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Education is a Process of Enlightenment
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on July 26, 1976.)

Many a time we are told that there is a spirit different from the body, and therefore, the pursuit of the objectives physical are different from the pursuit spiritual. There are people who are moving exclusively in the spiritual line as separated from the path of physical life in the phenomenal world. The life spiritual and the life temporal have always been separated. We have also been wrongly told that the West is mostly temporal in its pursuits and the East is spiritual. It is not possible to pursue only one aspect of truth because truth is inclusive of all the aspects. The spiritual pursuit is not something exclusive of the life physical, nor is it possible to live a successful physical life minus the spirit.

The human personality is not exclusively physical, spiritual, emotional or intellectual. These are like facets of a crystal which cannot be separated one from the other. From every facet we can look through the whole of the crystal, and so it is wisdom on the part of any sincere seeker to look to the whole of life and not merely at a part of it. It is true that most people who are wedded to merely sensory perception and physical living may go for comfort. This comfort is generally pursued without the knowledge necessary for the acquisition of it. Comfort can be mistaken for indulgence, but it is not. We cannot have comfort without the knowledge that is at the back of it. We do not want comfort which will lead to disease or discomfort later on. As a matter of fact, comfort is nothing but adjustment with nature, and we cannot harness nature artificially for our personal comforts. It is always said that we have to conquer nature, subdue nature, etc., as if nature is our enemy. We cannot conquer nature, and there no necessity to do that because we are not outside nature.

Now, as I mentioned, we are not outside nature, and therefore, it follows that we are a part of nature. Hence, whatever is permissible under the law of nature would be conducive to our comforts. Education is the development of the human personality according to the law of nature, and we rise higher and higher in the level of education as we rise higher and higher in the knowledge of the internal secrets of nature.

In the beginning, education is purely extraneous in the sense that man thinks he is outside nature. This is what is called modern scientific education, where the objects of nature are regarded as things which are to be seen externally. Observation and experiment are regarded as the means of scientific knowledge. The inadequacy of scientific knowledge will come to relief from the fact that you cannot observe or experiment with that of which you are also a part. How can you observe that to which you yourself belong? There is a kind of artificiality involved in all scientific knowledge. The artificiality lies in the fact that you have wrongly separated the object, which is nature, from yourself, while it is really not an object of your observation.

So there is a need to go into the depths of the very processes of knowledge before we enter into the field of education. The psychology of education is a precedent to the pursuit of the real progress in education. It has been said that education is the process of the revelation of the perfection that is already in the human being. This is a maxim which makes out that there is what is called perfection, and all knowledge is a pursuit of perfection. Perfection means completeness in every respect, and that which is complete should be so both outwardly as well as inwardly. A partial observation and partial knowledge of any object cannot be regarded as perfection in knowledge.

The system of physical education which introduces the techniques of perfection of the body has perforce to take into consideration other factors on which the body is dependent. The body cannot be perfect if the mind is unhealthy. Whatever be the perfection of the body from the physical point of view, if the mind is sick there is no harmony between the two. Thus, there is a need to combine psychology with physical education but this requires, again, a knowledge of the mind.

The mind, especially in Western psychology, is regarded as an instrument of cognition by the individual personality. It is believed in the field of Western psychology that the mind is an instrument of knowledge upon which impressions are formed by objects outside. Knowledge is regarded as the cognition of the impression on the mind made by objects from outside, but that is not the whole of the truth. It does not mean that the mind is like wax upon which impressions are made by solid things outside. If the mind is so passive, there would have been a kind of uniformity of perception of different objects in the world by different individuals.

Modern educational psychology has come to the conclusion that the mind is not only passively influenced by objects, but it also has something to actively contribute to the nature of things. There is a reciprocal action of the object and the mind in every act of cognition. This means to say that we are not living in isolated individual worlds, but in a wider world of objects and minds. This would necessitate a harmony of oneself not only with outside things but with society in general. So even a profound understanding of the techniques of physical education will land us in the necessity to study psychology as well as sociology.

All this is a part of the enterprise of the social individual who is man, but we now come to a larger question as to why there is any kind of effort on the part of the human being. The need to maintain a body or to study the mind or to live comfortably in life is an effort at the achievement of something which is to be clear first. The pursuit of knowledge as well as any kind of activity in the world has an aim behind it. Now I am coming to an essential point that we have to recognise the aim of life first before we try to do anything in life. We do not study things for nothing. There is a reason behind it. Whether education is physical, psychological, intellectual, scientific or spiritual, what is the reason for our pursuit of this process at all?

