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A Diet for Spiritual Health

When our oldest son was less than three, he and I were once in a supermarket when a woman passing out samples handed him a cookie that looked like ones made at our temple. He was several yards away from me, and I was apprehensive he’d automatically put the cookie into his mouth. Instead, he ran over to me and asked, “Prasadam? Prasadam?” I said no, it hadn’t been offered to Krishna and couldn’t be. He smiled and gave up the idea of eating the cookie.

Training our children to be strict vegetarians can be difficult. Giving them enthusiasm for further restricting themselves to prasadam, food prepared for and offered to Krishna, can be even more challenging.

Devotees of Krishna strictly avoid meat, fish, and eggs, and though a growing number of food products don’t contain any of these, many products have onions or garlic, which devotees also consider unfit to offer the Lord. Devotees try to avoid commercially prepared food altogether. Krishna is hungry for our devotion, not the food we offer Him, so we need to take time to prepare Krishna’s meals ourselves, with love for Him.

Not only the cooking, but also the offering of food to Krishna should be done with love. An ideal offering involves setting up at least a simple altar, putting the food on a plate reserved for Krishna’s use, and reciting prayers asking Krishna to accept what we’ve prepared.

While following the rules for a prasadam diet seems troublesome to nondevotees, taking trouble for a loved one is a great source of pleasure. And serving Krishna, the supreme lovable person, gives the greatest pleasure. Children easily feel the happiness of love for Krishna even when very young. As they watch us in the store, we can show them how we read the labels. By age ten, a child can learn to spot listings of meat products such as rennet and choose only suitable food. We can explain to our children how we try to pick the best and freshest items for our Lord.

Most children love to help in the kitchen. While cooking we can create an atmosphere of devotion by singing the Lord’s holy names or listening to a recording of devotional singing. As our children help, they learn that Krishna is the first to eat—no tasting while cooking! They can become excited about pleasing Lord Krishna.

As our children mature and gradually learn to prepare varieties of full meals on their own, they are equipping themselves for a life of cooking for Krishna. If, on the other hand, they don’t learn cooking skills, they may grow up to think that buying foods that nondevotees have prepared is a necessity.

In the temple, devotees follow a strict schedule for offering meals to the Deities. At home there can be some leniency, but a schedule of offerings reminds us we are cooking for the pleasure of Krishna, rather than simply for our own hunger and desire. Can children wait to eat until after an offering? Yes, if we feed them at reasonably regulated times, from when they first start to eat solid food, and make sure meals are both sufficient and frequent enough for their needs. “Wait until Krishna eats!” should be exciting, a spiritual game, rather than an austerity.

As we bow before Krishna’s picture or Deity and ask Him to accept our offering, even our toddlers can bow next to us. By age ten or so, a child can learn the standard prayers and offer food without adult help.

We should also show our children how to offer food when away from home. Many devotees carry small pictures of Krishna and their spiritual master and can set up a simple “altar” almost anywhere.

Being away from home or a temple is one of the most difficult times for sticking to a prasadam diet. We adults may be willing to wait until we get home and cook. But children on an unexpectedly long shopping trip may feel that avoiding all but properly cooked and offered food is impossible. Sometimes we can bring prasadam with us, but other times we are caught unprepared. At such times, we may be able to buy fruit and make a simple offering. If we absolutely must buy prepared foods, we should strictly avoid grains that nondevotees have cooked. Lord Krishna in His form as Lord Caitanya has told us that such foods make the mind wicked. A devotee must strive to keep the mind pure, so that it will be a suitable place for thoughts about Krishna.

Children as a Blessing

Caring for children in the service of the Lord is a great blessing, a gift from the Lord given out of mercy. One can hardly claim to deserve such a gift, whether by educational achievements, spiritual dedication, or even just the willingness to do the work.

A blessing? Sure, children can be smiling and glowing, but just as often they’re fighting and moping. Their growth in knowledge and skills, which gives parents and teachers a wave of satisfaction, depends on the parents’ earning a livelihood, cleaning messes, doing laundry, soothing hurt feelings, and tackling all the other complications children bring.

