will automatically obey you. Children know what is good for them. But what happens, you know at a particular age – seven, eight, nine, they become rebellious. They say, “You did it, Mom. Why do you bother about me doing it? What sort of a mom were you to me?” So there again it starts very early in life, and the attachment is because you are afraid for its material life. “My marriage is a mess-up. What is it going to do? I did all the wrong things. My child should not do it.”

So this is a concern which deteriorates into worry, and it can become paranoia. And then there is total alienation. Now, in love we must have freedom. As you sought freedom from the parental authority of your parents, your children must have that freedom too. Proper education with freedom – I think that’s the basic essential to bring up children. But we have improper education, seeking to have total control over the children’s lives. It is like the commandments: Thou shall not do this. Thou shall not do that. “Come back at ten o’clock at night.” As if sin is committed only after ten p.m. If a child is going to sin, it can sin in broad daylight. Isn’t it? It is a very tricky thing. I also have a son and I have grandchildren, and I have had no problem.
I have had some peculiar observations: that if the parents do it very badly, very awfully, to such an extent that the child hates it, then the child takes the opposite path. Where the parents are drunkards, the children get nauseated – they never touch a drink. But if you are just a social drinker – three pegs of whisky in the evening or brandy, getting drunk on a Saturday night without the children seeing, they are tempted to drink. So I tell parents, “If at all you want to go to hell, get there quickly!” That will release your children from that possibility.
I know one boy – at age twenty-one he came across some evidence that his father was an immoral fellow. It was valid evidence because I saw it. And you know what he did? First place he went was to a brothel! I said, “Why did you do it?” He said, “You know, Chariji, I cannot hate my dad. And the only way I cannot hate my dad is to do what he did. And now I am on a par with him. How can I hate my father for doing something which I have done myself?” You see how it works?

Q: Master, you had mentioned educating our children. Do you have a thought about introducing our children to the literature of Sahaj Marg, both from us as parents just reading to them when they are young to actually making the books accessible to them, in terms of their beginning to read them.

PR: There is a song in Hindi, in the language of India, which says, “The best book is the heart.” Everything is written in the heart, I mean, when we talk of samskaras in spirituality. So, if the children see you are clean… not so much in action as in your heart… It is not enough to be like a Rockefeller and give away two billions in endowments to universities. That’s not charity. Charity is giving away what we cannot afford to give. If I have only the price of a pizza in my pocket and I’m willing to give it to somebody who is hungry, that is charity. But a fellow who has, like Bill Gates, almost a trillion now, isn’t it? – and he gives two billions here, four billions here, I do not even notice it. And people say, “Why? He could have given twenty millions, for heaven’s sake! Why, two million?” It makes them ask for more. So, clean living means proper values – not charity for showing off, but charity from the heart, love from the heart.

One thing I have found in many modern affluent homes, the basement is full of dolls and toys for children, and, of course, the ubiquitous television set. When you don’t want the children, you push them into the basement. “Honey, what do you want? Pepsi? Coke?” And then you put this Pringles, several boxes of them, open the TV, and they are not supervised. They are out of the way. Now you are free to do what you like. So the isolation that you thrust upon them from babyhood is carried into adulthood. So where is the clean heart? If a child cannot say, “Daddy, I am going to sit with you,” and you are not afraid of your son sitting with you or your daughter sitting with you and doing what you are doing, where is the clean living? Isn’t it?

Q: It is as if, if you can do it in front of your children with no shame, then it’s clean living.
PR: Then it’s clean.

Q: Master, when our daughter was seven and a half, we discovered that even in spite of our written instructions and letters to the school, and with friends and whatever, that she had been introduced to meat-eating. And she has found that is a way to be different from us when she wants to be different. And so while we don’t cook, generally I don’t cook any meat at home, she gets meat when we go out to restaurants and things like that. I wonder sometimes how much… I don’t want to pull the rubber band so tight that it [snaps].

PR: No, no, you shouldn’t do that. But you can always educate your children. Scientifically, they say protein got out of meat is about fifty times as expensive as direct protein from vegetable sources. You can tell her that. Why should a cow eat protein from vegetable sources and then you eat the cow to get that protein? It’s very expensive. But people are not taught that way. You can teach them that this is going to give you indigestion. It can be infected meat, like this beef scandal in England. But if you make a moral issue of it, then it becomes a difficulty. Because children rebel against moral codes which the parents have not themselves observed.

