The following talk was given by David Jevons at the 1999 Western Canada Sai Retreat which was held at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan over the weekend of July 31st/August 1st 1999. It has been edited but only for the purpose of reproducing it in this Newsletter.
How am I qualified to talk to you about right parenting? Well, I have behind me the experience of helping my wife in the raising of our three children but, more importantly, I have read what Sai Baba has to say about right parenting. Now Sai Baba says “First be, next do and only finally say”, so by this standard I really should not be talking to you at all! I must, therefore, preface my talk to you today by confessing that I have had my successes and my failures when it comes to parenting. I cannot say that I have always got it right. So my talk is not so much based on my own experiences, on my own understandings, but on what Sai Baba has taught me about parenting.
Isn’t it strange that when you want to drive a car you have to pass a driving test. If you want to fly a plane you have to pass a flying test. However if you want to raise children all you have to do is to give birth to them and then you are free to do whatever you like with them provided, of course, that you don’t break the laws of the land. No guidance is given to you on how to raise your children. You don’t have to pass an exam on child care before having children. You just do it. So what experience do you actually draw upon? You rely on your own experiences and feelings. You rely on what your parents did to you and surveys show that in most cases you either do exactly what your parents did to you or else you do exactly the opposite. I remember that many years ago I counselled a teenager who was having problems with her mother over the house rules that the mother was imposing on her. Years later, when that teenager became a mother herself, guess what she did. She raised her children exactly as her mother had raised her and she imposed the very same rules! All children need boundaries and they will always test the boundaries that you set for them.
I would like to begin by looking at the true nature of our relationship with our children. Most of us tend to view this relationship in a body conscious way. We forget that they are spiritual beings just like us, that they are atma, divine spirit, just like us and that the only real difference between us is that they happen to be in younger physical bodies. Nevertheless they are still God, they are still no different from God. They have all the knowledge, all the perfection and all the wisdom of God within them. Indeed our children may be more evolved than us, more advanced along the path to liberation than us. They might even have come into incarnation to teach us rather than for us to teach them. Do we remember our past lives when we were children and parents? Do we know our future lives when we will be children and parents again? The answer is definitely “No” and why should this be the case? It is because all human relationships are transitory and finite and, as such, are not important in the infinite scheme of things. Sai Baba points out that we did not worry about our wife or our husband before we met them in this life. We only become concerned about them when we established a relationship with them. Why were we not concerned about them before we knew them? Why will we not be concerned about them if we divorce them or if they die? It is because our egos will not be touched by them.
It is just the same with our children. Before our children were born we were not in the least bit concerned about them and when they grow up and leave home our concern soon diminishes. The spiritual relationship is always the same and is infinite but the physical relationship waxes and wanes and is finite. The soul relationship is something entirely different and separate from the physical relationship. I remember being told the story of Sai Baba calling his interpreter, the late Professor Kasturi, into the interview room one morning and introducing a young boy to him saying “Kasturi, meet your husband!”. It took Kasturi some time to work it out, but Sai Baba was introducing him to his partner in his next life. At that time he would incarnate as a woman and would marry this boy when they had both grown to adulthood. Does this not make a complete nonsense of our relationships to which we attach so much importance? A man in one life, a woman in the next, our parents in this life become our children in the next, which all goes to prove that life is just a game in which we play many differing roles and face many differing relationships.
we really are, as the Latin expression goes, in loco parentis for our children, that is to say that we are
parents standing in for the one true parent which is God.
God is our only true parent. He
is the Divine Mother and Father. We
are only playing the role of parents in this life.
We are guardians for God. God
has given us His seed and we are responsible for raising His children.
What is the basic role of the parent?
Sai Baba says “Children are
precious treasures given to you.
Yours is the great task of rearing them to become devoted servants of God
and sincere spiritual aspirants.” That
is the primary role of a parent although, as we well know, many other duties are
involved. The primary duty of a
parent is to oversee their child’s spiritual development, is to awaken in them
the divine knowledge that they already possess, namely, that they are God, that
they are no different from God. We
also have to recognise that children come into incarnation with a divine garland
around their neck, a garland of all their past karma.
