The Teacher and the Pupil
Ancient India conceived an intimate relationship between education and life. It looked upon education as a preparation for life and considered life a process of continuing education. It studied life in all its aspects and attempted to apply psychological principles and truths of life to education. One important consequence was to fix for education certain life-long objectives that require life-long effort to achieve and realize. These objectives were summarized in a triple formula which gave a wide and lofty framework to the ancient system of education.
Lead me from falsehood to truth.
Lead me from darkness to light.
Lead me from death to immortality.
असतो मा सद्गमय ।
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय ।
मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय ।
This formula proved to be so potent that it governed the Indian system of education for ages. Even today, remote as we are from that ancient ethos, we refer to it constantly for fresh inspiration.
To the ancient thinkers and sages, the ideals of truth, light and immortality constituted a triune unity, each subsisting in the other. Truth meant to them not an isolated fact, but one vast unity of the Objective Fact in which the multiplicity of facts and phenomena finds its essential oneness. Light meant to them a state of plenary consciousness in which essence and multiplicity is comprehended in a vast, undivided, unified and integral concentration. That state of consciousness in which the reality of unity and oneness is
comprehended was found by them to be an imperturbable and imperishable state of immortality, a state in which one can permanently dwell and through which one can effectuate extraordinary transmutations of the process of the mind, life and body.
That Objective Fact, self-luminous and imperishable, which comprehends multiplicity in oneness, was named variously in the early records of Indian knowledge. The Veda, the earliest record, described it as the 'One Existent which the Wise call by various names' (ekam sad, vipra bahudha vadanti)* The Upanishads, the later records, describe it sometimes as sat, the Pure Existent, and sometimes as asat, the Non-Existent or the ineffable that transcends any particular description. The Upanishads also describe it as the Unknowable, an indefinable 'x', the Brahman, That (tat), the other which can be seized only by a process that dismisses every description by pronouncing 'not that, not that' (neti neti). The largest positive description the Upanishads gives of that 'x', that Something Else, is Sachchidananda (the conscious and delightful Existent).
The Upanishads admit clearly and unambiguously that the knowledge of the Sat or the Brahman is neither intellectual nor anti-intellectual. Indeed, it is beyond the grasp of the senses, atindriyam but it is still buddhigrahyam*,* seizable by the intellect. Pure Reason, it may be said, has the idea of essence, and by developing this idea, can arrive at some concept of the Brahman, even though Brahman is more than essence. However, according to strict criteria, knowledge is determined both through idea and through direct, abiding and undeniable experience. The strength of the Vedic and Upanishadic assertions is that they were arrived at by centuries of experiment in discovering and practising certain profound methods by which the Objective Fact, the Substance, that Multiple One, the simple-complex, the mysterious 'x' the Sat or the Brahman can be seized and known in direct experience.
It is said that existence is what we knock into; it is something we cannot think away, it stands and cannot be obliterated. But in normal experience, our subjective apparatus imposes its own categories on the object of experience, and we are thus prevented from experiencing the truly existent object—if, indeed, there is such a thing. We experience, to use Kant's terminology, quantity, quality, relation and modality, in addition to two forms of intuition. Space and Time. But we fail to experience the Object-in-itself, the
*Rig Veda. Mandela I, Sukta 164, Verse 46.
Existence-in-itself. The question is whether we can remove the blinders of our subjective mental consciousness, look freely at truth, and experience in a state of total objectivity the reality as it is.
The ancient Indian educational theory affirms that if, is possible to -transcend the limitations of sense-bound experience and reason-bound consciousness, and that the most fundamental object of education is to prepare the pupil to free himself from those limitations and attain that level of knowledge where he can dwell permanently in existent reality, in light and in immortality.
The early Indian educators made a distinction between Vidya and Avidya, between the knowledge of Existence-in-itself, in its totality and multiple manifestation, and the knowledge of multiplicity alone, without the comprehension of the underlying unity. And it was laid down that the aim of education, of life-long education, was to lead the individual to the knowledge which liberates from the limitations of Avidya, Sa Vidya ya vimuktaye.
