Shiksha in the Indian tradition – Part 2

This is the second part of the talks I had with Dr Prabhakar Pandey, a professor at Sanchi University. The first part is available here. The main points made by Dr Pandey are:

– The Upanishadic sutra says – ‘sa vidya ya vimuktaye’.
– Vidya or gyan is the goal and shiksha is the technique to move towards it.
– The sutra says that vidya is what liberates. (from the three Rin’s dev-rin, pitr-rin and rishi-rin)
– Dev-rin is our indebtedness to sacred nature and we work it out by doing yagya.
– Pitr-rin is our indebtedness to our parents and we work it out by nurturing our children.
– Rishi-rin is our indebtedness to our teachers and we work it out by growing the knowledge that comes to us.
– Vidya also liberates us from avidya (the confusion about what is real) and develops the drishti that tells us what to do and what not to do (All of Bhagawad Gita is about this. In the beginning Sri Krishna is saying what is right and what is wrong but at the end he tells Arjuna that since he has understood the difference between right and wrong he should now choose for himself. This, in a compressed form, is the philosophy of what Bharatiya shiksha is designed to do)
– Holistic development as advocated in Indian thought means development of all the 5 koshas (Annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vignananmaya and anandamaya)
– Gurukul, indicates that it was the ‘kul’ of the guru or the family of the guru that was considered important.
– The idea of a kutumb or parivar is central to Indian thought.
– Common words like chandmama, billimausi etc. show us that the idea of family was not limited to our close relatives but was very extensive.
– Life at the gurukul WAS the curriculum (not something like the academic transaction that goes on in schools today).
– Dattatreya speaks of his 24 gurus. These include the sun, sky, ocean etc. To prepare a person who can learn from everything around him was the objective of Indian shiksha.
– The activities connected to real life (not making thermocol models) at the gurukul were the main focus. This along with the availability of the guru and the ability to learn from everything ensured shiksha.
– The practice of tending to the agni at the gurukul and of bhiksha, begging for alms, were very powerful learning practices.
– The practice of begging for alms ensured that the student was directly connected to and aware of the contribution that society made towards his shiksha. This practice also kept the ego of the student from getting bloated by the knowledge he was gaining.
– Graduation from the gurukul was based on the guru’s assessment of the student’s understanding. There are stories of gurus who did not graduate their students but put them back to work more.

– Today, we have no understanding of the form and objectives of shiksha. Looks like the new motto is ‘sa vidya ya niyuktaye’. 🙂

The full video is available at:

Shiksha in the Indian tradition – Part 1

I recently recorded two videos about Shiksha in the Indian tradition and found that it opened up many new perspectives for me. The videos are each almost one hour long and I don’t think many people will go through them. I thought of extracting the main points to generate interest in seeing the full video. The main points of the first video and the YouTube link are given below.

– ‘Bha’ is gyan, so Bharath is a civilization that is ‘rath’ in ‘bha’, or steeped in knowledge.
– We have two paramparas: Shruti parampara (Tatva chintan, universal truth, codified in the Vedas) and Smriti parampara (vyavahar chintan, that changes over time, detailed in Puranas/ Dharmashastra etc).
– Basic tenets of Bharatiyata include Samagrata (holistic thinking) and Ekaatmata (interdependence and integration in the diversity of life, for example, a lamp made of a cotton wick, oil and earthen container work together and give off light).
– Vedas have two main subjects – Yagya (a productive work done by a group of people, all work has the possibility of being a yagya) and prarthana (a prayerful bhava or feeling).
– In Bharat the objective of Shiksha has been vyakti-nirmaan (man-making towards becoming a useful member of the family, society and world) and not livelihood (as it is in modern education).
– Our idea of Shiksha is not limited to schooling but something that continues over our many lifetimes.
– In the Indian tradition the subjects are all interconnected (Bhasha, Darshan, Vigyan, Ganita etc. all interconnected) (Bhaskaracharya’s ‘Lilavati’ about Ganita has exquisite poetical verses)
– Saraswati means ‘with rasa’. In our tradition knowledge has been something full of rasa, full of ananda. Modern education is therefore not Shiksha but probably only transfer of burdensome information.
– Taittiriya Upanishad Shikshavalli has a prayer by the student for ‘sahano yashaha’, that the student and teacher move towards the goal together.
– Shiksha has been seen as a process of creating the environment in which the knowledge inside (the student and teacher) reveals itself.
– The teacher knows that in his relationship with the student, he is working towards his own and not the student’s growth.
– In the Indian tradition a lot of emphasis is placed on bhasha, language. The purity of knowledge is considered to be linked to the purity of the language.

