Theosophical University Press Online Edition
Some questions that children ask — and grownups too. You will also hear some delightfully touching and humorous remarks that children make — and that grownups make too, only in different form. I don't think that there is much difference between a child's mind and an adult mind as regards the fundamentals. The questions that I have heard children ask, and the questions that I have heard grownups ask, seem to me to tend precisely to the same point, and to require precisely the same answers. It is merely the formulations that differ, both in question and in answer, and in observation or remark.
In our Occidental countries where the questions concerning "God," — "Who is God?" and "What is God?" — are considered of such enormous importance, a child may say: "Papa, who is God?" Did you never hear a grownup ask that very same question? Or again when a child says: "Mama, what is nature?" did you never hear a grownup ask the same question? Do not grownups ponder over the same thoughts?
As regards nature, indeed, this is the very truth of things that the scientists are trying to find out — what is nature? Where then is the difference in fundamentals between the child mind and the so-called adult mind? The child's mind is pragmatical: it is direct, it is very matter of fact. It wants a clear-cut answer, and it is not satisfied with evasions, as grownups so often are. But the adult mind is sophisticated; it thinks it knows a great deal, and therefore unconsciously to itself, it is satisfied with evasions that are an apology for an answer. Provided that the answer be logical in form, the adult mind rests quite content with an answer which may contain no substance of reality.
But the child is not content with evasions. There is a hunger for knowledge and for truth in its unspoiled soul. It wants to know something real and true about things. The adult flatters himself that he also wants to know something really true, but nevertheless he is only too often satisfied with an answer if it comes from an authority: religious or philosophical or scientific or other.
You may ask: Is not the child also satisfied with the answers it gets? Yes, if the answer is clever enough to hide the fatal flaws in logic and fact, but it requires an extremely able adult mind to deceive a child who has begun to think; and please understand I am not referring to infants.
So when we speak of "Some Questions that Children Ask," we might just as readily say "Some Questions that Adults Ask." We adults are children simply grown up, and children are little men and women who are as yet unsophisticated. That is the only difference that I have been able to see; and it is as difficult to answer a child's questions as it is to answer a grownup's questions, and indeed I think it is more difficult.
When a boy comes to his father and says: "Papa, what is the answer to this?" the father often does not know, and so he replies in substance: "Go about your business; study your lessons; go to your books." Now, I think that this is positively cruel. If the father does not know the proper answers to give, I do not mean that he should say "I don't know," because there is a psychological problem involved here, and there is a certain respect that the parent rightly feels the child should have for him; but he certainly could give his child some kind of an answer, if he is himself sufficiently a man to bring a child into the world and to take the responsibility of its upbringing; and the same remark applies to women.
Let me read to you something that happened in this our Temple of Peace on last Sunday afternoon — and this comes from one of our ladies in attendance here, whose permission I have to read it to you:
"Hearing you announce the subject for the next Temple Service address, I am quite sure this incident which occurred in our Temple of Peace will be of interest.
"A man and woman with two small children sat directly behind me. Many questions were asked during the organ recital. The little girl gained my strict attention by asking, 'Mama! What is the music saying?'
"This was repeated several times before the answer came. If you will reproduce the atmosphere of the Temple, you will not think I exaggerate my feeling that something had been killed, when the reply was, 'It isn't saying anything, it's just pretty music.' I could have wept."
Ask a musician what the music is saying to him. The musician will understand the question. The music is talking to him, if he is a musician indeed. It speaks a language that he, at least to a certain extent, can understand and interpret; it does say something to him, it carries a message to him, therefore it speaks, and this child's inquiring mind, searching for knowledge, appealing to the person in whom it had utmost confidence, acted from an instinctive sense of truth, and its mind was rebuffed and by so much was stultified.
Such things are positively cruel, and show an utter misunderstanding of child psychology.
I may say here that Katherine Tingley's whole system of education — the Raja-Yoga system of education — consists in bringing out the child's inner faculties: in teaching it not only how to think, but how to feel, in teaching it how to become that which it is within itself. Therefore it consists not so much in putting a vast array of facts into a child's weary mind, and thereby proportionately crippling the child's native powers and genius, but in bringing out that which the child is living to express and trying to express. In other words, the Raja-Yoga system is based on the recognition of the fact that there is a great spiritual power lying latent in and endeavoring to express itself through little human beings whom we call children.
