About "The Parents' Trap" : Students of Vedanta learn that Atma cannot be defined but may be understood only as what It is not! That process of logical negation, ‘Neti Neti’ (na iti meaning ‘not this’), explains that Atma is not the Body nor the Mind nor the Ego or Intellect; that Atma is neither the Sky, the Earth, Light, Wind and so on. It transcends all that exists and at the same time, pervades all existence! This knowledge pretty much helps to describe my column. It is not about parents, nor about traps. It is not about schools, children, babies or brats.
My column is, well, the color that pervades Life's highs and lows in their infinite shades. Like yoga, that is union of Body, Mind, Soul, this column is a confluence of Life as a whole.
I'll share 50 years of personal experience; observation, introspection and some revelations. Perhaps through the lens of a nurturing heart, my column will celebrate living as an art. I will share my experiences as a parent, teacher and child to present all of the colors that manifest as Life
Chapter - 4
When we look back at some of the jaw dropping moments in our life, they undoubtedly appeared as milestones to help determine the future course of our journey. One such moment occurred sometime in 1993 when it was my turn to drive the carpool to school. My van carried four cute little first graders approximately seven years of age, whom I would engage in car games like ‘I spy’ and snap quizzes. We had a jolly good time until that joltful Monday morning!
“What did you do this weekend, guys?” I shouted over the amplified Disney cassette and the incessant chatter in the back. Little Ryan promptly announced “I went to church!” My son added animatedly, “Hey you know Ryan, you know, even I went to the temple on Sunday!” I could hear the excitement in his voice as if they had both experienced the same ride at the amusement park. What followed was entirely unexpected. Ryan turned towards my son and laughed, “HAH! That’s not real!” His head was nodding from side to side, swinging its mop of straight dark hair. “Only Jesus is real!” he asserted with a smile. I shot a glance into the rear view mirror to check my son’s reaction and saw a pink cheeked Question Mark staring at his friend! The situation required a quick, sensible response. “Well”, I spoke in my cheeriest ‘sing song’ voice, “We know there is only one Power, right? And we call That Invisible Power, God, Ram, Jesus ….” and before I could reel off my repertoire of sacred Idols, I was interrupted by an emphatic, “Yeah! And you know Ryan we also call That Power, Ganpati!” Thankfully, the Question Mark had recomposed into a 100 watt smile like the sun reappearing through a cloud. Now, Little Ryan was a picture of confusion!
As parents we have the privilege to wield infinite power upon the minds of our little offspring. They fall into our lap, as clean slates, eager sponges, ready to absorb every word, watch every action and even mimic our subtlest mannerisms. We have the power to condition our children to think the way we want them to think. We can either sow the seeds of peace by instilling a sense of open minded, inclusiveness within the future generation or continue to breed distrust, intolerance and chaos by dragging innocent minds into the realm of historical religious prejudice.
Religion, we know, is a human construct, a conditioning from early childhood to conform to the ideas of a leader. Naturally, a child who is taught to follow a specific religion will be expected to reject all other ideas. It is no secret that ‘Religion’ as it is practiced today, has failed; is outdated; clearly dysfunctional and downright dangerous for the progress of our civilization. Little Ryan will possibly spend a lifetime confined to his Parents’ Trap of narrow thought and vision. Worse still he might enforce his stifling conviction upon others, for religion by its very concept, demands conversion.
The above incident was an indication for me to help bring about universal spiritual awareness and broaden children’s minds. Thus, I launched my career as an educational consultant in schools and mainstream institutions. In my previous blogs, I have touched upon three aspects of the Parent Trap...the first being emotional guilt, from which both parents and children seek release ; the second, where children and parents are caught in a web of multinational identity; the third, when the parent and child relationship is victim to stifling family politics. In this blog I put forth why it is important for parents and children to flee the confines of divisive religion and spread their wings to discover their Universal Spirit.
When my sons were growing up and dating a Korean and a Chinese girl, (two of the sweetest, worthy people I have met), one of my sons asked me, “Mumma, what if this friendship grows to become serious? She is Christian and I am Hindu”. My response to him was, “There is no difference between a true Hindu and a true Christian, (or any true seeker for that matter) for they are equally immersed in the same wisdom”.