“I never want to have kids!” a young woman tells me, and I think about how modern society increasingly views children as a burden. Contraception, abortion, day care, after-school care, and more, seem the keys to personal freedom. Certainly caring for children with love, making sure they’re properly educated both spiritually and materially, is no simple task. We may think of all we could do with our lives without children, such as how we could have more freedom to travel or serve Lord Krishna in more exciting ways.

Few want a job as teacher anymore. Teaching and working with children are no longer esteemed positions. Teachers are often underpaid and given substandard support. Things are so bad that even spiritually minded people, who tend to possess the good qualities and motives required of a teacher, may never consider working with children.

Like teaching, being a parent is also unfashionable. Today’s women often prefer career and prestige over motherhood. And men avoid marriage and supporting the children they father, seeing the responsibility to raise children as an impediment to fulfilling their own desires.

When society was more simple and agrarian, children were an economic asset—more hands to help with farm chores, more caretakers when the parents became old. In that pre-industrial culture, children were a practical kind of blessing, one that even a self-centered materialist could appreciate.

The ancient stories of the Vedas and other scriptures often tell of people who greatly desired children, who felt that having many children was a gift from God. We might be inclined to credit such an attitude simply to a different culture. “Sure, kids were fine for them, but today kids are mostly a burden.”

No doubt, for a materialist caught up in modern life, children are no gift. They cost money, lots of money. They may interfere with the parents’ careers, do little to help the family, and get involved in things that bring them and their families anxiety and grief.

But children with lives connected to Krishna are radiant with a simple yet deep faith that God is a person, a cloud-colored cowherd boy who reciprocates with His devotees in loving activities. The connection such children feel with Krishna is real and natural. It is the reality for which childhood faith is designed. And, of course, a child sheltered from the nastier elements of the world has an innate purity.

Children devoted to Krishna are the kind of associates described in the scriptures as best for one’s own spiritual advancement. By working with children to insure their spiritual success, we gain the best hope for our own, because the qualities of our associates greatly affect our own qualities.

And in the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna Himself guarantees pure devotional service, the supreme spiritual goal, to those who teach the science of God to devotees of God. That gift, the fulfillment of all genuine religion, brings true freedom—freedom from selfish desire and the suffering it brings.

Do the spiritual peace, happiness, and satisfaction that come from caring for Krishna’s children mean freedom from life’s difficulties? No, the spiritual path includes a struggle too. But the quality of that struggle is quite different. The struggle to bring our children spiritual knowledge and bliss is a source of happiness because that struggle is a measure of our real love not only for the children but for God as well. When we show our love for God, He is pleased and we, as part of Him, feel pleasure too. When we truly give our children Krishna consciousness, we can say of them, “What a blessing!”

Detachment from Children

Our Dead Son’s Body, nine inches long, lay in my hand.

For some months afterward, my natural affection—that motherly impulse hard-wired into body and mind—cried for that child.

“What you grieve for is not the child,” the midwife told me, “but how you had projected that child into your life.”

I had become attached to a desire to have a child to love and enjoy. That attachment, based on the body instead of spiritual reality, was causing lamentation, in spite of my philosophical understanding. Many friends, devotees of Krishna, urged me not to artificially repress the grief, because such repression would lead to illness. I couldn’t stop the grief anyway. It was a biological expression of motherhood.

Still, on the spiritual level I knew that I, the soul, had a spiritual relationship with the soul who had lived in that little smiling (yes, smiling) but gray body: We were related in the Lord’s service, a relationship beyond the temporary body.

I gave him prasadam, and a chance to hear Krishna’s holy name. I hope he used those opportunities to perfect his short life and return to his spiritual home. Even if he didn’t, surely he has made progress on his spiritual journey, getting a better mother than I in the body he lives in now. He helped me spiritually, too, by giving me a chance to practice detachment and tolerance. His leaving made me depend more on Krishna for solace and shelter.

How odd that the most painful parental calamity, a child’s death, can push us to discover what we so often forget throughout a child’s life—that our loving relationship with our children has little meaning and no permanence outside of Krishna’s service.