If we study the Veda and the Upanishads in a truly scientific spirit, unprejudiced by any a priori dogma that the human limitations of consciousness cannot be transcended, we shall find that the authors of these ancient records were themselves true scientists and experimenters. Those thinkers and seers devoted all their energies to the study of human psychology so as to discover the methods by which we can attain freedom from our ordinary limitations. This discovery was the most significant achievement of ancient India. As Sri Aurobindo pointed out, '. . . the seers of ancient India had, in their experiments and efforts at spiritual training and the conquest of the body, perfected a discovery which in its importance to the future of human knowledge dwarfs the divinations of Newton and Galileo, even the discovery of the inductive and experimental method in Science was not more momentous..."
This discovery was the discovery of Yoga. The ancient seers made a distinction between religion and Yoga. Religion is a matter of belief, rituals and ceremonies, even though it may involve an inner practice of moral and spiritual discipline. Yoga, on the other hand, focuses on psychology and on developing the psychological faculties and powers by which the highest Object of Knowledge can be experienced. To the Yogin, what matters is that direct
Sri Aurobindo' The Upanishads, Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library. Vol. 12, p.6
experience, attained by psychological enlargement, psychological purification and psychological revolution. Just as physical science starts with the natural phenomenon of lightning and utilizes various means to generate, control and distribute electricity on an increasing scale, even so Yoga takes up the ordinary psychological functioning of body, life and mind and discovers methods by which these psychological functionings can be brought to their highest pitch and then generated, controlled and used at will for the objects in view.
There were, indeed, specializations. Hatha Yoga, for example, concentrated on the subtle workings of the body, and by means of controlling and purifying these workings achieved astonishing results, not only of physical health and vigor but even of preparing the individual for deeper spiritual realizations. Raja Yoga specialized in dealing with mental vibrations and discovered methods by which the stuff of consciousness can be controlled and brought to a state of complete stillness in which the Object of Knowledge stands out clearly and luminously. The Yoga of Knowledge, the Yoga of Divine Love and the Yoga of Action took up, respectively, the workings of cognition, affection and conation, and arrived at extraordinary experiences of higher levels of consciousness and their corresponding objects of knowledge.
Those ancient seers also made a distinction between Yoga and philosophy. Philosophy was restricted to mean intellectual reasoning about the ultimate source of things or intellectual transcription of spiritual experience. It was recognized that Yoga transcended intellectual methods of thought and attempted to revolutionize the ego-bound operations of thinking, feeling and action so as to arrive at a new and heightened functioning of the higher self, the Atman or the Brahman.*
In spite of its specialized domains and crowning realizations, yogic research constantly strove to combine various systems of
*In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, it is said: "Therefore let the seeker, after he has done with learning, wish to stand by real strength (knowledge of the Self) which enables us to dispense with all other knowledge' (iii,5,I). In the same Upanishad, it is said again, 'He should not seek after the knowledge of the books, for that is mere weariness of the tongue' (iv,4,21). Describing the, higher Self, the Taittiriya Upanishad says: 'Before whom words and thought recoil, not finding him' (ii,4). The Kama Upanishad declares: 'Not by teaching is the Atman attained, nor by intellect, nor by much knowledge of books' (i,2,23).
Yoga for purposes of arriving at synthetic and composite results. The Veda itself represented a certain kind of synthesis. Upanishadic seers made further research, recovered the Vedic Yoga, and brought about a fresh synthesis. Yoga, like science, was 'never looked upon as a closed book; like science. Yoga encouraged fresh quest and fresh realizations. Yoga came thus to be recognized as a science par excellence.
We have in the records of the Vedas and the Upanishads the names of those who developed this great science of yoga. The generic name is Rishi, the illumined seer, standing above the world and yet uplifting it by his upward gaze, unruffled concentration and compassionate wisdom. It was the Rishi who came to be acknowledged as the teacher and revered as Guru or Acharya. It is to the Rishi that the pupils went in search of training and knowledge, and the ancient Indian teacher-pupil relationship came to be determined by the profound and even inscrutable ways by which the teachers and pupils. Gurus and Shishyas, developed their modes and methods of exploring knowledge, discovering the aim and meaning of life, and practicing disciplines for arriving at psychological perfection.
