Value Based Education

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, Address to Rotary Club, Mumbai

Today humanity is going through a crisis of identity. There are too many things happening in our environment and society which distract us and do not allow our creative nature to manifest. Before I deal with the subject of value based education, let me briefly touch on the history of humanity.

In primitive times people lived in a hostile environment. They developed a survival instinct which was based on the principles of confronting and fighting situations, or running away and avoiding situations which were harmful to their survival. However, in the course of time human beings became aware of the need to live harmoniously together and to create a human society. When they started to analyze their natures and their environment, they developed a mode of thinking which is now known as linear, sequential thinking. This mode of thinking deals more with the interaction of an individual and the outer world of the senses. Even the trend of education today is to train the mind in knowledge, ideas and skills which can be utilized in the future to further our aspirations and ambitions in life.

Educating the mind in a balanced way

There is no doubt that education has played a very important and vital role in the development and evolution of humanity. At the same time we are experiencing a crisis of identity because we have not been able to train and discipline our minds. The world around us offers many good things; it also attracts and nurtures our beliefs, desires and ambitions. However, the growth of our personality at present is directed outwards and in this process we tend to lose touch with our inner nature.

Now, many people believe that the inner nature deals with spiritual life. Maybe it does, but there is another aspect. The human mind has the capacity to develop and utilize the wisdom, knowledge and understanding which we gain in life through our interactions in society. At the same time there is also the possibility of finding the source of peace and discovering the nature of the human spirit.

These are the concepts which have guided different philosophies. Yoga also says that one must learn to educate the human mind. But what is education of the mind? What is learnt today in school through academic studies are intellectual concepts. Intellect is only one aspect of the human mind. There are other aspects of the mind which do not deal with or reflect the law of the written word, but are more intuitive in nature. In yoga we call these samskaras. Samskaras are impressions, psychological conditions. We receive samskaras from our environment, our culture, our society, our family, our lifestyle. However, the samskaras that we imbibe today lack self-discipline and self-awareness, and make us more stressed and involved in the world of the senses.

Pressures on children

You may think that as a sannyasin I deny human participation in the world of the senses, but I do not because denial is not the reason for life. The reason for existence is total participation with awareness of the outer experience and the inner experience. When we look at our children we wish to give them the best that we can offer and that society can offer. But at the same time we see that the growth of their personalities is hampered by the stresses of society. A few months ago I was visiting a family in Delhi and I heard a six-year-old boy telling his mother, “I can't study, I feel stressed, I feel tension.” After overhearing this sentence, I realized that I did not know the meaning of tension and stress until the age of twenty. I never even experienced a headache until the age of twenty-two.

Need to imbibe the right samskaras

This led me to think about the following questions: What are the pressures we are subjecting children to? With such pressures how do we expect them to grow, to cope with the distractions of life, to become creative and successful in their lives? What is the form of our education? What do we lack?

I decided that samskaras, impressions, are needed in our lives. But somewhere the word 'samskara' takes on a different meaning in the Indian context, and the word 'impressions' takes on a different meaning in the western context. In the Indian context we believe that samskaras are cultural inputs, teachings and guidelines to lead a morally and ethically healthy life. However, according to yogic concepts samskaras are programmings of our personality. Just as in order to run a computer we need software made up of programming, in the same way, for our personality to become creative and focused and to develop positive qualities in life we need some basic samskaras. But how can parents provide the future generation with the basic samskaras which as parents they lack in their own lives? This is where the problem arises in society and this is where yoga comes in.

According to yoga, samskaras are an education which deals with the balanced and harmonious growth of the human mind, thoughts, expressions, behaviour and attitudes, leading to a realization that, “My life is not only material, but has another dimension which is spiritual.” In order to define spirituality let me tell a story.

