Sayings of a Paramahamsa

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

There is a scarcity of good qualities in life. Can there be a social revolution if we add the spiritual dimension to the existing educational pattern?

Education has two purposes. The first is to equip you with qualifications so you can earn a livelihood in agriculture, commerce or technology. Through education you receive instruction about the outside world. The second purpose is to impart knowledge about the inner world by which you can remove the darkness of ignorance within. This form of education instructs you about yourself, your body and your social dealings. In today's system of education we have neither.

Can a farmer's son, a mason's son, a washerman's son, a carpenter's or a potter's son learn anything about farming, masonry, carpentry or pottery in the village schools? When he finishes middle school has he learned to drive a taxi or auto-rickshaw? No, he does not pick up these skills at school. If he does learn any skill, it is done privately outside the school. None of the girls from the villages know how to knit or sew. All they learn at school is some irrelevant historical information like what the name of Aurangazeb's daughter was, where Shah Jehan was buried, or when emperor Ashoka invaded Orissa. Thus the instruction imparted at school is of no use either in material or spiritual life, either in the outer or inner world.

All the schools are competent as far as the three R's, reading, writing, arithmetic, are concerned, but they are just not teaching anything of national value. Education must cater to the social and national needs of the time. India is on the threshold of the twenty-first century, but the mentality of the people is back in the sixteenth century. Some towns are living at the level of the nineteenth century where trains still run on coal and steam. In India, the schools give nothing more than elementary education. The nation cannot make economic progress unless and until the schools train the students to earn their livelihood. There is no freedom from poverty, families cannot look after their members and elderly parents are neglected because students receive no practical training for their lives.

Purpose of education

On the spiritual education front, there is complete darkness and ignorance. People do not know what spirituality is. The Upanishads talk about two vidyas, two types of instruction, para and apara. Apara vidya refers to formal, academic or worldly knowledge which helps you to earn a living in daily life. It gives empirical knowledge about mathematics, science, astrology, physics, chemistry, biology and other material sciences. The other vidya or instruction is called para vidya. This is transcendental knowledge about the creator and his creation. It is spiritual knowledge by which you can unite with the imperishable, immortal Self, the atma, the ultimate principle of this entire cosmos.

These are the two forms of knowledge, yet nowhere throughout the world have they been incorporated into the education system. The stress is only on empirical knowledge and that, too, is useful in only a few countries. Therefore, the nation will have to rethink these two types of education. In fact, the whole world will have to take a fresh look at education. One type of education will not serve the whole world. In Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, China and Central Asia, only one system of education was adopted, which is why there is economic imbalance. There is a lot of intellectual frustration. Students spend many years at college and university, yet they have no jobs when they graduate.

The purpose of education should be twofold. First, it should make the student capable of earning his own bread and butter as early as possible, without spending so many years in school. Second, it should develop the personality so that the student can discover his own self. In the absence of this kind of education there is total anarchy. One of the major reasons for social disorder on every continent is that we have not discovered appropriate forms of education for different types of people. In Africa or India, children are taught when the emperors were born and when they died. What does this matter to a poor carpenter, a farmer or a mason? He wants his son to earn as soon as he is eighteen. The son graduates, but he does not know what to do. He does not even know how to drive a car, so he cannot become a taxi driver. In school he is taught about political leaders, kings and queens and how many children they had. This kind of education does not help him at all. These things can be learned later when one is twenty-five or thirty.

Children should be taught from an early age how to cope with the demands of day to day life according to their particular circumstances. A person in Western Europe has to cope with certain circumstances. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, the circumstances are entirely different. India is an agricultural country. Its education must be oriented towards agriculture, farming, cattle breeding and small business. A sophisticated, technological education will not help this country. The more sophisticated technology becomes, the more you can expect unemployment. That is the reason for unemployment in highly technological countries in the West. Machines do everything, so the unemployed sit back in their homes and take cocaine, marijuana and brown sugar. Therefore, our present educational system needs a lot of change.

Need for practical training

Education cannot and should not be universal. It has to be modified for different types of people. In India, it should be oriented towards agriculture because more than seventy percent of the population is based in agriculture. Right from the very beginning rural children should be taught how to tend a cow or a goat, how biogas can be produced, how to cultivate vegetables, grains or fruits. These things are not taught in the schools and people do not demand this type of education from their government. The education system needs to be changed completely.

