Helping Children Grow

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

When can a child start the practices of yoga?

A child can start the practices of yoga at the age of eight, but he should not start with asana. He should start with pranayama. We usually teach pranayama and mantra first because a child’s brain is growing; therefore, his mental capacities should be given a proper direction and not suppressed. At the time when children are growing mentally and intellectually, you must help them. Pranayama will help develop the inner, unseen faculties of the brain, and mantra will give them the power of concentration. After the age of twelve, they can start surya namaskara, and after the age of sixteen they can decide for themselves.

Why not start earlier at school-going age, at four or five?

Oh no, the formation of the personality is not complete at this age; it is completed only by the age of seven.

Ganga Darshan, 1970

How can we help mentally challenged children who are not backward, but hyperactive?

There are two ways. There may be more, but two ways have been tried. One is yoga nidra and the other is hatha yoga practices such as neti and dhauti, but especially yoga nidra.

To use yoga nidra for this purpose, wait a few minutes after the child has gone to sleep. You have to find out exactly when he has fallen asleep. Usually it takes three to five minutes for a child to enter into the subconscious state – when you know that he is not completely in slumber, but has gone to sleep. At this time, wake him up and tell him that he should practise a kriya like neti or dhauti, and then let him sleep again.

Do this for fifteen days. On the sixteenth day, practise neti yourself. On the seventeenth day he will do it along with you. What I mean is, before you teach him the actual practice of yoga, you should take the help of the science of hypnotism by which you should be able to communicate with his subconscious layers, because his conscious layer is not responding. You see, when you sleep, a different consciousness is operating. When you dream and when you are awake a different consciousness is operating. This is, of course, a very rough way of exploring yoga nidra, but I have found that with the help of yoga nidra I can make anyone do anything.

The point you have to remember is that this conscious state in which you are living is not a dynamic state. More dynamic than that is the subconscious, and still more dynamic is the state of deep sleep. Sleep is a very dynamic condition. If you are able to influence your consciousness during deep sleep, you can change your destiny. However, if you intend to give someone a suggestion in deep sleep, you must consult a person who knows the action and reaction of such a suggestion on the deeper planes of the mind.

Mumbai, November 1976

Is the destiny of the child given at the moment of birth?

The destiny is not cast at the time of birth. The destiny is implanted in the womb of the mother after the embryo is properly developed. Up to three months the embryo is forming itself; it is just like a tumour. In the fourth month, destiny is implanted within the cell. Implanting of destiny takes place when a soul enters the foetus, in the fourth month. Life and soul begin to interact with each other. This is like putting a seed in the soil. In the ninth month, when the child is born, its destiny becomes manifest just like a seed that sprouts ten or fifteen days after it has been planted. The seed of the consciousness is implanted in the fourth month and as soon as it comes out, its destiny becomes manifest.

The destiny that the child carries is a continuity of its former existences just like the seed which has germinated carries within it the continuity of its former existences, of a mango tree or a guava tree. The destiny is embedded in the causal body. There are visible as well as invisible bodies besides the soul, classified into three groups: the gross body, the astral body and the causal body. We can only see the gross body. The causal body is the container of all the possibilities of destiny, but the astral body is the destiny.

At the time of death, the causal body and the astral body separate from the gross body and integrate with each other. The causal body has no function other than to work as a vehicle for the astral body. When the soul enters the embryo in the fourth month, the causal body enters the physical body and plants the astral body in it. The astral body is planted in the realm of the mind. Therefore, as the mind grows, the destiny becomes more and more manifest. In early childhood, since the mind and brain of the child are not developed, there is no understanding of destiny.

The soul is distinct from the three bodies. It just follows them. There is an Upanishadic parable. There were two birds perched on a tree. They were friends. One was sitting on a lower branch and the other at the top of the tree. The bird on the lower branch was pecking at the fruits. Every time he pecked at a fruit it tasted bitter, and he spat it out. When it finished with one tree it moved to another one. The other bird also migrated with it. For centuries this continued to happen. The bird of the upper branch was only following the bird of the lower branch. One day, the bird at the lower branch got tired and frustrated. He looked up at his friend and asked, “Hey, why don’t you also eat?” The other bird replied, “Well, you are trying to eat, but not succeeding.” The first bird said, “But I am trying to find a sweeter fruit.” The friend said, “When you get one, let me know. How many trees have you migrated to and how many times have you made trials and errors? I am only waiting. The moment you get a sweet fruit, I will participate.” The migration continued. One bird was migrating with frustration and disappointment, with escalating desires and passions; the other was migrating without any expectation, only to accompany his friend.

Finally, the bird of the lower branch got disillusioned. He looked up and said “What shall I do now?” The bird of the upper branch said, “Just sit quietly. Put an end to all your seeking, all your passions. There is no sweet fruit. The only thing you can do is remain a witness to all that is happening without involving your ego in it.” After hearing this, the bird of the lower branch became quiet and tranquil. He became a jivanmukta (one who is liberated while living).

