The Consciousness of Children

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Rather than looking at consciousness as belonging to a child or an adult, let us look at the idea of consciousness as yoga believes it to be. Consciousness is energy and at the same time it is a state of being. There are two states: one state is becoming, when we use the potential, the activity and the power to change what we are at present to something else. The other state is being. We become, we are.

In consciousness both these possibilities exist, of becoming and of being, and these possibilities actualize themselves when in the right environment. When we are born, our consciousness is pure, without any influences or impressions of the present day environment. That pure consciousness remains with us in our young days until the age of eight. This state of consciousness is like a sponge, it is simply absorbing everything, absorbing the information received through the senses, absorbing the information received through the interactions, absorbing the information received through the intellectual and emotional inputs. In this manner the consciousness conditions itself to survive and to exist in this material plane.

Until the age of eight, the information received by the consciousness is purely intuitive. Non-linear information, non-sequential information, is received - the idea of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. When we begin our school education, a change happens in the pattern of consciousness and we begin a sequential learning process, a linear learning process. The moment the sequential and linear learning process begins, our personality changes. We become fixed in certain ideas, that A comes before B, C follows B, and in this way an understanding is developed. That understanding is a very set understanding, and this is where the personality undergoes a major transformation in life.

Swami Sivananda used to say that the nature, the personality, the mindset of a child is like a lump of clay. You can give it any shape you want. The family contributes to giving shape to that consciousness. The culture in which we live, the social environment, the religious environment, the educational environment, all contribute to the formation of human consciousness.

The Indian tradition and the yogic traditions say that development of consciousness in all levels - intuitive, spiritual, cultural, social, personal, psychic - happens before the age of eight, before the child actually joins the first class of primary school. The day we join the first class of primary school this development stops and linear development begins.

The education received by the consciousness until the age of eight is given the name samskara. Samskaras are impressions which superimpose themselves on consciousness. The information we receive after the age of eight at school is known as shiksha. Samskara until the age of eight and shiksha after the age of eight. The yogic traditions, the Indian traditions, have greatly emphasized the need for samskara, because in your future life, when you grow up, when you are thirty or forty or sixty, you become that person. You express those qualities and habits which you imbibed before the age of eight. What you are today is what you were made before the age of eight. What you were made after the age of eight is seen in the degrees and diplomas you have in your homes, in your bags and in your workplaces. That is your qualification to survive in the world, which you received after the age of eight. But the swabhava, the nature, the mind and the responses of the mind, the ability to manage situations in life and to deal with people, all these abilities you gained in your childhood, in that subtle education which was imbibed by the consciousness. And it is this consciousness which has to be nurtured more and more.

There have been many people in the world who, with the right training, have developed in a different way to other people. We have experimented with such people. A family from Germany came to the ashram with their two-year-old daughter. They wanted to bring her up from the yogic perspective. So we suggested some yoga nidra practices and I gave the daughter a name. She was totally innocent. After all, what can a child of two years say? But the most surprising thing was that a week after she was given the name, when I asked her, "What is your name?" she replied in German, "Ich bin Om Murti" - I am Om Murti. At the time I was struck by how a two-year-old child could recognize a name which was not in her language - Sanskrit and German are two different languages - and identify with that name, when she could hardly even recognize her birth name.

Secondly, after she started her yoga nidra practices, her mind became so receptive and so sharp that when she started pre-school, after the first day she said, "Now I know everything they are going to teach me in kindergarten." And she did not go back to kindergarten. She was given tests and she passed with flying colours in all of them. After spending a few years at home enjoying herself, practising her yoga nidras and sankalpa, when the time came for her to go to primary school, she went through the classes one after the other. The teachers did not know in which class to place her, because after a couple of months she would go to the next class. Today, if she is asked how many years she has gone to school in her life, she will say, "About five," and she has completed all her education.

When we see these kinds of events we begin to believe that there is a different mind beyond the rational, intellectual mind, which we call the psychic mind, or the intuitive mind, or the higher mind. When that higher mind kicks in, the mental faculties open up and manifest. It is this nature which has to be cultivated in a child.

It has been the experience of people who have been working with children for many years that the receptivity of children is much greater than that of grownups. They understand things in a different way and in a better way because their mind is not cluttered with impressions, ideas and concepts. Their mind is free. While saying a little, they understand a lot. There is the limitation that they are not able to express themselves, not able to convey what they desire or feel or need or want, but their mental frequencies are much higher than the pre-defined frequencies of grownups. Grownups function in pre-defined frequencies according to their education, but children are intuitive. The main thrust of yoga education for children is to provide them with the appropriate samskaras which can be useful for them in their lives.

Classification of consciousness

The normal consciousness is classified in four compartments: Jagrit (waking), Swapna (dreaming), nidra (sleeping) and turiya (spiritually awakened). But the consciousness of children functions at a different level, at the intuitive level, until the age of eight. So for children the classification is different. It is turiya-jagrit (intuitive and awake), turiya-swapna (intuitive and dreaming), turiya-nidra (intuitive and sleeping) and turiya-turiya (intuitive and creative). This is the division of consciousness in a child. As we are educated in the linearsystem, sequential system, the turiya component leaves and we simply remain Jagrit, Swapna, nidra and turiya. But in children it is turiya-jagrit, turiya-swapna, turiya-nidra and turiya-turiya.

That is the major difference between a child's expression of the conscious faculties and a grownup's expression of the conscious faculties. In the course of time psychologists and psychoanalysts will come to this understanding that the consciousness of children has a different set, which is the flowering of turiya, the highest intuitive spiritual awareness. We have lost that intuitive ability with the sequential and linear understanding of education that we have received. So we need to move from Jagrit, from the so-called present waking state, to turiya. We have to learn how to become like a child again. Christ also said that to enter the kingdom of heaven you have to be like a child.

Ganga Darshan, December 4, 2003