यस्तु विज्नानवान् भवति युक्तेन मनसा सदा।
तस्येन्द्रियाणि वश्यानि सदश्वैव सारतेः॥
He who is possessed of supreme knowledge by concentration of mind,
must have his senses under control, like spirited steeds controlled by a charioteer
This uplifting verse from the Kathopanishad (III.6) perhaps best captures the ancient Indian ideal and approach to learning and education.
This verse occurs in the context of Yama teaching the young Nachiketa the secrets of Brahma Vidya (Knowledge of the Supreme Reality), and the underlying principle of the control of the senses and concentration of mind which characterises the general Indian outlook towards learning. Indeed, concentration in itself is viewed as an intermediate step towards the ultimate goal of realising the Self. Thus, for example, a Sthapati’s (sculptor, temple builder) training necessarily includes the subtext of the fact that his learning and its eventual application are directed at accumulating virtue as opposed to merely building a religious structure. Concentration leading to both the student and the expert and the scholar and the creator immersing himself in a meditative state is one of the greatest secrets to accomplishing the sublime and the exalted.
This profound conception and outlook not only applies to learning and education but is also reflected in the organisation of the traditional Indian society, which stood the test of time until it was rudely, violently interrupted and overwhelmed by brutal waves of successive, alien Abrahamic invasions and an extended spell of colonialism. At the heart of the Indian approach to education lies a simple idea: to offer the “best scope for the development of the individual” according to his or her temperament, intelligence and so on.
Another distinguished and distinctive trait of ancient Indian education is its emphasis on the personal and intimate nature of imparting and receiving knowledge. Those that conceived and designed the method of ancient Indian learning had mastered and gained deep insights into both Jnana and Prajnana, terms that are untranslatable. Sri R.K. Mookerji explains it beautifully.
In other words, an ounce of experience is worth more than reading a hundred books. This sort of system also places enormous responsibility and accountability on the part of the teacher to lead by personal example. He must constantly introspect and evaluate his own lifestyle, conduct and character. Even if a graduate didn’t exactly become the world’s foremost scholar, this system ensured that he would always be a model citizen. That in turn translates in real life into an enormous reduction in policing and the necessity for inventing newer laws, which in turn means that to that extent, State interference in the lives of private citizens is kept minimal.
It is for this and other related reasons that until the advent of the destructive British system of education, the Indian Guru Parampara (Lineage of Gurus) was revered across the nation. Further,
This lament by R.K. Mookerji has its distinguished ancestors hailing from an entire tradition of great rooted Indian scholars and intellectuals and Gurus ranging from Swami Vivekananda, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Dharampal and others. As history is witness, the near-total destruction of this system of education and its criminal replacement by the British colonial system of education continues to produce assembly-line human machines, which contemporary society treats merely as economic resources, and nothing higher. This is not man-making or character-building much less, directing and elevating the gross human on an inward quest which is where real education lies awaiting discovery. This is industrialisation of education in its worst form. Almost five generations of Indians have mindlessly digested it and see no higher purpose in life than a feverish, impatient, ruthless and lifelong quest after the base. The clairvoyant savant Swami Vivekananda foresaw precisely this consequence more than a century ago in this caustic lament:
Indeed, it is because we have not only learnt this weakness but we have made weakness our lifestyle that we can no longer see what the great Swami foresaw.
Contrast the attitude and underpinnings of colonial education with the Indian conception of parents and the Guru as akin to God, and the full extent of the cultural and civilisational damage that was wrought upon India will become clear. We shall take leave of R.K. Mookerji after examining this superlative insight he gives on the intertwined relationship between the teacher, the taught and knowledge itself:
That this exalted conception carried itself unbroken up to the mid-1900s can be evidenced from D.V. Gundappa’s pen picture of Mahāmahopādhyāya Hanagal Virupaksha Sastri, one of the foremost scholars of Vedanta
And now we can turn to Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy who perhaps remains one of the staunchest defenders of the Indian tradition of education in the spirit of what Sri David Frawley terms an Intellectual Kshatriya.
Unfortunately, the trajectory of Indian education after "independence" appears to be a deliberately crude mockery of all these eminences who correctly understood the fact that if Sanatana Bharatavarsha's soul has to be reclaimed, if the fundamental impulse of her once-throbbing culture has to be recovered, education is the master key to accomplish it.
To be continued
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