An Earlier Lesson in Detachment

I lost that child in 1992. He would have been our fourth. I remember thinking at the time, “Was it really thirteen years ago that I thought I had learned the lesson of detachment?” That earlier lesson had not been as severe as losing a child, but it had shaken the roots of my concepts about my relationship with my children.

The lesson came when our first son started school, in 1979. Before I even married, I was confident that if I had a child I would send that child for schooling in a traditional ashrama, a gurukula school, where students live with their teacher. A couple of months after our first son, Murari (then Madhava), was born, my husband and I began looking for a good ashrama. When he was almost five, we moved to a temple with an ashrama gurukula and experienced teachers who treated the students with a balance of love and discipline. We spent several months getting our son accustomed to his new life, first having him sit with other boys while they chanted on beads in the morning, then having him attend some academic classes.

Finally the day arrived to enroll him. Two days later my husband and I would move to another city. I started to pack Murari’s suitcase. And I started to cry. I stopped to watch him play in the backyard.

“Why am I crying?” I thought. “For his whole life I planned to send him to school in this way.”

I began to wonder at my relationship with this child. Would he ever live with us again? While Krishna had other plans and Murari spent only five years living in an ashrama, at the time I felt he would live at school until ready to work as an adult.

“What relationship do I have with this child, anyway? Well, I’m his mother. My body gave birth to his body. But the body that gave birth no longer exists. My body now is different, changed. And his body is also different. His body is not that of a helpless infant. So where are those bodies that had the relationship of giving birth and being born? And, besides, neither of us is our body. We’re souls, and by our karma and the Lord’s desire we’re temporarily traveling in these bodies. So if my relationship with my child is simply based on our bodies, it is completely illusory. I suppose he and I have no relationship.”

But then I considered why I had married and why I had had this child. Our life with Murari was one of teaching him to love and serve Krishna.

“That is my relationship! My child and I help each other grow in love for Lord Krishna so we may come to the platform of spiritual existence. The bodily relationship is merely a temporary social formality in our real exchange of love.”

Do You Force Your Children?

We sit in the Calcutta Airport waiting for an announcement, the flight three hours late. The many ceiling fans do little to refresh the air, polluted by cigarette smoke and hundreds of bodies. My ten-year-old son and I sit by a door, opened a crack but with negligible effect. I talk with a blue- saried nun from Puna who wishes us the best in our spiritual journey. Then I talk with a couple who supervise testing for students seeking admission to European and American schools.

Then, from an Indian gentleman, the inevitable questions.

“Is this your son?”

“Yes, and we have a seventeen-year-old son and a thirteen-year-old daughter.”

“Are they also practicing Hare Krishna?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Do you force them?”

I take one of the last drinks from my bottle of mineral water and lean forward.

Force. Everyone wants to know if we force. The devotees at our project in Mayapur discussed this with me at length, and here it is again. Our three children certainly do not feel forced. Yet we expect, and to some degree require, their active and willing participation in our spiritual life, especially the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra. But how can one require willing participation? I’ve explained it countless times, and again I beg the Lord to give me intelligence and the ability to ignore the second-hand tobacco smoke.

“I don’t like the word force,” I say at last. “Don’t parents ‘force’ their children to brush their teeth and wear clean clothes? Yet neither parents nor children generally see this as force. Why?”

“Well, we try to explain the reasons.”

“Yes, and we set an example.”

“And habit?”

“Yes, we try to develop spiritual habits in the children. Of course, spiritual life and a love for Krishna’s name are natural for the soul, so these things are not externally imposed by habit. But developing habits in children brings them to take as natural what is actually natural.”

“Like—you wake up early, right?”

“Yes, three-thirty. So to our children that’s simply a normal time to wake up. They see six o’clock as late. In the same way, a normal person likes clean air and clean lungs. Not like this room.”

We both lean back, and my son Keshava continues to chant on his beads.

“Mata,” he asks me, “I want to see if I can leave this area and walk around the airport.”