My wife often comments wryly, when Sai Baba devotes all his attention to
our children in an interview rather than to us, showering them with rings and
watches, “As far as I am concerned they have done nothing so far in this life
to deserve such attention!” Nevertheless,
by her very words, she is saying that it is their past deeds that attracts Sai
Baba’s attention, that he is rewarding them for what they have done in their
past incarnations. Truly our
children are not our children and to illustrate this point I want to read to you
a wonderful poem from a book called ‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran, which
was first published in 1923.
And a woman who
held a babe against her bosom said
“Master, speak to us of Children”
And he said:
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit,
not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.”
Your children come through you but are not from you. One of the great lessons that we, as parents, have to learn is that our children are not our possessions, are not extensions of our egos. Men have to learn the lesson of ego. Women have to learn the lesson of attachment. Men should not see their children as carriers of the family name, as upholders of the family’s social status, as successors to a family business or a family fortune. Children should not be seen as a source of family pride, with their achievements and successes bringing kudos to the parents. Women should not live their lives vicariously through their daughters and should not make them into wives before their time. They should not expect their daughters to conform to their concepts of love and marriage and should not hang on to them as companions if the relationship of their own marriage has broken down. Above all, though, parents should not try to fulfil their destiny through their children. When we look at our children we should always try to see the atma, not the body, for we are not our bodies. Our bodies are forever changing, are forever decaying. They are not permanent and will be gone in seventy years or so, but the atma is eternal, so let us relate to the atma. The children coming into incarnation at this time are very special souls for they have come to witness the birth of the Golden Age that will soon be with us. These special souls need to be raised and educated correctly, to have their minds filled with human values not bookish knowledge. That is why Sai Baba has founded his schools and is so insistent about teaching EHV - the Education in Human Values programme.
As you look around the Western World today it does not need an observant eye to recognise that marriage and family life is in a very precarious state. Educational systems have become political footballs and are simply failing many of our children. We have children murdering and raping, emerging from the school system illiterate and ill prepared for life. We have an ever increasing number of family break ups, with the divorce rate rocketing. In England, for the very first time in its history, last year more children were born illegitimately than were born in marriage. Single parent families are on the increase. There are few role models for children, but this is to be expected! Why? It is because we are at the very end of Kali Yuga. This is the darkest time for Humanity, just before the dawn of the Golden Age. This is the time of karmic settlement. Our karmic account must be balanced if we are to enter the New Age. Let us recognise, above all, that the birth of children is associated very closely with karma. We attract children to ourselves according to the nature of the seeds that we have sown both in this life and in past lives.
I well remember an acquaintance of mine who drank and smoked very heavily, not only whilst conceiving his child, but also whilst the child was being carried in his wife’s womb. His child was born autistic and I believe that this deformity had a great deal to do with his lifestyle. Of course only a few people would accept that a deformed or a sick child is not an act of blind fate, but is a direct result either of a karmic settlement from a past life or of what the parents have sown in thought, word and deed in this life. Medical science is slowly proving that what the parents do during the pregnancy does affect the unborn baby. The same thing applies to conception. Sai Baba once told someone that he should follow a sathwic diet, should remain pure in thought, word and deed and should abstain from sexual intercourse with his wife for thirty days before conceiving his child.
How many of us conceive our children consciously? How many of us even know the moment when we conceived our children? How many of us consciously dedicate the act of procreation to our Creator before we engage in it? This should be the birthright of every child and from such a conception comes a true child of God, one that knows its divine inheritance. However if a child is conceived out of drunkenness, out of lust, out of drugs, out of a brief affair, then that energy must be reflected in the nature of the child. We are, of course, in Kali Yuga and this is the time of great karmic settlement and so we must expect marriages to break up and children to have less than perfect upbringings. I remember Isaac Tigrett, the founder of the Hard Rock Café chain, who gave millions of dollars to help build the Super Speciality Hospital in Puttaparthi, saying that he had had a very unhappy and abusive childhood. In an interview with Sai Baba he asked Swami why he had had to undergo such suffering. Sai Baba replied “It was to soften your heart and to make you more compassionate.” So there is a purpose to suffering, many lessons are learned by all concerned and souls choose to incarnate into imperfect relationships for their own growth and evolution.
