Printed in the Spring 2014 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Torres, Gasper. "Theosophy and the Child" Quest 102. 2 (Spring 2014): pg. 60-63
By Gaspar Torres
In Theosophy we find a different concept of the soul than is found in other religious, philosophical, and scientific lines. For a student of Theosophy, the soul of a child is not like a blank page created by God, but a soul with a wealth of experiences that comes to a new stage to continue its development from a previous point that has been reached. The soul is already accompanied by a series of conditions. When we study these in view of the teachings on reincarnation, they enable us to help that soul advance more quickly toward the goal of human evolution. The soul can be helped to use its new body in the right way to accelerate its unfoldment.
On the other hand, when these factors are unknown, it is possible to hinder the progress of that soul and to lose a great number of opportunities for making better use of the new incarnation. It is undeniable that the present average level of human evolution is still poor: we are as a whole more animal than truly human. We need to weaken the lower impulses and reinforce the spiritual ones. But if this is not done with an understanding of the law of evolution and the characteristics that accompany a child at birth, it becomes very difficult to be truly useful to that soul. The nineteenth-century poet and hero José Martí, probably the first Cuban to write about Theosophy, expressed some illuminating ideas on how to correctly raise a soul in a child's body:
There is no more difficult task than the one of distinguishing, in our existence, the clinging, acquired life from the spontaneous and natural one—to separate what comes with man from what has been added by the lessons, legacies, and ordinances of those who have come before him. As soon as he is born, they are already standing next to his cradle with large and strong bandages in hand: the philosophies, religions, parents' passions, political systems. And they tie him up and restrict him, and already the man is, for his whole life on this earth, a bridled horse . . . To strengthen the human will; to leave to the spirits their own seductive form; not to tarnish virgin natures with the imposition of artificial prejudices; to enable them to take for themselves what is useful, without confusing them or impelling them along a predetermined path—that is the only way of populating the earth with the vigorous and creative generation that it lacks!
Only what is genuine is fruitful. Only what is direct is powerful. What another bequeaths to us is like a reheated delicacy. It is the duty of each man to reconstruct life: as soon as he looks within himself, he reconstructs it. (Martí, 7:230)
As he strikingly points out, we have to acknowledge that the new personal soul that is beginning to use the new body needs to be stimulated to identify within itself, and to manifest, the divine spiritual essence from which it emanated, without erroneously identifying with the body and the inferior life that animates it.
If we know from Theosophy that the child is a monad trying to manifest itself by means of the immortal soul through the personal soul, we can encourage that manifestation. We can avail ourselves of the positive characteristics that the personal soul brings from its spiritual soul or ego. But the soul also brings skanÂdhas, or accumulated karma, from previous lives. These are not in harmony with the higher ego, but are a result of past entanglements with materiality. They will tend to drag the soul down to lower expressions that are in harmony with the elemental life of its lower bodies—physical, emotional, and mental. We need to prevent these inferior impulses from appearing.
C.W. Leadbeater explained that the baptismal ceremony in the Christian church had a deeper purpose: to help the soul of a newborn—through the holy water and holy oils used in the ceremony—to express in its physical body all the best that the soul may have brought from prior lives. It is also intended to minimize the lower tendencies held over from those previous stages that will incline the individual toward a life dominated by materiality.
A child who is more than one year old is less likely to be influenced by ceremonies of this kind; as a result, this is undoubtedly an indirect form of help. After this early stage, the child could be helped in various other ways to advance his evolution and keep his attention away from what may drag him down. Eventually he will be old enough to manage what is happening within him and to be more aware of his true goals as a soul rather than being a mere toy of the forces and blind energies of his bodies. A small child has little discernment of these things, as his emotional and mental vehicles are not totally harmonized with the physical one. If the negativity carried over from previous incarnations can remain latent until adolescence and youth, the individual can decide the course of his life more consciously, comparatively free from the negative impulses of the past. If we are always alert to stimulating the highest in the individual, we will also stimulate a yearning for self-knowledge which, once born, will remain for the rest of the incarnation.
We all know that a small child, luckily, does not remember his past. Thus he participates in the original innocence of the pure soul and is not too strongly inclined to repeat that past, the good or the bad. (Even the good needs to be realized by the soul in a new form rather than as a mere repetition or imitation of what it has already done.) Although the soul may bring the impulse for that new expression from its spiritual side, it enters in a body with lower tendencies, due not only to the legacy it receives from the parents, but also to negative inclinations from previous lives that tend to awaken in the presence of the elemental life of the bodies. Thus there are always two forces present: selfishness and a focus on the separate, lower life, and the higher soul, which tends to search for the lost unity. As a result, the elemental life will thrust us downward, to the mineral stage, while the soul will thrust us upward, to accomplish our evolution, which has already passed the mineral, vegetable, and animal stages, and which through human life has the capacity to return to the primordial Unity.
In the first stages of the human cycle we have to descend to manifestation in the densest forms of existence. There we enter into a relationship with the tendencies of the elemental kingdoms that we have to root out completely in the second half of the cycle. An adult who does not understand this may see tendencies in a child that, from an orthodox religious perspective, may look like the result of "original sin"—a concept that is one of the most lamentable sources of misunderstanding, ignorance, and superstition. In reality these tendencies are nothing more than an interplay of forces that place themselves in opposition to each other between the ascending arc of the human soul and the descending currents of the elemental life—a complementary expression of life in the universe.
