Advice to a young educator – Part 2

(Continued from last week…)

Young potential educator (Ype): I am not saying that I agree with you but you have certainly given me some food for thought. Tell me some more about modern education.

Me: Let us look at it from two perspectives. Think of a large school. A school with thousands of children, hundreds of teachers, dozens of school buses and huge buildings. In such a school, a teacher stands in front of 40 or 50 children in a class and tries to ‘teach’ some uninteresting, obscure content. If each child is unique, doesn’t this way of ‘teaching’ seem an impossible, insurmountable task? Also, considering the huge infrastructure and the crowd of people moving in it, it is obvious that the school’s focus will be on logistics and administration and classroom management rather than on ‘teaching’. Now let us zoom out and think of the entire Indian education system. The MHRD document ‘Educational statistics at a glance’ which you can download from the internet had the following interesting data points in it. Of the 2.6 crore children who join 1st standard only 90 lakh pass the 12th standard exam. This means that 65% children fail and the 90 lakh who pass through the system are fighting for the less than 1 lakh seats in the ‘good’ colleges. This is how the system is set up at the macro level. Modern education is an impossible-to-succeed exercise in mega-scale logistics.

Ype: You paint a very depressing picture. Surely there are national level efforts to correct this situation. And isn’t what you describe the perfect scenario for the holistic education I want to create?

Me: You must have heard about the national efforts. I have no faith in them but I will only say that making incremental changes in a system that cannot work is no recipe for success. A Sanskrit scholar told me that in our decentralized, indigenous education system that the British destroyed, we used to focus on vyakti-nirmaan. Today’s education is fully focussed on training students to get a livelihood. Vyakti-nirmaan is a natural process unique to each student that cannot be fitted into a ‘system’ or into textbook lectures. An inspirational teacher is probably a basic requirement. All the effort in modern education is in trying to ‘fix’ teaching. What we probably need are environments where children learn on their own with minimal teaching. I hope that also answers your question about creating a holistic learning environment. The World is one such environment and all of us are students in it.

Ype: I think that what you are telling me is that I should not leave my corporate job to start a school.

Me: You are a victor of the extremely competitive game of school and college education, and you have won the prize that modern education is pushing every student towards – a good job. If you leave that and go and start teaching children, will you be working to take these children in some other direction? And how will you succeed if the entire system that you are working inside is geared in the direction of only getting a good job? And even if you want to steer them in some other direction, do you know what that is? Yes, I think you should stay in your good job and not get involved in the sad, crowded, confused field of modern education.

Advice to a young educator

I was talking to a young man who wanted to leave his corporate job and go back to his town to start a school and I thought that the (slightly exaggerated version of the) conversation we had may be useful to other young people interested in education. The conversation went something like this…

Me: Why do you want to start a school?

Young potential educator (Ype): Most children have no interest in what they are learning. They learn by rote to pass exams without understanding anything. Also they have no idea of what they can do after they finish school. The only goals seem to be engineering or medicine and, if unsuccessful, to do whatever graduation is possible and then try for a government job.

Me: What kind of school are you thinking of starting?

Ype: We would like to create a space where holistic education is provided that creates strong, knowledgeable children who can contribute their knowledge and talents to the world in a meaningful way.

Me: That is a very noble idea. How are you planning to go about it?

Ype: I am still reading up and visiting alternative schools to see how they are doing things. I think that our school has to have an environment where children can learn with freedom and without fear. Also we have to make the academic content interesting so that the children don’t need to do rote learning.

Me: A philosopher I read says that the opposite of a bad idea is not a good idea but a bad idea in the opposite direction. If you think schools foster rote-learning and you create a school that has zero rote-learning, you will be creating a bad idea in the opposite direction. Rote-learning has its place and we have to neither over-evaluate it nor under-evaluate it. Is it not true that small children ‘rote-learn’ and remember any number of songs and poems without apparent effort? Is there anything wrong with that? Similarly, if you think that too much discipline is the problem with the current school system and you choose to provide 100% freedom to the children of your school, you would be creating an environment as toxic as the one you wanted to get away from. What do you think?

Ype: I will have to think about it. What about making the academic content interesting? Do you have any problem with that?

