HINDU EDUCATION SYSTEM THROUGH THE AGES
(Discourse delivered in 2010 by N. R. Srinivasan)
Bhartrihari, a well known Sanskrit poet and author of Neetisatakam compares a man without any education to an animal and a brute. Albert Einstein seems to be in agreement with him, when he likens a man with specialized knowledge but lacking in values to a well trained dog. Swami Vivekananda stated that education is the panacea for our ills. What did these great men had in their minds?
What is the secret behind so much of deep knowledge coming from the most ancient Vedas, Upanishads and Neeti-saastras which remains true for all ages? All creation is doing a sort of sacrifice consciously or unconsciously in acts of daily life and contributes towards the progress of the world, i.e., where there is sustenance of life, there is also self-sacrifice., and both form two poles of the ladder for the well being of mankind. In other words, in the physical world the minerals, while maintaining their individuality, they split themselves in slow degrees, and contribute to the life of vegetable kingdom; the lower animals live for the higher animals. And creation means gradual transformation from the lower to higher. Man in his turn maintains his individuality and also sacrifices himself to others consciously or unconsciously as will be seen in the relationship of husband and wife, master and servant, etc. His duties to himself and to others are all based on this self assertion and self sacrifice, and natural co-operation. This idea is comprised in the six duties assigned to man. They are: Sacrifice, causing others to sacrifice, gift, earning, study and teaching. Rishis thus held that imparting of knowledge to others free is the highest duty of man, or the highest Yajna (sacrifice). It is this sacrificing principle of the ancient sages that gave the world their magnificent edifice of Wisdom, knowledge, and Truth.
The ancient and medieval system of education in India, while formulating the policies guiding them, divided them into two broad based streams or systems--the Paravidya, the higher knowledge, and Aparavidya, the lower knowledge. Mundakoepanishad contains Aangirasa's instruction to his disciple, Shaunaka; During the discourses Angeeirasa explains what constitutes Paravidya and Aparavidya: "………….dwe vidyae vaeditavyae iti ha sma yad brahmavido vadanti Paraa chaiva Aparaa cha ||1-1-4 || Tatra Aparaa Rigvedo Yajurvedah Saamavedoe-Atharvavedah Sikshaa Kalpoe Vyaakaranam Niruktam Chandoe Jyotishamiti| Atha Paraa, yayaa tadaksharamadhigamyate ||1-1-5|| [Two kinds of knowledge are to be known, the higher and foundational. It is verily thus that those who know the Vedas say. Of these, the foundation (Aparavidya) alone consists of the Rigveda, Yajurveda, Saamaveda, Atharvaveda, Shiksha (intonation), Kalpa (ritual), Grammar, Nirukta (etymology), Chandas (metre) and Jyotisha (astronomy and astrology). On the other hand the higher knowledge (Paravidya) is that by means of which the Immutable (Ever-existing) is realized]. It should be remembered that the Veda was the encyclopedia of all the knowledge of those days, and not a hymn-book only. Apara is mediate and indirect. Para is immediate and direct.
Bhartrihari, Einstein and Vivekananda had Paravidya in their mind while expressing their thoughts on education. The educational policies formulated in India during the early and medieval periods which got completely replaced later by the British Rule, can be summarized as follows:
- Education should teach children self-control. The art of holding one's passions and prejudices.
- It should instill true and worthy motives, a profound spiritual seeking and inspire the formation of a great character.
- It should help us to understand the laws of Dharma in nature and shape our lives to be in consonance with those laws.
- It should pay much greater attention to the development of the powers of the mind than mere learning of facts.
These guidelines echo Swami Vivekananda's ideas on education and astonishingly also of the views expressed by many Western savants, as given in The New Dictionary of Thoughts USA by Tyron Edwards, Standard Book Company 1961. Paravidya helps one to be fully prepared for the life hereafter by the acquired spiritual wisdom. Aparavidya is needed to live a comfortable life in this life however short lived it may be, for which the latter educationists went all out exclusively to the utter neglect of the former. A balanced combination of both is needed to lead a comfortable life for cultural progress and spiritual evolution. Einstein said: "Religion without science is lame and science without religion is blind".
The lower knowledge is the realm of science which is based on the measurement and observation of the external. It allows us to better understand and control forces of nature. The higher knowledge is based upon meditation and direct perception of the workings of the mind. This alone brings liberation and the attainment of immortality whereby one goes beyond the realm of time and space. Though science has its place, it has limitations and where the material science ends, the spiritual science begins. The wise statesman of India Rajaji said: "The greatest of our inventions cannot reach the border lines of metaphysics". To be truly scientific minded, we must recognize both levels of truth and give each its respective place. Our wise sages called Rishis created an integral science for all humanity including both in their proper place.
