Philosophy of Spiritual Education
India's great treasures of spiritual knowledge and experience
Why do we need Spiritual Education? What does it really mean? Is it practicable? And what reforms could we propose in our educational system so as to have the right place for spiritual education in it?
All these are important and difficult questions, we can only touch upon them very briefly and inadequately.
We need spiritual education, firstly, because we want a true national system of education. Education, in order to be national, must reflect that basic urge, which is distinctive of our national history, which is the real genius of our country, which accounts for the amazing continuity of our long and complex history, and which continues to burn even in our decline and darkest periods and serves as the saving light. Veritably, it can be said that what distinguishes Indian cultural history from any other cultural history, is its genius for spirituality and profusion of spiritual developments and great treasures of spiritual knowledge and experience. If we are to search for our cultural identity, ─ and do we not see the upsurge for cultural identity everywhere in the world today, even when there is an unprecedented demand for internationality, universal citizenship, and oneness of humanity? ─ We can say that the first task of India is to understand what may be called Indian spirituality, its synthetic tendency, its catholicity, and its power to rejuvenate springs of
culture and irrigate the paths of perfection of intellectuality, vitality of heroism and vitality and capacity to build strong physical foundations in various domains of life. In this context, our need for spiritual education stands out as an article of supreme importance.
But this is not all.
Present crisis through which humanity is passing today
We need spiritual education not only in India but everywhere because it is becoming increasingly clear that the present crisis through which humanity is passing today can be effectively met only if the entire humanity knocks the doors of spirituality, for that alone seems to hold out the promise of the power that can deliver us. This is evident from the way in which the West is turning to the East. This is also evident from the counsels of some of the greatest historians of our times, who have pointed to India and Indian spirituality for the cure of the decline and fall of the Western civilisation that is built upon the vital and pragmatic drives and intellect as the sole and highest governor of social building.
West is turning to India for some spiritual light
And when the West is turning to India for some spiritual light, what is it that will enable us to respond? The best way by which we can prepare ourselves to give the right response is to build up the sound edifices of a robust system of education with due place assigned to spiritual education.
Thirdly, with the growing stress on the creation of a classless society or a society that aims at equality and equity, freedom and brotherhood, there is an
Integral education for the complete human being
increasing stress on every individual to participate as fully as possible in the activities of the totality of the society. As a result, individuals are required to expand their horizons, develop multiple interests and responsibilities and equip themselves with the capacities and powers that can be chiselled only by the development of an integral personality. Hence, there has been unprecedented emphasis in our times on integral education for the complete human being. The complete human being is not a sum of its parts, each one put in juxtaposition of the other. Each part of our personality, physical, vital, mental, rational, aesthetic, ethical and spiritual, ─ has its constitutional relationship with the other and it has to be discovered and, instead of juxtaposition, there has to be integration. And what is the integrating point in a personality is a matter today of psychological investigations. It is easy to admit the Indian psychological contention that nothing can integrate the physical and the vital as the mental, manomaya pranashariraneta, to use the expression of the Taittiriya Upanishad; ─ but considering that the conflict in the mind itself of its rational, aesthetic and ethical elements as also the conflict between the Reason and the Unreason are becoming acute, we need to turn to still higher levels of integration and admit still higher principles, ─ principles of spiritual consciousness, which are supramental in character, ─ vijñānamaya and ānandamaya, ─ to use again the terms of Taittiriya Upanishad. And this underlines, by implication, the theme of spiritual education as the overarching domain of integral education.
Conflict between the Reason and the Unreason
Fortunately, we have a good fund of spiritual
Spiritual knowledge is in the roots of our cultural history
knowledge in the roots of our cultural history, if only we make the effort to recover it. We have also been continuously developing spiritual experimentation and renewing it right up to the present day. And the significant fact is that in our renascent India, our greatest experiments in education were inspired by the ideals of spiritual education.
Spiritual education, confused with religious education
But let us ask the central question: “What is spiritual education? And what are the real issues pertaining to spiritual education as far as its nature and methodologies are concerned?” There is here a great deal of inadequacy of inquiry, and a good deal of confusion. In the first place, spiritual education tends to be confused with the unexamined concept of “religious education”. And it is argued that because religious education is constitutionally not allowed to be promoted by the State funds, even spiritual education, which is more or less religious education, has to be exiled from the portals of education in our country.
