We can't blame everything on genes... People have to open their minds to the terrible possibility that...the important events in the development of a child happen not at conception but years before.
Discover Magazine, Dec. 2002, p.52, quoting Dr. David Barker, Head of the Medical Research Council Environmental Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, England.
The quotation above is with reference to the fact, the Barker Hypothesis, that the health condition of parents long before conception may determine the onset of diseases their child may suffer in his/her middle age and later.
The traditions of India do not look for enhancing only the physical health but the mental and spiritual well being. In fact, the latter often serves as the foundation for the former, since, as Swami Rama of the Himalayas never tired of emphasizing, more than 75% diseases are of psychosomatic origin.
Nowadays, in all cultures, there is an increasing anxiety about the lack of discipline and loss of non-violent values in the society, especially among the youths. This is equally true of India. No amount of social programmes, whether for the rich or the poor can change such destructive tendencies. In spite of tremendous amount of funds allocated for preventing drug addiction in both the developed and "developing" countries, the problem of addiction keeps increasing. However much the Indian national pride may deny the epidemiology of aids, this has become a fact of life.
On the other hand, India's history is replete with stories of child saints. One day, I hope I would have the time and the opportunity to write a book about the whole galaxy of the child saints of India. How did the families and the society create beings of such high spiritual refinement?
This question is not purely academic. It is now fully recognised that the practice of meditation, calming the mind of individuals, brings about change in the whole society. The only solution for the problem of disturbed minds of the youth is to teach them meditation.
In my worldwide travels I am often asked: at what age can we start teaching meditation to children? Invariably I answer: three years before conception. My audience initially think I am joking, but then they realise that I am serious. Just as the state of parents' physical health can determine the future health of their children, so also their mental and spiritual state determines the mental and spiritual health of their children right from the beginning.
Whatever thoughts accumulate in the parents' mind during three years before conception, their sum total is passed on as unconscious imprint onto the mind of the foetus. In fact, parents choose the kind of soul they wish to have as their child, by choosing the kind of mental behaviour they indulge in. It is well known, for example, that the child of a mother who has practised intensive gayatri-mantra (and there are prayers with similar effects in other religions) during three years before conception - such a child will be so brilliant that s/he will never need to go to school for his learning.
Hence, among the sixteen sacraments of life in the Hindu tradition, the first one is garbhadhana, the sacred ceremony before conception to invite the pure soul into the womb.
What has not been accomplished during the three years before conceiving the child can now be undertaken during the nine months of pregnancy. Among the more culturally refined families in India, where women are respected, it is common for the would-be mother (a) to have pictures of great saints hanging in the room, and (b) to spend much time reading scriptures and doing japa, mental recitation of prayers and special mantras.
The foetus does not receive only the nutrients from the mother. S/he receives her prana, the vital energy, and the states of her mind and emotions. A foetus is a very sensitive being. It is known that the child in the womb jumps at the bang of a door, or closes his eyes if too bright a light shines in the room. It is also known that the foetus responds to mother's anger, excitations, fears and depressions. By causing such disturbances in the mother's mind, we are framing the child's mind accordingly. It is therefore recommended that the mother practice, and pass on the calming effects of, meditation to the child during pregnancy. She will thereby create a child who, as a teenager, will not be so easily disturbed as to become violence prone or an addict. Mother who meditates is shaping a meditative mind for the child.
Whatever has not been accomplished during pregnancy can be made up for during the suckling years. It is also known that the mother's moods during suckling greatly affect the child. I often advise young mothers: when suckling the child, let your body relax as in shava-asana, the classic relaxation pose, and "do" your mantra in the mind. You will again enhance the calm inclinations in the child.
Emotional states are not taught, they are caught by the child from the parent. When the parents complain that their child is unruly and is often disturbing them, I reply, "It is not the child who is disturbing you; it is you who are disturbing the child." The child is the mirror for adults' emotions. If the adult wishes to determine what state of mind, mood, emotion, s/he is in, all s/he has to do is to look at the nearby child. The child's crystal mind only reflects whatever is going on in the adult mind. To train a calm child, train yourself to be calm. I always advise parents, "Never scold a child when you are angry" - then you are not correcting the child, you are only using the child as a safety valve for your own disturbances. When you are yourself not angry, then you may play, fake, pretend to be angry, to correct the child.
The same applies to teaching meditation. So far we have spoken of the passive passing on of the meditative state to the child's mind. At what stage or age may we teach it actively? Here I will refer to two experiments I made when I was a householder (many years before taking sanyasa vows).
I have held a six month old boy in the lap, wrapped him in my meditation shawl, and we have sat absolutely still for up to 45 minutes (not sleeping) at a time. It is the state of my stillness that the child responded to. Do this repeatedly, and stillness and calmness will become natural to the child.
By the time the child is three, or even a little earlier, I actively start the teaching of meditation methods. Often I would come home from a long lecture tour, at night the children would say: tell us a story. "But I am so tired", I would plead. "Okay, then, give us a relaxation" - was the invariable response. But once again, a tense person cannot guide a relaxation practice; the very body language and the voice betrays his disturbance.
The children in the family, thus trained, asked permission to teach meditation to other children in their school(s) (in USA). Then, often, I would be called to address the school.
One hopes and prays that practices of calm breathing, relaxation and meditation could be made part of daily school curriculum. No specific religion is involved. There are ways for teaching and practising meditation without a religion-specific content. If the teacher trainees can learn these ways, they would be making an invaluable contribution to help establish a peaceful society.