Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Z is for Zero and Infinity

So here we are at Z...the last letter of the English alphabet. And here I am staring at the screen not sure what I want to say now. I know, I know...after all that I have said in the last 25 extremely wordy posts, you may be wondering if there is anything even left for me to say. Or maybe there still is! Let us see....

What is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of letter Z? Zero. I will speak about Zero then.

And when I think of Zero, I think of India. Because it was India that gave the world this concept of Zero. Don't believe me? Maybe you would believe the evergreen Indian patriot given to us by the Hindi film industry, Mr. Manoj Kumar....

[I am happy that I could find this particular video for this song, because it also has the English translation of the lyrics for my non-Hindi-knowing readers.]

Ok, so there is some, actually quite a bit, generalization happening in that song, but so what? There is also some grand portrayal of India happening there, but so what? So what, you ask? Shouldn't I be questioning such over-generalizations, such grand portrayals? To your question, my dear reader, I say - hear me out first, and let us decide then....

We all know not everything is right with India or Indian society. Our media, international media, Indian intellectuals of a certain hue and ideological lineage, and their friends and counterparts from the West do a rather good job of telling us that almost everyday. Everyday we hear what is wrong with India, Indian society, Indian politics, Indian religions, Indian cultures, Indian industry, Indian markets, Indian education, Indian way of thinking, so and so forth. Enough already! Yeah, that's exactly what I sometimes want to say to all these voices criticizing everything and anything Indian, often without thinking or questioning, often without any deeper understanding of why things are the way they are.

You and I also know that everything is not right anywhere else either. Each society goes through its evolutionary process in its own way, at its own pace and facing its own challenges and struggles. But then this post is not about what is right or what is not right with India, or about how societies evolve. (Now there's an idea for a future blog post - or two, or three!)

If you actually knew the context in which the song played out in the film (Purab aur Paschim, East and West), you may begin to think differently about this generalization issue. Actually the way I see it, is not so much a generalization but something else that is going on here...but let me not digress. Those who have seen this film would probably agree with me that maybe there was a need for such a statement to be made in that particular context. The time when that film came out - 1970 - should also be kept into account when interpreting its overtly nationalist discourse. But then this post is also not about some old Hindi film or how Hindi films have done their bit in creating an "imaginary nation" as some postmodernist scholars would want to say after watching this video. As much as I like old Hindi films and old Hindi film songs and also have a cursory interest in some of intellectual discourse surrounding Hindi cinema, I move on to what this post is actually about.

The reason I wanted to share this video was simply this. It speaks of a love for India. A love that is based on the knowledge about India. A knowledge that is rooted in love for India. And if India has to evolve and progress, Indians must love India first. And it can't be blind love. It has to be a love with eyes wide open. With knowledge, with deep understanding.

Indian Education must play a prominent role in this. Indian children and youth must be given full opportunity to know about their country, their culture, their history. So they can begin to love and respect their rich and varied heritage, and be willing to work for their nation's glory (and through that work for the world and humanity at large) as they follow their life's chosen vocation and work. I have dealt with these and many other related topics and issues in my previous posts in this series. So for this last post, I will simply add one more thing. When Indian children and youth are told that it was India that gave to the world the concept of Zero, they should also be told that it was India that gave to the world the concept of Infinity too. (Don't believe me? Well, you know what to do then...Google it up!) Emphasizing the point about India's contribution of the concepts of Zero (shunya) and Infinity (anant, purna) makes the picture complete, in a way. And Indian education must also help Indian children and youth fill in those gaps between zero and infinity. They must be encouraged to discover and do their own fact-finding and research on what else did India contribute to the world knowledge, in various fields of human endeavour and activity, including many different branches of theoretical and applied sciences, engineering and medicine, architecture and city planning, visual and performing arts, economics and politics, etc.