I turn to the gentleman. “It may sometimes appear that we demand things of the children, but the point is to awaken their natural attraction for Krishna. It’s like training children to brush their teeth regularly so they’ll come to feel uncomfortable with an unclean mouth.”

My acquaintance is satisfied and turns to his newspaper.

Just how do we instill in our children love for spiritual life? First, we should surround them with spiritual activities, especially the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra, and protect them from all opportunities to grow fond of the modes of passion and ignorance. These precautions won’t narrow children. Doing these things is as reasonable as surrounding children with a clean house and getting rid of dirt from clothes, floors, and furniture. Letting children live with dirt won’t broaden them.

We sit our children by us when we chant, and we expect them to chant too, just as we put clean clothes in their drawers and expect them to wear them. We teach our children the Hare Krishna mantra, show them how to finger the beads and play musical instruments, and guide them daily, as much as we check every day to see if they’re dressed for the weather or have finished their chores.

It’s easy to understand how to teach the mechanical, external aspects, but is it even possible to teach the internal, the feelings?

Just by teaching the externals, of course, we give a powerful yet subtle message: “This is important.” For example, when a mother, during her japa chanting time, always insists that her young child play quietly, the child realizes the seriousness with which his mother approaches her chanting. So the child will naturally imitate.

Beyond that, one can set the example of a deep commitment to spiritual perfection throughout one’s life. The children should see that this is a joyful commitment, free from hypocrisy and self-righteousness. The children need to be inspired by regularly hearing the philosophy of Krishna consciousness. And, finally, we can pray to Krishna, who is in the heart of our children, to reveal His glories to them.

With this program and the mercy of Lord Krishna, as our children mature they will voluntarily choose to work for the ultimate treasure, love of God.

Drug Free

It’s rather common now in America—a sign proclaiming “Drug-free School.” But teachers, parents, and students know the idea is a joke. Intoxicants—tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine—rage through the minds and bodies of young people practically everywhere.

Studies, treatments, and educational programs have done little. Rather, children are taking intoxicants at younger ages, and use is increasing. Modern society knows that intoxication brings crime, cruelty, illness, laziness, accidents, family breakups, and early death. But what can we do to stop it?

First we need to consider why people take intoxicants. The urge to dull or distort one’s awareness comes from a sense of futility and hopelessness. Modern philosophies teach our children that all existence comes from chance interactions in a universe with no one at the controls. In schools, on television, in history, science, or literature, the message is that there are no absolutes. Truth is relative. Expedience and popular whim determine value.

To children who see reality as having no ultimate goal, the future looks empty. A sensitive child can understand that life in the material world is basically miserable and temporary. And if the present life is everything, with nothing beyond death and gross matter, why not create a more pleasant reality—at least within one’s mind?

Another reason for the urge for intoxication is modern society’s equating happiness with escape and delusion. According to Bhagavad-gita, such delusion is happiness in the mode of ignorance, the lowest of the three modes of material nature (goodness, passion, and ignorance). Some intoxicants may seem to promote passion, as they speed up physical and mental processes. And some intoxicants seem to mimic the effects of goodness by imitating a sense of peacefulness (it’s really just lethargy) or “consciousness expansion.” Yet all intoxicants produce only varieties of illusion and delusion.

How do we give children the message that happiness equals the ignorance of distorting reality? By encouraging them to escape from life through fantasies, fairy tales, parties, and amusement parks. Television and movies further the idea that entertainment and pleasure come from entering a world of illusion. In fact, watching television creates symptoms similar to those of intoxication, such as increased violence, decreased attention span, false estimation of one’s abilities, and difficulty showing compassion to others.

Influenced by the mode of passion, kids use intoxicants for social acceptance. In fact, mild forms of intoxication are so much a part of the world today, regardless of the country or culture, that not only peers but also parents and family elders routinely initiate children into smoking and drinking, or at least ingesting caffeine—in caffeine-laden drinks and chocolate.