See how different this Raja-Yoga System, this theosophical system of education, is from the old ideas: so different as contrasted with the old idea that education for a child consists in stuffing its mind full with more or less uncertainly truthful facts, until the mind, until the brain, until the heart, can hold no more — of what? Truths? Immortal gods! no, only too often of fairy tales of the wrong kind: of things which seem to be true in one era, and in less than ten or twenty years afterwards are proved to be false, or false in part.
What kind of education is that? And that is the "education" that our schools are full of, not only our American schools, but schools the world over. Fairy tales! And the phrase in this connection is a kind one, for there are two kinds of fairy tales, false and true, the latter being the tales and stories of the ancients which imbody great truths of nature put in the form of story and legend. For these wonderful old legends and fairy tales of the ancients which have come down to us in different forms in different lands, in the form of story, imbody natural facts, facts of nature under the guise, under the clothing, of fairy tales.
Yes, if you have ever studied the books of fairy tales existent in the different countries — such as they which have been collected by Andrew Lang in Britain, such as they which have been, not so much collected, but have been imagined, by Hans Christian Andersen in Denmark — there you will see, if you have the eyes to see — and you will have the eyes if you study theosophy — the great natural truths behind the veil of the tale.
Take the exquisitely beautiful fairy tale of the Sleeping Princess in the Enchanted Wood, sometimes called Prince Charming and the Sleeping Princess, or again sometimes called The Sleeping Beauty. You remember the incidents of this beautiful tale. The beauty lay sleeping in the castle in an enchanted wood, and all around her everything was sleeping. The cook slept at his spit in the kitchen, and the fire slept in the grate, and the wardens and the guards slept standing. The king slept on his throne, and the queen and her ladies in their boudoir slept with brush or pencil in hand. Everything was asleep, sleeping. Then comes riding along the way Prince Charming. He sees the sleeping wood and the palace in its midst, and he enters the palace and finds everyone asleep, humans, animals, trees, everything. He bends down and kisses the Princess on the brow, and immediately everything awakens. The cook resumes his labor of turning his spit; the wardens and the watchmen awaken and begin anew their interrupted conversation; the king moves on his throne; and the queen and the ladies in their boudoir resume their various tasks.
All this lovely little tale is an expression in forms of faerie of what theosophists call the opening of the manvantara, that is to say, the awakening of a new period of cosmic evolution. Prince Charming is the spirit who bends down and kisses the Princess on the brow, and this is the touch of the spirit awakening new life in all things — the awakening of intuitive vision — and things then spring into life because manifestation begins anew for another cycle of cosmic expression.
A legend which contains in such beautiful form some of the profoundest mysteries of the old religions and philosophies of past times, and indeed of modern science, is worthy of study, for our ultra-modern scientists are beginning to see, they are beginning to have vision, they are beginning to realize that there are majestic truths in nature which can be interpreted no longer merely by mathematical formulae, but by an intuitive mind and sympathetic heart.
Such a legend, I say, containing such wonderful truths of nature, is deathless in its elements, and one can understand why such a legend has migrated from land to land through the ages, and has been a great favorite not merely among solid thinking men, statesmen and philosophers and others, but has been told by the intuitive understanding of mothers in their nurseries to their little children. Perhaps they do not understand what it all means, but the appeal is there, the instinctive recognition of a great truth, both physical and moral, which underlies the outer veil. And as regards our scientists, that is, if they keep on as they have begun, they will begin to understand the great meanings of some of these legends of the ancient times.
In my next lecture on the Sunday following today, I hope to take up, at least briefly, how such legends come into being, and how they pass from land to land. I love to read the old fairy tales, the old mythologies, the old folk-lore: because the fairy tales and legends and stories and folk lore are but parts of the mythologies of the ancient peoples. Some are more enwrapt than others are in the veils of tale and marvel, some are more closely shrouded under the veils of story, but all of these ancient fables and legends and myths, contain profound truths of nature as their essential meanings.
Education is a different thing from instruction. In our Raja-Yoga system of education, founded and directed by Katherine Tingley, we have not merely instruction, but education likewise. Do you know the difference? These two words are popularly supposed to be synonymous, but they are not. "Education" means bringing out the native faculties within, evolving the native faculties of the child, or indeed of the adult, so that the adult or child will learn to be independent, spiritually and intellectually, to think for himself or herself, and feel for himself and herself, and to walk through life unafraid, a true man or a true woman; and this in no sense is license or an unbridled following of moral lawlessness. Instruction means the teaching of things that the current customs and manners of the time require.
