Education For Life

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, Interview by Bombay Times, Mumbai

You have been with Swami Satyananda from childhood?

Since the age of four.

And he was, or is, your mother and father?

Yes, that has been my relationship with him.

Did you ever, as a child, feel that you had missed something?

Never. I felt privileged because I had every kind of opportunity to develop and grow, opportunities which I don't see many other people having, even in affluent families.

How did he teach you?

He taught me many subjects by taking me into a relaxed, meditative state through the practice of yoga nidra. That also opened up the receptive nature of my personality, so I did not have any difficulty imbibing topics naturally and spontaneously.

Did he teach you languages?

No. I never studied languages but learnt them myself through interactions. I can speak some languages fluently and some not so fluently because of lack of practice, but I know Spanish, French, German, Italian.

And all non-formally. How can we help our children who have to go through a rigid curriculum?

The pressures created by study should be taken off children and they should be taught how to relax. Children have very high intuition and a clean mental blackboard, and they pick up many things which are not academic. According to yogic principles, the real education of a child, the basic programming of life, happens from the time of his or her birth until the age of seven or eight. Academic education begins after that. Zero to eight years is the crucial period when you teach them unconsciously how to live, how to look at and respond to the world. Unfortunately that is the precise period in their lives which we have ignored completely.

Education is not only intellectual, not just going to school and studying. Academic education is job-oriented, providing the skills with which to compete in modern society. But personality is not only competition or intellect. Samskaras are the first part of the life education which children receive. Samskaras are received from the family, from society, from the culture, from the lifestyle which they lead, and that becomes their launching pad. If the foundation of their lives is weak, then, in the course of time, there will be a breakdown of values. Their positive qualities will deteriorate and they will be subject to frustrations, anxieties and stress which will further limit their natural expressions. For this reason the pressure has to be taken off their studies.

You were fortunate.

The education which I received was more a samskara education than a formal academic education. Parents can provide that opportunity.

How can parents instil these samskaras?

Experiments have been carried out with young children in Australia and Germany. From birth until about the age of three, we give them the technique of yoga nidra combined with the chanting of mantras, for example, the Gayatri mantra and other mantras such as Mahamrityunjaya mantra, Shiva mantras, Vaishnava mantras.

In India we have made the mistake of linking mantras with religion, but mantras are actually sound vibrations which awaken the dormant aspects of our mind and brain through sound frequency. When an army is marching and has to cross a bridge, it has to break step. When supersonic flights cross the sound barrier, the sound can shatter all the windows in the city. Every sound has a frequency, a wave which has the power to alter the existing patterns of the mind or emotions. Mantras perform that function. Therefore, whenever you practise a mantra, you feel more tranquil, relaxed, at peace and with more inner strength.

If you ask westerners to repeat the mantra Om Namah Shivaya, they don't have any preconceived notion of who Shiva is or even what the mantra means. They simply concentrate on the frequency of the sound vibration, and they benefit more because they are imbibing the real thing. It has not been filtered through the preconceived notion of, “Ah, it is a Shiva mantra, therefore, I'm adoring Shiva”, or “I need to be fearful of Shiva. If I do something wrong he will punish me”.

With children, mantras have helped to awaken the dormant faculties of the mind and brain.

Should a child recite or chant a mantra every morning?

Let the child listen to a cassette. We are talking of the period between zero and three years. There should also be positive input. Sankalpas can be recorded and played, such as “I will be creative in my life”. “I will excel in everything that I do.”

Even if they can't understand the words?

They don't need to understand the words because their subconscious will receive that positive samskara, and in the course of life it will bloom. Different experiments have been done with children who have been taught languages and even academic subjects through yoga nidra. We take them through the stages of yoga nidra and at the end of the practice read a chapter from a book. Then again we give them a yoga nidra and that's it. So, if they are taught when the mind is relaxed and not distracted, the mind receives it.

This has been the principle of the methods of 'Super Learning' which are coming now to the Indian market. A Bulgarian scientist, Dr Lozanov, invented a System of Accelerated Learning and Training (SALT) with which I was involved in the early days in the United States. We used techniques of relaxation, breathing, mantra and music to enhance the learning abilities in children. From that experience I can say that children need to be taught how to relax. Relaxation is a state where the conscious activities become less dominant, the subconscious nature becomes more dominant and there are no unconscious psychological blocks. This system has been well-accepted. It is based on yogic principles of relaxation and breathing techniques.

Even in our ancient Indian tradition, during the upanayan samskara ceremony at the age of eight, children were taught the Gayatri mantra. They were taught pranayama and also surya namaskara, to regulate the hormones in the body and to ensure the proper development and growth of the body, brain and mind.

What are the basic practices children should do?

The basic asanas for children are surya namaskara and sarvangasana. They should be practised for a few minutes, preferably in the morning. Surya namaskara should be done twice, preferably dynamically. Two pranayamas should be practised: nadi shodhana, alternate nostril breathing, and bhramari, the bumble bee breath, plus the concentration practice known as trataka, candle gazing. That is enough until they pass college.

And listening to mantra?

Yes, instead of modern music, even at night, if they listen to the mantras for ten minutes it will help to tranquillize the hyperactivity of the nervous system. If, from the beginning, children have a samskara of relaxing with mantras they won't have any problems.

Can adults follow the same theme? After all, we are just children who grew up.

Adults will have to work a bit harder. But if the next generation of adults follows the system, they won't have to work hard.

What about pregnant women? Does it make a difference to the child growing in the womb?

Oh yes. Today in the West doctors are telling mothers-to-be not to drink, not to smoke, not to become tense, not to fight, not to become negative. Medical practitioners are now giving these suggestions because the mental state of the mother does affect the embryo.

Does listening to mantras affect the child in the womb?

Definitely, although it may not affect the child directly.

But it affects the mother?

More research has to be done, but in the tradition we have the example of Abhimanyan, of Astavakra, and of other people including Lao Tse in China. We can believe that there is some validity in such concepts. The child derives its body from the father; the body is the product of the merger between sperm and ova. But the nature, the way of thinking, interacting and feeling is given to the child by the mother. So, the father is the giver of the body, the mother is the giver of the mind, and society is the giver of influences which determine our direction in life. Mothers have to be aware of the fact that, ultimately, they are responsible for the total development and growth of the child. Therefore, the mother should lead a more balanced and healthier lifestyle than the father.

What about working mothers?

They are free to work, but when they come home they should have a one hour routine in which they can release the tensions and pressures of work, connect with the embryo, with the baby inside, and give positive vibrations and feelings.