Chapter 17: The Basic Principle of Education
As the course of education is a way of ordering one’s life in the requisite manner, all studies in the course have to be intensely practical. We do not study or undergo education because we have nothing else to do. It is a sole necessity that arises on account of a specific type of discipline that we have to manifest in our own lives in relation to the environment in which we live. Thus, education or study of whatever kind is not a mere social achievement or a hobby; it is, as it were, medical administration to the sick personality that finds it difficult to set itself in harmony with those conditions and factors of life which contribute to the well being of not only oneself but of everybody else. We become educated only to the extent we are able to understand one another. Where this understanding is lacking, education is absent. Thus, there is a great difference between study and education. We can study anything, yet we may be illiterate from the point of view of culture, good manners, and the very purpose of our studies.
This specific kind of educational career, which is the main objective of an academy of this kind, is thus intensely practical. It concerns me, it concerns you, and it concerns everything with which we are connected. In every kind of educational career we pass through, there is a vast sea of difficulty before us. We are confronted with the same problems which we seem to have faced since we were born into this world. Our knowledge does not always seem to be adequate to the purpose of facing life, because to live life in this world is not merely to be contented with information that we gather about how things behave. Life is not an object of empirical studies as are carried on in the field of modern science, or science as it is understood.
There is a necessity to bring into the surface of our active life the very soul of what we call existence, and mostly – very unfortunately – mankind has been unsuccessful in bringing the soul, which is the motive force behind our longings or our needs, into the daylight of the facts of life. The activities of life, the ambitions of man and the aspirations of humanity have ever remained certain mechanised movements, and these movements have engaged the attention of mankind throughout history. The mechanistic character of these processes, lifeless and soulless as they have been, added more and more problems to the existing ones and, as time advanced, it became more and more difficult to live in this world. Today, we find that our life is more difficult than the lives of people who lived some centuries back. We have greater problems facing us than the difficulties that mankind might have faced then. What is the reason?
We have mistaken the outward appurtenances of human comfort and satisfaction for cultural advancement or even refinement of personality. The acquisitions of man in the advance of human history, with its apex today in the year 1983 – these and many other things connected with these – have always been certain consequences following from man’s inveterate difficulty to find what he seeks; and all the equipment which man has manufactured for his satisfaction and security are sources of further difficulties because they are not the required instruments for the fulfilment of mankind's longings. Security that can be afforded by outward factors cannot be considered as a worthwhile achievement.
This is our problem today. We are secure, satisfied, under the impression that we have no fear because we have weapons to guard us, food to eat, clothes to wear, houses to live in, friends to talk to, and hobbies in which we can engage ourselves. This, to put it in the language of human psychology, is called escapism. Man's mind is trying to escape from the problems of life by the manufacture of these instruments and the avenues which it seeks for diverting its attention from the problems of life. Our satisfactions today are mainly a diverting of our attention from the existing difficulties.
This has been our education, finally. The more we learn about running away from problems, the more we seem to be educated and more cultured, more advanced, more progressive in the march of human history. ‘Travesty’ is the only word we can use for this circumstance in which humankind finds itself. Yet humankind is complacent about itself, though at the root it is threatened out of its very existence.
It requires a very, very difficult manoeuvring of our own spirits from inside in order to discover what is really wrong with us or with anybody else. No library will be of any help to us because libraries are certain tools which make it appear that we have been furnished with all the necessary information in life; but they are like huge chemist shops where every drug is available but we cannot cure our illness because a chemist shop is not the way in which a physician works.
Thus, while the endeavours of every one of you in searching for satisfactions of a higher nature through means which you have been adopting are genuine, honest and piously motivated, they have also to be in consonance with the facts of life because however genuine the approach may be, it can also be based on miscalculations. It is easy for the mind to get into the rut of the old-fashioned, traditional thinking into which you are born, and from which man’s way of thinking cannot be extricated.
We are not here to study books and to gather information; that is not the purpose. It is also not in order to appear well learned in the eyes of people. What we seek is a different thing altogether than what would make us important in this world, in the eyes of society. The eyes of nature are wider than the eyes of mankind, and in its eyes we may not be worth anything, though in the eyes of mankind we may be rulers, Caesars, emperors, duchesses. We may have everything that we need, all the money in the world and every armament with which we can protect ourselves from hunger and thirst, heat and cold, and from insecurities consequent upon inclement atmospheres outside, but one cannot be always with drawn sword in hand. This is not life, because nature is essentially a friend of man; nature is not his enemy.
