Education has been a life long interest with me, as a life long student and also as Chancellor of several universities. Most recently I was a member of the UNESCO International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century, the report of which was published in 1996 under the evocative title "Learning: the Treasure Within". I have written on various aspects of education. Essentially I feel that education must address all the dimensions of the human being - physical, intellectual, aesthetic, societal and spiritual.
Education is probably the single most important function of human civilisation, not merely the formal education system but the broader question of educating human beings around the world. Recent breakthroughs in communication technology have given us immense possibilities in this regard.
In order to discuss the concept of Integral Education, it is first important, I think, to define the term 'integral'. The dictionary definition is "necessary to the completeness of, whole, complete". Education is, of course, the most important activity that any civilisation can embark upon, because it is the medium through which a civilisation renews itself and passes down to generations yet unborn the quintessence of its wisdom, its knowledge, its experience and its technology.
We in India are heirs to one of the most powerful intellectual and educational traditions in human history, I refer to the first documented educational system in India, the Vedic-Upanishad system. Although it may have been confined to a rather small section of the population, it was an extremely potent and luminous system revolving around the method of passing on wisdom from the Rishi/Guru to the Shishya/Disciple. If we read the Upanishads, we will find many questioning minds. It was by no means a monologue on the part of the teacher. The students used not only to listen, but also to ask searching questions and it is response to those questions that a lot of teaching was given.
This powerful tradition going back many thousands of years represents one of the high water marks of human intellectual endeavour. And then, of course, many streams joined in this great tradition. The Buddhist stream followed with its system of education that achieved its zenith with the establishment of Nalanda which was one of the greatest universities world has ever known. In addition, they laid down their own system of teaching through the Sanghas and through the lay disciples. Later there was the Islamic influx and the Christian missionaries and their educational system. Then came the British system of "modern" education sponsored by Lord Macaulay. So, our present educational system is the result of a long process of many thousands of years, in which even today elements are visible of all the various streams that came into our educational system.
I do not intend to undertake a detailed statistical study of our educational system because others have done this well. What I will try to do is to share with the readers some observations and perhaps some insights into the whole system, with emphasis on the integral aspect of education. The whole meaning of an integral education is that it must be able to cover the entire human condition and the totality of the human personality. It is not enough to look upon education simply as an academic endeavour which enables young people to pass examinations and then get gainful employment, or remain unemployed, as the case may be. It is much deeper, a much fuller undertaking.
For the last three or four centuries human thought has been dominated by a dichotomous, materialistic philosophy, what I call the Cartesian-Newtonian-Marxist worldview based essentially on a dichotomy between matter and spirit, between science and spirituality, between body and mind. It was a dichotomous system of looking at the world and, by its very nature, involved conflict, competition and a great deal of hostile interaction.
Now this way of looking at the world certainly brought great achievements. There is no doubt that the achievements of modern science, the tremendous growth of science and technology have brought great gifts of economic progress, medicine, communications and a hundred other aspects of life. But at the same time this way of looking at reality has brought about the most awesome destructive power that the human race has ever known. The nuclear age that we live came into being on August 6, 1945, the day on which the atomic bomb was thrown at Hiroshima which obliterated half a million people. I happened to be in Hiroshima in1987 on August 6, where every year people assemble in the Hiroshima Peace Park at the very spot where the bomb fell, and I gathered some idea of the destruction that took place. Today a single nuclear warhead carries destructive capacity equal to one thousand of the bomb that obliterated Hiroshima, and there are at least fifty thousand such nuclear warheads on planet xearth. Thus, although science and technology have given us tremendous power, that power can be used both for good and evil. An equivalent of one trillion US dollars every year is spent on weapons of mass destruction. There is enough fissionable material today to destroy the earth and all its inhabitants and all forms of life. Therefore, the old pattern of thinking in dichotomies is now simply not adequate.
We are now witnessing a paradigm shift away from this old thinking towards a new holism that stresses convergence rather than conflict, cooperation rather than competition. And any educational policy to be effective today must also be holistic. We can no longer divide education into different levels or the human personality into various compartments.
In India we have had a constitutional directive to universalise elementary education by 1960. We are now on to 1996, but we are nowhere near achieving even the basic target put forward as a constitutional imperative by our founding fathers. There are still vast disparities, submerged areas and communities and although a great deal of growth has taken place, it has been lopsided, and is not yet an integral growth that would cover all the areas, regions and classes.
Physical Aspect of an Integral Education System
An integral approach to education must in my opinion deal with these four different categories: the importance of physical growth; the importance of intellectual growth; the importance of social growth; and the importance of spiritual growth.
Let me start with the physical. Shareeramadyam Khalu Dharma Sadhanam - the Vedas say very clearly that the basis of all dharma is the body. Unless the body is properly trained and looked after, no other development is really possible. Our children have to be taught how to sit properly. I go to schools and see children slouched all over their chairs. They are not even taught how to sit properly, how to breathe properly, how to walk. It may sound very simple, but it isn't really. I remember years ago when I was in health, we had worked out a graded syllabus of Yoga for schools, so that we could introduce simple Yogic systems into the school level at an early age. It is wrong to say that we need expensive equipment in order to train the body. If we can introduce Yoga, proper posture, proper breathing in schools at the grassroots level, we will find a much healthier version of development taking place.
Nutritional inputs and immunisation must be made part of the school programme. The Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) is one such programme attempting to accomplish this, however it has not yet fully taken off. It is astonishing that only two spoonfuls of Vitamin A a year can prevent thousands of children from going blind. Despite this thousands of Indian children lose their eyesight every year.