As against this, it must be stressed that there is a clear distinction between spiritual education and religious education. It may be said that the distinguishing feature of a religion is a doctrine or a belief or a dogma. Every religion has its distinctive doctrine, “prescribed acts”, its rituals, ceremonies, social and religious institutions. On the other hand, what is distinctive of spirituality is its stress on the psychological contention that there is a vast domain of states of consciousness, which are beyond and deeper than mental consciousness and beyond and deeper than the realm of doctrines, beliefs or dogmas. Spirituality can be developed by Yogic methodised effort that is scientific
Synthesises of the sage, the hero, the saint and the servant
in character, since it can be practiced without any prior belief, and the conclusions or results of that effort can be repeated, verified and expanded by questioning, correction, revision, enlargement, deepening, and heightening. Another distinctive feature of spirituality is its spontaneous attitude and effortless and abiding stability of consciousness that is marked by universality, silent concentration and contemplation, which is free from the fever of desires, clamours of egoism and prejudices of partiality and attachment. These states of consciousness, these attitudes and these abiding experiences are not states of opinions and beliefs; nor are they tied up with one or the other dogma, and they depend upon no rituals or ceremonies or social or religious institutions. Thirdly, various states of spiritual consciousness tend to constitute four psychological traits of personality, which are commonly found universally among all who have gone beyond mental consciousness or who stand on the borderlines of the mental and spiritual consciousness. These psychological traits are connected with those powers of the Spirit, which flower as the sage, as the hero, as a saint and as a servant. And integral spiritual education would aim at the integral personality that combines and synthesises the sage, the hero, the saint and the servant, ─ the kind of personality that is illustrated so remarkably in the personality of Sri Krishna, who had, as the Gita testifies, both essential knowledge and comprehensive knowledge that marks the culmination of sagehood; he was dynamic and heroic, since he battled from early boyhood and throughout his life for the upholding of justice and unity of people; and he was full of divine love, which has been sung as an immortal theme of
Aims of spiritual education
harmonious unity, duality and multiplicity; and he readily agreed to serve with consummate skill as the charioteer of his friend and disciple, Arjuna.
Underlying the sage is the drive for knowledge, which does not rest merely on the questioning and opinion-making, but which strives for the discovery of the truth and certainty of the truth as also the certainty of comprehensive truth. Orientation towards truthful-ness and indefatigable labour and arrival of mastery to live in truthfullness and to gain deeper and deeper knowledge in regard to any subject matter by means of concentration and contemplation, ─ this entire process, this orientation and this mastery is what may be rightly termed as a process of spiritual education. To arrive at sagehood, to arrive at that quietude and tranquillity and calm and silence and peace in which knowledge can grow spontaneously, ─ this may be regarded as one of the aims of spiritual education.
Another power of the spirit develops into what may properly be called spiritual heroism. Whereas the sagehood is the culmination of the powers of knowledge, the state of spiritual heroism is a result of the development of the powers of Will. It is often argued that spiritual consciousness encourages withdrawal from action and it leads to world-negation and to the belief in meaninglessness of world and life. It is true that the states of silence and peace point to world-transcendence, since there is something like going beyond all the dynamism of action. But it is not inevitable that world-transcendence must necessarily mean world-negation. Psychologically, knowledge always stands to be superior to Will, but knowledge
Will rooted in knowledge
can also inspire such dynamism of action that Will can never possess, unless it gets rooted in knowledge and gets issued from knowledge. What is the secret, we might ask, of the tremendous potency of action of Buddha that made him the greatest personality that ever walked on the earth? It was his utter silence, a silence that was not blank but that was filled with will and compassion. What is the secret of Christ of going up to the gallows so as to bleed on the cross and manifest that great heroism, which battles for the truth and sacrifices everything for the sake of the entire humanity and prays that his prosecutors be pardoned for they knew not what they were doing? It was that power of the Will, which was rooted in knowledge and in peace that “passeth understanding”.
Discovery of the universal will
Spiritual heroism involves the practice of the Yogic method of arriving at perfection of action, the path of Karma Yoga, just as the path to sagehood is the path of knowledge, Jnana Yoga. The methodised effort here involves a great psychological change brought about by three stages, first, of the control and abolition of desire for fruits of action, second, of the control and abolition of the sense of egoistic doership of action, and third, of the mastery that arises from the discovery and the operation of the impersonal and universal will without any hindrance from our subjective egoism or preferences.