Learners in Indian schools and colleges need to be shown that India has had a most inspiring legacy in the matter of original thinking. Prof. Subhash Kak has reminded us that the ancient Indian mind anticipated several of the most fundamental concepts which govern the world view of modern science today at least a couple of millennia before Western science could come up with them*. Some of those are:
1. According to the Puranas the cycle to which the present creation belongs is about 8.64 billion years old. This is about right based on current astrophysical estimates. This sounds revolutionary when we note that until a couple of hundred years ago the dogma in most of Eurasia was that the world was created in 4004 BC.
2.  The atomic doctrine of Kanada (2nd century AD) is much more interesting than that of Democritus. Kanada also postulates like Sankhya and Vedanta the subject/object dichotomy that has played such a crucial role in the creation of modern science.
3. That Space and Time need not flow at the same rate for different observers is a pretty revolutionary notion which we encounter in the Puranic stories and in the Yoga Vasishtha. We are not speaking here of the mathematical theory of relativity which is of recent European origin, yet the notion that time acts differently for different observers is quite remarkable.
4.  The Puranas say that Man arose at the end of a chain which began with plants and various kinds of animals. The theory of Vedic evolution is not at variance with Darwinian evolution although its focus was consciousness and not mere physical forms.
5.  The science of Mind described in the Vedic books and systematised by Patanjali is a very sophisticated description of the nature of the human mind and its capacity. The Western world did not even take up this field for study until very recently.
6.  A binary number system was used by Pingala (according to traditional accounts Panini's brother who lived around 450 BC) which must have helped the invention of the zero sign between 50 BC and 50 AD. Without the binary system the development of modern computers would have been much harder, and without a sign for zero, mathematics would have languished. In the West, the binary number system was independently discovered by Leibnitz only in 1678, 2000 years after Pingala.
7. Finally, Panini's Grammar of Sanskrit Ashtadhyayi describes the Sanskrit language in 4000 algebraic rules. This has been hailed by the American scholar Leonard Bloomfield as "one of the greatest monuments of human intelligence". No grammar of similar power has yet been constructed for any other language since.
The above list given by Prof. Kak is cited in Mangesh Nadkarni's essay - Can India Ever be Great Again? Prof. Nadkarni further goes on to write -
"Isn't it our educational system itself a marvel of our mental slavery since we aren't being told about any of these seven wonders of the ancient Indian mind in our school books? My purpose in listing them here is not to make us all just feel smugly proud of our heritage but to convince the modern generation of Indians what wonders can be achieved if only we break all intellectual bonds and learn to think for ourselves."
And my purpose in sharing this information is also not to feel smug as an Indian or even remotely suggest that Indian education should in any way promote any feeling of cultural chauvinism. If you have been reading the posts in this series, you would know how I have strongly cautioned/warned against any such thing.

Let me also add that I am not knowledgeable enough to personally verify the accuracy of these claims, but I trust that the sources from where I got this information have done enough research and study before making such claims. I list them here with the hope that those interested may perhaps take up their own research to explore these further. After all, that is what true learning is about - discovering truths on our own! And for those interested in knowing more about the legacy and history of science and scientific thinking in India may also look up this link here.

But the more important point I want to emphasize here is that in the name of globalization, world-citizenship, modernization, cross-cultural learning and secularism and other such trends of the time (all of which are necessary in their own way for a whole-istic model of education, as also suggested in many of my previous posts), some great truths about their heritage and culture should not be kept away from the learners of India. Our curriculum, textbooks, everything must be reflective of some of these great truths about India's past so that a strong and healthy present and future India can be prepared. A healthy love and respect for one's past helps prepare the ground for a bright future.

I have said something similar earlier too in this series. But it is worth reiterating. When the only message given to the young minds is that all pragmatic and scientific knowledge needed for practical life and living came from and comes from outside India, and that India only gave them some (or many) gods and goddesses, mythologies, rituals, and other such things we are not only not giving a complete picture to the learners. We are doing something even worse. We are creating a division in these young minds - not only about India and the West, but also about what is sacred and what is secular, what is mythological and what is historical, what is otherworldly and irrelevant and what is practical and relevant. And we all know what serious problems can arise out of such mental divisions, such rigid categorizations, such constructed oppositions. An objective look at the present socio-political-cultural-intellectual discourse in India (and perhaps in rest of the world too) will convince you of how disruptive and regressive such a dichotomous and polarizing thought-process can be. Young minds should be given a more accurate picture of how not only all knowledge is One Knowledge but also that each culture, each civilization has in its own way, through its own unique ways of knowing contributed to that One Super-Ocean of Knowledge.