Unless we are able to integrate the nutritional programme, the body-strengthening programme into the school system, it is no use talking about integral education. There is, of course, mass drill and sports, PT and NCC, but there does not seem to be any national commitment to physical fitness as such. This is reflected in the fact that although we are one-seventh of humanity we are rarely able to get a single medal in the Olympics.
Our food habits are often undesirable. We have a malign racism in our food habits in our curious obsession with white rice, white sugar and white bread, all three of which are weak from the nutritional point of view. There is no reason whatsoever why in a country such as ours, which is still suffering from massive malnutrition, where the nutritional inputs are the lowest in the world, that we should have these absurd food habits and throw away precious nutrients as a result of a strange desire for white edibles. This may appear not to be directly connected with education, but from my point of view it is relevant because we are aiming at developing the entire body. For this posture, sports, Yoga, nutritional inputs and food habits are all important. And now education regarding to tobacco and alcohol, drugs and promiscuity, also have to form part of the system if our younger generations are to be spared these scourges that have become a ghastly menace in the West.
So, the first element of our integral education must be a carefully structured programme of physical fitness and well being. And it must involve all the various dimensions that I have mentioned including the education of the parents because many of these elements are to be found not only in the schools but also in the homes. When children go to school there must be some way of ensuring feedback to the parents, so that they can get involved and can also get educated in the process of education of their children.
Training of the Mind and the Aesthetic Sensibilities
The second element of our integral education is intellectual growth. I am not referring to the purely academic area where, as is well known what is needed is the universalisation of primary education, the vocationalisation of secondary education and the rationalisation of higher education. Those are the three tasks that we must set before us. Primary education has to become universal because we cannot talk of a functional democracy if millions of Indian citizens are illiterate.
As far as secondary education is concerned, we have to vocationalise it at some point of time. The ten-plus-two formula, I am afraid, has not worked. The idea was that after taking the vocational stream large number of students would be siphoned off into vocations, and the aimless draft from school to college would cease. This has not happened. As against the expected fifty per cent of students who were supposed to be siphoned off, hardly two per cent have taken up vocational institutions. Given, the general failure of the vocational scheme, it needs to be reorganised - we must have at least a three year course after the tenth standard, so that the young men and women who pass it can go to their vocations and the drift to college can be arrested.
With respect to higher education, the need of the hour is for rationalisation of the whole system, because at present there is aimlessness and lack of direction in it. In my discussions with a number of young people there is nearly a consensus that college is a waste of time as there is no serious commitment among the teachers to teach or among the students to learn. One of the reasons is that every one wants to drift into college for want of anything better to do. Naturally enough the atmosphere in the colleges is devoid of any real commitment.
However, more important than the academic elements are the intellectual inputs. More important than what we learn, is whether we are developing the capacity to learn or not. Most of what we learn is obsolete even before we leave college. All the chemistry, physics and mathematics that I learnt at school, for example, are out of date. The explosion of knowledge is such that every five years a new generation of knowledge is born.
So, the real question is whether our education is able to develop among our young boys and girls the quest for the truth, the capacity of awe and wonder at the marvels of nature, the capacity to respond to the glory of the sunrise, and the grandeur of the starry heavens on a moonless night. It does not cost anything to teach children to look at a tree, or a flower, and realise the beauty that is in these objects. However, we de-mystify and uglify all our knowledge, and put it in into such a boring and unattractive format tat even the great insights of the human race are reduced to triteness. We do not give our children any sense of the wonder at the sheer mystery of being alive and conscious.
India has a tremendously rich heritage of music, of dance and of art, which can introduce students to the aesthetic dimension. The study of the classics has unfortunately virtually disappeared. This study is extremely important, not so much for the classics themselves, but for the intellectual discipline they involve. Once one has been exposed to a glorious language like Sanskrit, for example, one's aesthetic sensibility is refined.
The three-language formula again, like the ten-plus-two formula has not worked. A fresh choice should be given in this. In the Hindi speaking areas we should have Hindi, English and, as a third choice either Sanskrit or Urdu. In the non-Hindi speaking areas there is the Regional language, English and along with Hindi we should introduce Sanskrit. This will make it easier for south Indian students to learn Hindi if they can go through Sanskrit, which is generally the base of their own languages. These are important elements in the development of the mind, because if you cannot communicate you cannot grow, and how can you communicate except through language.
The need to recapture the inner beauty of language, of re-instituting the elements of intellectual inquiry and of intellectual thought is very important. The language the people learn is not important. What is important is that they learn to develop their minds. The youth of India has to be prepared, intellectually, to deal with the new knowledge that is developing so rapidly around us.
We have the capacity to do so. The Indian mind is second to none. However, we have to reorient our inner perceptions so that we can train our minds meaningfully and gain a deeper aesthetic sensibility.
Development of Socially Relevant Moral Values
Humanity is in the throes of a transition more fundamental than any of the ones it has undergone earlier. It is in some ways more important than the transition from caves to the forest, forests to nomadic living, from nomadic to agricultural civilisations and from agricultural to industrial and then to post-industrial society. We are in the midst of a transition to a global society. This change signifies that humanity is entering an entirely new kind of civilisation.
Politically, there is no longer any such thing as a bilateral issue as has become quite clear in the last few years. Even though there may be more than hundred and fifty different nationalities the world is moving in the direction of becoming a single political unit.
For several years now there has been a world economic order. Individual countries no longer take economic decisions. There is a vast global economic network which functions with its own inner momentum, and what price a developing nation is going to get for a particular primary product is determined by the laws of demand and supply, and often thousands of miles away in the bourses of developed nations.