I like to use the analogy of mathematics to explain this to my students. Anyone can obtain the same understanding of mathematics since the principles are universal even if they have been taught by different Masters, in various languages, through infinite techniques. There is never bloodshed over which Math is more real! Similarly, wisdom or ‘Godhood’ can be attained by anyone since the principles are universal, regardless of the Master, the language or method through which they are obtained.
All Masters throughout history have sought to convey the same essential Wisdom but in its translation, Wisdom has been construed through a kaleidoscopic lens projecting as multiple, apparently different ‘wisdoms’, called religion! Only true seekers can look beyond this perceived multiplicity. They know that all living beings are connected since they pare down to the same Consciousness. A true seeker understands that we share our Consciousness with infinite living forms as Energy and the laws of Energy apply equally to every being. For the true seeker all religions appear as one and when there is ONENESS what do you convert to? So religion is an external construct while spiritual wisdom is the internal platform. “Should either of you try to convert the other to ‘your religion’ “, I warned my son, “It would only reveal your ignorance and spell definite trouble”. It turned out to my disappointment that both girls were trapped in the illusion of “religion”!
It boggles my mind when intelligent, mindful parents, who are alert to their children’s pulse, fail to think out of the box in their attempt to fulfill their social responsibility towards their children. They rush to enroll them in the local religious missionary schools and feed them ‘spiritual literature’ (!) such as Amar Chitra Katha comics in the hope of passing their inheritance of cultural identity! Rather than break out of a mould, this herding only helps to reinforce their children’s limited, exclusive self view as Hindu, Muslim Christian, Sikh etc. I often refer to the two paths of learning as: the ‘Discovery channel’ of learning, (the evolved path of self exploration) vs the ‘Disney channel’ of learning, (the traditional path of least self exploration). There is no greater injustice to the free, unconditioned mind than being cheated of its right to discover its greater potential! In truth these schools merely provide a comfort zone for their patrons.
If our greater objective is to broaden our children’s perspectives how relevant is it for them commit to A school of thought? In the greater scheme of things, how important is it to memorize the family tree of Gods and Goddesses and detail their exotic, often bizarre circumstances? Why crystallize our children’s ego by encouraging them to rattle off spiritual chants for competitions rather than nurture humility by absorbing the true essence of the chant? Spiritual progress is the freedom to reinvent but our eagerness to fit into a proselytizing culture only reproduces faulty wheels!
What redeeming value do mythological stories have, that are out-of context, full of gore and violence, without appropriate symbolic explanation? What objective do they serve other than provide fantasy and entertainment? Stories from the Bible and the Puranas were meant to explain abstract concepts, but have taken a life of their own and snowballed to assume absurd proportions. I once overheard an elderly Indian woman engage a Caucasian gentleman in a serious explanation about how an elephant’s head was, in fact, physically attached to the young boy’s body in the ancient past! Stories of heroic figures may inspire but wouldn't it be far more empowering to know that those heroes are all within? Children need practical tools to deal with their life situations. To imprint a graphic ‘picture of God’ on an ‘empty page’ is to rob that child of an awesome personal experience.
Shouldn't we have a more enlightened approach in our understanding of the concept of God?
My decades of association with children have proved that given innovative techniques, contemporary references and imaginative guidance, very young minds have a brilliant capacity to visualize, logically investigate, analyze and arrive at open minded conclusion. They cannot sustain blind belief. The scriptures never state that Gana Isha must be interpreted as an elephant with a mouse. This human artistic expression, however ingenious, reveals its deeper significance only after children have discussed the real meaning of the word, Ganesha. Many teachers argue that children must be given traditional graphic illustrations to understand abstract concepts. They remain rooted in archaic, uninspiring methods of delivery. As the Masters advise, “We cannot change others”, but we can, at the very least release ourselves from the bondage of mediocrity and seek a user friendly language, a more engaging path in our attempt to explore the mysteries of our existence.
About the Author : Mona Vijaykar is the Director of The Globasaurus Program, a series of classes designed to bring deeper understanding of Vedanta for children of all backgrounds. Vedanta is the core wisdom of all religions and helps connect people of seemingly different cultural backgrounds. Mona, a mother of two grown sons has always been engaged in teaching spiritual values to children through books, which she writes and illustrates; musical theater which she scripts and directs as well as through classroom presentations (India in Classrooms) in schools, across the Bay Area.
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