I've had the honor of knowing Ammaji for nearly 23 years. Our first meeting was in India when I had the good fortune to stay at her home for a few days and spent time with her, her husband Dr. U. Arya (who became my meditation teacher and is now known as Swami Veda Bharati) and son. Ammaji is the mother of four grown offspring, and started and continues to oversee the KHEL charity that provides education, milk, and so much more for children of Lepers in Rishikesh, India.
This post by Ammaji was from a talk she gave in the 1980's, and the wisdom contained in it is as valuable now and it was then.
There is much more in life than to be a good citizen, but that this life will be used toward spiritual progress, and that eventually a person will attain the final goal of life: liberation, so that one can be of maximum benefit to others. If that purpose is not achieved, then one has not fully lived. One should always hope: "Well, if not in this lifetime, maybe then in another lifetime."
But childhood, you see, should lay the foundation for that type of aspiration, that type of progress. The correct environment should be provided, the correct education of the child should be given, the correct atmosphere should be provided to bring out and give fruition to that specific personality. If you have planted an apple seed and the tree grows and apples grow from it, but the apples all fall and dry up and die, then what it the purpose of the apple tree? Its life doesn't serve a purpose. If it produces the apples and people can benefit from it, then the apple tree's purpose has been fulfilled.
So in the education of the child, one should first make the child aware of the body, that the body belongs to the child, not that the child belongs to the body. In his way we develop an awareness that the absorption of external things, of external stimuli, should be only to the extent where it supplies the needs of the body. And so one can develop or provide the mental atmosphere for understanding the process of discrimination. What kinds of stimuli are being sifted, and what is accepted in that involuntary absorption. And from even very early childhood a child should be able to discriminate: "All of these externalizations are going on in front. of me, but what am I allowing to come in? Even if it is all coming in, when it gets there, I have to sift and discriminate. "What is it I want to accept, and what is it that I just don't want to look at?" And I will tell you that I have learned this not from any philosophy, not even from anything that my guruji has said, or that my husband has said, not because these were things that were told to me, but I have seen this happen in a very practical way, in our son. He is so careful in what he accepts within himself and what he rejects, and he makes no bones about it. If we are watching a television how and something comes on that he is not pleased about, he gets up and leaves. And I say, "Should I switch it off?" And he says, "It is your choice to look at it or not. I don't want to look at it. I will leave." And it is in this very practical way that I have seen this selectivity on his part. And I know I am not responsible for this. I know that he has come with this thing.
And it strikes me even now that this is one of the things that educating the spirit means. It becomes my responsibility now to see than he continues to grow like that – that the atmosphere must be provided to promote that kind of thing, and not to burden it with unnecessary things – because then discrimination becomes more difficult. And, after all, we are all human and quite subject to weaknesses, errors,, failures, and we can easily fall. So why provide unnecessary externalizations when you already have to do all this sifting with just ordinary daily events.
Children become so used to constant sense bombardment here in the United States that they do not realize what these externalizations are doing to them all the time, desensitizing their finer, inner awarenesses. So this is what I mean. This is the kind of stuff that I am talking about. We should educate the child to be able to discriminate what is necessary and what in not necessary. What are true necessities and what are just wants of the body? And then the child should be led to fulfill only those things that are necessary. I don't mean that you should suddenly throw your television out or stop using your car. They are there for our use. But we shouldn't hang onto them is such a way that if we moved someplace, we couldn't get along without them. And that is one reason that I believe that children of affluent societies should always be exposed for some length of time to less affluent societies – so that not only can they see that people can exist without luxuries and conveniences, but that they themselves should learn to subsist without what seemed to be necessary things.
And there would also be a filtering out of some of the external things that are there but don't need to be there. Not only just substantial things, material things, but also the finer things that appeal to the senses, such as sounds and smells and experiences that don't need to be absorbed into our systems at all and which become negative when we want them too much, become dependent upon them, crave them, so that they hamper the development of the spirit.
What I'm talking about are unnecessary things which you get used to. And you eventually get into a situation where you don't have these things, and then you have to resort to things which are just as good – and even sometimes better because you learn to use things which are of closer use to the body, and you do not become dependent on all these external things. So you learn to adjust and to filter out all these unnecessary things. And even if you are in an atmosphere where all these external things are coming in, you know what to cut out and what not to cut out. You know what to take in – how far is this thing good for? How far is it good for what I eventually want to do. And you just don't absorb the rest.
But you cannot expect children to do this when they have not already been taught how to discriminate from a very early age. And they should see also that all the way through the parents are discriminating. So making the child aware of the body as something it possesses and not something it is. Teaching a child to discriminate as it grows up as to what is good for his/her final goal in life, for his/her progress – mental emotional spiritual progress – and for his/her physical well being.
Ammaji goes on to say how valuable it is for children to be exposed to inspiring stories of great men and women throughout history, and biographies of great humanitarians, and the saints and sages from all cultures.
She also talks about the cultural difference between raising her children in the United States and then taking them to India for several years.
The entire 4-tape audio series can be purchased from the Meditation Center for $6.96 per tape.
Editor's comment: I (Randall Krause) wrote to Ammaji with the following question regarding her article: "The Fostering children article brings up a question for me: Angi came to his own sense of wanting to discriminate what he puts into his mind. How does one promote doing this as a parent when it does not come naturally to a child?"
Ammaji wrote back with this wise response:
"The philosophy to discriminate has to be taught from a young age when the child is still trusting of the parent/s. (My 5 yr grand daughter - Angi's older kid - once said to him "Papa dont tell me that sad story yet, I am too young to hear it.) We cannot wait until s/he is 18 and then tell him/her not to watch Family Guy on TV. In yogic philosophy the best training time starts from conception and is supposed to go on until age 5.
We have so many programs at our ashrams and centers that offer training in this and that high philosophy, but nobody thinks of offering programs for young parents, couples etc, who are most in need so that they can learn & prepare how to teach those who will continue the traditions. And the people teaching these kinds of courses should themselves be parents.
At least in the US there are "parental controls" for some stuff, but do the parents themselves know what to "control" and how? My own kids used to tell me, "Ammaji, we did not learn from what you and Tata (their father) told us to do or not to do, we watched and learnt from what you and Tata did." For we as parents know that when you start 'lecturing' the kid, and you see that blank stare, you know that all h/she is hearing is 'blah, blah and more blah'. So we have to start when they are really young and all they want is to sit in Mommy's and Papa's laps. Then you can tell them anything, and they listen, because the separation issue does not start until later."