Better Education

Dr Swami Shankardevananda Saraswati, MB, BS (Syd.)

The secrets of intelligence, language, learning and knowledge are difficult to reveal. They remain shrouded by a veil of ignorance, superstition and growing scientific but contrary information. Rules for bringing up children, learning and teaching techniques, and the models of our educational system tend to be fads, determined by whim and fashion, trial and error, rather than concrete, workable systems.

Education includes the bringing up of children and the development of mental powers and character as well as systematic instruction. The word education itself comes from the root 'ducere', to lead, and implies the bringing out or development of the latent or potential faculties within every human being, not just the cramming in of intellectual facts and rote learning. There is a big difference between real education and training ourselves in mechanical skills or intellectual capacity for a job or profession.

Perhaps modern education has failed because it has lacked the capacity to develop our latent inner powers and has concentrated rather on the purely external, logical side of our nature.*1 Most forms of education in schools, religious institutions and the family have failed to give young people the means to handle their inner conflicts and drives and to channel these energies into productive and creative activities. It seems only a lucky few chance upon the way by themselves. Or perhaps the various systems have failed to provide the teachers or educators, the leaders, who can inspire our children to want to learn.

Increasing turmoil, restlessness and rebelliousness in schools, colleges and universities and the tendency for students to regard education as a necessary but boring facet of life reflects an inability to satisfy inner needs and emphasises the critical need for a review of our educational process.

Yogic education

Yoga views education in the broadest possible sense. As a science of healthy and enlightened living, the yogi educates all the spheres of his existence, physical, mental and spiritual. There are three main aspects to this:

  1. Preparing the soil: the body and mind are made healthy and receptive through asana, pranayama and meditation. The rajasic qualities of physical restlessness and the tamasic qualities of physical lethargy and laziness are removed by balancing the nadis. The body and mind work harmoniously so that receptivity, ida, and creativity, pingala, work together.
  2. Planting the seed: the child is exposed to a wide range of stimulating intellectual and artistic pursuits, including singing and dancing, as well as being educated in a yogic lifestyle, including correct dietary and sleeping habits. There is also exposure to a wide range of spiritual and yogic literature which, when combined with meditative practice, broaden and expand the mind and instil a healthy aim and purpose into life. All this serious side is balanced by the child's innate ability to play and enjoy life when not restricted by over heavy discipline. Discipline is not represented by a cane or poor grades, but by love, understanding and a sense of responsibility.
  3. The planter of the seed: the process of yogic education is conducted by the guru who, in the ideal situation, is an enlightened teacher. He or she can both guide the child into the correct teaching at the correct time for his individual needs and inspire the child to want to learn.

In ancient India this whole process took place during the first 25 years of life in what was called the brahmacharya ashram.

Formal education

Yogic education stresses the point that the child is an individual entity, albeit a developing one. Latent faculties are present in all children, and these can be cultivated by yogic training, so that growth takes place along natural and healthy lines. If we try to suppress the child's own natural, individual personality by superimposing what we, as adults think or believe is 'correct' and 'right', or try to build the child in our own pattern, we usually end up creating neuroses or even psychoses.

Pure intellectual training does not prepare us for or give us a clear understanding of life. It does not even explain what the purpose of such intellectual training is or how it should be incorporated into the whole lifestyle. Forced rote learning in excess dampens the innate, spontaneous, creative faculties and in turn creates a dependency on outside things. We forget that we possess many of the answers and a great source of joy, happiness and creativity within. Rather, the competitive atmosphere of most institutions breeds insecurity and ambition, the need to grasp for external and temporary things and happiness, and sows the seeds of future disappointment and a sense of futility and hopelessness, all of which has been linked to psychosomatic diseases such as heart disease, hypertension and even cancer.

Children are born, for the most part, with natural instinct; intuitive, unspoiled clarity; a well functioning, but undeveloped, ajna chakra or pineal gland. Up to a certain age they know what they want and what they can manage. However, parental and social training during the developmental years when the ego solidifies usually creates confusion and conflicts. It would be much better if they were left to grow spontaneously in freedom tempered by love and wise guidance when sought.

This point is beautifully demonstrated by Lyall Watson in his book 'Gifts of Unknown Things' (Coronet). Here he meets the unspoiled, 'uncivilised' children of one of the Indonesian islands who, because they were allowed to grow naturally, but with proper guidance, retained and developed their innate faculties. They were able to hear colours in sound, for example, the sharp new leaf, sound of a bird, the brown of the toad, the black of thunder, the white of the sea foam where it touches sand, the bronze sound of a bell. One man was able to see schools of fish miles put to sea, and one young girl was a super naturally superb dancer who heard the drums talk to her, laying a carpet of brown, like the sand on the ground, while the bells and gongs called in greens and yellows, building forests through which she would move and turn. If she lost her way there was the white thread of the flute or the song to guide her home.