Me: Gandhiji has written that modern Indian education (which was set up by the British to subjugate us and which we suicidally continue to propagate) alienates us from our culture and our roots. If you read the works of scholars like Dharampal, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Professor C.K. Raju etc., you see how badly distorted and intentionally demeaning our academic content is. If you think a little, you will realize that the academic content is also arbitrary, needlessly excessive and of little practical use. Because we cannot change it immediately, what we need to do, ideally, is to minimize the damage it does to our children. To me, spending effort to make it interesting seems to be a waste of time.

(To be continued next week…)

The Crisis of Global Liberalism

Excerpts from an interview of Alexander Dugin, Russian philosopher and author of over 70 books:

Question: If Liberalism won against its only competitors – Communism and Fascism, where does the crisis of global Liberalism come from?

– Till Communism and Fascism (openly totalitarian ideologies and products of the same Western political science that created Liberalism) existed, Liberalism had a seductive vision as the upholder of freedom, giver of the good life etc. When Liberalism won, its inner totalitarian, anti-human, nihilistic, satanic nature was revealed. It has now become a dictatorship pushing all of humanity towards Liberalism.
– Liberalism started with humanistic individualism but is now approaching anti-human, trans-human individualism – destroying history, the family, all kinds of identities and traditional institutions.
– There is nothing surprising or unexpected in all this. The crisis is the natural ending of Liberalism towards which it was always heading.

Question: Is Russia leading the global revolt against Liberalism?

– The rules-based order of the West is not something we agreed on. It is imposed on the rest of the world. With the Special Military Operation in Ukraine we started inner work to liberate ourselves from the hypnosis of the West and return to our civilizational roots.
– In a multi-polar world one pole does not define the rules. Each civilization defines its own understanding and its own rules. A civilization is a larger space than a country. So, Eurasia not Russia, Islamic world not a particular country, China+Taiwan, India+neighbouring countries, Africa as a whole, a pan-Latin-American alliance etc. Each area with its own civilizational identity becomes a pole.

Question: What is Russia’s ideology? What is it fighting for?

– Russia has its own understanding of a human being. And that is not individual but collective. We are part of the Russian Orthodox Church which is more contemplative than active. We are agrarian and we have an agrarian psychology linked to earth and nature. We have a different understanding of life, death, time, God etc. We are different. Not better or worse. Just different.
– We look modern and Western but our ‘inner man’ is totally different from the Western ‘inner man’.
– In our civilization individualism is laughed at, mocked as some kind of perversion.

Question: Is it inevitable for Western civilization and Russian civilization to be enemies?

– Western culture identifies itself as Universal. If it can agree to its regional, provincial nature we could immediately have the basis for mutual understanding, respect and peaceful coexistence.
– The problem is not with us but in the West. Throughout their history they could not accept the existence of the ‘other’.
– If we do not accept gay marriage or LGBTQ rights we are sub-human, barbarian. This racism is what is characteristic in all historical stages of Western civilization. West is racist.
– China, the Islamic world, Africa, India etc. the majority of the world, will also have to fight Western racism, hegemony and pretension of universalism.

(The full video is available online at

Ideas On Detoxification

I met some distant relatives for the first time recently and was pleasantly surprised to see that although they were almost 50 years old, they were healthy and happy and vitally alive. It made me realise what a strange world we live in, where, if you are a working person, you get progressively unwell as you age. By the time you retire from your job, you are a slave to various unhealthy habits and usually to medicines with multiple unknown side effects. To me one of the main side effects of modern work-life seems to be a loss of vitality, as if we were patients forever stuck in a hospital ward. I have my life markers more or less under control and cannot remember the last time I had an allopathic medicine, but I also feel the loss of vitality that seems to naturally accompany modern life. It is almost like whatever I eat or breathe in or think about or get entertained with is slowly poisoning me. Slowly draining the life away from me like a dripping tap that cannot be closed.

What is it that we can do? I can talk about what I do and what I think helps me and perhaps you can share what your practices are to keep mentally and physically healthy in a world bent on making everyone ill. The following is my incomplete list:

– I make it a point to walk outside in the sun as much as I can. A day when I miss walking in the sun, I consider a wasted day in which I have become a little less well than I was in the morning.

– When I feel that I have become poisoned with too much food over many days or months, I cut down drastically on my food intake and I make strict rules for recovering from the poisoning that I inflicted on myself.

