by Urmila Devi Dasi
Three adults are taking a group of children on an educational excursion, and the “no’s” begin.
“Don’t climb on that fence!”
“Stop putting your hand in your nose!”
“Please stop hitting Vishakha!”
“You’re making too much noise!” A lot of instruction about what not to do.
Educator Michael Grinder calls telling someone what not to do a “double message.” He compares it to telling someone, “Don’t think of a cow.” What happens? The person thinks of a cow.
Grinder suggests putting our messages into positive form. For example, instead of saying, “Don’t climb on that fence,” we can say what we would like the child to do: “Please stay on the sidewalk.” Grinder even suggests that the adult’s actions when giving the instruction be in harmony with the instruction. For example, if a teacher says, “Sit quietly,” while walking around the classroom, the children will get a double message. The teacher should also be sitting.
After becoming aware of how often I admonished children for behavior and attitudes I didn’t want, I gradually changed to a more positive approach. Not only does emphasizing the positive get better results, it also fosters an atmosphere of mutual respect.
In presenting spiritual life, to stop harmful behavior Srila Prabhupada encouraged positive activities and thoughts. He suggested that method for giving children spiritual and moral instruction. In Paris, 1976, he told Jyotirmayi Dasi, “Don’t say ‘no,’ but give a taste for the good, then it will be automatically ‘no.’ If you say ‘no,’ then [the children] will rebel. If they develop Krishna consciousness, it will be automatically ‘no.’ ”
In these instructions Srila Prabhupada was not promoting a sentimental permissiveness. He always expected us to keep our children from anything spiritually or materially harmful. His point is rather that a child busy in Krishna consciousness cannot also be busy in illusion. Srila Prabhupada would give the example that not even a drop of ink can enter a cup already full of milk. Once he told a disciple that we have a “no-gap” philosophy—we keep always active in serving Lord Krishna, leaving no opportunity for materialistic life.
To practice positive life with children, we have to consider, “What do we want them to do? What do we want them to say?”
Let’s consider the following typical situation.
A group of women were sitting in the dining area. One woman had her six-year-old son with her.
“Get me some water, Mommy!” he demanded.
After lecturing him for several minutes about the importance of politeness, she got him a cup of water. Her mistake? She never told him the appropriate words and tone of voice he should use to be polite.
If we’ve grown accustomed to simply telling our children what not to do, changing our habits may take time. But we have to realize that it is we who must engineer each day so that the child’s life will be related to Krishna.
Sometimes, of course, a child will reject our positive approach. Here’s an example of dealing with such situations. Suppose a child rudely demands water, so you instruct, “Say, ‘Would you get me a cup of water, please?’ ” If the child refuses to comply, don’t get the water. The child may decide to get his or her own water, but you will have sidestepped the battle of wills that brings rebellion.
Here’s another example of using positive reinforcement. Suppose your child brings you a drawing of a mundane war scene. You can say, “Oh! These people are killing and dying without benefit because Lord Krishna is not involved. Come, let’s look in the Bhagavatam and find a story where Krishna is fighting. I’ll help you plan the picture.” If the child doesn’t want to draw something about Krishna, you can respond, “I’m happy to see your creativity, and I also like to see pictures that remind me of Krishna so I can love Him more and more. Just let me know when you’d like to draw that kind of picture. I’m ready to help.”
by Urmila Devi Dasi
Here in the material world it’s easy to become absorbed in attachment and love for our family, especially our children, and forget about loving God, Krishna. We often see a child’s photo or shoes or artwork given a prominent place within a home, almost as if the child were the worshipable deity of the household. Though the Vedic scriptures advise us to detach ourselves from such affection, Srila Prabhupada also comments that these feelings are natural. Are there ways our attachment to our children can bring us closer to Krishna? There are.
Parents may sacrifice for their children in ways they wouldn’t for themselves. For example, a father may take a second job to send a son through college, or a mother may spend seemingly endless hours driving her children to clubs and lessons. This same tendency to sacrifice can be used in the Lord’s service.