Perhaps a very superficial answer to this question would be that we want to lead a happy life, but has anyone seen a perfectly happy person anywhere? We will find that there is some lacuna in every person, whatever be the effort at the pursuit of happiness. Whatever be the line of action taken by an individual in any walk of life, there is a shortcoming which upsets the very purpose of this enterprise because we are likely to miss certain aspects of life which are essential.

There are people who say that the spiritual life is the determining factor of a happy life, and there are others who say that the life social is important and contributory to happiness. We have to take into consideration both aspects. As I mentioned earlier, the life of an individual cannot be separated into two different compartments. We all belong to a common world operated by common laws, and to be happy is not merely to pursue a course of action but to be harmonious with the law of nature, as I mentioned already. Unless we know the laws of the atmosphere in which we are living, we will not be able to do anything perfectly.

There is action and reaction taking place between things everywhere. This happens in every level – physical as well as psychological and spiritual. What we call the physical level of life is the least part of our life because it is only the visible part of a larger reality that is behind us. It does not mean that it is an unreal part, but it is an inadequate part.

Now, to take a stand merely on this little projected part of our personality which is the physical would be to take a very superficial view of things. Our mental life is vaster than our physical life, but even the mind is not our real personality. I will give a little taste of Indian metaphysics in this connection in order to explain what the true human personality is.

In the state of deep sleep we exist in a condition bereft of physical consciousness. How can we find out what our condition in the state of deep sleep is when we are bereft of physical and social consciousness? Our state of being in deep sleep is something impersonal, really speaking. Our body is not there and our mind is not functioning, and yet we exist. That means to say, it is possible to exist bereft of physical and mental consciousness, but ordinarily it is impossible for us to conceive such a condition.

The metaphysical aspect of the situation is that our essential nature is revealed in the state of deep sleep. The memory that we subsequently have of having slept proves that a conscious substance of our personality was present in deep sleep. Though we could not perceive anything in sleep, we could infer this fact. We had an essential conscious existence there, though it was not a content of our living experience.

Now I take you a little bit deeper into the philosophical implication of the situation. This substance that we were in the state of deep sleep could not have been anything other than pure consciousness. It could not have been merely a physical or a mental existence. Our essential nature must have been consciousness somehow or other, notwithstanding that we could not be aware of it. If this had not been the case, we would not have remembered that we slept.

Consciousness is a peculiar fluid being which cannot be compared with anything visible in this world. Some people, especially in the West, believe that the so-called thing called consciousness is only an exudation from the material contents of the brain. They imagine that consciousness can project itself from the brain just as flames spark forth from a matchstick, so it is falsely deduced that consciousness is an effect of matter. It is illogical to presume that the effect can be conscious of the cause, and if consciousness had been the effect, it could not have known the existence of matter.

Further, it is difficult to understand what the connection between consciousness and matter is. We cannot glibly say, “I see and perceive and know the existence of matter,” without explaining how it is possible. Consciousness cannot know the existence of matter, as they are dissimilar in character. If consciousness and matter were ultimately different in nature, there would have been no knowledge of the existence of matter at all. It would be impossible to have even known the existence of matter if they were totally dissimilar. So it is not true that they are even basically dissimilar.

Indian metaphysics makes out that what we call matter is an expression of the Universal Spirit, and so matter is an external object only to the individual mind and not really from its own point of view. From the point of view of Indian culture we are told that what we call matter and mind are like two arms of the Universal Absolute. They are projections of the same Universal Substance from two different angles of vision, and this is the ultimate reality of things. The ultimate reality is neither the individual mind nor the material object. Both these are expressions of something altogether transcendent. The transcendent being, which is the reality, manifests itself partially as matter outside and partially as mind inside, and it is very clear from this analysis that everything should be integral to and a part and parcel of this Universal Being.

Education is, again to come to the point, a gradual process of approximation of oneself to the reality of the spirit. The more we come near to this ultimate reality, the more are we educated. Now, coming near to it does not mean coming physically near it as we come near a physical object. The very fact that it is universal shows that it is not in space and not in time, and therefore, it is not physical proximity that we are speaking of but an internal enlightenment. Education is, therefore, a process of enlightenment, and not contact with things.

