In every human being there is the quest for the unknown, and in every consciousness, whether young or old, whether traditional or modern, there is a notion of God. Different ways of holding the idea of God and identification with different religious beliefs have led to misunderstandings, conflicts, violence, and even war.
How do young children relate to their received ideas of God? How do they conceive of what or who God is? These questions have fascinated me. I have also wondered how, while they are still young and able to think afresh, they can be helped to articulate and examine their received notions of God and listen to deeper truths embodied in various religious teachings. Surely it is important to discover for oneself the truth about God, and to see that division in the name of God is most destructive and absurd.
With these concerns in mind I have, over the years, engaged with children on the subject of God. Most of the children I have worked with come from an economically secure background and are between ten and thirteen years old. I find that children of this age group are generally honest, uninhibited and not conscious of being judged. They are also able to approach a subject like 'God' with both seriousness and humour; hence I have found them a delight towork with. I present below a sketch of a few classroom activities in which I have discussed the notion of God from various angles.
Session One: Children's Notions of God
Children are invited to speak of what they think of, or what they have been told about God. For example, according to some children, God is:
- someone who listens to our prayers;
- someone who is supposed to be kind even when everyone else scolds you;
- someone who was invented by priests and even mothers to make you obey them and their rules;
- someone who killed all the rakshasas;
- someone who told Noah to build an ark and save all the animals and plants and good people;
- someone who came as a fish to save man when there was a big flood;
- someone whom no one has seen, such as Santa Claus and fairies, but whose stories are very nice to hear.
Session Two: Meanings attributed to God according to the dictionary
We consult dictionaries to find out the origins of the term 'God' and the basic meanings attributed to the term. These meanings and their usage are read out and discussed.
'The Supreme Being, (Old English god, German Gott, Old Norse goth) Perhaps originally 'the (one, the being, hence the deity) invoked.' Cf.the Sanskrit huta (for ghuta) 'invoked' (deity), huta being the past participle of havate, 'he calls upon (a god)'; perhaps also of Old Russian guth, 'voice'.'
'Basic meaning, 'to call', 'to invoke'...'what is called', 'what is invoke.'.A being of more than human attributes and powers, especially a superhuman person conceived as the ruler or sovereign embodiment of some aspect, attribute or department of reality and to whom worship is due and acceptable (ancestor worship ... occurs where gods are thought once to have been human beings)'.
'Something held to be of supreme value (Money was his god)'.
The purpose of this session is to acquaint children with essential aspects of the notion of God, as it is commonly held by human beings.
Session Three: Meanings attributed to God according to human experience
Arising out of the previous session when children are introduced to the essential dictionary meaning of theword God, this session aims at helping them trace the variousways in which God is described .moving from the notion of a personal deity to a power that transcends and envelops all. These ideas arepresented and explained to the children.
- The concept of God is traced through its various manifestations. It is seen in lightning, thunder, plants; as being the power behind all that. It is seen as the power that creates, sustains, and destroys. It is also seen in the form of animals and of man (for instance, if a bullwere to think of God, maybe it would think of God as the biggest, strongest bull with the longest horns.)
- Each person sees God according to his/her background and conditioning. Geography, culture and even language shape one's conception of that power. For example, Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, does not have a neuter gender, and was strongly patriarchal. So, in as much as Yahveh could be spoken of, Yahveh was He - with a capital H. All traces of the female principle, the Goddess, were purged, by and large, from the Old Testament.
- God is thought of as the power which has always existed, which is beyond us and yet within us, from which all creation has emerged. For example, God, the Ultimate, is seen in the Bible asYahveh who made heaven and earth, or in the Upanishads as that from which truly all things are born, by which they live, and into which they return.
- God belongs to the unthinkable. To imagine or think about God would be idolatry. Yet God is thought of as living, loving, inspiring, caring, punishing or rewarding, forgiving, liberating, creating, destroying.
Session Four: Discussion on the implications for right living
If people all over the world have thought of God as everywhere, in all beings and basically as being 'love', why do they fight one another in the name of God, and think that God is on their side? This question allows for an exploration into theways in which human beings have narrowed their conceptions of God and bred great conflict amongst themselves.
Session Five: Creating a sense of the sacred
At the next level I introduce passages from various scriptures about God or The Unknowable. The intention is to create in children a reverence for the sacred that is beyond all doctrine or denomination. In reading out the texts, I hope to invoke the feeling that the sacred has been approached in many different ways, and yet there is an essential unity to itsmystery and presence in our lives. Below are some selected passages from the texts that I have used.
