Sri Aurobindo Institute of Indian Culture. (SAIIC) Shillong workshop, 26,Oct -7 Nov, 2006 - 24. The Gurukul System of Education

The Gurukul system how it rose, how it developed, what were the achievements and imitating how Tagore in the present time attempted to resurrect that system and thus he showed that system had some magic in it that even in modern times such an enlightened gurudev like Tagore thought it fit to give to this country once again that Gurukul system. I shall like to add that actually five greatest educationists of our own times, each one of them in his own way, have attempted to resurrect that system. Dayanand Saraswati established once again the importance of the Gurukul system of education. Swami Vivekananda himself is the result of some kind of an ashram system because as a disciple who went to a guru, Ramakrishna. And if you examine the motivation that he had in establishing the Ramakrishna Math, he asked Sister Nivedita to start a school that was something of the same kind, which was present in his mind. Gandhi even in South Africa he started Tolstoy Ashram and his own children, he tried to educate through the Gurukul system. When he came to India at Sabarmati Ashram he started a Gurukul; at Wardha once again he continued the same system, Tagore also in the same way. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother also started a kind of a Gurukul where they received the disciples and also opened a school for children for modern education.

There is something in the Gurukul system which is extremely precious and it is a great loss to India and to the world that this system is almost buried at present but deplorably but deploration is not enough, we have to examine in more depth. These questions about jatti bheda and all that don’t interest me. For any society in its own development there are many social problems and we do not even know the history of India properly, our data are very perfunctory. Our history according to me is at least 5000 years old and by the time we come to Mahabharata, India had already 3000 years of development. What happened in those 3000 years? What kind of human beings were there on this earth, what kind of problems were there? We do not know and we apply our yardstick of the present day and judge what has happened at that time and wonder why they did this, why they did not do it. So to me, all these problems arise because out of curiosity as a real student of sociology, we must first of all collect real data. I don't believe in speculations, do we have solid data which we don't have; we should therefore keep all this data. This question of Parashuram ridding the whole earth of all the kshatriyas 21 times; is it a fact? Is it a dantakatha, is it a myth, whatever it is, we do not know, are we having the facts? We are told and on that basis we start criticising and making speculations. We should have a real rigorous scientific spirit.

I appeal to everybody that while examining the old systems of India we should not apply the standards and yardsticks of today, even today in the future somebody will say why Arjun Singh was doing this kind of thing? Was he discriminating? Was he right? Was he wrong? In future many questions of this kind will be raised and on both sides there will be some answers. We should ask some more fundamental questions. One is, was the Gurukul system effective, whatever facts we have let us say that these are the important facts of which we are sure. There is one document according to me which is unquestionable because the text exists and that is Taittiriya Upanishad. Anybody can visit this Upanishad and this Upanishad begins with shiksha. Very first chapter is called Shikshavalli, it’s a chapter on education. We should collect the facts which are given in this Upanishad. I don't even go to Mahabharata or other Upanishads even; because this is a scientific statement, it is Shikshavalli itself, science of education given in the Taittiriya Upanishad. And I judge the entire system of Upanishads and Gurukul only by this one text.

It is not a complete text, but it gives a sufficiently good account. And then we should ask this question, is the system of education which is expounded effective? And there we should ask whether we have facts to judge and evaluate that system or not. I only put three questions. One is, was Vyasa educated in the Gurukul system or not. I do not know personally. There are no facts to tell you how Vyasa was educated but it is known that there was no other system. Therefore, I assume that Vyasa was educated in the Gurukul system. Now you ask a question: what Vyasa knew, what does Vyasa manifest, the kind of knowledge that he manifests; maybe Mahabharata is interpolated 100 times but there's a core of Mahabharata. Such a huge composition, so many characters described, so many interactions delineated, such important questions raised. Whether Mahabharata contained the Gita or not originally, we do not know but whoever wrote the Gita, he has put down the questions which Arjuna has put down, they indicate the personality of Arjuna, who is not only a great archer, a great warrior but also a great questionnaire, who could even defy so called dharma. He could ask questions which are very challenging questions. Such a mentality which is critical, which wants to go to the deep roots of things, was this mentality developed in India? This is the only question I ask. If the Gurukul system could produce even one Arjuna, one Vyasa, I would conclude that that system was undoubtedly extremely effective of that there is no question at all. This is all that I could say whether sociologists would say this or that or that whatever it is; I only take a few examples and a few instances which are unquestionable and my conclusion is that the Gurukul system was extremely effective. Take for example, Chandogya Upanishad, only one sentence is given: Shri Krishna the son of Devaki went to his teacher. Shri Krishna simply went to his teacher and a very important sentence says that guru spoke only one sentence. Only one sentence he spoke and Krishna was illuminated, one sentence is given there. It is certainly not to please us or to propagate anything that has to be said, it is there, is a statement in the Upanishad that Ghora spoke one sentence. What was that sentence?