Nevertheless, as devotees of Sai Baba, we should be very concerned about raising our children correctly, about preparing them for the Golden Age to come. Some old souls have been entrusted into our hands, some of whom have not been on the Earth for thousands of years. They have come back for this great moment of spiritual initiation. These children will be the foundation stones of the Golden Age. They are the seeds from which the Golden Age will sprout. I can look into the eyes of these children and see a wisdom and a spiritual maturity way beyond their years. I have heard spiritual truths coming from the mouths of these children that leave me in a state of wonderment. Some great souls are back on the Earth at this time and they need to be parented properly. Such children have chosen to incarnate into pure families all around the world who, as Sai Baba says, are concerned that their children become devoted servants of God and sincere spiritual aspirants. How fortunate we are to have an example of right parenting on the Earth today in the form of Sai Baba’s schools and universities. I think we were all impressed by Neilank Jha’s talk yesterday and by what this young man is doing to help the underprivileged children of Toronto even though he is still a student at Toronto University. Here is a product of Sai Baba’s school demonstrating what comes from right parenting and right education. In one sense, of course, we are all Sai Baba’s children and he is parenting us, the more so when we go on visits to Puttaparthi in search of that personal contact with him. I once said to Sai Baba when I was about to leave the ashram “Swami, when can I come back again?” to which he replied “You don’t have to ask me. This is your home. I am your father and your mother. You are always welcome here.”
Now my path towards Sai Baba has not been an easy one. Swami once said “Matter I can transform with a wave of my hand, but to transform a Western man’s mind is very difficult.” The transformation of my mind has indeed been a slow process and my dear wife will bear testament to this. I was very suspicious of Sai Baba in the early days of my relationship with him. However over the course of many visits I began to see that he did indeed practise what he preached, that he truly did ‘Love all and Serve all’ as he continually teaches. The quality that ultimately impressed me the most about Sai Baba is his continual seva or service to everyone that comes to him regardless of race, colour or creed. No matter what the time of day, he is always serving somebody, the more so on the days of the great spiritual festivals when tens of thousands of devotees converge on Puttaparthi seeking his attention. However the incident that impressed me the most happened during an interview with him in Kodaikanal. One of Sai Baba’s students was called for an interview with us. This student was looking very unhappy, I think because he had done something wrong and he knew that Sai Baba was going to reprimand him. The boy eventually went in for his private interview and duly emerged looking even more unhappy. He was then dismissed to go back to his class. Then Sai Baba said something quite amazing and it has stuck in my mind to this very day. He said “It is I who have failed that boy, not the boy who has failed me. I am to blame because my example has not been strong enough to make him behave correctly!”. How many of us, when our children do wrong, ever think of saying that it is our fault, that our example has not been strong enough? What a teacher, what a Master, what a parent is Sai Baba. He clearly shows us as parents that our example is paramount.
would now like to read to you some of Sai Baba’s own words on this subject.
have unselfish love; they are innocent onlookers; they observe the actions of
the elders and they learn from the home much earlier than from school.
So parents have to be very careful in their behaviour with the children
and between themselves. The children should grow with the mother for the first
five years of life. Many children do not know what the prema (love) of a mother
is like. The mother should not hand
over the responsibility during those years to someone else and be called simply
‘Mummy’ as if she is some doll with which the children like to play.
So the children of rich and educated parents can be severely handicapped,
if they are deprived of the care and the love of parents.
They are handed over to the care of servants and nannies and they grow up
in their company and learn their vocabulary and habits and styles of thought.
This is very undesirable.’