It is very interesting to note that even the ancient Chandogya Upanishad (4000 B.C. to 2500 B.C.) speaks of as many as fifteen branches of knowledge besides the four Vedas. These are: Vyaakarana (Grammar); Pitrya (Science of obsequies rites); Ganita (mathematics); Daiva (Knowledge of the portents); Tarka (logic); Ekaayana (ethics); Bhootavidya (science of spirits; sorcery); Dhanurveda (martial arts and sciences); Jautisha (astronomy); and Devajnaanavidya (the art of preparing perfumes, sandal sticks, music, dancing and sculpture).
Sanatkumara says to Narada who tells him that he has knowledge of all Sciences and Arts in 7-1-4 of Chndogyopanishad: "Naama vaa Rigvedo Yajurvedah Samveda-Atharvanas-chaturthah Itihaasa-puraanah Panchamo Vedaanaam Vedah Pithryo Raasir-Daivo Nidhir-Vaakyovaakyam-Ekaayanam Devavidya Brahmavidya Bhootavidyaa Kshatrvidya Nakshatravidyaa Sarpa-Deva-Janavidyaa | Namaivaitat | Naamopaasveti|| [Rigveda is verily words meaning Bookish knowledge. Likewise Yajurveda, Samaveda, Atharvana, the fourth Veda, Itihasa and Purana, the fifth Veda, grammar, the lore that deals with natural calamities, economics, mineralogy, physics, the science of logic, the branch of Veda known as Ekayaana, science of meditation upon deities, science of training and others that are accessories to the study of Veda, the lore that deals with spirits, sorcery, the science of archery, astronomy, the lore that deals with serpents (toxicology), the science of Fine Arts and the science of Ayurveda are all mere words or names or book knowledge. These constitute the finite knowledge. So meditate upon the name as Brahman, which is Infinite knowledge].
Contributions of ancient and medieval India to the field of science and technology are no less significant than their contributions to the field of spiritual wisdom. The sages of India never considered religion and science as two conflicting areas of knowledge. To them both were equally important one being the quest for the Truth within (Paravidya)--Infinite knowledge and the other without (Aparavidya)—Finite knowledge. The word Rishi generally translated as sage just signifies a man of knowledge, since it is a Sanskrit word derived from root Ris to know. If Vasishta, Valmiki, Yaajnavalkya and Vyaasa were Rishis of wisdom, Dhanvantari, Varahamihira and Bhaskara were Rishis in the field of medicine, astronomy and mathematics. We have already discussed at length the topic on the pioneering work done by Rishis of India in the field of science and technology during the ancient and medieval periods. Please refer to my earlier lecture "Early and Medieval Hindus Contributions to Science and Technology". The subjects covered were: Architecture and town planning, astronomy, botany, chemistry, mathematics, medicine and surgery, military science, mining and metallurgy, veterinary sciences zoology, political science, fine arts including several minor branches of arts mentioned in the sixty-four arts classification.
The Indus Valley Civilization dates back to five thousand years. They were the builders of the ancient cities. These people knew the art of writing before others. There letters are all in pictures which were used in early days to do the work of letters. We do not know yet to read the writings of these people. They seem to have come to exist in India six or seven thousands years ago, a period after the extinction of Neolithic age. They spoke a language from which modern South Indian languages, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam developed. Unfortunately Indian History is sketchy or silent about this early civilization that existed in the basin of the most celebrated Vedic River Saraswathi, which was named as Indus Valley Civilization., after its extinction in 1900 B.C. The two scripts Brahmi and Karoshi are known to have existed even before 600 B.C. out of which emerged Devanagari and South Indian Scripts which have a large content of Sanskrit language. Recent excavations of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro reveal the existence of very sophisticated society, well developed cities with underground drainage system, popularity of metals and jewels made out of them, popularity of beauty aids etc. Such a sophisticated society should have also had a sound system of education. Tamil literature also mentions of the successful sea trading business and maritime exploration. Unfortunately Western Historians were more concerned with their race theory and division of the country to rule with ease the multilingual society than throwing light on the early civilization and the system of education. Even after the elaborate study of Harappa-Mohenjo-Daro excavations Indian History as taught in schools remains the same with its Aryan-Dravidian Controversy as it readily serves the cause of present day politicians also. Around 2000 B.C., scholars believe, groups of Indo-European-speaking people calling themselves Arya, or noble began to enter the Indian subcontinent through Hindu Kush. There, in the Indus river valley, they found a civilization already more than a thousand year old, thriving and advanced in technology and trade. From the fusion of these two cultures, the Aryan and the Indus Valley, Indian civilization was born. Indus Valley civilization was itself a later development after the gradual extinction of Saraswati Valley civilization which river is celebrated in the Vedas.