Similarly, in communications we have entered a new era. The advent of television has wrought one of the most revolutionary changes in human history. Today, simply by switching on a television set, people from any part of the world can simultaneously witness an event taking place thousand of miles away - whether it is a political or a sport event, a music or a dance festival - is something that has never happened before.
Even in culture, there is a trend towards globalisation. Certainly there is diversity in this world, but as one travels the globe, one finds that young people today are dancing to the same rhythms, whether it is Bombay or Beijing, Moscow or Madras, New Delhi or New York. They tend to wear the same sort of clothes and their food habits are beginning to converge. All this is a dramatic consequence of the transition to a global society that is ongoing.
As human beings are essentially social beings, no amount of mere individual development is sufficient to create a viable and dynamic society. To create the necessary infrastructure for a peaceful and integrated society, we need to transmit the socially desirable values at an early stage in the educational system. We, in India, live in a time of unprecedented social turmoil and violence. In this turmoil, the one fact that stands out starkly is the rapid erosion of what are called moral and social values.
The traditional value system has collapsed, however its place has not been taken by any viable alternative. As a result, the nation has been reduced to a moral wasteland, in which personal greed and sectarian interests take precedence over the larger social good. However, I am not all in favour of the reintroduction of outmoded traditional values to fill this vacuum because as we move towards a global society we will have to move into a new set of values, a new dynamism which would enable us to survive in this nuclear age.
In what sort of values are we interested in?
Cleanliness is a very basic and very important value. Individually we are a very clean people, we constantly bathe at every possible opportunity. But collectively we are one of the dirtiest civilisations on the planet because while we are taught individual cleanliness we are not taught social value of cleanliness. We will take the dust and refuse from our compound and throw it on the road. As long as we are clean, it is all right; it does not really matter if the road is dirty.
Punctuality ought to be second nature to us, given our tradition is that in the 'Mahoortam' not even one second can be changed. And yet in this country we seem to live in the eternal. There is no idea of time.
Politeness is just not present in our social context. Yet, what does it take to be polite? The Japanese having been taught since childhood to be polite to other persons, are constantly bowing to each other, greeting each other, and smiling at each other. In India in contrast, to get into an airline, far less a bus, is traumatic experience. And with all our vaunted commitment to the dignity of women and looking upon them as Durga and Shakti, the way women are treated in crowded enclosures is something disgraceful.
Helpfulness to others is another thing that is missing in our current version of culture. We need to teach our children to help the less favoured and the weak and not to adopt the attitude to simply look after ourselves and forget about the others.
To achieve the optimum social climate that will reflect our inner strengths, not only the parents and the teachers have to live up to their responsibilities, but also the educational system has to impart a social (work) ethic. Just like the Protestants and the Japanese, we need to live up to our work ethic: Yogah Karmasu Kaushalam - Yoga is skill in works, that is the definition of Yoga in the Bhagwadgita and the work should be "Suchir Dakshah" - neat, clean and perfect. However, this ethic is not reflected in our educational system.
Currently, on the national scale and even below, we have become confused about our dharma and have diluted it out of recognition. The early impetus of the freedom movement has evaporated, leaving us in an intellectual wilderness from which there does not seem to be any way out. Despite the economic progress achieved in the last forty years, it is unlikely that the moral fiber and the intellectual caliber of the nation have really risen. The responsibility for this, in my opinion, should lie squarely on our educational system.
One of the contributing factors to the failure of our education system to provide the basis for our children to become good citizens, has been a distorted and anti-religious view of secularism. Secularism has never meant that we should banish all moral and spiritual education from our country. Secularism means the total freedom of all religions in the country, the total equality of all religions and the fact that the State as such has no religion. But it does not mean, and should not be taken to mean, that any value that is desirable but also happens to be a religious value should, therefore, be neglected.
We have before us the examples of Germany and Japan, two nations that forty years ago had literally been flattened after their defeat in the Second World War. For instance, in Berlin there was not a single structure standing at the end of the war. How is it that within these four decades they have so rebuilt their nations that today they are at the forefront of development? How did their civilisations produce the discipline, dedication and capacity for sustained work, whereas we with all our great cultural heritage have failed to do so? Why is it in India we always go for the soft options; we want all the advantages of democracy but are not prepared to accept the discipline and the responsibility this involves. Why do we speak constantly of fundamental rights but conveniently forget that fundamental duties are also part of the Constitution? Why do we forget that rights and duties are two sides of the same coin, and that ultimately if we keep on insisting on our rights and keep forgetting our duties, we will get into a extremely difficult situation?
The answer to these questions is complex, but surely a large part of the problem lies in the total collapse of any value orientation in our educational system. Unless this dimension receives urgent and effective consideration, we will not be able to build the India of Sardar Patel and other leaders dreamed. As one of the ways to address this let me re-stress, once again, the prime necessity of reintroducing social and moral values in our education system.
The Inner Dimension of Spiritual Growth
Finally, I come to what is perhaps the most fundamental dimension of any educational system, the spiritual dimension, involving the inner recesses of the human personality and the highest reaches of the human consciousness. I am aware that this is generally looked upon as the preserve of the individual or the family rather than part of the educational system, and it is true that under our Constitution it is neither possible nor desirable to undertake direct religious education. Nonetheless, the system must at least provide some introduction to our vast and varied religious heritage. The father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, and the framers of our Constitution, were by no means anti-religious.
I can give some examples of universal values (concepts) that can be drawn from the Vedanta, which could be incorporated in our educational system to remedy the perceptible lacunae in our system of education.