Parents not concerned enough about their own spiritual well- being to regularly worship Krishna and chant His names may still train their children to do so, thus helping themselves as well.
When a mother teaches her children the importance of offering food to Krishna, she naturally has to offer Krishna the food in her home. A father who wants to teach his children to stay clear of time-wasting materialistic activities won’t spend his free time in front of the television.
So in countless ways our love and concern for our children can motivate us to do what is most beneficial not only for them but for ourselves. Vedic culture is so perfect, in fact, that even speaking to our children with affection can purify the whole family.
Generally, followers of Vedic culture name their children after Krishna or His great devotees. So every time a mother calls “Govinda Dasa, it’s time for your meals!” “Govinda! You left your shoes out in the rain.” “Where is Govinda?” she is chanting the holy name of the Lord.
Such chanting, even to call one’s son or daughter, can bring parents the highest benefit of love of God. Indeed, thousands of years ago this happened when Ajamila named his son “Narayana,” which is a name of Krishna.
Though religious as a boy, Ajamila did not become a spiritually minded father. He left his wife for a prostitute and made his living through cheating and crime. Absorbed in attachment to his family by the prostitute, he was still having children in old age. So even at eighty-eight he was cultivating his affection not for Krishna but for his little son Narayana.
Ajamila’s fatherly attachment was intense to the point that while dying he called for his son—“Narayana!” At once the servants of Narayana, Lord Krishna, came to save him from the hell he would have gone to for his degraded life. They granted him more years, which he used to worship Lord Krishna. Finally he attained to the spiritual world.
Of course, we shouldn’t purposely try to cheat Krishna, thinking we can live a low life and still find perfection simply through the names we give our children. But from this story we can learn the potency of Krishna’s names and know that if we mold our lives to train our children as saints, we just might end up becoming saints ourselves.
by Urmila Devi Dasi
Once, some weeks went by when Srila Prabhupada was not writing as much as usual. When a disciple asked him if something was wrong, Prabhupada replied that every endeavor has periods of activity and relaxation.
We parents and teachers who guide and care for children in Krishna consciousness must consider our need to relax, recharge, and get spiritual nourishment. Otherwise, we’ll become exhausted.
All who work regularly with children need various types of recharging. Our body and mind need regular rest, meals, and quiet. Parents often say they can’t get proper rest and rejuvenation, especially when caring for very young children. Vedic society solves this problem with the extended family; aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmothers, and a network of relatives help one another. In modern society we may have to get help from a network of friends.
Another need is our spiritual nourishment. Children learn more through experience than concepts. So they’ll know more about spirituality from what we are than from what we say. To show saintly qualities, we must regularly immerse ourselves in a concentrated bath of serving Krishna through hearing about Him, chanting His names, and so on. Srila Prabhupada gave us a morning schedule of such worship. During that time, we parents and teachers should daily examine whether we are begging Krishna for mercy and guidance or simply mechanically going through the motions.
Involving our children in our morning spiritual practice will help us gain the sustenance we need. When children are very young, of course, they need some simple diversions so that we may focus on our worship. But within a short time, children included in daily morning devotions respect parents’ or teachers’ personal time with Krishna. On the other hand, when we leave children sleeping so that we can have our own devotions, not only do the children lose out on the benefit of attending, but gradually we will be tempted to stay sleeping as well.
Besides our basic morning program, we need to faithfully set aside time for study, prayer, and service. Our family once had a designated time to read about Krishna for half an hour each evening. Over a few months, I found myself finishing many books I’d only been able to gaze at with longing. Even a young child can look at pictures of Krishna during such a time.
Finally, we need the association of other devotees of Krishna. We have the general society and companionship of other devotees, of course, but certain types of association particularly help those committed to caring for children. One type of association we need are “fans”—devotees who cheer us on and enliven us. They may not know the details of toilet training or helping children memorize the Bhagavad-gita verses, but they care enough to value our service. They’re enthusiastic, they give unconditional support, and they’ll step in and cheer us on in difficult times.
We also need friends close enough to be honest with us about our faults. They too may not be familiar with our work, but they can see if we’re disturbed rather than peaceful. Receiving correction is difficult, but without having devotees who care about us enough to give needed advice, we may suffer by going far down the wrong path.
