Storytelling and ancient wisdom

Storytelling and ancient wisdom

Stories have been part of every culture since time immemorial. The most profound life lessons have been passed to generations using stories. Embedded in the swirling tales of kingdoms, mystics, and palaces are solutions of everyday challenges. This holds true, especially in the ancient Vedic culture. The mythologies and characters have a far deeper philosophical interpretation and embedded wisdom.

A simple story about a 10-year-old boy, Nachiketa in Katha Upanishad, gives a vital lesson on the power of concentration, self-belief, and unwavering courage. A small boy challenges the meaning behind the sacrificial fire to his father and reminds his father about the vow to sacrifice everything he has. He constantly nags him to tell him whom he offered Nachiketa as promised. In a fit of rage, the father asked him to go to Yama, the god of death. Nachiketa humbly complies and leaves quietly. With patience, he waits for Yama at his doorstep for days. With his strong determination, he eventually compels Yama to first give respite to his grieving father, and then give him the supreme knowledge of sacrificial fire and of the cycle of karma, life, and death. Yama is impressed by the boy's courage but sternly says that the words that come from his mouth will not be repeated. The young boy heard every word with utmost concentration and memorised every ritual. He demonstrated each one of the steps with as much precision as Yama had asked. This led him to attain the most extraordinary knowledge of life and death from the lord of death himself. With this knowledge, Nachiketa became the boy who knew death and returned to his father.

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On a philosophical level, once we learn to face every challenge with grace and belief, the deepest darkest complex problem will lead us to illuminated knowledge. Nachiketa represents the ignorant child in us who is full of curiosity. His ability to question the norm represents the intellect within us which can seek answers and must be fostered with love. Lord of death is the unknown path of new opportunities. Once we muster the courage to channelise our curiosity and walk with faith and wisdom on a path that is our soul's calling, we will be able to tap into an inner dimension within us that can be a changemaker for the world. This must be fuelled with one-pointed concentration and constant upgrading of knowledge. This is the energy with which inventors, leaders, go-getters, and creative thinkers work.

Stories such as above are a reminder of the fact that no challenge is bigger than the will to find the solution. As a parent, I have always used stories from Upanishads as a tool to embed values and spiritual wisdom in my daughter. I think that it has helped her get a deeper understanding of her personality. When faced with a dilemma, these stories are also my constant source of guiding light.

Ancient texts are embellished with numerous stories with deep significance.

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Sharing some tips to help parents guide their children using stories from the Upanishads:

1. Make them fun

My daughter’s favourite story from childhood, when she was about six-year-old, is about how two naughty boys named Ravan and Kumbh kept getting in trouble and how the wise group of friends, Ram, Sita and Hannu excelled in all they did. I used their characteristics to teach my daughter about facing fear, being kind, patience, tolerance, and love. The impromptu stories were based on everyday challenges that a child faces, like ‘going to the doctor’ or ‘learning how to swim’. The stories were simple, but the lessons were profound. She is a very wise teenager now and tells me that those stories always remind her never to give up! As she grew, she realised that they are not just stories; they are lessons of life.

My advice to parents would be to focus on the lesson and use their imagination to make these stories as simple and fun as possible without losing their essence.

2. Discuss stories

Often, as parents, we remember to narrate the story, but the part that we miss is having a discussion. This applies to children of all ages. Allow space for discussions and queries. Let there be a positive and healthy analysis of the story. Encourage your children to share their interpretation and lessons. This simple step will make learning an organic process.

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3. Set an example

This is the most important step that parents can take. As a family you should discuss one story every week. Let the lessons derived from the story gradually get embedded in your lifestyle first. Remember, these stories are a powerful tool for self-analysis and self-development too. Children are more prone to learn by observing than listening to you. Let’s say you discussed the story of Nachiketa one week. Be conscious of embedding its lessons by being mindful and giving your best to the task at hand. If your child is talking, listen with full attention and display one-pointed concentration. Do remind the child that this is what Nachiketa did, and you would like to make small positive changes in your life too. Gradually, as you progress positively, so will your children.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate that stories have the power to trigger the spark of inner transformation and give answers to the most complex problems. Use this power and don’t just make it a ritual to read stories to children.

The human race is led by knowledge, and time and again, it’s wise to reflect on the ancient wisdom for guidance on training the mind in the right way. We don’t know how strong we are until we step out of the comfort zone in life. The secret lies in training the mind with patience and caution. As the great Yogi Patanjali said: “It is through the mind that the mind is set free.”

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Ekta Bajaj is a writer, visual artist, motivational speaker and Co-Founder of the award-winning publishing company, Author In Me. She is also the author of the empowering book, ‘The Voice of Kali’, and co-author of ‘Book of Affirmations for Children’. Her deep passion for storytelling and positive thinking has inspired her to research the ancient knowledge of Vedanta that provides a holistic approach towards developing mental and emotional strength.

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