Up until recently, an individual’s spiritual practice (or lack thereof) was largely determined by his family line. When a child is brought into this world, it has been expected that she will be raised in and eventually align with, the spiritual practice of her parents. As our culture continues to evolve and to awake, we are presented with a vast amount of knowledge that requires us to independently consider our own spiritual journey. And as we awaken, the question as to how we raise a spiritual child becomes an even greater consideration.
As spiritually minded individuals, many of us strongly adhere to our own personal spiritual practice which has been born of countless hours of preparation, repetition and study. It is however, that independent practice and study that gives us a profound reverence for our practice. And while guiding a child through our own practice may be tempting, we recognize that spirituality is a deeply personal and independently guided journey.
So how then do we approach the children in our lives who look to us for guidance and direction? Perhaps our role is that of the introductory guide. Perhaps we foster environments in which study is endless and integration of various religions and belief systems is celebrated. Perhaps we take advantage of the many spiritual resources and centers in our community, and visit not just one, but many of them, as a way to introduce our children to the magnitude of options. In doing this, we reap the additional benefit of ensuring that our own journey and body of knowledge does not become stale. And perhaps we all come to develop a spiritual practice that is truly ours, one that honors a single set of beliefs, or maybe on that is integrative of many religions and practices.
We live in a society that unfortunately rests strongly on the notions of separateness and duality. We have been taught that choosing one spiritual way of life means that we must denounce the others. The belief in duality creates an attitude that justifies injuring others who are unlike us, be it physically, mentally or emotionally. The concept of non-duality however asks us to awaken to a different truth – that we are one. Consider that every religion, every belief system, every spiritual practice has a purpose and that the tenets held by each, have a place in our world. When we consider an integration of these beliefs, we come to realize that we are not all that different.
When we start to delve into the different belief systems, we begin to find that there are many common themes and we can chose to support a compassionate and moral environment through the introduction of those themes.
One theme that stands at the forefront is the belief that there is something greater, and we are not it. Many of the world’s religions set forth a figure in whom we can place our confidence: Krishna in Hinduism, Maitreya in Buddhism, the Second Coming of Christ in Christianity and the Messiah in Judaism.
In the Bible, Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God…” It is comforting to adults and children to know that we are not alone, we are not a coincidence and that a stronger love does permeate and protect. In Judaism, the Hebrew name for God is YHWH, which means “I am.” A simple, yet powerful statement. Muslims believe that God is the creator of all things, and that God is all-powerful and all-knowing. One of the Five Pillars of Islam is the Declaration of Faith that, “there is no deity except God and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” Shamanism teaches us that the power of Mother Earth is greater than we can imagine, and that She is the ultimate healer and protector. The Shamanic practitioner engages in ceremonies to honor the spirits of nature in order to help promote peace in all aspects of our world. Jesus of Nazareth is regarded as a spirit teacher of great power, and most Shamanists profess the belief in some form of supernatural godlike being or consciousness. One of the Eight Yoga Paths, Bhakti Yoga, takes its practitioner down a path of ultimate devotion to the Supreme Being, sometimes referred to as Isvara. Isvara is recognized as the Supreme and loving power that rules the Universe. The belief in the existence of an all-powerful Divine being creates an attitude of reverence, compassion, and humility in a world where such qualities often fall by the wayside.
It is often said that humans are addicted to suffering. We want to escape the addiction, but we feel trapped by the chains it places on us. How then, do we escape suffering, and how do we communicate this message to the younger generation? Buddhism tells us that the way to escape suffering begins with understanding our true nature. Buddhism provides us with an Eight-Fold Path that will guide us along that journey: right views, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. For a Muslim, Paradise is promised to the follower who lives his life in a way that is pleasing to Allah. In Hinduism, the concept of Dharma educates us on our duties in life and how we go about fulfilling our obligations. Dharma includes religious duties, moral rights and certain behaviors that enable social order and right conduct. By following our Dharma, we can reach the ultimate goal of Samadhi which is understood as enlightenment or union with God. For the Yoga practitioner, a holistic package for healthy living and ultimate enlightenment is provided through practices designed to unite the body, spirit, mind, and breath in a way that connects us to our true selves and allows us to know the God within. Put simply, “Yoga is controlling the ripples of the mind.”(Patanjali, Yoga Sutras)
Whichever path we choose, we are promised that there is a way out. There is an end to suffering. We are promised that, this too, shall pass, and we shall reach that place – Enlightenment, Heaven, Paradise – call it what you will, but it is an end to suffering and this is a promising notion to children and adults alike. “So I ask you not to lose heart…be strengthened with might through his Spirit…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend… what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:13-19)
Most of the world’s major belief systems include some sort active participation. This may come in the form of service, study, or even career. We want to raise our children with a sense of purpose and discipline and we are provided guidance as to how to accomplish this in many of the great teachings. Hebrews 10:24 asks us to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” The Mishnah, a compilation of Jewish traditions, teaches us that peace and harmony rest on three things: Torah (law), avodah (service to God) and gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness). The Shaman is tasked to restore spiritual and natural balance to his community, by offering them to the spiritual world and asking for healing. One who studies Vedic Astrology, Ayurveda, or comes to understand his Life Blueprint, can gain insight into inherent traits that have the ability to influence career, relationships and health.
