05 Dec Loving, Caring, Protective – Spiritual Authorities For Our Children
One of the fundamental parent’s roles is to protect a child from unnecessary, unhealthy, and harmful experiences. That would include too much sensory stimulation like screen exposure, inappropriate content in literature and on screens, eating fast food, degrading association of aggressive and sinful individuals, and so on. On the other hand, we should ensure that children have a stable rhythm of eating, sleeping, and activities that nurture their bodies, mind, and spirit. We should be aware not to overprotect, and it’s the art of parenting to determine what to let in the sacred childhood space and what to stop.
Fear and guilt
Another important part of our protective role as a parent is to avoid and reduce the harmful feelings of fear and guilt in our children. Those two emotions are the most dangerous for the health of any individual, especially a child. Why do I feel the need to write about it? It’s because I know that parents who practice religious paths easily justify using these two emotions as discipline tools for the sake of spiritual advancement. In the history of the Krishna Consciousness Movement are many cases of abusing and exploiting children, justified by philosophical misinterpretations. I will not go into detail about these cases because it isn’t the purpose of this article, but I’ll try to expose how harmful it could be to use fear and guilt as discipline tools.
Fear and guilt have their purpose. Fear is a part of our protective mechanism, helping us react quickly in dangerous situations. Guilt is also a part of our protective mechanism, but on the subtle ethical level, warning us when we do something wrong and forcing us to correct it. These two emotions produce certain chemical reactions in our bodies and mind, resulting in feelings of stress and anxiety. If they last too long, emotions of fear and guilt are harmful to our physical and emotional health.
Parents and teachers use fear as an effective discipline tool because children easily obey if they’re afraid. But, such kind of obedience is not natural, and it will last only as long the fear is present. As soon as children get free from the source of their fear, they could experience a burst of suppressed emotions resulting in rebellion or becoming aggressive and causing fear to others, or having a lack of self-confidence. Too much fear creates an imbalance of our natural mechanism of emotional and bodily reactions, leading to illness in the worst cases.
The imposition of guilt on children is an even more dangerous form of false discipline because it creates false beliefs in the child about himself and his relationship with the world. These false beliefs revolve around the basic imposed idea that “I’m not good enough” or “I am not spiritually advanced enough” which results in the conviction that we do not deserve love, respect, and success in life.
To believe that “I’m not good, I’m sinful, I’m always wrong” and feel awful because of it is not at all spiritual. That’s the misunderstanding of the humility principle. During my almost 30 years of practicing bhakti-yoga, many times I have witnessed and felt on myself the harmful effect of this misinterpretation. So many devotees have suffered because of being forced to exhibit false humility, feeling less qualified, capable, or worthy than others. The truth is that genuine spiritual humility would never make us feel bad. It’s a part of our intimate relationship with God and feeling insignificant in His superior presence, which is not equal to being unworthy in a material sense. It’s like a small child feeling safe and helpless in the loving arms of a mother who is much superior but the most loving authority. Any other feeling than that is false humility. It could be an expression of our self-pithiness or inferiority complex, but it’s not humility.
How can we check it? Just pay attention to how you feel. If you think you’re humble and feel miserable, incapable, and unworthy, you’re on the wrong track. It’s ok to feel like that temporarily because you did something wrong and need to correct it. But if it lasts too long and becomes your second nature, it’s time to turn the red light on and change something. First, to understand it’s not a spiritual quality and would harm your mental and emotional well-being.
Unfortunately, many people in spiritual groups would impose false humility on you as something spiritual. Some do it purposefully, some unconsciously, but both have the same reason – to establish their superiority over others.
Humiliating others is not spiritual
There are certain techniques these people use to minimize and humiliate others. They would tell you the same bad things about yourself every day, again and again. They will try to convince you how bad you are because of this and that. Repetition is the main tool for programming your mind to start believing in their words. In the case of children, it’s almost impossible to defend themselves from this kind of abuse because they’re naturally receptive, without mature reasoning and experience. We actually program the minds of our children through messages we send them daily.
Another way of humiliating and controlling others is to inhibit their self-expression. The spiritual excuse is that you are not advanced enough to ask a question, give an idea, or complain. If someone gives you a whole lesson about what you didn’t do well in every attempt to talk or accomplish something, you will start to withdraw more and more into yourself, feeling like a failure. Eventually, you will become very insecure and dependent on the person who corrects you. It’s a misuse of the bhakti principle to depend on Krishna. Yes, we should depend on Krishna, but it doesn’t mean that we haven’t certain autonomy to control our lives according to our level of advancement and material conditioning. Free will is our God-given right at all stages of our human development.
Bhakti means love
To be humble and depend on Krishna are two, maybe the most important, principles of bhakti. But the thing is that we have to achieve this state of consciousness through regular, faithful, and patient practice. It’s not something we can just put on ourselves, like the sari or dhoti. Of course, we have to follow Vaishnava etiquette and behave in a certain way according to the culture that we adopted, but it doesn’t mean that we transform ourselves just by doing that. Humility and dependence on Krishna are the GOALS we try to achieve, not that we get them as soon as we “become” devotees. And nobody has the right to impose humility and spiritual dependence on someone else by force. As parents, we have no right to impose it on our children as well. Rather, we should try to assist them to achieve that state of consciousness by helping them develop a taste for devotional service. Practicing the spiritual process faithfully and sincerely is the only way to develop spiritual qualities over time. Making children feel bad, miserable, unworthy, incapable, sinful, and wrong is a way to chase them away from devotional service and cripple their attempts for any other success in their life.
God-consciousness doesn’t mean we should always feel guilty because we are not perfect and pure devotees yet. Nor we should try to feel better by making everyone around us feel less worthy than ourselves. These are the signs of our spiritual and emotional immaturity. We should never forget that bhakti means love and devotion. Practicing bhakti means developing our ability to love God. And it’s illusory to think that we can love God and at the same time hurt, minimize, or ignore His parts and parcels. That’s not the right way to exhibit our material detachment. Being spiritually detached belongs to the same category as humility and dependence on Krishna – it’s a goal of our spiritual practice and it takes a lot of time to develop it. Imitating spiritual detachment can hurt our close relationships, resulting in more harm than an advantage for our devotional creeper.
Most of the time, children need our support and encouragement. Sometimes they need us to correct them, and we should do it even if they’re not super happy about it. They need us to hold a safe space for them to feel comfortable with who they are and to express it freely. And sometimes, they need a slight push into ventures that would help them gain more knowledge, skills, and experience. Parenting and caring for children is a special kind of art. It’s not a dry routine and requires our attention, devotion, integrity, and creativity. The most rewarding is that by wholeheartedly caring for children, we grow and mature along with them.
Childhood is a sacred time of innocence that adults should recognize and respect. It’s a time to build the basement for the whole future life of a child. Parents, caretakers, and teachers are the pillars of that basement. Children are not our property; they belong to God. And they are in the most vulnerable time in their life. God expects that we protect, nourish, guide, and train them with love and respect. The most valuable service of society is to treat its children as a gift of God because “the child is a father of mankind.” Our future depends on our children, individually and collectively. My sincere hope is that most of us parents and leaders would become loving, caring, protective, and respectful spiritual authorities that our children need and our God expects us to be. That’s the way into the bright future of a Golden age we eagerly wait to manifest in all its glory.