Caring for the roots of life

Once upon a time a family lived on a beautiful farm where many different kinds of trees and shrubs, flowers and fruits grew. One day the parents had to go to town so they entrusted the twelve-year-old son with the job of caring for the plants and trees. The boy told his parents, “Don't worry. I shall look after what you have nurtured, maintained, protected and preserved.” When the parents returned ten days later, they found that nothing had been looked after. They called the child and said, “You promised us that you would look after the plants. Why didn't you keep your promise?” The boy replied, “I don't understand, because I kept my promise.” The parents asked, “But how did you look after the plants, because there is no evidence that they have been cared for in our absence. They are all dry and look dead, they lack lustre and fragrance.” The child said, “Well, that is beyond my comprehension, because every morning I went out with a cloth and dusted the tree trunks, the leaves, the flowers and polished the fruit. I would smell the flowers and if they had no fragrance I would spray them with a fragrant spray.” The parents looked at each other and asked the child, “Did you ever water the plants?” The boy replied, “No, that I did not do.” The parents then told him, “Look, the roots are important. If you can take care of the roots the plant will be strong, the flowers will be beautiful, the fruits will be sweet. Therefore, it is important to take care of the roots.”

This story also applies to our lives. We do not take care of our roots because they are underground and can't be seen. In the same way our spirit, our inner nature, can't be felt or known through the gross mind, through the senses. It is our duty to look after our roots, otherwise this tree of life is going to get weak and sick. This is what has happened to us today. We have become mentally and emotionally weak despite all our technological advancements, and we are unable to confront our mental conflicts, our emotional imbalances, our rationality and our nature. Why? Because we have not been trained to look after the roots which are the basis of our lives.

Disciplining the inner personality

So, the body and the mind have their roles to play in life, but it is the samskaras and inner discipline which have a more dynamic role to play. Yoga begins with discipline too. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras says, “Yoga is nothing but anushashan, yoga is nothing but discipline”. This discipline is physical and mental, as well as spiritual. Now, we can understand physical discipline and mental discipline, but what is spiritual discipline? Discipline is not just an imposed routine. Many of us tend to believe that an imposed routine is the right form of discipline, but it is not so. Discipline means knowledge of the self. The word for discipline in Hindi is anushashananu + shashan. Shashan means 'to rule, to govern' and anu means 'the subtle aspect, the subtle nature'. When we are able to govern, to harmonize our subtle personality then that is the true concept of discipline.

With the distractions of the world how can we discipline our inner personality? Yoga has come up with a solution: first learn how to relax. We have lost the skill of relaxing. We think that sleep is relaxation, but it is not so. Relaxation is becoming aware of the influences of the environment and not allowing our personality to be stressed by these external influences. This state of relaxation can be learned and practised.

There is a technique known as yoga nidra. It is not only a technique of relaxation but also a technique of concentration, as well as a technique where we plant certain suggestions in our subconscious, which later on flower and guide our performances in life. If you have the chance to practise yoga nidra somewhere, sometime, don't miss the opportunity to have first hand experience of what relaxation is, what concentration is and how to come in contact with your subtle, subconscious nature. When we conduct programs in schools and colleges, then yoga nidra becomes the primary practice to aid students in harmonizing and balancing their minds and in opening up the emotional and mental imbalances which do not allow them to focus, to study, and which in turn, in the form of stress, make them volatile and violent.

Incorporating yoga in the education system

In November 1994 there was a conference in Paris in which 300 educationalists from 17 countries participated. The theme of this conference was 'Inventing Tomorrow's Education Today'. The main subject dealt with was yoga. I had the honour to represent yoga. At the end of the deliberations we made certain resolutions and declarations which were submitted to the respective governments of the 17 countries. All the declarations suggested that the yogic form of education be incorporated into our formal education system. An attempt is also being made in India to introduce yoga at the upper primary level and from there onward to college level. Without talking about high metaphysical philosophies, we hope that by incorporating certain basic practices into the school syllabus, we are able to increase the students awareness, memory, concentration and ability to relax. In turn, this will assist them in the development of their own personality and nature. This is just a small step but it is a beginning and it is also the need of today.

Parents as role models

In Mumbai we have been teaching yoga to children in various schools, not as exposure to some form of Indian spiritual heritage or tradition, but as training, as a process which can aid in their development and growth. It is my wish that you also give your children the chance to imbibe the right samskaras so that they learn how to be free from stress in their lives and how to increase their mental abilities and faculties. In this way they can become better and responsible citizens of human society.

Therefore, my request to all of you is: Give the future generations a chance and give yoga a chance. Then you will see a beautiful dawn in the coming century. Expose yourselves to the principles, concepts, theories and practices of yoga so that your personality becomes a model which your children can look at and say, “Yes, my parents had the ability to cope and manage their stress and tension in this fast-changing world. They were balanced, happy people; they were not distressed; they had peace in their lives.”