– About the current scenario: Nature has its self-correcting mechanisms and materialism is also part of Nature. (If everything is Rama then Ravana is also a part of Rama). Our civilization has always looked to the future with hope.

The YouTube video is linked below:

The Illuminations Workshop

The Illuminations workshop organized by SIDH was held between 2nd and 6th November 2022, at the Songtsen Library in Dehradun. This was the first time we were trying a workshop of this kind and we were not sure about how it would go. The feedback from the 18 participants leads us to believe that the objectives of the workshop were at least partially met and the workshop was a success. In this blog post I would like to talk about the process we followed and what surprising results emerged from it.

‘Illuminations’ is a book by Professor AK Saran in which he advocates a method of breaking out of the spell of modernity. This does not mean rejecting modernity but seeing the ill-effects at the individual and societal levels and letting us work towards a more conscious engagement. The book is divided into two parts—part 1 lays out the method and part 2 is a collection of 125 passages. The idea is that people reading through the carefully selected passages written by modern writers may be struck by one or more of them and this will help them go deeper and see through their assumptions and misconceptions about modernity.

The way our workshop was structured was that we spent a day going through part 1 of the book and laying out the context and the method we were to follow. The remaining time was spent in reading through and discussing the passages in small groups of 4-5 people and then presenting the group’s understanding to everyone else. Some things that happened during the workshop were:
– The setting of the workshop and the way it was held ensured that everyone participated in the discussions.
– The understanding of what a passage meant got built up slowly as the discussions proceeded.
– The process was highly collaborative in spite of the participants being of differing ages, educational qualifications, levels of understanding etc.
– The collaborative nature of the workshop meant that participants built up the group understanding by adding their unique perspectives to what the previous speaker was saying.

An example from the workshop will illustrate the process. The following sentence was one of the passages for study:

“A bud unfolds into a blossom, but the boat which one teaches children to make by folding paper unfolds into a flat sheet of paper.”

Think for a minute about what this can mean. The discussion among the participants yielded the following insights:
– A bud is natural but the paper boat is man-made.
– The bud unfolds by itself but the paper boat needs to be folded and unfolded.
– It is easy for us to imagine that we are ‘doing’ something as we make the paper boat but there is nothing to ‘do’ for the bud unfolding.
– In our schools we are making and unmaking paper boats without realising that the project of learning is about letting buds flower into blossoms.

We will record a YouTube video going into more details about the workshop but I hope this gives a flavour of the conversations that happened. Going by the feedback we got from the participants, the workshop was a success!

Livelihoods Vs Vyakti-Nirmaan

If we look at our modern educational journey all the way from nursery to a PhD, it looks like what is not outright wasteful is all focused on preparing us to earn a livelihood. I was talking to a Sanskrit scholar who was telling me that in our tradition the focus has always been on knowledge. It is not that we have neglected the aspect of livelihoods, but it was understood that the larger project we are on is about knowledge because that is what helps bring us out of Avidya or ignorance. Also, in our tradition we thought that Shiksha was a continuous, life-long process and not one that started when we went to school and finished when we finished school. We had a much broader perspective on Shiksha that spanned lifetimes. Another way of looking at it is that our traditional Shiksha was about Vyakti-Nirmaan or person-making.

When we look at it closely, it looks like there is very little Vyakti-Nirmaan happening in modern education. Of course, too much Vyakti-Nirmaan, creating people who can tell the difference between Truth and falsehood, will only disrupt modern systems like the State and Marketplace. What are required are automatons who question nothing and blindly believe everything they are told. The modern education system does a good job of creating these mindless consumers.

