“Without training or education, one can automatically participate in bhakti-yoga. Even a small child can clap at kirtana. Therefore Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has proclaimed bhakti-yoga the only system practical for this age.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Path of Perfection, Ch 7)
One of the wonderful things about being a kid is that you just don’t know any better half the time. This is the reason children are viewed as being innocent, non-threatening. Random people will go up to young children they have never met before and make smiley faces and strange noises at them, knowing that the children will not find this behavior odd in the slightest. Yet, when that same youngster grows up, others will look the other way when they come, not wanting to make eye contact. “Keep to yourself” is the motto when living the fast-paced life in a crammed city. The exuberance in children does, however, bring the ability for caretakers to put talents to good use, to direct energy along the proper channels. When pointed in the direction of the reservoir of all energy, the enthusiasm of the child can pay large dividends in the future.
How does a child go from playing the entire day to sitting inside of a classroom and taking instruction for several hours at a stretch? For starters, the youngster may not know what school is or for how long they will be enrolled. Just imagine as an adult enrolling in a degree program that won’t complete until twelve years. Obviously, not many people would voluntarily attend, for the task would seem too daunting. Yet this is precisely what children face as they enter school, and since they don’t know what twelve years means, they aren’t as hesitant to start.
Educating their children is a good idea for the parents because it ensures that their children will be ready for adulthood, capable of earning for themselves. During the period of childlike innocence, the human being is both willing and sometimes even enthusiastic to do things adults dread. Something as simple as going outside to pick up the mail every day is eagerly anticipated, and to the adult having the children so excited to do something they’d rather not do is refreshing. “Ah, the simple days; when you’re excited to do things you try to avoid later on in life.”
Ask a child to help you around the kitchen, and they are more than happy to pitch in, for this allows them to imitate the behavior of the adults, the authority figures. “Oh, if only I could be old enough to do adult things right now. I hate that I have to go to sleep before everyone else and miss out on all the fun.” Give the children adult tasks, and they will take it as a sign of you passing something important over to them.
For adults, not only are regular chores dreaded, but so is anything particularly serious. Nothing is more grave than spirituality, issues pertaining to the soul and what happens to it after death. Why worry about such topics that are so difficult to comprehend when you can enjoy your life right now? Why worry about death if it’s going to happen regardless? This has been the age old issue facing mankind, the hesitancy to take the plunge into spiritual life. Others that are immersed in worship of God are seen as fanatics or sentimentalists trying to fill a void in their lives.
Genuine spirituality, however, is more of a science than just a discipline based on sentiment. In spirituality there are law codes, rules and regulations that, when followed, bring about a palatable future condition, just as with every other aspect of life. The principle behind the schooling given to children illustrates this. The parent genuinely understands the need for providing an education to their child. This assertion within the mind can be thought of as a regulative principle, a law to guide behavior. Even in the opposite mentality, which calls for rebelling against every single authority figure and their laws, there is an edict created. If one person says to read a specific book and another says to avoid reading it, both people are actually making assertions. If I listen to the person who says to not listen to anyone, I’m essentially following their recommendation on how to live my life, i.e. I’m following a regulative principle.
A bona fide system of spirituality is one which passes on regulative practices that are applicable in every time period and for every single person. In this respect, no system can be more inclusive than bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. At the heart of bhakti is attaching one’s loving sentiments to the proper recipient. Since in every other area of life our offering of service is checked to some degree, we can take it to mean that the objects of our service have defects. For instance, once your child grows up into an adult, how can you continue to love them? It’s difficult once they become self-sufficient to continue to be able to give them a helping hand. The same holds true with our friends and paramours, for exactly how much can we really do for somebody else without them getting annoyed and asking us to stop?
With the Supreme Lord, however, there is never a need to stop offering service. Lest we think we must live in a church or stare at a picture all day, the most potent method of worship involves sound vibrations and their production. Since God has everything, what can we really offer Him anyway? Time is the most important thing available to sacrifice, so by regularly reciting the sacred formula, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the offering of love can flow without obstruction.
In the beginning, this chanting routine is a chore, as how many of us are accustomed to repeating the same sequence of words over and over again for hours at a time? Plus, spiritual life has the air of seriousness to it, so delving into something so important is difficult in the beginning. To make things easier, teachers can take advantage of the youthful exuberance found in children. If a child is so anxious to run outside and pick up the mail, just imagine how happy they’ll be to regularly recite the names of the Lord, which are so powerful that they are non-different from Him. God is the most attractive person, so He is addressed by the Sanskrit word “Krishna”. There is also tremendous pleasure received through the Lord’s association; hence He is also addressed as “Rama”.
Isn’t this forcing something upon children against their will? Shouldn’t the childhood years be spent in enjoyment, for such happiness will not be present when the pressures of adulthood start to kick in? Since education is already an imposition, however, why not give a spiritual awakening as well? The habits formed during childhood stay with the person throughout their life. This is visibly evident in the behavior of spoiled children turned adults. If you give a child whatever they want, whenever they want it, they will have a very difficult time adjusting to adulthood. They will expect everything to be handed to them, and when this doesn’t happen, they won’t know what to do.
