Parenting - Growing up with God
by Suma Varughese
What is the world of those brought up by spiritual parents like? What advantages do they have from the rest of us? And what can we learn from them in bringing up our own children?
Rama Devagupta, a student of Sahaj Marg system of Raja Yoga, as taught by Shri Ram Chandra Mission, and a dedicated mother living in the US, recounts the moment when she found that her spiritual convictions and thinking had actually percolated to her children. It was on the fateful day of September 11, 2001. She and her children, Sriram, a first-grader then, and Shanta, a preschooler, watched the horrific images on TV together; then, with a heavy heart, she went into the kitchen to fix dinner.
She says, "A few minutes later, Sriram said, 'Amma, those people who crashed the planes into the buildings, they are not bad people. They only made a bad choice."
"'Yes,' I replied.
"'But it is not their fault,' he insisted.
"Looking at me with wide open eyes, he repeated, 'Yes, Amma! It is not their fault! It is their mothers' fault. When those people were little, their mothers did not tell them what is right and what is wrong.'
"'Oh!' I said.
'Yes, Amma,' Sriram said, and began elaborating his thought process. 'You are always telling us what to do and what not to do; you always tell us what is right and what is wrong. But their mothers did not tell them about these things when they were small. If their mothers had explained about right and wrong, they would not have made these bad choices today.'
"A few minutes later, Sriram continued, 'But it is okay. All the people who have died in those planes, they will all go to God. They will stay with God, and they will be happy to be with God. But those people who crashed the planes, even though they will get to go to God, they will not be able to stay with God. They will have to come back to earth once again, learn to do good things, and then, when they have learned how to do what is right, then they will get to go back to God. And that is when they will get to stay with God!'
"On that fateful day, on September 11, 2001, Sriram's words created such a deep impression in my mind and heart, leading me to a condition which I will never be able to forget. I realized that by the grace of my master and my meditative practices, my children were learning everything there was to learn about spirituality - without being taught in a didactic way. And while the outside world and everybody around me were experiencing shock, disbelief, horror and fear, my heart was filled with hope and a child's wisdom in the midst of destruction and chaos."
When I hear of a tale like that, complex emotions run through me. Sriram's wisdom makes me sob. How beautiful that a child can see things in this way! How beautiful too that a mother should have taken the trouble to make her children see things from this deeply compassionate, non-judgmental stance. Envy speaks up too. How lucky Sriram is to have a spiritually active mother. How lucky to be able to see things in this way and therefore be free of the anger and judgmentalism that hamper the rest of us.
Our upbringing is one of the most crucial factors in making us who we are. For those of us who grew up with religious parents, there is a certain amount of baggage or conditioning we needed to free ourselves from. Coming as I did from a Syrian Christian background, I had to first brave the wrath of an angry God when I gave up faith at age 14, endure a godless existence for a good many years and finally, through spiritual insight, vend my way to an individual understanding of God. I had to painfully learn the spiritual perspective over many years, recognizing that we make our own reality, that growth is the purpose of life, that we are co-creators with God of our destiny and that the universe is an ethical and deeply loving place.
However, there exist a small minority of people who were born to spiritually inquiring parents. These are the second generation spirituals, people who have not had to reinvent the wheel because their parents already taught it to them. So what is their world like? Are they really to be envied as much as I envy them? Do they really have an edge over the rest of us? Are they free of the materialistic scarcity-driven mindset that the rest of us are painfully unshackling? Do they understand that we are souls and not body? Are they more joyous, confident, loving and giving? Are they less fearful and insecure?
The truth is, there is no one answer. It all depends on the individual. Yes, a spiritual upbringing does give undeniable advantages, but in the ultimate analysis, they too have to walk the path, discover their own truths and forge their own equation with the divine. Yes, their path is frequently shorter, and the conditioning less dense, but a spiritual background can frequently carry its own sword to bear.
Deep Mehta (39) is a businessman-turned-spiritual teacher. In his spacious house at Khar, an upmarket Mumbai suburb, which he has converted to the No Mind Zen Meditation Center, he teaches an eclectic range of disciplines from Zen Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, J. Krishnamurti's philosophy, Ramana Maharshi's philosophy, to the Upanishads, in partnership with his wife, Sneha. Deep's mother, Mridula, was one of Osho's principle devotees and indeed was entrusted with the upkeep of the ashram when he went away on his ill-advised trip to Oregon, USA. As
a teenager, Deep traveled with his mother across the length and breadth of the country, holding meditation camps and conducting exhibitions promoting Osho's books and cassettes.
