In a globalized world, people are questioning the need to pass their faith on to the next generation.
For millennia, it has been standard practice for religious parents to pass on their tradition to their children. It has also been common for parents to want their children to join the family’s faith community. Times have changed. Nowadays, a significant number of parents consider themselves spiritual but profess no religious affiliation. Many follow secular humanism. Others focus exclusively on the secular education of their children, not wanting them to participate in religious activities or classes, as they see no career value in religion. Some are simply against religion. Marriages are now common between spouses of different faiths, particularly in Western countries. Recently I have heard some parents question if they even have the ethical right to ask their children to accept their religious beliefs and practices, reasoning that each human being should find his or her own spiritual way forward. Then there are the pragmatic rationales: too busy to teach religion at home, not knowing enough about the religion, not attending religious activities on a regular basis, not being proud enough of their faith, and wanting their children to blend in well in an international school setting.
Hindu parents who don’t plan to teach religion in the home need to give serious thought as to how the next generation will learn the basics of good conduct and duties to family and community. Religions have traditionally been the most common source of this knowledge.
On the web, you can find statements as to how children, given time, will figure out by themselves all about conduct and duty. However, I know educators who have sufficient personal experiences to strongly disagree. They have shared their dismay that many students in their school regularly cheat to get ahead in class. To them, winning is what matters and the virtue of honesty is of lesser import.
Are there nonreligious resources for teaching ethical conduct? “Positive Psychology” is a one example. Respected for its comprehensive approach to learning values and duties, it has developed twenty-four character strengths described as “the psychological ingredients for exhibiting human goodness, and they serve as mechanisms for cultivating a life of greater well-being.”
A Study of How Religions Are Teaching Children
To understand how religion is being taught we can turn to the 2019 book Religious Parenting: Transmitting Faith and Values in Contemporary America, authored by Professor Christian Smith and co-authored with Bridget Ritz and Michael Rotolo, who interviewed hundreds of individuals of diverse religious backgrounds, including Hindus and Buddhists.
They found that, amid massive variation, parents share an almost similar approach to religious socialisation of their children. For almost all, faith is important for the framework that it offers to become one’s best self on the path of life.
On a small scale, some research in Asia among Hindu parents and found that many hold a similar perspective: that faith training develops character and helps their children to more confidently and effectively handle life’s challenges. Parents shared that religion is like a kite string that holds individuals to their earth-bound reality and keeps them from drifting into oblivion. One parent explained that learning about the many challenges Hinduism faced in past centuries teaches children how great Hinduism is; it cannot be destroyed. The ways in which Hinduism can provide benefits to our next generation are significant and should not be dismissed.
Finding Enduring Happiness
Parents are naturally focused on raising their children to be successful. To many, success is defined almost exclusively as material prosperity, which is best achieved by pursuing a high paying, highly demanding professional career. Of course, this strategy includes marrying an equally educated and socially positioned spouse. This definition of success ignores a crucial component—being happy. “Learn to be happy by seeking happiness, not from others but from the depths of the soul itself.” To achieve this: “Put a smile on other people’s faces. Gain your satisfaction by making other people happy and your good states of mind.” The contentment, comes from giving and not from getting.
There are few things that ruin the quality of life more than anger. Therefore, learning to minimize expressions of this negative emotion and eventually eliminate them is important. A deep understanding of the law of karma allows us to accept what is happening to us as what should be happening to us and not become angry about it. We accept that it is in our karma to experience what we are undergoing, both positive and negative. Whatever is happening to us is precipitated by our actions in this and past lives.
Hindu children face stress in the form of major exams in school, which start as early as age eight in Asian countries. Under such stress, they can’t do their best work or learn effectively. Hatha yoga asana routines have the power to balance the nervous system and reduce anxiety if performed regularly every week. Another method is the regular practice of diaphragmatic breathing. The basic concept is to train yourself and your children, not from the mouth, and to breathe from the diaphragm. That’s the natural progression. That is how children breathe. When we take on life’s stresses, however, the diaphragm tightens and as we breathe we begin to widen the chest. Right below the solar plexus, just below where the ribs break, you can feel the diaphragm. Place your fingertips on the diaphragm and cough in order to find it. If your fingers are on the diaphragm right away, they will jump when you cough. Take just one minute to breathe deeply from the diaphragm anytime you need to relax, such as before (and during!) a big meeting or test.
These three examples clearly show that the beliefs and practices of Hinduism are designed to help an individual live a happier, more creative and more successful life.