The Purpose of Education

Swami Sivananda Saraswati

Education is the root. Culture is the flower. Wisdom is the fruit.

Every student should reflect calmly and carefully and understand first what is the true meaning and purpose of education. Without an understanding of this, the blind pursuit of a diploma or a degree becomes a dry mockery, ending inevitably in disillusionment.

Education is not the amassing of information, and its purpose is not mere career hunting. It is a means of developing a fully integrated personality and enabling one to grow effectively into the likeness of the ideal that one has set before oneself. Student life is a precious period of inner culture, a period concerned with the very important task of laying the foundation of one's character and personality. Upon this alone depends the making or marring of one's future life.

There is a need to first strive to develop selective discrimination of what is true, pure, noble, worthy, abiding and great, and detect that which is unworthy, impure and ignoble. Side by side, students can also develop an intense aspiration for the abiding and worthy values of life, and a strong determination to stick to them and reject the petty and the mundane without hesitation.

Whether the schools and colleges help young people to do this or not, students themselves can strive in all earnestness to mould themselves on the right lines, under the inspiration of great works and the lives of eminent personalities. Then their lives will be blessed.

Education as an initiation into life

Remember that education is not merely teaching some means of earning a livelihood, some tenets of citizenship, etc., but also developing spirituality and morality. True education imparts an initiation into a life of noble aspiration and sacred values. It should be remembered that all studies are intended for the enlightenment of the mind and the illumination of the soul. They are not meant for vain glory.

Education is to prepare a person to face life with courage and fortitude. It should eradicate the gross nature and animal instincts and transform one into a pure, noble soul. Education is to concern itself with all the varied aspects of life. The sense of duty, of responsibility as an individual, as a member of the family and society, and as a citizen of a nation needs to be nurtured within the student. For only then can one obtain a broad outlook, a capacity for balanced judgement and a keen intellect.

The aim of education is to lift you above the narrow grooves of bigotry, crookedness, hypocrisy, fanaticism and selfishness. A bigoted person is quite uneducated. A fanatical person has no education. Superstition is not education. The highest education is that which inculcates pure love, courage, and a sense of duty, balance of mind, devotion, faith, discrimination, tolerance, dispassion and knowledge of the Self.

Gurukul culture

There is a wide gulf when comparing the present education system with the ancient gurukul system. When students finished their course of study, the rishis would give further instructions: "Speak the truth. Do your duty. Do not swerve from the Truth. Maintain your welfare and prosperity. Uphold the learning and teachings of the Vedas. May the mother be your God. May the father be your God. Only perform actions which are blameless. Focus on performing good works and nothing else." Every student in the gurukul had a knowledge of pranayama, mantra, yogasana, the Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Upanishads. Every student possessed the qualities of humility, self-restraint, obedience, spirit of service and self-sacrifice, a courteous nature and last but not least a desire to acquire atmajnana (knowledge of the Self). This was the predominating feature of the ancient culture.

Developing spiritual awareness

Education should always aim at the development of a spiritual attitude towards life. Spirituality does not hinder material progress. In fact it buttresses material interests. The real advancement and well-being of every society and nation depends upon the right kind of educational basis.

If an education system is to be morally effective, it must rest on a spiritual foundation. Only if this is assured will science effectively serve the interests of mankind. A lopsided emphasis, either on humanities or science alone, will not serve the interests of the country. Science is not Godless. But science and technology alone cannot ensure perfect peace and harmony. Humanities alone cannot cure the ills of poverty or safeguard the freedom of the country. There should be a synthetic development of both.

Art of living

Education is training in the art of living. It is a process of drawing out all the positive potentialities latent in the student in order to refine and elevate the mind. Man is said to be a thinking animal. This thinking process should be helped by education to discipline the animal instincts. The right sense of values on which to build one's life should be revealed through education.

The function of education is to assist the evolution of mankind, which is movement towards perfection. The integral growth of one's personality and the task of developing natural capacities, faculties and talents should all be supported by the education that is received. Life is to be lived worthily for a noble purpose in a rational and correct manner. Education plays an important role in developing one's conscience to become the guide in life.

Students are the builders of the nation of tomorrow. The life of a student is a preparation for shouldering the great responsibilities of the future. Let the students understand this well and discipline themselves first. Let the voice of the schools and colleges be one of sympathy, service, discipline, love, culture and fellowship, where all the teachers and professors prove their worth. The regeneration of the individual and the young generation means betterment of the whole nation.

Importance of early education

The education of a child even begins from within the mother's womb, and then from the moment the child sees the light of day the lifelong process accelerates. Although a child is likely to be influenced by good and bad contacts throughout adolescence and adulthood, whatever habits of thought, action and feeling are formed during those early days last throughout life. The virtuous nature of the personality is sown during childhood.

The most important step in obtaining the excellence of which such a tender nature is capable is in beginning the growth of a child in the right manner. The first notions of the world are learnt from being around the mother, from the immediate surroundings and from playmates. The surroundings provide an efficient means for education and good instruction of the young. Here the essential training is to arouse the keen, fresh perception to observe rightly, to record correctly, to infer justly and to gently express themselves. From the very early school days, under the guidance of good teachers, it is necessary to encourage children to develop the habit of grouping, classifying and deducing things for themselves.

When the health of children is neglected there is little chance of them developing a high quality of intelligence and character, let alone physique. The physical training of a child is a matter of great importance. A strong, pure, healthy body is necessary for the full expression of the developing soul within. Therefore, the diet of a child needs to be wholesome and nourishing without overburdening the digestive system.

Teachers, parents and adults all need to give a child a good measure of freedom. They are to provide the best material that will enable the young to feel and experience their still forming aptitudes and faculties. Teaching by example, rather than by a command which one is unable to practise oneself, is the strongest mode of instruction.

A child must never be ridiculed. As an adult, one must try to understand the nature of the child. Kindness, affection and love are far more effective in training children than threats and punishment. Ultimately, the aim of real education is drawing out the dormant divinity lying hidden within each human being. Spiritual enlightenment is the fruit of the real, inner education.