The ease and facility with which the Sanskrit language has been used even in dealing with technical subjects, bearing on liturgy, astronomy, health and medical sciences, ethics or linguistics is astounding which gives an impression that it is the forerunner of all languages. The Prakrit language, a popular derivative of Sanskrit also had been very well developed even by 500 B.C., which has been used lately by Vedanta Desika, a well known poet and Tamil saint. Apart from Vedas and Upanishads, the great Epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata stand out as monumental works of exquisite beautiful literature of very high standard whose dates are constantly researched and revised.
Modern History reveals the evolution of earliest literary works in various Indian languages as follows: Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, 100 A.D.; Oriya 800 A.D.; Bengali 1100 A.D.; Hindi, Punjabi, Kashmiri and Marathi 1200 A.D.; Gujarati 1500 A.D.; and Urdu 1700 A.D.
Though memorization was preferred and encouraged during the Vedic period, the art of writing was known. The writing media before the invention of paper were Taalapatra (palm leaf), Bhoorjapatra (Birch-bark), wooden plates, cloth (of cotton or silk), leather, parchment, stone and bricks. As per the Puranic version Mahabharatha was written by etching on Taalapatra.
Thus the Indian languages and literature had attained considerable growth and refinement even by the middle ages.
The three constituents of an educational system are; the teacher; the student and the content as also the method of education.
The spiritual teacher is called Guru or Aaachaarya. The teaching is in the form words. The words come alive only when properly handled by a teacher. The one who has the knowledge and methodology for unfolding it is known as Guru. "Gu represents darkness and "ru" represents its removal. Darkness is likened to ignorance. The guru is one who removes darkness of ignorance about oneself which prevents one from knowing the Self. A Guru should be a learned man in all Vedic scriptures (Srotreeya) and well established in Brahman or Supreme Spirit (Brahmanishtha). He should be of impeccable character, should have the earnestness to teach and should have genuine love towards the student. As applied to other fields he should be an expert both in theory and in practice. The teachers were also well versed in Ayurveda and could treat the students for ailments. Rishis of Rik-samhita knew medical sciences and the dhatus (elements) of the body (RV1.34.4). They also knew surgery. Legs were amputated and replaced by iron substitutes (RV 1, 16, 15). Injured eyes were plucked out. Arrow shafts were extracted from the limbs of the wounded (RV 1-116-15). This knowledge of anatomy and other scientific practices sprang from the religious needs, and served religious purposes. Some of them were experts in Dhanurveda. Early Upanishads indicate scholarly Kshatriya kings actively participated in discussions and even forced Brahmin scholars to acknowledge their superiority in spiritual matters and, more remarkably yet, turned to them (gurus) for instructions with reverence.
The teaching tradition is eternal called "Pravaaha nityatva", perennial eternity, like the flow of the Ganga (Ganges). Gurus come and go and the knowledge taught by a living master remains ever fresh. The teaching tradition has been kept alive through a teacher-student lineage known as the "guru-sishya parampara". This lineage traces back to Lord himself. The Lord in his first role as the teacher is given the name Dakshinaamoorti. The following verse describes the lineage beginning with Lord Dakshinaamoorti, linking the illustrious teachers who followed, up to one's own teacher.
"Naaraayanam padmabhuvam vasishtham saktim cha tatputra paraasaram cha vyaasam sukam gaudapaadam mahaantam govinda-yogeendramathaasya sishyam | Srisankaraachaaryamathaasya padmapaadam cha hastaamalakam cha sishyam tam totakam vartika-kaara-manyaan asmadguroon santata-maanatosmi ||"
I remain ever saluting Lord Narayana; Lord Brahma; Sage Vasishtha; Sage Sakti; Sage Vyasa; Sage Suka; the great Gaudapaadaacyhaarya, the best of the yogis; his disciple Sankaraachaarya; disciples Padmapaada; Hastaamalaka; Totakaachaarya and Suresvara, the writer of vaarttikas; other aachaaryas; and my own teacher"
The student should be eager to learn, obedient, constrain self control, should not be lazy in the pursuit of knowledge and should be willing to do personal service to the teacher. He would be examined for these qualities before admission. Manu says: "As a person who digs a well with a spade gets water, so obedient pupil obtains the knowledge from the teacher". Garuda Purana says that reading to a person devoid of wisdom is like showing mirror to the blind. No teacher should impart knowledge unless the teacher finds the pupil fit to receive it. Upanishads' outlook of teaching of secret mantras to the deserving only has been misinterpreted as spreading knowledge to only Brahmanas and Kshatriyas, a sort of privilege shown to higher society. This feeling continues even today amongst lower castes and even some Brahmins think that way, that learning holy-scriptures is the privilege of Brahmin community only. In fact in the late medieval period great many Azhwars and Naayanmar, who were profound scholars in Vedas, were drawn from lower castes and even from scheduled castes. The great philosopher Ramanuja, an orthodox Brahmin, revered Nammazhwar as his Guru, who was not a Brahmin. Many Hindu religious and spiritual leaders today are not Brahmins by birth, like Sai Baba, Meera, Kabir and others.