As I come to the end of this series "Putting India Back in Indian Education" I find that the only way I can I end this last post of the series is with the following words of Sri Aurobindo:
"National education cannot be defined briefly in one or two sentences, but we may describe it tentatively as the education which starting with the past and making full use of the present builds up a great nation. Whoever wishes to cut off the nation from its past is no friend of our national growth. Whoever fails to take advantage of the present is losing us the battle of life. We must therefore save for India all that she has stored up of knowledge, character and noble thought in her immemorial past. We must acquire for her the best knowledge that [the West] can give her and assimilate it to her own peculiar type of national temperament. We must introduce the best methods of teaching humanity has developed, whether modern or ancient. And all these we must harmonise into a system which will be impregnated with the spirit of self-reliance so as to build up men and not machines.... (CWSA, vol 6-7, p. 895)
This post is written for the A-Z Challenge, April 2014. The theme I am exploring is - Putting India back in Indian Education

Click here for all the previous posts in this series.

Author's note: A big thank you to all my patient readers for going through these long posts on Indian Education. I truly appreciate your constant support, encouragement and motivation given via your comments on the blog and private emails. And I promise I shall try my very best that my next several posts on the blog will not be this long, or this 'heavy' :) Keep checking back here, keep visiting and reading this blog. Subscribe if you haven't done so already. Like the Facebook page of the blog here, if you like.

Thank you, once again!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Y is for Young

Is Education only a concern for the Young? What does it mean to be young? Ideally, education is a life-long activity, which means that education concerns all, no matter what their physical age. If education in essence is about making inner and outer progress, as we have seen in several of the previous posts in this series (especially see here, here and here), then progress can be and must be made at all ages. Which means that as long as we keep progressing, we remain young. This idea has important implications for life-long learning for teachers, educational administrators, policy-makers, parents as well as everyone involved with the important task of preparing our future generations.

This post explores this very important idea, through the golden words of the Mother, sourced from her volume, On Education, which compiles all her writings and talks pertaining to education. For this post, I will rely exclusively on the Words of the Mother because there is no way this very important message can be paraphrased or explained by me. (That is why I am also tagging this post as part of my regular series - Satyam Shivam Sundaram. And since these words also serve as a great reminder for my ongoing journey in personal growth and learning, I am also tagging it under Reminders to self)

Your True Nature - Digital Artwork by Christian Schole

To be young is to live in the future. 
To be young is to be always ready to give up what we are in order to become what we must be. To be young is never to accept the irreparable. (28 March 1967)
It is not the number of years you have lived that makes you grow old. You become old when you stop progressing. As soon as you feel you have done what you had to do, as soon as you think you know what you ought to know, as soon as you want to sit and enjoy the results of your effort, with the feeling you have worked enough in life, then at once you become old and begin to decline. When, on the contrary, you are convinced that what you know is nothing compared to all which remains to be known, when you feel that what you have done is just the starting-point of what remains to be done, when you see the future like an attractive sun shining with the innumerable possibilities yet to be achieved, then you are young, however many are the years you have passed upon earth, young and rich with all the realisations of tomorrow. And if you do not want your body to fail you, avoid wasting your energies in useless agitation. Whatever you do, do it in a quiet and composed poise. In peace and silence is the greatest strength. (21 February 1968) 
For a happy and effective life, the essentials are sincerity, humility, perseverance and an insatiable thirst for progress. Above all, one must be convinced of a limitless possibility of progress. Progress is youth; at a hundred years of age one can be young. (14 January 1972) 
 ~ Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 12, pp.122-123

This post is written for the A-Z Challenge, April 2014. The theme I am exploring is - Putting India back in Indian Education

Click here for the previous post in this series.

Monday, 28 April 2014

X is for (X)Cross-Cultural Learning, the Indian Way

As I mentioned in an earlier post one of the aims of a true Indian education should be to help learners come to a realization that they are deeply and closely connected with the larger world, the larger humanity around them. We also saw in another post that Indian cultural thought encourages us to seek and assimilate wisdom and knowledge from all sources. So it is quite natural that a truly India-centric education should also incorporate, encourage and facilitate a thorough study of other cultures and their contributions to the world knowledge. 
But how should such a study be approached, so that it is meaningful, relevant and helps the learners develop a broader outlook and a deeper connection with the diversity of the world. Surely it can not be at the cost of studying one's own cultural tradition and heritage (as we saw in the posts for  HI, and U). But as we also saw it in the post on N, a deeper appreciative study of one's culture may automatically inspire and lead to an interest in a study and examination of other cultures that are different from one's own.