– I am superstitious about missing my Pranayama practice. It feels like the poisoning that happens everyday gets partly reversed with this practice. At least it feels like that to me.

– And this may seem a little far-fetched but I was thinking that having a deep dialogue, a samvaad, with another human being also falls in the category of something that makes us less poisoned. By samvaad I mean an exchange where there is careful, respectful listening and a contemplative, authentic, tentative response, ideally based on personal experience.

– This brings me to the last point I wanted to make here about paying attention to the world around us (people, trees, birds, insects, animals, buildings… everything) and seeing the beauty and sacredness inherent in all of it. I think when we achieve a small part of this, we break free from much of the poison spread by modernity.

I will conclude this post here and request you to add your comment about your experience and what practices work for you. Thanks in advance.

Parisamvaad at Bangalore

We have just finished a 5-day contemplative, residential, parisamvaad, a detailed discussion, on tradition and modernity, at Bangalore. The Parisamvaad was organized by Udhbhavaha, an alternative school that works closely with SIDH. Held at the Art of living ashram, the parisamvaad had around 20 participants who had a slow conversation around some passages from ‘Illuminations’, a book by Professor A.K. Saran. The objective of the parisamvaad was to help participants ‘see’ through the fog and brainwashing inflicted on us as we pass through the modern education system of India. It looked like the objective was met to a certain degree and all the participants felt that we had a useful conversation that opened some new doors and showed some new perspectives.

About the usefulness of the parisamvaad I had an insight that I shared with the participants. Long ago, I had gone for a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat to Igatpuri around the monsoon season. Set in the Western ghats near Nasik, Igatpuri was green and cloud-filled-wet and incredibly beautiful. I stayed in a small, isolated, single-room cottage on the campus as I went through the intense silent meditation retreat. I was deeply moved by my experience and at the end of the retreat I came out of the Vipassana centre thinking that my life was changed forever. I resolved that I would spend the rest of my life in the service of the divine and planned to further explore my deep meditative experience. As I travelled towards Mumbai in increasingly crowded local trains, I found my resolve weakening and my experience fading like a dream. My insight during the parisamvaad, however, was that even though the experience faded and I got caught in the rush of life, something had changed, because we cannot unsee what we have once seen. I felt that these slow conversations we have been having at SIDH samvaads also serve a similar purpose, where like minded people come together in friendship and openness and at an individual level get a little bit more clarity than before.

To give you a flavour of the parisamvaad, let me conclude with a sample passage that was discussed at length during the meeting:

“The Illuminations School has to grapple with minds which, to a good extent, are already formed and largely conditioned in favour of “modernity” (and the modern Western civilization) and against tradition (and the ancient civilizations). The first requirement of such a situation is to get out of the tradition-modernity antithesis or dichotomy…to go deeper and deeper into the nature and inner telos of modernity. Education aims at truth and not at desired types of mentality. The second requirement is to create a free, uncluttered intellectual space so that there can grow genuine receptivity in minds shaped and equipped by the present educational system for gullibility of one sort or another. The third requirement of our present pedagogical situation is to restore the internal relation between knowledge and action, theory and praxis, thinking and living; a relation which modern education completely disrupts, at best, rendering it contingent. Our task in the Illuminations School is to seek pedagogic methods, strategies and techniques that may meet the above requirements as adequately as possible.”
– Page 18 and 19, Illuminations, A. K. Saran

How to get out of your own way

The following is an excerpt from a talk by Alan Watts available on youtube…

The whole idea of self-improvement is a hoax. What happens if you KNOW beyond any shadow of doubt that there is nothing you can do to be better. Its a kind of a relief isn’t it? We are so used to making things better, leave the world a better place than we found it, I want to be of service to other people and all those dreadfully hazy ideas. But supposing instead of that – seeing that there isn’t anything we can really do, to improve ourselves or improve the world – If we realize that that is so, it gives us a break, in the course of which we may simply watch what is going on. Nobody ever does this you know. Therefore, it sounds terribly simple. To watch whats happening and what you are doing by way of reaction to it. Just watch it happen. And don’t be in a hurry to think you know what it is.

