Her Holiness Sri Sri Guru Maa Jyotishanand Saraswati, has stressed the importance of raising our children with our traditional family values. In Her pravachans, private conversations and above all, through example, She has made Her disciples and congregants really believe and practice in our family values.
These values have been described in our ancient texts (Vedas) and have been practiced for centuries in our motherland and elsewhere. During the month-long Akhand Ramayana Path, She stresses the importance of being a great father, mother, son etc. by learning from the characters of Ram Charitra Manas. She has established a strict dress-code for everyone who is close to Her. She has always advised Her children to fully respect your Guru and Parents. She says, 'those who cannot respect his or her Guru and Parents can never respect himself or herself and obtain any spiritual advancement.' As more Indians become NRI’s, it is very important that we bring our values with us, that we can continue this heritage for time immemorial. We keep on reading about NRI children doing exceptionally well in academics and in their professions and businesses. Besides genetics, the key contributing factor is the focus on raising our children in a loving, disciplined and spiritual environment in our homes.
So, what are these values? How can we practice these values while living far away from our motherland? Will we confuse our children or will we enrich them further?
According to our scriptures, our life is divided into four stages:-
1. Brahmacharya (Student Life)
2. Grihastha Ashram (Family Life)
3. Vanaprastha (Retirement) and
4. Sanyasa (Preparation for salvation)
Our family values touch all the four stages of life – how to raise children during the Brahmacharya stage; how to fulfill one’s duty towards family, society and adopted nation in the Grihstha stage; how to fulfill one’s duty towards parents and parent-in-laws as they enter the Vanaprastha stage, and how to prepare the family for the Sanyasa stage of our lives!
The basic family values are:-
1. Respect our elders
2. Take care of our parents in their old age
3. Respect our Guru or spiritual teacher
4. Contribute to society and humankind through selfless seva
5. Pass on our cultural, spiritual and ancient heritage to our children
We can do this even while we are living away from our motherland. If practiced properly, I do not believe that we will have ‘confused’ children. They will be proud of our heritage, and weave them into their lives seamlessly. Our children get confused when we are not confident ourselves about our heritage, and we do not practice what we preach!! If we ourselves follow the values with conviction then we will not have much of a problem teaching our children.
Respect our elders
Respect your mother, father, older brothers/sisters, grand-parents and anyone who is older than you on both sides of the family is a key value which we must inculcate in our children. The story of Sravankumar exemplifies the devotion of a son towards his parents! At times, it if fine to be a ‘friend’ to our children especially as they grow up – but the fact that we are older and wiser (through life experiences) should never be forgotten. Drinking and smoking with our children to promote this friendship should be totally avoided. This respect should not be concentrated on the mothers and fathers days only – but should be consistently practiced throughout the year. What about the NRI’s who do not have their parents living with them in the foreign land? Ongoing communication, annual trips back to India by us to see our parents (or the other way round), and financial assistance should be encouraged.
Take care of our parents in their old age
In the Indian sub-continent, the only social security system we have is for the children to take care of their parents in their old age. Senior citizen homes and assisted living concept has just begun. Taking care of parents in their old age is a basic duty of a child – and he or she gets lot of ‘sukarma’ points for doing so, and substantial negative karma for not doing so. We the NRI’s, who do not have parents living with us, have the biggest dilemma in our lives. The dilemma becomes worse when you have single parent. In most case, having some of your siblings behind with your parents reduces this dilemma a little bit. However, if you do not have your siblings back home, and if you cannot get your parent(s) to and live with you, then you must choose to go back.
Respect our Guru
There is a great tradition of Guru and Shishya in our tradition. Our spiritual teacher plays a very important role in our lives. A true Guru is believed to be a divine gift to an individual, I know from my own experience that Guru Maa has influenced a transformation in my life with Her teachings and blessings, and has led me and my family on the path of spirituality.
Our culture emphasizes a great deal of community service – any selfless service of seva which will help balance our life which is otherwise steeped in selfish pursuits. Community service should be done with our family, especially our children. Children should learn at an young age to contribute their time and a share of their allowance towards a selfless cause.
This is the most important responsibility of a human being. The entire civilization is based on good parenting. We, the parents have to teach the moral, social and ethical values to our children. Truth, righteous living, honesty, faith and the richness of our heritage should be taught to our children. The April/May/June 2005 issue of Hinduism Today journal has an excellent article about raising children. Parents should teach and practice their faith’s beliefs at home. The children should be taught about our soul, and our purpose (lakshya) on earth. The greatness of our faith, and tolerance towards all faiths should be emphasized. Guide our children with love, not fear. We must nurture our children with positive messages which will make them self-confident. They must be taught to be patient, to be content and to exercise self-control. Spirituality will help them distinguish between right and wrong, and make their own judgments as they grow up.
If you practice Sanathana Dharma, then the parents should practice:
- daily prayers
- celebrate all holy celebrations, and explain why
- teach about Dharma or virtuous living
- take them with you to pilgrimages
- observe the rites of passage or Samskars.
We should follow the five parenting guidelines which are:
1. Good conduct – lead with example
2. Home worship
3. Talking about your faith – with practical example and scientific meaning
4. Continuing self-study and
5. Joining a fellowship like Vedic Heritage Inc.
Besides, the influence of Bollywood should be balanced with exposure and training in classical music and dance. Practicing vegetarianism also is very beneficial since it truly exemplifies the principle of non-violence. Traditional food at our home should be prepared everyday and not on an exception basis. Our mother-tongue should be used in our daily activities. Traditional Indian clothes should be worn, especially on all holy days. Creating an Indian environment in our home is helpful.
We have inherited a rich culture which is adaptable to changing times and environment. It is not rigid at all. As long as we keep the basic principles alive, we can continue with our Indian family values very strongly. Key is to lead by example. This is my New Year resolution for the rest of my life.
References and thanks:
1. Guru Maa’s pravachans and teachings 2. Our parent’s upbringing and teachings 3. Various articles from Hinduism Today magazine 4. Swami Chinmayananda’s Reader 5. The Eternities by A. Parthasarathy 6. Explaining Hindu Dharma – A Guide for Teachers 7. Several articles/blogs on the web.