The names of the Vedic Rishis still reverberate in the Indian atmosphere, inspiring veneration and obeisance—the names of Vishwamitra and Vashishtha, Vamadeva and Bharadwaja, Madhuchhandas and Dirghatamas, Gritsamada and Medhatithi." Some of the prose Upanishads have a vivid narrative which restores for us, though only in brief glimpses, the picture of that extraordinary stir and movement of enquiry and passion for the highest knowledge which made the Upanishads possible.
We see here how the soul of India was born, and we come to recognize the Vedas and Upanishads as not only the fountainhead of Indian philosophy and spirituality, of Indian art, poetry and
These great names are those to whom various parts of the Rig Veda are attributed. The Rig Veda, as we possess it, is arranged in ten books. They are called Mandalas. Six of the Mandalas are attributed each to the hymns of a single Rishi or a family of Rishis. Thus the second Mandala is devoted chiefly to the Suktas of the Rishi Gritsamada, the third Mandala and the Seventh Mandala to Vishwamitra and Vashishtha, respectively, the fourth to Vamadeva, the sixth to Bharadwaja. The Fifth is occupied by the hymns of the house of Atri. Other Mandalas contain the hymns of several Rishis and Rishikas. The prominent names of Rishikas in the Rig Veda are: Romasha, Lopamudra, Apala, Kadru, Vishwavara.
literature, but also of Indian education and of the Indian tradition of teacher-pupil relationship.
The most important idea governing the ancient system of education was that of perfection, for developing the mind and soul of man. Indian education aimed at helping the individual to grow in the power and force of certain large universal qualities which in their harmony build a higher type of manhood. In Indian thought and life, this was the ideal of the best, the law of the good or noble man, the discipline laid down for the self-perfecting individual. this ideal was not a purely moral or ethical conception, although that element pre-dominated; it was also intellectual, social, aesthetic, the flowering of the whole ideal man, the perfection of the total human nature. We meet in the Indian conception of best, shreshtha, the most varied qualities. In the heart benevolence, beneficence, love, compassion, altruism, long-suffering, liberality, kindliness, patience; in the character courage, heroism, energy, loyalty, continence, truth, honour, justice, faith, obedience and reverence where these were due, but power too to govern and direct, a fine modesty and yet a strong independence and noble pride; in the mind wisdom and intelligence and love of learning, knowledge of all the best thought, openness to poetry, art and beauty, an educated capacity and skill in works; in the inner being piety, love of God, seeking after the highest, the spiritual turn; in social relations and conduct a strict observance of all social obligations as father, son, husband, brother, kinsman, friend, ruler or subject, master or servant, prince or warrior or worker, king or sage. This ideal is clearly portrayed in the written records of ancient India. It was the creation of an ideal and rational mind, both spirit-wise and worldly-wise, deeply spiritual, nobly ethical, firmly yet flexibly intellectual, scientific and aesthetic, patient and tolerant of life's difficulties and human weakness, but arduous in self-discipline.
The ancient Indian system of education developed as a part of the general system of Indian culture. This system at once indulged and controlled man's nature; it fitted him for his social role; it stamped on his mind the generous ideal of an accomplished humanity, refined, harmonious in all its capacities, ennobled in all its members; but it placed before him too the theory and practice of Yoga, the theory and practice of a higher change, familiarized him with the concept of a spiritual existence and sowed in him a
hunger for the divine and the infinite. The pupil was not allowed to forget that he had within him a higher self beyond his little personal ego, and that numerous ways and disciplines were provided by which he could realize this higher self or at least turn and follow at a distance this higher aim according to his capacity and nature, adhikara. Around him he saw and revered the powerful teachers who practised and were mighty masters of these disciplines.
In the Indian system of education, there was a great deal of emphasis on discipline. The life of the pupil began with a resolve to impose upon himself the ideal and practice of Brahmacharya, which meant not only physical continence, but a constant burning aspiration for the knowledge of the Brahman. This one ideal uplifted the physical, vital and mental energies in unified concentration to achieve self-knowledge and self-mastery. For this reason, the pupil came to be called the Brahmacharin, one who has resolved to follow the discipline of Brahmacharya. Vratam charishyami—I shall resolutely follow my vow, is what the pupil resolves when he embarks upon his journey of discipleship.