In support of this statement I would add that it is a well known fact that in England, in Victorian times, the children of the rich and educated, of the so called upper class, were raised mostly by nannies or servants of the so-called working class. When these children grew up, however, they often married working class girls or boys, in defiance of their families, because that was the company to which they were accustomed. I believe that there is a valuable lesson here for all the working mothers of today. If, as Sai Baba says, a child is so susceptible to outside influences, is like a sponge up to the age of five years, what other influence would you want your precious child to have other than that of its parents? If a child chooses its mother before coming down into incarnation, which it most certainly does, if it chooses its mother for the wisdom and for the example that it knows its mother will impart to it, how can you possibly deny that child its birthright. What is important is not the standard of living in a home but the standard of life.
Baba is always saying that women are the keepers of the hearth, the keepers of
the home. He is on record as saying
that women have seven divine qualities or values and that men only have three.
That is why women are mothers. He
also says that women exhibit far more devotion to God than men and that they
will teach this devotion to their child. It
is an observable fact that Sai Baba tends to spend more time with the men than
with the women in darshan. He once
jokingly said to me “If I did not talk to the men they would all go away!”
As at most satsangs, so here today, there are twice as many women as men
attending. Women have more devotion
than men and that is why they are mothers and the keepers of the hearth.
Sai Baba has also said that to be a good mother in this time of Kali Yuga
is the greatest seva you can perform, is the royal road to liberation.
If you can raise your child amongst the minefields of modern society and
teach it to be a servant of God and a devoted spiritual aspirant then you have
performed a great service for your community, for your country and for the
planet as a whole. That is the real nature of the responsibility that we parents
have all been given.
the home it is very important that the mother and the father always set a good
example, because what the child sees, what the child experiences in thought,
word and deed, the lifestyle to which it is exposed, the diet it is fed, becomes
its bench mark in life. Listen to
Sai Baba’s words on this subject.
‘Many people think that a sathwic diet consists of milk, curd and other things. We must try to know the real nature of sathwic food. A sathwic diet does not mean simply the food that we take through our mouth, which is only one among our five senses, but it also means the pure air that we breathe, the pure vision that we see through our eyes, the pure sound that we listen to and the pure objects that we touch through our feet. All that we take in through the doors of our five senses may be described as a sathwic diet. All the five senses must be pure and immaculate. We must endeavour to gain mastery over our senses.’
‘All households should be vegetarian. There should be no smoking. There should be no drinking. There should be no gambling. It should only be sweet talk between the parents. There must be respect between the parents. There must be love between the parents. It must be shared.’
‘Condemn the wrong and extol the right, as soon as you notice either, in your children; that will settle them on the straight path. There are many parents who, by their behaviour and habits, in full view of their children, eat meat, drink, gamble and utter blatant lies, thus poisoning the tender minds of their progeny. When the father requests the son to tell the caller at the door that he is not at home, the seed of dishonesty is planted.’
buying or selling a house a Realtor will tell you that there are three factors
that affect its desirability and value, namely, position, position and position.
So, in the household, there are three factors that influence the
character of a child, namely, example, example and example.
Those little eyes are watching you and are storing away in their memories
everything that they witness, every action that takes place between husband and
wife, between parents and children, between the family and society at large.
These are the most formative influence in a child’s life, especially up
to the age of five, because until the child goes away to school and is exposed
to other influences, the mother and the father and the family unit are its whole
world. If the parents do not
establish an effective relationship with their child during this time, if they
do not establish a pattern of discipline, then, when the child begins to move
outside the family and to establish other relationships, it becomes more
difficult to exercise any form of control over it.
After a child has passed the age of twelve it becomes very difficult to
influence the course on which it is set, to discipline it, to control its
lifestyle. Using the analogy of a
ship, you cannot greatly alter the course on which the ship is set, all that you
can do is to tweak the rudder a few degrees.
A child must know and respect discipline. The trouble with most children these days is that they are
totally undisciplined and here in the West we are reaping the harvest for that
undiscipline. Listen to Sai
parents give unlimited freedom to their children which is highly disastrous.
