Acharya's Call Part-II

H.H. JAGADGURU’S Madras Discourses


Part II

HH Mahaswamiji
25    Education and Gurukula System

At present, the Government of this country is striving to bring about universal education. In this context, it will be useful to consider what the purpose of education is. Great men of this land have declared that education should foster character, help the acquisition of good qualities, or seela, and eradicate vices. Knowledge should also enable us to understand the truth about things. Saivite and Vaishnavite saints have proclaimed that God alone is Truth, and the rest is maya or illusion. These sages and saints endeavored to realize Truth, that is God. In Him they found their supreme joy. They looked at everything else as the sources of evil and suffering. In the Vedas, the Paramatman is spoken of as Truth. When it is declared that everything connected with this world is mithya, or false, it is not so much to condemn the world as to affirm that the Paramatman alone is true.

Right education should make us know that God is the Truth. Knowledge must fill one with good qualities through which alone one can realize the Truth, that is God. Therefore, the goal of knowledge is the understanding of the Ultimate Truth. The first fruit of education must be humility and self-control. Education that does not produce these qualities is useless. We find that people in countries where modern education has spread are not as virtuous as they should be. Unsophisticated illiterates, like those living in the tribal areas of South African jungles, are found to be more honest than those who have received the doubtful benefits of modern education. It is sad to note that in our own schools and colleges, indiscipline is rampant nowadays. Even girls, who are by nature docile, have caught this infection of indiscipline. All these developments give rise to the question whether this kind of education is after all necessary or useful.

From time immemorial, the necessity to acquire knowledge is being emphasized and he who has had no education is considered an animal. Vidyaa viheenah pasuh विद्याविहीन: पशु:says Bhartruhari. But what is the type of education our ancients had in mind when they said  विद्याविनयम्पन्न: Vidyaa vinaya sampanna? A thing can be done either in the dharmic way or in the adharmic way. Good results will flow when a thing is done in the right way. The Brahmacharya period, the years before marriage, commencing from the age at which a boy has learnt to discriminate, is prescribed for learning. The student is enjoined to go in search of a teacher (guru) and learn at his feet under his roof. The guru, in his turn, is forbidden to receive any remuneration for teaching. In modern days, the pupils go to a school paying fees and the teachers receive salary for teaching. As teachers are paid out of the fee income, the students think that they can call the tune. The manner of teaching has also changed, for the teacher now teaches standing and the students listen sitting. Indiscipline and other evils of modern days can be traced to this changed approach to education.

In ancient days, students went to a guru and requested him to teach them. Now, we have schools for every branch of knowledge, except, perhaps, nadaswaram. According to the ancient system, the pupil must forget his home during the period of his gurukula, and study under the roof of the teacher’s dwelling. He had also to maintain the teacher and himself by obtaining alms (bhiksha) of cooked food. The whole of the food thus obtained was placed before the guru and the pupil can take only what the guru sets apart for him. In this way a guru, who had a number of pupils, was able to secure enough food for the maintenance of himself and his disciples and also to spare to those in need. The salutary effect of begging is that it helps to destroy ahamkaara. Another feature of our ancient education is that if a student misbehaved, the guru could send him away or subject him to an appropriate act of atonement, praayaschitham.

The modern system of education was introduced in this country to enable the foreign government to secure employees, who would serve them loyally. Therefore, students went to schools and colleges with the sole object of securing employment under the government. But in the system of education as conceived by our ancients, there is no connection between earning and learning. The true type of education is that which was obtained in the gurukula system. The students supported themselves and their teachers by alms and gave a guru dakshina or present at the end of their scholastic career. In those days, kings and rich and prominent persons of the land willingly helped the students to find the guru dakshina asked for by the teacher; in fact, guru dakshina was considered a legitimate charge on the community. Modern residential institutions are parodies of the ancient Gurukula system and are not what they ought to be. It is through the gurukula system, that the several branches of knowledge came to be fostered and preserved in our land in their variety and intensity. The modern method of education is faulty. We have gone too far and it may not be possible to revert to the ancient system at once. But a beginning has to be made and if that is done, slowly the present system can be changed, so that the true purpose of education can be achieved.

There is proposal to start a Sanskrit University to commemorate the completion of 50 years of my sanyasa. As the proposal stands at present, I am afraid it will only be a replica of existing colleges and universities. On the other hand, a more proper approach will be to find out competent gurus in every branch of ancient learning, irrespective of the linguistic area, in the several parts of the country and make willing students go to them and learn. These gurus may be given honoraria so that they may not have the necessity to engage themselves otherwise, to earn their living. Students who volunteer to go to these teachers can be financed to maintain themselves during the period of their study. At the end of the gurukulavasa, these students can be put in possession of a handsome amount to offer guru dakshina and also to make a start in life. Students who volunteer to maintain themselves by seeking alms should be given special encouragement. In this way, the old gurukula method of learning can be gradually restored, resulting in the development of character and the disappearance of indiscipline. Funds for this purpose can be raised by donations. Even people who are not so well off can participate in this scheme, by taking out insurance policies, assigning half the value of the policies to those dear to them and the other half for this cause. In this way, the scheme can be placed on a permanent and stable financial basis.

October 9, 1957.

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