First, is the fact that this entire universe, not only the tiny speck of dust we call earth but the billions upon billions of galaxies, all of them are permeated by the same indivisible force. Even, scientists accept the need for a single unifying principle (force) and are actively looking for it.
Second, is the Vedantic concept of divinity of each individual, that the Lord resides in the heart of every human being. Individuals are referred to in the Upanishads as 'Amritasya Putrah' - Children of Immortality. From this noble concept follows the need to respect the dignity of each individual and hence the fact that each individual has got to be respected and given the freedom to develop, to fan that spark of divinity within him into a fire of spiritual realisation.
Third, is the concept of 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam' - the world as a family. On the first gate of our Parliament the following great Shokla is inscribed:
Ayam nijah paroveti
gananam laghu chetasam
This translates to "This is mine, this is yours, the divisive view is small and narrow way of looking at reality. But for those of the greater consciousness, the world is a family". Isn't this a marvelous concept for the global society that is emerging?
Fourth, is the declaration in the Vedanta of the essential unity of all religions: "Aikam sadviprah bahudha vadanti". The Rig Veda says that the truth is one, although the wise may call it by many names. Today when in the name of religion hatred and divisiveness is preached and walls are being built to separate man from man, we must go back to the source of our tradition which tells us that these are all different paths to the same goal.
Fifth concept is the welfare of all sections of society - "Bahujana Hitaya, Bahujana Sukhayacha". There are some philosophies that preach the implacable conflict between classes, others preach conflict between different religions or castes. However, the Vedanta preaches the welfare of all beings.
Sarvepi sukhinah santu
sarve santu niramaya
sarve bhadrani pashyantu
ma kashchit dukha bhag bhavet
May everyone be happy, may no one suffer that is the depth of compassion of our scriptures; Buddha and the Mahavira have gone one step further by extending this to all living creatures, not just to human beings.
Through these great ideas and ideals, surely we can teach our children desirable values. Today it is possible for a child to study from primary to Ph.D. level - 18 years of education - and not once be exposed to these great ideas at any level. Are we justified in doing this? Are we justified in imposing this sort of intellectual and spiritual deprivation upon our younger generations?
In conclusion, then the four dimensions that we have to incorporate in any integral system of education - physical well being in the widest sense of the term; intellectual development along with the development of aesthetic sensibilities; social integration starting from the family and going outwards in widening concentric circles until we cover the entire globe; and, finally, nurturing that divine spark within us, which really makes us unique beings and which enables us to fulfil our destiny.
Forty-eight years is a tiny span when we look at the vast millennia of our history stretching back into the mists of antiquity. But in this nuclear age time has telescoped and the growing aspirations of vast millions threaten to overwhelm us and our unimaginative structures. What is needed not only in education but also in all spheres of national life is the capacity for clear and coherent thought, leading to a carefully interlocking series of policy decisions aimed at meeting the multiple challenges that we face. And, education, dealing as it does with the very texture of human consciousness, is surely an area that must receive our top priority.
Chapter 7 India and the World
Chancellor of the University my good friend and colleague Dr. R C. Alexander, Vice-Chancellor Prof. Dhanagare, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Prof. N. B. Patil, Deans, members of the Management Council and the Academic Council, Faculty, staff and students of the Shivaji University, Kolhapur, distinguished citizens of this historic town, representatives of the press and electronic media, and friends.
It is indeed a great pleasure for me to revisit Kolhapur after over a quarter of a century. I came here in one of my previous incarnations as Minister for Tourism. I have had many incarnations in this very life, and I remember that I came to inaugurate a hotel. I also spoke at the University here in a hall, and the one thing I remember, about that address, Mr. Chancellor, was that the doors were closed and everybody was banging on the doors from outside wanting to get in. So I am glad that today we do not have that problem we have a beautiful pandal.
It is really a pleasure for me to visit this University named after Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, one of the great figures in Indian history, a symbol of valour and patriotism and the fight against tyranny and repression. Maharashtra has indeed produced, down through the centuries, a whole galaxy of saints and scholars, soldiers and statesman, and has made a very noble contribution to the vast and multi-faceted mosaic that is India. This University was inaugurated by one of the great teachers of our times, Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, and by my dear friend and colleague, the late Shri Yashwantrao Chavan. I have great honour in-paying my tribute to both these outstanding individuals.
Also today I had Darshan of Mahalakshmi. Coming to the University I was in any case going to pay my homage to Mahasaraswati, but in this age of market economy, Mahalakshmi is equally important. So I thought that before I get on with my address, I would offer up a short prayer to Mahalakshmi which describes the great Goddess seated upon a huge lotus. The lotus, as you know, is born in the dirt and the muck of the underworld, but comes up clear and glittering. And she is seated on it richly caparisoned, bejewelled. She is full-breasted and deep-navelled, because she is the world-mother. She is Gaia, Bhavani Vasundhara, and she is being bathed on either side by six-tusked elephants who are pouring ambrosia or amrita over her from golden jars. May that great Goddess bestow her blessings upon all of us.
Mr. Chancellor, when I was considering the theme for my address, I decided that instead of giving advice to graduates and postgraduates, which in any case now comes very easily to everybody, I would pose a series of questions regarding education, directed not only at the new graduates but at all who are in one way or the other involved in the educational process. As the UNESCO Report, of which I was a member, clearly recognizes, the human personality as a multifaceted and many dimensional entity, and education in its broadest sense must take cognisance of all of these dimensions. We stand today poised on the threshold of the global society, and we must equip ourselves fully to meet the challenges that lie ahead. We can do this only if the many dimensions of the human personality are fully developed, and surely that is what education is all about.
