FROM THE EARLIEST TIMES, the Hindu society placed only a secondary emphasis on book learning. As we noted in an earlier episode of this series, knowledge had to be an organic and indivisible part of a person. We observe this even today in traditional Gurukulams where the emphasis is to summon knowledge on the Jihvagra – or the tip of the tongue.
In his mellifluous and evocative profile of Mahamahopadhyaya Sri Hanagal Virupaksha Sastri, DVG mentions how the Acharya had a healthy dose of contempt for the printed matter – he pronounced “print” as “praentu.” In his view, printed text was an avoidable crutch and an obstacle that corrupted the proper method of acquiring knowledge, which was intense concentration involving all the faculties of the student.
If the foregoing is the learning aspect of education, the teaching aspect is truly outstanding, and we once again invoke DVG (Emphasis added): “Word-division, meaning, compound-words, word-order, syntax—the students had to put in their own effort to master all of these. Teachers in the past weren’t infected with the madness of the “new” method which wants to make the job of the students easy. The student has to work hard on his own; his fruit was proportional to his effort—this was the philosophical attitude of the ancients. Knowledge is a light that resides within the student. The only task of the teacher is to move the walls that enclose and block this light. If he does just this, the light within will spread out on its own. Knowledge is not something to be shoved in from the outside; it is to be called out from within. This is the only, real work of the teacher. It is because Venkatarama Sastri adhered to this precept that the learning of his disciples in literature and grammar was spotless and accurate.”
Clearly, this philosophy of teaching comes from a much deeper place. Its outward expressions and methods varied. This teaching occurred through what is today condemned as rote learning, memorization, mythological stories, “silly” games, worshipping stone idols, pulling chariots, etc. It had occurred via symbols, songs, and for the longest time, real education took place in Hindu homes on the laps of mothers and grandmothers. It also took place when people went on Tirthayatras, when they celebrated festivals as a whole community.
In essence, what we today call “Dharmic education” is the very definition of Sanatana Dharma: a grand, lifelong celebration of life itself, including its sorrows and joys and jealousies and the ultimate futility of it all.
Which brings us to the point I had mentioned in the first episode of this series: apart from cultivating our inner lives, a central goal of our education was to create citizens in the truest sense of the word. The vision of our Rishis, saints, seers and sages was this: it is always better to have a cultured society than a wealthy society that lacks culture. Citizens and not mere economic, social or legal entities.
To understand the profound nature of this goal, we can look at just one brilliant term that DVG has coined: Rashtraka. The word is not easily translatable to English but it generally means a person who is patriotic, who is deeply attached to his nation and its culture, obeys its unwritten cultural laws, fosters its civilizational heritage and is courageous enough to risk his life to protect and safeguard all of this. With this, the question arises: Does our current education system have the capacity to produce this type of Rashtraka?
Consider our present situation: we are still unable to overcome our national cowardice which prevents us from declaring something that has self-evidentiary value as Vande Mataram as our national anthem. Our feeble hearts tremble at prescribing the Bhagavad Gita and stories from our sacred national literature as lessons to our children. These are our natural and unarguable cultural boundaries akin to how the Himalayas, the Sapta Sindhu and the Hindu Mahasagara are inseparable parts of this sanctified land.
But what we have today in our schools, colleges and universities is not education but its perversion. And we can see its consequences all around us.
Just half a century ago, our heroes were derived from the class of truly eminent public figures, freedom fighters, litterateurs, artists, poets, and spiritual stalwarts like Ramana Maharshi and Swami Vivekananda. Today they have been replaced by entrepreneurs, businessmen, movie stars, and phony spiritual Gurus. A Swami Vivekananda could command someone like JRD Tata who sought and implemented his guidance.
What is the situation today?
AS HISTORY SHOWS US, “Dharmic education” is not a separate subject or academic discipline. It cannot be formally taught in the sense that we understand formal training. We have to first imbibe it within ourselves and live it as long as we are alive. As the old proverb goes, children learn by imitating their parents first. But we live in a period where this is no longer guaranteed. Over the last three decades, external influences – mainly technology – have replaced the role of parents as shapers of our children’s thoughts, attitudes and destiny. These are problems which currently have no easy solutions and that is a topic for another day.
But in the context of our present discussion, we can find some of these answers in our own backyard, i.e. in our conception and in the lived reality of our ancient educational heritage where the home and the family should be the first school of learning. And to state the blunt truth bluntly, that process should begin with Hindu parents who should begin this learning by unlearning the mass of nonsense that the external educational system and influences have taught them. Unlearning is also learning.
I hope that the following words of the brilliant scholar Radhakumud Mookerji will serve as a guiding light in that direction.
[Our] system of transmitting knowledge had the natural effect of producing a keen sense of responsibility in those who came to be the custodians and guardians of…knowledge. Every teacher felt that his primary and paramount duty was to discharge himself of the sacred obligation he owed to the Rishis, to the cause of culture and learning, by finding proper pupils to whom he might communicate knowledge…He could not permit that knowledge to die with him. Thus, a serious and solemn responsibility attached to the position of a teacher as the trustee of the nation’s culture, and the violation or non-fulfilment of that sacred trust was one of the gravest sins.
Finally, because our mainstream or formal educational institutions no longer have the capacity to produce such teachers and students, Hindu parents have to discharge that noble duty today by consciously becoming a Guru or Acharya. Nature made them parents but Dharma should make them Gurus.
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