We also need devotees with whom we can “talk shop,” those who do what we do. For example, in many places ISKCON has formal seminars where principals, gurukula teachers, home-schooling parents, and Sunday school teachers can come together for support, encouragement, and problem solving. Some devotee communities have parent support groups with scheduled meetings.
Having parents or co-workers we can talk to regularly is best. We need to know how others in our position handle the pressures that come with guiding children. Those of us who serve the Lord by caring for devotees in young bodies must live in a way that helps us do our best job.
by Urmila Devi Dasi
Two years old, Lalita Madhava sits with all her concentration focused on the book our 14-year-old daughter is showing her. Lalita Madhava’s older sister has just graduated from our gurukula school, her mother is at our house to print a letter, and Lalita Madhava is thinking of Krishna’s pastimes. “Krishna,” she says and points to the picture. She carefully turns the page.
Having spent more than three years teaching a Krishna conscious nursery school, I am privy to a great secret: there is an ocean of sweet spiritual pleasure in the company of very young devotees of Krishna. They know nothing of local, national, or global politics. They hardly know if they are boys or girls. But they do know they love Krishna. In their company one can simply tell stories about the Lord, sing songs to glorify Him, and play games that absorb the mind in His service. A well-run nursery fully engages the mind of the teacher, challenging her intelligence and creativity.
The parents also will be pleased. At home, most mothers have to divide their minds between their children and their household work. So a mother is pleased to see her child in a happy spiritual place with a devotee whose sole duty is to teach the child.
Children who have taken part in a materially and spiritually lively nursery school can look back upon their early childhood with pleasure. Even as teenagers, they can still enjoy singing the simple English, Sanskrit, or Bengali songs about Krishna they learned in nursery. The joy of decorating Krishna’s picture with colored beads can broaden into a desire to dress the Deity. A child can grow up feeling that constant engagement in the Lord’s service is natural.
So what should children do at a nursery school? Here are some activities for children aged 2 to 5. Although these activities are best suited for a teacher and a group of children, any mother at home could use most of these ideas.
The key to successful activities is keep changing them before the children grow restless and wild. Vary what you do and how long you do it, according to the mood and needs of the children. For example, if many children are restless, spend more time on physically active programs. If most of the children are older, spend more time on things that call for patience. As much as possible, all the children should do the same activity together. When an activity is over, the children should put everything away, and clean the floor and tables if need be. If you don’t want to lose everything in your nursery, best to keep the things for separate activities separate.
You can engage the children three ways: in free, loosely supervised play, in all working at once on their own projects, and in all doing the same thing together.
A. Loosely supervised play:
This includes things like playing outdoors on swings and slides, looking at nature books, and playing with blocks and toys. With blocks, children can build temples, altars, and items for spreading Krishna consciousness, such as cars in which they can go to distribute books. With toys the children can play their way into Krishna’s pastimes—by cooking for Krishna, taking care of baby Krishna, or acting as cowherd boys frolicking with the cows, frogs, and birds of Vrindavana.
B. All working at once on their own projects:
All together but each on his own, children can work with clay, or play with puzzles, or make garlands, or decorate pictures of Krishna and His devotees.
With clay the children can play at cooking food for Krishna or building things for Krishna. With jigsaw puzzles children can put together Krishna’s pastimes.
As for garlands, children can make them from wooden or plastic beads you can get at a hobby or craft store. The children can sit before a picture or Deity of Krishna, and each child can make a nice garland for Him. The children can offer their garlands with the teacher’s help, and all the children can see and admire the garlands of the others. Through garlands, also, the children can learn about colors, patterns, and counting.
Children can enjoy decorating pictures of Krishna and His devotees. The pictures can come from old calendars or extra copies of Back to Godhead, or the children can use pictures they have painted or colored themselves. With the teacher’s help, the children can adorn the pictures with stars, jewels, glitter, and paper flowers.
C. All doing the same thing:
Together, children can learn simple songs, and they can chant Hare Krishna and dance. The children who are able can take turns leading.