My first question is, has your education helped you to develop your physical strength ? The shastra tells us that the basis of all achievement is the human body. We need muscles of iron and nerves of steel, as Swami Vivekananda used to say, to build a new India. It is not an easy task to build a great nation. And for that, has your education taught you proper eating habits? Has it taught you to avoid poisoning your bodies with alcohol, with tobacco or with drugs? Has it taught you to strive towards excellence? We have given up the old tradition of the Akhadas and of Yoga. I went to China quite recently and in Beijing every morning many thousands of people get up and practice Tai Chi which is a sort of slow motion Yoga. But I find that our own country is losing the quest for physical excellence. We do not teach our young people how to sit properly, how to breath properly, how to carry themselves properly. I am happy that your University is doing well in sports, but I would like to point out to the young graduates that listening to a cricket commentary is not an alternative for sports. I find a lot of young people nowadays who call themselves sportsmen are glued to the radio or to the television when all these matches are going on. But that does not help them build their own bodies, except perhaps it might damage their hearing. You have to do something yourselves, wherever you are. You do not need expensive gymnesia to be fit. For Yoga you do not even need clothes. You can do it in your own home. But please remember, the body is the basis of achievement. The body is the most superb instrument given to us by the evolutionary process, it is something that should be nurtured and should be tuned to perfection. So that is the first element of our education system, the strength of the body.
The second question is, has your education developed your intellectual capacities, not merely to study what is in your curriculum, but the capacity to learn? Please remember, learning now is a lifelong occupation. The old idea that you first did your education and then you went into life is obsolete. It is now accepted that the learning process begins even before birth. It is now being accepted that even a child in the womb can respond creatively to rhythms and harmonies, and education continues right up to the very last day of one's life on earth. Let noble thoughts and ideas come to us from every side. We are living in an age of exploding technology and knowledge. Man has reached the moon, the planets and is reaching out to the stars. New dimensions of knowledge are being added everyday to the corpus of human wisdom. Do you have the capacity to constantly learn in all these many fields? There was a time when India was in the forefront of learning, whether it was in Mathematics or Astronomy, Medicine, or Engineering. There was an article in the current issue of India Today on the Indus Valley Civilization and the extraordinary architecture and town planning that went into those cities. Why is it that we are lagging behind in new knowledge? Why is it that we have lost the capacity to creatively lead the world intellectual community? We have a long and unbroken tradition of intellectual activity going back to the very dawn of our history. We have to recapture that sense of excitement and adventure. Living as we are in a moment of great transition and turmoil for the human race the second element of our education is the intellectual capacity to learn.
The third question is, has your education helped to develop your emotional maturity? Life today is full of stress - interpersonal, professional, family stress. The pace of life has increased exponentially. We are consistently underestimating the importance of the emotional factor in education. The growth of neurosis, violence and crime in our country is directly linked to the increasing emotional imbalance among large sections of the people. We are simply unable to cope with the stresses and strains of the new situation. This is an area which is very seldom referred to, far less addressed. The great philosopher Karl Gustav Jung said that in this age the task of humanity is to integrate the shadow. Where is the darkest shadow? Against the brightest light. The light of hyper-consumerism of ultra-promiscuity, of horror and violence that is sweeping across our world casts its malign shadow deep within us. To confront this, emotional maturity is of great importance. I am particularly happy to see so many women graduates here because there is an imbalance in our educational system which has been male-dominated and male-oriented. And yet we see today, in almost every university, the feminine aspect is once again rising to take its rightful place in the nation. This is a matter of great satisfaction and. as we move onwards into the global society we cannot afford to neglect the deep emotional and psychological aspects that lie behind many of the problems and violence that we see in the world today. And education has, in some way or the other, to address these problems.
Fourthly, has your education developed in you an aesthetic sensibility, a perception of beauty? I am not here talking in elitist terms. I am talking of the beauty that you can see in a flower, or in the starry heavens at night, in the glory of a sunrise, or the sadness of a sunset. Have we tuned our minds to see the beauty around us, or do we simply spend our lives skimming over the surface of consciousness without once stopping to look around ? Truth, auspiciousness and beauty are the keynotes of Indian civilization. We seem to have lost the capacity to respond creatively, whether it is to music, or to art or to painting, or whether it is the simple joys of every-day life. This aesthetic dimension of our consciousness, again, is something which remains gravely neglected. It is either dismissed as being elitist, or it is overlooked as being of no importance. But in fact one of the special features that distinguishes the human race from other species on this planet is the capacity to be aware of beauty, to create beauty, to respond to beauty. As Sri Aurobindo says in one of his memorable poems, "All music is only the sound of His laughter, all beauty the smile of His passionate bliss". There is a divinity that surrounds us if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear. Maharashtra has a very rich tradition of music, as we were coming in the procession, the great work of Sant Dnyaneshwar was being recited. Maharashtra has produced so many saints and singers and so many great scholars. I hope that the Universities of Maharashtra will make a special attempt to deepen this aesthetic awareness, so that the students who emerge from here have this capacity throughout their lives to respond to harmony, to respond to beauty and to try in their own lives in however small a way to sweeten the bitter ocean of 'Sansara'.