Katherine Tingley said many years ago, shortly after she first founded her Raja-Yoga School here at Point Loma with five pupils:
"The truest and fairest thing of all as regards education is to attract the mind of the pupil to the fact that the immortal self is ever seeking to bring the whole being into a state of perfection. The real secret of the Raja-Yoga system is rather to evolve the child's character than to overtax the child's mind; it is to bring out rather than to bring to the faculties of the child. The grander part is from within."
Everybody today knows how true this declaration is. It was an educational novelty when Katherine Tingley first enunciated this more than a quarter of a century ago, a true educational novelty. Some educationalists possibly had dreams of such a system to come in the distant future, but the idea then of education was simply the cramming into the child's mind of all that could be crammed into it, thus crippling the native genius of the child, distorting often the pathway that the poor remnants of its faculties, in other words of its genius, might follow.
People talk about the old fairy tales as if they were mere stories of pastime, the fanciful wanderings of the imagination expressed in words. They forget that there are and have been many fairy tales which at one time were supposed to be knowledge, scientific knowledge and whatnot, but which later were proved to be mere ideas based upon theories of the bigwigs. Just think how things and times have changed! Just think how our minds were crammed with such false fairy tales about nature, when we were children, and which we had to unlearn in adult life; and how, as a matter of fact, did we succeed in learning the little that we do know? By going within ourselves in thought and reflection, also through mental pain and suffering and distress.
We might have been saved so much of this had we been properly taught, both educationally and instructionally, according to the truths of Katherine Tingley's Raja-Yoga in our youth — not however that pain and suffering are not good friends to us in their own way. They are indeed pathways in recognition of truth, by which we may learn; but there is a better way — not only an easier way, but a better way — and that is a sympathetic understanding of the developing mind of the child by its parents first, and second by its teachers who are its second parents; and a very, very grave responsibility is theirs. I think that our Raja-Yoga teachers realize it to the full. Every child we take into the school I know is regarded by our teachers as a soul entrusted to their care, for which they are individually and collectively responsible.
Yes, we used to be taught scientific fairy tales which were false, and religious fairy tales which were false. We know of course some of the old religious teachings of our childhood regarding heaven, hell, God, the Devil. It reminds me of a little boy who said to his mother once: "Mama, I want to go to sleep; please tell God to go away."
Another little boy had been brought up in an orthodox home, having loving parents of course, but he had been told of God as a revengeful God, a God of mighty power who was the punisher of wickedness and of sin, and who, although a God of love, for that very reason used to punish little boys for being naughty; and he was told of the sins that he should not do, and naturally his childish brain and instincts were immediately tempted to do these things, in order to see what would happen.
He had a wonderful mental picture of God, this poor boy; and one day he saw a figure in a picture book — you know what the old picture of the devil was, the medieval picture, a thing in human shape with a tail, with horns on the head, with cloven hoofs, with a satanic leer on the face, and holding the trident fork. This unfortunate boy looked at the picture in amazement and fear, and reflected a bit, and finally he said: "Papa, this must be God."
This is an example of fairy tales of the worst kind, and of their influence on the plastic mind of little children. And there were many other fairy tales that little children, you and I, when we were between infancy and youth, were told. I am sure that all of you here had parents as great and noble as mine were, but I am speaking of the general run of individuals of my own age at that time.
Let me read to you something that was given to little children to read some forty years ago by one of the great religious organizations. This extract is taken from a book, and this extract describes the regions of Hell. I make only an extract from this intolerable work, for I have no desire to inflict any more pain on you:
"The Fourth Dungeon is the boiling kettle. Listen: There is a sound like that of a kettle boiling. The blood is boiling in the scalded brains of that boy; the brain is boiling and bubbling in his head; the marrow is boiling in his bones.
"The Fifth Dungeon is the red-hot oven in which is a little child. Hear how it screams to come out; see how it turns and twists itself about in the fire; it beats its head against the roof of the oven; it stamps its feet upon the floor of the oven."
Isn't it horrible to put such thoughts into a little child's mind? Is there any wonder that nurtured in such an atmosphere of terror and horror we have as resultants criminals, weaklings, crooks, shifty-minded and shifty-eyed adults: men and women who were once little children brought up in the atmosphere of fear, of horror?
Contrast all this with the stories which are told to the little children, and have always been told to little children: the stories of beauty; simple tales conveying an ancient truth about nature and the human being; about the bright gods, the divinities; about the fairies who make the flowers grow; tales about the raindrop and of the sunbeam, true scientific tales, this time. The imagination of the child is fired and stirred; it is taught to think for itself; and the result is that it wants to know more, and as it grows it will know more, for the developing faculties thus encouraged within it to grow, will demand to know more. Thus you have, I say, every possibility of genius shining forth in manhood or womanhood.
