According to yogic concepts, the identity of the baby in the womb is not different from that of the mother, in that its feeding and growth depend totally on her. There are three aspects of this which we will cover before going into the aspect of mantra. The first is the direct effect of the mother's mind on the unborn child; the second concerns the unborn or newly-born child recognising certain words and responding to them; and the third concerns the impressions that are left in the mind field of the baby by the attitude and behaviour of the mother.
Firstly, concerning behaviour and attitudes: if there is tension in the mind, or the mother is feeling frustrated, depressed, or in a negative frame of mind, then of course her respiration, heartbeat, glandular activity and hormonal secretions within the body will affect the body of the child. The feelings that arise within her are converted into glandular and hormonal activity which is transmitted to the baby.
Secondly, we all respond to a particular language, a particular set of words, because that is the tool of understanding we utilise. You may have a mastery of two or twenty languages but generally, in Western countries, if you speak Chinese or Hindi, Japanese or Arabic, to a person who doesn't understand those languages, it doesn't make any difference. However, if you speak English, which is understood, the words create an emotion, feeling or desire. The concept and understanding of the language is automatically imbibed by the child via the mother's reactions. In India, generally speaking, Hindi is automatically imbibed by the child by the same process of the baby's picking up the mother's reactions. It is not the language as a language but the ideas or feelings behind the language which are imbibed.
There is further unconscious training going on which forms our reactions. When you hear the word 'idiot! or 'compassion', you react in a certain way; that information is also fed to the child. The seed of their reactions to the word 'father', 'mother', 'stupid', 'good', is already there and this can affect their whole nature in a positive or negative way. The credit for this again goes to the mother. It has been said that within minutes of birth a child reacts to every sound of its native language with a particular muscular response or movement. This is not unnatural because the seed of the reaction, the seed of feeling which goes with a language or a word, is already imbibed by the child in the womb.
The umbilical cord is the physical link which supplies the necessary items for the growth and development of the child. If the mother's body is not pure, the toxins can affect the unborn child despite protective mechanisms built into the umbilical network. In the Indian tradition it is emphasised that the mother should lead a very pious, harmonious and balanced life. Maybe it doesn't happen nowadays, but the idea is there. Traditionally, at the time of pregnancy all work would stop and more time would be devoted to listening to religious or spiritual stories, satsang the chanting of mantras and so forth. Even in Western countries they are now telling mothers-to-be to stop any intake of liquid or food which might have a negative effect on the unborn child, and to avoid any kind of mental tension, anxiety or worry which could influence the child.
This is where our third aspect, the creation of impressions in the mind field, or the programming of the mind field, comes in. In the satsang which Swamiji gave at Trayambakeshwar, he said the soul enters the womb after the fourth month, which is in accordance with Indian traditional belief, and thereafter one has to be very careful to control the thinking process, the emotions, the desires, and to always maintain a positive attitude towards life. This is because after the entry of the soul, the consciousness is wide open to any kind of information being fed in. The programming of the mind begins with this feeding-in of information in the form of maternal reactions and language training.
This is known as samskara. After the fourth month, whatever information goes into the child is known as sowing the seed of samskara. Creating samskara means programming the mind to act or behave in a particular way. There are many instances where people have actually been taught different scriptures or sciences while still in the womb. One is that of Arjuna's son Abhimanyu, of the Mahabharata war who learned the science of archery while in the womb. Another is the story of Astavakra, a saint who was deformed in eight parts of the body. He knew all the Vedas while still in the womb.
As we understand it, mantras do not mean anything literally. They are combination of various sounds or vibrations which stimulate various areas of the dormant personality. It is necessary to make a distinction between mantra and prayer. When we chant a mantra which does not carry any kind of emotional link with it, e.g., 'So-Ham', it will have a different result, a different influence on the child than saying 'O, Lord, grant me this, grant me that; make my child happy and successful in life'. Nothing, no link at all, just the sound of breathing in and out. That will have a different effect to any prayer, whether it is in Sanskrit, Latin, English or Hindi, because with every kind of prayer there is an emotional link which we create ourselves.
The feeling that 'I am praying to somebody and that somebody is listening', is a link which I am creating between myself and that concept. With mantra this link is not there as long as you are unaware of any religious or philosophical connotations of the mantra. The mantra 'Om Namah Shivaya' is powerful. The moment you know that this belongs to Shiva, the concept of Shiva as some figure of godhead will convert that mantra repetition into a form of prayer by creating the link, 'Oh, I am repeating the name of Shiva'. The mantra 'Om Namo Narayanaya', will become a prayer the moment you think of Vishnu. Once there is the idea that you are repeating the mantra for somebody it becomes a prayer, but if you don't know about that it will work on the psychic personality.