First, it is important to understand what is a culture. Here is how Sri Aurobindo defines a culture:


So when we study a culture, we should look at all its three aspects and the harmony among them. And if we are to do it according to the Indian view of things, our focus should be on grasping how the soul of a people, their highest aspiration and thought is expressed through the best efforts and accomplishments of their collective minds and imagination, and through the outer forms, systems and structures of society.

An India-centric way of cross-cultural studies will also encourage a study of the extent to which a culture, any culture facilitates the finding and maintaining of a natural harmony of spirit, mind and body. In this view, a culture is also to be valued to the extent to which it has not only discovered the right key of this harmony but also organised its motives, life-forms and movements to express and facilitate such harmony. Such learning has immense practical value for children who as adults will be navigating their life-paths through an increasingly globalized world where intercultural and multicultural experiences are becoming quite the norm.

To understand how cultures are different and how they express those differences through this harmony of soul, mind and body, it is also important to know how to really appreciate and understand a culture that is not the one in which one has grown up or from which one draws one's governing ideals.

Sri Aurobindo has spoken of three ways in which a study of a foreign civilization or culture may be undertaken:

1. There is the eye of sympathy and intuition, and a close appreciative self-identification, so as to reveal the soul of a people. Such an approach, because it is based on an inner identification with the 'other' culture, may not yield much hard data about the outward facts. But we develop an awareness of some of the deeper values, some of the highest ideals that guide that culture. Our focus in such an approach is not exclusively on examining the deficiencies of the expression of that deeper spirit or values in lived reality, but also, perhaps even more so to appreciate its ideal meaning. This is perhaps the most difficult way to study other cultures, and requires long-term and thorough immersion in other culture. Not always possible to do at early levels of education, though a good beginning may be made as early as elementary and middle classes by incorporating carefully selected inspiring and uplifting stories, legends, music and arts from various cultural backgrounds.

2. The second way to study a culture different from one's own is with the eye of the discerning and dispassionate critic. Such a critic tries to see the thing as it is - both in its intention and actuality. It looks at both the success and failure as the highest cultural ideals and values are molded into life-forms and ways of living. It is able to separate out that "which evokes appreciative sympathy from that which calls for critical censure." A wide variety of reading material - sociological, literary, artistic, philosophical, aesthetic and religio-spiritual - may be necessary for an extensive study using such an approach, combined with as much exposure as possible to the lived reality facilitated through travel, study abroad, and exchange programmes.

3. The third way is the way of the hostile critic, who is convinced of the inferiority of the culture under study. Such a critic starts with a pre-conceived idea of what the other culture is all about and stays convinced of his or her judgement because he or she can always come up with reasonable arguments to support it.

Educators and curriculum planners must be very careful when deciding upon the study material for facilitating a cross-cultural learning experience. The above criteria may be used to examine and assess the educational value of a variety of study materials, including books, films, and music, as well as planning other learning activities like exchange programs, online interaction, etc.

A question must also be asked whether we want the learners to develop a sympathetic or a dispassionate view of the 'other' culture, and what is the relative value of each of these. To a certain extent even the perspective of a hostile critic might be useful for a comparative study as long as it is not slander or meaningless distortion or perversion of the facts. But such an approach must be very carefully introduced and only at higher levels of education when the learners have arrived at a certain level of mental development and intellectual maturity to critically evaluate and examine a thought from multiple even opposing perspectives, get to the source of such hostility and maybe even grow in mental flexibility from such kind of comparative study.

At all times, it must be remembered that a truly India-inspired cross-cultural learning experience should be guided by the ideal of Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam (All World is One Family).

~ Painting by Ioyan Mani, source

This post is written for the A-Z Challenge, April 2014. The theme I am exploring is - Putting India back in Indian Education

Click here for the previous post in this series.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Priceless are the Moments...Part I

A new post in the series - When a Picture Leads

He knew he had to capture it. That sight. That moment. For his love.  

Dangling on the chain was that beauty he knew his love would love. A thin little branch, a chain of the big tree of life, and there it was dangling on it, a beautiful brown and blue butterfly. 


Beautiful in its simplicity, in what it seemed to be saying.

He captured the beauty on his camera. And emailed it to her the same evening. He wasn't even sure if it will reach her, but it didn't matter. But he specifically chose to send it to her old email address, from several years ago. He thought it was more charming, more romantic. His mind worked that way - then and now.

She had however changed, and not just her email address. 

But she still checked that old email address once or twice a week...just in case... 