If the children are not controlled at the tender age, they can never be
controlled. A child to a large
extent controls the family. Therefore it is imperative that a child learns self
‘Children must grow up in an atmosphere of reverence, devotion, mutual respect and co-operation. They must be taught respect for parents, teachers and elders. Now they learn only copybook maxims, devoid of any sincere urge to put them into practice.’
When the child enters the educational system of its country some of the parents’ position as a role model transfers to the school teachers. It is therefore self-evident that the values of the teachers will be inculcated in the child. Do you know what values are being taught to your child? Do you know the character of the teachers? You should. Education moulds a child’s attitude towards the world in which it is to live and to make a living. The value of current educational systems is being called into question all over the world but it is difficult, especially here in the West, to bring about change in what is a very conservative aspect of society. Many teachers, however, deplore the current situation where the teaching of any form of spirituality, of morality and of human values is banned from the classroom under the banner of political correctness. That is why Sai Baba has created the EHV programme, the Education in Human Values programme, which is being introduced in various countries with very positive results. I believe that the children of the Golden Age will be taught human values as a natural part of the school curriculum. The few schools already in existence that teach this programme have achieved near miraculous results. Education, as Sai Baba says, is for life not for making a living. There is a tendency here in the West to see the purpose of education as getting a well-paid job rather than as grounding the individual in human values and right living. So if the public schools are not teaching this programme it is essential that Sai devotees ensure that their children attend the classes offered by their local Sai Baba Centre. In this way they will attain an understanding of human values and will have the knowledge and the power to resist any undesirable peer group pressure.
I would now like to touch briefly on three topics that arise in the natural course of events in every family and which should be addressed. Firstly, here in the West, we have a remarkable ambivalence towards death. Rarely do we discuss death with our children or think it right that we should expose them to death. We think that they are too young to understand it. This is not so. Children should be made aware of the reality of death. Their questions should be answered truthfully and use should be made of animals and pets to demonstrate this reality. Having only recently come from the higher planes of life they are probably closer to the reality of life and death than us adults. The mortality of the human body and the immortality of the spirit should be explained whenever an opportunity presents itself. Sai Baba once said to me “It is amazing how Man believes that death is something that happens to someone else. None of you prepare for your own death." Do you prepare your children for their death? Death is as natural as birth and is integral to life. It is not something to be swept under the carpet and ignored as if it did not exist.
Secondly, Sai Baba has some very sharp comments to make about television, which he calls telepoison. There is obviously a good side to television, but for every good side there are, unfortunately, twice as many bad sides. Television comes right into the home environment. You would not open your front door to a murderer, a rapist, a thief, to a monster, to anyone who would abuse or frighten your children and yet you turn on the television and let these negative aspects of life come right into your living rooms. Children’s minds absorb everything that they see. I firmly believe that the violence that is now surfacing in our schools is due in no small way to the fact that many children have been exposed to too much violence on television. It is because of this that they recognise violence rather than non-violence as the natural expression of a human being. I read recently that some psychologist once watched television all day and counted the number of killings that they witnessed in that time period. It came to over a hundred. That is not representational of life. Television distorts life for its own financial ends. Even children’s games are violent now. Have you played one of your son’s video games recently? Most of them involve killing in some form or other. It is just the same with children’s books and comics. I was amazed to read in the newspapers recently about a young boy in America who built some bombs that blew up his school. He did this because of some grievance. Now his parents were totally unaware of what he was doing, yet he was in their home, in their garage, in their workshop, with all the manuals in front of him, making these bombs. They did not know what he was doing. That is simply unacceptable. A responsible and caring parent should be aware of everything that their child is doing, especially in their own home. Never turn a blind eye to wrong-doing, be it drugs, alcohol, sex or the company that they are keeping.
