Parents Teaching Hinduism to Children, Part 2

Bodhinatha continued his discussion today on suggestions for Hindu parents on how to teach Hinduism to their children. He spoke of how children learn from their experiences, positive and otherwise, and how they can learn that all experiences are part of the process of drawing close to God. Children make mistakes only because they lack understanding. To punish them physically or verbally does not help understanding to grow. Time out, logical consequences and removal of privileges is better. Bodhinatha gave a four-step process for dealing with mistakes and teaching children to learn from their errors and not repeat mistakes.

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Questions? Bodhinatha is the successor of "Gurudeva," Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. If you have questions on subjects about spiritual life you will find answers in Gurudeva's books and teachings. Learn about ways to study these teachings by visiting The Master Course site or writing to

Unedited Transcript:

Good Morning, everyone. Welcome to our guests! Nice having you here. It is our custom to give a short talk after our homa.

This is from a little booklet I am preparing that I mentioned last week , 'Suggestions for Parents on Teaching Hinduism to Their Children.' I will read the first point again. I read it last week but the Introduction reminds us of what the topic is.

Hinduism in the Home

Parents should take the responsibility of being the primary teachers of Hinduism to their children. It is wonderful that many temples have in place educational programs for the youth that are both effective and popular. However, it is important for parents to have the attitude that these programs supplement but do not replace the need for parents to teach Hinduism to their children in the home. Parents are indeed the first guru. They teach in many different ways, such as, by example, explanation and giving advise and direction. The child's deepest impressions come from what the parents do and say. Therefore, if the parents can follow a systematic approach in teaching Hinduism to the child as he or she grows up, when the child reaches adulthood this will make the practice of Hinduism much more integral in the child's life and therefore much less likely to be abandoned.

That is the general introduction. We will skip to section four.

Part Four. Helping our children learn from their experiences.

Teach that it is by being in the world and interacting with other people that we advance spiritually.

The world in this sense refers to the places where we interact with people the most, such as, at home, at school and our place of work. In Western thought, these are not considered sacred places. However, in Hinduism they are. In our Paramaguru's words, "The world is an ashram, a training ground for the achievement of moksha."

What is it that transforms the world from a secular place into a spiritual one?

It is the overview that it is through the process of living life that we unfold spiritually. It is the knowing that through fulfilling our natural duties in life honestly and to the best of our ability that we make spiritual progress. Why?

Because work puts us in situations where we interact with other people, especially when we hold our dharmic responsibility over an extended period of time. Through interacting with others we learn important lessons and as a result gradually deepen our understanding, improve our behavior and become a more spiritual person. In doing so, we work through the karma we created in the past and create new karma to be faced in the future. Our daily work contributes to our spiritual progress just as much as attending pujas in the temple and worshiping in our home shrine.

Paramaguru Yogaswami captured the essence of this perspective when he said, "All work must be done with the aim of reaching God."

Teach that life is a classroom in which we learn important lessons.

Life is a process of learning through trial and error and thereby advancing spiritually. Gurudeva has an insightful explanation of this process, " Life is a series of experiences, one after another. Each experience can be looked at as a classroom and the big university of life, if we only approach it that way. Who is going to these classrooms? Who is the member of this university of life? It is not your instinctive mind, it is not your intellectual mind. It is the body of your soul, your superconscious self, that wonderful body of light. It is maturing under the stress and strain."

Teach about the three powers of desire, action and wisdom.

Important insights into the souls maturing process can be gained by looking at the three saktis of God. Iccha, the power of desire. Kriya, the power of action and Jnana the power of wisdom. *They* are also the three powers of the soul.

We first have a desire and when the desire becomes strong enough, we act. In young souls, the action may be ill-conceived and adharmic. For example, we want a computer, so we simply steal one. Money is needed, so we rob a bank. The soul is repeating a cycle of similar experiences, moving back and forth from desire to action, desire to action.

Explain how wisdom eventually comes to both adharmic and dharmic actions. In the case of the adharmic action of stealing, eventually the soul will learn the lesson that this is not the best course of action to take to acquire possessions. This is learning. This learning is the jnana shakti, wisdom coming in causing one's behavior to improve.