In order to be educated, every Aryan (using the term generally used by Indian historians) boy between the ages of seven and eleven had to go and live in his guru's home, where he remained until his education was completed. A Guru was a Saastrajna, a Vedic scholar and was considered superior to Adhyaapaka, a purohit. Normally it would need around twelve years to complete his education. During that period he was required to practice complete celibacy and imbibe noble qualities, as well as get formal education. Great emphasis was put on developing character.
The teacher was the role model for the student, who was endowed with many noble, moral and spiritual virtues. The teacher was his spiritual guide and role model to lead a good and clean life. In addition to the Vedas, the student studied grammar, poetry, ethics, morals, mathematics and astronomy, and thus received a sound secular education besides spiritual education. The main thrust however was on spiritual evolution through God vision.
Upanishads are not books of philosophy but they are "Darshanas" meaning something seen and experienced. The student, to whom these spiritual teachings were imparted, was expected not only listen to the words but to realize them; that is to make the Truths revealed in them an integral part of character, conduct and consciousness. The Vedic students who studied in the forest academies were engaged in a colossal gamble; that they could learn to apprehend directly a Reality (Truth) beyond ordinary knowing of whose very existence they had no assurance except the example of their teacher and the promise of the Vedas. It is therefore no wonder that such students were vigorously tested before being accepted—tested not merely for intelligence but for the solitude of purpose and strength of will. Kathoepanishad says in 2-7 only a few even hear the Truths; of those who hear, only a few understand and, of those, only a handfull attain the goal. (Sravanaayaapi bahubhiryoe na labhyah srunavantoepi bahavoe yam na vidyuh | Aascharyoe vaktaa kusaloesya labdhhaa aascharyoe jnaataa kusalaanu-sistaah ||)—The Supreme Self is such who is not gained for the mere hearing, whom many cannot know even while hearing, of those rare is an able expounder and rare is an able attainer and rare is he who knows Him under instruction of an adept. All those that hear cannot easily gain the knowledge of Paramatman. A clever exponent and adept attainer of him are rare.
Svetasvataroepanishad says: "Vedaante paramam guhyam puraa Kalpe prachoditam | naaprasaantaaya daatavyam naaputraayaa-sishyaaya vaa punah|| (6-22) (This teaching about Brahman which is the supreme secret of the Upanishads and which was taught in the previous Kalpa to Brahmadeva should not be given to one whose mind has not been calm, to one who is not a son nor a disciple). The command here is that it should be taught to one whose mind is divested of raaga (passion) and dvaesha (hatred). The teaching may be imparted to one's sons and disciples. It should not be taught to all and sundry. The direct teaching from a learned Father or a Guru is essential. Without this, book-knowledge would be of no great avail. But more important than all is the previous purging of character and restraint of mind and senses, which are necessary for the knowledge and realization of the highest Truth. Otherwise, knowledge leads to harm, not good. "I am God" would lead to arrogance and atheism without purity of character, restraint and humility and the personal guidance of father or revered teacher. Hence the above prohibition should not be understood, in any sense other than the caution above indicated.
The teacher took care of his students as his own children. The students also considered their teacher's home as their own adopted home and helped the family in all household activities. The teacher did not accept any fee or salary. It was against Aryan tradition to accept any fee or salary, be it spiritual or secular. The teacher usually lived a very simple life and the family wants were few. The daily needs to run a normal life, was taken care of by the society or the king. Additional family needs were met by occasional gifts from the king. It was customary for the students to go to the neighbor's houses everyday and beg for food. Students were served with fresh food first affectionately by the friendly neighbors. They wore deer skins or processed bark, a grass girdle and matted locks, being the dress code for Brahmacharya. The cows owned by the Guru provided the students with plenty of milk and dairy products, which in turn they graced and looked after.
On completion of education the student was called "Snaataka" which means "one who has bathed". The word is symbolic and implies the student has successfully bathed in the water of knowledge after taking a deep dip. It is equivalent to a graduation in modern terms of education. After graduation student took leave of the teacher giving him gifts as a token of his gratitude. This could be in cash or kind or services desired by the Guru. There was a final farewell and it was customary for the Guru to give a farewell; address. Taittiriya Upanishad includes a farewell address in its chapter of Sikshaavalli. This is similar to the modern Convocation address. The convocation address broadly embraced on subjects:
- Advices ruling one's own mode of living with reference to the society and oneself;
- Regulating one's relationship with the last generation and present elders;
- Relationship with oneself and one's teachers;
- One's attitude towards the learned and the wise in society;
- Charity and laws of giving;
- Remedy for doubts regarding one's duty and conduct in life; and
- Doubts regarding one's relationship with others falsely accused in the world.