The Buddha taught us that a disciplined meditation practice can lead to true realization and the Eight Limbs of Yoga stress concentration and sensory deprivation as essential regular practices. The Eight Limbs further introduce us to the Niyamas, which are personal observances to be undertaken. Included in the Niyamas is Isvarapranidhana (celebration of the spiritual) in which we are encouraged to “lay all actions at the feet of God” and to make regular time to contemplate that there is an omnipresent force nurturing and guiding us toward the infinite. We are also taught through the concept of Svadhyaya (another Niyama, meaning “self-study”), that ceaseless study, self-examination and inquiry cultivate self-awareness and bring about a centered way of being.
Centeredness, self-inquiry, service, good deeds, meditation and spiritual study are desirable, if not necessary aspects of all of our lives. Guidance for how we nurture and incorporate these qualities in our lives is abundant and available to all who seek it. The necessary by-product is an effect on how we treat others. Our interpersonal relationships and our dealings with others are critical to the awakening of this world. When we discard the dualistic mentality and realize our Oneness, we are awakened to the realization that every interaction has a ripple effect on the whole. It is of the utmost importance that we offer the next generation a true understanding of this. Fortunately, knowledge and direction is plentiful for those who seek it.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) Jesus Christ, whether recognized as the Messiah, an enlightened being, or a simple carpenter, professed a message of love and compassion for one another. “Love thy neighbor is one of the great principles in the Torah.” (Sifra 2:12) Hinduism, including the Yoga paths, Buddhism and Jainism adhere to the concept of Ahimsa which means nonviolence. Ahimsa is not limited to physical violence or to acts solely against others. Ahimsa teaches kind word, nonviolent thought and peaceful acts towards ourselves, and towards all beings. The first of the Eight Limbs of Yoga is “Yama” which means universal morality. There are five Yamas, the first being Ahimsa. The other four are Satya (commitment to the truth), Asteya (non-stealing), Bramacharya (sense control) and Aparigraha (non-hoarding).
“If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path.” (The Buddha) Buddhism incorporates five basic moral precepts: refrain from taking life, stealing, acting unchastely, speaking falsely, and drinking intoxicants. The Prophet Muhammad said “Surely Allah does not look at your faces or your bodies, but looks at your hearts and your deeds.” Similarly, an ancient Hindu hymn reads “Ajyesthaso akanishthaso ete sambhrataro vahaduhu saubhagaya (No one is superior, none inferior. All are brothers marching forward to prosperity).”
The teachings are endless and the common theme is to treat others with kindness, compassion, and most importantly, with love. It is not a difficult task to find a message that will resonate with a particular child looking to us for guidance. The book of Ephesians in the Bible teaches to simply “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” and to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ.” In Judaism, we are taught to echo “Shalom” meaning “peace” and a fundamental principle that “what is hateful to you, do not do unto others.” Chief Seattle, a Suquamish Tribe Chief famously said “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
When faced with the task of raising a child or simply providing guidance to one, we are forced to make a critical consideration when it comes to matters of spirituality. Certainly, any consideration involving the future generations is not an easy one. But the decision does not need to be this and not that. It can be this practice, and that belief system, and that religion – each with its own beautiful message. The message can be to find your own path, to take what resonates with you and to incorporate it where it feels comfortable. Perhaps the choice is devotion to one path, or perhaps it’s an integrative path. Whatever it is, when we choose spirituality, when we make it prominent, and when we celebrate its beauty, we are choosing to awaken to faith. When we choose to believe and to teach that there is something greater, we foster love, hope, reverence, and devotion that permeates our souls and the souls of those we open our hearts to. By encouraging and engaging in regular study and practice, we come to awaken to the love that we are and our hearts are never left hungry, and our souls never left empty.
May the Warm Winds of Heaven blow softly upon your house. May the Great Spirit bless all who enter there. May your Moccasins make happy tracks in many snows, and may the Rainbow always touch your shoulder. Cherokee Prayer Blessing
Om sarve bhavantu sukhinah. Sarve santu niraamayaah. Sarve bhadraani pashyantu. Maa kaschid dukhbhaag bhavet. (May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy. May all beings experience prosperity. May none in the world suffer.) Hindu Hymn