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Saturday, June 10, 2023

‘Dharm, Samskruti Aur Rajya’ by Guru Dutt – Chapter on Education: Part 2

This series of articles presents the English translation of the Chapter on Education from the book ‘Dharm, Samskruti Aur Rajya’ written by Sri Guru Dutt and published in 1964 by Hindi Sahitya Sadan. We hope this will introduce interested readers into the rich world of Sri Guru Dutt ji’s writings. Many thanks to Hindi Sahitya Sadan, New Delhi for permitting the English translation of this work. You can read the first part of this series here – Part 1

Liberating Education from Materialism

There are people who believe lifeforms are nothing but a manifestation of matter alone. They view sentience as just a special state of matter. Modern science has been, since its beginning, trying to create sentient beings in its laboratories. Ever since the creation of ‘urea’ in the laboratories, modern science has been trying to convince itself of its imminent success in creating life. A lot more has been learnt since then. Yet, scientists have not been able to create lifeforms from pure matter. 

It is the rule of science that until a theory hasn’t been established through examination and results, its hypothesis cannot be accepted as fact. It is an irrational stance of modern scientists who are insistent upon creating life from matter. It is our opinion that science should be allowed to continue this quest. Until they show success in their secret endeavors, our outlook towards life should continue to be based on what is already known. It would be wholly unscientific to accept a plain theory as fact!

In contrast, the experience of daily life forces us to accept the truth that human body, which certainly perishes at death, consists of a certain truth beyond just the physical entity, and which exists even after death. The rule and order of nature establishes this truth. The fact that some people are born handicapped or mentally challenged supports the philosophy that the physical body contains an additional entity (tattva) that existed before the birth of this body and which entered the body during its creation. It proves that the tattva is realizing results of its previous karma in the current birth. The study of this, and related subjects, is what is termed as ‘tattvashastra’ or ‘adhyatma vidya’ (spirituality).

Bharatiya tattvashastra declares unequivocally that the body houses an atomic entity called ‘atma’. The citations from the Mahabharata and the Manu Smriti proclaiming this truth have already been provided earlier. The entire subject matter of the Kathopanishad is in fact about this topic. It is said there that the atma alone remains after death, and that it is a deeply mysterious entity-

tam durdarsham gudamanupravishtam

guhahitam gahvareshtam puranam |

adhyatmayogadhigamena devam

matva dheero harshashokau jahati ||

Kathopanishad – 1 – 2 – 12

(“That which remains after death is, of course, difficult to notice through the human eyes. It remains all over (the body). Even then, it is especially present in the heart. It is omnipresent and without an end. It can only be known through adhyatma. Knowing this truth, the wise man gives up joy and sorrow”)

atmanam arathinam viddhi shariram arathameva tu |

buddhim tu sarathim viddhi manah pragrahameva cha ||

indriyani hayanahurvishayaa asteshu gocharan |

atmendriyamanoyuktam bhoktetyahurmanishinah ||

Kathopanishad – 1 – 3 – 3,4

(“Knowing the atma as the rider, the body as the chariot, the buddhi as the charioteer and the manas as the reigns, the wise men know indriyas as the horses and the subjects as their destination; The atma, which is with the body, indriyas and manas is known as the bhokta”)

Our main argument is this: when it is known that the human body has within itself an entity called atma along with manas, and when it is known that these tatvas bear the result of karmaphal and enjoy joy and sorrow, advancement of their learning must necessarily be a part of the education program.

The teaching imparted in today’s schools and colleges can be termed materialistic. This is because only those subjects, which can be grasped by the physical body through the sense organs, are included in the curriculum. On the other hand, although Bharatiya philosophical systems accept the manifested and unmanifested nature of matter, and as such the study of matter is fully approved, education of a person is not accepted as being complete unless the knowledge of the atma and the paramatma is imparted. However, the last two topics find no place in the current system, rendering such education incomplete and causing a lot of harm in the society.

The first and foremost task, therefore, is to free the current education system from materialism’s grip and transform it into a complete system. It is of course the task of those who will set the curriculum to employ necessary techniques to ensure students imbibe knowledge of these profound realities (of the atma and paramatma). The foundation of education has to be nature (प्रकृति), but above that it has to be the twin entities of atma and paramatma.