The children can also take turns fanning Krishna and offering Him incense and flowers, as adults do in the ceremony of arati.
Children can also do something else together that is very important in devotional life: take prasadam, food first offered to Krishna. They can learn how to say their prayers, respect prasadam, think of Krishna, and enjoy. And they can learn how to be clean.
Children can also put on plays about Krishna. The teacher gives a child one line to say and one thing to do at a time. Keep things simple and active and the children can do three plays or more without boredom.
You can delight your children with Krishna conscious storytelling. More than just reading a story, you can sing a song about the story, show pictures, and act out the story. There are many tapes of Krishna conscious story songs.
Children enjoy movies showing plays and stories and festivals. But go easy on video during the child’s early years. It can hamper a child’s natural development. A total of one hour a week is a good limit.
An entire community benefits from the nursery school. It gives mothers more time to help in a local temple or project. And even when there isn’t a school, a mother at home will find that an hour or two spent creating a nursery-school atmosphere will make her children so happy she can devote more time to other service.
If we treat our children with care from the very beginning, they’ll feel encouraged as souls. They’ll give spiritual pleasure to everyone and give hope for the future. And by their behavior and enthusiasm they may sometimes melt the heart of even the most hardened atheist.
by Urmila Devi Dasi
The year is full of holidays and special events unrelated to spiritual life. Even in India, where Janmashtami, the anniversary of Krishna’s divine birth, is a general festival, many other days are dedicated to the country or some ordinary, materialistic person. Outside of India, festival days sometimes even focus on demonic beings such as witches. National holidays, and even religious festivals such as Christmas, are often occasions for diving into intoxication, illicit sex, and materialistic life in general.
If we wish to raise our children to be absorbed only in thoughts of Lord Krishna, how should we treat these secular holidays? One approach is, as far as possible, to ignore them. We can tell our children that although the preparations they see around them—sometimes for weeks before the holiday—are certainly attractive, we are interested only in celebrating the Lord’s glories. Children can be satisfied and happy without getting into mundane festivities, especially if their year is full with one exciting devotional festival after another.
Adults often think, however, that because their children will hanker for what glitters all around them, the children must have at least a little of the outside celebration in order not to feel resentful or deprived. Perhaps the adults themselves feel there is something worthwhile in mundane events, or aren’t fully satisfied in spiritual life. But sometimes even when a child’s parents are fully convinced that observing devotional holidays is sufficient, avoiding materialistic celebrations is difficult. Nondevotee relatives, or even other devotees of Krishna, may want to pull one into the celebrations, and that influence may be hard to avoid.
A second approach, therefore, is to find a way of relating nondevotional celebrations to Krishna. For an originally religious holiday such as Christmas, it is relatively easy to have programs about the life and teachings of Lord Jesus. On Mother’s Day, we can have our children honor their mothers, grandmothers, mother cow, and mother earth. Sometimes a policy of making special days Krishna conscious can lead to creative results. For example, one year on Halloween some of my high school girls dressed up as male devotees and went door to door selling Srila Prabhupada’s books. We can take our children out to sing the Lord’s names through the crowds that gather for national independence day and other such holidays. On one U.S. holiday (Thanksgiving), we used to take our students in Detroit to the local Hare Krishna Food for Life center to distribute free prasadam, food offered to Lord Krishna.
On Halloween night in the United States, children dress in costumes and go from house to house collecting candy and other treats.
If we decide to have our children celebrate mundane occasions in the same way as the materialists, we greatly risk raising children whose idea of happiness is materialistic. Holidays are the highlights of life, especially for children, who even at a young age note the number of weeks or days until their favorite festival. When these days involve simply sense enjoyment—which for a child can mean games, presents, fireworks, and special food—we indirectly teach that we are living for material pleasure.
Observing our children’s birthdays poses a special problem. In the early days of the Hare Krishna movement, when Srila Prabhupada was present with us, we rarely, if ever, noted the birthdays of our members, including children. Gradually, however, birthday parties, especially for children, have become more and more common. Once I calculated that every year in the community where I lived we had three times as many birthday parties as devotional festivals. I noted that the children often had “birthday parties” as part of their play.
