True Education
by Swami Krishnananda


(Keynote address given at a conference on education in Delhi on October 21, 1983)

Lokāḥ samastāḥ sukhino bhavantu. Here we have embodied in a nutshell, as it were, the fervent hopes of our ancient Masters as expressed in the sacred revelations called the Upanishads. In this simple, meaningful prayer it is suggested that we all come together as an organic fraternity, that we manifest love among ourselves with a sense of communion from the recesses of our hearts, that we not disrespect or envy one another, that in this inward coming together of our hearts we may generate energy and have peace within as well as without because for That which is, there is neither a within nor a without.

Before we actually enter into a discussion of the important theme of this session, it would be worthwhile, I believe, to dilate upon a few foundational facts which evidently have a direct bearing on these considerations. We live in a human society because we are human beings and our society cannot be anything but its humanness. Hence, it is also a natural consequence that follows from this fact of our being human in a human society that our values also may be mostly human, and a human mind may not be equipped with instruments to think beyond the limitations of what is revealed to the human eye.

We live in a human world, and so the values which we consider as meaningful are naturally human. We may be very far from the truth of things if we conclude that God has made this world for man’s welfare. It is up to any one of us to bestow a little thought on whether this conclusion that this world is made only for man can be valid. Perhaps, if we believe in a Creator of this universe, this Creator has only human beings in mind. We live, as I said, in a human world, in a human society; and every human being speaks and works for freedom. A human being would resent subservience and dependence, and would not like it to be prolonged as a part of his life. Freedom in every sense of the term seems to be the demand of the human individual.

Now, while we may not have the time here to discuss the character and nature of what freedom can mean, it may perhaps naturally follow that the concept of freedom implies a sort of individual independence. A person who is not independent cannot be free. So an asking for freedom would also mean an asking for personal independence and liberty. I am advisedly using the word ‘personal’ because not to be sanctioned personal freedom or personal independence would be to imply that a person would be dependent upon certain external factors. Absence of personal independence is naturally a necessity felt to be dependent on factors other than one’s own self, and what else is absence of freedom?

Now here we are, facing a very difficult problem. Would you permit the sanction of absolute freedom to any individual in the sense of absolute independence that one would like to wield in one’s own life? Certainly. Is absolute independent freedom in a personal sense practicable or possible, and does it carry any struggle?

We live in a world of a certain set of conflicts. I am placing before you one type of conflict in our way of thinking. On the one hand, there cannot be freedom unless there is total independence of the human person. On the other hand, this seems to be a chimerical idea because it is well known through the faculty of human history, political as well as psychological, that no total independence can permit even the survival of the individual. There is dependence of the individual on factors galore, apart from the physical independence of every person of this human society on every other person. If you dispassionately consider the situation, you will find that everyone is dependent on everyone else for one reason or the other. I am limiting myself to the relationship at this moment of human society only. In a society of human beings there is naturally a need felt for the sharing of a part of the personality of an individual with other individuals of a similar nature. Where an individual does not have anything to share with another, there is no such thing as society.

A human society, or society of any nature, for the matter of that, is not merely a heap of individuals. It is not a crowd of particulars like pebbles heaped on the roadside. Can you consider a heap of stones on the roadside as a society of stones? Naturally not, because we have in our minds a definite concept of what a society is. A society is not a physical coming together of particulars, though these particulars or units may be human individuals. We may all be physically seated together in a single hall, but we may not constitute a society if these individuals seated in a particular context have nothing to share among themselves in any sense of the term. If we accept that human society does exist, then sharing of a particular nature seems to be implied in the very concept of society.

There are some people, especially in modern times, who believe that anarchy is the only right way of living. They seem to want total freedom, with total independence sanctioned to each individual to live in any manner he or she would like. It is, as I told you, digging a pit for a terrible problem before humanity as a whole because such a freedom has no meaning. Total independence of the individual has not been heard of anywhere, right from the time of creation, perhaps. And in practical existence, in our day-to-day life, we also see how many are the external factors on which life is dependent. I am not here to count these factors. Each one of us is capable of considering what these factors can be, without dependence on which we would not live for three days. So where is total independence? If we believe that for certain important reasons total independence is not possible and it cannot be sanctioned to an individual, then comes this restriction of freedom of the individual because dependence is restriction of freedom. Where is freedom, then? People are crying for freedom.

So here, as I mentioned, there is a type of conflict in the very way of our thinking. We cannot be dependent and agree to a limitation on our freedom, because nothing can be more satisfying than total freedom. While on the one hand this is true, on the other hand, this is not a practicability. So “Where are we positioned in this concept of human existence?” is a moot question before us.

