Corporeal Punishment and the Principles of Dharma

Swami Veda Bharati holds the prestigious title of Mahamandaleshwara in the Swami order of monks. He is also the Chancellor of HIHT University, Dehradun, which was established by Master Swami Rama. He has authored approximately 18 books on Indian spirituality including a 1500 page comprehensive commentary on two of the four chapters of Patanjali's Yoga-sutras. Before taking the vows of Swamihood in 1992, Swami Veda Bharati was known as Dr. Usharbudh Arya.

Corporeal Punishment and the Principles of DharmaThe question of corporeal punishment in the training of children cannot be viewed outside the context of the totality of the principles of life incorporated in the traditions and teachings of dharma. To comprehend the source of dharma experience in the realizations of master yogis, the principles of yoga need to be applied as well. This includes yoga in general, and since we are discussing here a problem of actions in daily life, the rules of karma-yoga.

Dharma leads us to view the yamas and niyamas as the principal guidelines of life. Of these ahimsa and satya, non-violence and truth are primary. The sage Vyasa commenting on the Yoga-sutra II.30 states that:

All the other yamas and niyamas are rooted in ahimsa, are accomplished through that, and are taught only for supporting the same.

Is corporeal punishment not a form of himsa, violation of the principle of non-violence? Those in favour of such violence may argue that a little violence involved in punishment is necessary in order to train a child to be nonviolent in the long run but, as we shall see below, that is an impossibility.

Now we come to the major support of ahimsa, namely satya or truth. Again, we quote Vyasa on ibid:

Satya means speech and mind adhering to reality... This should be endeavored only for benevolence towards all beings, and not for hurting them. If satya is applied for hurting the beings, then it is not truth, It is sin.

By this definition hurting an innocent child cannot come within the sphere of satya. Elsewhere we are taught the rules concerning speech, as in Manu:

Satyam brooyaat priyam brooyaat
Na brooyaat satyam a-priyam
Priyam cha naanrtam brooyaad
eSha dharmah sanaatanah

Speak truth, speak it pleasantly.
Do not speak unpleasant truth.
Nor speak pleasant untruth.
This is the eternal law.

Those who prefer to justify their succumbing to the weakness of anger, read only: Do not speak pleasant untruth. They fail to read the first half of the verse.

The threefold principle established about speech and communication is: hitam, mitam, priyam -- Beneficial, measured, pleasant. Most angry adults would say that what they are doing in their anger is beneficial to the children. Is the number of words, and the volume of voice and tone carefully measured by the parents to derive optimum benefit for the children? Is it made pleasant enough so as not to cause a long term hurt and damage to the psyche?

Most adults use the children as their own safety valves. If the mother is upset with the father, she takes it out on the daughter. If the father is upset at not having sufficient salt in the daal, and does not want to get into another argument with the wife, he slaps the son using some minor infringement as an excuse. Often adults do not even examine the reason why a child has behaved a certain way, or whether he was actually at fault. They simply lash out giving vent to their innate anger.

The child sees this as an ideal set by the adult and follows it. S/he is being conditioned to behave the same way as the adult . Watch a child playing or interacting with other siblings for a day or two, or longer, after an adult has displayed an uncontrolled behaviour pattern. It will be seen that the child plays out the violent thoughts on her doll, or speaks to the younger siblings in the same tones in which the adult has been speaking.

This is hardly the correct training for a dharmically attuned life. The samskaras of anger thus imprinted create the future personality of the child. S/he will then act the same way when grown up, acting out unbridled angers at the spouse or children. This is common in the behaviour of most Indian officials who think that the only to way to behave with those below them in any rank is to talk down at them.

When the daughter becomes a mother-in-law, she now takes out the anger stored since childhood and unloads it on the daughter-in-law, saying, that is how she herself was trained.

Display of uncontrolled anger by adults to the children can destroy the whole national character. It is bad karma, being imposed on the children from generation to generation as each successive generation learns the behavior of the preceding one -- until someone has strong sankalpa-shakti to break the chain.

One is to be concerned not only with the samskaras of the child but also one should seriously worry about the imprints one is creating on his or her own subtle body, to be stored in the chitta to destroy the saumyata of the current personality and of the one to be attained in the next life

Why not plan now as to what kind of personality one is to choose for the next life? A peaceful one or a destructive, angry one?

Sometimes grihasthas come to the Ashram with these kinds of questions and when they receive my advice about self-control and so forth, they complain:

'Swamiji, here you are leading a very sheltered life in a quiet ashram but you do not know what we have to face out there in daily life in the world.'

They are surprised when I tell them that I was a householder for thirty-one years and raised four children in the USA.

What I advise is based on my own experiments made in personal life. Very early in life I decided to break the chain. Seeing the father of this self act in angry manner, I decided never to emulate his example and to conquer anger completely in this life. Occasionally during my household life I lost my temper at the children. Though it was seldom, I always regretted it as a failure in my sadhana; and never saw it bring the desired positive response. Sitting down and explaining things was a much better idea. By the time the youngest one was born, I had mastered the technique and found that child to be the most amenable to advice. I had to learn to get down on my knees, to his eye level, call his name lovingly, and once his eyes met mine, there was no further problem in pursuading him to do anything.

I saw a similarly successful approach in another Brahmin family in USA. The little boy was being naughty, teasing and bothering the younger sister. When he did not listen to the father, finally the father said: Go on, go into the puja room, and fix up your buddhi. The boy went into the puja room and after two minutes, came out looking like an angel.

In my own household, I taught the children of this self to meditate from the time they were three years old. The youngest one was taught at the age of six months. If the children did not behave, they were advised to go to do some breathing or relaxation. After a few minutes they came out looking like angels, too. Then they taught meditation in their US. schools by the age of nine.

Teaching of meditation was part of a larger system. For example, I never woke the children with a yell or a shout, not even by speaking to them. I would only gently rub their hands and feet and they would wake up smiling.

The chain of violence going from generation to generation was broken, and the children who have become parents now apply the principles of hitam, mitam and priyam in raising their own children.

They do not permit anyone a display of uncontrolled anger in the presence of the children. That does not mean that they never punish them. They speak in a controlled voice and tell them what privilege or pleasure they would forfeit if they did not listen to them, and then remain consistent to their words. That is all that is necessary.

My injunction to all spiritual seekers and disciples is: Never scold a child when you are angry. First bring your anger under control, otherwise you will not be speaking in a manner beneficial, measured and pleasant. If you have made certain that you are not angry, you may display anger in a well measured amount, no more and no less.

This is enshrined in the Bhagavad-Gita:

yudhyasva vigata-jvarah:
Fight, without fever.

People read in the Gita only the injunction to fight, because the sadhana of acting without feverishness is a difficult one. One must first eliminate all feverishness of uncontrolled emotion before putting on a display of anger, and that only if it is absolutely necessary. But first try other methods, such as a level-headed discussion, explanation, persuasion, withholding of a privilege or a pleasure - in that order.

Those who hold the grihastha life to be a sadhana will understand this advice, others will sadly continue to justify their lack of self-control in the name of training their children. May your sadhana succeed.

Randall

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