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Saturday, June 10, 2006

 

Giving Vedic Culture to the Next Generation

When I was growing up as a teenager and became interested in the Vedic teachings, I had to research it on my own. I was not like the Indian youth who naturally grow up with it in their own families, and who may also take it for granted as if it is nothing special. I had to struggle and almost fight to acquire access to the books and information I needed. There was so little around where I grew up. In other words, there was no way I was going to take this Vedic knowledge cheaply once I got it.

The fact of the matter was that I was raised in a Christian family, which was nice, but gradually I was not totally satisfied with the spiritual teachings within the faith. I had more questions about life than it had answers. I found it rather shallow and wanted something deeper. So I looked at all kinds of religions and spiritual teachings, but with the question that is typical of most westerners when growing up, “What’s in it for me?” Plus, “How is it going to help me and which spiritual path is going to do the most for me? How can it make a difference to my growth and understanding.” This is a basic attitude of most westerners and is spreading to most of the youth around the world.

With that premise as the basis of my exploration, when I finally arrived at the Vedic tradition, I was convinced of the depth of its spiritual knowledge and its comprehensiveness. But from the view of “What’s in it for me?” I can also understand the position of other young people today, especially those of Indian descent, who may be asking the same questions regarding their own culture. Therefore, if they do not get the right answers to their questions, or the proper guidance to understand the purpose and meaning of its philosophy and practices, it will not make enough sense to them to take up the path seriously or fully accept it. Therefore I realize how important it is to teach them correctly, and in a way in which they will find interest in it.

Indian youngsters of today have adopted the American or western approach to accepting their parent’s tradition, which is called “What’s in it for me?” In other words, if they do not understand something, or if they cannot relate to it, or if it makes no sense or seems to have little relevancy to their lives, they will not take it. Gone are the days when sons and daughters accept something mainly because their parents did. Now they have to be able to see the purpose of it. They need to understand the meaning and usefulness behind the tradition.

This is not only the way the next generation of Indians and Hindus are viewing things in America, but I’ve seen this same approach in the youth in India as well. This is also happening in other cultures too. So this is a challenge to the parents everywhere. But in some ways this is good because if the children really understand the customs and traditions, if they are truly educated in the meaning of them, then if they embrace them they will sincerely follow them for life.

So it is up to the parents, teachers and gurus to find the ways in which the Indian youth of today can understand and learn about the customs and history of the Vedic tradition in a way that makes sense to them. They cannot be bored with it. It has to have meaning and be relevant to their lives. They can’t see it merely as myths, but as legends and history. They should not see it as mere rituals but as ceremonies and practices that uplift and purify the consciousness. They should not see the images in the temple as mere idols, but as Deities that can reciprocate with the devotee to the degree of sincerity and surrender in which the devotee approaches the Deity. They need to see that Vedic culture is a dynamic and living tradition that holds eternal spiritual truths that are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago. They need to see that many of the technological advancements that we take for granted today are made possible by many of the developments that had been given by the ancient Vedic tradition.

The youth of today need to be introduced to the Vedic tradition through methods that involve their own interests, whether it is technology and computers, or whether it is through ways of self-ex-pression like music, dance, art, or even martial arts. All of these avenues have strong roots in the Vedic tradition and were used in ways of discipline that would also lead one to higher awareness and refined realizations.

They need to made aware of the possibilities that can be attained or learned from the ancient Vedic tradition as it is applied to the modern age. I recently got a letter from South Africa in which they explained how they were using an approach from an article I wrote on how various frequencies can allow a person to kill, heal or transcend. In it I explained that the numerous frequencies which exist around us can affect us in various ways, both beneficially or destructively. It also shows how Russians had been broadcasting radio frequencies that could control behavioral patterns in people or even kill, as well as how the ancients of Vedic culture used the sound vibrations in mantras to perceive and reach the spiritual strata and change social cooperation for the better.

When this was presented to the youth in a class, no one was bored, but they could see how ancient knowledge could be applied for purposes that could be used today. In this way, children that displayed no interest in spirituality suddenly had their curiosity piqued. So we need to know how to develop these kinds of methods.