The fifth question - I have talked of physical education, of intellectual education, of the capacity to perceive beauty, of the importance of emotional maturity and balance, I come now to the question, has your education taught you socially desirable virtue of compassion and helpfulness, of punctuality and cleanliness, of team-work and co-ordination, of discipline and dedication? Unless we are able to absorb these socially desirable values, we will never become great as a nation. There has been no dearth, Mr. Chancellor, of great individuals in India. We produced the greatest figures in astronomy, in medicine, in mathematics, artists, and in virtually all walks of life. Our weakness has been the lack of social cohesion. The Rig Veda gives us two goals of life, we must work for the liberation of our own souls but also must pay our debt to society. How is it that countries like Germany and Japan which were totally destroyed in the World War II, have today become the leading nations in their respective continents. Their philosophy is not older than ours, their scholarship is not deeper than ours, their history is not longer than ours. They have the capacity for team-work and discipline and this is what we need, along with a coherent value system.
I do not fear any external aggression on India. We are strong enough. After many centuries we have emerged as a sovereign republic, we can safeguard our sovereignty from external aggression. But can we safeguard it form internal erosion? Can we safeguard it when our moral values are deteriorating around us? And here I am not blaming any particular class of our citizens. It is fashionable now only to blame the politicians, and certainly the politicians have much to answer for. But this is a much deeper malaise that has eaten like an acid into the heart and roots of our society. For twenty years now some of us have been warning the nation that if corruption is allowed to continue like this, it will not only become a danger to our economy but a danger to our polity also. And today we have reached the stage when it appears that India, which Swami Vivekananda said would be the Guru of nations, and Sri Aurobindo said, "India is rising not when she rises to trample upon the weak, but to shed the light on the eternal Dharma that she has nurtured in her breast" is herself groping in the darkness. How can we shed any light to anybody else if in our own country we are like the blind being led by the blind.
And this brings me to my final point - Has your education developed in you your spiritual centre? In the ultimate analysis, human life itself is a quest towards spiritual maturity and realization. As Francis Thompson in one of his great poems says,
"Not where the wheeling systems darken
And our benumbed conceiving soars,
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors,
The angels keep their ancient places,
Turn but a stone and start a wing
Tis ye, tis your estranged faces
That miss the many splendoured thing".
The many splendoured light of the 'Atman', 'The light that lighteth everyman that cometh into the world' as the Bible says, The 'ruhani noor' of the Sufis, the 'Ek onkar' of the Gurus, the light of the Atman.
Vedahmetam purusham mahantam aditya varnam tamashah parastat
Greater than the light of a thousand suns rising together. Have you discovered that spiritual centre within you around which you will have to begin your quest? Always remember, whatever else you may do in life, whatever your profession may be, whatever your 'work and wherever your work may take you, the quest towards inner growth should always continue. And that surely is the final and ultimate dimension of the human personality. And therefore, friends, I would like to know whether these six dimensions are being addressed by our University system. We are very distinguished and experienced educationists sitting here on the dais and in the audience, I would urge you to ponder upon these points, and to try and see what needs to be done to develop a holistic and integrated education that would take cognizance of these various elements of the human personality.
Friends, today is an exiting time to be alive. We are a privileged generation. We are the first generation to have seen that photograph of Planet Earth taken from outer space. No generation before us, none of the greatest people before us, have seen that because only now did we have the technology to throw a human being outside the grip of gravity and take the photograph. That shows our earth as it really is, a tiny streak of light and life against unending vastness of outer space, so beautiful and yet so fragile. The earth, has nurtured us from the slime of primeval ocean, from unicellular micro-organisms to where we are today. And the future beckons to us. I would urge the young graduates today not to give way to negativity or cynicism. We cannot afford the luxury of negativity.
We are facing the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced in its long history, the transition to the global society. And India must spear-head this great transition. Because, of all the civilizations of the world, India alone has the philosophy, has the pluralistic approach and the technological background to be able to do this. But we cannot do it if we are constantly bemoaning our fate. We cannot do it if we are building walls of hatred within our own societies, whether they are based on religion, on caste, or on political parties or on any other premise. We have got to build a united and an integrated nation. India has a historical destiny to fulfil. And that destiny has to be fulfilled by young people like you who today have received your degrees and prizes from your distinguished Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor.
While, therefore, congratulating the Shivaji University on its considerable achievements, let me end with great exhortation from the Kathopanishad which I would like to leave in the minds and hearts of the young graduates. It exhorts us to awake and arise and move onwards across the razor-edged path towards our goal. There are no soft options left any longer, either for individual salvation or collective redemption. We have to move along a difficult and dangerous path, but that is the only path that will take us to our goal of a higher consciousness, a new society, a new India and a new world. This is an exhortation which, I hope, will ring in your ears wherever you go.
EDUCATION FOR THE GLOBAL SOCIETY
As we move through the last decade of this extraordinary century, which has witnessed unparalleled destruction and unimagined progress, the cruelest mass killings in human history and the most amazing breakthroughs in human welfare, the advent of weapons of unprecedented lethality and creative probings into outer space, we find ourselves at a crucial point in the long and tortuous history of the human race on Planet Earth. It is now quite clear that humanity is in the throes of a transition to a global society. We live in a shrinking world in which the malign heritage of conflict and competition will have to make way for a new culture of convergence and co-operation, and the alarming gap between the developed and the developing world will have to be bridged if the rich promise of the next millennium is not to evaporate in the conflict and chaos that is already overtaking many parts of the world. This is the basic challenge to education in the twenty-first century.
It is not that we lack the intellectual or economic resources to tackle the problems. Scientific breakthroughs and technological ingenuity have given us the capacity to overcome all those challenges, but what is missing is the wisdom and compassion to apply them creatively. Knowledge is expanding but wisdom languishes. The yawning chasm will need to be bridged before the end of the century if we are ever to reverse the present trend towards disaster and it is here that education in the broadest sense of the term assumes such vital importance. National education systems are almost invariably postulated on beliefs that flow from pre-nuclear and pre-global perceptions, and are therefore unable to provide the new paradigm of thought that human welfare and survival now requires.