We can keep or save our children from intoxicants first by giving them thorough knowledge of the purpose and plan of creation. From a young age, a child should know that he or she is a pure soul, capable of achieving unlimited spiritual happiness in love of Krishna, both in this life and beyond. Children need to learn that the miseries of life result from our rebellion against the authority and love of Krishna, the Supreme Person. We get free of misery not by ignoring or covering it but by using our free will to serve Krishna. Besides receiving theoretical knowledge of such a view of life, our children should be around people whose lives exemplify their spiritual vision.

By living with people who think and work in harmony with Lord Krishna, naturally our children will experience happiness in the mode of goodness, and even happiness beyond any material happiness they can imagine. Spiritual happiness means full alertness and expanded consciousness, so children who perceive love for God will tend to avoid anything that will limit their awareness.

The natural inclination of a child to play, hear stories, and celebrate should be directed not to illusion but to the supreme reality, Lord Sri Krishna. In that way a child can transcend the material miseries rather than try to cover them.

And if a child’s community is filled with people who don’t include the dulling or distorting of consciousness as part of festivity and social acceptance, pressure from peers and elders will work in a positive way to give the child a sober lifetime.

Higher Vocations

Srila Prabhupada educational systems to produce high-class people, high not in wealth or status but in character. We often describe the ideal character of a brahmana (intellectual) as tolerant and austere, of a kshatriya (civic leader) as heroic, and so on. Yet for the training of our children, Srila Prabhupada also emphasized another quality: independence.

Brahmanas, kshatriyas, and vaishyas (farmers and merchants)can create their own vocations. Whether working directly in the service of Krishna or working to maintain their families, they don’t need to beg from others, and they don’t need much supervision. Such higher-class persons, willingly obedient to the spiritual master, are self-disciplined and therefore self-reliant. When we understand this kind of independence, we remove the problem of finding a vocational “place” for our children. They don’t need to beg work from anyone, in or out of ISKCON. For the self-disciplined, independent person, is there not unlimited work, unlimited service?

Make a list with your child of ways to spread Krishna consciousness. Surely he or she will have the ability and the inclination to perform some of them. Many will also provide income. Your child can choose a service and begin to prepare for it.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Open a prasadam restaurant.
  2. Open a health-food store and sell prasadam and Krishna conscious books.
  3. Open a shop for books and devotional paraphernalia.
  4. Publish devotional books.
  5. Sell Krishna conscious books retail or wholesale.
  6. Farm organically with oxen and sell produce.
  7. Cook and sell baked goods to stores.
  8. Teach courses that include a Krishna conscious perspective.
  9. Produce and sell Krishna conscious music.
  10. Sell Krishna conscious art.
  11. Write educational computer software for Krishna concious schools.
  12. Sell items or services useful to both devotees and nondevotees (such as groceries, cars, office supplies, tools, computers, printing, layout, electrical work, health care).
  13. Develop a Krishna conscious theater company of a professional standard.
  14. Start your own ISKCON center for spreading Krishna consciousness.

Here are some suggestions for fostering a higher-class mentality in your children, a mentality in which they’ll find positive ways to function independently.

Don’t think in terms of getting your son or daughter a good job and tying them to mundane schooling for that purpose. Let your child know that striving for “job security” by waiting upon others is less important than becoming Krishna conscious and teaching Krishna consciousness.

Put emphasis on practical education. From age eleven to age fourteen, let your children spend lots of time with adults who can train them in practical work. Most adolescents benefit from friendships with their peers. But learning practical service from adults and making spiritual friendship with them may provide a deeper relationship that is more valuable for bringing out good character.

Give the child some social, economic, and familial responsibility, at least by age twelve. For example, a fifteen- year-old can regularly volunteer some time at the local temple for a Krishna conscious project such as Food for Life. Even a twelve-year-old can do valuable service or earn money that will mean something for a family or a project. And as children mature, they can take on chores that demand more competence.