The current crop of teachers cannot teach the concepts of atma-tattva. They do not believe in these concepts nor possess any knowledge of the same. They may be experts in their areas of specialization but are completely ignorant on these topics. Therefore, scholars and experts of atma-shastra must find a place in the proposed education system.

No single human can of course master any knowledge completely. If this were possible, then there would be no scope for future inventions or discoveries. Any subject, be it chemistry, physics, medicine or ayurveda, there is always constant accumulation of new knowledge. Similarly, it will never be possible for anyone to be a complete master in the subjects related to atma-tattva. The focus, therefore, should be on teaching knowledge that is already known and simultaneously also on encouragement for further discussion, contemplation and research.

Whenever we bring up the topic of including spiritual studies as a part of education, there are always some ignoramuses who put forth various objections.

The main reason behind their objections is belief that the ‘adhyatmic vidya’ is all about riding bullock carts, eating thick rotis and wearing large cotton clothes, as was supposedly the case in the ancient times. Their foolish assumption is that those who get through the study of adhyatma will oppose material progress, which includes comforts and necessities such as air travel, space exploration and other industrial development.

Another foolish objection is the question of how to include, in the modern education system, a subject which consists of exploring things that cannot be placed on a man’s palm and examined.

Both these objections are indicative of ignorance or bias. There is no rule that students of adhyatma should oppose material progress. Of course, that material development which degrades human values would definitely be opposed. There should always be objection to things that lead to further bondage, loss of freedom and sorrow in life.

Bharatiya philosophers have done a great deal of research on the topic of atma-tattvas and discovered a wealth of truth about the nature and attributes of these tattvas. Further, they have also established the interplay of these tattvas in our daily lives. The practical application of this knowledge has also been identified to a certain extent. These discoveries can in no way be condemned and dismissed. Therefore, this subject can be made a part of education just as, say, the science of chemistry has been.

Initially, elementary know-how of this subject should be imparted. Subsequently, higher education on this topic is also possible. Just as there has not been an end to the discoveries of chemistry, a similar conclusion can be drawn about the subject of adhyatma as well. 

The study of adhyatma can go hand-in-hand with the study of material subjects. There is no conflict at all between the two; they in fact will complement each other. It is obvious that due to the differences in nature of these subjects, a single person will not be able to teach them both.

Just as it is rightly assumed that all students need primary education of science (such as, say, the basics of chemistry or physics), similarly it is necessary that all students are imparted basic knowledge of adhyatma vidya. Thereafter, higher education in this area can be provided to those who display additional interest in it, and accordingly provisions for research made in this area as well.

Liberation of Education from the Clutches of Politics

In ancient and medieval Bharat, education was never under the administration of the State. It was never accepted as being part of the powers of the rulers to direct what could be taught and what could not be. However, the State still provided financial support for education.

Even during the Islamic rule, the State did not interfere in the affairs of the maktabs. That is why, notwithstanding 700 years of Islamic rule, schools and vedic pathashalas still continued to exist, even in the countryside. Deterioration happened due to the uncertainty and a lack of rule of law in the country which eventually led to degradation of schools and pathashalas. However, the State never attempted to establish its supremacy over these institutions.

When the British took over, they needed workers to carry the burden of local administration. They also desired that the administrative language be English so that their own officers could effectively manage affairs. In addition, by spreading their language and history, they succeeded in inculcating the customs and habits of the English amongst the local population; it made their acquisition a point of prestige. To facilitate this, the concept of government schools and colleges took birth in our nation.

Education was considerably widespread in earlier times where even ordinary people could acquire good education in Hindi and other languages. Even Urdu and Farsi were medium of instruction in some places.  Many had also obtained higher education in Sanskrit, Farsi and other native languages. Hakims, vaidyas, Vedic scholars and scholars of Quran were present in large numbers.

