As age catches up, people realize the transient nature of all things they aspired for. Fame, beauty and wealth did not provide the permanent satisfaction they sought, and now have been replaced with wrinkles, fear and ill-health.
Generally, elderly people find some relief when they visit temples or take part in satsangs. Many people, at this time of life, wish to dedicate more time to God and devotional/spiritual activities. But unfortunately, used as their minds are to turning towards the world and sense-satisfaction, they find it hard to live the devotional life that was previously the proverbial green grass on the other side (their future).
Mind, the most intriguing creation of God, is fueled by the latent desires that a person carries in every birth. Every action (small or big) that a person does leaves a residue similar to a footprint on a sandy beach. Millions of these footprints (latent impressions or vasanas) that are present in the beach of our minds, shape not only our desires and actions in this life, but also determine our birth and character in the next life: that’s how deep they are.
How then can we expect to orient our thoughts towards God the moment we turn 60? Nor does it help that by the time we are 60, not only are we physically weak with creaking bones, but our minds are creaky too and considerably weakened.
So, as with everything, it is better to start early in this path too. This path (of devotion to God) is the most important one all of us need to take; not just because it can help us easily achieve the very purpose of life (attaining God) but in a more practical, understandable sense, it can give us peace of mind and happiness in every step of our life, irrespective of what life throws at us.
“Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression.” is a famous quote by a well-known child psychologist. It is at this young age, that the mind can be guided into the path of devotion very easily. And as the quote mentions, this will last forever as they are etched in concrete. Our scriptures as well as our history present numerous instances of how children who followed the path of devotion attained great fame, nay, God Himself!
At the tender age of five, a determined and courageous prince Dhruva performed intense penance, thanks to the association with and the grace of his Guru, Sage Narada. The Lord Himself appeared before this little boy and blessed him that he would become a great king and live a long life filled with devotion and satsang.
At the same age of five, Prahlada had darshan of Lord Narasimha and was anointed “emperor” of all devotees by the Lord Himself. Despite being an asura by birth, Prahlada’s transformation also happened due to association with Sage Narada and his chanting of the Lord’s name. Later, Prahlada too instructs all his demoniac classmates to chant the Lord’s Name and start devotional practices right from childhood. He says,
“kaumAra AcharEt prAgno dharmAn bhAgavatAn iha
durlabham mAnusham janma tadapi adhruvam arthadam”
(This rare birth as a human should be spent in devotional activities from the very beginning of life [childhood], and will lead us to perfection.)
Down the ages, there have lived (and continue to live) numerous child-devotees who obtained nothing but goodness and greatness by taking to the path of devotion at a young age. Meera could not have borne all her troubles without a care if she had not loved Krishna as much as she did, right from her childhood. If Andal had not offered up her entire life for the Lord right from the moment she was born, and resolved to marry only Lord Ranganatha, would we revere and prostrate to her today? Jana Bai would have been an unknown servant girl if she had not been adopted by Sant Namdev, and thanks to his association developed such prema-bhakti for Lord Panduranga that the Lord Himself helped her with all her daily chores like washing the vessels, sweeping the floor, grinding flour!
And how did they all develop bhakti at such a young age? Simply “sat-sangha”. Association with true sadhus (devotees).
Contrary to the popular belief that practicing devotion to God will make a person renounce the world (which is why children and young people are generally discouraged from pursuing spirituality seriously), we actually find historically that those who practiced devotion to God were strong of mind, happy, and more capable of performing their worldly duties with love, care and concern; be it serving and taking care of aged parents, discharging their responsibilities towards the spouse, children or subjects (in the case of kings), or performing household chores.
It is the foremost duty of elders to guide the future generation in the right path by encouraging thoughts of God and providing them with an ambience for the flowering of devotion to Him. The key to this lies in taking them to satsangs where the names of the Lord are chanted and where stories of His leelas and of the lives of great saints are narrated. Constant exposure to such an environment will fill the children’s minds with thoughts of God that will, in turn, strengthen their minds and guide them to perfection as it did to Dhruva, Prahlada, Meera and innumerable such child-bhaktas.
Aravind Thathachari, Dallas, TX