In the same way, the soul follows you life after life. It has nothing to do with what you are doing; it is not the experiencer of pleasure or pain. It does not share your joys and it does not participate in all your idiosyncrasies. It is a silent spectator of this meaningless voyage of life. Therefore, never ask what happens to the soul and why is it transmigrating. For the transmigrating man, one glimpse of the soul is enough to become a jivanmukta. Once you have realized the fruitlessness of all that you have been doing and are willing to see an alternate way of existence, or when you pause and think ‘What is all this that I am doing?’ perhaps at that time you will get a glimpse of the higher soul that is following you to every world. Never think that the soul is migrating. Your destiny is migrating, your desires, your passions and will to live and enjoy are migrating.

Ganga Darshan, January 1982

When a small baby starts expressing itself, what is its level of consciousness?

A child does not understand many things. In its nine months in the womb, it undergoes the evolution of many millions of years; it goes through the process of evolution of life on this planet from the time the first fungus was formed up to now.

A child is actually passing through the entire cycle of evolution from a single-cell amoeba to this state, physically and mentally. So, for some time, he lives on the plane of instinct. All the innocent smiles, wailing and jumping, even speech, are at the instinctual level. He does not think. Thinking comes at different ages to different children, whether at five, six, seven or eight. In India, we have fixed the period of departure from instinct to intellect at seven or eight years. When the pineal gland begins to decay, a little bit of self-awareness develops and it is at that time that the most important samskara, mantra, is given. That is the time when children are given mantra and pranayama.

In human beings the most important thing is the witnessing self, not the acting self. The acting self which performs the sensual and physical actions can also be found in all intelligent animals. There are animals that can be as intelligent as human beings, but only for short periods. They just become aware; they come out of their usual state and for a very short time become aware of their existence, of themselves in relation to time, space and object. They know as you know, but then again the awareness wanes.

This happens in human beings also. A child does not develop the self-witnessing consciousness all of a sudden; it comes to him for a short period, then it wanes; then it comes again, and again it wanes. As he grows, if nothing goes wrong in his life, this consciousness grows and the waning becomes infrequent. The mind has continuity. When I was a child I was instinctive. When I grew up I became aware of myself, of the ego. Then I forgot it. Now I have the same mind, but the consciousness has changed. My ego is the same; I have not changed my ego. I have not changed my personality. I have not changed the nucleus of my existence. The jivatma, individual soul, is the same, but the awareness has become different.

I can practise my awareness in different dimensions: I know that I know; I know that I know that I know. I know that I know that I am talking to you. This is called the witnessing consciousness, and this can only happen when the ego is separated from the self. With the ego, the individual relates himself consciously with time, space and events. A dog sees you running, but it does not relate your running to itself. However, I can do it because I am the knower of the fact that you are running. I am the seer of the fact that you are happy; I am the seer and I am the knower. I am able to relate my consciousness with you through a process of cognition.

There is perception and cognition. In some cases there is only perception and no cognition. In some cases there is perception and cognition both, and in some cases there is perception, cognition and analysis or rationalization at the same time. That indicates the maturity of manas (mind), chitta (consciousness) and buddhi (intellect).

Should we try to guide children from birth or when they start understanding, say at the age of six or seven?

There is one thing I believe in: we are not born to be a slave of the social system. We have created a social system to survive and make life smoother. The society cannot be our end; society has to serve the individual. The individual has created the society for himself; society has not created the individual. Therefore, it is the duty of the parents to allow a child to express himself independently, spontaneously. If the child is rowdy, let him be rowdy. If he is passive, let him be passive; if he is aggressive, let him be aggressive. A child should be allowed to express his inborn nature, which he will do anyway. If you suppress him now, he will do it when he can, maybe after twenty-five or thirty years. But he will do it, because the inborn nature, swabhava, will project itself. A child is born with certain traits, certain inborn qualities, with a stamp of karma either from his parents or from his previous births.

Parents must behave with children as they behave with their friends, only then will the children speak the truth. Only then they will obey, or rather, care for you. Obedience is caring, isn’t it? If you obey me, it means that you care for me. In order to get such care from children, it is necessary that parents do not do anything that will destroy the element of friendship in the relationship. If your child tells you the truth or acts the truth, even if it is unpleasant, you must accept it. Children do whatever they do in innocence. They are nirdosh, faultless. If you suppress them and they come of age and do the same thing, you will not be able to call them faultless. What they do now will affect the society or the family. So let them do all sorts of things as children so that they can exhaust their inborn nature during the period of innocence when their actions will not create a disturbance in the surroundings.

Ganga Darshan, December 1985