The seeds of greatness lie in the lessons of beauty and of harmony and of hope and of law instilled into the breast of little children. Therein lies one of the beauties and secrets of the wonderful theosophical Raja-Yoga system of education of Katherine Tingley.
I do not see much difference between children and grownups, except that the grownups are worse, far worse, as a rule. We adults have learned to make abstractions in our mind; we have learned to be sophisticated, indeed often to be arrogantly egoistical. We have learned to think that we know a great deal, and have a great deal of trouble in unlearning much of what we have been taught to know; and thus we have lost the child state in which knowledge comes naturally — that child state of which Jesus the Christian founder is alleged to speak in the Christian New Testament: "Except ye become as one of these little ones, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
The idea here is not that we should become infantile, not that we should lose knowledge, not that we should lose what we have gained in the way of self-control; but to come back to the child state of clear vision, with a mind free of prejudices, possessing a lack of hates, and of false loves, possessing a lack of falsities in both heart and mind. For these and other reasons the ancients called their initiates, the great seers and sages, Little Ones. Children see; and it is their inquiring mind seeking more knowledge, that drives them to ask questions which adults often find very embarrassing.
The childlike question "Who is God?" is an instance in point. Can you answer that question? Now, in a Buddhist country no child would ask such a question very probably, because in those countries they don't believe in a Great Big Man up there in the sky; but our unfortunate children in the Occident have been told about this "Great Big Man up there," and they want to be told something more about him. They are not satisfied. In fact, the childish mind in its secret recesses does not know whether it is going to accept it or not.
But every child heart understands when you talk to it about the fairies who make the flowers grow; and so do adults; and it is an infinitely more scientific thing to tell a child, than are the old-fashioned ideas, scientific or religious as the case may be, about something which never existed and was merely imaginary, and has passed away, and is not indeed forgotten, but is not spoken of. Here I refer to the entirely changed scientific conceptions and views of nature and of life. The scientists will tell you the mysteries of the atom and of the electrons in the atom. Their own minds are fired, their imagination is fired, their whole being is stirred, to get still greater truths. And what do they tell us lies underneath the veil of the material world we see? Professor Eddington of Cambridge, England, is one of these great modern scientists who are beginning to "see," and he says that what lies behind the material veils is "mind-stuff," to wit: all these electrons and atoms are but manifestations of what he calls mind-stuff.
Fairies! You don't like the term "fairies," perhaps. Why? Simply because you associate it with childhood. You think that childhood is ignorant and stupid. Is it? Answer the children's questions then, if you know so much. No indeed, children are neither stupid nor ignorant.
Let me read to you some of the questions that children ask, and also I am going to read to you some of the delightful sayings of little children that have been gathered together here in our own Raja-Yoga School by our teachers, some of whom have been kind enough to supply me with quite a long list of these questions and quaint sayings of the little ones.
Little Paddy (one of the boys): "Why don't we remember our past lives?" Teacher: "Why do you think we don't?" Paddy (after some thought): "Oh! It must be because we would not know which mother to love."
Now, is not that a natural answer, as well as a thoughtful one? Can you offhand give a more telling and pointed answer? Here we are not dealing with questions of philosophy and religion as much as with the inquiring mind of adult or child, as the case may be. You probably could give a much better answer if you had studied theosophy, the ancient wisdom, but if you have never heard much about it, your natural instinct of love and devotion to your present mother would perhaps lead you to say: "Well, I think it must be nature's law, because if I had to love two mothers, or three or more, I might feel that it was criminal to leave any one of them out of my thought." You see that this is a child's devotion, but not a man's. That probably is true. Nevertheless it shows thought, it shows instinctive heart-wisdom, it shows sense — more sense sometimes than we grownups are accustomed to show in the answers that we give, which are often not merely stupid but ludicrous.
Little Isabel: "Are the animals born again as we are?"
Answer: "Yes, but perhaps in a little different way." But the answer is yes, just the same. That question is easy to answer. But when little Isabel was told that her same exact body did not come back again, but only "something inside," little Isabel remarked: "But I didn't know I had anything inside me except my food that I eat."
Now, there is a lot of wisdom in that answer — more than appears on the surface. I venture to say that it is more wise, more based on true intuition and instinct, than are those bulky tomes in the libraries of the medieval schoolmen, who had an idea of a something called a soul, which they thought was inside this physical body, and that when the body died, the soul went up to heaven, or in the other direction, and that one day the body was going in some miraculous way to shoot up after it, or to plunge downwards after it.
