Question: Do you feel that parents should give young children religious instruction, or should children be free to choose their own form of worship when they are old enough?

Sri Chinmoy: When a child is young, he does not know which food is nourishing and which food is bad, so as a mother or father it is your responsibility to give him what you feel is good for him, and you do it. This is not an imposition; it is an offering. You have discovered that something is true, that something is good or bad. Is it wrong for you to then offer your discoveries to your child? When the child is old enough to make his own discoveries, let him discover his own path. When he is thirteen or fourteen and his mind has developed, at that time he can make his own choice.

At the beginning a child is absolutely innocent and ignorant. If we do not feed the child because we do not know what he will like, then he will simply starve to death. In the spiritual life also, if we do not feed a child right from the beginning by teaching him to have faith in God and pray to God or repeat God’s name, to be generous, kind and so forth, then how will he learn these things? It is the bounden duty of the parents to teach their children. When the children grow up, if they do not stay with their parents’ path, if they feel that they know everything better, then that is their business. But the parents should at least give them some foundation upon which to build good lives.

When a child is born, the parents do not say, “We do not know whether he will like our home or not, so the best thing is to leave him in the street, and when he grows up he can decide whether he would like to live with us or with somebody else.” The idea of doing such a thing would strike them as ridiculous. But if parents do not give their child any religious instruction when he is young, they are doing essentially the very same thing to their child’s inner life. So parents are making a terrible mistake when they say that children should be left alone to discover their own path when they grow up. If children are not offered any path when they are young, when they grow up they will have no path at all.

People say that America is the land of freedom and that when children grow up they will do what they feel is best. Right from the beginning they give their children endless freedom to do anything they want, and when the children grow up to be ignorant and undisciplined, the parents say, “Oh, I never expected my children to be like that.” But this is a mistake. When children are being brought up, the parents cannot simply lead their own lives and ignore their children. They must give boundless love, affection and concern to their children. If they give love to their children and one day the children do not respond, the next day they must be ready to give more. Parents have to know the meaning of patience. They have to give unreservedly today and, even if they do not get any response, tomorrow they have to do it again. Parents’ business is to give, give, give, and not to expect. When the time comes, children will be grateful.