“Why do we light a lamp?”
“Why do we do Namaste?”
“Why do we take off our footwear outside a temple?”
“Why do we not touch books with our feet?”
“Why do we chant OM?”
Above are some of the “Why!” questions our children must have asked us at some point as they live in a country which consists of immigrants from all over the world and as they get exposed to various cultures either through school or the neighborhood. The word “culture” is derived from a French term, which in turn is a derivative from the Latin “colere,” and it means to tend to the earth and grow. Many cultures surround us, and Indian culture is not only beautiful but has been admired and respected for its’ depth. Indian customs and traditions have either a scientific, logical, historical, social or spiritual significance.
Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayanandaji laid great emphasis on explaining the symbolism in Hindu dharma in a manner that was logical, scientific and appealing to modern man thereby creating a great cultural renaissance. He believed that “Children are lamps to be lit, not vessels to be filled.” Thus started the Chinmaya Mission Bala Vihar — The Cultural School. We have four locations in the Bay Area: San Mateo, San Jose, San Ramon, and Fremont.
Acharya Uma Auntie started Bala Vihar in the Bay Area in 1981 under the guidance of Pujya Gurudev. It has grown from a humble beginning of having 6 children to now enrolling over 2000 students spread across four locations today. Bala Vihar programs have been re-organized to serve children and youth. The classes are arranged according to the school system – Kindergarten through High School (K-12). The curriculum is balanced and has been aptly designed given the child’s attention span for that particular age. The grade in which the child is enrolled in school is the consideration for admission to Bala Vihar. The medium of instruction is English.
A kindergartner stays entertained by hearing stories of Parvati and Shiva’s two sons: Kartikeya and Ganesha. Besides giving the children ample time for coloring, they also try sculpting with clay. First graders are exposed to mythological stories of Shiva-Parvati, Brahma-Sarasvati, and Vishnu-Lakshmi. Besides continuing to keep them entertained with coloring they are coached to make Shiva lingam with clay and to create malas for japa. In second grade, the teachers expose them to the leelas of Sri Krishna via stories as they continue to color pictures depicting Krishna and his many adventures. In third and fourth grades, they learn about the Ramayana, Discussions, exercises, and Vedanta games keep them entertained on the sidelines along with the stories of the above kandas. From fifth through eighth grades, the students learn about Srimad bhagavatham and the Mahabharata.
Grade nine is when the teen is aware and receptive to deeper questions regarding culture and they are introduced to the famous BMI chart designed by Gurudev. As they discuss Chapter 13 of the Bhagavad Geeta they are introduced to the following value: “One who understands the difference between the body, the soul and the Super soul beyond them both attains liberation from the material world.” As the teen prepares to take on challenging high school courses that involve stress and juggling with time, Balavihar introduces all the chapters of the Bhagavad Geeta. The chapters have been divided to reach children in tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades starting from Chapter 1 until the Chapter 18.
What makes Bala Vihar unique is that books don’t just serve as textbooks, but they are the source of discussions, questions, reflection and analysis as each student’s perception could be different. The teachers are not only knowledgeable but also patient as they give the platform to each student allowing enough time to express their viewpoints that they have gathered over the years. For teens, there is an annual off-site youth camp away from gadgets where they get an opportunity to introspect, contemplate and reflect upon the teachings amidst Mother Nature as they hike and play just like typical teens.
Bala Vihar’s well-designed curriculum and the wealth hidden in our religion and culture will help them grow beyond their limitations, giving them the confidence, purpose, and inspiration to take on whatever comes their way. I
Children living in the United States are torn between the Indian and the US culture. In fact let’s make them feel very fortunate to be living and breathing two worlds by making sure they are grounded enough to choose between right and wrong via the exposure to our culture, ethics, and the moral code as they avail of the many opportunities that this country has to offer.
Registration for Chinmaya Mission start in August while the classes begins in September.
Keep an eye out for this link: https://www.cmsj.org/chinmaya-bala-vihar/.