Pursuit of truth was a part of the discipline of Brahmacharya; so also was the pursuit of kindliness, harmony and love, ahimsa. Practice of renunciation of the sense of personal possession of things and relations, renunciation of covetousness that leads to theft and collection of personal possessions, were also part of a pupil's self-discipline. In addition, the pupil was expected to develop purity—purity of the body, purity of emotions and purity of thought.
Swadhyaya (self-study) was the corner-stone of the pupil's discipline and method of learning. The pupil was expected to develop extraordinary powers of memory, imagination and thought. The predominance of oral tradition necessitated the cultivation of the power of memory; the high content of philosophical and spiritual knowledge necessitated the cultivation of subtlety and complexity of thought; the natural setting of the Ashrams and Gurukulas in the open forest, where nature could be an intimate friend and companion, necessitated the cultivation of the power of inner communion, imagination and natural delight.
That the life of the pupil was vigorous and rigorous cannot be doubted. But it must not be supposed that there was any absence of mirth and joy. In some of the accounts of life in the Ashrams re is ample evidence to show that the system of education was
flexible, free from the rigidities found in the lecture and examination-oriented system in which our present system of education is imprisoned. A good deal of individual attention was paid to every pupil. The teacher was not expected to demand from the pupil more than the highest effort of which he was capable. The teacher varied his method with each pupil, and education was devised to suit each individual's need of growth and development. In Abhijnana Shakuntalam, Kalidasa gives a beautiful portrayal of the Ashram of Kanva, a great Rishi revered by common people and kings alike. In this Ashram there were both boys and girls, and while the atmosphere was surcharged with tapasya, self-discipline, there was also fun and frolic among friends. No feeling of rigidity is portrayed in this beautiful drama. There is, rather, restrained charm, joy and beauty. Other accounts, too, such as those in the Ramavana and the Mahabharata, describe the color and warmth of the interplay of the forces of human nature, and give examples of how the teacher dealt with this interplay with gentle firmness guided by mature experience and wisdom*
The teacher, the Rishi, was the seer who had lived the fullness of life and had often led the life of a householder. In some accounts the Rishi's wife was also a Rishi in her own right and lived in the Ashram along with her husband, providing material care for the pupils. The Ashram was veritable Gurukula, where the pupils were loved and cared for as members of the Guru's family.
In those times the task of the teacher was to awaken more than to instruct. It was understood that true knowledge depended on the cultivation of powers of concentration, which in turn depended
"In the Mahabharata (i.70), there is a description of Kanva's hermitage. It was situated on the banks of the Malini, a tributary of the Sarayu River. Numerous hermitages stretched round the central hermitage At this Ashram, there were specialists in each of the four Vedas; in Phonetics, Metrics, Grammar, and Nirukta. There were also philosophers .well-versed in the science of the Absolute. There were logicians. There were also specialists in the physical sciences and arts. In this forest university, the study of every available branch of learning was cultivated. In the Ramayana (vi,126; ii, 90-2), we have an interesting description of the hermitage of Rishi Bharadwaja at Prayaga. This hermitage was one of the biggest of the times. The Ashram was equipped with stalls to accommodate the royal elephants and horses; there were mansions and palaces and gateways. A separate royal guest house was furnished with beds, seats, vehicles, coverlets and carpets, stores of food. The Ashram also entertained its royal guests with performances by musicians and dancing girls.
upon great quietude of the mind and absence of demands of impatient and hurried work. It was also acknowledged that some of the greatest truths needed to be practised by voluntary choice and persistent, dedicated discipline. The system of education provided ample opportunities for the pupil to experience the significance of free-choice, particularly the choice between the good and the pleasant, shréyas and préyas. What was discouraged was personal indulgence or undisciplined preference; but the very object of education implied free choice at every important stage of a pupil's growth. In other words, freedom of choice and an increasing experience of spiritual freedom blended together in that system of education.