Says Deep, "Osho was everything
Looking back at his upbringing and his exposure to spirituality, Mehta is grateful for much that he learnt from his mother. "Spirituality made her more loving and considerate of people. She would take superb care of participants during camps, attending to the smallest detail. She also had a very giving nature. Wherever she went, she would pick up dozens of local specialties like kurtas from Lucknow or bangles from Hyderabad, and distribute them around. I feel I inherited all these qualities."
Deep also acknowledges the spiritual principles that she encouraged him to live by. He says, "She always taught that everything is in the mind and that we make our own reality. She would also urge us to do our utmost and then leave the rest to Existence."
Yet in many ways, he outgrew his Osho heritage and opted for a path that acknowledged wisdom from many sources, without identifying with any. He says, "Somewhere along the way, I became disillusioned with Osho and began to look at other paths like Buddhism and vedanta. That is when I saw the real meaning of satvik thought. In comparison, I feel what I got from Osho was insubstantial. I was also disillusioned with his focus on bodily needs and luxury. I felt that he did not live up to his philosophy."
Regardless of the inheritance, whether spiritual or religion, when we test it against the fire of our own convictions and reason, we often experience a dissonance. The painful task of breaking with received wisdom, letting go of the idol we had worshiped and believed in, and finding our own individual answers, seems to be an inevitable part of the growth process. Others too have experienced a schism between what they were brought up to have faith in and what they themselves have chosen to identify with.
Businesswoman Leena Thakkar was brought up in a family that swore allegiance to Swami Ramdas (a Kerala- based saint whose Anand Ashram is till today a center of devotion to Lord Ram) and his principal devotee, Mata Krishnabai. Papa and Mataji, as the two were referred to, dominated her childhood. She says, "I never met Papa and met Mataji only once, but there was awe around them. The adults communicated very emphatically that they were more than human and we could not question it." She recalls compulsory participation in satsangs and mandatory visits to the ashram. "We were never given a choice."
Her older brother Dhiren, associate dean of the Graduate Education and Scholarship School of Pharmacy, adds, "We grew up in an environment of strong devotion to Papa-Mataji. Everything my parents did in life had to pass the test of "Will Papa-Mataji approve?" I believe that if I did not have a strong innate sense of independence, I would have become emotionally and intellectually dependent on apa-Mataji like my dad and uncle have."
At 16, Leena broke away from the prevailing familial allegiance to the gurus and became drawn to the iconoclastic wisdom of J. Krishnamurti. "He was attractive because he was
forbidden. Besides, he encouraged you to question everything," she says.
"I had many reactions," she shares. "I used to rebel against the large portraits of Papa-Mataji in the house, and I often used to perceive that my family used the gurus to further their own ends. For instance, all my siblings live in the US and my father would justify his visits there by saying that it was Papa's will that he should go."
Despite her considerable reservations to the way her family practiced spirituality, Leena attributes many progressive traits within the family to their spiritual background.
"There has always been a great generosity within the family. My father and uncle, who run a business together, are very good with the staff. Mataji would always ask them whether the staff was happy, and paid well. It was considered imperative to take care of them."
She adds, "What I found most attractive is a freedom from rites and rituals. For instance, my mother used to earlier keep a separate set of crockery for the use of non-vegetarian guests. The ashram helped her overcome this prejudice. We also didn't have to sit outside the house during periods thanks to the ashram's rational ideas. And even when my mother passed away, we did not conduct a shraddh or feed Brahmins."
What the upbringing did give her, she reflects, was a rebellion against spirituality as it was practiced in the family. She says, "Spirituality to me means humanity. I would say there is an immense necessity to understand yourself, to become self-aware, to look at your weaknesses straight in the face."
Leena's preferred route to personal growth has been through psychology. She has participated in many self-awareness groups, and personal growth workshops, all of which have assisted her in dealing with her issues and overcoming stubborn blocks. "I was part of a self-awareness group for a few years. Whatever growth and understanding of life I have experienced, I would credit to this process. It has softened my edges. I would say that the psychological process of self-understanding brings a balance to spiritual thinking."
When it comes to Papa-Mataji, she says, "I would need to go beyond my reactions to see them for who they are. I have this much trust in what they stand for as to discern that there is a spiritual energy that exists in the world."
For her brother Dhiren, the movement has been from what he perceives as a blind faith in God to a more measured stance that includes self-responsibility. He says, "Unlike my parents, I do not believe in "God" as an all-powerful entity; rather I think of "God" as an embodiment of a value system, an ideal that I want to reach but will never quite reach. My purpose in life is not to be one with God in the classical spiritual sense. Rather, I believe that my purpose of life is to leave the world slightly better than what I inherited, to make a difference in a few lives in a positive way, to seek knowledge and to pass it on to others."