Personally I think little Isabel is right. That "something inside" is indeed not in the body. It is, so to say, only metaphorically inside. What I mean may be suggested to you when I ask: How about the electricity in the conducting wire, and the wire itself? Is the electricity "inside" the wire? How about the wireless? What is the wire? Mostly holes. You know what physical matter is in the view of modern science which is coming to be practically identical with what it is in theosophy. Haven't I talked about it again and again in our Temple of Peace? Physical matter is mostly so-called empty space. Why, if you had the electronic eye, you would not see any wire at all, for the wire is just a mass of electrons, points of mind-stuff.
Indeed, that "something inside" of which little Isabel speaks, is rather the psychomagnetic, quasi-material atmosphere surrounding the individual, the auric cloud as it were surrounding the body, wherein inheres the spiritual electricity of individuality, popularly miscalled the soul.
Now, listen to this very quaint remark, one of the most beautiful things that I have ever heard. Our little children here have an idea that God and Mother Nature are the same person, one of the teachers informs me. In fact, said this teacher, when Mr. Mitchell, Sr., used to go about in his flower garden between five and five-thirty o'clock in the evening, those little children all believed at that time that he was God and Mother Nature, and that he made the flowers grow. That is a beautiful thought.
Do you adults know where the flowers come from? A child's question, you may say, but I tell you in all seriousness, it is an adult's question, and will any adult in this Temple undertake to answer it for me? Ask the scientist if he can tell you.
I can tell you, because I try to understand theosophy. Every theosophist in this Temple can tell you. Partly they come from human beings. Do you know that our soil, the ground, is the physical stuff of beings that have lived and have gone? And we ourselves, we human beings, physical body and all, are each one of us a vast multitude of little lives, growing, learning things on their upward way, just as we humans are: hence they are fairies, if you like to give them that name, or if your mind is scientifically disposed, you may call them atoms, which are points or centers of mind-stuff. Otherwise they would not be individualized as atoms and electrons.
Think about it for a moment. Think about it for yourselves, and do not take merely someone else's opinion. We are made up of these little fairies or points of mind-stuff, and we help to form the flowers, as they help to form us, for we as well as they, are each one of us shedding, so to say, these points of mind-stuff constantly. And as these points of mind-stuff exist in very many different degrees or grades of evolution, they seek both individually and collectively their proper spheres when they leave us, either as composing the bodies of minerals or the vegetable world, or the animal world, or of other humans. Everything in nature helps everything else, and we are bound together by unbreakable bonds.
Now, this is high philosophy, as well as high religion, and it is true. It is, in the sense of the word that I have already set forth, a most wonderful fairy tale, because it is true, and every little child will understand the elements of it immediately, because its mind is unsophisticated. We think we know better from stuff that we have put into our minds, and therefore we reject truth; but the child's mind is not crammed full of false teachings — usually, that is. You mothers and fathers, if your child asks you these questions, should know how to answer them simply, and the thought that I have just set forth is at least a suggestion that your child will understand.
A child eight years old: "Where do we go when we dream? That is the most interesting of all to me." Could you answer that? Do you realize that our greatest psychologists are pondering over that same question, of course formed in their own fashion, and answering it with Graeco-Latin sesquipedalian words, words perhaps two inches long in print; and all this is merely sophisticated methods of trying to achieve the same thing that the child says in six or eight words or less; but there is the same question, the same thought.
Answer your child, should he ask you this question, that we go in dream where the mind goes, because the mind is the personal you and I; and tell your child at the same time that for this reason it is very necessary to keep the mind clean and pure and in a state of love for all things, for love is a great and mighty force of protection — true, impersonal love, I mean. It surrounds the mind with an aura that evil forces or influences never can penetrate, and its influences on others are very beautiful and elevating.
Never mind, in speaking to your children, about high philosophy, and do not attempt to fill in all the details, but wait until your child is older. Give the child an answer that it can understand, and if there is something wrong in your answer, let it find it out for itself. Oh the joy of discovery that the child-mind feels! This method will help the child, because it will make it think by firing and awakening its own imagination, and this is of enormous benefit to it in after-life.
Never fear to answer a question. Treat your child as you would a companion and a friend, instead of a nuisance in the sense of an animate interrogation point. This does not mean that you should be foolish. It simply means that you should look upon your child as a young and unsophisticated friend trying to learn. Treat it aright.