There are primary, middle and high schools here, but these boys know nothing. I call the young boys and say, "Go and learn how to drive an auto-rickshaw, learn how to drive a car." I call the girls and tell them to learn stitching. Sometimes we also teach them stitching and weaving so that they can earn their daily bread. Schools do not teach anything practical and useful. In fact, if the schools were closed, you would lose nothing, rather a lot of money would be saved. Schoolteachers should not be offended because what I am saying is right. Gandhi also said the same thing. He emphasized a basic education which is different for different people.

Therefore, those of you living in villages, towns and cities must rethink your education system. You must seriously consider what you need to add or amend in the present education system. If you can see that what is taught in schools today is not at all necessary, then why go on admitting your children and increasing the number of students in schools and colleges? There is a boy sitting here with us who the other day was asked by his teacher where milk comes from. He replied that it came from the dairy. He did not even know that cows yield milk. All the children learn at school is how to speak in English and Hindi, but they do not know how to milk a cow.

Frankly speaking, whatever I learned at school never proved useful to me. My father's money was wasted on my education for many years. Had I stopped my academic education and renounced at the age of ten, I could have become another Shankaracharya! I lost those ten young, brilliant years of my life. At the age of eight or ten one is very bright, and by the age of eighteen or nineteen one is full of conflicts and problems. I wasted my precious youth learning useless things about geography and history. Whatever I memorized from the history book at night would be completely forgotten by morning. On the other hand, whatever I learned for twelve years at my guru's ashram has been useful throughout my life.

Even the smallest practical teaching proved highly valuable to me later. I learned how to carry bundles of firewood, how to use a pickaxe and sickle, how to garden, cook, build a house, keep accounts, do auditing, type and write articles. The most valuable lesson I learned was that life is ever flowing, always moving ahead. One has to just watch the phenomenal world as it comes and take it in one's stride. I took sannyasa at the age of nineteen and lived in my guru's ashram for twelve years and I never used the knowledge that I learned at school. It has proved useless. The three R's, reading, writing and arithmetic, are useful, but beyond that nothing helped me. I never used it, never! In my guru's ashram, the education was very solid.

Spiritual school curriculum

The most important thing Swami Sivananda said was that just as there is an education system from kindergarten to university, similarly there is a schooling system in spiritual life. God exists, so you have to think about him. You have to meditate and pray. You have to purify your heart. I asked, "But how?" He said that the kindergarten of spiritual life is service. What comes next? Loving others. Then the next class is give, give and give. Don't say, "You give to me," say, "I give to you." This is primary spiritual schooling - serve, love and give. This elementary class of spiritual life will prove very useful.

After this, Swami Sivananda said that we should purify the self: purify the mind, heart, intentions and actions. Practise non-violence, truthfulness, celibacy, non-possessiveness, living a life of poverty, non-stealing, cleanliness, contentment and so on. Purification means that just as you clean your dirty clothes by putting them in detergent, so you put your heart in detergent. Soak it in detergent and clean it. How? Swami Sivananda said, "Suffering and pain is the crucible into which nature throws a man whenever she wants to make him a sublime superman." You have to accept pain and suffering. Don't be afraid of pain. Don't depend on the things of worldly life. Riches will not go with you! What did Jesus say? "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." I don't mean that you shouldn't become rich, but you should not depend on wealth as your security in life. Security in life is purification.

After purification, Swami Sivananda spoke of meditation. He said that meditation is like going to college, it is higher education. In meditation or prayer you enter a state of shanti, peace or tranquillity, where you become one with God. There is only God in front of you, whether in the form of Rama, Christ, Guru or Govinda. Finally comes realization. So, serve, love and give are elementary education. Purify is intermediate education and meditation is college education. Realization is postgraduate education. This is the curriculum of spiritual schooling. Swami Sivananda gave me the mantra, "Serve, love, give, purify, meditate, realize, be good, do good, be kind, be compassionate, bear insult, bear injury." This is very difficult, but it is the highest sadhana!

Education begins in the womb

This kind of education must be imparted to a child right from the beginning of life. Education has to start right from the moment the baby enters into your manufacturing machine. The seed has to be planted; the samskara has to be injected. From the time of birth up to seven years, the child must live with the mother because the child is the son of the mother. The mother is the first guru, teacher and inspirer. The mother is also the first one who is capable of spoiling the child's life. Yes, if a child is spoiled, the blame should be placed squarely on the mother not the father.

The child drinks her milk. She feeds him in the womb. The child carries her genes, her DNA structure. The blood in his body came from her. She kept him when he was born. Who did the child see and touch first? Who did he first address? "Ma", the mother. Therefore, the mother is entirely responsible for the child's destiny. Education starts in the womb and continues in the home up to the age of seven. After seven years, society takes over the child's education.

Rikhia, November 1997