The astounding communications technology, which today encircles the globe seldom, uses its tremendous potential to spread global values and foster a more caring, compassionate consciousness. On the contrary, the media are full of violence and horror, cruelty and carnage, unbridled consumerism and unabashed promiscuity, a situation that not only distorts the face of events, political and otherwise, but also deprives the audiences of truth.
Outmoded orthodoxies and obsolescent orientations continue to deprive the younger generations of an adequate awareness of the essential unity of the world into which they have been born. Indeed, by fostering negative attitudes towards other groups or nations, they hinder the growth of globalism.
Awareness of the young but dulls our sensitivity to the problems of human suffering and pain. What is urgently needed, therefore, is a creative revolution in our education and communications policies. We need to develop carefully structured programmes on a global scale based unequivocally on the premise that human survival involves the growth of a creative and compassionate global consciousness. The spiritual dimension will have to be given central importance in our new educational thinking.
We must have the courage to think globally, to break away from traditional paradigms and plunge boldly into the unknown. We must so mobilize our inner and outer resources that we begin consciously to build a new world based on mutually assured welfare rather than mutually assured destruction. As global citizens committed to human survival and welfare, we must use the latest array of innovative and interactive pedagogic methodologies to structure a worldwide programme of education - for children and adults alike - that would open their eyes to the reality of the dawning global age and their hearts to the cry of the oppressed and the suffering. And there is no time to be lost for, along with the emergence of the global society, the sinister forces of fundamentalism and fanaticism, of exploitation and intimidation are also active.
Let us, then, with utmost speed, pioneer and propagate a holistic educational philosophy for the twenty-first century based upon the following premises:
Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century
MORAL & SPIRITUAL VALUES IN NEWS INDIA
The erosion of values in our country now is something that has been virtually accepted, and I say this with a sense of sorrow; because wherever one goes, not only is corruption virtually accepted as a way of life, it has virtually become a philosophy of life. It is rampant in all spheres of activity, not just in politics. May be in politics it is a little worse than most, for obvious reasons. But in all spheres of activity there has been this widespread erosion of moral and spiritual values. To some extent this is true the world over, but it is specially tragic for a country like India, which has from the beginning of its civilization sought to base itself upon certain spiritual and moral values.
I do not claim that India has always lived up to these values. I do not claim that Indians are necessarily more moral than any other people. But I do claim that the conceptual and ideological foundations of Indian culture have been on the basis of certain moral and spiritual principles. I think this is undeniable, and this, in fact, is the reason why, despite tremendous upheavals and long centuries of foreign aggression and subjugation, India has retained some vitality and dynamism. If it had not been based upon certain fundamental principles, I do not think that Indian civilization could have withstood the sort of repression, it had had to undergo.
Our freedom movement also sought to base itself upon certain ideals. Whether it was the beginning of the Hindu renaissance with reformers such as Raja Rammohun Roy with the Brahmo Samaj and Devendra Nath Tagore with the Adi Brahmo Samaj, or R. K. Bhandarkar and M. G. Ranade in Maharashtra with the Prarthana Samaj, or Swami Dayanand Saraswati with the Arya Samaj, or whether it were great men in the mainstream of the Hindu tradition like Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and Lokmanya Tilak who enthused the Indian National movement, in each of these cases you will find a clear attempt to re-establish and recreate the spiritual foundation of India. And then Gandhiji came on the scene. His whole life is clear evidence of his attempt to re-establish dharma in India, dharma in the broadest sense of term, not excluding anybody, in fact including everybody.
Gandhiji was very clear about this in his mind, and said that people who say that there is no relationship between politics and religion understand neither. And his whole life - his talks, his prayer meetings, his entire thrust - was based upon certain values. Apart from the freedom movement, the major and the outstanding contribution of Gandhiji was in the sphere of Harijans, that terrible karmic burden that Hindu Society has been carrying for so many centuries. When we became free, we adopted as our national motto these words from the Mundaka Upanisad: Satyam eva jayate (Truth alone triumphs).
That a country based upon this should today be sinking in a morass of corruption is a tragedy too deep for tears, not only for India but also for humanity, because India has always claimed to have a message for humanity. I was in South-East Asia recently. If you go to Java or to Bali, or to Bangkok or Cambodia, you will see there the influence of Indian culture. The story of Sri Rama is probably better known in Indonesia, which is eighty-five per cent Muslim, than even in parts of India. And we carried the message not through conquest, not through atomic bombs, not through force of arms, but through moral and spiritual power. Therefore, the claim that India has some message for the world is not simply a chauvinistic claim; it is based upon our achievements over the last three thousand years and more.
Today mankind needs this message more than ever before. Sri Aurobindo wrote that India is rising, not only so that it itself should be free but so that it can bring the message of spiritual realization and spiritual power to the whole of humanity. Today there is this tremendous crisis of technology and science of divergence between knowledge and wisdom. Science is one of the great achievements of the human race, perhaps unparalleled in human history. And yet that very science has given us the means of destruction, not only of the human race but also perhaps of all life on this planet.
