Child development in the Buddhist Philosophy

Founder and President of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement Sri Lanka

In the development of the personality of a human being, three factors matter most, according to Buddhist philosophy. These are the Environment in which we live, the Karmic inheritance we have got from past lives and the degree to which we develop our Mind. These three factors together influence the awakening or the decline of the personality of the human being from its conception in the mother's womb to its final exit from this world or death. During this long or short life span there is nothing which is not subject to change every moment.

When certain conditions are ripe, a sperm and an ovum get fused in the environment of a mother's womb. For this zygote to get transformed into a human life, a stream of karmic energy has to enter into it. Once this happens, the third factor, the mind, the consciousness begins to function. From now onwards a distinct new human life begins to unfold in the mother's womb. In simple words that is how a human life begins. As mentioned before there is not a moment that this life remains unchanged.

Sometimes through ignorance, the pregnant woman, the mother, as well as husband, the father, and others in the family do not realize that the unborn child's five senses and the mind are already functional. Every thought, word and bodily actions of the mother and the others within the family can affect the physical as well as the psycho-social development of the child while it is still in the mother's womb.

In the Sarvodaya approach to child development, programs are organized to educate the expectant mothers, their husbands and others in the family, to contribute more effectively to the healthy development of the unborn child. This program is called Righteous Approach to Motherhood. Medical professionals, nutritionists, health personnel, environmentalists, musicians and singers, educationists and teachers, and meditation teachers join and contribute to this program. Research studies carried out so far reveal the success of this approach to human personality awakening.

After the child is born, up to two and a half years Day Care Programs and then onwards Pre-School Programs are very essential. It is important to keep in mind the three factors mentioned earlier. From the secure environment of the mother’s womb, the child now enters and lives in the very complex world of human beings. Cognitive psychologists have shown that the child’s experiences during the first two to three years are very critical determinants of the child’s growth, physically, emotionally, cognitively and socially. The child’s potential for growth through all of its six senses should be well provided for during this significant period. Sarvodaya has implemented a programme of “Home-based Learning” to educate parents and other elders regarding their role in the growth and development of the child. In the Buddhist philosophy the father and the mother are the first “Two Teachers” of the child.

When the child is five or six years old, the responsibility falls more on the Primary and Secondary School systems. In poorer countries, community organizations with the cooperation of the government, can develop and implement these child development programs. Even in well-to-do societies, family and community participatory child development activities will do much good to build a disciplined and ethically advanced society.

While the child is going through formal secondary education, from about thirteen to eighteen years, it is very essential to get him/her to participate in community service programs with teachers. This kind of co-curricular activities keep the adolescent away from antisocial conduct and is helpful in developing qualities of Loving-kindness, Compassionate Actions, Altruistic Joy and Equanimity, which are necessary foundations for personality development.