In the middle of this mess, if we thought it important and wanted to focus on Vyakti-Nirmaan, how would we go about it? Perhaps we can start with the following tentative list:

— Look carefully and realise that most of the modern educational journey has zero contribution in making a good, wise, knowledgeable human being. It is basically a transaction of huge heaps of useless information. (Tell me why Integral calculus is of use to all but 0.0001% people who will use it for some esoteric research work)
– Understand that the focus of the modern educational journey is to create mindless workers and consumers. People who can efficiently do a mind-numbing job to earn money that they can then spend on useless, body-and-mind-destroying products.
– Act according to the above realisations and pay minimum attention to the bloated academic syllabus. Don’t be under the misunderstanding that this is about education and needs to be understood. Find creative and efficient ways to pass the necessary exams that are the hurdles along the modern educational path.
– Focus on Vyakti-Nirmaan through immersion in self, culture and nature. Immersion in real life!

What do you think?

The impact of schooling

As part of the videos that I have been creating for the Asli Shiksha YouTube channel, I did an interview with two of my three children and something that I consider important emerged from that exercise. When people find out that our children are homeschooled, one type of question that comes up repeatedly is about the academic content of school education. People ask, how did the children study? Did we engage tutors for various subjects? Or, are we, the parents, qualified to teach all subjects till the 12th standard? And, do we understand how children learn without ourselves having gone through a B.Ed. program? My response to these questions has been that I have zero interest in the academic syllabus and I consider it excessive, useless and, in a large part, propaganda designed to create and maintain our subjugated mindset. This response usually puts a quick end to the conversation :-).

In the video I asked the boys what they remembered from their homeschooling journey. How did they prepare for their board exams? What was their normal ‘school’ day like? What came up was that both the boys found it very difficult to answer these questions. They found the academic part of homescholing so unremarkable, so easy, that they remembered very little of it. They were living a busy life and ‘schooling’ that is such a big burden for most parents and school-going children passed by without them noticing it too much. (Mahatma Gandhi and many educational reformers after him all talk about the distancing between home and school as a big problem with modern education)

I was talking to Manjunath and Shashank from Udhbhavaha school about this and they told me about an exercise they do in trying to link History (the school subject) with personal experience. They ask children to write their personal histories. What Manjunath and Shashank found was that, in every single case, of the children they have tried this with, school takes up a large part of personal history. (I was in X school but I was having some problems there and things became better when I shifted to Y school… etc.) Of course, children spend a large part of their childhood in school and their memories will naturally be affected by it. But, is nothing else, nothing more memorable, going on in their lives? Why are family, friends, holidays, festivals, melas, adventures etc. not the first things that come to their mind?

We cannot draw out any general rule from this Udhbhavaha anecdote but it points to the huge impact of schooling on the lives of children. It is as if some part of the brain is set aside permanently to deal with our schooling experience. Acknowledging that there is a problem could be a good first step in trying to see what we can do about it. After that, the Asli Shiksha byline ‘Learning is natural’ could give us some ideas on the next steps we will need to take to come out of the unnatural pressures exerted by modern schools.

The Asli Shiksha video I was referring to is:

Modern Traditional Schools?

I recently read, and started thinking about, A.K. Saran’s proposition that, today, we cannot be practising Hindus because Hinduism is inextricably linked to a Hindu samaaj* and today there is no functioning Hindu samaaj left. I got to thinking about all the still surviving parts of our Hindu samaaj. These would be our languages with their stories and songs, our puja and temple practices, our festivals, our food practices, our women’s dresses, our sadhus and their satsangs etc. You can easily add many, many more items to this list. Then how are we to believe that there is no ‘living’ Hindu samaaj left? Let me use some examples to explore this.

1. A friend of mine who is married to a Chinese lady told me about his marriage rituals. He said that they had a registered marriage but they had a choice of what dress to wear for their wedding celebrations. They could choose dresses from any of the various Chinese dynasties. The process included trying out various options and narrowing down on the one they liked. The photographs he showed me looked very ‘traditional’!

2. Yesterday, I was at a friends place and his children go to a school that openly talks about ‘Bharatiyata’. All the adults, parents and teachers, of the school are ‘didi’ and ‘bhayya’ to the children. This, however, only works inside the school boundary and the children call all adults ‘uncle’ and ‘aunty’ when they are at home. This is no problem if it does not confuse us that we are developing our ‘Bharatiya’ identity in school with this artificial behaviour.