Now I revert to the point that in the state of deep sleep we existed as an essence of spirit or consciousness. This Universal Being was peeping through our personality in the state of deep sleep. Just as the vast ocean may appear as a small wave on its surface, our personality rises in the waking state as a wave from this Universal Being, and when we awaken into physical consciousness, we forget the ocean that we were in sleep. When we come up to the body level in waking consciousness, we are tied to an ego personality which makes us forget the oceanic background behind us.

So education, to again come to the point, is a process of becoming more and more universal in comprehension. Thus, education includes every level of knowledge and every branch of learning. We cannot be merely physicists, chemists, biologists or mathematicians and call ourselves educated. These are only informative methods of educating oneself without gaining insight into the nature of things. True education is communion with reality by degrees, so if we are to be really called cultured and educated, even in the minutest degree, there must be a communion with reality.

Now, for this purpose we have to understand the structure of the universe as a whole. Great educationists of the past were also great philosophers because psychology is based on a metaphysical insight into the nature of things, and education is nothing but an expression of human psychology. Therefore, we can imagine how vast is the pursuit of education, or knowledge, and how little are our efforts towards its implementation. Now we are in a position to understand where we have made the mistake in life. We do not live in the world for the sake of physical comfort or convenience. The purpose of living is to work hard for the education of the spirit within, and the revelation of the spirit, which is the process of education, is total, integral, comprehensive, all-inclusive. When we gradually rise by degrees in the process of education, our whole personality evolves. So a correct psychology of education would be that which instils into the minds of children the basic principles of comprehensiveness, even at the initial stage. Too much specialisation and compartmentalisation in the branches of learning is not proper. Proper education would be, therefore, the purification of the total human individual.

Now, the 'total human individual' means everything that the human individual is made of. The human personality is made up of various levels of contact and experience. Outwardly there are the national, the social and the political fields of contact, and inwardly there are the biological, the psychological, the intellectual and the spiritual levels. The human personality is wide as well as deep, so in our educational processes we have to include the width as well as the depth of the personality at the same time. And when we progress in the process of education, we become wider and deeper at the same time. If one inch of width is gained, an inch of depth is also gained at the same time because every real growth is both outward as well as inward, so that the ultimate aim is to become so comprehensive that we are as vast as the universe, as deep as eternity itself. This is the ideal of what they call God-realisation or the ultimate realisation of the Supreme Reality. At present it may look like a theoretical ideal, but it is the ultimate Truth. We will realise that ultimately it is not merely a theoretical ideal, but a fact which manifests itself by small degrees in our practical life. Even a little jot of happiness that we have in life is nothing but an expression of that universality in some degree or the other.

In practical life, universality manifests itself as unselfishness. The more are we unselfish, the more are we tending towards universality. Hence, our unselfishness is the test of our happiness. To be unselfish would be to also include the features of other human beings in our life. So unselfishness is not really absence of the self but an inclusion of the selves of others in greater and greater degrees. Unselfishness means the negation of the demands of the egoistic self and the inclusion of the needs of others selves also.

So again we come to the point of considering the world outside at the same time we consider the needs of our inner life. It amounts to saying that when a person enters the field of education, one enters the field of the universe itself. We are placing our foot in the ocean, which is both vast and deep. So my humble prayer to you all is that in your organisational setup of physical education, etc., you bear in mind the needs of common life in harmony with the laws of nature as a whole.

These days we have various petty divisions created by human minds, such as differences of race, colour, gender and wealth, and superiorities and inferiorities of various kinds which bar the very effort at real education. Human prejudice has become the great obstacle in real culture, and it is futile to try to have real success in life or to enter into a field of real culture or universal amity as long as human barriers in the form of this prejudice persist.

Well, it is very difficult to get out of these prejudices. We are born into them. But then, what is education if it is not the attempt to get out of this? In the school of education all these accretions that have falsely grown over us are scrubbed off, and we become more and more resplendent in our true nature. Our lives begins to reveal our true human nature rather than racial or other differentiating characters. Education is neither Western nor Eastern, but human, and therefore, we have to bear in mind that we are humans, and not merely of the West or the East. Ultimately, we rise above even the difference of gender and confront life as a manifestation of the impersonal Spirit.

The educational career is one of utter self-sacrifice. Really speaking, you are becoming more and more divine in your nature when you become more cultured and educated. So I conclude by saying your aim is external as well as internal, physical, vital, psychological, intellectual, spiritual, social and universal. You are going to realise finally, as the summit of your education, that you are a citizen of this universe, rather than of a clan or a country.