If you ask me, I will never stash my religion on my child! I will let the child explore it himself/herself. Let them come up with questions and answer them neutrally.
I was lucky enough to be brought up without having to oblige to all the rituals followed at home. My father, in particular, was never interested in the rituals performed by my grandfather as an orthodox Brahmin. My grandfather was no priest, but because of his personal interest in the Vedas and Shlokas he used to buy those books from anywhere in the world and read them. I have seen him discuss in detail with the priests who have professionally learned these Vedas and Shlokas and were impressed by my grandfather’s in-depth knowledge. But my father was never interested in those and hence never forced me to believe in those or to follow those rituals. All he wanted me to do was to study well and get settled in a job to be independent. I respect him for that.
My grandmother used to tell that work is worship and for women like her, who had a large family to look after, home itself is the temple. So I have basically never seen her visit a temple unless it was some auspicious day. My grandpa, though an expert in Vedas, never visited any temple other than the one he managed, right opposite our home. But then, I have seen him spend more time managing the matters of the temple than worshipping or praying there!
Thanks to the liberal approach I was granted, I also came to a conclusion that work is worship. God, to me, was a friend or a guide rather than someone to be scared of or afraid of. Probably because I trust the concept much more than many others around me, I never felt the need to be scared. Why should I be scared when I was totally following the principles laid in front of me? Every religion says ‘You are God’, so why get scared of another one? That was my principle, which ultimately helped me realize that God is One and Same. Every God wants you to love one another. None of the Gods created the religion or caste which they symbolize now! Jesus was not a Christian! Krishna was not a Hindu! So I realized that religion was made to group people for various reasons and mythology was probably an exaggerated version of some extraordinary people’s lives who actually lived once upon a time!
But then, until one point, there were a lot of confusions going on in my mind. I was made to believe a lot of things which I had to undo. I grew up following certain methods, some of which did not make any sense! I always sought answers for anything stashed upon me and that made me a ‘rebel’ in the family. I always seemed to be asking Why, Why Not, What If Not That Way and similar questions that were annoying those who had the same questions in their mind but never bothered or had the courage to ask!
Because of my liberal thoughts, I ultimately got married to my college classmate who belonged to another caste and all I knew was that he was brought up in different ways! Nothing else made any difference. To me what made more sense was that he was quite attached to his parents and brother, and I knew he would love his family too. Soon after my son was born, I lost my father and we moved to the city along with my mother.
Now began the fun! My mother strongly believed in all the rituals and beliefs she had been following all the while and was trying to imprint some of it on my son. I initially thought, let it happen. Let him gain some insight which I probably missed. But anyway I was happy with my ways of belief and never let anyone play with those. As my son grew up, he started asking similar questions which made her also change in certain minute ways.
Whenever he would come to me or my husband with some doubt on religious matters, all we tell him is to be a human. We tell him there’s nothing great belonging to any religion. Being a Hindu does not make him any bigger or smaller than anyone else who belongs to another religion. That’s one reason we never wanted him to discuss religion in the first place. But then, the real test was when his friends were talking things that never made sense to him. I remember him crying once because one of his friends told him that ‘his’ people (my son’s people, or we) believed in monkey gods and we were like monkeys. This came from a 5-year old to a 4-year old! I only despise the kid’s parents who instill such thoughts on the young mind. We told our son that according to us, religion does not make any sense. We are all humans. Monkeys are animals. So are dogs, cows, elephants, and rats. We told him that it is important to respect every living thing on the earth including plants and trees and hence they were made into Gods so as to protect them. This made more sense to my son who now was proud that we are doing something good and what the other kid told no longer made any sense. Remember, it is more important to be a good human was the point to project and not that the other person is wrong!
It did not end there, though. Every other day, he would come back telling that one of his school friends asked whether he was a Hindu or something else. All my son knew was that he was a Human and he never felt ashamed to tell that. But he managed to understand that we went to temples as my mother would make it a point to visit the temple almost every day and would expect us to go with her on auspicious days. To keep her happy, we would oblige. Though he often wondered why kids asked such a question, we kept reassuring him that no matter what people told him, it was more important to be a Good Human Being.
We would take him to churches too when we were travelling. We have visited a Buddhist monastery along with him! I believe this keeps his mind open towards spirituality. Yes, I believe morality is something we need to instill in the children, but it is not right to teach them that you belong to this religion and this is your only God! It was shocking to hear from a 5-year-old when he told my son that your God is bad, only my God is right! Now, where are we leading our children?
I am totally against teaching small children any religion. Teach them all the mythological stories – of Krishna, Jesus, and Allah. Teach them that there are people who believe in Gods with different names. But they will also realize that all these Gods ultimately vouch for peace and love only. Teach them ethics, teach them to be good, teach them to love each other. More importantly, teach them not to hate each other! Teach them to be positive! Teach them to adopt the goodness of what all religions teach.
Remember, it’s your interpretation of a religion that can make them human or fanatic!
Let them explore more about the God they want to love when they are mature enough. Let it come naturally. That’s one of the things I loved about the book and the movie Life of Pi. I really loved the character of Pi’s father in the Life of Pi. Don’t try to mold them to live like a Hindu, Christian or a Muslim from a young age! Let them adopt it themselves. It will last longer and stronger with them when they understand what they are getting into and happily adopt the concept.
It is humanity that will help your child grow and succeed and not any religion. Let at least the next generation not fall prey to such baseless thoughts that divide people and turn them against each other. It is more important to be an ethical human than to be a Hindu, Muslim or a Christian.
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