The third power of the spirit flowers in sainthood. The state of consciousness that constitutes sainthood is marked by universal goodwill, sympathy and friendliness and harmony that extends to the totality of interrelationships. The methodised yogic effort here
Sainthood is marked by universal goodwill
involves, first, the awakening of our inmost being that is capable of intense sympathy, compassion, spiritual love and harmony, secondly, of concentration and contemplation of internal communion with the subjective and the objective forces of unity and diversity, and thirdly, of internal union with the highest possible source or sources of love, joy and beauty. Sainthood consists of effortless inspiration to be engaged in works of friendliness, charity and service inspired by compassion.
Spirit grows into universal spiritual servanthood
The fourth power of the Spirit grows into universal spiritual servanthood, which is reached by the combination of the yogic processes that are required for spiritual heroism and sainthood, but it has also a special mode, which insists on the development of skills that are required from the highest level to the lowest level of activity as also the sense of obedience to all that is considered to be issuing from the highest Knowledge, Will and Love. The true servanthood is scrupulous both in regard to the development and employment of all the skills that are required to accomplish the minutest demands of work; it is this consciousness which is ever vigilant and has spontaneous readiness to execute what is demanded from above; it omits nothing that is to be done, and when the work is done, nothing is found forgotten. To arrive at the state of spiritual servanthood is the highest glory of spiritual effort and spiritual education.
It will be seen that in attaining various states of spiritual consciousness and various traits or aspects of spiritual personality, various psychological processes,
and their scientific handling of materials of Knowledge, Will and Emotion are adequate, and the aid of dogmas, rituals, ceremonies is not indispensable. Thus spiritual education can be so conceived and designed as to be free from those methods and practices, which are uniquely related to religious education.
Understanding the relationship between reason and revelation
At the same time, spiritual education need not be averse to what can be called the spiritual core of religions, ─ the core, which transcends the limitations of doctrines, dogmas, rituals and ceremonies or prescribed acts or specific rules connected with social and other institutions rooted in religious doctrines. Religious education can be distinguished from education about religions, and spiritual education is quite consistent with the study of various doctrines and institutions connected with different religions, biographies of religious founders, a comparative study of religions, sources of their conflict and means and methods by which these conflicts can be resolved. This study should, however, be guided by a wide and strict philosophical discipline, which demands impartiality, rational scrutiny and detailed understanding of the relationship between reason and revelation, reason and dogma, and reason and spiritual means of knowledge such as intuition, inspiration, and discrimination.
Spiritual education will admit those elements of studies in ethics and practice of ethical values, which are not tied down to any particular religion and its exclusive claims. The aid that can be received from ethical education, which deals with purification of the
All ethics is fundamentally a process of self-control
powers of knowledge, will and emotion, must be fully welcomed in the programmes of spiritual education. All ethics is fundamentally a process of self-control, and spiritual education will admit all processes of self-control, which are related to self-knowledge and to the development of sagehood, spiritual heroism, sainthood and spiritual servanthood. The programme of spiritual education will also encourage the philosophical study of standards of conduct that have developed at various stages of human history and will aim at establishing the clarity of the concepts of Freewill versus determinism, of goodwill, of the categorical imperative and others in the attempt to understand how this clarity is a great aid in the practice of ethical values, virtues and austerities that aim at purification, strengthening of will-power and transcending those limitations that lead to the conflict between the rational, ethical and aesthetic.
Spiritual education will have no quarrel with all that is rational and all that is scientific. The insistence on the pursuit of truth that is inherent in rational and scientific education must be welcomed in the processes and methods of spiritual education. True spiritual education will aim at the harmonisation of spiritual knowledge, philosophical knowledge and scientific knowledge; in the ultimate analysis, all knowledge tends to be one or holistic, and liberating oneself from the rigidities of the dogmatic assumptions that hinder the true processes of knowledge, one can arrive at a spontaneous harmony among all studies and practices, which aim at the discovery and practice of impartial search for the truth and a comprehensive truth. Spiritual education will never prohibit but
always insist on philosophy and science, their methods, and scrupulous adherence to their specific criteria and to critical and self-critical inquiry into these criteria.