Look at things without fixing labels and names and gradations and judgments on what happens and what we do. Then it may be, that when you are in this way freed from busy-bodyness and being out to improve everything, that your own nature will begin to take care of itself. Because you are not getting in the way of yourself all the time. You will begin to find out that the great things that you do are really happenings. For example – No great genius can explain how he does it. Yes, he says I have learned the technique to express myself. Because I had something in me that had to come out. So, if I were a musician, I had to learn how music is produced. That means learning a musical instrument, or learning a technique of musical notation, or whatever it may be. But then beyond that I am afraid I cannot tell you how I used the technique to express this mysterious thing that I wanted to show you. Because what is fascinating always about genius is that the fellow does something that we can’t understand. He surprises us.

All growth you see is fundamentally something that happens. But for it to happen, two things are important. The first is that, as I said, you must have the technical ability to express what happens. And secondly, you must get out of your own way. But right at the bottom of the whole problem of control is – how am I to get out of my own way? And if I showed you a system – lets all practice getting out of our own way – It would turn into another form of self-improvement. And we find this problem, repeatedly, throughout the entire history of human spirituality. It is only as getting out of your own way ceases to be a matter of choice, when you see that doing something about your situation is not going to help you, and when you see equally that trying not to do anything about it is also not going to help you. You are non-plussed. And you are simply reduced to watching.

Hanuman’s first meeting with Shri Ram

बाल्मीकि रामायण के किष्किन्धाकाण्ड में सुग्रीव के कहने पर हनुमान जी राम और लक्ष्मण के समीप जाकर, एक साधारण तपस्वी का रूप धारण कर अत्यन्त विनीत भाव व मधुर वाणी में वार्तालाप प्रारम्भ करते हैं। वे राम-लक्ष्मण से पहली बार मिल रहे हैं लेकिन फिर भी उनकी बातों को सुन और उनके व्यवहार को देख श्रीराम, लक्ष्मण से इस प्रकार कहते हैं :-

– लक्ष्मण! ये महामनस्वी वानरराज सुग्रीव के सचिव कपिवर हनुमान बातों का मर्म को समझने वाले हैं ।
– हनुमान जिस प्रकार सुन्दर भाषा में वार्तालाप कर रहे हैं उससे यह ज्ञात होता है कि उन्हें ऋग्वेद की शिक्षा मिली है, यजुर्वेद का उन्होंने अभ्यास किया है और सामवेद के वे विद्वान् हैं।
– निश्चय ही इन्होंने समूचे व्याकरण का कई बार स्वाध्याय किया है; क्योंकि बहुत-सी बातें बोल जाने पर भी इनके मुँह से कोई अशुद्धि नहीं निकली।
– सम्भाषण के समय इनके मुख, नेत्र, ललाट, भौंह तथा अन्य सभी अंगों में किसी भी प्रकार का कोई दोष प्रकट नहीं हुआ।
– इन्होंने थोड़े में ही बड़ी स्पष्टता के साथ अपना अभिप्राय निवेदन किया है। उसे समझने में हमें कहीं कोई संदेह नहीं हुआ है। इन्होंने रुक-रुककर अथवा शब्दों या अक्षरों को तोड़-मरोड़कर किसी भी ऐसे वाक्य का उच्चारण नहीं किया है, जो सुनने में कर्णकटु हो। इनकी वाणी हृदय में मध्यमा रूप से स्थित है और कण्ठ से बैखरी रूप में प्रकट होती है, अतः बोलते समय इनकी आवाज न बहुत धीमी रही है न बहुत ऊँची।
– ये संस्कार (व्याकरण के नियमानुसार शुद्ध वाणी को संस्कार संपन्न (संस्कृत) कहते हैं) और क्रम से सम्पन्न (शब्द उचारण की शास्त्रीय परिपाटी का नाम क्रम है) अद्भुत, अविलम्बित (बिना रुके धारा प्रवाह रूप से बोलना अविलम्बित कहलाता है) तथा हृदय को आनन्द प्रदान करने वाली कल्याणमयी वाणी का उच्चारण करते हैं।
– हृदय, कण्ठ और मूर्धा – इन तीनों स्थानों द्वारा स्पष्ट रूप से अभिव्यक्त होने वाली इनकी इस विचित्र वाणी को सुनकर किसका चित्त प्रसन्न न होगा। वध करने के लिये तलवार उठाये हुए शत्रु का हृदय भी इस अद्भुत वाणी से बदल सकता है।