People could obtain such national education without having to pay any fees. However, formal education in schools and colleges did incur some expenditure. Therefore, to attract more people, the Government started to accord more prestige and respect to those educated in colonial schools and colleges, as compared to scholars of Sanskrit, Farsi and other native languages. Such graduates were given government jobs, positions of Tahsildars and so on. These people started to flourish in jobs with power and influence, often referring matters from family and friends to authorities and getting favors granted. The heads of departments and even lawyers started to be appointed from amongst such people. In this way, the interest of people towards colonial school and college education increased, and the benches of pathashalas and maktabs started to become empty.

Then came a time, when Christian missionaries started to open schools and colleges similar to Government institutions. Their primary goal was to ensure that those tasked with the colonial administration came under the influence of Christianity.

Some Bharatiyas understood these missionary designs and started with competing Hindu schools and colleges. In the Punjab and other parts of the North India, Arya Samaj did significant work in this regard, as did others such as the Brahmo Samaj in Bengal and the Theosophical Society in Madras. In North Bharat, inspired by the Arya Samaj, several religious organizations such as Sanatan Dharm Sabha, Sikh Dharmik Sabha and many others started schools and colleges to offer education in subjects that would help students obtain government jobs. 

Funds for the institutions operated by these religious and social organizations were collected via public donations. The concept of ‘vidyadaan’ then had strong roots in our country. Therefore, imparting of skills for jobs began to be termed as ‘education’ and donations for such endeavors were solicited from the noble-hearted souls. Organizations which collected lakhs of rupees in the name of ‘vidyadaan’ started to provide knowledge of subjects whose main goal was to gain government jobs and the related official status and respect. 

Subsequently, there came a time when the study of Sanskrit and Vedic subjects started to be termed as the domain of the uneducated, something which only poor people sought or something that priestly class was compelled to undertake. Even those institutions that collected lakhs in donations, began to pay rupees seventy-five to English teachers, a stark contrast to only rupees twenty or twenty-five paid to Sanskrit teachers.

The net result was that the colonial government took the entire business of education under its control. Many institutions built with public money also went under state control. Some organizations such as the DAV College of Lahore refused government grants in an attempt to avoid state control. To defeat such efforts (to skip state control), various laws and regulations were framed by government universities, compelling these institutions to come under the purview of the Directorate of Education. And, this made them teach only those subjects which were approved and funded by the government.

We now have Swaraj and a socialist government to fully control administration, curriculum and conduct of the students. In fact, the State control of education today is much higher than what was during the British Raj. The Director of Education, an employee of the government, is in control of everything. This bureaucrat controls every aspect of education including curriculum, buildings, furniture, appointment of teaching staff, wages, books for library and everything else. In some states, management committees of even schools and colleges that run entirely on private contributions have representative of the Directorate of Education. This representative works under the education minister, who always comes from the ruling party and of course will implement its own (political and ideological) agenda.

Even university education is controlled by the state. The university senate makes the rules. These rules impose many restrictions which will have to be followed for its existence. One must comply with many rules to open a new university. These regulations also extend to its corpus fund, physical structure and operating expenditure. No educationist or organization of scholars can open a university simply on basis of their intellectual or educational values. At a minimum, they will need few crores of rupees. The quality of education that can be imparted is secondary; instead, possession of land, structures, furniture and corpus fund will be the primary consideration. Further, there is the University Grants Commission, which gives grants worth lakhs while enforcing the State’s education policy and agenda.

Thus, thanks to above reasons, the Benaras Hindu University has nothing Hindu about it anymore. We had mentioned Shanti Niketan’s case earlier. The control of education is so firmly in the hands of the government and the ruling party that it would be appropriate to call education a political prisoner!

The control of education by the state works primarily because it is mandatory to have a college degree or certificate for getting government jobs. And, to further increase its control over education, the government is taking under its wing more industries, jobs and other sources of employment. Slowly, the State is moving towards becoming the biggest employer in the country. If things continue in the same way, no private industry or business would survive, and the state will end up as the only major source of jobs for our nation’s youth. No private firm or other establishment will survive in such a situation, and the schools and colleges will have no option but to follow the State’s dictum and directives.

The situation will soon be like that of a pet animal. It remains to be seen how desirable such a state of affairs will be. Humans are primarily independent beings. They do not like their minds being subjected to any kind of regimentation. Every human is a unique personality and each human mind possesses the quality of being the only one of its kind. Therefore, the education of humans must aim at encouraging their potential, something that can’t be achieved through an education system under bureaucratic control. Therefore, education must be freed from the state control. 