I hope that you get the point. A traditional samaaj is not something that we can artificially create by choosing practices from an existing set of options according to our liking, like a buffet meal. It is something that has evolved organically over countless generations. A random set of surviving ‘traditional’ practices does not imply that we are part of a living traditional samaaj. Extrapolating from Saran saab’s idea, we can see that what we have today are the pieces of a broken samaaj. There is no way that these pieces can be reverse-engineered to arrive at a ‘living’ samaaj. There is no going back!

So, given these realities, what can we do? Firstly, we can try to understand things AS THEY ARE (however painful or confusing that is) and not construct false or rosy images about how we think they SHOULD be. And over the next two-three generations, if there appears a strong, clear-headed, confident, rooted generation of men and women, then Bharatmata may start speaking to (and through) them again and a samaaj may again be born. Today, we can perhaps hope and pray and work towards imagining this generation into existence. What do you think?

[* What is meant by ‘samaaj’ here is the social, economic, material, interconnected, comprehensive, web of human relationships that Ravindra Sharma Guruji used to talk about from his eye-witness perspective. Unlike other ‘religions’, everything related to what we call Hinduism was inextricably woven into this samaaj. For example, the Jajmani system, that ensured honourable and sacred work (and exchange of commodities) for everyone, cannot be segregated from the practice of Hinduism. Or, in celebrating a festival, the goods that would come to our homes included artefacts made by many Jatis and this was an integral part of the festival]

Takamori Lecture: The Crisis of Mankind

This is a book by Professor A.K. Saran based on a lecture he gave in 1981 at Takamori, a small village in Japan, to assembled religious and spiritual leaders from all over the world. Professor Saran’s lecture was very well received and was later expanded and rewritten as a book. Professor Saran started his lecture with two stories which he said represented in seed form all that he wanted to say in the lecture. The first story is from ‘Out of Africa’ by Isak Dinesen and it illustrates a central problem of modernity and its novelty seeking ways. It goes like this…

Once, when Denys and I had been up, and were landing on the plain of the farm, a very old Kikuyu came up and talked to us: “You were up very high today,” he said, “we could not see you, only hear the aeroplane sing like a bee.”

I agreed that we had been up high.

“Did you see God?” he asked.

“No, Ndwetti,” I said, “we did not see God.”

“Aha, then you were not up high enough,” he said, “but now tell me: do you think that you will be able to get up high enough to see him?”

“I do not know, Ndwetti,” I said.

“And you, Bedâr,” he said, turning to Denys, “what do you think? Will you get up high enough in your aeroplane to see God?”

“Really I do not know,” said Denys.

“Then,” said Ndwetti, “I do not know at all why you two go on flying.”

Everything Professor Saran writes seems to be difficult to read and understand. But I think we must make a sincere effort because his work has the power to let us see through the fog of modernity. Here are three excerpts that I hope provide you an incentive to read the book.

Excerpt 1: (From the ‘Publisher’s note’ by Samdhong Rinpoche)

“The lecture presents the vital question concerning the real nature of the enormity of Hiroshima, Nagasaki: it shows, in an unparalleled decisive manner that Hiroshima and Nagasaki are by no means the results of an aberration, but—shocking and hideous as it is—only the culmination of the normal natural working of the inherent ‘principles’ on which our whole modern civilization is founded.”

Excerpt 2: (From chapter 1)

“The self-grounding project (of modernity) is based on what may be called the Postulate of Self mediated Universal Knowability. . . . the faith that whatever there is in the universe can be fully known and man shall, in course of time, know all; for modern man has the required equipment for achieving this universal knowledge; that though at any given stage in the history of human knowledge there are vast areas that have remained outside man’s knowledge, they are not unknowable and one day they will—shall—be “conquered” and that there must come a day—in any case, in principle if not in history!—when nothing remains unknown to man. The word ‘self mediated’, it is obvious, does not refer to immediate, intuitive or Revelatory knowledge. Such knowledge, in fact, is not admitted by modern man as ‘scientific’ knowledge: that is, as knowledge at all.”