Little Sidney, six years old, has long and eagerly awaited the time when he could go to school. His experience was a bitter disappointment. His teacher tells me that once he said: "We just played games like Chick-a-my-Chick-a-my-Craney-Crow, and did other things I already knew, when I thought I was going to learn what became of the yesterdays, and how the stars are made to stick in the sky and not fall out."
Will you please tell me what has become of past time? This is a question that our greatest minds today are attempting to answer in the ponderous language of modern philosophy. The great Einstein has partly answered it in his so-called space-time continuum. If you want philosophy, I call talk that to you also. But the little child asked the same question in childlike words. Can you answer it? Tell your child: "Dear, there is really no past. It is all Now. Do you remember yesterday? Do you remember today?" It will be satisfied for the time being. You have taught it to think, to realize its own consciousness. Its own mind will fill in the details; and you mothers and fathers, it is your responsibility so to help it. Never mind trying to train it according to instructional fads of the day: help it to grow so that its own native genius will come to the fore, and instead of a criminal, instead of a failure, instead in your family you may have one to bless your declining years, a grownup son or daughter whom you will be proud of.
"How do the stars stick in the sky?" Can you explain gravitation — what it is? Can you tell why it is? That is the very question that our ultra-modern scientists are trying to solve today. Where is the difference in fundamentals between the question of the adult and the question of the child? It is the same thought, only formulated differently. No wonder that the questions that children ask puzzle their parents sometimes, because we adults ourselves find great difficulty in answering, and the answers are not yet complete by any means.
Here are some more questions: "Who is Mother Nature?" That is just what our scientists are trying to find out. The child wants to know. If that question were asked of me, and I were teaching a little child, I think I would say: "The universal life, dear, is in you and in me." And the child would probably ask more questions of me and I would answer them as best I could: try to give it a thought, something for its mind to think over, to dwell upon, something noble helping it to bring out its own powers of reflection and responsibility, thus helping to lead its own faculties out into action.
You remember what Socrates said of himself, in his own view, as being the proudest thing that he could say of himself. He said: I am the midwife of young men. I teach them how to bring forth their own selves, to bring to birth the real man inside.
Another question that a child asked: "Where do I come from?" You may answer, for instance, if you like, "From the last life." The child will be satisfied for the time being at least. It may immediately ask another question. Be prepared for it, then, and answer it in the same way.
A third question: "Where do we go when we die?" Suggested answer: "To another life. You are here now, dear; you came here from the last life; and when you leave this life you are going to another life."
Listen to the following question: "Why must we obey?" Now, here is a question that is indeed difficult to answer. However, we might make an effort successfully to do so, and we might say: "We obey because it is beautiful, and because it makes one strong and healthy and good and wise." Such an answer teaches obedience to constituted authority. It also teaches the child to have respect for its parents, because the child feels that when Papa answers him in that way, Papa himself is obedient to constituted authority. Obedience therefore in the child's mind becomes something both noble and manly, or womanly, as the case may be. You have put a seed in the child's mind that will be helpful to it throughout its life, and doubtless that seed of thought will grow into something great.
"Who pushes the toadstool up through the solid concrete?" How are you going to answer that question? Do you realize that that question has been debated in the Academies? I verily believe that nobody ignorant of theosophy can answer it, but that a theosophist can. He can give you a good answer, whether you accept that answer or not. The answer is logical, philosophical, scientific, religious, and therefore satisfactory.
Putting the answer in as simple language as I can, I think I should answer it as follows: "The toadstool pushes itself up, because it is full of toadstool soul-life. In the same way your body will grow up to be a big man, because your body is full of little fairy-lives, which, all together, make your life too." In this answer you give the child something to think about. Your answer may not be satisfactory to yourself, but your purpose in answering your child is not to do so in a manner pleasing to yourself. But with such an answer your child has something to think over, to reflect upon, and depend upon it, if there are any flaws in your answer, your child will find them out, and will come to you again. And indeed, is not that just what you want it to do?
Some of our children the other day found a dead mouse, one of our teachers tells me, and after burying it with great ceremony, they later saw another mouse running across the road. "Oh!" said one of them: "Is that the other mouse come alive already?" They thought that it had reincarnated so quickly. We may truly call this one of the delightful things that children say.
We have some wonderful children here. It is a sheer delight to listen to them. They do ask questions sometimes that literally puzzle one, and it is impossible to blame anyone for being at a loss how to answer these difficult questions, for the simple reason that as I have said before, most of them are questions that adults themselves are puzzled about.