Summing up these seven guidelines we may call this as "Vedanta in Practice" which every true Hindu is expected follow and practice. The convocation address given in the Upanishad is as follows:
"Vedam anoochyaa-chaaryo-nte-vaasinam-anusaasti| Satyam vada| Dharmam chara | Svaadhyaa-yaanmaa pramadah| Aachaaryaaya priyam dhanam-aahritya prajaatantum maa vyavac- chetseeh| Satyaanna pramaditavyam | Dharmaan na pramaditavyam| Kusalaan na pramadi-tavyam| Bhootyai na pramaditavyam| Svaadhyaaya pravachanaabhyaam na pramaditavyam ||
Deva pitri kaaryaabhyaam na Pramaditavyam| Maatri devo bhava| Pitri devo bhava| Aachaarya devo bhava| atithi devo bhava ||
Yaanyana vadyani karmaani| Taani sevitavyaani| Noe itaraani| Yaanyasmaakagam sucharitaani| Taani tvayoepaasyaani| Noe itaraani ||
Ye ke chaasmac-chreyaamsoe braahmanaah| Teshaam tvayaasane na prasvasitavyam||
Sraddhayaa deyam| Asraddhayaa deyam|Sriyaa deyam| Hriyaa deyam || Bhiyaa deyam | samvidaa deyam
Atha yadi te karmavichikitsaa vaa vrittivichikistaa vaa syaat| Ye tatra braahmanaahs- sammarsinah| Yuktaa aayuktaah| Alookshaa dharmakaamaah syuh| Yathaa te tatra varteran|Tathaa tatra vartethah ||
Athaabhyaa-khyaateshu| Ye tatra braahmanaah sammarsinah|Yuktaa Aayuktaah| Alookshaa dharma-kaamaah syuh| Yathaa te teshu varteran | Tathaa teshu vartethah ||
Esha aadesah|Esha upadesah| Eshaa vedopanishat|Etadanusaasanam| Evamupaasitavyam| Eva-muchaita-dupaasyam||" (Taitariya Upanishad I-XI-1 Sikshaavalli)
"Let your conduct be marked by right action, including study and teaching of the scriptures; by truthfulness in word, deed and thought; by self-control; by performance of the everyday duties of life with cheerful and unattached mind.
Speak the truth. Do your duty. Do not neglect the study of the scriptures. Do not cut the thread of progeny, swerve from truth. Deviate not from the path of the good. Revere greatness.
Let your mother be god to you; let your father be god to you; let your teacher be god to you; let your guest also be god to you. Do only such actions as are blameless. Always show reverence to the great.
Whatever you give to others, give with love and reverence. Gifts must be given in abundance, with joy, humility, and compassion.
If any time there is doubt with regard to right conduct, follow the practice of great souls, who are guileless, of good judgment, and devoted to truth.
Thus conduct yourself always. This is the injunction, this is the teaching, and this is the command of the scriptures"
This is a famous passage, a kind of convocational address to the spiritual students who have finished their course of study, and passed through the phase of Brahmacharya and are ready to enter the next phase of Grihastaasrama. It was not intended for those who wanted to retire to the forest for further contemplation and meditation to lead a life of Sanyasi. The students of Gurukula, more often than not went back into the World to take up the responsibility of family life. Their ideal was not to retire from the World but to live in it selflessly with senses and passion completely under control. Proper and time regulated sexual act was considered sacred in Upanishads and there are mantras prescribed for nuptials, copulation, begetting good progeny etc. (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter VI). Therefore this invocation is addressed to the Householder to whom the teacher had taught the Jnaanakhanda part of the Vedas. The Valedictory exhortation reveals to us of the system of education that produced the Cultured Scholars amongst the ancient inhabitants of this land.
Taittariya Upanishad stresses that this final address by the Guru is not an advice but a command from his teacher to be strictly followed by his student for the rest of his life. These commandments in fact are to be followed by every Intelligent Seeker who lives his life for a higher cultural purpose besides his worldly ambitions and secular activities. It is a universal address to the entire community of the followers of Sanatana Dharma.
A peace invocation (Shanti Mantra) was chanted by both the teacher and the taught everyday during the study of Upanishads. This is to remind them, before the study each day that they are to exert themselves together in order to experience the Truth of the Upanishads, in order to get more tuned up with each other. This condition of perfect unison between the teacher and the taught is unavoidable in the study of the subject of Vedanta. The invocation is rounded up with a thrice repeated call for peace. This is to avert all possible obstacles. The sources of obstacle can be a) unseen b) seen and unknown c) subjective, within us in our own mind. They can be cosmic disturbances (aadidaivikam), environmental disturbances (aadibhautikam) and inner disturbances (aadhyaatmikam).
