A Gurukul System of Education

From Yoga Education for Children, Volume Two, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati (Extract)

In an ashram the tradition of the gurukul, the teacher’s family, is where there is an environment and a lifestyle conducive to spiritual growth; where the vision and spirit of the masters of a tradition is kept alive. It is an environment which is spiritual and where the vision of the guru can unfold. The gurukul at Ganga Darshan, Munger, represents a tradition of visionaries: Swami Sivananda, who foresaw the need of yoga as a lifestyle for the future and Swami Satyananda, who structured the vision of his guru, the philosophy, practices, applications and lifestyle into a very practical and scientific system called Bihar Yoga or Satyananda Yoga. It is through this system of yoga that Swami Satyananda developed the techniques through which we can harmonize and improve the efficiency of our head, heart and hands – intellect, emotions and actions.

Developing the whole personality

Yoga in the gurukul system involves integration and development of the entire human personality, not only the body or mind. In the gurukul system of education there has to be a balance between asanas, or physical postures, pranayama, breath control, pratyahara, relaxation, and dharana, concentration.

Also one is given the task of experimenting with the yamas, or abstentions, and niyamas, observances, to experience those attitudes and perceptions and their role in one’s life. Adherence to yamas and niyamas leads to an inner transformation. It helps you to connect with your own inner qualities and strengths. So the totality of raja yoga is lived by the student.

Synthesis of yogic experience

Swadhyaya, or self-study, one of the observances, is also part of the gurukul system of education and is a part of jnana yoga. Bhakti yoga in this system gives one the chance to be exposed to different tools to channel, transcend and sublimate the gross emotions. Of course, the karma yoga experience of performing seva, selfless actions, is an important part of the ashram routine. The gurukul environment and the ashram lifestyle helps one to experience yoga as it is meant to be experienced, to have a different understanding of yoga and a different understanding of life.

The mature mind

Yoga is a continuous process of development and cannot be learnt in a couple of years, but once you have practised, studied and understood yoga, you will find that your daily moments become filled with yogic awareness. Yoga is not only asana and pranayama, it is an attitude, an awareness of your interaction with life and the ability to ensure smooth passage through moments of difficulty. So, yoga is an ongoing process of education.

Education is not just an intellectual process or achievement. Rather, education plays a very vital part in the maturing of the human mind and consciousness. Maturity of mind and consciousness is the aim of education and is reflected in the ability to apply in practice the knowledge that you have gained intellectually. Knowledge is one thing and application is another. Knowledge without application is merely an intellectual achievement, but when you begin to apply what you know, then the process of maturity of consciousness begins. When you are able to maintain your balance, harmony and peace in day-to-day situations, that is maturity of mind.

Where real education begins

The growth of an individual begins with positive interaction between the parent and the child. It is this period which is crucial and important for education. Today’s society inspires violence; the toys we give our children are guns and water pistols. Psychologically, we are telling them “Express your violence!”

We are giving them the message that the only emotion to express is their anger and violence. If that is the state of our interaction with our children, then in the future we are going to see a lot of social disturbances and psychological imbalances, and society does not have any infrastructure to deal with such situations. It is happening even now with the rise in crime and decline in values.

Our concept of education has to change from classroom education to personal education. This shift has to be made. How do we do that? According to the yogic theories, real education, intuitive education and humanitarian education stops around the age of seven and after that academic education begins.

People like Micheline Flak (Swami Yogabhakti) and other thinkers are concerned with the academic school education after the age of seven, but we are concerned with the intuitive education which a child can imbibe only up to the age of seven. This education is imbibed through the family environment, the culture and society, and it is known as samskara, the programming of the human computer.

The mother is responsible for such education, but remember that if a seed is rotten, whatever grows from it will also be infirm, weak and rotten. We cannot provide our offspring with the right samskaras. Therefore, it is my request to all the mothers and mothers-to-be to make a conscious effort to gain samskaras in their nature, personality and life, to express these samskaras in the family environment, and to educate the children with those samskaras.