How are we going to bridge the gap between science and philosophy? I think it can now be done, because in post-Einsteinian science, with the development of quantum mechanics and extragalactic physics, the old rigidities of Newtonian science have collapsed and many of the approaches inherent in the mystical tradition are again becoming relevant. Science and religion started together; whether it was with Ayur-Veda in India or with Alchemy in the West. Then there was this tremendous divergence. Now, I think, we have come full circle, and the salvation of the human race lies in the possibility of a convergence of science and philosophy. India is the only country that can bring this about, because we alone, of all the nations of the world, have a philosophical background as well as a scientific necessary to accomplish this. Now there is a fledgling 'new consciousness' movement throughout the world, with which I am in touch, where great scientists and philosophers are trying to get together.
So the point I am making is that the tragedy of our erosion of values is much larger than simply an Indian tragedy. It is a tragedy for humanity, because if India does not show humanity the way to achieve spiritual realization, no other nation or body can show it. But how can India bring any light to the world, if it is itself sinking in a morass of corruption? Therefore, the re-establishment of moral and spiritual values in India is now not only an imperative for India but for the human race. There have been some welcome indications recently that the silent majority in India is beginning to assert itself, that the widespread revulsion against corruption is beginning to come to the surface, that people are no longer prepared to tolerate this nonsense that is going on in the name of politics. But that is a political process which will take some time to come to maturity. Meanwhile, the question is what can we in the Virat Hindu Samaj do?
The whole philosophy of the Virat Hindu Samaj revolves around what may be called the neo-Vedanta, the reinterpretation of Vedantic principles for the twentieth and the twenty-first century. There is a sharp divergence between the sort of fundamentalism that is going on in Iran and the sort of movement that we are trying to develop here. Ours is not a revivalist movement; it is a renaissance. There is a very important difference between these two words. A revivalist movement would be, for example, if one were to demand scrapping of the Indian Constitution and going back to the Manu-Smrti where different castes have different types of punishment. But we are interpreting the great concepts and principles of Vedanta for the twenty-first century? Swami Vivekananda did the same thing at the end of the nineteenth century when he reinterpreted religion for the need of that time. Almost hundred years have elapsed since then and, I think, the time has come when there must be a fresh reinterpretation on the basis of our spiritual and intellectual structure, which lies in the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanisads.
The Virat Hindu Samaj is functioning on two levels. On one level, we are trying to create public opinion with regard to the importance of social reform within Hinduism, and of solidarity and of a reassertion of our spiritual principles. For that purpose, we had a series of sammelanas, beginning with the historic Virat Hindu Sammelana in Delhi in October 1981, which was attended by a million people. But apart from the mass sammelanas, what we need is something substantial in the educational system.
Unfortunately, as a result of a wrong interpretation of secularism, our education today has become totally devoid of values. Is it not a tragedy that in the land of the Vedanta the study of Upanisads and the Bhagavad-Gita have been virtually banned in our schools? I do not understand what sort of secularism this is in which we deprive millions of children in India of their right to be acquainted with their own cultural heritage. We have, in effect, thrown the baby out along with the bath water. Perhaps it was the result of an overreaction to partition. The country was partitioned in the name of religion, and the leaders at that time were so shocked by the development that they over-reacted. Whatever may be the reason, today, four decades after independence, the time has come when we must sit down and think about this problem.
What sort of cultural and spiritual ideals are we giving to our younger generation? The joint family is breaking up because of socioeconomic causes. So the major value-inculcating instrument is no longer in operation. The other major instrument is the school, where, because of our wrong interpretation of secularism, we are not allowed to teach any values. The third is example. The sort of example that our leaders are giving, the less said the better. So the three ways in which the younger generation can be influenced have all collapsed. Where, then, is the value orientation going to come from? Is this not a matter of the greatest concern for all Indian intellectuals, whether they are Hindus or Muslims, Sikhs or Buddhists?
I would like to stress a few points that need careful consideration. First, there is the problem of the educational curriculum. Can something be done to introduce textbooks, which have some spiritual basis for the primary, secondary, and higher classes that reflect to some extent our spiritual and cultural heritage? The second point is supplementary literature.
Apart from textbooks, there must be an adequate flow of tastefully produced supplementary literature, so that the students feel like reading it. At present, the only religious education our children are getting is through comics (Amar Chitra Kathas), and they deserve all our thanks.
Finally, there is the possibility of setting up schools in India based upon our spiritual tradition. There are certain schools already functioning - Guru Shikha, Vidya Bharati the Krishnamurti schools, Ramakrishna Mission and Chinmaya Mission schools, and so on. The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan is setting up three international schools, one in Kodaikanal, one in London and one in the USA. These are the sort of institutions, which could specifically be utilized as models for the development of this new education that we want. The Virat Hindu Samaj is a platform upon which we want to bring together various elements of Hindu society. That is what we did in our Virat Hindu Sammelans that is what we now want to do in the educational field. We could set up a working group where people who have this experience can act and interact upon each other. We can also take advantage of the experience of Christian Missionaries, who have done a lot of educational work and have made a major contribution.
Jawaharlal Nehru used to often quote from Alice in Wonderland: 'We have to run as fast as we can to stay where we are.' Unfortunately, we are not staying where we are; we are going backwards in many spheres. And, therefore, let there be a sense of urgency, let there be a sense of commitment. I am sure that, if people apply their minds in this direction, something concrete can emerge which would conduce to the welfare not only of Hindu society but also of the whole of India and even of mankind.
Amar Mahal Museum & Library
Amar Mahal Museum & Library, placed in a picturesque setting of Himalayas is an epitome of royal grandeur and magnificence...
Here are some photographs of the work I am doing and some of the events I have been involved in.
Featured Journal Posts
Recent Essays and Statements
© Copyright 2008, Dr. Karan Singh