Three great domains of aesthetics, — music, art and poetry
There are three great domains of aesthetics, ─ music, art and poetry, ─ which are normally encouraged and promoted among young people. If they are rightly interwoven in our educational system, they can constitute powerful means of spiritual education. In fact, art comes very close to spirituality because both art and spirituality insist on depth of experience. In art, experience of an object leads to the formation of images, and the artist employs various techniques for giving expressions to these images in forms of beauty. Intensity of experience, vision of the truth and its images and harmonious forms of expression so that the substance and style correspond to each other as intensely as possible, — these are the elements of all art. And music and painting and poetry — these three forms of art, when combined together, can become perfect education of the soul. In poetry, the instrument is the rhythmic word, in painting it is the colour and proportion and charm, and in music it is the melody and harmony of sounds. Colour, sound and word are extremely close to the Spirit, and that is the reason why the spiritual sage easily becomes a poet, and the spiritual saint easily becomes a poet-singer and a musician and every spiritual seeker becomes an artist of life and expresses his art of life in various other arts through which harmonious forms of joy and beauty can be expressed. In an ideal system of education, art will be used for spiritual education and spiritual education will be used for promoting artistic
expression. Essence of all art is the discovery and expression of rasa and one of the definitions of the Spirit is that it is rasa (raso vai sah).
Purify the vital impulses
Spiritual education will also take great care to train and purify the vital impulses, vital drives, vital emotions, vital desires, vital attractions and longings and vital activities of acquisition, possession, influence and enjoyment. Spiritual education will not kill the dynamism of the vital, but will employ the methods of illumination, love, harmonisation and heroism so that the potency of the vital can act effectively and victoriously. The vital will be purified, trained and perfected, so that the dynamic traits of human personality get their proper treatment of transformation. It will be realised that all that is heroic and noble, great and powerful but which is still raw or unripe or mixed will be purified but not discouraged, will be heightened and perfected but not blunted or impoverished. Spiritual education will not aim at weakness but at strength, not at escape from action but at mastery of action.
Just as mental and vital education can form part of spiritual education, even so, physical education, too, can be so conceived and practiced that it forms part of spiritual education. First is the question of attitude towards the body. There are those who consider the body to be the tomb of the spirit, but the right understanding of the body will show that the body is the indispensable instrument of the practice of every ideal. Shariram adyam khalu dharma-sādhanam — this is how the Sanskrit adage lays down. Secondly, the values of physical education are perfectly harmonious
How the physical and spiritual are interrelated
with the totality of values of vital, mental and spiritual education. One great value of physical education is that of health, and it is very well known that good health of the body is indispensable for the integral health of the entire being. Yogic methods of pranayama and āsanas clearly indicate how the physical and spiritual are interrelated, and in India we have elaborate science of the relationship between the gross body and the subtle body as also of the centres or charkas of subtle body, the opening of which is essential for the fullness or perfection of the body, life and mind as also of spiritual realisation and manifestation. The recent discoveries of the powers that lie embedded in the organic cell of the body are amazing, and it has been found that the spiritual and supramental powers, when captured by the cells of the body, can effect even the mutation of the human body. It is with this high aim that the possibilities of physical education that our educational system should provide full facilities for the perfection of the human body. For that perfection can be a vehicle of the highest possible spiritual manifestation.
Capacities of the body, life and mind are first maximised and purified
It may be remarked that spiritual states of consciousness can be obtained only when the capacities of the body, life and mind are first maximised and purified, and these capacities can again be perfected when the powers of spiritual states of consciousness can, by their descent, penetrate into them and spiritualise them. The total programme of spiritual education is, therefore, a very long one, and it should be undertaken as a life-long programme. But for that very reason, it can suitably commence as early as possible. An appropriate programme needs to be chalked out.