And that day she checked. She couldn't believe her eyes. Was it really his name she saw? Why was he emailing her? And at this old address? With a slight irritation she shook her head impatiently and opened the email and saw.

There were only two words in the subject line - For love....

And below, only four.

Remember the moment when....

And then she opened the attachment. 

She sat in silence, looking at the picture, remembering. Not just that one moment, but a lot of those moments. Those walks, those flowers, those butterflies, those moments of beauty, those moments of love they experienced together. 

When did those moments end? Why did they end? 

And she remembered that moment too. That moment when she knew exactly what she wanted. Him. A life with him.

Her left forefinger casually went up to touch something on her neck. Dangling on the chain was an intricately designed diamond pendant. She walked to her bedroom and straight to her closet. She opened the drawer and found it. The ring he had presented to her when he asked her to marry him. 

That was the moment.

The moment when they had spotted a beautiful butterfly dangling on a thin little leaf, and the passion with which they admired the beautiful yellows, reds, whites and blacks of the butterfly contrasting with the green of the leaf. And the way their eyes and hearts could see and feel the love that was all around in nature, all around them, in them.

Several moments passed. The butterfly just sat there, and so did they, in silence. They smiled at such beauty and looked at each other with smiling eyes.

That was the moment she knew what she wanted. And she knew he knew it too. And he too knew that she knew what he wanted most of all. Their love was like that, silent and beautiful.

This was the moment for which he had kept that ring carefully hidden in the side pocket of his camera bag. He gently took it out and presented it to her. And asked her the question. Simply, beautifully. Amidst those trees, flowers and butterflies.
(Pictures by Suhas Mehra)

To read the second and concluding part of the story, click here.

To see the previous posts in the series, When a Picture Leads, click here.

Linking this post to Write Tribe- Wednesday Prompt - Dangling on the chain was....

Also linking this post with ABC Wednesday: P - P is for Priceless

Saturday, 26 April 2014

W is for Way, Way to Integrate the Spiritual and the Secular in Education

Today's post picks up the thread from the yesterday's post. But in this post I dwell a little more specifically on the necessity and significance of a meaningful integration of spirituality and life in a truly Indian Education in which education of and for the mind and heart must become intricately woven with the education of and for the spirit.

As we saw in the previous post, Indian spirituality, in its essence, is not removed from life but one that is the basis of all life including all creative pursuits such as art, literature, philosophy, music etc. A true Indian education must be grounded in this understanding of spirituality. Spirituality that motivates a growing mind and heart to experience all the joys of life and living and to expand and deepen their seeking for truth through all that life has to offer; spirituality that takes up all the intellectual, creative, vital energies and colours them in its own truth. In order for such a wave for life-affirming spirituality to take over a people’s consciousness, opulent vitality and opulent intellectuality are essential.

The view of spirituality that should become the basis of Indian Education is one that understands spiritual tendency as one that "does not shoot upward only to the abstract, the hidden and the intangible; it casts its rays downward and outward to embrace the multiplicities of thought and the richness of life" (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Volume 20, p. 13). Learners in such a view of education are to be offered as much opportunity and freedom as needed to discover the normal mental possibilities of their intellect, will, ethical, aesthetic and emotional beings, but then these beings are also raised up "towards the greater light and power of their own highest intuitions" (p. 16)

Such a view of spirituality-based education does not exclude anything from its scope, "any of the great aims of human life, any of the great problems of our modern world, any form of human activity, any general or inherent impulse or characteristic means of the desire of the soul of man for development, expansion, increasing vigour and joy, light, power, perfection" (p. 33). Such a view of spiritual education "must not belittle the mind, life or body or hold them of small account: it will rather hold them of high account, of immense importance, precisely because they are the conditions and instruments of the life of the spirit in man" (p. 34).

#indianeducationIf we examine the history of intellectual and spiritual thought in India we find that here Science, Rationality and Reason have generally found a peaceful co-existence with Spirituality, as compared to the West. Through our careful observations and reflections on the Indian social and cultural context we also learn that there still abounds a plethora of external influences which play an important role in imprinting on the hearts and minds of people of all ages and backgrounds that there is more to the visible world of Matter. Most Indians, whatever religion they may belong to, generally feel very comfortable with the idea that there may be a Divine Presence in all of the world and life that we see, and that spiritual aim of life can co-exist with other aims of life. But for some reason (or perhaps for some very strong political and ideological reasons, which I would rather avoid in this post), such an organic truth of Indian way of life has not informed how we have shaped our educational thought and practice ever since Indian independence. We have merely been "improvising" with a little reform here or a little add-on there to the McCaulay's model of education that was imposed on us by our colonial masters.

