Young parents often wonder about the best practices that ensure their children grow up with strong foundation of Dharma. Here is a four-point model for Hindu parenting.
Stories, stories and more stories! Nothing is more joyful for a child than vivid narration of a story. You can engage him/her with rapt attention for hours together only if you know how to tell a story! Tell them the escapades of little Kṛṣṇa and (Bala)Rāma from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam; how the brothers were playful and fun loving like they themselves are! How they went around the village with their innocent pranks, often getting scolded by their mother (Yaśodā), yet being helpful and most loved by one and all! Tell them the fantastic stories of the Purāṇa-s, the breath-taking episodes from the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata, and the sublime anecdotes from the Upaniṣad-s! Let them create a world within, where each of these fantastic characters come alive and become their playmates!
I fondly remember my Balavihar sessions where little kids- six, seven and eight-year-old-s roll on floor with laughter as I narrate to them the exploits of a young Bhīma when the Kaurava boys tried bullying him. The kids connected to Bhīma as their brave and protective elder brother! Many even met him in their dreams! It is important for us to understand that our Devi-Deva-s, the Yogī-s and Ṛṣi-s, and all others from our Purāṇa and Itihāsa are our family. They are our people from another yuga. Their stories are the glorious past of our great grand civilisation. Our children must grow up with this perspective.
These characters also exemplify different ideals of Dharma. They help children internalise the values and set high standards for themselves. On that note, children can also be introduced to the stories of Chatrapati Śivājī Mahārāja, Rānī Lakṣmībāī, Mahārāṇa Pratāpa, Svāmī Vivekānanda and other heroes from our recent history.
If you are not familiar with these stories, please get the books and read them. I promise you that they are delightful reads even for people as “important and busy” as us! However, please make sure that you get the originals from reliable publications like the Gita Press Gorakhpur and many others. No Devdutt Pattanaik kind of mythologists, please. Similarly, a big no to cartoons like Chota Bheem etc.
Our children should be exposed to the idea that 20-30 minutes every day is for sādhanā. Sādhanā is any spiritual discipline, taken up regularly by an individual, at the advice of Guru/Ācārya, for one’s own evolution in Adhyātma. Here I’m not suggesting that young children should do sādhanā. Rather, they should grow up with the idea that an ideal day includes 20 to 30 minutes of sādhanā. How’s this done? Children imitate the people they see (and love)! Therefore, make sure that they see you doing your sādhana regularly. Now, please don’t say, “I haven’t met my Guru”, “What sādhanā should I take up?”, “Should it be japa, prāṇāyāma, svādhyāya, complex tantra sādhanā-s etc?” Chill! It’s not that complicated! A simple nāma-japa in front of a picture/mūrti of your Iṣṭa devatā (any devatā of your choice), illumined by a lamp, is enough! Remember, it’s not about sophistication of the practice, but the practice itself that is important! You may even sit in silence, trying to calm your mind for the duration of time.
Let me reiterate that the idea is not to make the child do this, rather letting him/her observe you doing this. However, if your child insists that she do it, let him/her do! You may teach enough ślōka-s (simple verses will do) that can engage him/her for a while.
Plan trips to Mahā-Kṣetra-s once in six months, or once in a year at least. Take children to Chidambaram, Tirupati, Meenakshi Amman, Puri Jagannath, Guruvayur, Vadakkumnaathan and many such temples across India. Make sure that you spend at least half a day inside the temple complex as the very atmosphere is sublime and elevating when approached with an open mind. It also helps children explore, familiarise and appreciate various themes and motifs related to Dharma. Apart from spirituality, temples also are the nerve centres of the Hindu culture and civilisation. Our children should grow up identifying them as their own.
Ramana Ashram, Dakshineshwar, Siddhabari, Aurobindo Ashram and such other spaces connected to the Mahātma-s and Dharma Ācārya-s should also find a mention in the list. Exposure to these spaces leave a deep impact on children, which they carry for rest of their lives.
- Śāstra and Ācārya
As children grow, and start asking questions, they need clear answers. It is also the time to direct them to the source of the rich philosophy of the Hindu Dharma. Most parents cannot be of much help here. Hence the need for the scriptures and masters.
Parents must help children develop śraddhā. Śraddhā means accepting the instructions of Śāstra and Ācārya as true, after careful thought, from one’s own conviction. It is a pre-requisite for progress in the path of Dharma. Since śraddhā is neither belief nor blind faith, it cannot be imposed on an individual, but must be developed on one’s own, in due course of time. However, parents can play a crucial role by creating an environment where children approach Śāstra and Ācārya in good faith. This is the first step to śraddhā.
Parents must expose their children to traditional seats of Dharma like the Shankara Matha-s, Madhwa Matha-s etc., or modern spiritual organisations like the Chinmaya Mission, the Ramakrishna Mission and various others led by Hindu monastic orders, depending on their own inclination. This will not only root the children in Dharma, but also help them become mentors and guides to many more.
This list is not exhaustive and meant only as an introduction to Hindu parenting for millennials, many of whom are disconnected from their Hindu roots. One may customise it by adding and modifying one or more elements. Can we not do this for our children? As Gurudev Swami Chinmayanandaji used to say, “We Can! We Must! We Will!”