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II.9. The Indian or Bharatiya Ideal of Education

Part II.9

The Indian or Bharatiya Ideal of Education

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������ To people all over the world India reflects an image of Yoga, spirituality and mysticism as the main characteristics of its culture. Strangely, these are precisely the aspects of Indian culture that are not adequately taught in public education in India because of the western model of education that the country follows. For this reason Indians educated in India, especially at western oriented institutions, are becoming ignorant of their own historical culture and its great spiritual wisdom. There is sometimes more of this taught in American universities than in at universities in India.

 

Modern Education

 

������ Modern educational systems derive from western culture and reflect the dichotomy between science and religion that has arisen historically within it. Science is viewed as a secular pursuit that should be part of education for everyone. Religion is looked upon as a special belief or dogma that is a private or personal matter, outside the scope of secular education.

 

While science is regarded as a way of knowledge, religion is regarded as a way of faith, including faith in things that are unscientific or irrational like the Virgin birth of Jesus Christ.While efforts to reconcile science and religion have been attempted, most scientists tend to agnosticism or atheism, or to forms of mysticism that are unorthodox. Fundamentalist religious groups, on the other hand, commonly oppose science or would at least like to see it restricted.

 

Even in America today, thought to be a progressive country, fundamentalist Christians continue to protest against teaching the theory of evolution in the schools because it is not in harmony with the Bible and its six thousand-year scheme of creation. While we may laugh at such groups as a minority or an anachronism, they are large in numbers in many places and hold considerable financial resources. They are also spearheading powerful missionary movements throughout the world, including into India.

 

For science to emerge in the West it had to endure for centuries the wrath of the church and the Inquisition. Many scientists were suppressed, tortured or even killed before science could free itself from the rule of religious dogma. This conflict left its mark on the western psyche. Meanwhile western religion has viewed science and secular education as promoting an anti-religious, if not immoral way of life. Many western religious groups blame secular education for all the social problems in the West from crime and abortion to drugs and homosexuality. Many fundamentalists put their own children in special religious schools to avoid exposure to these secular dangers. This often leads to confusion and personality problems when these children grow up and are faced with the real world.

 

Therefore, western education places a distinction if not conflict between science and religion. If it teaches about religion it is mainly relative to its political, cultural or historical implications. The dichotomy of liberal science versus dogmatic religion, or between moral religion and immoral or unspiritual science has yet to be resolved in the western mind.

 

Religion and Science in Classical India

 

Classical India never had this dichotomy between science and religion. First of all it looked upon religion mainly as a way of knowledge, a vidya or veda, a way of seeing, a philosophy or darshana. Educated people in the Indic tradition look at religion as a pursuit of self-knowledge and self-realization as in the philosophies of Yoga, Vedanta and Buddhism. They classified knowledge into para and apara�inner and outer. They saw no conflict between the two, only their scope was different.

 

Many western thinkers have debated whether Indic religions are really religions at all for this very reason. The answer is both yes and no. They are religions in that they teach us about the immortal and eternal aspect of reality. They are not religions in the sense that they are not based upon dogma, faith or the need to convert. The western mind conditioned either to science as not spiritual, or religion as dogmatic has been unable to understand the Indian mind, which sees the highest science and the highest spirituality as the same. This approach, which shows us how to bring science and spirituality together, is perhaps the greatest gift that the Indian mind can offer to the West.

 

Indic religion has always been pluralistic. It recognizes that many paths must exist relative to the different levels and temperaments of individuals. It never had the idea of only one true faith for all, but rather as many paths as there are individuals. An all-knowing or all-powerful church and its infallible pronouncements never dominated it. Its religions never had a political machinery that enforced their beliefs through intimidation and torture. It never had a pope, a caliph, an inquisition or holy wars, though certainly episodes of intolerance did exist in the country.

 

The Indic mind, going back to the Upanishads of the pre-Buddhist era, recognizes two types of knowledge. The first or lower knowledge is that which deals with the outer world of name, form, and causation and is necessary for our practical functioning in life. The second or higher knowledge is that dealing with consciousness, the nameless, formless and transcendent, which reveals our ultimate or eternal reality. The Indic mind regarded the second or higher knowledge as more important, but it didn�t regard the first or outer knowledge as wrong, to be suppressed, or incapable of harmonization with the higher knowledge. In fact, the great rishis saw even the lower knowledge as sacred and as following similar laws and principles as the higher knowledge. For this reason a text like the Vedas could be used as the basis for medicine or astronomy as well as for Yoga and meditation. Art was also regarded as sacred, including in its portrayal of the human body and the world of nature.