Q: She knows also that mom and dad didn’t start out as vegetarians.

PR: So, you must tell them, “Honey, we also did it. Don’t think you are the first, and you are not going to be the last. We did it and from our experience we are telling you.” That carries more weight.

Q: Master, with regards to prayer and the system (the Sahaj Marg prayer), how do we introduce the kids to it. For example, while we do the prayer at night, do we ask them to recite the prayer and understand the meaning of the prayer?

PR: No, no. Just bring them to it naturally. If you sit in prayer for a few minutes, they will follow you. I mean, it all comes back again and again to the problem that, what the parents don’t do, they want the children to do.

Q: We were having a discussion with our children last night about Sahaj Marg, and it was interesting because each one had their very different perceptions of it. Our oldest son, who is almost fifteen, said, “Well, I haven’t really done a lot of thinking or looking into Sahaj Marg because I think of it as an adult activity and I can’t meditate until I’m eighteen anyway. So I think of it as separate from what I am doing.” And I was wondering whether there’s any way that we can… whether you have any advice for how we might be able to…

PR: I have found that having them around when you are doing these things brings them in a natural way into it. If you isolate them and put them in the basement, like I said, it doesn’t help. Then they get to hate. Once I was about to conduct satsangh. It was in the evening. It was a place called Bhopal. I was on a stage this high and a girl came from school. She was tall and well-built. I thought she must be at least eighteen or nineteen, and she came and said, “I hate you.” She didn’t even say, “Good evening,” or anything like that. She just said, “I hate you.” I said, “But why on earth would you do it?” She said, “Because you have taken my parents away from me. I don’t even get a good breakfast on Sundays. They just leave something like for the dog on the table and I have to eat it.” I said, “Okay, sit in meditation. We will discuss afterwards.” After the sitting I took her home, had her eat dinner with me and by the end of the dinner, she was [happier]. Because I told her the truth. I said, “If your parents are doing it, it is their fault. It is not Sahaj Marg. Sahaj Marg does not say, ‘Throw bread on the table like for the dog and leave it.’ Sahaj Marg says, ‘Feed them first and come.’” And when she heard all this she was weeping.

That night she went home and I believe she lectured her parents from eleven p.m. till three in the morning on what love really should be, and how they knew so little about it even though they had four very pretty daughters, from fifteen to six. Next morning she came, she refused to go to school and came to where I was staying. And the parents came, very disturbed, and said, “She is not going to school. Next month – her exams.” So I put her in a car, took her to the school, dropped her. She came back in the evening. She wanted to go back with me to Madras. So I told the parents, “What I could do in one hour, couldn’t you do in a whole lifetime?” Tell them the truth. “No, no, you can’t come.” “Why can’t we come?” “Because I say so.” So they think there is something innately wrong with Sahaj Marg and they start hating it. And when they start hating it, it is very difficult to bring them in. But all the people with whom I have been successful are people who hated Sahaj Marg because of their parents. Many of these girls, they were runaways practically. Then slowly…
It just takes one moment of honest talk. But today’s society does not tolerate honesty. We want honest people but no expression of honest opinions. We have to hide it under so many coverings and trappings of etiquette and politeness and good manners. I have often told my European abhyasis that etiquette and politeness are the enemies of truth. “Oh, how charming you look this morning!” and in your heart you say, “Oh, look at this!” You say, “Good morning” when you wish the person were dead. Too much hypocrisy in our society. So children are troubled. They don’t know what is the truth, what is the lie; whether the enemy is outside or whether the enemy is inside; whether Mommy who pretends to hug me and kiss me is really my enemy. Why? Because the society is built that way.

Q: Master, Babuji has said religion is the kindergarten of spirituality to give children an idea of God. I tell the children about the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and about Jesus, and they ask me, “Mummy, I want to see God like I see you and daddy.” And I said, “Well, God is in everybody’s heart, and when you meditate, that’s how you feel His presence. And they’re insistent they want to see like mummy and daddy!

PR: Tell them, “When the time comes you will see it.”

Q: Master, I want to ask a similar question. She asked me, “Daddy, if God created Master, then who created God?” And it was one of the few times I have been caught off-guard with how to answer her.