Should we eliminate birthday parties? That’s probably impossible. We can, however, follow Srila Prabhupada’s direction that a birthday is a time for charity and austerity. Our children can give gifts on their birthday, rather than receive them. Gatherings can be small and simple so as not to appear to compete with spiritual festivals. And when we invite a few friends for cake and ice cream, we can also read from scripture and chant together.
Our children should grow up convinced that the happiness of Krishna’s devotees surpasses all the happiness of the material world—even a party.
by Urmila Devi Dasi
Celibacy is such an important part of Vedic education that the Sanskrit word for student is brahmacari (“celibate”). The pressure to give up celibacy begins, of course, in adolescence, the most dangerous age and often the turning point of one’s life. Young adults need guidance before and during the teenage years to recognize and follow the right path.
Celibacy trains adolescents for self-restraint, whether they stay single or get married. It develops their inner strength, self-control, and good character. It also fosters good health and a fine memory.
Without celibacy we can never realize that we are spirit soul, distinct from the body. Sex reinforces the illusion that we are these bodies. Sexual attraction and its extensions in family and society are the main knots that bind us to material identification. Vedic education aims to free the child from these knots so the adolescent can act on the spiritual plane.
Children, of course, have no knowledge of sex. How do we train them to value celibacy before they reach puberty? By association and environment.
Modern educators know well how children’s early impressions influence their later moral behavior. And these educators are passing on their decadent moral values to our children. For example, the New York City public school board recently introduced textbooks in the first grade that show families with two “mommies” or two “daddies,” to get children used to homosexuality.
And schools aren’t the only place kids learn to think well of illicit sex. Role models such as those on television, on radio, and in politics keep reinforcing the message. Parents add to the negative influence by using contraceptives or cheating on their marriage vows.
The result, of course, is that children enter adolescence with attitudes that lead them away from self-realization, or even civilized life. The illicit sex that results from years of indoctrination leads to chaos. Yet the very educators and politicians who promote illicit sex to children talk on about fatherless families and unwanted kids who turn to crime and drugs.
To be trained in celibacy, our young students should live with people who take pleasure in Krishna consciousness. Our first task is to shield our children from materialistic influences and surround them with positive, transcendental life. That’s the only way to get them ready to face their transition into adulthood.
But childhood training isn’t enough. Prabhupada told us we must carefully guide our children during their teens. Then surely they will come out first-class Krishna conscious devotees. We should be like a commanding officer who not only trains his solders but also serves with them on the battlefield.
Traditionally, a spiritually guided society helped young people with good association, vocational training, and marriage. Our teenagers need to train and study with Krishna conscious friends and teachers. Otherwise, Prabhupada once said, if from twelve to fifteen years of age they go to an ordinary school, by bad company they become rotten. It is sad to see this happen to a child who had strong childhood training and could have become a first-class human being.
Despite the best training and the best company, most teenagers want to associate with the opposite sex. Therefore, Vedic culture prescribes early marriage, on religious principles. That kind of marriage makes the mind peaceful and receptive to spiritual instruction.
Parents must help their sons and daughters find suitable marriage partners, except for children who are going to stay happy in lifelong celibacy. Parents should understand that adolescents have only three choices in sexual morality: celibacy, marriage, or immorality. Because of the danger in a society where boys and girls mix freely, marriage should be encouraged.
We sometimes mistakenly think that an “arranged” marriage means that the parents force a twelve-year-old girl to marry a thirty-year-old man—and they meet for the first time at the wedding. Prabhupada gives us a different picture. He tells us of a gradual process, usually spanning several years. The parents look for a suitable partner for their child, taking into account that the boy and girl should be equal in character, qualities, social position, and renunciation.
The parents judge the match through their own observations, by asking others, and through astrology. The wishes of the boy and girl are also important. Once the families and the boy and girl agree, a period of occasional, supervised association begins. It’s as if the parents introduce their child to a suitable mate and then chaperone formal “dates” to prepare the children for marriage. When the children are old enough to marry, the girl may still spend long regular visits at her parents’ home so she may gradually get used to being a wife. An extended family makes this easier by helping the new couple in their duties and relationship.