Insistence on the pursuit of truth
Three principles characterise the programme of spiritual education, which necessarily includes education of the body, life and mind. First, there is insistence on the pursuit of truth, ─ truth as it is and not as one would like it to be; and this pursuit demands a high degree of rigor and scrupulous care, which discourages hasty arrival at conclusions, exaggerations of claims, and disregard for patient processes, which are required for verification. Particularly, in matters connected with the development of higher faculties, one needs to learn how to avoid wishful thinking and clouding of clarity and sincerity. Haphazard experiences and sporadic experimentations with truth lead to disbalancement and avoidable pitfalls into error and misjudgement. In
all scientific inquiries, these difficulties present themselves, and where spiritual education enters into the field, one has to be more scientific than the current sciences demand of the scientist; for current sciences deal with objective facts, whereas spiritual processes involve both objective and subjective facts. This is the reason why spiritual education should constantly be surcharged with relentless patience, perseverance and unfailing discrimination between appearance and reality, as also between darkness, confusion and light. Asato ma sadgamaya, tamaso ma jyotir-gamaya, mrityor ma amritam gamaya ─ these three great aspirations should pervade the atmosphere of educational processes as they did in the Upanishadic times.
Spirit of harmony between the teacher and the pupil
The second characteristic follows from the first, and that is the cultivation of the spirit of harmony between the teacher and the pupil, between educational administrators and all the partners of education.
Teachers will have to be themselves children leading other children
Spiritual education demands right attitudes among teachers and pupils. Spiritual education is totally child-centred, and this child-centeredness is so great that the teachers should expect to interweave their own outer and internal progress with the outer and internal progress of the children entrusted to their care. The teachers have always to be ready to uplift children's enthusiasm to inquire, to question and to explore and experiment in regard to various processes of learning; teachers cannot afford to be task-masters and create revolt in the minds and hearts of the children; teachers have to realise that they have no external authority, and the only authority that they have issues from their intense care to develop their own purity and their own increasing expansion and mastery over knowledge; the relationship between teachers and pupils should reflect the inter-relationship between inspirations from teachers and aspirations from pupils. Only on that basis harmonious teaching-learning processes can be assured. In the ultimate analysis, teachers will have to be themselves children leading other children.
Harmony depends upon goodwill from oneself and goodwill from others. Among teachers themselves, there has to be the reign of mutuality of goodwill; and similarly, educational administrators have to realise that if there is one place where administrators are real servants and not masters, it is in the field of education; and an educational administrator has to promote educational aims and ideals, and this can be done only where there is a good deal of consultation and absence of arbitrary decision-making. Administrators have to ensure that all support that is needed for a smooth
functioning of the educational processes will be forth-coming, and they will act as promoters of goodwill among the parents of children, management, pupils and teachers.
All this demands an austerity — tapasyā
All this demands tapasyā, an austerity that aims at friendliness, right types of exchange and mutuality, co-operation and an inner sense of fraternity.
The third characteristic is that of liberty. If there is one field where freedom must rule without any abridgement, it is in the flowering of the spiritual consciousness; spiritual development cannot be brought about by compulsion; all that is desirable should be voluntarily accepted or voluntarily self-imposed. It is for the teachers to create such conducive conditions that all that is desirable comes to be valued among pupils as also in the general atmosphere. Even if something is to be compulsory, under certain circumstances, that compulsion fades away as soon as possible, and it becomes interwoven in the process of self-discipline. Problems of conflict between liberty and discipline often arise, but the solutions depend upon how discipline is enforced, not by external means, but by internal adhesion on the part of all the concerned. Discipline is best when it is self-discipline and when it is the child of freedom. It is only when the child comes to accept a process of discipline that the teacher has the right to demand from the child unwavering adherence to discipline, whenever there is deviation from discipline out of unjustifiable relaxation or idleness or a whim of momentary defiance or negligence. No education and much less spiritual education can be perfected without
Discipline is best when it is self-discipline
discipline, just as even in the functioning of the physical body, every part and every organ has to function with the perfect sense of discipline and co-ordination. In the very atmosphere of the educational process, there must be an overriding sense of self-imposed discipline and it must be the responsibility of everyone to adhere to what is accepted as a part of discipline. Absence of compulsion, minimum of rules and overriding self-discipline coupled with a freedom of choice given to every individual to pursue his or her own lines of inquiry, pace of progress and direction of progress, ─ a combination of these elements would lead to the resolution of problems that are bound to arise when the entire education process is to vibrate with freedom, joy, creativity and happiness that comes from constant progress.
