A Spiritual Education for the Child’s Personality Development

Dada Caetanyananda’s workshop at the NHE Summit was on “A Spiritual Education for the Child’s Personality Development”. Below are some notes from his talk followed by the introduction to one of his books “How to Develop a Spiritual Atmosphere in the Classroom.” Dada Caetanyananda runs the Rainbow School in Medan, Indonesia . There are three kindergartens with a total of 250 children and an after school English language programme with a total above 2250 students. Dada Caetanyananda has written a series of books on the programme he has developed. These books will be available soon through Gurukula Publications.

I didn’t have any educational or psychological background, just my training as an acarya, all of Shrii P. R. Sarkar’s writings and my own common sense and meditation. So this is where I started.As neohumanist educators we come from a legacy of a rich philosophy that includes practical application through sixteen points, fifteen shiilas and many other beautiful things. When we teach children, should we start with this legacy? And if yes, in what sequence do we do this? What is number one, number two and number three? Or perhaps should we start from what education stands for. What does it really stand for? When I began to work out a neohumanist program in Medan I decided I didn’t know the answer to this. I asked the questions, why should we educate at all, how much and with what goal in mind? So many methodologies and curricula existed about when to teach children to read, etc. All the curricula and all the methods are not the purpose. To teach without a purpose there is no point. To look for the answer to this question, I found the key to be the child himself. To decide on the goal, the curriculum and the methodology I would need to study the child.

Children have a mind and part of it is highly spiritual. They also have their physical body. I have to study these things and ask the questions:
What is the child?
What is it made of?
What is it’s purpose on earth?—What’s the purpose of the entire creation? Is it the same as the child’s?
What should I do with the child at all starting at age zero?

I see three parts in the child.
1. Physical body. Do we have a physical education?—Yes, there are plenty of resources for that.
2. The mind. Can we provide a mental education?—Yes, we can; there are lots of materials and ways (always improving) for that.
3. A soul, some spiritual counterpart. Can we provide a spiritual education?—No, comment.

What is Neohumanist Education even in the worst conditions? Really Neohumanist Education is about spirituality. Methodologies will always change and improve. We should not identify NHE with specific methodologies. We may speak perhaps of a philosophy of methodologies encompassing all methodologies. Some are crude, others more subtle; some reach higher layers of the mind, others are more mundane. Nevertheless if we want to differentiate what makes us different from other schools of thought – it is only spirituality. Spirituality mixed with everything else is what we have to give. Spirituality is the core.I believe that until now we (as well as the rest of the world) have been teaching a lot about morality but little or not enough about real spirituality. Yes it is a bold statement, but aren’t Yama and Niyama moral principles, and the fifteen shiilas moral guidance? They are methods—psycho-spiritual methods. Yes, the presence of a spiritual aspirant in the classroom does bring some spirituality; as we teach our hearts and minds impart some spirituality but not our curricula, not our written methods, not a proper system.

When studying ways to make a spiritual child I had to face the blocks of my own meditation. I realized that we human beings, including spiritual aspirants, don’t have a clue as to what spirituality is until we actually ‘get there’ and experience it. I saw that what takes years to painfully open inside me is already a granted state in young children, and the joy I may feel in the best of my sadhana is common ground with the natural happiness young children can feel. That is why I often say that mothers don’t really know their own children, especially if they don’t practise any meditation.

The children are not taught to value their natural happiness, their love, energy… The teacher works on keeping them happy, being kind and loving, and so they grow with happiness in their kindergartens. But being happy and kind is not enough to make a spiritual grown up.

The children (teachers first) must be taught to value their own happiness, love, beautiful feelings… They must be able to identify with them. Then they must be able to use them in everyday life with every common thing they do such as handing over a sheet of paper or simply saying ‘good morning’. The approach is to build a spiritual awareness with conscious and meaningful practices, supported by a philosophy of life that centres in the Divine’s attributes, joy, love, beauty, life, truth…. I call that philosophy the ecology of joy. It is not about creating a new philosophy; it is about being neo-humanist and practical.

It is possible to create a Neohumanist classroom, a spiritual environment with very few criteria. In a spiritual classroom the teachers get much more output with the same amount of work. The teacher and the children are happier, and when the child is happy learning is faster, memory longer lasting, and conflicts among the children are reduced tremendously. Children not exposed to spirituality are quieter, more physically disciplined, more afraid of strangers, more confined to themselves. Children exposed to spirituality are happier, more outgoing, more creative, more interested in learning, and truly magical.

The remainder of the workshop explained the system used at Rainbow School to bring spirituality to the children in a way that will remain with them for the rest of their lives. By means of summary the following is excerpted from one of Dada Caetanayananda’s books.