“One receives nobility and character through God or His sadhu.
When one imbibes character there is peace and happiness in one's life.
That is why parents should first think about instilling character in children.”
~Pramukh Swami Maharaj
From the moment I learned I was pregnant, my first instinct was to protect the child growing inside of me. Like most mothers, I made sure to be informed of, and to avoid, the various foods, products and even activities and thoughts that would be harmful to the developing fetus. When my child came into this world, my immediate priority was to keep him physically safe, healthy and cared for. After all, as any parent can attest, even tending to the basic needs of a baby can be an all-consuming process. But as our children grow, their needs become more complex and our goals for them expand. We transition from being mostly focused on their physical well being to being more aware of their intellectual and emotional security as well. We want our children to be happy and feel at peace as they navigate the uncertain and ever changing world outside of home. And we plan ways to ensure our children get an education now so they become financially successful later, as adults. While character building is likely on our minds as parents, it seems like a less urgent area of focus during the formative years and, as such, can stay on the backburner (simply out of habit) as our children get older.
However, Swamishri reminds us of our main priority as satsangi parents: to instill character – a moral, virtuous and religious footing – in our lives and in the lives of our children. He reminds us that true peace and happiness are the result of good character, at the root of which lies satsang. Furthermore, as Gunatitanand Swami has stated in SwaminiVato 5/393: “A loving attachment with a bona fide sadhu (i.e. the Satpurush) merits even one troubled by a storm of desires with inner happiness…” Therefore, by attaching a child to Satsang and teaching her to love the Satpurush just as she loves her own mother and father and siblings will secure her future happiness and success. After all, instilling this understanding in her will secure her place in Akshardham itself! In this article we will discuss a few ways we can keep satsang and Swamishri at the forefront of our daily lives as parents, so that it may be naturally transmitted to our children.
Lead by Example
“If the mother and father are virtuous, then the child will become virtuous.
If there is water in the well, then one can draw it into the trough.
But if the well is dry, no amount of effort will fill the trough.
Likewise, if parents have character, then it will be transmitted to their children.
So parents have to be particular and vigilant.”
-Pramukh Swami Maharaj
A 1998 study conducted by the Air Bag Safety Campaign, reported that with regard to seatbelt use, "The evidence is clear: to get children buckled up, we must get drivers buckled up." This study revealed what any parent can attest to: children learn by example. So if we want to pass our faith and love for Swamishri on to our children, we must have and demonstrate it, ourselves. Children are quick to figure out when something is fake. They need to of see that we are the same person in public that we are in private. Simple acts of expressing our love for Swamishri in all circumstances will affirm this. Some examples of this include remembering Swamishri before eating our meals regardless of where we are, speaking about our beliefs and about our guru as passionately to the rest of the community as we do within our own community at mandir. If we keep our bond for Swamishri at the forefront of our daily lives, our children will observe these consistent behaviors and absorb them over time.
As parents, we are our children's first teachers. In an article entitled “We Are What We See: The Family Conditions for Modeling Values for Children” David Popenoe, Ph.D. and Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University, states, “If a child does not have a strong emotional attachment to a parent, the effectiveness of the parent as a teacher and moral guide is greatly diminished.” He goes on further to state that, “The absence, emotional distance or preoccupation of parents strikes at the very heart of those values which we hope children are learning - trustworthiness, respect for others, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. Each of these is learned primarily through interactions between parents and children.” Interactions in which it is mandatory for parents to be physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually present and involved in the lives of their children. Being our children's moral guide has to be a priority for us. This requires commitment and consistency.
Share your Experiences
One of the biggest struggles we face is trying to find a balance between satsang and worldly obligations. Yogesh, a balak from Los Angeles, had asked Swamishri in 1994 about how to find such a balance. Swamishri had responded, “If we find satsang, find a true guru, then our lives will remain balanced. A guru looks after us in all matters, ‘How often do you come to satsang?’ ’Have we become influenced by negative aspects of the outside world?’ If we can love the guru as much as he loves us, and develop atmabuddhi with him, our lives will remain balanced.”
Just as we struggle with balancing our worldly lives with satsang, so do children. Swamishri has given us the solution, and if we can portray that in our lives, then our children will also learn to do the same. When we speak about our experiences with Swamishri and our love towards him, the value of this bond will become apparent to our children. It is more effective to discuss our own feelings rather than say ‘you should love Bapa’ and ‘loving Bapa is good for you!’ When our child is young, simple statements such as “I love Bapa because…” help them begin to understand the importance of Swamishri. Statements like “I love Bapa because he makes us happy.” Or “I love Bapa because he gives us Akshardham and shows us who Bhagwan is,” etc. are simple, yet effective. As our children get older we can go into further details about what sacrifices Swamishri has made for us. We can even explain what it means to say that he is ‘Brahmaswarup’ and describe how the only true love in this world is that which we have for and get from Maharaj and Swami. Our older child will also benefit from hearing us speak about our struggles in life and how Swamishri helped us through them as he did their grandparents and perhaps even prior generations. This helps the child understand that the Satpurush has always been there for us and will always be there for us, and that he is an integral part of our family. Then, when our child encounters any struggle she may also think of leaning on Swamishri.
It is difficult to always find time for these talks, but a perfect arena for this is dinner-time and gharsabha. One of the initiatives Swamishri has always stressed is to revive the old fashioned concept of family dinner time. Dr. Anne Fishel, a family therapist, clinical psychologist and Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at the Harvard Medical School, heads an initiative called “The Family Dinner Project” to do just this. She states that “...over the past 15 years, researchers have confirmed...sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain, and the health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family dinners with...lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation...and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience.” The organization’s website even has tips for involving children of all ages in dinner conversation, and it has continued to gain momentum. Pramukh Swami Maharaj has often said, “The family that eats together and prays together, stays together.”
Swamishri takes the concept of family togetherness one step further with gharsabha. Gharsabha give families the platform to come together through satsang-centric discussion and activity. It gives us the opportunity to ground our lives in satsang values and morals and to address any problems that may arise within the family by experiencing open communication on a daily basis.