Give your children as much responsibility as they can handle. But for children under sixteen, be strict in giving strong direction in moral and spiritual decisions. Srila Prabhupada taught that children under sixteen should be dealt with so firmly that they won’t even consider disobeying. Especially, it’s up to you to set guide-lines on such matters as what they read, what they watch on TV, how they treat intoxicants, and how they behave toward members of the opposite sex. We don’t tell a fourteen-year-old, “Now I’ve informed you about marijuana, but it’s your choice.” We simply forbid it.

If a child of sixteen or older still depends on you for money, treat him the same way you would a friend in that circumstance—and expect the same compliance with rules.

See adolescents as useful members of society and give them opportunities to feel useful.

Train children from as young as possible to use intelligence in Krishna’s service.

Reward them for doing things voluntarily. Encourage vision and plans, even if undeveloped and immature.

How to Love Children

Children needs lots of love. Love your children, and then love them some more. It’s said that every great man had a mother who gave him much love.

We often hear such glorification of love. But what does love really mean? The stereotype of a smiling parent holding a child with great care is not the complete picture of parental love. Judith Viorst, writing in Newsweek, says, “It didn’t take me long to learn that patient, tender, loving, serene, and empathic weren’t always options for the mother of three intensely physical boys.”

Some adults spoil or ruin children through what appears to be lots of love. And some adults are harsh, even cruel, in the name of love.

Perhaps the dictionary will help us understand real love. Webster’s first definition for love is “a strong affection for another arising out of kinship.” In other words, we tend to love our family and relatives. While such love is natural for embodied, materially conditioned souls, it’s imperfect for two reasons. First, it’s based solely on the body, and second, it’s based solely on bodies related to our own, so it’s simply extended selfishness. When our love for children rests only on a selfish, material platform, we’ll inevitably act in ways we feel are best for us, not necessarily for our children. Surely this love is inadequate for those aspiring for spiritual elevation.

Webster also defines love as “warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion.” While devotion here could imply a sense of serving another person unselfishly, it also conjures up a picture of the doting mother who smothers her child with so much enthusiastic care that the child never really grows up.

Webster’s most applicable definition is “unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.” The dictionary’s example is that of God’s love for man. If we accept this as a good definition of genuine love, we can then ask, “How does Krishna love His children, all living beings? And from Krishna’s example, what can we learn about the best way to love our own children?”

Krishna stays with and cares for all His children, the obedient and the offensive. He perfectly reciprocates with the desires and inclinations of each soul. If we are fully devoted to Him, He will appear in the form and relationship we desire. If we wish to be an independent lord, He will give us an opportunity to be Lord Brahma, the head of a material universe.

Krishna knows each of us completely, and He directs our wanderings from lifetime to lifetime, letting us experience enough suffering and frustration to eventually turn to Him. He also arranges for all human beings to have access to scripture and saintly persons. He even comes Himself to teach the most beneficial path.

To follow the Lord’s example when dealing with children, we can show love by guiding them in the best course of action and the best mentality. We can also set the best example. To some extent we can teach our children by letting them experience the natural consequences of their actions and desires. Or, better, we can help them learn without direct experience. Whenever a child shows a desire to act to please Krishna and follow the scriptures, we can encourage and assist.

What is truly good for a child is the same as what is truly good for all beings—to realize that one is a spiritual being, not a material body, and to serve Krishna rather than the temporary world. When we train a child in such a life, we represent Krishna’s love.

What about the small, sweet tokens of affection that materially illusioned adults show their children? Do the spiritually-minded abandon these as mere attachment and bondage? Not at all. Looking at Krishna’s example again, we can see that when He shows His love for us in small ways, we naturally feel gratitude, understanding that He cares for us fully. Similarly, the hugs, smiles, little gifts, words of endearment, and time spent playing together show our children a depth of personal concern, a complete love.

Is Experience the Best Teacher?

After giving Arjuna knowledge of matter and spirit, Lord Krishna tells him, “Deliberate on this fully, and then decide what you wish to do.” Our children also have to choose between material and spiritual life. To prepare them for this choice, do we need to give them experiences of both? Do our children need any experience of materialism to choose Krishna consciousness?

The sages do indeed say that to be complete in knowledge one must study both spirit and matter. But our children can best gain knowledge of illusion by seeing both illusion and reality from the perspective of reality.