A little four-year old boy remarked to his teacher one day, quite of his own accord: "Miss ----, you know there are many things we would like to do, but really they are not right; for instance, we would like to hang on the doors." See the delightful and refreshing frankness in this remark! It is a small thing, but after all how significant in their meanings, as to a child's character, such small things are.
"Will this pansy come alive again if I put it in water?" — holding up a dead pansy to his teacher. I don't know what the teacher answered, but I think that I would have answered: "No, it is only the pansy's outside clothes. The little fairy has gone to another life. Then when it comes back here to earth it will be at new pansy-fairy." I have a notion that this answer will cause that child to think a bit. Also its inquiring mind has not been rebuffed; it has not been snubbed; nothing in its mind has been killed. On the contrary, it has been helped.
"Why did the ancient Aztecs bury their implements with the dead? They would not come back again in the same body," remarked a child of six years. How would you answer that? Indeed it is a question that archeologists have been puzzling over for many years, and they are still puzzling over it. The archeologists long ago came to the conclusion that the peoples who buried such implements believed in some kind of "spirit" or "soul," and that they also believed this spirit or soul will need its implements in the next life, and that it was for that reason that the ancients buried the dead man's implements with the corpse. That answer never seemed to me to be a very logical or satisfactory one. Do you know, I think that I should have answered that child as follows: "Because the implements are no more needed. New implements will be there ready and waiting in the next life."
"Caterpillars turn into butterflies, but what turns into caterpillars?" I would say: "Butterfly eggs." I think that this answer would satisfy the child, at least for the time being.
One of the little tots was having her piano lesson one day, and had just played a little piece called Humpty Dumpty, singing the words while playing. The teacher told her to put some expression into her playing, because at the end it was rather sad when Humpty Dumpty could not be put together again. She calmly replied: "Well, I don't care. It was his karma for sitting on the wall!"
Someone had been reading Jack and the Beanstalk to the children. After the story, one of the tiniest tots said: "Now, if Jack had not climbed the beanstalk, the giant would never have gotten his karma."
Several of the children have asked at various times: "Don't we go to Fairyland when we die?" I think that I would have answered this question as follows: "Yes, we shall go to a most beautiful and wonderful fairyland for humans."
One small boy who thoroughly understands that he has two selves, was asked by his teacher: "Why, when you know how to do right, do you keep on doing what is not right?" The child answered: "Well, the other boy keeps hopping up." Well, let me ask you a question: Does any one of you think that he or she has not two selves, or perhaps a dozen of them? Have you never heard of multiple personality? Psychologists and our modern moonshees and bigwigs have long puzzled over the phenomenon of multiple personality, which imbodies in multiple form what Katherine Tingley briefly calls the "duality of human nature." Children know this fact instinctively. We adults, sophisticated and so wise in our own view, have to learn this truth again, and we think that we learn it by going to the academies and by committing to memory long explanations and rigmaroles which the moonshees teach to us.
"Is the world ever coming to an end?" Is not that a scientific question also? Has it ever been answered? No. But the theosophist would answer that in perfect confidence: "Yes, because all things that are manifested have a beginning and an end. So will our world have an end and then it will grow into a better world." Any child can understand that idea because it is entirely within the boundaries of its own experience, and furthermore the answer is wholly scientific.
The following conversation was overheard between some of the little boys: "Well, if the world does come to an end, whether by fire or flood, what will become of us?" — "Why, don't you know we are all going to be saved? They will have to invent some way of saving us." (A third child): "Why of course not, we will save ourselves by being good."
I shall now read to you some extracts from the diary of one of our young women teachers here.
"Herein are written a few of the delicious things said by the children, those beings who, being primarily mentally ignorant of mere theories, are therefore sometimes extremely wise. They are always profoundly unorthodox, and thus it is that they so often shock and fundamentally disturb those older 'children' who have forgotten the 'clouds of glory' which shine about the heads and in the hearts of little ones."
The teacher had been reading to the little boys about King Arthur and his knights. Several days later she came into the room where the boys were playing. Jimmy was just saying to Tommy: "Anyway, Tommy, you have to have an education before you can see the Holy Grail." "Why, the idea," said Tommy, "education has nothing to do with it! You have to be good inside, first!"
Now that is the message of Tennyson's poem. The instinctive child-vision saw it.
The boys were playing outside: "Let's play fighting. I'll be George Washington," said Jimmy. "And I'll be Jesus," said Tommy. (Tommy had just come to the school.) The teacher quickly called the boys and told them not to play fighting. Then she explained to Tommy that Jesus did not fight and that he taught that all men are brothers. Tommy thought a moment, and then said: "I can be Jesus in his next life; he has different ideas now."