 

However, the Indic mind did not regard these different darshanas, religions or ways of knowledge as necessarily the same or without contradiction. They were viewed like different scientific theories that could be proved or disproved or, like the difference between Newtonian and Quantum physics, which might be true on one level but not on another. They were not looked upon as religious dogmas that were beyond question. The different systems could be debated rationally or explored through meditation. They did not require wars or conversion efforts to resolve their differences, nor a doctrine of faith to circumvent any need for proof. And their texts could be revised in the light of new knowledge.

 

The coexistence of several different systems was considered helpful, a richness of various points of view that elevated the culture and stimulated the intelligence of individuals. After all, life itself is filled with diversity, if not contradiction. There is no one food for everyone, no only one tree that can provide wood, no only one mountain to climb, and even the ocean though one has innumerable waves and diverse coastlines.

 

Western Education in India

 

Western education was introduced into India through foreign rulers. Islamic education emphasizing the Koran brought in the idea of only one scripture and of a last prophet who possessed the final word of God. European missionaries brought in the idea of Christ and the Bible as supreme. The British brought in modern western education, with its science versus religion dichotomy that became dominant after Darwin in the nineteenth century. After independence public schools in India continued the modern western model, while Islamic institutions (madrasahs) were allowed to keep teaching the way they had been doing, sometimes going back to the seventeenth century.

 

Followers of western religions in India obviously cannot easily reconcile themselves to the Indic view of religions as different ways of knowledge as part of a pluralistic approach to reality. This goes against the currents of exclusivism and supremacy in their faiths.

 

Those who follow a modern scientific approach also have problems with the Indic view of spiritual sciences like astrology because these are not easily verifiable like the physical sciences. Spiritual sciences can be verified, but require a different angle of approach in which consciousness comes into the picture, just as modern physics now requires it of physical laws. As science begins to look for consciousness as the ultimate ground of the universe, it is moving toward a greater spiritual science with an affinity to the Indic view of science. Modern science is also creating two levels of knowledge, mundane (in which the ordinary laws of physics work) and transcendent (in which these laws no longer apply).

 

Those who value the classical Indian model of education, which includes spiritual knowledge like Yoga and Vedanta, feel that the western educational model destroys much of what is truly significant in their traditions. The western educational model is not appropriate for India and cannot serve the spiritual and cultural heritage that is India�s real gift to the world. India does not need to follow the western educational model any more than it should follow western models of economics or dress. In fact as long as it does the country is likely to drift in uncertainty, like a person who has forgotten who he really is.

 

Even the West is moving away from institutional models of education towards a more intimate instruction that resembles the gurukula system. Real education depends upon personal instruction, not state run schools that mass-produce students like industrial products with nationally uniform curriculums and government dispensed funding. Private and New Age schools in the West look for a reintegration of consciousness and spirituality into education, as was the basis of the old Indic system.

 

The Challenge for the Future

 

The challenge for the coming century�for India to revive itself as a nation and a culture�is to recreate the Indic model of education in which the dichotomy between science and religion is resolved. The West must also do this or be condemned to a dichotomy of an immoral science versus irrational religion that will keep its culture imbalanced. We must move beyond not only dogmatic and exclusive religions on one hand, but also materialistic science on the other. Belief in materialism is also a form of dogma. We must recreate religion as a form of science and science as a form of spirituality.

 

The key to this is to place both science and religion as part of a pursuit of consciousness, not the imposition of external ideas, attitudes or beliefs. It is to promote a new critical thinking and creative intelligence that is not bound to religious revelation, on one hand, or to a na�ve belief in physical reality, on the other. On a practical level this means that the spiritual heritage of India�the Vedas, Upanishads, Yoga, and Buddhism�must be taught in the schools as an integral part not only of Indian culture but of the global heritage of spiritual sciences. Sanskrit, the language that is the vehicle for most of these great teachings, must also be given emphasis.

 

Just as Europe honors its scientists, intellectual and artists, so India must honor its great thinkers in the spiritual realm. The insights of Indian sages from Vedic rishis to modern sages like Sri Aurobindo and Ramana Maharshi are among the greatest achievements of humanity that the western world, with its more outward based mentality, has yet to reach.

 

But it is not enough to impose an Indic form of education from above, by government decree. The intelligentsia of the country must see the need and rally behind it. This requires a new intelligentsia in India that goes back to Indic models and ceases to imitate western models of thinking. It also requires that the religious institutions, temples and ashrams offer classes on Vedic science, Hindu culture and their modern adaptation. Even overseas Hindus are quick to build temples but slow to start schools, though their main complaint is that their children are losing their culture! They should not forget the educational heritage that is more important to the vitality of the Indic tradition than any God or guru.

 

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