Question and Answer

From the teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati

How can we best help children develop their potential?

Everybody has potential, but the potential of the child is easy to express. If the child is given the opportunity to develop spiritually while receiving his education, he will do so much better than us grown-ups. This is because the child has no conditioning. His mind has not been brainwashed and is like a fresh flower. His soul and personality can be mended if spiritual opportunities are provided during the days of schooling.

Children should receive their education in a culturally international atmosphere. It is not books, prayers, church or temple which should become the basis of their spiritual culture. The spiritual education of a child should begin with self-work. Whether he lives in an ashram, monastery, hostel or at home with his parents, he should be given the opportunity to participate in day-to-day work. Work is the best way of inculcating spiritual experiences and spiritual samskaras, impressions. The barriers which exist in the personality of the child can never be removed by religious admonition, but they can easily be removed by karma yoga.

The destiny of the whole world depends on the little children. If you want to see the silver lining on the horizon, it is not you and me but the children who have to be spiritualized.

Does transmission have a role to play in children’s education?

In the classroom children do not respond favourably to the teachings. They respond out of compulsion and out of fear. Their only objective is making it through the examination hall. In the yogic system however, education is carried out by a process of transmission. Children are psychically very sensitive and respond much better to a transmitted form of knowledge. Their capacity to imbibe is fantastic. It isn’t necessary to tell children all the intellectual or academic details. Nature has provided them with a necessary amount of intuition to know what is good and what is bad. Unfortunately, this natural gift which has been provided to the children is gradually being destroyed by the modern methods of teaching. Therefore, in trying to educate the children, we must remember the word ‘transmission’.

What is discipline and how can it be developed in children?

When the child reaches his twenties, the metabolism slows down slightly, and the body begins to accumulate waste. When that waste is not thrown out, it reacts on the biological, physiological and mental structure. At this time, in his twenties, he needs a system and a discipline.

I am talking about self-discipline, not about institutional, religious or social discipline. I have my own definition of discipline. I know what I should and should not do. There is a system of balance in the physical body. If you know the secret of how to create harmony between the energy patterns in the body, you can automatically create an idea of discipline in the child.

Imagine, you have a nice motor car, but the wheels are out of alignment. When you drive the car it always swerves to the right, so you have to continually turn the steering wheel to the left. Is this the way to discipline the car? Better send it to the mechanic who will fix the alignment.

Discipline is an expression of profuse harmony in body and mind. Discipline is not teaching the gospel to children. Imposed discipline and morality are the first thing that mankind has to leave behind and forget. Adults think that they have great wisdom and that it is their duty to teach children the right way. Maybe the children are right and we are wrong. There is a difference between them and us. They can’t understand us and we can’t understand them. It has been my difficulty with young disciples: I think my own way and they think theirs. Nevertheless, this is a difference I understand. The children have to be disciplined by indirect methods, through the practice of certain yogic postures and pranayama.

I always hated the word ‘discipline’ right from my childhood. I used to tell my master, “I am not a soldier in the military. You don’t have to tell me left, right, about turn, right turn.” If I’m tired, I’ll walk slowly; if I have to catch a train, I’ll run. I don’t think that genius is necessarily an outcome of discipline. Most geniuses have been very undisciplined people, but I do not mean to say that undisciplined people become geniuses.

What yogic concentration practices can help develop willpower and one-pointedness in students?

A concentrated mind is a powerful mind and a dissipated mind is a weak mind. Those who want to develop willpower must first of all develop a concentrated mind. A dissipated mind cannot have willpower. Take a magnifying glass and put it in front of some paper in the sun. The rays of the sun will quickly burn the paper because the rays have been concentrated. Remove the magnifying glass and the rays of the sun can do nothing to the paper, because the sun’s rays are dissipated. When the rays of the sun are concentrated, they develop such power that they can burn paper or almost anything.

In the same way, thoughts are either dissipated or concentrated. If they are scattered, then they can be brought into concentrated focus by specific yogic practices. The mind will become so powerful one can influence other minds. One can influence one’s character, whole life and health or sickness. If one has a stomach, mental disorder or breathing disorder, or any other disorder, one can remove it by willpower alone. The secret to develop willpower is to learn to concentrate the mind on one point.

What type of point should be used? Any point: a black dot, star, little flower or the flame of a candle. One can select any one point upon which to focus the mind. Gradually, with practice, one will find that the mental focus becomes smaller and smaller. One will start to develop enormous willpower and many benefits will come into one’s life.

If you want to get up at four o’clock in the morning it will not be necessary to put on the alarm clock. You will be able to tell your mind to get up at 3:50 or 3:55 a.m. and at exactly that time you will wake up, because the mind is more capable than an alarm clock. Of course, at present, if you have weak willpower, you will have to continue to depend on an alarm clock to wake up.

What is a strong mind?

A strong mind is one which can fulfil its decisions. In contrast, a weak mind thinks but does not do, “From tomorrow I am going to work hard in my studies; from tomorrow I am going to do asana and pranayama; from tomorrow I am not going to do this or that . . . “ But next morning you forget everything. You are still the same wretched being, because your mind is dissipated.

The great people one reads about in history, whether they were painters, artists, sculptors, saints, politicians, statesmen, writers, novelists, engineers or scientists were not made by a freak of nature. They became great just by the quality of their mind. Rabindranath Tagore became a great poet, not because he had faculties that you do not have, but because he had a strong mind. He had a concentrated and, hence, a gifted mind.

What effect does shashankasana have on children?

When you teach children shashankasana, hare pose, they bend forward in the same way as one does when praying in the temple. Shashankasana influences the adrenal glands. By regulating the secretion of adrenalin, one can help the child to overcome outbursts of anger, irrational fears and other types of frustration. Adrenalin affects the degree of tension and relaxation in the body and mind.

Some children are so afraid of the dark that in the dead of night they are not able to go to the bathroom alone. They imagine ghosts coming to take them while they are sleeping. These irrational fears can be tackled by the practice of shashankasana, because it exercises an influence on the adrenal glands which need to be regulated. Other useful asanas which balance the glandular system are surya namaskara, salutation to the sun, and marjari asana, cat pose.

Will teaching children yoga make them better citizens of tomorrow?

We should expose children to the practices of yoga in a gradual way, not only in schools and other educational institutions, but yoga schools also must have a separate wing for children. To teach yoga to children is the easiest of all jobs. In fact, children are the gurus and we are the disciples.

All over the world, most people have children who are going to be the good and bad citizens of tomorrow. If their personality is not completely integrated, that will be the structure of society. Whether it is politics, social events or a great war, the children of today will be directing the affairs. If you want to produce scientific thinkers and statesmen, the children are there. Let us create products of the finest quality by teaching yoga to children.

The children we are teaching today will form the culture of tomorrow. We have had our turn, so let us help the children understand the secrets of themselves and the mysteries of life.