As mentioned in an earlier post, in the present-day social-political climate of India where almost on a daily basis we see a conflict (misguided, if I may add) between what is ‘secular’ and what is not, a most fundamental question facing our schools may be -- should schools be secular or not? It will take me a whole other long post (or more than one) to go into the history of the word "secular" and what it implies, what it doesn't. I don't plan to write those posts on this blog, but interested readers may begin with reading the information presented here, here and here.

It will probably take me several posts to discuss the extent to which the "secularism" as understood in its present and past social, cultural, political, intellectual and philosophical contexts of the West, where the term and the concept originated, makes sense in the Indian present and past social, cultural political, intellectual, and philosophical context. I am not sure whether I will write those posts either, but perhaps a right motivation here or there could spark an interest in writing on such topics at some future date. But for now, let me just say that one of the things I will write in those posts on secularism in India (if I ever write them) would be that  in India we have had a much longer tradition of sarva dharma sambhava (all ways, all truths - ALL - leading to the final aim of life, the Divine source, are possible and can co-exist harmoniously). This truth of India, which is actually much deeper than the modern west-centric concept of secularism, has implications for not only the political future of India, but also its social, intellectual, cultural life.  And certainly for Indian Education. This last bit is what I am interested in exploring a bit more in rest of this post.

If by "secular" we mean only that which acknowledges, accepts and values only the material or temporal view of existence, and all the matters of spirit are left to that which goes by the English name of religion, then perhaps a true Indian Education should not be secular. At least not in this limited view. Now before you jump to the conclusion that I am advocating for a religious education or religion-based education, I want you to continue reading.

But first, it may be a good time now to revisit the word dharma (as discussed in an earlier post here). And we see that we are NOT talking of religion when we speak of dharma. (In fact, that in itself could be a good topic for some future post on how the word "religion" is not suitable when we speak of the Indian spiritual culture and traditions.)

Now imagine if we were to replace the word "secularism" with something else. Let us replace, just as an experiment, by the Indian ideal of sarva dharma sambhava. We now begin to get a whole new picture. The term secularism is now broadened to incorporate a spiritual view of existence – spiritual not religious, mind you, because it accepts dharma as the basis for a progressive and gradual growth of the individual and society. It rids itself of the artificially constructed dichotomy of what is sacred and what is not, what is spiritual and what is temporal. Education must be secular (or should I say, dharmic) in this new sense of the term. Education will now become more “whole-istic” in its approach to learning, teaching and all that is involved in education, because it will not be limited by a narrow material view of existence.

When all the domains of life and all creative, intellectual, aesthetic, ethical, social pursuits get immersed in the deep ocean of spiritual waters, when a seeking for the invisible guides all visible pursuits, then the distinction between not-sacred and sacred begins to blur. Everything becomes a sacred way to seek the sacredin everything. All ways of seeking, all truths can co-exist in such a view; sarva dharma sambhava. Following the line of great Rishis of the past, Sri Aurobindo too has spoken of such a spiritual view of existence that takes up all that is ordinarily understood as secular within its fold and raises them to the light and grandeur of spirit. And this view of existence is what should be the basis of a true Indian education. It will integrate spirit and matter because it recognizes that Matter too is Spirit in another form. It will integrate spiritual and secular because for it nothing is outside the scope of spirit.

A true Indian education will not reject any aim of life, will not exclude any activity, but will take them all and steer them toward a greater purpose to facilitate in the learner discovery of the highest self. It will not reject matter or learning and mastery of the matter, but it will direct learner to view matter as only a limited manifestation of the spirit which is involved in it.

It will aim to develop the physical, the mental, the emotional, the aesthetic parts of learners not only because they may have a greater satisfaction or because “that is man’s finer nature, because so he feels himself more alive and fulfilled." It will aim to develop all these parts also and primarily "because these things too are the expressions of the spirit" (p. 35)

In a true Indian education learners’ moral and ethical development will be much more than a means to develop well-regulated individuals and social conduct which keeps society going and leads towards a better, a more rational, temperate, sympathetic, self-restrained dealing with fellow-beings. Such moral and ethical development – both for the learner and teacher  – will become a means for greater self-discovery and self-becoming.