Furthermore, Hindu temples, being the center of cultural preservation, also need to find the ways for the youth to get involved in all age levels. Even if it is only through association with others youngsters for fun, games, and youthful activities like camping, boating, swimming, musical sing-alongs, etc., that can be incorporated to bring them together. Then stories of the ancient histories can be told wherein they learn moral values and also the characters and traits of the Vedic personalities, both old and contemporary. This can be done in a way that can also explain the history of India and its development. Or they can learn songs and bhajans as played with modern instruments like guitars and electric keyboards. The point is to use any avenue in which their interest can be aroused. It also has to be fun.

Thereafter, classes that teach the more orthodox ways of the culture can also be introduced, such as the traditional forms of dance, art, yoga, and philosophy with a modern bent to it. By this I mean how it has influenced great thinkers of the West, such as Emerson, Thoreau, and others. Or how in America yoga has become a three billion dollar business that now has over 16 million people who practice it. Plus, westerners and people all over the world are adopting such views as reincarnation and karma, which are thoroughly rooted in the Vedic tradition. In essence, the youth should feel proud of their culture, its global acceptance and how it is providing upliftment for increasing numbers of people.

Many of these ways of teaching and numerous other techniques are already being done quite successfully, but they need to be set up and documented in a way in which they can be duplicated by others who are also in need of them. When a solution is found, when there is something that works, it should be made available through the proper channels to others who could also use it. There are some networks for this purpose already functioning, but they need to increase their exposure and cooperation with other Hindu organizations. This lack of cooperation between various organizations and sects is indeed a prime issue in the global Hindu community.

Another point is that if parents are going to convey Vedic culture and Dharma to their children, then the parents also must know what to say and how to explain things properly to them. And if they don’t know how, then they need to learn. It is not enough to merely send the children off to someone else to get the necessary information and guidance. The parents, being our first teachers, must also be exemplary and provide the proper instructions. They must be educated in their own culture so they can explain it to their children. Otherwise, how will the children understand the basis of the ceremonies, the holidays and customs or ceremonies that are observed? And if this is the case, why would it make sense to the children to adopt the Vedic standards and tradition when the answers to the primary question, “What is in it for me?” has not been answered. Or when it seems that their own parents do not know the purpose behind the traditions, or do not take them seriously.

On the other hand, when the parents regularly bring their young children to the temple and they join together with other families and youngsters to joyously observe the eventful holidays, or the colorful worship or special classes, it can create fond memories in the minds of the children that last their whole lives. They remember their family taking special care and lovingly doing this together and devotedly going to the temple for special observances, and the uplifting feeling they would get from that. These are like samskaras or impressions which themselves can motivate the children to continue partaking in such aspects of the Vedic Hindu traditions long after they reach adulthood. And then they partake of the same traditions and observances with their own children.

In essence, the youth of today have to know that the practice of the Vedic tradition is going to improve and enhance their life. They have to know how it is going to help them reach their higher potential in today’s world, both materially and spiritual. And how it is going to give them the fulfillment that everyone is looking for. And we have to provide those answers and insights to them in some way or other.

For me, I write books and articles like this one. Admittedly this is only one of many ways that have to be utilized. But I view books as tools, not only for educating westerners, but also for Indian youth and adults alike. For example, I just put together a book called “Vedic Culture: The Difference It Can Make In Your Life”. By working with some of the top writers in different fields of Vedic study today and letting them write on their main topics of interest, I was able to produce a book that covers the important ways that Vedic knowledge can be utilized for assisting a person to reach their highest potential. The book covers not only the spiritual paths of the Vedic tradition, as in yoga, but it also covers Vedic science, Ayurveda, Vastu Shastra, Jyotish, Vedic gemology, Vedic environmentalism, etc. The purpose of this is to clearly show the different ways the Vedic tradition can help a person sort out various problems or enhance one’s life for reaching one’s highest potential and state of fulfillment. So it is an educational tool for anyone to understand the wide scope of applications available in the Vedic tradition that can be used to make a difference in one’s life. This certainly is to help answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” Such a book is meant to assist all Hindus to utilize and to know how to present the validity of the Vedic tradition to others, even to one’s own children, and shows the value in learning how important the Vedic knowledge can be. This is just one aspect of preserving and presenting the great tradition known as Vedic culture for the benefit of all others.

Another article to read in this connection is: Vedic Culture: As Relevant Today As Ever.

[This article available at http://www.stephen-knapp.com]

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