How spirituality is practiced makes all the difference to the way it is received by one's wards. Those who practice it with a focus on self-transformation, develop the openness, humility and self-awareness to facilitate their children's spiritual growth without imposition of dos and don'ts.
Abhishek (24) and Akanksha (21) Thakore, are fortunate in having been brought by parents whose spiritual convictions and principles were couched in genuine respect for their children and a commitment to their freedom of choice. Purshottam Thakore, the father, is a CA and a Vipassana meditator while mother Usha is a reiki grandmaster.
Abhishek, who is a corporate trainer and has already written a few books on self-help, recalls, "We were always given the freedom to disagree with their beliefs and convictions. This afforded so much more space to grow as a unique person. My values are very different from those of my parents and I have the freedom to have them."
He recalls that while the family practices Hinduism, no ritual was imposed upon them. He says, "We as a family agree that spirituality is a way of life. It is something that underlies all that we do - present moment awareness, conscious choices and the meanings we give them. However, while my parents have chosen specific paths, I have been exploring all around."
His sister Akanksha adds, "At home, we all collectively believe that love and service to humanity is the biggest form of worship; perhaps the best way of expressing our devotion to God. In fact, it has transmuted into my seeing the divinity within each one of us, and engaging in a constant pursuit to draw that out. Thus, today, I have come to accept humanity as my supreme religion."
Their upbringing has helped the duo to unfold and realize their potential; subsequently there is little conditioning to overcome.
Says Abhishek, "I think it let me become more of who I am. It gave me space to have my own identity, my own thoughts and my own choices. My spiritual inclination and all my achievements (books as well as seminars) stem from this upbringing. It has been one of the biggest forces in making me who I am today."
Both siblings are actively pursuing spirituality in their own ways. Akanksha says, "Simply put, I dream of making a difference to people's lives, by empowering them, enabling them, and bringing joy and peace to their lives."
Says Abhishek, "I now define life as 'a constant process' - a process where I get closer to utilizing my God-given talents in the service of my kind. A process in which I explore to create new experiences that expand me as a person. A process of creating memories and catalyzing change."
In their case, a spiritual background has been an unmixed blessing. It has given them the confidence to be who they are and to live life openly and responsibly. Both are high achievers and are, at the end of the day, balanced youngsters who have a clear understanding about the nature of life and how best to live it.
For Radhika Pereira too (35), a corporate lawyer, growing up in a spiritual family has been a superb advantage. Her father, Justice Dudhat, a former judge of the Bombay High Court, is a teacher of Brahma Vidya, a meditation program that includes pranayama, affirmations and meditation. She says, "The atmosphere at home encouraged us to unfold at our own pace. My parents gave my sister, Rupali and I, an abundance of love as well as a belief and faith in our abilities."
That faith empowered her to realize her potential in academics and career. A high achiever who studied law at the university of Mumbai, Cambridge and Harvard, and who now has her own successful practice, Radhika feels that her life has been an almost miraculous fount of grace. "What more can I ask for?" One of the great blessings of her upbringing is an undying love and faith in the Divine. She is, she says, conscious of a constant sense of auspiciousness, a happy sense of positivity and the presence of abundant grace.
Even misfortunes, she felt, were leavened by the total openness with which her parents addressed them. "Even when my mother was dying, we were not kept in the dark. Consequently, her death seemed so natural. Today, there is a remembrance but no missing." Like the Thakore siblings, she too acknowledges that her father's unconditional acceptance has been her greatest strength, giving her the freedom to explore life in her own way. Both she and her sister have married outside the community, a choice their father accepted completely. "He only wanted to know what kind of people Carlton, my husband, or my brother-in-law Ritesh, were."
Radhika has explored different streams of knowledge. Her father, she said, had no objection. "I always wanted to know things for myself. My father said, 'You will search all over the place but eventually you will return here.' That's so true. Today, I feel so
comfortable within myself that the seeking has fallen off." At some point, she herself would like to be instrumental in creating an understanding of life in the lives of others. "If there is truth in one's own experience it would be such a joy to bring it to people's lives," she says.
Ultimately, unconditional love and acceptance are the fertilizers that help us to grow into our fullest potential. Spiritually active parents have an advantage to providing this vital component, enabling their children to find happiness and success faster and with fewer detours than the rest of us take. Not all of us have had the good fortune to have had a spiritual childhood, but we can always give that to our children, knowing that it is the best guarantee for happiness and success that we have it in us to give.