As I read and reflect on what I have just written I am tempted to bring up the most fundamental question, the origin perhaps of all other questions concerning Indian Education. Will it be too far-fetched to say that the larger, no, the largest aim, the most true, fundamental or guiding aim of a true Indian Education is to help the human learner become one with the divine hidden within through his or her own unique path of evolution and development? Such an education is not confined to a school building, playground, laboratory, theater, music hall  – though all these are essential to it; it happens all the time, everywhere in the multi-sided field of life in the world  – life that is not confined to yet delights in the experience of the visible, audible world, life that aspires to see the invisible, touch the formless, hear the silent, and live in the mystery. Such an Education is Life itself. But Life when lived in the Light of the Spirit. And what is that, someone may ask? The perfect answer for that lies within the may take a while to search for the right answer, but it begins with seeking for it in the first place.

~ Antaryatra, painting by Bindu Popli

This post is written for the A-Z Challenge, April 2014. The theme I am exploring is - Putting India back in Indian Education

Click here for the previous post in this series.

Friday, 25 April 2014

V is for View, Indian View of Life

This post is a continuation of the ideas explored in yesteryday's post.

It has perhaps become fashionable to say in our globalizing times of the day that human experience is human experience after all, so how can it be much different anywhere. After all we have the same emotions, want the same things in life, and are motivated by similar what really is unique about any particular view of life? Life is life, everywhere. There may be some truth to this. But only some.

This tendency to generalize or universalize a certain view of life is one big reason why we are beginning to see what some have referred to as McDonaldization of the world. There is, in fact, a difference in different views of life based on the different views of what is a human being and what is the aim of human existence. We saw this in detail in earlier posts on Aim of Education, and Law of Graduality.

It could be argued that even if there is a particular Indian view of life, it doesn't really translate into the lived reality of present India for the most part. It may be further argued that the present Indian social-cultural mindset, for the most part, is occupied with a conception of life that emphasizes materialistic, utilitarian, mechanistic and rational view of life and universe. And there is some truth to this too. I think as a people we Indians, for the most part, have lost a sense of what is it that makes us Indian, and not Americans or French or Russian or something else. And this may be perhaps because we have tried to be everything to everyone - we have tried to assimilate the western view of life (which we have wrongly understood as "modern" way of life) so much so that we forgot our own view of life. And when the pendulum swings to the other side, we try so hard to get back to our "roots" in such rigid and narrow-minded ways that in the process deny value to everything that may not have its origin in the Indian culture.

A close and unbiased study of Indian thought reveals that Indian view of life is certainly not about a purely materialistic view nor is it about a life-denying spiritualistic view. It is actually a meaningful synthesis of both. The emphasis is not only on the spirit but also on the form because it is through form only that the spirit manifests or reveals itself. In Indian view, form becomes important because in the form dwells the spirit. So all Life, all experience actually become our means to gradually prepare ourselves for the path of the spirit. Indian spirituality, at its core, is not life-denying and, therefore, Indian view of life is just as valid today as it was in ancient times. But this is not a call to go back to the past. Please! You read the previous post, right? This is a call to know the past well so that a new future can be built.

I believe that even in modern times and in the present Indian scenario the validity or relevance of the Indian view of life is not a matter of question. The question is whether it is reflected in the way most Indians in present-day scenario view and understand life. I have to say that for the most part given the struggles of daily existence people don't know or care to know if there is an essential Indian conception of life. They go on with their lives on the assumption that people are people everywhere trying to meet the struggles of life and carrying on with their business. Who has the time to think through these deeper issues?

Generations of Indians, myself included, have grown up hearing that India is a spiritual country without knowing the first thing about what it means to be spiritual. Youngsters get plenty of messages from schools and colleges that all important modern contributions in the fields of philosophy, science, medicine, literature, art etc come from the West, though at one time in the ancient past India was a great country but what ancient Indians discovered back then is no longer relevant for present way of living. They are not encouraged to question any of this. And once they are out of colleges the struggle for daily bread and keeping up with the demands of middle-class lifestyles take care of any remaining aspiration they might have had to question the status quo or to look beyond the view of life they have experienced so far. So what view of life do you think these people would end up with? Certainly one that is materialistic, utilitarian and mechanistic - one that has now become the modern view of life everywhere.