Children respond to truth, beauty and goodness
It is mistakenly thought that spiritual education should be pursued, if at all, only at advanced levels of education. Actually, a study of child's psychology indicates that children are, in many ways, budding angels; with their innocence, unpretentious sincerity, ready obedience and their sense of trust and confidence in all those who can deal with them with love and encouragement, children are often morally and spiritually superior to the adults. A number of children respond splendidly to truth, beauty and goodness, and if they receive the right encouragement in the right manner, the formation of the character can greatly be imprinted with orientation towards these great values. These values are imbibed by children, not so much by lectures as by encouragement that they receive from their teachers and parents. A good story, long or short, if told at the right moment can make a
Synthesise science and spirituality
tremendous impact, which cannot be wiped out throughout the entire life, and it continues to inspire the right action even in times of crisis and under heavy pressures of temptations.
Three remarks may, however, be made which relate to the question as to how spiritual education can be introduced in our present system of education and what reforms in the present system would be necessary, if we are to make spiritual education an effective instrument of the aims that we have in view, ─ particularly in regard to turning our system into a genuine system, as an instrument of enhancing the global effort to meet the challenges of the contemporary crisis, and as an aid to the fulfilment of the idea and practice of integral education.
It may be recalled that all major Reports on education, Commissions and Committees have acknowledged and underlined the theme of value-education, and even of moral and spiritual education. Dr. Radha-krishnan had recommended a series of measures by which moral education can be a preparation for the spiritual education; he had also recommended the need to provide for study of different religions. He had stressed the importance of the spiritual state of silence and made recommendations as to how this state of consciousness can be promoted. The Kothari Commission Report had also emphasised the need to synthesise science and spirituality and even brought out the truth of the ancient Indian ideal, which spoke of true knowledge as that which leads to spiritual liberation, ─ sa vidya ya vimuktaye. Shri Prakasa Committee had given detailed recommendations in
respect of moral and spiritual education. Value-education came to the forefront during the seventies and eighties, and there was also a report on imparting value-orientation to teachers' training programmes. The National Education Policy – 1986 had one full chapter on value education and had underlined the need to foster eternal values and values embedded in Indian culture through the entire educational programme in the country. The duties of citizens as laid down in the Constitution include the promotion of Indian heritage, which implies the study of Indian spirituality. With all these enabling factors, there should be no great difficulty to propose and implement spiritual education.
Communalism can be combated only if we can foster universality and unity
There are, however, those who maintain that the mind is the highest faculty of the human being; that the limitations of mental consciousness can never be broken, and that there is no such thing as spirituality or that there are no spiritual states of consciousness. But this contention is now as outmoded as the contention that anybody unacquainted with modern develop-ments of physics may hold out that the atom is the last limit of unimaginable outburst of energy. There are also those who feel that spiritual education will foster communalism; but this is only a superstition. In reality, communalism can rightly be combated only if we can foster universality and unity, – which in the ultimate analysis can be accomplished through spiritual education. The greatest antidote to communalism, we might affirm, is spiritual education. There are, however, those who maintain that the ideals of spiritual education cannot be made practicable in our present system of education. Here, it may be
acknowledged that since the present system of education was primarily designed to manufacture clerks, and since this system has changed only slightly since the advent of the British, and even after their departure, it is but natural that such a sublime theme as spiritual education may not find place in that so-called Indian system of Education.
But if we are to introduce spiritual education, three things will have to be undertaken :
None of these things is impracticable or impossible, but we cannot minimise the difficulties involved in
these tasks. It must, however, be emphasised that because the tasks are difficult, we tend to find excuses to escape from these difficulties. But difficulties have to be overcome, and we must chalk out a programme of overcoming these difficulties and implement that programme with perseverance and without any depressing or cynical thought.
Confrontation between the best and the worst possibilities
And this brings us to the third remark. Our state, whether in the country or in the world, presents us a powerful confrontation between the best possibilities and the worst possibilities; it is a battle being fought at a critical point, and if we do not act, we shall automatically be registering ourselves as members of the army of those who are working for the realisation of the worst possibilities; if, however, we make a choice and join the army of those who are working for the realisation of the best possibilities, we can be sure that we shall have done the right thing and that, irrespective of immediate results, we shall have enhanced the power of that force which is best for our country and the world. To work for spiritual education is to my mind, to join the army, however small it may be, that holds out the promise of the eventual fulfilment of humanity.