Srila Prabhupada tells us that the most intelligent people learn simply by hearing. Hearing about Krishna gives a child a direct perception of spiritual happiness and knowledge. And as Krishna tells Arjuna, “Upon gaining this one thinks there is no greater gain.” Spiritual experience, then, can give any child the intelligence to stay clear of materialism just by hearing about it.

But even if a child isn’t convinced by his spiritual experience, adults don’t have to arrange for children to have a taste of material life. Even without intervention from parents or teachers, each child feels material life moment by moment. What child has no frustrations or disease? What child doesn’t come across envy, anger, and greed, if not in himself then in others? And what child doesn’t see aging and death, at least in the animals and plants that surround him?

Our children will also get direct experience of bodily and mental pleasure. As distress comes, even uninvited, material happiness will also come.

A caring adult will use a child’s naturally occurring painful and pleasurable experiences as a connection to what the child has heard from scripture. As Dr. Howard G. Hendricks writes in The Seven Laws of the Teacher, “You don’t have to get hooked on cocaine to be aware of its devastation, and even many who are hooked don’t understand the danger. So a better way to say it is: properly evaluated experience is the best teacher.” (author’s emphasis)

When adults say that for our children to understand maya we must expose them to it, they often mean they want to expose children to the illusions of illusion. They suggest taking children to amusement parks, or showing them television, or engaging them in much of the frivolities of childhood. But children who get a taste for such illusions generally become—illusioned. Their higher knowledge and taste for Krishna become covered. The child asks for further and further indulgence in illusion, because, as Krishna tells us, material desires can never be satisfied. The parents then feel they must give the child maya because the child demands it; they forget that they themselves, the parents, sparked that demand.

A good parent or teacher tries to keep a child physically healthy. And there is a way to expose a child to disease in order to prevent disease—vaccination. The Vedic scriptures offer a similar method for material life in general. A vaccination introduces a disease in a form that isn’t dangerous. Similarly, conditioned souls can safely deal with matter in a changed form—by using it in Krishna’s service. So children can listen to music glorifying Krishna, eat food offered to Krishna, watch plays and movies about Krishna, use their talents to serve Krishna, and possibly later marry and raise a family in Krishna’s service. This is a way to dovetail material inclinations with spiritual knowledge, to see both maya and Krishna and choose Krishna.

When maya is used in Krishna’s service under the direction of a guru it ceases to work as a force of illusion. Rather, it acts spiritually to purify material desires.

Still, some adults insist that a child will learn best just through his or her own experiences, coming to Krishna consciousness naturally, just from experiencing material life, without any outside help.

In ancient times, also, there were parents who argued that their children would gain spiritual determination simply through their own material lives. An example cited in the Bhagavatam is that of Daksha. “Material enjoyment,” he said, “is indeed the cause of all unhappiness, but one cannot give it up unless one has personally experienced how much suffering it is. Therefore one should be allowed to remain in so-called material enjoyment while at the same time advancing in knowledge to experience the misery of this false material happiness. Then, without help from others, one will find material enjoyment detestable. Those whose minds are changed by others do not become as renounced as those who have personal experience.”

Sometimes we who have come to Krishna consciousness as adults assume that our determination to renounce material life is the result of a bad taste for illusory enjoyment. Yet in discussing Daksha’s statement, Srila Prabhupada tells us that Daksha’s philosophy is wrong. He writes, “The young boys and girls of the Krishna consciousness movement have given up the spirit of material enjoyment not because of practice [of material life] but by the mercy of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His servants.”

Why is the experience of material “enjoyment” not enough to teach us? Prabhupada explains, “Material nature is so strong that although a man suffers at every step, he will not cease in his attempts to enjoy.”

Experience, then, won’t enable a child to learn unless hearing comes with it. One longs for the happiness of serving Krishna not merely because one has become disgusted with materialism but because hearing from a great soul has sparked love of God in one’s heart, so that by comparison material life has no allure.

Just Say No to No

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.”

Loving Our Children

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.