We seem to have an erroneous notion of freedom and independence, which seems to be the reason behind our apparent conflict. Really, there should not be any such conflict because freedom and conflict are opposites. We have not yet found a completely satisfying solution to this problem which is partly sociological, partly psychological, and to some extent even a determining factor in political administration. We cannot segregate aspects of human life as if they are watertight compartments. There is no such thing as political freedom somewhere in a corner, social life in some other corner, psychological life somewhere else, and so on. These varieties of human necessity may be considered as facets of a single crystal of human life as a whole. Facets of a crystal are not isolated from one another. They are not merely not independent of one another, they are not independent existences at all. They are media of the reflection of the total that is the crystal, the diamond.

So political administration, the values called administrative or managemental in any sense of the term, and all other facets of life are not to be regarded as independent existences by themselves. They are reflecting media of a total need that is felt by life as a whole; hence, life is a single completeness, an organism. An organism is a total living being whose parts, though they seem to be different from one another, are absolutely related in a vital fashion to the whole to which they belong – as the limbs of our body, for instance.

Hence, if education is to be considered as the process of the enlightenment of the human individual in the direction of what the purpose of life is finally, then we may have to know what the purpose of life is. Education is certainly not the accumulation of particular facts of empirical phenomena. It is something different altogether. It is vitally connected to our day-to-day living. A collection of information disconnected to actual existence in the world is not a part of education because it does not illumine the individual. Education is to be considered, therefore, as a medium for shedding proper light on the very structural background of this individual in order that this pattern may expand into a larger dimension to which it actually belongs, of which it is an integral part, which is the true organism, and which has its ambit of action as wide as the total universe itself.

So it is a matter of doubt if we can be safe merely by considering that we are citizens of a little locality, of a village, of a district, of a particular state, of even a country or a nation. Perhaps there are conditioning factors which determine our existence beyond the ken and operation of even a nation. Today we are accustomed to think in terms of international relations. This is fine, and is exactly as it ought to be, but again we are likely to limit our thoughts, deliberations and considerations of values to man’s welfare only, as if there is nothing else in the world except man. Perhaps very highly qualified people, as you all are here, would be aware that the most powerful forces in the world are not human. There are forces other than human in the world which can create human life or destroy it. Forces of nature should certainly be considered as more powerful in determining the values of human existence than what we call social values, political values, and even psychological values, if we are to consider psychology as a study merely of the individual mind of a person, which it cannot be.

So, we do not seem to be living in a world merely of brothers, sisters, friends, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, bosses, subordinates, employers or employees in the human sense. This is a very unfortunate view of life. As I mentioned, we people here are accustomed to think in light of a message that has been imparted to us by a tremendously powerful stalwart of this modern age, Swami Sivananda, and therefore, I cannot help thinking except in that way. It may be my weakness, and it may be anything from your charitable considerations.

Hence, my point is that if you consider education as something connected with moral behaviour and ethical discipline in human society, naturally education has to be the spring behind the mechanism of human behaviour. We behave and conduct ourselves in relation to one another in light of the mechanism that is behind us. That mechanism that operates within us is that which has been imparted to us by the educational process. We are born as biological units, as we were little babies coming out of our mother’s womb. Perhaps we are little different from the vegetable or the plant when we are crawling babies. The evolutionary doctrine of modern scientists seems to perhaps agree that this vegetable life of a crawling baby slowly develops into the animal level of thinking, where it becomes more instinctive rather than rational; therefore, the adolescent period is a difficult period of turbulent behaviour of the human mind. Children are difficult to control. This is the problem of schoolmasters, professors, and lecturers in schools and colleges. Youngsters are very difficult to bend because they pass through a stage which can, for the purpose of a study of human behaviour, be considered as animal. So it is not that we can be considered as being wholly free from the instincts of the plant and of the animal, instincts of mere survival of the strongest or the fittest. This is very obvious and does not need any elaboration.

But we do not live as animals. We do not wish to conduct ourselves or behave with one another as animals, as tigers, as snakes. We live like human beings. We have a reason which is considered to be superior to the instinct of the animal and the biological impulse of the plant. Well, this is true. We live like human beings, and we have to live like human beings. But what is a human being? Is it a biped? Is it an animal which walks with two feet? Can we call an animal a human being merely because it walks with two feet and has no tail? Certainly we will say a human being is not merely a biped, not merely a tailless animal walking on two feet. There is something else in human nature.