This time-tested process can be easily followed today. The girl engaged to a suitable boy doesn’t have to advertise herself to find a man. And the boy knows he can’t marry until he becomes responsible. He is therefore motivated to mature into a conscientious man of good character.
Built on the early training in renunciation, their marriage will be dedicated to Krishna, fulfilling our hope for their future.
by Urmila Devi Dasi
Can we make our children turn out the way we want?
Srila Prabhupada once said, “If you place a child in good association, he will act properly, and if you place him in bad association, he will act improperly. A child has no independence in that sense.… According to Vedic civilization, as soon as a child is four or five years old, he is sent to a gurukula, where he is disciplined.”
Anyone who has worked with children knows they are vulnerable to their environment. Yet children also carry from their previous lives a complex burden of good and bad karma and a particular tendency of character. In fact, the mentality of the parents during conception attracts a particular soul—with particular inclinations—to become their child. Because of this, enlightened parents prepare themselves so that they can be in spiritual consciousness during conception. Thus their child will be receptive to the training they will give him. Srila Prabhupada says, “You can mold the children in any way. They are like soft dough.” So the mold is essential when considering the shape of the final piece of sculpture. But the quality of the material one puts into the mold is also important.
On the other hand, our children’s tendencies from their previous lives and present conceptions can change. Their real personality is spiritual, filled with love for Krishna at every moment. Their natural position is that of eternal knowledge and bliss. Therefore it is entirely reasonable and possible to transcendentally mold anyone, of any previous disposition. After all, the spiritual “mold” is the shape of the real self.
The principle of such molding is quite simple. We need to surround the child with saintly association, eliminating all false and negative concepts. To do so is difficult not because it is unnatural or burdensome, but be-cause modern Western society, saturated with materialism, discourages spiritual growth.
We might feel, though, that we should not “isolate” our child. We might be afraid that our child won’t be able to cope with society if raised in a spiritual atmosphere. Yet we teach our children to eat properly by feeding them healthy food; we don’t give them a taste for junk food to help them cope with supermarket aisles. Nor do we give them small doses of beer or marijuana to help them conquer the urge for intoxication.
So rather than expose our children to materialism, we should train them to become saintly. Then as masters of their mind and senses, they will be happy in all circumstances. And rather than becoming allured by material life, they will create a spiritual atmosphere around themselves that will attract others.
Vedic education’s most important feature is to surround children with teachers and other students who want to know their true self. Such persons live free from lust, greed, and envy and therefore do not eat meat, fish, or eggs, take intoxication, gamble, or have illicit sex. And the true teacher, according to Vedic standards, is one who is absorbed in Krishna, the Absolute Truth. The true teacher does everything for Krishna, doesn’t hanker or lament for material things, and is always in a state of spiritual happiness.
Such a teacher, however, need not neglect the material, academic side of education. We require practical knowledge in this world. Yet we should not want to acquire knowledge simply to build up another false material identity that will disappear in the next death and rebirth. Nor should we want academic knowledge for its own sake, which will also be lost when we change bodies. But when academic knowledge and practical skills are learned in the service of the higher self, the benefit is eternal.
Throughout the world, societies train children to be economically and socially productive members of their culture. They may also learn a religious faith, with its doctrine and rituals. But imagine if some children, even a small group, were molded to be above all material designations, all influences of the material atmosphere. These children could lead mankind into an era of righteousness and harmony.
by Urmila Devi Dasi
Why do children disobey or get into mischief? We might assume they’re simply rebellious, but that’s rarely the case. Let’s discuss some possible causes of misbehavior.
The Lower Modes
Lord Krishna explains in Bhagavad-gita that material nature is composed of three modes: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Everything is in one of these modes or a combination of them—food, work, games, books, clothing, knowledge, relationships, time of day, and so forth. Children whose environment is mostly in goodness will be generally good, whereas those whose environment is mostly in passion and ignorance will be full of those qualities. For example, an environment in ignorance would be one in which children go to bed and awaken late, watch violent and sexual movies, are served meat and intoxicants (such as caffeine-laden sodas), and are surrounded by insults and fighting. Goodness supports spiritual development; the two lower modes obstruct it.
