Ashram Children

Swami Amritananda Saraswati

In the ashram we have so many children. I too was a child when I first came here, and we were never given formal teaching or education. We did not have any text books to study, although now there are so many spiritual comics and other books which the children read. The children are also coming from schools where they were studying in first, second, third, fourth or fifth grade. But at the time when I came to the ashram, most of the children were illiterate, they did not know a letter. Not only myself, there were others too. And we all received our education, the best that we could get, at the feet of Guru Deva. By his grace and by our open button, we got everything in record time.

Of course, in those days, we were more respectful and we did not use so much slang and abusive talk as the children do today. But sometimes we did, and no one reprimanded us for it. No one told us what to speak and what not. Likewise today, the ashram children are allowed to develop in an atmosphere free from suppression. No one tells them how to behave. Even if they speak in an abusive manner, no one will stop them. In fact, Swamiji often instructs the children to abuse or tease certain aspirants in order to bring them out or to chip away their ego. The ashram children are encouraged to express themselves fully and to be independent. We do not even make any suggestions, we just try to keep everything open for them. We consider that the child must be right, and so far as we have seen, the children know best.

Even in regard to sannyasa, children were always most successful as far as history goes. Consider Suka Dev, Adi Shankaracharya, Prahalad or Dhruva. They were more successful than those sadhaks who retired to the forest in later life with husband or wife and took sannyasa.

Even in the present day the sannyasins who come for sannyasa at a later age, experience so much difficulty adapting to this way of life. They arrive with their set behaviour and living patterns and their set faith and belief. But in sannyasa these things have to be renounced. Unless you can renounce them, the cloth of renunciation has no meaning. Shaving the head and giving up the family life do not make a sannyasin. Worldly people also leave home. They go to England, America, Japan; or to Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra or Bengal. Sometimes they don't return at all.

In sannyasa, however, there is a certain purpose in renunciation of family and social ties. That is why, once the sannyasin has left, it is for good, and there is no more correspondence. Of course, householders may go away for a long time, but they still correspond and keep the memory. This is the difference. In sannyasa one must try to forget the past life completely. This is why renunciation comes quite naturally to the children. They live in the present moment and there is so little for them to remember or to forget.

In the ashram the very first instruction that one receives is that the body is a vehicle for the enlightened soul. As such it is neither male nor female. Definitely older people come to spiritual life with so much knowledge, but they are too conscious about male and female. This applies to the sannyasins as well as the householders. In our country the little children are constantly reminded that they are a boy or a girl and that it is necessary to keep apart. People say since you are a girl, it is necessary to do this, or if you are a boy, you must do that. But for sannyasa, first of all you must forget that this body is male or female. Then only can you have the correct feeling for others. Sannyasins must regard all as pure self, without any consideration for the body.

In the ashram no one will say to the children, 'Hey, you are a boy, why do you sit with a girl? It is not good.' We do not wish to remind the children or to reinforce in any way the idea that they are boy or girl It is our aim simply to remind them that they are sannyasins, A sannyasin is a sannyasin and that is all. They have to unfold themselves and realise the light.

Similarly, sannyasins should not be continually plied with questions about their parents or native place. Some people say, 'Hey Brother, come here'. But we are not brothers. This belongs to the Christian tradition. Sannyasins are not part of any religious order. We have renounced religion. Similarly, if the sannyasin is elderly people call her 'Mataji' or 'Mummy'. However, this is also not correct. It brings up the same family samskara which has to be renounced. Such feeling or identification has to be removed from the personality altogether.

Therefore, do not speak to the sannyasins as though they were your relatives. Sannyasins should have no feeling of mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter. You should address them with reverence by their spiritual names which they have received from the guru as his blessing and prasad. That name is not just for the body, it is something which the guru gives to arouse our inner potential, to remind us of him.

This is an important point to remember with all the sannyasins and especially with the children. When you call them by their spiritual name, even if they don't remember their inner self, they will at least be reminded of the guru, and through that they can remember the purpose of their life. Therefore, in the ashram, we never call the child beta or beti (son or daughter), we call them by their spiritual name with reverence.