Perhaps a human being is not a physical body. It is not one unit in a zoo, but it is an outlook of life. An outlook of life perhaps differentiates the human way of thinking from the animal’s intense selfishness and the mere biological impulse of the plant and the vegetable. But here is a moot point before us. What is the consideration that is necessary for converting an animal into a human being? Let each one of us dispassionately probe into his own or her own heart and decide if there is something inside which is akin to the animal, akin to the snake or the tiger, the scorpion, the vindictive beasts of the jungle. Are we also hungry and thirsty, and eager to live somehow or other like the plants in the garden or the trees in the jungle, or is there something more in us? We will certainly say there is something more in us. If it is not there, it should be there.

But what is it that has to be there? This takes us to the philosophy of education together with its psychology, and within this time limit before us, we cannot go into the deeper problems that may arise one after another when we plumb further and further into this edifice of the very structural pattern of humanity itself.

Thus we are faced with certain difficult questions. The basic difficulty is the problem of clearly understanding the relationship that seems to obtain between one person and another person, which is called the science of sociology, and the relationship that seems to be there among the inner layers of one’s own personality, which is called psychology. Something more is there which cannot be set aside as irrelevant. On deep consideration we will find that it is more important than even sociology, political science and psychology, and that it is the human being’s relationship with the universe itself, which we may call cosmology. These are not the important issues of our business life or commercial attitude of existence, but we cannot be gainers in the commerce of society if the conditioning factors of the ultimate success of human existence are completely lost.

Satyameva jayate is something known to us: truth alone triumphs. But what is truth? Can anyone give a clear, satisfactory and logical answer to this question? What is meant by chanting this slogan? Mere slogans, shibboleths and chants may not be of much value. They may be capable of introducing a sense of instruction among ourselves that we are well informed and knowledgeable about all things, but basically when we are threatened with the forces of nature and the facts of life, we may be poor weaklings with no strength of our own. Why is it that we have no strength? Knowledge is said to be power, apart from the fact that knowledge is considered as a virtue. It was Socrates perhaps who proclaimed that knowledge is a virtue. Why should there be this conflict between education and moral behaviour if knowledge is virtue? Knowledge is virtue, knowledge is power, and knowledge is happiness. If education is the medium of the acquisition of knowledge, any person who is educated should also be a powerful individual and a happy person, and also a virtuous person.

Now, why should we have this doubt in our minds that education has perhaps not fulfilled this task of producing the requisite results? Is the educated man a powerful person? Is the educated man a virtuous person? Is the educated person a happy person? You will say “No” to all these questions. Today an educated person is not necessarily a powerful person, not a happy person in his private life, for umpteen reasons, and not an ethical or righteous person. Why is this, if knowledge is virtue, knowledge is power, and knowledge is happiness?

I have only placed questions before you, and have no time to give you answers. I have already mentioned that I was wondering why I have been chosen to give the keynote address while there are stalwarts in education sitting here in the audience. However, it is the goodness of the convenors and the volunteers of this organisation that they have chosen me for this task.

So this deliberation on bringing about conditions for a reorientation in the direction of true education and moral conduct in human society would raise questions of relationship, and these questions are not merely social but are also psychic and psychological, cosmological, and something even more than that.

I mentioned that we live a life of conflict. The Bhagavadgita, one of the great scriptures of India, purports to be a panacea for the solution of the conflicts of human life. Though there can be an indefinite number of conflicts in our life in this world, principally, at least to think in light of the Bhagavadgita, we may say our conflicts are only four; we have a fourfold conflict.

There is the conflict of one person with another person in human society. It is not true that a human individual, any given person, can love another unconditionally, under any circumstance, for all times. Basically, an unconditioned affection and love for another is bound to be impossible, for reasons which each one knows. I cannot love you unconditionally. Under given conditions I am your friend, and when these conditions break, I am no more your friend. So there is a basic foundational and essential difficulty in human society of it being possible for a human individual to be truly in love with another. Our apparent collaboration with one another politically, socially, economically or otherwise seems to be an outward adjustment or adaptation based on a secret impossibility for this achievement. This is social conflict.

Another conflict is psychological conflict, which is the seed of this social conflict I mentioned already. There is a nonalignment of the inner layers of the human personality. We are not just physical bodies; we are not a heap of bones, flesh and blood, muscles and marrow, and perhaps everyone knows we are something more than that. We have a mind which thinks, we have the breath that breathes, we have a reason that argues, and perhaps we have something deeper than even reason that hopes for a future betterment of existence.

But these layers of our personality collide with one another. There is a jamming of these layers of our personality, and we become psychopathological individuals rather than integrated persons. As what an individual is, that society has to be, how can there be human society if the human individual himself is absent?