Children living in a spiritually enlivening atmosphere will rarely rebel. Sometimes children rebel because they see hypocrisy, such as non-spiritual behavior in a parent, teacher, or leader instructing them in Krishna consciousness. Such rebellion comes typically in early adolescence, when a child’s intelligence expands to understand the nature of adult society. All adults can’t be perfect, but we can strive for the ideal, while honestly admitting our mistakes.
Sometimes a child who’s rarely treated with affection will act out of line just to get noticed. I’ve seen children say nasty or disgusting things to make adults angry. The adult’s reaction may be negative, but for a love- starved child any emotion may be better than nothing. These children need unemotional instruction when they’re unruly, and plenty of love and affection the rest of the time.
When children are sick, tired, or hungry, they often don’t show their needs like adults and may become rude and uncooperative. Children chronically late to bed are often chronically disobedient as well. Children who eat and sleep irregularly can be difficult because they are always tired and hungry. Regulated eating and sleeping, which Krishna recommends in the Gita, is often a simple key to good behavior in a child.
It may seem unbelievable, but some parents and teachers actually train children to disobey, be rude, have tantrums, and so forth. Children learn to act in ways that earn them some kind of “reward.” For example, if when a child insults or threatens the parents they give in to the child’s demands, the child is being trained to be nasty, as much as an animal is trained to roll over and jump to get food.
Sometimes what seems to be misbehavior in a child isn’t so at all. Adults with little knowledge of the normal behavior of children at different ages may mislabel a child’s actions. In addition, every child has an inborn psychology. We commonly think that our particular way of perceiving and relating to the world is ideal, but our child may have a different, equally valid way of doing so. For example, a parent may be reserved, deliberate, and task- oriented, and the child may be lively, outgoing, and people- oriented. To the parent, the child may seem scattered, frivolous, irresponsible, and uncooperative. The parent must learn that every nature can be directed to the Lord’s service. A mother satisfied to sit and sew quietly for the Deity might find that her daughter is happier planning a festival.
One of the most serious mistakes an adult can make is to cut down a child’s other adult authorities. If a parent criticizes a child’s teacher, the child will think, “Why do I have to do my work or show respect? My parents will take my side.” And in families where one parent frequently comes between the child and the other parent, children never learn to cooperate.
We must also be careful not to project our own problems onto children when we are sick, tired, hungry, or uninspired.
When we address the underlying causes of difficulty for our children, we will find that our usual relationship with them is one of peaceful cooperation, helping us and them to advance more easily in Krishna consciousness.
- Editor's Notes from Back to Godhead Magazine, May/June 2005
by Nagaraja dasa
Srila Prabhupada would sometimes refer to his disciples as pure devotees. Anyone who has read his books or been in the company of his followers for any length of time knows that the term “pure devotee” generally refers to someone who loves Krishna fully and is free of all material desires. It’s who we want to become. So we ordinary mortals who are surely still works in progress wonder, “Why would Prabhupada call us pure devotees? ”
It seems to me that Prabhupada is implying that anyone who has accepted pure love for Krishna as the goal of life and is pursuing it under the direction of a bona fide guru can be considered a pure devote. Prabhupada’s followers have rejected all other ultimate goals, as well as the means for attaining them. We know that as spirit souls we will not find fulfillment in any way except by awakening our love for Krishna. That’s our conviction.
That conviction distinguishes us from almost everyone else, and it shows in the spiritual practices we perform under Prabhupada’s guidance. When Prabhupada’s followers go to his temples, we do things meant for only one purpose: becoming Krishna consciousness. Our endeavors for perfection don’t include things done by karmis, jnanis, or yogis.