उद्वयं तमसस्परि ज्योतिष्पश्यन्त उत्तरम् । देवं देवत्रा सूर्यमगन्म ज्योतिरुत्तमम् ॥

Only one sentence was spoken and it is said Krishna was illuminated. Whether you accept it or not, it is a fact it is written there. There were gurus of that type, who could impart knowledge in this manner; at least a claim is there. And are there no such claims even today proved? When Vivekananda went to Ramkrishna and said: have you seen God? And Ramkrishna only touched him and what happened to him that description is given to us, he found the whole world revolving round and round. It's a fact written by himself that there are gurus of that kind that such a knowledge is possible, such a communication is possible, we should wonder at it that this is possible. It is written down, it can be even demonstrated today and you can become illuminated. Sri Aurobindo goes to Lele and says teach me and he tells me only one word, all thoughts as they enter into your mind, fling them away. And Sri Aurobindo himself has described, he did in three days time and he himself claims Sri Aurobindo has written very clearly that in three days time he practised it. As a result his mind became completely silent, his ego was dissolved and he went into supreme realms of knowledge. Now this is his claim, Sri Aurobindo’s own claim. That afterwards he wrote reams of papers which are extremely difficult to understand that nobody can deny. It's a fact that in India there is some kind of knowledge, there is some kind of process which exists, and even today we have got contemporary examples.

Therefore my question is only simple. There is something in this system, which we should reverentially study and ask what is that system? What was it? There is one important point I would like to make after stating this, I would say that first of all, I would say that the Gurukul system requires a revisit by all educationists of today with open mind and with reverential questions, reverential because of this reason. There are claims made by it, these claims are sustainable even today, there are examples even today, you go by data. Now having put this question aside I would simply say why this system deteriorated, why it got lost? To my mind it got lost because of the following reasons. One was that a system of education is sustained when the society sustains it. If the society does not sustain it then it gradually deteriorates. Now what happened is that when Buddhism arose, Buddhism started another system of education. It's a very important fact. It was not the Gurukul system; it was another system of education. When Jainism developed they started another system of education. It is the development of rival systems of education and society became rather doubtful whether this system is right that system is right.

Now, if you want to have today a kind of refashioning of a system of education, we need to study Vedic system of Gurukul, the Buddhistic system, Jain system and several other systems developed in the due course of time. For example, when philosophical systems developed then we had Nyaya school of education, Sankhya system of education, Vedanta system of education, Mimamsa school of education, these systems also developed. We should study all of them.

When Islam came to India, Islamic system of education also started. We do not have even today full data as to how Indian system of education continued, when Islam came to India, what was the action and interaction; at least I would like to study a lot on this subject but we don't have data. Our historians have not written books in order to throw light on education. Even the famous book of Majumdar on ancient systems of education, it’s a very good book but he has not even referred to Taittiriya Upanishad in his book which I find to be a very major omission. A history of education which does not refer to Taittiriya Upanishad which has given a full chapter on Shikshavalli; it’s a book on education. In other words our own educationists, our historians even they have paucity of data. Maybe in due course of time many data will come up on the surface and we shall be able to study. Then after all this happened even the school system started in India. Tol system like you know how Chaitanya for example went to a Tol with the elder brother and he learned a little bit here, little bit there and it was a different kind of a system, which was not exactly Gurukul system and then came the Britishers and we know the motivations of their establishment of the present system of education.

And today we are in a very difficult condition where we have the memory of all the past, we look upon the past with some kind of reverence, we try to recover it and we are unable to do anything at all. The present helplessness is so great, such poverty of our courage that today we are completely in the hands of the system of education that Macaulay has given to us. Even after 60 years of independence, even though throughout the freedom struggle, all the leaders had promised that we shall make our system, national system of education. What has happened? Even Shantiniketan, we do not know why Shantiniketan deteriorated. The basic reason was the 1951 Act of Vishwa Bharti. If you read the preamble of the Vishwa Bharti Act of 1951, it says because Vishwa Bharti has played a great role, because of its great importance, even national importance we now give a status of university for purposes of instruction and examination, these two words, for instruction and examination. It is a murder of Tagore, these two words, Tagore neither wanted instruction nor wanted the examination and then what happened? It became an institution of instruction and examination, that's all. The entire system of education that Tagore had conceived was like a brahmacharya ashram; he spoke of brahmacharya ashram himself. It was a tremendous effort for a modern man to resurrect something of the Gurukul system in the present system and the way in which it behaved with the students it was exactly like a guru. He wrote himself 2000 songs, so that children may develop, not only music but through music, their aesthetic experience. He wrote dramas and himself played roles of various kinds of actors himself, a real guru, a real teacher who walks with the children as the gurus of the ancients did.

The entire system was completely uprooted by 1951. And afterwards when Indira Gandhi came to power, when I met her, she said first, you kindly see that Vishwa Bharti is resurrected. She told me herself. And I read this act fully and I found out what these two words are. In my amendment I have removed these two words completely and I have given a new mould to it. But do you know what has happened? No vice chancellor has implemented any amendments that are proposed, they are the part of the act; because it doesn't conform to the present system of education, it is there in the act and nobody has raised the point. Nobody has raised this point in spite of the new act which has come you're not implementing it? Why? Because everybody feels quite happy with what is happening. We have become so rootless that even when an Act has been given, new provisions have been provided by which you can resurrect..