Excerpt 3: (From chapter 1)

Traditional man realises, just as Socrates did, that the lighted area between the abysses of birth and death, however vast and bright, stands constantly undermined by man’s ignorance of his origin and end. Modern man has yet to achieve this awareness. Being aware of the precariousness of all humanly acquired knowledge and gifted with Faith, traditional man depends on Revelation for his knowledge of his origin and destiny; and on divine grace for transcending the tremendous, infinite gap between his finite human faculties and his eternal, divine destiny. Modern man, for the first time in history, postulating self-mediated universal knowability himself sets his destiny.

The Illuminations Workshop

‘Illuminations’ is the name of a book by Professor A.K. Saran, a critic of modernity and one of the great scholars of modern India. The byline of the book ‘A School for the Regeneration of Man’s Experience, Imagination and Intellectual Integrity’ gives us an idea about the book. The book is based on the insight that we have to break out of the trap of modernity if we are to live a full life. The technique the book advocates is to read, contemplate and discuss short paragraphs taken from the works of some insightful modern philosophers. The contemplation and discussion about the paragraphs that catch our attention can potentially help us see through the veil of modernity.

In the workshop on ‘Illuminations’ participants will read through the abridged text of the book and discuss the short paragraphs (that we shall provide) among themselves and with the facilitators. We invite you to a 4-day retreat to engage in this contemplative conversation.

The following excerpt from the book will shine a light on the context of the workshop:

“The idea of this School originates from the conviction that modern higher education in India has totally failed in all important ways and the universities and all other wings of the educational establishment are working towards the perpetuation and reinforcement of a deadening of the mind and imagination of those who go through them. . . . Further, there is the conviction that the ruling elite of independent India inherited from its former Masters the task of strengthening inertia and promoting intellectual degeneration and it clings to this alien heritage with a vengeance; it is clear, therefore, that no matter how loud and persistent our talk of radically changing the inherited educational structure, there is no prospect whatsoever of any real transformation being effected by the ruling political and cultural elite. In fact, it is strange and depressing to find that behind the scene all political parties in India reveal an ominous unanimity with regard to this negative conservatism in educational theory, policy and practice.

If any effort towards the regeneration of Man’s experience, imagination and intellect is to be made, it has to begin and continue outside and independently of the present educational, political and cultural establishments. The universities are dead today. . . . The worship of the dead that rules our academic establishments today is closely allied to the neo-colonial politics that dominates our country, and naturally draws its strength and prestige from the State and the political parties. And yet we hope and pray that there will arise an intellectual group, particularly from among the youth, that will slowly and steadily become deeply aware of our wretchedness as a people and the necessity of a dignified and courageous response to it. The School proposed here is a form of this hope and prayer. Perhaps it would assist in the birth of such a group. It is a big need today.”

Workshop details:

Venue: SIDH campus at Kempty near Mussoorie (See the video below for the campus tour)
Dates: 2nd November, 2022 (arrival by evening) to 6th November, 2022 (Departure after lunch).
Contact: arun@sidhsri.org (Write to me if you want to know more or to register)

The Original Mind and the Ordinary Rational Mind

During 1st to 4th September, 2022, a workshop was held at the Songtsen library, Dehradun on the Original Mind and the Ordinary Rational Mind. The workshop attended by some 40 participants and organized by SIDH was chaired by the Venerable Samdhong Rinpoche. The following are the main points made by Rinpocheji in his opening address.

– The parampara of dharm and darshan appears to have started in Bharat 9000-10000 years ago. In our post-modern civilization today people have practically stopped paying attention to these darshans.
– 100 years ago Gandhiji made his views about modern ‘civilization’ very clear in ‘Hind Swaraj’. People say that it is a very simple book but if we read it a 100 times, we will get some new insight every time.
– Modern civilization has spread all across the world and because it is based on competition and not cooperation its results are also destructive.
– The world is increasingly becoming toxic for all creatures. 50 years ago the scientists agreed that there was a problem but claimed that science would soon discover solutions. Since the last 10-15 years they are saying that they have no solutions.

– This is the context in which we have to examine the difference between the Original Mind (maulik manas) and the Ordinary Rational Mind (saadharan taarkik manas). All the ills of the world have probably been brought about because of the Ordinary Rational Mind and the progressive weakening of the Original Mind.