During pregnancy it is suggested that if the mother chants or repeats the mantra, mentally or verbally, with complete concentration, there is a state of oneness within her mind. That state of concentration and mantra awareness will program the mind field of the child in such a way that its psychic awakening will be very simple. That is the concept of the psychic child, or in Western terminology, of the Age of Aquarius - that every new-born child will be intuitive, psychic, and have control over the faculties of self. If we can create that kind of impression in the mind field of the child through mantra; if the mother is doing very well, which means there are no external distractions; if the atmosphere is there, then that atmosphere itself will also help the mother concentrate, focus and centre herself better, and it will become an external aid in influencing the mind field of the child.
One thing to remember is that chanting a mantra at the time of pregnancy will not make the child spiritual. The purpose is not to make anyone spiritual. 'Spirituality' is just a state of being which manifests naturally and spontaneously. One person is spiritual by nature and another is not, even though they may be highly perceptive, intuitive and psychic. Spirituality is a symptom of a particular state of mind and consciousness. The purpose of mantra chanting is to make the totality of the mind field accessible and allow the natural and spontaneous growth of the so-called 'dormant faculties'. These faculties are dormant within us but may not be dormant within the child after birth, because we have already created a passage in the psyche of the child. If it can be brought up to lead a particular disciplined way of life, then the mind field will be accessible through the natural effort of the child.
In order to further this kind of result the child should be introduced to three things at the age of eight, just before the age of puberty, before the time-bombs go off in the body. The first is asana to control the explosions and create balanced growth and activity in the glandular and hormonal systems. The second is pranayama so that the clear mind field is not cluttered up by the tensions and situations which are naturally injected into the mind of a child. The third is mantra so there is open access for psychic development and awakening of the faculties. Earlier it is not possible, but practising asana, pranayama and mantra from the age of eight allows the proper balanced activity of the sensory and motor nervous system.
Education, analysing, coordinating and communicating, starts officially from the age of eight, though unofficially it starts long before this. We begin educating ourselves with sincerity, achieving control over ourselves, the body and the thinking process, However, the cluttering-up of the child's system begins from about eight. Grown-ups think the child should be taught in a certain way. You might think that in one hour, ten minutes teaching and fifty minutes no-teaching will provide sufficient relaxation for the child not to become agitated or anxious. That is our concept, but from the child's point of view, every minute of the day is an education, although not verbal or academic. Whatever the child sees or perceives to be; whatever he experiences (even hunger, thirst or satisfaction) is analysed.
Any communication the child has with its parents - 'Daddy, I want this; Mummy, I want that; I don't like this', and their reactions, are all educational. How you react - you walk in the door and slump onto the sofa - is an education for the child. How you talk to your wife and how she responds - that is a moment of education. Every moment is a moment of education for the child and so there is a lot of information being fed in. In the early stages the child is unable to filter out unnecessary information and retain the necessary information because the intellect is not developed. In order to stop this overcrowding of information, mantra has been used, allowing concentration to be developed from a very early age.
The mantra which has been used is Gayatri and the idea has been implanted that it is for education. 'If you repeat this mantra you will get a good education, fast'. That idea has been purposely implanted. It is also said that you should look at the red rising sun while you repeat this mantra. That concept again has been purposefully implanted because the rising sun acts as a symbol on which to focus yourself, otherwise you will be looking here and looking there, repeating the mantra at random, sometimes slowly, sometimes fast, thinking it does not matter. We can't tell a child to close his eyes and imagine the sun rising each day. In order to create the conditions suitable for the mind of an eight-year-old to repeat the mantra we say, 'Listen, every morning you have to see the rising sun. You know what the rising sun looks like? It's red. While you look at the rising sun you repeat the mantra 21 or 30 or 15 times. Why? So you'll be properly educated. You will have the blessings of Saraswati, Gayatri.'
It is like hanging the carrot in front of the donkey and making it move towards the carrot. It is the concept of meditation but it is taught in a dynamic way. Instead of seeing the sun internally, you see it out there on the horizon. Instead of sitting clown for five minutes and repeating the mantra while looking here and there you count it on your fingers fifteen times, otherwise your mother will be angry with you. 'Okay', says the child 'I'll do it fifteen times', and for that length of time his concentration is there. However, if you told the child to sit in a corner and repeat the mantra for some time, soon he would be scratching himself and then the monkey-business would begin. So a lot of human psychology has been used to control the dissipation of the mental faculties and to encourage the child's mental alertness and concentration.
So, certain regimes should be maintained from the time of pregnancy until about age ten. During pregnancy it is necessary for the mother to have a positive attitude and a balanced physical condition so that there is physical purity within her body. Her reactions should be well-balanced rather than explosive reactions to any kind of situation. Repetition of mantra is important so that the state of concentration within the mother will open up the psychic or subtle areas within the mind field of the child. Then at eight years of age the introduction of three things is important: asana, in which surya namaskara is prescribed; pranayama, in which nadi shodhana is prescribed; and Gayatri mantra.
We are not intending to teach asana, pranayama and meditation as such; we teach the dynamic form of self-expression to the child through yoga. So if this system is maintained from the time of pregnancy until the age of ten, then the child will adjust properly with life and develop the skill to face life with complete confidence, ease and awareness.