Vedanta & Spirituality: Teachings on the Atman

Last January we held the first of what we hope will be a series of special classes on Vedanta and Spirituality for children connected to our San Francisco SRV center, also known as The Healing Center of San Francisco anchored by Bhavatarini Ma (Jocelyne Nielsen).  Our next class is scheduled for March 29 in the afternoon.  Please call 415-468-4680 for more information.

A group of five boys and girls ranging in age from 5yrs to 8yrs attended this class taught by Annapurna, which included an introduction to ceremonial worship that they could participate in, meditation with Babaji, and special “hands-on” teachings designed to acquaint young minds with foundational teachings such as “I am not the body”; the real Self (Soul) doesn’t change when the body or mind changes; and all Souls are one with God and all other Souls.

Below are some examples from our class:

The Water Game
We had a large bowl of water that we pretended was huge, like an ocean with no shores, and which represented the Atman, the eternal Soul within. Then we took plastic lids that had shapes cut out of them of different kinds. These symbolized our bodies and personalities. Through the cutouts we could see the water, symbolizing the Atman. The water appeared to be different shapes, viewed through these cutouts, but it was really the same water with no divisions. The teaching: Everyone’s Atman/Soul is the same! There is not “my” Atman or “your” Atman: there is only one Atman.  The Atman is the true part of us because it is eternal. The different shapes of the rings are the changing part of us: our bodies, our feelings, our thoughts.

The Candle Ritual
After preparing flowers and a plate of fruits for offering, Annapurna led the children through a simple worship.  The children helped offer incense and bells and flowers to the one Divine Being manifesting in all the different images on the altar: Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, Swami Vivekananda, Christ, Buddha, Shiva, Mother Durga, Mother Kali, Mother Tara, and others.  Afterward, a large candle was placed in front of the altar around which the children gathered.  Each child and parent was given a taper candle too.

The children listened to the story of how the gods lost heaven and sought the help of the Divine Mother. The gods are cosmic powers, including the powers behind our senses (seeing, tasting, touching, hearing, smelling, handling, walking, speaking, etc). The gods represent sattva (balance).  They lost heaven to the asuras, who represent rajas and tamas (restlessness and the negative passions). To regain heaven, the gods concentrated upon the Divine Mother, who is the Supreme power from whom all their finite powers come. She transcends the gunas, or modes of nature. They concentrated by turning the power of their senses inward, and then engaged in loving thought of the Divine Mother. Thus She appeared before them and soon returned them to “heaven” again. It is a beautiful metaphor for what happens when we take the restless and passion-bound mind and fix it in concentratation on a spiritual ideal.

We also discussed how Divine Mother has created all beings and animates them with Her own Consciousness — Her Light is our Light. We pretended to be those gods in the story and concentrated on Divine Mother, while lighting the large candle. Then we put our taper candles into the main flame. Even though there were many candles, there was only one flame (Light, Spirit, Atman). We pulled our candles out and saw many separate flames all just like the Mother flame.  Next, we put our candles together with the person next to us: two became one. We saw that there was no difference between our Light and the others’ Light. The teaching: there is One Light/Consciousness/Spirit/Atman/Divine Mother manifesting in all beings.

The Crystal Teaching
A crystal can symbolize the mind or the Soul/Atman. We used it to symbolize the Atman in this class. The main idea is that the Atman is unaffected by anything It associates with. This is why the crystal is an apt representation, because if you put it next to something red, it looks red. If you put it against a pattern, it looks like that pattern. But in reality, the crystal never changes. It remains clear. So just like this, the Soul, our true Self/Identity, is not changed by whether we have a boy body, girl body, whether we are young or old; if we are handicapped, sick or healthy, whether people like us or not; if our minds are feeling happy or sad; whether we have the “in” style of clothing or not. The teaching: The crystal/Atman becomes a way of teaching discernment between what is eternal and true vs. what is changing and not always true or even false, and paving the way for a recognition of the Witness who sees all these changes of body, energy and mind. Via the crystal, parents can reinforce that most crucial and foundational teaching that “I am not the body or mind.” We cannot begin too soon to teach our children Truth and give them the incomparable tool of discrimination and detachment with which to meet the challenges of both earthly and spiritual life.