Education received under State control only develops a mentality of servitude. This is especially true when the polity is based on the party system where the party that governs the nation keeps changing. And, so will the basis of education also keep changing. Today, the Congress party is in power; tomorrow, a Hindu party could come to power. Then, the influence of English language will likely come down and that of Hindi (and other native languages) will rise. It is possible that a leftist party may also come to power. Then, the language may remain Hindusthani but the script may change to Latin.

This, of course, is not just a matter of languages and scripts. The subjects themselves are closely linked to it as well. Thus, a regime belonging to one party will insist on a certain kind of education whereas some other party that comes to power will bring an entirely different type of education system. Today there is a ‘secular’ state, but it may not be the case in the future. Such changes are most likely to affect education.

The important point to note here is that it will not happen because our educationists and scholars sought these changes, but it will happen only because the new administration desired to do so. A democratic regime remains under the control of the people. Hence, handing over control of education to the people (via government) is equivalent to handing over the creation of curriculum for schools and colleges to the students themselves!

To hand over control of education to the government, i.e., tying it up with party politics means such education will not strive for general human welfare but work only for benefit of one specific political community. This is equivalent to destroying humans, mentally and intellectually.

We firmly believe that education must not be associated even remotely with the State or government. Many people consider this as impossible because, they consider it inconceivable that crores of students can be educated by keeping the State out of it. They believe that the State, which funds education, must necessarily have control over it. They further believe that the societal needs can’t be met without the State’s aid, and, therefore consider its involvement with a program like education as natural.

This inferiority complex has been developed by statists of our country. If the number of students is high, it only means that the number of teachers must be proportionately high as well; it certainly does not justify the interference of an ill-qualified person. In a big country like ours, involvement of vast numbers of workers is required to successfully undertake a large task. And, we can certainly create a hefty pool of teachers from the large numbers of citizens of our country.

The people of this country themselves are contributing financially to educate crores of our children. They unquestionably will provide the funds needed (for education) as well, so why do we need State control over any of this? When some rich businessman donates a sizeable amount to an educational institution, he does not get authority to interfere in the curriculum of that institution. How then can the State acquire this right merely because it financially helps institutions?

The State extracts thousands of crores of rupees from its citizens in taxes. It is natural, therefore, that the money is spent for the welfare of those people. If education is to be freed of political influence, then the State must support education without exercising any control or interference in administration of the institutions. Else, the government will lose any moral right to collect taxes. The control of education should remain with the educationists and scholars only. Specifically, it should be in the hands of those educationists whose salary, promotion and appointment, are not at the State’s mercy!

How can this be achieved? We shall have more to say later in the chapter on ways to free education of state control. It will require a change in the attitude of the rulers and the rich to achieve this goal. It is not mandatory for an institution to be under the control of a donor or a government just because it has received funds from them. It has always been the case in our country that donors never gain control of the institutions supported by their munificence.

The first step towards freeing institutions from State control is to ensure that the certificates issued by schools, colleges or universities are no more a criterion in obtaining jobs in public or private sector. The purpose of an institution is to educate students and impart knowledge to them. The government departments and private organizations can conduct their own examinations for hiring an individual. And, certificates from a school or college should not be mandatory for anyone to take these examinations.

The immediate effect of this change would be that the educational institutions will turn solely into centers of learning and knowledge. First, the societal framework should be such that government would need minimal staff. Second, certificates from colleges and universities must not be an overwhelming factor in hiring for these jobs. But, it would be obligatory to pass entrance examinations to obtain jobs.

Whenever a Government department or a private organization wishes to hire people, it would advertise about the nature of work, the people / skills required, and the evaluation / examination process. It will also be appropriate to charge a fee for the examination process. Once this becomes the norm, colleges and universities will not function as career skills hubs but instead will become the centers of knowledge and undertake real ‘vidyadaan’, leading to quantum leap in the quality of education as well.

The certificates issued by the schools and colleges will thereafter be useful only for admission into the institutions of higher education.

(To be continued…)

-Translated from Hindi to English by Hariprasad N

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