A dialogue with Pramukh Swami Maharaj during the
'International Children's Festival', Vidyanagar, May, 1989
Q. What is the main purpose behind your Children's Activities that have been running for the last 50 years?
A. Yogiji Maharaj, who was our Guru, had a deep affection for children. It was his wish and command (that we run Children's Activities). And along with it, the children receive moral values and cultivate a noble character. The children, exposed to spiritual ideals learn the ways of a healthy life by keeping distant from vices and addictions; and through good education they become good citizens and go forth to serve the nation, society and Satsang.
Q. One finds that the sadhus of the Fellowship are involved in these activities. If the life of a sadhu should be devoted to spiritual sadhana, then don't these activities disturb their sadhana?
A. No, there is no hindrance whatsoever. Even Bhagwan Swaminarayan, after he had initiated 500 sadhus, asked them to remain in the midst of society and perform their sadhana. Society must also benefit from the sadhus. With this viewpoint, Bhagwan Swaminarayan commanded them to travel from village to village, hut to hut, and give the message of moral living to the last and smallest man. The sadhus have worked towards that cause with all their efforts.
And as yet we have faced no problems in doing so. It is, in itself, a great service and sadhana when the society is cleansed of addictions and atrocities, and restored to sound health. This is devotion to God. And we have experienced that such pure-hearted social work does not hinder one's spiritual sadhana. In fact, twin purposes are served together; one elevates one's own consciousness through sadhana and one elevates the society by inspiring people towards noble living.
Q. Child development is chiefly the responsibility of parents and educational organizations. What has inspired a spiritual organization like yours to undertake Children's Activities (Bal Mandals) on such a large scale?
A. Mainly, it is the responsibility of the parents, but as trends go in society, many parents are pre-occupied in seeking material happiness; and so, have neglected their duty. Today, the spiritual education which the children are deprived of, once used to be taught by parents. Even the schooling system provided general education coupled with the values of truth, non-violence, compassion, continence, etc…. The ideals of 'Dharmam Chara' (Tread the path of righteousness), 'Satyam Vada' (Speak the truth), 'Matrudevo Bhava'(Honor thy mother as divine), 'Pitrudevo Bhava' (Honor thy father as divine)….. were given. And so, the child or student grew up enriched with noble virtues and went forth to serve society; but today this side is being totally ignored. That is why the organization conducts Children's Activities.
Q. How do you see the future of the children of India?
A. From the beginning, the future of India's children has always been bright. The saints and sages have steadily nourished them with spiritual values and that is why peace has been sustained. But henceforth, only if these good values are constantly instilled will the future of children be bright. Good ideals will give rise to noble feelings which in turn will assure a brighter future. Nothing undesirable will happen if we trust God, strengthen our religious faith and sincerely follow righteousness.
Q. By exposing children to religious ideals, they may become 'religion-fearing' individuals - such is the belief of many social workers. What is your view on this?
A. The belief that the teaching of religious ideals to children may reduce them to feeble 'religion fearing' individuals is totally wrong. In the past, our children in India were taught spiritual values along with formal education. In the ashrams of great rishis the children grew up in a spiritual atmosphere and were purposefully taught values and yet, not one child turned into a coward. We have examples before our eyes. The Pandavas had passed through such religious teachings and yet Arjuna emerged full of valor. King Bharat from whose name our nation has been named, and other great rishis and people have flourished here. King Shivaji and other rulers, none of them ever succumbed to frailty and cowardice. Instead, religious ideals encourage self-confidence and inner strength. The freedom that Gandhiji helped to attain was due to his inner strength. The children of the past possessed both knowledge of religion as well as knowledge needed to manage a worldly life. Rather, the absence of thoughts of the self and God will rob the individual of the power to achieve anything.
Q. What is your personal message to the parents for the development of their children?
A. I do have a request to make to the parents. It is proper that we take care of our business and other social affairs but together we must be aware that children are our greatest wealth. Just as land, bungalows, etc. are our external wealth and we dearly care for them, so should we care for our children. In fact, our real wealth, the only wealth, is our children. It is the duty of parents to search for ways to improve the lives of their children. They should strive in the direction of giving their children good thoughts, good ideals and helping them to develop good health. Therefore, the first and foremost responsibility of parents is to nourish their children with noble values, and for this, it is essential that they devote sincere attention to them.
Q. T.V. and video, are both effective media. How should they be utilized so that they become helpful and how should the satsangi child be protected from their harmful effects?
A. These gifts of science are good benefits to us but when they are misused, children suffer great damage from them. On television, some good educative programs are shown but at the same time there are also programs that are not advisable to watch. Children lack the power of discriminating good from bad. They start watching everything, and in the process lose whatever good values they possess. If the television is used to relay good, inspiring programs, educative and morally rich, which help to bring out the potential in children, then television can become a highly productive media.
Q. According to you, what point should the teachers of the education system give special attention to for the development of children?
A. Just as in the past, the gurukul system of education taught spiritual chapters along with general education. If such reforms can be brought to the system it would be highly beneficial. Our scriptures speak of 'Para' and 'Apara' vidya. "Para Vidya' is the knowledge of atman and Paramatman. It is necessary that the teachers become aware of this method of teaching.