This process also works for dharmic actions as well. We are helping out as a volunteer at the temple and teaching children's classes once a month. We like the feeling it gives us of helping others in a meaningful way and decide to help out every week and participate in the meetings which plan out the classes too. We are doing a selfless action and the reaction it has on us is to feel more inner joy. Therefore the jnana is to decide to do even more of it and thus feel more joyful. We have again improved our behavior.

Hold the perspective that children make mistakes because they are lacking knowledge.

For all of mankind no matter where one is on the path, spiritual advancement comes from improving one's behavior. Said another way, it comes from learning from one's mistakes. Unfortunately this process is inhibited by the idea that somehow we are not supposed to make mistakes. We grow up being scolded for our mistakes by our parents. Some teachers ridicule students when they make mistakes. Supervisors at work yell at workers when they make a mistake. No wonder many adults feel terrible when they make a mistake.

Therefore, to spiritually benefit from our mistakes we need a new attitude toward them. We can view them instead as wonderful opportunities to learn. In disciplining our children the most important part is to focus on finding out what lack of knowledge caused this mistake and providing them with that knowledge.

Focus on solutions instead of punishment.

For some parents, disciplining their children for misbehavior is simply a matter of punishment. The punishment misses the point, if it does not go along with the teaching so that you are helping the child learn how to avoid making the mistake again.

The important point is the child does not know something, otherwise he would never have made the mistake. There is some knowledge the child is missing and the parents need to figure out what that knowledge is, then teach it to the child in a way the child can grasp and remember.

There are better forms of punishment than corporal punishment and verbal accusation. When children seriously misbehave, punishment of course needs to be part of the response. There are many forms of corporal punishment and verbal accusation - spanking, hitting, using harsh or angry words, neglecting or abusing. They all cause the child to become fearful and fear interferes significantly with the child's ability to think clearly and remember the lesson the parent provides. They also lower the child's sense of self worth.

Therefore, the alternative forms of punishment such as time-out, logical consequences and denial of privileges that use loving, positive strategies are more appropriate and conducive to the child learning the lesson from the experience and actually not repeating the mistake again.

Teach older children how they can wisely respond to their mistakes through a four-step process.

The natural first reaction is to feel sad. The first reaction to having made a mistake is to become upset that we made the mistake. Get emotional about it or if it is a serious mistake to become quite burdened and even depressed. This is a natural first reaction. But if it is our only reaction, it is not enough. We need to deal with the emotional reaction to the action and move on to the second step, which is the learning stage.

The second reaction to having made a mistake is to figure out how to avoid making the same mistake again. A good second reaction to a mistake is to think clearly about what happened and why the mistake occurred and find a way to not repeat the mistake in the future. Perhaps you were not being careful enough and resolving to be more careful next time will prevent the problem from occurring. Perhaps we did not know something and now we have that knowledge and can simply resolve to use the knowledge next time. Perhaps we created unintended consequences that are causing significant problems to us or others and now that we are aware of the consequences, we certainly will not repeat the action. This is moving from saying, "I shouldn't have done it" to saying "I should not do it again."

Third reaction may be needed if the mistake involved other people. Perhaps we have hurt their feelings or created a strain between us. A direct apology can fix this if we know them well. However in many situations we are not close enough to the individual to be able to apologize. In that case, a generous act towards them can adjust the flow of feelings back into a harmonious condition. For example, include them among a group of friends to whom you give some cookies or candy.

A fourth reaction may be needed if the mistake was a major misdeed. For example, if we did something that was dishonest. In this case even though we have resolved to not repeat the misdeed, apologized to those involved, we may still feel bad about having done it. In this case, we need to perform some form of penance, prayaschitta, to rid our selves of the sense of feeling bad about ourself. Typical forms of penance are to fast, perform 108 prostrations before the Deity or walking prostrations up a sacred path or around the temple.

Helping your children prefect the art of learning quickly from mistakes, enables them to make faster spiritual progress.

The spiritual path is a series of experiences and sometimes those experiences are mistakes that we make. Because of being self-reflective we can learn from those mistakes quickly and thus avoid making them again, we progress quickly on the spiritual path. If we are constantly making the same mistakes over and over and over again, we are not making progress.

Aum Namah Sivaya.

Photo of  Gurudeva
Performing daily sadhana, keeping good company, pilgrimaging to holy places, seeing to others' needs--these evoke the higher energies, direct the mind to useful thoughts and avoid the creation of troublesome new karmas.