Finally we come to good company. This, I find, as a parent, is the most difficult aspect of parenting. Your child strikes up a relationship with another child at school. They want to become close friends, they want to stay over with each other at nights, they want to go out and experience life together, but for some reason you do not feel in harmony with the values of this child’s family and their lifestyle. You feel that this friend exerts a bad influence on your child and its family most certainly does not uphold the human values on which you base your life. This situation inevitably creates great conflict between you and your child, but it is a conflict that you have to win. You have to explain to your child the importance in life of keeping good company. I used to repeat to my children Einstein’s words “Show me the company you keep and I will tell you what you are.” Let us listen to Sai Baba’s words on this subject.
“Man is put to suffering because of bad company and even mentally he suffers with bad thoughts. Any spiritual aspirant is in danger because of bad company. So run away from bad company. What is bad company? Selfishness, intense jealousy, ego, no human qualities. All these will take you away from the Divine. We lose the human qualities because of bad company, and even good thoughts and feelings will turn bad. A man in the company of thieves will turn into a thief. A man of virtue loses his virtues in the company of those with vices. The sacred heart turns unsacred. Therefore run from bad company.”
Recognise, though, that you can only control your child if you have already established a channel of communication with it, if there is true and open sharing between parent and child. The trouble with many families today is that that communication has broken down. Parents are busy earning a living and so children are allowed to watch television and to play for long hours on computers, thus relating to nobody but the television and the computer. As a result of this many children are losing social skills, are losing the ability to communicate thoughts and feelings, to relate to society as a whole, to discover the diversity and complexity of human incarnation. They have little grasp of the principle of service, of helping those less well off than themselves. Sai Baba has said that the health of the family is controlled by the health of the parents. The other day I read an article in the Vancouver Sun which stated that strong marriages produce healthier children. Research has shown that the health of the family is directly related to the health of the father/mother relationship. Weak, conflict-ridden unions often produce troubled children, whilst strong unions make children feel secure and enables them to relate well to others. If the health of the family is strong, if the marriage is strong, if there is love expressed and shared, then, the children have a model to follow in their own lives.
I feel that we are all going to have a testing time in the next few years. There are changes coming in the world which will challenge us all. Therefore it is important that we have established lines of communication with our children, that an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding prevails in the home. We should be able to discuss openly and freely the problems facing the world, what is causing these problems and what are the solutions. We should listen respectfully to what our children have to say. They are going to inherit our world and the problems that our generation has created. Our children are the seeds of the next generation and they represent the future of the Human Race. The atoms in their bodies dance to a different tune to ours. They have a different vision to us. They are the future. Many of them are old souls with great wisdom and spiritual understanding. My daughter comes up with the most amazing concepts and visions. She has more dreams about Sai Baba than I do. Swami comes to her in her dreams and tells her the most amazing things. We must respect their point of view and listen to their insights on our world. We must forget body consciousness and be open to spiritual consciousness.
I would like to close with one final quotation from Sai Baba which I hope will put this talk in its right perspective.
"I have come to give you the key of the treasure of bliss, to tell you how to tap that spring, for you have forgotten the way to blessedness. If you waste this chance of saving yourselves, it is just your fate. You have come to get from me tinsel and trash, the petty little cures and promotions, worldly joys and comforts. Very few of you desire to get from me the very thing I have come to give you, namely, liberation itself and even among those of you who do, those who stick to the path of spiritual practice and succeed will only be a handful. This is a great chance. This chance will not come your way again. Be aware of that. If you cannot and do not cross this sea of grief now, taking hold of this chance, when again will you get such a chance? Be confident that you will be liberated. Know that you will be saved. Go and tell all that you went to Puttaparthi and that you got there the secret of liberation. Many hesitate to believe that things will improve, that life will be happy for all and full of joy and that the Golden Age will recur. Let me assure you that this avatar, this divine body, has not come in vain. It will succeed in averting the crisis that has come upon Humanity.”
If we do nothing else in life, may we raise our children to recognise the truth of that statement and to be aware of the life and the teachings of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Let us remember the many blessings that Sai Baba showers upon us and recognise that we too should bless our children at every opportunity because, as Sai Baba says, a child that is blessed by its parents will always succeed in life.