PR: You know in the Veda, they call God ‘swayambhu (who has self-created). You know even scientifically we say the universe began as a singularity. A singularity is a dimensionless point. And when that exploded – what they call ‘the big bang’ – this whole universe came into being. The first question is: How did this whole universe fit into that singularity? You can talk of infinite gravity and Einsteinian physics, but to the common mind like mine, it doesn’t make sense. Okay! Next question is: How did that singularity come into existence? Which is the same as: How did God come into being? In science you are able to accept because scientists says so. But here you don’t accept because the Pope says so or some priest says so or some fool like me says so.

So this is again an effect of western education, which makes you rely on science for truths whereas scientists themselves say science only creates hypotheses. You are a scientist yourself. There is no truth in science, it’s only hypothetical. Today’s hypothesis is changed to tomorrow’s hypothesis. So we have to teach our children. You must have enough acumen to marshal all these things into one grand spectrum of presentation. If in science you can accept this immense universe – twenty billion light years across came from a singularity, like the egg in your mother’s womb which has brought you. There are parallels in science and biology, in everything.

The basic truth is from what we call the divine knowledge. The subsequent truths are scientific. You understand? But mind is conditioned to accept what is called scientific and to reject what is called religious or divine. So we have to change that conditioning.

Q: Master, Lalaji has said, and you confirmed, that the spiritual development can start at the moment of conception. In another place I was reading, you also said that if it doesn’t start then, then the child has to wait until age eighteen. But since all of our children are waiting until they are eighteen, can you say something about what’s the type of development that does start in the womb that is different than what we might do if we start Sahaj Marg after…?

PR: There is no question of something different. It is a question of that which occurs naturally. At conception, if the parents are conscious of their spiritual obligation to what they are going to bring into being, in effect the mating process becomes a spiritual process. It’s natural. There is nothing against which anybody can rebel or criticise. But after the child is born anything you introduce is from an external source – a source external to the baby itself. There its rights, its needs, its idea of what it wants come into being, and you cannot have a conflict with that. So at age eighteen, presumably when it can vote, the child can also make up its mind: “This is good for me; this is not.” You understand?

Q: About eighteen it is an act of will. So there is no conflict.

PR: Yes, it must know why it is coming into the spiritual field. Like yesterday somebody was giving a speech – this boy, James Joseph. He said he wanted to be a priest; he put up his hand without knowing what he was doing. Now, we don’t know what being a priest means. And all that he was told by his friend was, “You can’t marry, look what you are missing.” And that is the fundamental problem of life too, because in religion you have all these funny concepts of celibacy, of continence – blah-blah. My Master has said very distinctly that if God wanted only one sex, He could have created one sex. Why did He make two sexes? So there’s a purpose behind sex. The Catholic Church, with all its problems of the priesthood, is precisely because it goes against nature.

In Sahaj Marg, we don’t advocate sannyaas [asceticism] because again it goes against nature. So we have to channelise nature into a way of life where it can also conduce to my spiritual growth. That is what a family is meant to do; and that is why families must not be broken up, must not be reconfigured, because there must be a stable environment in which the child can grow. Otherwise, like pulling out this plant and planting it six yards away, the day after tomorrow pulling it out and planting it there – what will happen to the plant? It will die. And our children are our plants, our seed. Aren’t they?

Q: In cases where that does happen, either through a divorce or perhaps the death of a parent, what advice would you give to the parent who is the abhyasi, who is the single parent perhaps, in working with their children?

PR: I have an abhyasi in France who is thirty-six, and she hated her mother and had not seen her for the last eighteen, twenty years. But there was also this inner love for the mother. After all a mother is a mother, you can’t forget her. So she used to come and sit before me in meditation, weeping her heart out. I said, “Look, you must put an end to this. There is only one way.” She said, “What?” I said, “Go to your mother, give her a big hug and kiss her.” She said, “Oh, but I can’t do it. I haven’t done it for twenty years.” I said, “That is why you have to do it.” And the mother is a cancer patient and nobody knows how long she is going to last.

She accepted my advice, went home after twenty years of separation, hugged her, kissed her and voila, as the French say, it was blossoming. She said, “You could tangibly feel the change in the atmosphere of the room.” The mother flowered. Six months later she died. She said, when she died it was as if there were flowers all over the room. There was fragrance. There was bliss on the face of the mother. All because I said, “You did what you should do.” We condition ourselves to do something based on what somebody else does to us. Do unto others as thou wouldst be done by, it says in the Bible. But it does not mean, hate a man who hates you. If you would like him to love you, like him first. You see what a change has occurred in the social circle.