If you agree at least partially that human society is impossible without the human individual, and if you are also inclined to agree that a conflict-ridden heap of individuals produces only a conflict-ridden human society, we come to the point that our education, which is a process of enlightenment, is not merely concerned with an empirical concept of human sociology, of society in its relationship of individuals, but is concerned with the individual himself or herself. The light has to be shed on the inner structure of the human individuality itself.

Now, I mentioned another conflict. Apart from the social one, there is an individual conflict personally. There is social conflict on one side, and a psychological conflict on the other side. One cannot be differentiated from the other. They seem to be the obverse and reverse of the same coin. But why is there this individual conflict? Why should there be this nonalignment of the inner layers of the human personality? Why is the health of the total personality the hope of man? This takes us beyond ordinary formal educational curricula or syllabi in our educational institutions.

Here comes a hint towards the answer to the question: Can we expect moral regeneration in a human society today through the medium of formal education as it is imparted at the present moment? I am not giving the answer; I am only suggesting a gateway that can be opened for finding an answer to this question.

We are conflict-ridden, and no one is totally free from internal conflict of some sort or the other. This internal conflict is projected outside in a human relationship, which is nothing but social behaviour, moral and ethical behaviour, political behaviour, and economic behaviour. I pose a question: Why should there be this internal conflict at all when we do not like it? How could it be possible that we are enshrining in our personality conditions which we do not like to have within us? This is a further question, into which investigations were made by our ancient Masters right from the time of the Vedas and the Upanishads and, as I mentioned, the Bhagavadgita. A single problem of what we can consider as one individual in the context of the Mahabharata epic, one individual’s little, local, topical problem, that problem of Arjuna. That little question which he raised, that question, that problem pertaining to a given historical situation in a particular temporal context gave rise to such a tremendous affirmation of mutual human relations and the very concept of duty itself. It was not a question of one person at one time in the process of human history chronologically. It was the question of mankind. It was the question of Man, an eternal question as to his position in this universe. The question of Man’s position in this universe was the question which suddenly rose up as the contents of Pandora’s box when Arjuna found himself in a terrible, vexing predicament. And every one of us is such a person.

The Mahabharata is the problem and the battle of existence. It is the day-to-day conflict we are facing which is embodied in this masterly epic we call the Mahabharata. The human individual – yourself, myself, and everybody – is the Arjuna, and Sri Krishna, who gives the answer, is something we are not seeing with our eyes. We have not found our Krishna, though we are here as Arjunas. Perhaps if these Arjunas who are here in this world were to find their Krishna, there would be no need for these seminars and these discussions; perhaps there would be no necessity for any argument and deliberation, because there would be no problem. There would be no problem because each one would understand the other in the light of what is mutually facing us.

The system of yoga, with which many of you may be acquainted, is the art of understanding each one, each person, each individual, each thing from its own, his own, her own point of view. The looking at a person, seeing a thing, empirically observing a particular unit, an item by itself, is not yoga because it is not union. Merely observing a thing is not coming in basic contact with the rootedness of its existence, and so empirical observation and experimentation, which is the technology of modern psychological science, and which is perhaps also a part of educational psychology, will not be adequate to the purpose of the solution of human problems, though we can have our education for getting a job. We are located in an empirical world of space, time, causation and transition; in that sense we are empirical, so our science is empirical, our psychology is empirical, and there is nothing but that even in the commercial field.

But we are not only that. We have hope which seems to lift us above even the mortality of the whole earth. We do not want to believe that our hopes will be vanquished merely by the death of this physical body. Which person on earth will be able to work for any value whatsoever in this world, knowing very well that death is at the elbow? If we know that there is no guarantee for human life, and any moment can be the last moment, who would be so eager to do anything in this world? Who would lift a finger to do anything if it is certain that the next moment is not secure?

But there is a security already within us which defies this sense of insecurity caused by this problem of not being sure of anything in this world. The very hope of mankind for a better future, notwithstanding the fact of the transiency of all things, is the proof of the immortality of the soul of man and the deathlessness of human values. The deathlessness of human values would mean the deathlessness of eternal values.

Here I have only set up certain questions, problems to shake us from our complacency that we may be entertaining in a state of ignorance, not knowing that our highest knowledge is the worst of ignorance, finally speaking. We know nothing of the facts of nature or the truths of life, and perhaps the time has come to respect these deeper truths of life, to be obedient to the laws of nature and to be humbly subservient to that eternal Creator of all values of life which, with its infinite eyes, knows all things, and whose existence no one can deny.

I have the great joy at this moment to invoke upon not only all of you seated here but upon all the brothers and sisters of this country, upon mankind as a whole, the infinite abundance and grace of that infinite meaning that is embedded in the least of things in this world, and the blessings of all the Masters.