We should not, then, impose iron disciplines on children in order to prevent "diabolical" forces from dominating them. We should also be flexible enough to inspire them to do the right thing from their souls, understanding the struggle that we all are waging in order to learn the most important lessons of evolution. It would be helpful for this endeavor to study C. Jinarajadasa's Flowers and Gardens. Here, using the allegory of a dream, the author puts us in contact with certain ideals to realize in ourselves and to utilize in the education and guidance of children. He draws the analogy of a beautiful garden in which flowers are the symbolic expression of the flowering of the spiritual soul in all human beings, especially children, who can attain it more easily.
In the West we have Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi in the nineteenth century and Maria Montessori (assisted by Annie Besant) in the twentieth as figures who helped to eradicate the ancient educational notion that "with blood the letter enters" and move into a new type of education based on the awakening of the interest and love of knowledge in the child. Nevertheless, a great deal remains to be done to provide an education that is truly useful and conducive to the best development of the spiritual soul. Only Theosophy in its widest scope can provide the appropriate framework for these improvements. Theosophical teaching exists for the sake of practical learning: it is eminently practical. If we erroneously regard it as mere theory, it is due to our lack of vision, as all Theosophical knowledge is in itself a practical invitation of immense and immediate value if we open our eyes to its usefulness.
The two cycles of seven years that span from childhood to youth—that is, from seven to fourteen and fourteen to twenty-one—provide the most important stages in which we can give our children and youth a firm foundation for a fruitful spiritual life. This cannot be done with theories or with mere words, but requires inspiring ethical examples so that the child can compare his own impulses with the behavior of his elders and his environment. Whatever is imposed on the child will never be completely assimilated by the soul. It will only result in fear of punishment or reprimand, and the repressed desire to continue the unsatisfactory behavior will reappear as soon as the fear dissipates.
Some children are docile, others are rebellious. Hence it will require great attention to decide how best to guide them according to their individual characteristics. We can generally classify children into three large groups, corresponding to the three great margas or paths: those who are active; those who are emotional; and those who are curious or who like to investigate. We need to adapt our incentives and responses to their temperaments, which we will discover through their preferences and behavior. For those in the first group, we will promote physical activity; for those in the second group, we will encourage expressions of love, both in art and in devotional activities; and for those in the third group, we will foster their inclinations toward study, which can make them ponder, reflect, and keep their minds as unprejudiced as possible so that they can be prepared for ascending to the levels of wisdom. In each of these three approaches, the stimulus employed should have a keynote of generosity and nobility so that the child will not deviate toward selfishness. At the same time, stimulating what is most prominent in the child's character does not mean that we ignore or neglect other aspects of his being, because, as the soul ascends, everything is integrated into the higher unity of Life that encompasses all its manifestations.
We need to be constantly attentive to the possible deviations from any of these paths. We also want to bring adequate stimulation and focus to whatever the child may be doing, feeling, or thinking. But we must be careful not to pressure children, even unconsciously, to behave as we think is best for them on the basis of our own desires. The tendency, especially on the parents' part, to want their children to be as they wish, and not as the children decide, remains very common even though parents have been frequently counseled to respect children's spontaneous inclination to express what they naturally feel. No soul has to do what another one tells it to do; it needs to mature in order to decide its life for itself, at the appropriate age; its elders should never impose their preferences, or their frustrations, on it.
We need to be especially careful always to accompany our words with our example. This is especially important in regard to ethics. If we want children to be truthful, it is crucial to refrain from lying to them under any circumstances. There is nothing more destructive for a developing personality than the contradiction between what its elders say and what it sees them do. When one family member tries to emphasize some ethical value, such as truthfulness, while others at home behave differently, it is almost impossible for the child to find a reasonable answer, especially if he has not totally reached an age of full discernment and understanding. Consequently, the child is almost always infused with hypocrisy, which so greatly stains present society and which was one of the disgraces most condemned by the Masters and by H.P. Blavatsky. If we can preserve the innocence of early childhood, we can foster the growth of a human being who can avoid falling into the trap of others' deceptions, but can still, from his own conviction, maintain his sincerity, truthfulness, and unselfishness. These will enable him to continue his spiritual development without the impediments that a lack of ethics would impose.
As a final point, we would like to emphasize the importance of gradually communicating to children the sense of responsibility that should characterize every human soul in adult life. At one stage of development—the age of the "why's"—the child asks about everything and needs answers. But as he continues to grow, both physically and psychologically, he has to begin to find out for himself what he should do, choose, study, and work at. We cannot develop persons who are dependent on others. Human evolution consists of expressing the uniqueness that each one of us needs to discover for ourselves. At the same time this should be for the benefit of all, and not merely an exhibition of conceit.
Although Theosophy instructs us about the existence of spiritual teachers and divine beings, it also admonishes us that those beings will not do the work of self-realization. Each one of us needs to accomplish this on his own. Thus he will be able to ascend to the stature, first of superman, and then of divine being. This process continues until each one of us attains the regency of a planetary or solar system, just as our system is governed by the Logos who has brought our monads to the point where they may reach the summit that the Masters have attained. This summit may recede, but it will never vanish: there are always new heights to reach and express in manifestation. We begin at the human level and will continue to ascend until we arrive at those divine summits.
Humanity completes a cycle of seven kingdoms that started with the three elemental ones in the descending arc, and which, after reaching maximum darkness in the mineral, has been searching for the light. It first looked for that light instinctively, in the vegetable and animal kingdoms, and now needs to do so consciously, at the human level. As Annie Besant said: "I would rather be blinded by the light, than sit willfully in the twilight or the dark."
Gaspar Torres was born into a Theosophical family and has been active in the Theosophical Society from his youth. He has served as national president of the TS in Cuba; made presentations at the TS international headquarters in Adyar, the Theosophical Caribbean Basin, and the Inter-American Theosophical Federation; and has supported TS work internationally. This article is based on a talk given for the TS in Bogotí¡, Colombia, in August 2010.