बाल्मीकि रामायण में अनेकों अवसरों पर ऐसे अनुभव होते हैं जहाँ उस समय के लोक-व्यवहार, मनोभाव, राजनीति आदि के बहुत से महत्वपूर्ण सूत्र मिलते हैं। राम, हनुमान की सिर्फ बातचीत सुन उनकी शिक्षा, बुद्धि और सम्पूर्ण व्यक्तित्व का बहुत सुन्दर विश्लेषण करते हैं। राम, इस बात पर जोर नहीं दे रहे हैं कि उन्हें क्या सूचना मिल रही है बल्कि वे सूचना देने वाले की मनःस्थिति और उसके उत्पन्न हुए शारीरिक लक्षणों का विश्लेषण कर रहे हैं। बाल्मीकि रामायण में दो पात्रों के बीच के हुए व्यवहार को, उनकी बातचीत और विभिन्न स्थितियों के वर्णन को यदि हम इस विशेष दृष्टि से विश्लेषित करने का प्रयास करते हैं तो यह देखते हैं कि यहाँ शारीरिक लक्षणों को महत्व दिया गया है। उसीके आधार पर गुणों का निर्धारण किया जा रहा है। संचार के यह कौशल भारतीय समाज की संचार सम्बन्धी वैचारिक सम्पन्नता को दर्शाता है और हमें भारतीय चित्त, मानस व काल को एक नये सीरे से परिभाषित करने का एक अवसर प्रदान करता है।

Some More Perspectives on Violence

Last week, when I was looking for the quote on violence in ‘I Am That, Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’, I came across some more relevant excerpts. Take a look…

Excerpt 1:

Q: Admitted that the world in which I live is subjective and partial. What about you? In what kind of world do you live?

M: My world is just like yours. I see, I hear, I feel, I think, I speak and act in a world I perceive, just like you. But with you it is all, with me it is almost nothing. Knowing the world to be a part of myself, I pay it no more attention than you pay to the food you have eaten. While being prepared and eaten, the food is separate from you and your mind is on it; once swallowed, you become totally unconscious of it. I have eaten up the world and I need not think of it any more.

Q: Don’t you become completely irresponsible?

M: How could I? How can I hurt something which is one with me? On the contrary, without thinking of the world, whatever I do will be of benefit to it. Just as the body sets itself right unconsciously, so am I ceaselessly active in setting the world right.

Q: Nevertheless, you are aware of the immense suffering of the world?

M: Of course I am, much more than you are.

Q: Then what do you do?

M: I look at it through the eyes of God and find that all is well.

Q: How can you say that all is well? Look at the wars, the exploitation, the cruel strife between the citizen and the state.

M: All these sufferings are man-made and it is within man’s power to put an end to them. God helps by facing man with the results of his actions and demanding that the balance should be restored. Karma is the law that works for righteousness; it is the healing hand of God.

Excerpt 2:

Q: Easier said than done. Love of truth, of man, goodwill—what luxury! We need plenty of it to set the world right, but who will provide?

M: You can spend an eternity looking elsewhere for truth and love, intelligence and goodwill, imploring God and man—all in vain. You must begin in yourself, with yourself—this is the inexorable law. You cannot change the image without changing the face. First realize that your world is only a reflection of yourself and stop finding fault with the reflection. Attend to yourself, set yourself right—mentally and emotionally. The physical will follow automatically. You talk so much of reforms: economic, social, political. Leave alone the reforms and mind the reformer. What kind of world can a man create who is stupid, greedy, heartless?

Q: If we have to wait for a change of heart, we shall have to wait indefinitely. Yours is a counsel of perfection, which is also a counsel of despair. When all are perfect, the world will be perfect. What useless truism!

M: I did not say it. I only said: You cannot change the world before changing yourself. I did not say—before changing everybody. It is neither necessary, nor possible to change others. But if you can change yourself you will find that no other change is needed. To change the picture you merely change the film, you do not attack the cinema screen!

A Perspective On Violence

Recently there was a lot of talk in my college hostel WhatsApp group about the continuing violence across different parts of India. It brought to my mind something I had read in ‘I Am That, Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’ and I thought I would hunt it down and quote it here as this week’s blog post.