Why the recitation of the maha-mantra specifically over other religious practices? Chanting is an isolated practice that maintains a deep and unique connection between the individual and their object of service. In other chores assigned to children, the enthusiasm for the task may wane over time, as the tangible benefits don’t last very long. With chanting, the individual transcends even the need for praying for material rewards, which is the tendency for every human being to do. Repeating the holy names of the Lord through a routine keeps the sound vibrations of the beloved Almighty within the consciousness.
It is this consciousness that we are really trying to change, not only in children, but in every single person. The human form of body is the most auspicious because of the potential it carries for development of consciousness. The other forms of life don’t have this potential. The dog may be more than enthusiastic to fetch the ball thrown by its owner, but if you try to get it to chant the holy names of the Lord, it will not be able to. On the other hand, the enthusiastic child will take their chore of chanting as an early admittance into adulthood, especially if the adult is already following such practices. Just imagine if we chanted the maha-mantra every day and our children saw and asked if they could follow. “I don’t know, this is a very important activity, reserved for adults, are you sure you can handle it?” The child will take this as a challenge, as a way to prove to the adults that they can handle important tasks.
And the reward for such encouragement? There comes a point in adulthood where memories from childhood are evoked and the past experiences longed for. “If only I could have fun doing those same things again.” Just imagine if the chanting routine were part of those childhood memories; a person could then go back in time every day by worshiping their beloved Lord. There could be no greater gift to give to our dependents than these memories. In adulthood it is very difficult to be encouraged to do anything new, for as they say, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” But if the old dog already keeps the names of Krishna and Rama on their tongue, the same stubbornness will be there, except it will be beneficial. The old devotee accustomed to his regulative principles will be very difficult to move off of the devotional path. Therefore simply through his behavior he serves as a role model for others.
Connecting with Krishna is never without reward, even when done without full knowledge of the beauty of bhakti-yoga and its supreme standing over all other types of religiosity. Indeed, every system of maintenance that is bona fide is meant to bring one eventually to the platform of bhakti. After all, what condition could be better than remaining firmly tied to the sweet and beautiful Krishna within the consciousness at every second? Shouldn’t every single practice we undertake be aimed at achieving this goal? By using the enthusiasm found within children to perform even routine work for their benefit, the playroom that was previously filled with toys and youngsters running about will one day be transformed into a spiritual asylum, a place where talks of Krishna continue and glorification of His names, forms and pastimes permeates the air.
In the childhood years, there is cajoling and persuading to be allowed to do adult activities. “Dad, can I go out and get the mail today? Mom, can I help you with cooking dinner tonight?” Now, just imagine if after being exposed to krishna-bhakti, devotion to the Personality of Godhead, the requests turn into, “Dad, can I sing that Krishna song with you? Mom, can I offer the arati tonight?” Adhering to spiritual life and taking it as the most important priority can be very difficult, but the path is made easier when others are around who are following it. What’s more, if the people engaged in bhakti-yoga are enthusiastic about it, the benefits to the onlookers are augmented.
Add to the equation that if the people enthusiastically dedicated to serving Krishna are, according to the standard definition, not naturally prone towards accepting devotional life, the sight of their devotion is awe-inspiring and totally humbling. As an example, seeing a yacht or a giant cruise boat sailing across the ocean isn’t very noteworthy. After all, such ships are made to travel through water comfortably, without any problems. If, however, a small boat is seen traversing the same difficult waters, the appreciation of the onlookers is increased. “Look at that person; they are manning the boat all by themselves. They’re taking a great risk by using that small boat, but what else do they have? They have their dedication and perseverance. If they can ride in a small boat to reach the other side of the ocean, who am I to complain about my problems in life?”
Now, just imagine if you saw an even smaller boat travelling across the ocean. Not only is this boat smaller, it is holding a gigantic bar made of iron. For starters, the sight would be considered an illusion, for how could a boat like that float with such a heavy weight on board? Indeed, the iron bars are used to make anchors, which, when dropped to the surface underneath the water, ensure that the boat doesn’t move. All of a sudden this boat is now traveling with the heaviest anchor as one of the passengers. This amazing sight is similar to what we see when young children are fully engaged in bhakti-yoga and mad after God. The sight is inspiring and humbling at the same time. The young devoted child doesn’t know about imminent death, reincarnation, the heartache resulting from broken relationships, or the monotony of repeating days. Rather, they simply love Krishna and chanting His names. If they can follow bhakti with such enthusiasm, then surely the instructing adult can as well. In this way the child becomes the father of man, inspiring him to reach new heights.
Children given to always play,
Follow that behavior for whole day.
For parents routine tasks are a chore,
But kids like adult work, don’t find them a bore.
Therefore give to them the routine of chanting,
With Krishna’s names seeds of devotion planting.
Nothing special in seeing travelling cruise or large boat.
But amazing for small vessel carrying heavy iron to float.
Watching other devotees helps in spiritual progression,
Difficult is material life and the goal of liberation.
Through practice in bhakti, child becomes father of man,
Teaches him that reach Krishna’s realm he can.