The empirical sciences, which have given birth to all the modern philosophies of politics and armament, have struggled hard to insist that nature is an enemy of man and therefore we have to guard ourselves against her onslaughts. Our search for distant objects in the astronomical world, and our eagerness to see that our neighbour does not catch our throats, are all demonstrations of the extent of our understanding of nature and our appreciation of the goodwill of our own brethren around us.
After centuries of effort for the betterment of man, the conditions prevailing today demonstrate that all the efforts have failed because there has been a basic miscalculation of the very relationship that man holds with nature or, we may say, anything which is the cause of nature itself. The suspicion that we have, the fear that we evince in our hearts in regard to our environment outside makes us build large fortresses around us and secure ourselves within strong buildings because there is a fear from even the movement of a leaf and the wisp of a wind. All this is the treasure that we have to carry finally when we leave this world – a bundle of fears, insecurities, dissatisfactions, repentances, and a sorry state of affairs. Many have come and many have gone, and we shall also go, but everybody goes as a crow goes, a bird goes, a reptile goes. There has to be a difference between an enlightened spirit departing and a fly departing: not to quit the world but to embrace it in a larger understanding, unlike the fly that departs with no such understanding.
Hence, we should not be under the impression that we have studied a lot and we have nothing more to do, because we will find that the more we probe into the mysteries of knowledge, the sea of learning and the ocean of wisdom, the deeper it is. We should never be under the impression that we have understood things completely, as long as we are in a state of fear and have a perpetual requirement of something or the other which we have never acquired and about the acquisition of which we have great doubts. The satisfaction that what our soul needs, or what we as a whole personality need, has been obtained, may be considered as an insignia of our true culture and our education. A love manifests from us, a consideration for the creation that is around us, which is a sense of belonging to a family that arises in us on account of our understanding of nature.
Education is, therefore, a process of the understanding of the environment in which we live, which is a large complex of arrangements, layer after layer, inwardly as well as outwardly – inwardly as the psychological edifice of this personality, and outwardly as a large sea of humanity and the vast physical universe. It is in this direction that we have been trying to drive our mind as a sort of investigation of the mysteries of our own life; and if you feel that something has come out of these studies and you are in a better position psychologically and rationally, you may consider yourself thrice blessed. Else, the study has to be pursued because life itself is an educational career. We do not finish our studies within three months, six months, eight months or even a few years because if education means such type of understanding of nature and environment outside as would require us to be in tune in all its levels, then we would never be fully educated until we reach God Himself, the centrality of the cosmos, for which grade after grade we have to rise, and perhaps one life may not be sufficient for completing this education.
But ancient Masters have opined that if our sincerity, earnestness and honesty of pursuit are to the mark, these possibilities of having to take many incarnations to complete this education may be compressed into even a single life by the intensity thereof because quality surpasses quantity. A million lives are worth nothing if they are qualitatively meaningless, but the fire of aspiration that we can implant in our own hearts with an understanding equal to the mark, may perhaps work a miracle. Life is a miracle, creation as a whole is a miracle, and what is called the ultimate purpose of existence is also is a miracle as it cannot easily be contained within the limits of our little understanding.
Thus, we have to be very humble before the might of this universe. The humility may go to that extent of total abnegation of ourselves so that we no more exist and only the universe is. The unselfishness which is considered a characteristic of true culture is a movement towards the recognition of values in other people and other things than one’s own self to such an extent that in utter unselfishness we no more exist – only others exist – so that the otherness of people and things in the world becomes a selfhood. It is difficult for the mind to understand how this could be, but this has to be. This is the basic principle of a normally requisite education of mankind.
What is our final conclusion after all our efforts of so many years that we have spent in this world? The conclusion evidently is that now we have to gird up our loins, something like a soldier who is prepared to enter the field of battle after his training in a military academy. The training itself is not enough. It is the preparation for the act for which he has to be prepared; and our education is that sort of understanding which will keep us always ready to meet the eventualities of life, without judging them as either favourable or unfavourable, because what we call nature, this world, this creation is not to be interpreted or defined in terms which are purely social, personal, or even ethical. They are neither favourable to us nor unfavourable to us; they are impersonal areas of action spread out before us for our own education, in the same way that a university is neither favourable nor unfavourable to anyone. It is there for what it is. It may look favourable or otherwise, according to the manner in which we can fit ourselves into it. Thus is the world, thus is creation. We cannot say whether it is good or bad, necessary or unnecessary, pleasant or unpleasant – no such judgement can be passed on it because these notions about it arise in our minds on account of our peculiar idiosyncrasies of adjustment with this atmosphere that we call creation.
