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Some Thoughts on Commonweal and Education
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken in 1982 to an educationist)

There is an impasse in which humanity seems to have landed itself in all walks of life. These days, unfortunately, man has found it necessary to suspect man, to exploit and stand against man, a characteristic which can rarely be attributed to man, Homo sapiens. Today the fear of man is man, while at the same time man seems to be working only for the welfare of man. Is it not a contradiction that all man's enterprises are for the welfare of man, and, yet, the great efforts of man are a demonstration that he fears his own species, both covertly and overtly?

Fear may be an over-mastering predicament causing anxiety from every side of life. There is anxiety due to the rising price of the necessary commodities of life, insecurity incumbent upon malnutrition which mostly results in ill-health, coupled with an incapacity to receive adequate medical aid, which again is a consequence of insufficient economic strength, which, once more, is caused by the high price of materials, all which seems to be creating a vicious circle of human greed, one sorrow causing another sorrow, and no one being able to detect the original source of the malady of people.

But, worse than everything else, is the fear of the susceptibility to a veritable annihilation of life in a world hemmed in by stockpiles of inhuman energies secretly covered under the bushel of the conspiracy of man to gain control over man. If the ego is the ruling principle in the crown of creation which goes by the name of man, and if every such individual is a centre of a more intense egoism than the ego of others, vying with everyone else in enhancing its intensity, there is every justification in calling the human world of today a dreadful Martyaloka, a world of death. If man lives only for preparing himself to die, one can well imagine the value that anyone can discover in the most sacred of things – life itself.

When we note with caution that today even the goodness of man is a highly conditioned form of personal and social adjustment and manoeuvring for the survival of either himself or his group in the midst of an air of psychological warfare, the need for a collective invocation of Divine Power upon mankind would spontaneously come to high relief. Human power exercised merely by the hands and the feet, and even efforts made through roundtable conferences, may not be adequate to the purpose, considering the magnitude of human ignorance, selfishness, jealousy and anti-humanitarian proclivities rampant everywhere. But how is this to be done? Where to start?

An education is necessary to transform man into a true man endowed with human qualities, free from the animal propensities which have always been struggling to gain the upper hand in human behaviour. Apart from a mustering in of the inner powers by means of group prayer, Japa or recitation of the Name of God, control over the natural instinct of self-expression by observing silence or Mouna, by Svadhyaya or sacred study, by congregational worship, by intense meditation, as well as by a common resolution by all to be of service to others in the direction of ameliorating poverty, disease and ignorance, especially in backward areas where assistance of this kind can scarcely be found – these and such other channels of the manifestation of the divine goodness enshrined in man will certainly go far in mitigating the sorrow to which mankind is apparently heading these days.

Unfortunately, the modern youth, or we may say modern man in general, for some intricate reason has been able to think only in an empirical fashion, with acquisition of material wealth and social position as the principal objective of life and the aim even of education itself. You would have observed that modern education does not provide enlightenment into the purpose of life, but remains merely a buttress wall, as it were, to prop up the fulfilment of man's passion for power and pelf. Considering this general atmosphere in the world today, it would be a herculean task for real educationists to lead such minds from the mire of this sort of thinking into a loftier purpose of education as a process of reconstructing the very outlook of life for the achievement of a higher aim.

The educational guideline should be on an operational level, which means that it should not be too idealistic. But there cannot be total freedom from idealism, if not to be idealistic were to mean not to have any ideal at all. Idealism is said to be the ability to fix up a permanent ideal before oneself in life or in any adventure or project in life, and what is the ideal of our present-day education? Can anyone say that to be socially and economically fixed securely in life is the ideal? If this is not to be regarded as the sole ideal and there is something more to it, the very thought of this something more will land us in what people glibly call religion or philosophy.

Coming to the main problem, the structure of the universe would decide the structure of man, since man is inseparable from the makeup of the universe as a whole. The longings and basic impulses of man cannot be exhausted merely by a study of general psychology or even abnormal psychology. One would be able to discover that there is a universal longing in man, a cosmic urge, which cannot be satisfied by money or power. To probe into this mystery, a study of the very constitution of the whole atmosphere of man – political, social, economic, and even astronomical and what is beyond that – may have to be considered. To fight shy of such an adventure in one's excessive eagerness for material satisfaction in life, may be like asking for the fruit without planting the tree which bears it. I do not think it is essential for me to go into the details of this subject here, as I have tried to bring the broad outlines of the same in some of my lectures, especially in my Resurgent Culture, Struggle for Perfection, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Yoga and The Philosophy of the Bhagavadgita. I do not mean that students can be taught these things directly, but the teacher should have in his mind a background of this altitude of thinking even when he has to come down to the level of a preliminary and purely prosaic subject taught in our schools and colleges.

Latterly there has been much talk that moral and ethical education should be imparted to students in educational institutions, and religion should be precluded. But the protagonists of this strange creed seem to forget that one cannot be forced to be ethical or moral without being convinced of its rationale or its need in the life of the human being. Do our young boys and girls of today not see that the absence of ethics and morality works well in materially well-off people who also gain good social position? How can we expect to drive the conviction for the necessity of ethics and morality into young minds, when they can see with their own eyes that the contrary seems to bring success in life? Here we unwittingly seem to be forced into a realm which is beyond ethics and morality, and which is the foundation thereof. Do we call it religion? Will we call it philosophy?

Educationists should be able to read between the lines of what I have written here and construct for themselves an image of the project that they may have to embark upon in this difficult but very necessary task.