In the final analysis, perhaps children do not need education as we know it today. It tends to clutter and confuse and blinds us to the mysteries and beauty of life. It stunts our psychic and spiritual growth, if we are not careful. Indeed children have much to teach adults, if they only listen and see. Watson himself states that when "faced with the wisdom of this twelve year old, I felt like a backward child."

As part of three experimental projects to test the hypothesis that formal education impairs psychic ability, Michael Winkelman of the University of California, Irvine, studied 29 children in a rural village in Mexico.*2 He found that the more schooling the children had, the worse was their ESP score, independent of the age of the child. He also found that mathematical computations using the logical, left side of the brain, reduced ESP ability. To explain these findings, the author cites research in which formal education has been shown to create a state of mind in which the individual sees himself as separate from the environment.*3 This is a state of alienation and reduced sensitivity which predisposes one to fear, loneliness, frustration, expectation, disappointment and so on. It is the direct opposite of the meditative state. The mode of thought generally developed by formal education has been shown to be characterised by muscular tension, beta waves, decreased GSR arousal*4, all of which can be said to be the opposite of the state of relaxation, non-defensive openness and meditative receptivity required for successful ESP in experimental situations.

Educating the adult

Though children should not be suppressed, they should not be allowed to run wild either. Parents and teachers must have the wisdom and skill to create a way for their spiritual development. In this respect we can say that though the child must ultimately choose for himself, what he chooses from depends to a large extent on what is in his environment, how it is presented and on subtle clues given from the behaviour of parents and other adults in the child's early life.

Research has shown that when pre-school children are not pressured into learning they will actually seek it out and tend to prize periods of individual instruction.*5 When education is given with love and compassion, students achieve better education and better attitudes towards social and familial responsibilities.*6 In her book 'Troubled Teachers' (McKay, 1978), Esther Rothman states that children fail to learn when the teacher is troubled by unconscious conflicts, needs and motivations which disturb the teacher/ student relationship. She states that behind the facade of the poor student there are deep needs which the teacher has not recognised and that "only when aggression, love and power are used constructively in the classroom can real education begin."

Children are enormously but subconsciously sensitive to their environment, and they react to situations with often alarming honesty, unless they are taught otherwise. If their teachers are not able to order their own lives, or if they project feelings of anger, frustration, unhappiness or boredom, then children will respond similarly. People who practise yoga and who are working towards a degree of personal inner integration usually find that children like to be around them, and seem to respond to their strength and joy. The ability to recognise a problem and then to discover a working solution requires clarity and creativity, the products of a disciplined or meditative mind.

Teachers who wish to increase their level of sensitivity to their pupils' needs, and parents who want to give their children a better start in life should themselves practise asana, pranayama and meditation in order to create a yogic atmosphere. Yoga's ability to transform the environment is little understood but remarkable aspect of the process of inner development and one which children respond very strongly to. It is extremely important that parents practise yoga especially before and during pregnancy as many researchers believe that a mother's experience during pregnancy seems to affect the child's development and later life. Mother is the first teacher of the child and the bond between the two should be very clear and clean, unimpeded by subconscious attitudes of fear or confusion on the maternal side.

A recent research study at the University of Wisconsin (USA) has shown that mothers who consider their babies to be 'difficult' were really insensitive to their infants needs.*7 Mothers who found their children 'easy' had a slower, more relaxed heart beat when the child was crying than the 'difficult' group, and therefore reacted with less anxiety and tensions and projected a relaxed, secure attitude. A combination of asana, pranayama and meditation induces relaxation and the clarity of mind which allows us to become sensitive to the needs of others. This can be called intuition. When applied to our children or to the classroom situation it allows us to give more exactly what is required and to develop relationships based on mutual honesty and trust. At the same time our level of vitality improves and this spills over into our behaviour and the environment.

Yoga is an ideal basis for an educational system and when practised by both students and teachers can bring about the correct balance between relaxation and creativity necessary for better education. Education is transformed from drudgery into a process of inner and outer discovery.


*1. Ornstein, R., The Psychology of Consciousness, San Francisco: W.H. Freeman & Co., 1972.

*2. Winkelman, M., 'The Effect of Formal Education on Extrasensory Abilities: The Ozolco Study', J. of Parapsychology, Vol. 45, Dec. 1981.

*3. Cole, M., & Scribner, S., Culture and Thought, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1974,

*4.Delkman, A., 'Deautonization and the Mystic Experience'. In R. Ornstein (ed.), The Nature of Human Consciousness, N.Y., Viking Press, 1979.

*5. 'No first grade non-readers in Canadian school that starts instruction at the age of 3', Brain Mind Bulletin, 2(21), Sept. 19, 1977.

*6. Miss A: love and high expectation', Brain Mind Bulletin, 3(11), April 17, 1978.

*7. Donovan, W., Psychophysiology, 15:68-74.