As per the traditions of studying the Upanishad, Taittariya Upanishad concludes with the very popular Shanti Mantra; "Sahanaa Vavatu | Sahanau bhunaktu | Sahaveeryam karavaavahai I Tejasvi naavadheetamastu| maa vidvishaamahai| Om Shantih, Shantih, Shantih" May the Mantra (that is studied) protect us together! May it protect both of us! May we both gain strength! May the study of both of us be powerful! Om! May there be peace! May there be peace! May there be peace!
After graduation almost all the students returned home, married and entered the third stage of Hindu life—the stage of a family man or householder.
Study in a Gurukula meant not reading books but a complete, strenuous recording of one's life, training the mind and senses with dedication required of an Olympic athlete. It is the burning desire to know to find the central principles which makes the sense of the world we live in. Upanishads tell us that here is a reality underlying life. Rituals cannot reach this Truth. The things we see and touch in everyday life are all Maaya (shadows). Upanishads depict decentralized authority and unwritten stability. This is what is focused in Gurukula Education. A Gurukula teacher is one who has retired from worldly life to an ashram or "forest academy" to live with students as a family, teaching in question and answer sessions and by example in daily living.
In ancient times, girls also resided in the teacher's homes and received the same type of education as boys. They were however not required to wear deer skins, tree barks and matted locks. The custom of begging was limited to their homes. They also underwent "Upanayanam" thread ceremony like boys. As the society became more rigid this practice was given up and the girls were taught at home by their parents or male relatives at home. Nevertheless around 5th century B.C., there were many learned scholars enjoying equal status as the male gurus. Among the great scholars were Gargi Vaachak and Maitreyi. Pathyasvatee was given the title of "Goddess of Learning" Vaachaspati for her scholarship. In the even earlier period there were women sages Vishvavaara, Ghoshaa and Apaalaa. The girls in the Vedic period also learned singing, dancing, playing of musical instruments, painting, sewing, writing, carpentry, the making of garlands and other fine arts. Brihadaarnyaka Upanishad presents several passages in which women participated in philosophic discussions.
When the number of students became large, the guru's house grew into institution called Gurukula. This was established by the society, with liberal endowments with sufficient property and funds donated by the kings and rich philanthropists. The word 'Guru' also means enormous and 'Kula' means Institution. These institutions had sometimes more than ten thousand students. Samaadhi and the other yoga practices, and Tantric Sraddha and Aagamic Pooja rites were also taught in the Gurukulas by practical teachers but they were often wanting in the wisdom of Vedic Rishis to unfold the mystic language and symbolism of the Vedas. Out of the necessity as well as the need for good training, the senior and better qualified students were made to teach the new entrants and also supervise over their life and discipline. Punishments and transgressions were in vogue, but not very severe. Incorrigible students were expelled to maintain discipline and reputation of the institution.
For Paravidya or spiritual wisdom an earnest desire to learn and willingness to undergo Tapas were required. Varna, Aasrama and age were not considerations for imparting Aparavidya. But only "Dvijas" (twice born) from the three upper castes and only boys after Upanayanam were imparted Paravidya. Sudras did not study Vedas and did not undergo Upanayana Samskara as the time passed on and also girls. It may be of interest to note that during the medieval period some of the Azhvaars (Tamil saints) who were Sudras and even scheduled castes by birth were authorities in Vedas and many orthodox Vaishnava Brahmins studied under them, including the great philosopher Ramanuja.
Scholarly meets and philosophical discussions took place even in the Vedic period in meetings known as "samiti", "Samaaja", "Sadas" or "Parishad". Some of the kings were learned Vedic scholars and participated actively in discussions. They could even lead the group of Brahmins at times in spiritual discussions. Yet they respected the learned Brahmins and turned to them for instructions. State Purohit (Royal Priest) was the most respected person and most sought after during grave situations.
The great centers for learning were Varanasi (Kasi) and Takshasilaa (Taxila). Cities like Pataliputra Vidisa and Kancheepuram were called "Ghatikasthlaas", centers capable of measuring scholarship of the savants. Such centers had provision for getting training up to 18 branches of learning. These included subjects useful to all the castes from which the students could choose. Students were free to acquire a deep knowledge of their religion without any hindrance from the followers of other religions. Sometimes, Hindus underwent training under Buddhist Bhikshus.
Takshasilaa (400 B.C.), Vikramasilaa (A.D. 800) and Nalanda (600 A.D.) were the famous Universities in India in the past which had attained phenomenal growth and fame. These universities had several Mahaapaathasaalas (colleges). Each one of them had several lecture halls. There were huge libraries attached to these universities with invaluable manuscripts. Muslim invaders burnt these libraries and destroyed most of the valuable ancient manuscripts keeping the history guessing and dependent on postulations. Nalanda University had in its campus medical colleges as well as veterinary colleges. The veterinary colleges were very specialized for Horses, Cows and Elephants (Asvaayurveda, Gavaayurveda and Hastyaayurveda). Medical colleges also taught highly skilled surgery in many fields. These colleges had also hospitals within the campus where student could get training and could practice in their specialized fields.
