Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Talking to Your Child about Spirituality

If you want your child to think exactly as you do then this article is not for you. All you have to do is tell them what to think. If however you wish to explore spirituality with your child and grow closer to him/her as a result, then herein lie a few suggestions.

Usually children are exposed to the religion of their parents through holidays, stories and religious practices and customs. Rarely, if ever are children asked for their own thoughts or spiritual experiences. Children however very often have their own thoughts about spirituality, questions or experiences they shy away from expressing because there is never a forum for that. It is my experience that thinking things through for one’s self and sharing one’s spiritual experiences is spiritually empowering. Far too often in practicing a religion we give our own power away to the priest, minister, rabbi or whoever. We want them to lead us to God or illuminate our minds. There is nothing wrong with seeking the council of those who dedicate their lives to spiritual pursuits, in fact it is usually necessary, but to expect someone else to do the work for us is counterproductive. It is a way of further separating ourselves from the truth we seek.

A way to open up a conversation with your child about God would be to ask: Have you ever thought about God? If your child’s answer is “no” then wait until he or she has begun to think about God. If the answer is yes, then proceed with a series of questions to draw out how your child thinks on this subject. The idea is to let your child know you are interested in listening to what he or she has to say. If your child asks you questions you can respond with: What do you think? If he or she really wants to know what you think he/she will ask again and at that time it would be appropriate to share your belief or experience. Children can ask questions that require us to think through our spiritual beliefs and grope to find words to express them. “What is God?” and “Why can’t we see God?” may need answers that use a metaphor or analogy. Above all if you don’t have an answer it’s best to say “I don’t know.” This leaves the door open for further exploration for both you and your child.

If your child expresses gratitude, wishes well to another, or feels sorry you can point out that these are spiritual experiences. Prayer is at heart a well-wishing as is the Buddhist practice of metta (compassion). These practices can be illustrated to children in very simple terms by giving concrete examples of how to apply well-wishing in your child’s life.
It is my opinion that there are no wrong answers to spiritual questions. At any given time there are only provisional answers which may change during the life long quest for spiritual knowledge. If your spiritual belief system has ever changed or evolved you know the truth of this.

The Universal Curriculum

That there are many religions and multiple variations within those religions is clear indeed. That there is a universal spiritual “curriculum” common to almost all religions is less apparent. This article will touch the tip of this iceberg of that commonality by comparing a five religions. Quite briefly it can be said that an underlying theme of learning to live harmoniously with others: how to respect others, share with others, and how to encourage others is the ethics embodied in almost all religions. That ethical goals are shared among religions is very significant because all of spirituality regardless of the different means to attain these goals, always comes back to them in the end. Each religion has its own vocabulary and belief system, and spiritual practices. These are the different means. Preparing a meal can be a helpful analogy. People have different food likes and dis-likes, some even have food allergies so of course the specific meal any one person would prepare would be different. However the nutritional requirements for any human body are basically the same. How one chooses to fulfill those nutritional needs through cuisine is a matter of choice. And so it is with religion, each religion can be seen as a different cuisine but the nutritional requirements, the spiritual nourishment needed is universal.

For the people of the Book, the children of Abraham, the Jewish-Christian-Islamic religions the last six of the ten commandments embody the ethics of those religions: honor father and mother, no murder, no adultery, no stealing, no false testimony (lying), no coveting. The five Buddhist precepts taken by lay people are to abstain from: taking life, from taking what is not given (stealing), from sexual misconduct, from false speech, from becoming intoxicated. Although the vocabulary is slightly different these two lists concur on four essential points, the intention to not kill, to not lie, to not steal, and to conduct one’s self appropriately in sexual relations. Finally let’s look at what the Yoga Sutras have to say: “The Laws of Life are five: nonviolence, truthfulness, integrity (which would include not stealing), chastity (correct sexual deportment), and nonattachment”. Again we find the same four ethical points in slightly different language.

It is interesting to compare the injunction of the Ten Commandment not to covet with the Yoga Sutra’s Law of Life of nonattachment. Both are mental states and they both refer to the same thing. Coveting is wanting something and being attached to something is also wanting it. One could say that nonattachment goes a step further than not coveting and if you limit not coveting to the list given in the Ten Commandments that would be so. However a broader definition of non-coveting could clearly be the same as nonattachment. I have always felt that because it is a mental state non-coveting actually covers the actions of not lying, not stealing, not killing and not committing adultery. If one is in a state free of coveting these negative actions are impossible.

And so here at the ethical beginning points of all these religions we find a universal curriculum. These religions begin with ethical injunctions and through their various practices they end with the embodiment of these ethical principles.