I asked the Messenger of God, 'Did you see your Lord?' He said, 'He is a Light; how could I see Him?'
[Hadith of Islam]
If you think that you know God, you know very little; all that you can know are ideas and images of God.
I do not know God, nor can I say that I don't know it. If you understand the meaning of 'I neither know nor don't know', you understand God.
Those who realize that God cannot be known, truly know; those who claim that they know, know nothing.
The ignorant think that God can be grasped by the mind; the wise know It beyond knowledge.
When you see that God acts through you at every moment, in every movement of mind or body, you attain true freedom.
When you realize the truth, and cling to nothing in the world, you enter eternal life.
He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his spirit. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
1 John 4.7-20
Thou art the fire
Thou art the sun
Thou art the air
Thou art the moon
Thou art the starry firmament
Thou art the Supreme;
Thou art the waters -
Thou, the Creator of all!
Thou art woman, thou art man,
Thou art the youth, thou art the maiden,
Thou art the old man tottering with his staff;
Thou faceth everywhere.
Thou art the dark butterfly,
Thou art the green parrot withred eyes,
Thou art the thunder cloud, the seasons, the seas.
Without beginning art Thou, beyond time and space. Thou art He from whom sprang the three worlds.
In the beginning was God,
Today is God
Tomorrow will be God.
Who can make an image of God?
He has no body.
He is as a word which comes out of your mouth.
It is no more,
It is past, and still it lives!
So is God.
[Pygmy Hymn (Zaire)]
This do I ask, O Lord, reveal unto me the truth! Who is the first begetter, father of the Cosmic Law? Who assigned orbit to the sun and the stars? Who causes the moon to wax and again to wane? Who other than Thee? This and else I wish to know! Who is the upholder of the earth and of the sky? Who prevents them from falling down? Who maintains the waters and also the plants? Who yoked speed to winds and clouds? Who is the creator of the creatures? Who is the architect of light and darkness? Who created sleep and wakefulness? By whom exists dawn, mid-day and night, Which monitor the duties of men?
[Avesta, Yasna 44.3-5]
Student: The rishis and the sages spend years searching for God. They leave the world, and sit in caves. Do they really find God?
J. Krishnamurti: You know, it is only a very simple mind, a mind that is really innocent, that is always in a state of not-knowing, and of not-accumulating, that can find God or Truth or Beauty or Goodness. And it is very difficult to have such a mind.
You see, what we do is to give up worldly things; we put on a loincloth or a robe but, inwardly, remain very complex. That is, outwardly we may renounce the world, but inwardly we never renounce anything. We never give up all our beliefs; we never give up all the formulas, and the things that we have learnt from books, and from teachers. We are never, inwardly, at any moment simple. We are never, at any moment, not asking or not begging or not seeking. If we go into it very deeply, we will realize that God cannot be found. That thing must come to us; we cannot go to it. Therefore, we cannot seek it. But, because we want to get hold of that reality, we chase it up and down the world, and it eludes us, it escapes from us. We think that the Real will solve all our problems and give us happiness, peace. So we find various methods by which we can pursue it more persistently, determinedly. But it is only the mind that does not ask, that does not seek, that is infinitely simple and innocent, that is really very clear, uncluttered by innumerable pieces of knowledge, and that is sensitive to everything – to the cruelties of man to man, of man to animal – that can find God.
[J. Krishnamurti, December 27, 1955]
Session Six: If I were God for a day..
The last session is in a somewhat lighter vein. In this I ask children to write about what each of themwould do if he or shewere God for a day. The children respond enthusiastically, and over the years, I have received a wide range of responses, from the absurdly funny to the serious and thoughtful. This exercise tells me a lot about theway children respond to the feeling of unlimited power. More significantly, it also tells me about what they would change in thisworld they have inherited and also what disturbs them about this world. On the facing page are some samples from children's statements.
What is the impact on children of such a study? I do not know. I know that some children participate animatedly, others listen with rapt attention, and yet others might be reading books or doodling in their notebooks during classes. All these kinds of responses make up the character of any typical class. It would be presumptuous to say that these sessions on 'Speaking of God' have touched the students in any way; however, I do hope that a seed planted somewhere, given the right situation, will respond and flower.