It is sometimes argued that the ancient Indian tradition gave too much importance to reverence to the teacher.' It is contended that the teacher was unduly placed on the highest pedestal and that this developed authoritarianism in the teacher and slavishness in the pupil. How shall we meet this criticism? What truth lies behind it? In the course of history, when the Rishi came to be replaced by the Pandit, the illumined seer by the erudite scholar, there was quite often a tendency on the part of the Pandit to arrogate to himself the natural power, authority and influence of the Rishi, and this did injure the tradition. Further degeneration came about when the pandit was replaced by ordinary sophists, debaters and bookish teachers. At the same time, it must be said that the good Pandits and ordinary teachers refrained from arrogating to themselves the authority of the Rishi. Indeed, the ideal we find in the ancient Indian system is that it is not only by obediently serving the teacher but also by repeated and full questioning that the pupil can gain the right knowledge, pari prashnena, pari sevaya.
Actually, reverence for the teacher was enjoined upon the pupil for three main reasons. In the first place, Indian culture and consequently the Indian system of education strove to subordinate the demands of the ego to the demands of society, of the world and of the higher self. An attempt was made to create systems and practices—through rule, tradition or other means—by which the demands of the higher self were given a predominant position. In
One well-known verse speaks of C7uru as Brahma, as Vishnu and as Maheshwara. He is equated with the Supreme Absolute Being.
गुरु ब्रम्हा गुरु विष्णू गुरुः देवो महेश्वरा |
गुरु शाक्षात परब्रम्हा तस्मै श्री गुरुवे नमः ||
fact, not only the teacher, but the mother and the father and even the guest were given a place of high reverence. As the Taittiriya Upanishad says: Matri devo bhava, pitri devo bhava, acharya devo bhava, atithi devo bhava. ('Let thy father be unto thee as thy God, and thy mother as thy Goddess whom thou adorest. Serve the master as a God, and as a God the stranger within thy dwelling.')
The second reason was that the Rishi represented not only a mature worldly and scholarly wisdom but also a high spiritual realization, and thus was to be doubly revered. In modem days, where knowledge is easily available through books and other means of communication, our full appreciation of knowledge is likely to be considerably diminished. Thus we may not be able to understand, why the Guru was assigned high and exceptional reverence. But we must note that the Vedic and Upanishadic periods were marked by an intense quest for new knowledge. There was, as it were, an unquenchable thirst, and only the thirsty know what gratitude is due to the one who quenches the thirst. In that context, then, reverence for the teacher was not something imposed upon the pupil; the real seeker became psychologically impelled to revere anyone who had knowledge and could transmit it effectively to him. This was particularly true when the knowledge sought after was not only pragmatic and intellectual but spiritual. For among all human endeavours, spiritual endeavour is the most difficult, beset with the greatest difficulties. In certain circumstances, the pursuit of spiritual knowledge requires vigilant direction and guidance. Spiritual search is like a search in a virgin forest, and the law of that search exacts from the seeker the highest price of self-sacrifice and consecration. The guide and teacher on the spiritual path, therefore, deserves the highest reverence. The intricacies and hazards of the spiritual endeavour are known to the teacher, and it is often unwise to reveal them to the seeker in advance. Spiritual discoveries and realizations imply major psychological surgery. These operations the pupil cannot perform by himself; a teacher is needed. And just as a doctor demands from the patient a high degree of trust and obedience, so does the teacher of the spiritual path.
But there is a third reason for the reverence demanded of the pupil for the teacher. The Indian educational and yogic system recognized that the real teacher is the supreme Brahman seated within oneself,, and sooner rather than later, the seeker must discover the inner teacher and the inner guide.
The necessity for the pupil to have the external word or the external guidance of a teacher is then seen to be a concession to human limitations. We require external aids until we realize the true inner Aid. This being the case, the external teacher comes to represent to the seeker the Supreme Brahman. Therefore, the reverence due to the Supreme is offered by the seeker to the external teacher. On his part, the external teacher, if he knows his true position, looks upon his task as a trust given to him from above. He realizes the relativity of his importance. Knowing that the real teacher is seated within the pupil, he hands over the .task of guidance to that inner guide as soon as possible. Until then, he devotes all his energies to one single aim, the flowering of the pupil's faculties and the awakening of the inner guide seated within the pupil's heart. It is to such a teacher that the ancient tradition of India assigned highest reverence.
The good teacher is not content with his own self-knowledge. He constantly seeks fresh knowledge and attempts to share it with other seekers. His prayer is that of the Rishi in the Taittiriya Upanishad, who says:
May the Brahmacharins come unto me. Swaha!
