by Swami Rama of The Himalayas

I also talked with many sincere people who sought to follow a spiritual path while creating loving family lives in the world. Sometimes I have found in these married people a greater level of spiritual awareness and sincerity than in those who live monastic lives. There are many sincere and dedicated people in the modern world, East and West, who are trying to follow the path of a practical spirituality. They meditate and also fulfill their responsibilities to their partners, children, and the society in which they live through their selfless, active lives. Whenever I wanted to know whether a couple was genuinely happy and content, I would tell them, “You seem to be very happy,” and then the reactions on their faces would tell me whether they were truly loving with each other, or whether their polite behavior was only superficial.

I have also seen many changes in the past twenty years, both in the East and in the West. There is increasing violence everywhere in the world, a crumbling of the foundations of society, which creates many problems – rising rates of divorce and family conflict, problems with alcohol and drugs, and the inability to raise healthy, balanced children. There is also a pattern of greater stress, which challenges the physical and emotional health of even those who do not exhibit the most disastrous nsocial problems. We look at our world and wonder how we will create peace and freedom. We want to successfully fulfill our responsibility to train and educate the children, those tender buds, who are given to us to nurture and raise.

In answering these questions it is clear that family life is important, because the foundation for life is established in childhood, especially in the first seven years. This sets a pattern for the duration of the rest of our lives. A great man once said, “Give me only the first seven years of life; the rest you can take.” He meant that these first years are of the greatest importance in determining the course of life.

If childhood is healthy, then we have established a good foundation as human beings, and we are able to care for ourselves, contribute to society, and share our love with others. This means also that we can take the next step in life, the step of being able to explore the spiritual dimensions of ourselves. However, if these first years of childhood are unhealthy, then they create problems and conflicts that we must overcome later in our lives, and which may even interfere with our ability to attain our goal. It is possible to resolve these problems and conflicts, although to do so may consume much of our adult lives. But life is like a school, and we cannot go on to the next level until we have completed the basic lessons. Families are the central training grounds for the entire life, the first step in a child’s spiritual development. Parents are their children’s first gurus, and if they complete their duties wisely, then the child moves on to other levels of learning.

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(an excerpt from Love and Family Life by Swami Rama, published in 1992 by the Himalayan Institute Press, Honesdale, PA, USA)