Admission test were very strict and only around 20% of the aspirants could succeed in getting admission!
Nalanda University had 8500 students taught by 1500 teachers with at least 100 lectures delivered per day. Nagaarjuna, Vasubandhu and Dinnaaga were some of the famous professors who were world renowned. Students from foreign countries like China, Japan, Korea, Turkestan, Burma, Gaandhaara (Afghanistan), Sumatra and Persia attended these colleges. Education was mostly residential and free, but students with resources were made to pay. Among residential students Buddhist nuns were also there. According to Huien-Tsang (600-664 A.D.) and I-Tsang (635-71A.D.) not even a single instance of misconduct had been noticed or discovered thanks to the high degree of moral discipline kept by the teachers and administrators, and also because of the high respect commanded by the teachers.
Apart from Buddhist Universities, we learn from Kautilya (300 B.C.) and others that there were vocational and industrial institutions too imparting skills in many branches.
Vedic traditions followed in the field of education followed in olden days in India are no longer followed. Students no longer live in their teachers' homes nor do they dress in deer skin, bark and grass girdles or have matted locks. Begging food from neighbors' homes is no longer practiced. Deserving students are maintained by poor homes called Anaathaalayas which are free hostels. In some states of India philanthropic Brahmin families take care of one day meal for Brahmin boys who can't cook their food living in free hostels and are orthodox.
The education system in India today is exactly the same like the system of any other country in the West. Teachers in schools and colleges work for a salary as their counterparts in Western countries. Teachers impart secular education (Aparavidya) to the students and accepting a salary is no longer a taboo. But still the tradition of not accepting a salary for spiritual education is honored by many spiritual institutions and teachers in India. Any spiritual teacher or holy man who violates this rule brings only disgrace to the time-honored tradition of Hinduism.
Two hundred years of British Rule which ended in 1947 had brought in complete change in the system of education in India. Now Hindu girls attend Western style schools and colleges, some of which are co-educational. Just as the boys do, they study humanities, science, engineering, medicine, arts and crafts. Generally neither boys nor girls study Vedas any more. The tradition has gone out of style. Having moved away from their cultural society, concerned Hindu migrants send their children to voluntary Vedic Heritage classes conducted by the various temples and spiritual organizations established in the foreign soil, at least once a week, besides training them in Hindu Fine Arts. Still boys and girls go to temples and observe rituals of their religion according to their family tradition (Sampradaaya) during religious festivals celebrated throughout the year.
Hindu monks of today more or less follow the same ancient ideal of Sanyaasa or monasticism. Organized monasticism however was first introduced in the world by Gautama Buddha nearly 2500 years ago and later adopted by Hinduism. These monastic institutions have undertaken the responsibility of promoting Paravidya to those sought after.
Sankara, the great philosopher and saint founded a monastic order known as the Dashnamee order. This order is not so well organized and regimented as Buddhist monastic order, which however moved out of India almost to the point of extinction as Buddhism itself. But through centuries Dashnamee order has played an important role in the Hindu Society. Following the old and orthodox Hindu tradition it mainly stresses individual spiritual growth along with the study and teaching of scriptures.
The Ramkrishna Mission, a well known monastic order founded on modern lines by Swami Vivekananda, at the turn of 20th century encourages its members in various philanthropic and humanitarian activities side-by-side with scriptural studies and spiritual practice. This is the largest and most well organized Hindu monastic order in India and abroad today. This monastic order owes its lineage to Sankara. Its monks by tradition belong to the Puri branch of Dashnamee order. Of late monastic orders founded by Chinmaya Mission, Divine Life Society, Ganghadareswara Trust, Satya Sai Foundation etc., follow the model set up by Ramakrishna Mission taking care of both Spiritual training for Paravidya and Aparavidya. However Aparavidya is run on commercial lines, like many public and private educational institutions by many of these missions accepting government grants and donations from charitable organizations and individuals. There are many localized monastic institutions in each State running educational system controlled by them, because of the high demand for private run educational system, especially in the field of engineering and medicine affiliated to State universities.
A Hindu Matha is an institution established by a spiritual preceptor to provide an infra-structure for the study of scriptures. Institutions that propagate a religious Dharma with regard to one's daily life are also called Matha. Unlike the Papacy, however, these Mathas are not part of any religious hierarchy. All of them are voluntary institutions established by different teachers to carry on the message of Vedic Dharma to the people.