From here and there may the Brahmacharins come unto me. Swaha!
May the Brahmacharins set forth unto me. Swaha!
May the Brahmacharins attain to peace of soul. Swaha!'
आ मा यन्तु बह्मचारिणः स्वाहा।
वि मा यन्तु बह्मचारिणः स्वाहा।
प्र मा यन्तु बह्मचारिणः स्वाहा।
दमायन्तु बह्मचारिणः स्वाहा।
शभायन्तु बह्मचारिणः स्वाहा।
The good teacher as conceived in the ancient system of India interweaves his own life with the life of his pupils. He aspires and prays not for himself alone but also for his pupils. Togetherness is the watchword of the good teacher.
Together may He protect us,
Together may He possess us,
Together may we make unto us strength and virility;
Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, chapter 4.
May our study be full to us of light and power.
May we never hate.'
And what is the advice that the good teacher gives to his pupils? He says, 'Speak truth, walk in the way of thy duty, neglect not the study of knowledge. Thou shalt not be negligent of truth; thou shalt not be negligent of thy duty, thou shalt not be negligent of welfare; thou shalt not be negligent towards thy increase and thy thriving; thou shalt not be negligent of the study and teaching of the highest Truth'.
During the Vedic and Upanishadic periods, and even later, there was an emphasis on the pursuit of an integral aim of life, which determined the discipline of integral education. Both the material and spiritual poles of being had their place in this system. The ancient Sanskrit adage, shareeram adyam khalu dharma sadhanam (a sound body is the veritable instrument of the pursuit of the ideal law of life) underlined the importance of physical education. There was also a clear recognition that the fullness of physical, vital and mental culture was necessary for arriving at spiritual perfection. And if we study the Yoga of the Veda in its inmost significance, we find that there was an intense research into the possibilities of spiritual manifestation in physical life. There was a secret knowledge that the highest light is contained in the darkest caves of the physical or the inconscient, and that one must descend into the depths of darkness to recover that highest light. In practical terms, this implied not rejection of physical and material life but an intensive cultivation and transformation of that life.
It is true that there was a gradual deviation from the original Vedic conception of life and education. Much of it was recovered by the seers of the Upanishads, and the integrality of spirit and matter was preserved in some of their teachings. But already a kind of exclusivism had become manifest during the Upanishadic Age. Later, sharp distinctions came to be made between Spirit and Matter, and a denunciation of material life became more and more predominant. The call of the spirit and a recoil from matter characterize powerful movements of Indian thought. This affected the educational system, and the original impulse of integral education was lost. The consequences have been disastrous, and today we are in a deep crisis.
Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, chapter I.
But is it a question merely of recovering that original impulse? Are we to propose revivalism? This is a matter of controversy. Although what was valuable in the ancient system should be preserved and developed, if we examine the spirit of the Indian Renaissance and the task it has set out to accomplish, we find that a mere revival of the old will not suffice; we shall have to admit new elements and new attitudes which are valuable for preparing the future humanity.
The Indian Renaissance strove for an India that is genuinely Indian and genuinely universal. India became free not only for itself but for the sake of humanity. Free India has to take up the deeper problems that today confront humanity as a whole. As Sri Aurobindo points out:
Mankind is passing today through an evolutionary crisis in which is contained the choice of its destiny.
It is in that context that Sri Aurobindo undertook a program of research involving the discovery of new knowledge in the light of which a new synthesis relevant to the needs of today and tomorrow can be created. The secret of that synthesis, as pointed out by Sri Aurobindo, is the manifestation of Spirit in Matter, leading to an unprecedented perfection and even a mutation of the human species. Sri Aurobindo's discovery of the Super-mind and its possibility of full operation in physical life may be regarded as the most significant gift of renascent India to humanity's effort to overcome its crisis.
This has also a momentous consequence for education. The new education that must be built should be a new kind of integral education that will aim at organizing that discovery in more and more concrete forms. This is a matter of continuing experimentation and research*
* In Appendix I some passages are presented from the Veda and the Upanishads which will provide a few glimpses of the aspirations and realisations of the Rishis, who were teachers, and of the early system of Indian concept of education.