The Vedic literature tell us that all human beings can be classified into four groups according to their goals and activities: karmis, jnanis, yogis, and Bhaktas. Most people are karmis. Their only goal is happiness in the material world, either here on earth or in the heavenly planets after death. That’s what they work for. Better than karmis, from the spiritual point of view, are jnanis, or philosophers. The highest aim of jnanis is to merge into spiritual oneness, in effect annihilating themselves to avoid the inevitable suffering of material existence. The yogis, at best, try to find something spiritual through sitting postures, controlled breathing, meditation, and so on. They sometimes get sidetracked by powers achieved through yoga. In any case, they generally have only a vague idea of what they hope to accomplish, and in essence theirs is a selfish quest.
Bhaktas, or devotees, just want to love Krishna. They know that’s all they need. Through devotion to Krishna one can achieve anything that can be gained through any other process—karma, jnana, or yoga. But devotees are indifferent to those rewards.
The spiritual practices Prabhupada gave us don’t include karma, jnana, or yoga devoid of a Bhakti connection. In his temples we don’t pray to devas for wealth or material happiness, we don’t guess about philosophical topics, and we don’t practice yoga asanas for enlightenment. We chant Hare Krishna, worship the deity of Krishna, hear about Krishna and pure devotion to Him, honor Krishna’s greatest devotees, like Srila Prabhupada, and strive to be like them.
Our heroes love Krishna without personal motive. We may have residual material attraction, but we know better. We’re convinced that pure love for Krishna is ultimately the only desirable thing. Despite our shortcomings, if we hold on to our conviction and adhere to spiritual practices of pure Bhakti, we are, in Prabhupada’s view, pure devotees—or, to put it another way, purely devotees.
from Back To Godhead Magazine, #34-06, 2000
by Nagaraja Dasa
A mile or so from my house, beside a country road that curves gently through pine forests and hay fields, sits a haven of abject cruelty. On a concrete slab under a shiny metal roof, a few dozen calves endure what will be short lives in cages they barely fit in. Someone is—to say it euphemistically—raising veal.
I don’t usually drive that road, so when I noticed the calves one day I started to tell my wife about them.
“Don’t say any more,” she said. “I can’t even bear to hear it.”
Compassion comes naturally for people pursuing real spiritual goals. Hare Krishna devotees are often dismayed to see otherwise gentle people, even religious people, so callous about the suffering of animals. Why would anyone who knows that animals are God’s creatures needlessly harm them?
I often notice inconsistencies in people’s compassion. A person whose heart breaks at the thought of abortion feels no sympathy for the victims of the slaughterhouse. A vegetarian champions a woman’s right to kill her own child. A philanthropist for suffering humanity finds no pity for the plight of animals or the unborn.
Unless we take lessons from Krishna, our compassion will fall short. In Krishna consciousness we learn why our compassion should go out to every living being: Like us, each is a soul encased in a body; each is an eternal servant of Krishna.
Devotees of Krishna show compassion by trying to awaken everyone to their original, pure consciousness, or Krishna consciousness. We suffer because we’ve turned away from Krishna. When we go back to Him, our suffering dissolves. It is said that when we take full shelter of Krishna, our ocean of suffering will shrink down to the amount of water that fills a calf’s hoofprint. We’ll easily step over it.
Compassion requires humility, an essential quality for anyone trying for spiritual progress. I might become proud of my compassion when I see the lack of it in others. But when I remember saints who showed full compassion, I’m quickly humbled. The greatest devotees sacrifice their lives to give Krishna consciousness to others. They feel the suffering of others as their own and spontaneously work to apply the balm of Krishna consciousness.
Vasudeva Datta, a follower of Lord Caitanya, was unequaled in his display of compassion. He begged the Lord to allow him to suffer everyone else’s karma so that everyone in the world could return to Krishna.
Lord Siva drank an ocean of poison to save the world. While relating that history, the Srimad-Bhagavatam declares, “It is said that great personalities almost always accept voluntary suffering because of the suffering of people in general. This is considered the highest method of worshiping the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is present in everyone’s heart.”
To stop the suffering of the animals, the unborn, the poor, the sick, the distressed, we all must do whatever we can to draw out—from ourselves and others—pure love for Krishna.