Isn't that delicious!
Tommy is a new little boy, who has a special aversion to baths. One day he said to his teacher: "Do you have a bath every day?" "Yes, Tommy, every day." "Does Betty?" (his little cousin). "Yes, Tommy." "So do I," said Jimmy. Just then Paul came up. "Shall I have to have a bath every day when I am a big man?" said Tommy. "Not if you are a business man," said Paul. About half an hour later, Tommy came to the teacher and said: "Do you know what I'm going to be when I grow up? I'm going to be a business man!" This with an expression of both relief and satisfaction on his face.
The ocean was as blue as it is possible for blue to be. "Mother, did you see the ocean yesterday? It was thick with blue!" said Tommy.
Jimmy is a great giggler. I was telling the boys one day about the planets — that they had no light of their own — that one might say they were sleeping. Jimmy was giggling over something and therefore was not listening. But Tommy found the subject interesting, and was provoked at Jimmy's disturbance. "Do be quiet, Jimmy," he said, "your noise will go way up into the sky, and wake the planets up!" This in dead earnest.
There was a bird's nest one day high up in a vine. The boys had seen the mother-bird fly back and forth from that spot, and of course they all wanted to see within. So the teacher lifted up each boy in turn. Most of them uttered the usual exclamations of delight and wonder, but Fred just looked. Suddenly he said: "I see lots of gray feathers and yellow mouths, but where are the birds?"
The teacher had been having a most fascinating talk with the boys about Mother Nature, in the course of which Fred asked: "Did Mother Nature make me?" "Yes," the teacher said, wondering what would come next. "I thought God made us," said Jimmy. It was getting difficult, but Tommy saved the situation. "Aw, stupid," he said, "they worked it out together."
Now, I believe they do. That is a perfect truth, if you look upon God as what the barbarians even today call the Great Spirit, and if we look upon Mother Nature as the lower part of natural being. Verily and indeed they worked it out together.
The plumber was mending a leak in a pipe, and the teacher let the little boys watch him. "Well," said the plumber, "I must be getting old, I can't find it." "If you're getting old you'll be going to Fairyland soon," said one of the boys. "Oh, no," said the plumber, "I'm not good enough for that." "Yes, you will," persisted the boy, "you'll go to Fairyland and after a while you'll come back. Perhaps," he said, with great concern, "perhaps you'll be a girl!" "Wouldn't that be nice," said the plumber. "No," said the boy, "because you couldn't fix any more pipes and things."
Now listen to this, for a child: The boys had heard from somewhere that God was in everything. They were discussing the question, and were pointing out how the Great Life-Spirit manifested in various creatures and things. Finally they were just about at the end of their enumeration when Fred said: "God is in this table; if he weren't, it wouldn't hold together."
Professor Eddington in childhood.
One day the boys found a dead bird. They decided that it ought to have a grand burial. So they took it into the garden and buried it under a rosebush. The children sang a little song as they covered over the earth. After they left the spot most of the children soon forgot about it, but one of them was sniffling away by himself. When asked what the trouble was, he said: "Now the birdie will have to be dead all its life."
Freddie was relating, after he had come from home, about how his Daddy's car (a Ford) had been hurt because some other car had bumped into it. "Never mind," said Tommy (whose daddy is a naval officer and owns a fine car), "never mind, Freddie. If it's hurt very badly he can get another car, and I hope he'll know enough to get a prettier kind. You know if your car is pretty enough people won't want to bump into it!" "No," said Freddie, "we want a Ford always. A Ford can always scoot around corners, but a big car is so long: while the head of it is safely round the corner, the back is getting hit."
Tommy and Jimmy were coming back from a concert with their teacher one night. As they passed a certain palm tree, they began to tread very cautiously. "Miss X," they said, "do you know what's under that tree? A big rattlesnake. We saw it this afternoon." "How do you know it was a rattler?" said the teacher. "Because," in an impressive whisper, "it had very long ears!" (A rabbit!)
* * * * * *
Well, friends, I am half tempted to have another three-quarters of an hour of delightful talk with you on next Sunday afternoon about the children, but I have not yet decided. Meanwhile, there is one thing which we theosophists try to do, inspired as we are by Katherine Tingley's wonderful system of Raja-Yoga training. We treat our children, not as grownups, but as evolving beings who think and who are learning, and indeed we learn as much from these little ones, I honestly believe, if not more, than they learn from us. Some of the most delightful hours that I have spent here at our Headquarters have been in listening to the little children when they talk.
Vol 1, No 2