From all these accounts we find that education system of ancient and medieval India was not only very highly developed but also served as a role model to others and to some of the Hindu monastic institutions even now, to serve the society selflessly.
This lecture was prepared by N.R. Srinivasan for the Vedanta Class of Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville TN, by suitably extracting and editing texts from the following which is gratefully acknowledged;
- Swami Harshananda, Introduction to Hindu Culture, Ramakrishna Math, Bangalore, India.
- Swami Bhaskarananda, Essentials of Hinduism, Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai, India.
- Sunita and Sundar Ramaswamy, Vedic Heritage, Sri Gangadhareswara Trust, Dayanand Ashram, Rishikesh, India.
- Seshiengar A., India through the Ages, Ramachandra Book Depot, Mysore, India.
- David Frawley, The Aryan-Dravidian Controversy, indoaryans.org.
- Vincent A. Smith, Oxford Indian History, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, India.
- Ramachndra Rao S.K., Rigveda Darsana, Kalpatharu Research Academy, Bangalore 560004.
- Rajagopalachri C., Upanishads, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.
- Eknath Easwaran, The Upanishads, Nilgiri Press, www.easwaran.org
What Hinduism Says About Success
Posted by The Editor | Jun 06, 2014 | IndiaDivine.Org
I grew up in an orthodox South Indian Hindu family where success was defined in terms of high educational qualifications and a prestigious job title, preferably in the United States. As a 3rdgrader, I distinctly remember my mother pointing her finger out of the bus on our way to my aunt’s home. She was pointing to the Indian Institute of Technology (I.I.T), which is equivalent to M.I.T and accepts one percent of its applicants each year. She said, “You must worship this place from your heart. This is where you must study.” Sure enough, it left strong impressions in my mind and I wanted to shine in her eyes.
It was only after I got admitted to the I.I.T ten years later that I felt a strong dissatisfaction in my heart. It felt like after all that I had achieved over the course of my life, I was filling up a bottomless bag, into which each time I dropped a “medal” I could not hear it clink. I motivated myself by constant comparison to the students whose success I covertly envied. Each time I equaled them or surpassed them, I felt on the top of the world, for all but a few hours. And then it was back to the emptiness. I had to concede that my notion of success had a very short shelf life. I was getting tired of this relentless pursuit that had no real longevity, in spite of the accolades that friends and family showered upon me.
Perplexed and internally confused, I turned to Hindu scriptures and its broader understanding of the meaning and goal of life. I found that Hindu scriptures consider success an important part of life. It is called Artha. Artha means that which is an asset or that which is meaningful. Hinduism classifies success according to stages of life – the first half of life and the second half of life.
Many scriptures focus on the first half of life success. They directly recommend pursuit of education, family, wealth and fame as essential to healthy and fulfilled living. But that could be pursued only in a moral way by following dharma or sanctioned codes of living. Such success, according to ancient Hindu culture, is a necessary source of security, continuity, predictability and impulse control that we need to establish a sound ego structure – before the chaos of real life shows up. Ironically, according to Hinduism, you need a very strong and disciplined ego structure before you let go of the ego itself. The creation of that disciplined ego structure is considered to be success in the first half of life.
The success of the first half of life is only understood when the second half of life sets in – usually not by our own doing. According to Hinduism, we “fall” into the second half of life. Usually that fall manifests itself in the form of an existential crisis that we cannot avoid using first of life success formula. In the modern day context, such existential crisis is usually referred to as mid-life crisis. Hinduism says that such crises keep appearing in our lives. We usually respond to them by starting new projects, finding new relationships or pursuing new careers. The crisis disappears, only to reappear in the form of a bigger, deeper and un-explainable anxiety that is brought out by life’s unplanned events.
At this juncture, the Hindu scriptures explain, the individual is invited unwittingly to pursue success in a very different form – to inquire about the true meaning of life itself – its artha. The Vedanta Sutra, the essential conclusion of all the Hindu scriptures, in an anticipatory way begins with the statement, “Athatho brahma jignasa” which means, “Therefore, inquire into your identity”. I was amazed to find a text that began with the word “therefore”. In an almost unassuming fashion, it was expecting me to get here – waiting patiently and congratulating me for the success of the first half of life – that after all the pursuits; I have been able to ask the question that truly mattered. The question is, “What is my essence, my soul, really calling me to achieve?” According to the Vedanta Sutra, it is not possible to ask this question if the first half of life has not been done right.
Whatever success is, however defined by the neurosis of the moment, what the ego and the collective culture define as success and what the soul asks of us to do seldom have any relationship with each other. We can drive ourselves to be successful and realize later that we are further and further from ourselves, the more so as the goal of success has driven our efforts. True success, according to Hinduism, is in relentlessly living the second half of life question. It is not in the achievements of the first half of life, but in the unraveling of a deeper mystery of our authentic identity and relationship with this transient world.