The more we study, the smaller we become before this great wonder of creation. Great saints and sages were small persons. They descended, and reduced themselves to such an extent that their existence itself was not known. They did not appear in newspaper headlines. The greatest personalities come unknown and go unknown; they are not the objects of advertisements throughout the world. Nobody knows them, and they are not eager to know anybody. This situation is to be considered as a spiritual consequence of the process of self abnegation which follows from an understanding of one’s true position in this cosmos. We are not to consider it as an object or a tool for our satisfaction. We do not live here to enjoy. Joy is our main objective, but that cannot come by subjugating someone else or denying the status to others which is really due to them. We cannot be happy by exploiting anyone, by converting another into a slave, much less by trying to reduce nature itself to the condition of a servant. This can never happen, and nature will not permit this.
Thus, if our history has proved to be a long chain of human efforts towards the subjugation of nature, man is totally mistaken to harness it to fulfil human passions and psychological impulses. He will not succeed because for this error that he commits in his understanding of nature, he may have to pay through his nose, as all great men in the world have paid in the end, to their utter consternation. Great men have come and gone into the limbo of non-existence; no one knows where they are. Billions of years have passed, perhaps, since the creation of this Earth, and how many have come, where they have gone, nobody knows. Why should this happen? Why this problem before us? Why should it be that things are as they are? Are we to be driven into a concentration camp of an unknown region where we are subjugated by forces over which we have no control and no knowledge?
There is a fear which we try to cover up with an outer veneer of pleasure, which we seek by contact with objects of sense. We dread a situation which is yawning in front of us. The dread is so severe and vehement that we have to be working from moment to moment to cover it up with a whitewash of pleasure, which we appear to acquire by means of contact with objects that tantalise us and deceive us every day. What is this dread? We do not know when we will quit this world; there is no gainsaying about this difficulty and there is no knowledge as to what will happen to us when we quit this world. Nothing can be worse for a man than to be placed under these circumstances. We do not know for how many minutes more we are going to breathe here. And then what happens? No one knows that either. Such a condition is around us, and yet we try to lick a drop of honey which seems to be dripping through the thorny bushes of the objects of sense which we embrace in our utter illusion. These difficulties have to be obviated; and if our efforts are in this direction, we may be said to be really honest, sincere from the bottom of our soul.
Therefore, caution is the watchword of education, humility is the watchword of education, understanding of others is the watchword of education, sympathy and a feeling for what is around us is the watchword of education, such that we do not anymore remain as a judge of things because we can be equally judged by those things which we are going to judge. No one can judge things; that necessity should not arise in an organic atmosphere where everyone belongs to everybody and we live in a fraternal family, the brotherhood of mankind, as children of the immortal, under the fatherhood of the Creator of this universe.
This is sufficiently important to contemplate on – so important that we may not be able to open our mouths after deeply thinking over the seriousness of these aspects. We shall be mum because the matter is so grave. For the solution of these problems we try to develop an understanding, which is education. This was the main highlighting feature of the mission of great Masters who incarnated themselves on Earth, masters such as the great Swami Sivananda, Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharishi, and such stalwarts who came as messengers of the Almighty, as it were, to summon us back to the source from where we have come as exiles. That curriculum of education that they have instituted into humanity is inclusive of all that we are trying to learn in this world. In this sense it is perhaps that the famous passage in the Bhagavadgita says, adhyatma vidya vidyanam: Of all the sciences and the arts, and the branches of learning, the science of the Self is pre-eminent.
The science of the Self does not mean study of psychology. The Self is not to be understood in the sense of that which people are blindly searching for in psychoanalysis or psychopathological studies. This is a difficult thing to understand. The Self is that principle by which we will be able to be friendly with all – that cementing factor which will convert all our enemies into our friends and the world as our family. This principle is called the Self. It is not a little radiance of a candle that is in the physical heart of a person. It is a great principle, universally operating everywhere; that is what is called the Self, and the study of that is called adhyatma vidya. Thus is the message to you all from the great founder of this institution – Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, whose humble followers we all are.