– The basic teaching of the Buddha says: as the mind is, so will the consequences be. In ancient Indian languages mind has been variously called Buddhi, Chitta, Mati, Man, Manas, Vigyan, Gyan etc.
– Two broad divisions pratyaksh (perceiving mind that connects directly with its object) and parikalpit (conceiving mind that connects with the image of its object) are used for mind.

– A modern, educated, conditioned mind thinks that it knows things through a logical process but is actually only blindly believing what it is being told by authority figures (such and such famous scientist has said it so it must be true). This belief stops all further examination of what is being told. This is what we are calling the Ordinary Rational Mind. Another way of saying this is that the Ordinary Rational Mind is not aware of the numerous external interference that stop it from knowing things properly. A trait of this kind of mind is that it looks for quick answers to questions and is ready to believe the answers without examination.

– The Original Mind is one that is either:
a. Not affected by the numerous external interference (which is nearly impossible).
Or
b. Is one that is aware of the interference and the effect that these interference has on it.
– J Krishnamurti used to ask people to stay with the question. This, not looking for quick answers, is a trait of the Original Mind.

– The science of the mind is a vast topic in the Parampara and it is difficult to speak about it in a few days. In the Tibetan Buddhist literature there are 108 huge books in original Tibetan and 220 huge books of translations of Indian texts, i.e. some 328 huge books with some 5800 sutras. For three years a group of scholars has been going through them and trying to extract the knowledge related to the science of mind.

The full video is linked below:

Hinduism in Contemporary India

This week’s post has some excerpts from a very interesting book ‘Hinduism in contemporary India’ by A.K. Saran.

Excerpt 1:

“One, a sacred or traditional society, say, the Hindu society, cannot be understood in a non-traditional frame of reference; and, two, the sacred and the secular are not two types of social systems in some order of succession or co-existence. Even more mistaken is the view that the sacred-secular or the traditional-modern represents a kind of continuum. In truth, the sacred (the traditional) constitutes and affirms, while the secular (the modern), insofar as it denies the Sacred or the Tradition, undermines and denies society.”
From the chapter titled ‘Religion and Society: The Hindu View’

Excerpt 2:

“Hinduism’s starting point is neither God nor the Creation (the universe, the world). It is the simple but inexhaustible question: Who am I?… The question is possible only from a plane on which knowledge and life, theory and practice, thought and action, form a unity. Hinduism does not require anyone to ask this question, but if I do ask it and it makes sense to me, I am bound to go on asking it until I find the answer or fail to find one; it is, however, not a question which I can drop at any time of my life. An analysis of this question will lead us into practically all the essential principles of society.”
From the chapter titled ‘Religion and Society: The Hindu View’

Excerpt 3:

“It is in Gandhi that we find the most uncompromising Indian opponent of modern technological society. This is of crucial importance in the present context; for the core of values of the Indian tradition cannot survive in a technology-centred society. Gandhi realized this with unfaltering clarity. This is vastly more important than his attempts to reform and modernize many aspects of the surviving Hindu orthodoxy. For he was not only against the domination of modern technology; he was also, and equally vehemently, opposed to consumption-centred competitive society. It should not be difficult for anyone to see that if his vision of a village-centred, aparigraha-minded society had been realized, or were to be realized, this would be nothing less than the restoration of the traditional values; for in traditional thought there is no room for revivalism, no going back to the past—the tradition can be only renewed through the reaffirmation of first principles, and not through any resuscitation of old institutional forms. Soon after its independence, India repudiated Gandhi completely and formally.”
From the chapter titled ‘British Rule and the Indian Value-System’

Excerpt 4:

“Today there is no living Hindu society in India. The process of decay of Hindu society and religion, which must be distinguished from Hindu spirituality, began very long ago. It reached a decisive phase during India’s encounter with Islam and continued in a different form throughout the comparatively brief but radically significant period of British rule. It has taken another form in Independent India. So far, I, for one, have seen no signs of a genuine renewal. And the future is dark; more so because our vision is obscured by a false light.”
From the chapter titled ‘The Crisis of Hinduism’

I am still processing the insights that this book opened up for me. I will probably read it through once more. If you found the excerpts interesting, you can buy the book here. There is also an interesting YouTube video about Saran saab’s work here.