Strong Hindu Families for Strong Hindu Youth
By Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandanandana dasa)
[This was an article written especially for the Hindu Mandir Executives Conference, 2015, following the theme on “Strengthening the Hindu Family.”]
Naturally it takes a strong Hindu family to instill in the youth of today faith in their Vedic culture. The family is where such faith and identity begin.
When the parents are strong in their confidence and practice of the traditions of Vedic Dharma, naturally the children will pick up on this. They will also become attracted to various aspects of the Vedic path. They may like watching the aarati, or saying the prayers, or having their Krishna dolls, or even in offering their food to the Deity, or watching episodes of the Mahabharata. As they get older they may like attending a Hindu children’s camp, or going to the temple for children’s classes like Balgokulam or Balvihar, or going to the temple for the holidays like Janmastami and others. Actually, I have seen when the children like going to the Sunday classes to join with other children at the temple, it may also become an impetus for the parents to regularly go to the temple. Yet, the parents should want to go anyway. Plus, taking the children every year to joyous occasions and festivals like Rathayatra, etc., can create impressions, samskaras and memories in the children so that they will want to continue that tradition when they are adults and take their own children to such joyous events at the temple. They will remember the happiness when the whole family celebrated such festivals. This is what helps create a strong Hindu identity in the family, especially in the children, as well as a loyalty to the traditions.
However, it seems that this is not how it is always happening. Too many times the parents do not get involved in developing their children’s understanding of Vedic Dharma and its customs. Too many times the parents also do not know enough about it to be able to answer all of their children’s questions. Nor are the parents always motivated to go to the temple on a regular basis, or to take their children to classes, leaving it up to the children to find their own way.
This is why, more than a few times, Indian Hindu parents have asked me what to do now that their children are dating a Christian or Muslim, or attending Christian youth camps, where the criticism of anything outside that faith plays a specific role. And when the parents object to their children about doing such things, the Hindu youth reply that their parents were never involved that much or took it seriously, or they were always told that all religions are the same, so what makes the difference? This is where the problems begin. But it is funny that the only religion wherein some members say all religions are the same is Hinduism. Otherwise, many other religions are quick to not only point out the differences, but to criticize Hinduism as well.
If families are not strong enough to invoke a strong Hindu identity in their children by the way they are raised and educated, then the children may grow up to be simply wimpy, hardly Hindus to such a degree that they not only will not know how to maintain a strong Hindu identity, but they may even be indifferent to do so, or worse yet, be ashamed of it. In such a scenario, it is only a matter of another generation or two when Hinduism, at least in the way we know it, will cease to exist, at least here in America.
So parents must understand their duty to their family when it comes to the education, the inspiration, the understanding, and participation of their children in the traditions, customs and philosophy of Vedic Dharma.
Actually this is an obligation that is outlined in shaashtra. For example, the Bhagavata Purana (5.5.18) explains: One who cannot deliver his dependents from the path of repeated birth and death should never become a spiritual master, a father, a husband, a mother, or a daivam (accepting a worshipable position.)
So it is the duty of parents to train their children appropriately. Naturally, we can only encourage our children to a certain extent, but it has been seen that those children that grow up in a strong Hindu family are more likely to be grounded in the Vedic values, and will remain stronger in their Vedic identity than those who are not. While those that come from weak-minded Hindu families, who are taught that all religions are the same, are also likely to give it the least consideration. They become like ships without a rudder, with little spiritual direction, and you do not know where they are going to end up culturally.
However, Hindu parents should know better than this. They should be educated in their own culture and philosophy enough to know how to answer questions of their children. They should be willing and able to show a strong dedication to their Vedic culture and its traditions so the children will also pick up on that and understand the benefits that it provides, and what is the basis of these traditions. The Hindu temple priests should also be willing and able to explain the details and reasons of any ceremony. The point is, that it is the family setting and environment, and the example of the parents that creates a strong Hindu identity in the youth, which is especially important when they are young, which can then help continue the tradition in the future. Without this, the continuation of Vedic Dharma becomes questionable.
Naturally, as Hindus, we are respectful of all religions. But there is no reason why we should not be more so toward our own. And this starts in the family. It is the attractive nature and the universal spiritual principles in Vedic Dharma that draws people to it. We are not interested in converting people, especially by tricks, force, intimidation, fear tactics, or economic manipulation. But in India, these have been important tactics for converting Hindus to other religions for years. I especially saw this while doing two lecture tours in India’s northeastern states. They have no qualms about saying things like Hinduism is the worship of devils and demons. I have even heard televangelists say that here in America. And should we not be able to defend ourselves from such things? Should we not be able to speak out? The strength to do so depends on our upbringing or background.
Not long ago I was invited by a young Hindu in Houston to participate in a Hindu youth camp. I had booked the plane ticket and everything. But later it was decided that I should not be invited. The reason was because the previous year, another popular western Hindu speaker had been there and was describing his story of how he became a follower of Vedic Dharma. In telling his story, he mentioned that Christianity and Islam did not have what he was looking for. A simple statement, I would think, and hardly anything political. He was simply relating part of his development. But that statement created a backlash at the camp. So it was decided this year that they did not want to take a chance of someone saying something similar. And this was supposed to be a “Hindu camp.”
The youth I was speaking to came from a strong Hindu family, and he was telling me that he felt frustrated by the whole thing because many of his age group lacked the backbone or strength to stand up for their own culture. Plus, only a short time earlier, at a nearby university the president of the Hindu Student Council, which is known for supporting strong Hindu ideals, converted to Islam because she wanted to impress the parents of her Muslim boyfriend. This leads to question how much Hindu are they. How strong are they in their allegiance to and participation in the Vedic traditions and Hindu community if they cannot even stand up for their own culture or remain in the Hindu fold? So the question is: Do Hindus have a right to defend themselves? Can I say why I left a previous religion to follow Vedic Dharma? Apparently not when other Hindus object.
Certainly, Hindus can do better than this. I do not like to feel that I am in a minority of those who are strong enough to take a stand and say that I am proud to be a Hindu, and also have the information and the willingness to explain why. Or am I alone here, like a dying breed?
We should be willing to stand up for who we are, and not be afraid or intimidated by those who challenge us or our tradition. But we need to be educated to know how to do that in the right way. But if we are going to be afraid to defend ourselves, or try to be overly politically correct which paves the way for others to walk all over us, then what is the future of Hinduism going to be? If we cannot even say why we chose Vedic Dharma over other religions, because some may interpret that as a criticism of others, then what kind of spineless person are we? I may not be criticizing other religions, but I should certainly feel strong enough to explain what I find attractive and profound about Vedic Dharma. And if that is a problem, if that is typical about the mindset of Hindus, then others will and do take advantage of that.
The conclusion is that the future of our freedom to participate in the traditions of Vedic Dharma and its continuation starts with the family. This should not be neglected, nor should we assume that everything will be all right, or someone else will take care of this and I do not need to be concerned about my children. We need to recognize how our actions can make a difference in our own sphere of influence, starting with our family. That is why a strong Hindu family can set the stage for strong Hindu youth, which, along with the continued spiritual development of everyone, is the purpose of Vedic culture.