The following long excerpt is from pages 223 and 224 of the book:

Q: There is suffering and bloodshed in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) at the present moment. How do you look at it? How does it appear to you, how do you react to it?

M: In pure consciousness nothing ever happens.

Q: Please come down from these metaphysical heights! Of what use is it to a suffering man to be told that nobody is aware of his suffering but himself? To relegate everything to illusion is insult added to injury. The Bengali of East Pakistan is a fact and his suffering is a fact. Please, do not analyse them out of existence! You are reading newspapers, you hear people talking about it. You cannot plead ignorance. Now, what is your attitude to what is happening?

M: No attitude. Nothing is happening.

Q: Any day there may be a riot right in front of you, perhaps people killing each other. Surely you cannot say: nothing is happening and remain aloof?

M: I never talked of remaining aloof. You could as well see me jumping into the fray to save somebody and getting killed. Yet to me nothing would have happened.

Imagine a big building collapsing. Some rooms are in ruins, some are intact. But can you speak of the space as ruined or intact? It is only the structure that suffered and the people who happened to live in it. Nothing happened to space itself. Similarly, nothing happens to life when forms break down and names are wiped out. The goldsmith melts down old ornaments to make new. Sometimes a good piece goes with the bad. He takes it in his stride, for he knows that no gold is lost.

Q: It is not death that I rebel against. It is the manner of dying.

M: Death is natural, the manner of dying is man-made. Separateness causes fear and aggression, which again cause violence. Do away with man-made separations and all this horror of people killing each other will surely end. But in reality there is no killing and no dying. The real does not die, the unreal never lived. Set your mind right and all will be right. When you know that the world is one, that humanity is one, you will act accordingly. But first of all you must attend to the way you feel, think and live. Unless there is order in yourself, there can be no order in the world. In reality nothing happens. Onto the screen of the mind destiny forever projects its pictures, memories of former projections and thus illusion constantly renews itself. The pictures come and go—light intercepted by ignorance. See the light and disregard the picture.

Q: What a callous way of looking at things! People are killing and getting killed and here you talk of pictures.

M: By all means go and get killed yourself—if that is what you think you should do. Or even go and kill, if you take it to be your duty. But that is not the way to end the evil. Evil is the stench of a mind that is diseased. Heal your mind and it will cease to project distorted, ugly pictures.

The Empress of India

“Victoria was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death in 1901. Her reign of 63 years and 216 days is known as the Victorian era and was longer than any of her predecessors. In 1876, the British Parliament voted to grant her the additional title of Empress of India.”
– From the Wikipedia article on Queen Victoria

We had gone walking to Cubbon park in Bangalore and my wife noticed the statue of the fat queen with an inscription saying that she was the empress of India. The statue standing half-hidden and unnoticed just outside Cubbon park in the middle of a crowd of vehicles and people was looking neglected and not very empress-like. And I thought about how the mighty British empire (or what the current history textbooks call the mighty empire) had fallen so low. I also got thinking about the hubris of the fat queen from a small part of Europe who called herself the empress of a landmass some twenty times the size of her Kingdom.

Well, maybe she was reincarnated here and got sorted out. 🙂

My wife and I have also been doing a lot of train journeys across the length and breadth of India. Bangalore to Delhi, Delhi to Visakhapatnam, Visakhapatnam to Calicut, Calicut to Bangalore, Bangalore to Mumbai etc. And all our recent trips have been in sleeper class where the heat and rain and cold gets into your compartment. The great privilege you get, of course, is that you can look out of the window and experience the changing colour and texture and character of the landscape.

What I have been noticing for some time now is the hugeness of India. When the train passes through unending forests or through softly undulating green countryside or kilometers of fields or over rivers like the Godavari, I know that no human being has ever been an emperor or empress of India. Perhaps no human being has been an empress of England either but that is not my concern. To me it looks like kings and emperors with their power and pomp and marble statues have been stories we have told ourselves to forget that the land holds us and we do not hold the land.

I am also beginning to extend this logic to politicians and bureaucrats. They may continue on whatever delusional paths of imagined power they are on, but I am more certain now that I want no part of their story. I know where I have to bow my head and I know what I have to pray to!