But all hope is not lost yet. There still exist plenty of individuals in the midst of all this rationalistic modernity who aren't satisfied with what this view of life offers. They are searching for something more, something beyond, something that transcends this view of life. These are the ones that can be said to be aspiring for an Indian view of life - they may be living in India or elsewhere. These individuals and groups of individuals may not know that their view of life is termed as Indian view of life - it is the only conception of life, they feel, that has any true meaning and purpose. They don't deny the world of matter, but they see it in the right and bright light of the spirit. They don't shy away from the world of action, but they perform their work as an offering to the Divine in Nature which uses their work to fulfill the Divine purpose. They sing, paint, dance, teach, build houses, roads, clean houses and gutters, write poetry, wash dirty laundry, take care of children, cook meals for parties, do everything as a means for self-growth. These are the individuals who are living the Indian view of life - no matter which caste, group, nation, religion, they belong to. And if we think hard we can always find some individuals who may fit this description - in our families, in our neighborhoods, communities etc.

So Indian view of life is still alive here and there, though it is often hidden or pushed to the corners because of the overwhelming nature of the modern utilitarian view of life where everything and everyone exists to be fitted into the whole machinery of life. These people who don't fit well this utilitarian view of life are seen as misfits or a drag on the society or weirdos or as backward or traditional or un-progressive or what have you....many different names can be given to such people.

A spiritual modernism, not the rationalistic modernism, is the need of the hour. Indian view of life has the potential to give us that.

The question that now confronts those of us interested in Indian education is this - are we aware of what an Indian view of life may be about? Are we living our lives guided by this inner view of life? And are we in any way helping Indian learners develop an awareness and appreciation of this view of life?

And why is there a need for such questions, someone may rightly ask. Let us hear from Sister Nivedita, from her book "Hints on National Education in India" -
"A National Education is, first and foremost, an education in the national idealism...A national education must be made up of familiar elements. The ideals presented must always be first clothed in a form evolved by our own past. Our imagination must be first based on our own heroic literature. Our hope must be woven out of our history....Every outer ought to be a direct branching out from some inner. The mind that is fed from the beginning on foreign knowledge and ideas, not rooted and built upon the sense of intimacy, is like the waif brought up in the stranger's home. The waif may behave well and reward his benefactor but this is apt to be the fruit of an intellectual notion of duty, not because, loving him, he could not help it." (pp. 36-41)
The next post will build further upon what has been presented here.

Both images from
This post is written for the A-Z Challenge, April 2014. The theme I am exploring is - Putting India back in Indian Education

Click here for the previous post in the series.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

U is for Unity, Unity in Diversity and the Indian-ness

#atozchallengeLet me get to the point straightaway. No mincing words.

Thanks to our modern education we Indians have lost our sense of what Indian-ness may truly mean. Instead of blindly following the ways of the West, we Indians – individually and collectively – must discover our unique place and role in the world. If each nation has a specific and unique contribution to make for the future of the world and humanity, what is India's role? What is my individual obligation toward helping India rise up to its potential and work toward its true mission? And how does it relate to Indian Education? Let us explore a bit.

So what makes us Indian? Obviously, Indian-ness is not just about the rich variety in Indian cuisine, clothes, festivals, rituals, customs, traditions, though they are all part of it. It is not only about the social-political systems we have set up in our country, though they too are part of it. And it is also not only about the different religions and ways of life practiced by different sections of our people, though again they are all part of it. What is that Indian spirit that binds as all despite all these differences in our identities and ways of life? And how can we make that Indian spirit part of our educational experience?

It should be made very clear that our attempt to learn about the Indian spirit should be driven by our zeal to make this essential Indian-ness relevant for the present times, and for the new age which is dawning upon us. A true renaissance of Indian spirit is not about going back to the so-called golden age of the past but moving forward to a new future that is yet to be shaped by us. And this future depends on how each one of us understands what the essence of Indian-ness is about. At the same time it needs to be emphasized that we must not shun anything as irrelevant for true revival of Indian spirit simply because it is “western” or “modern”. 

India exists in its plurality, and yet India is also One in spirit. India is traditional, pre-modern, modern, postmodern and post-postmodern, all in one, all at one time, all co-existing. Whether we are conscious of it or not we carry all of this diversity within us. What might be the invisible factor that transcends yet somehow binds all the multiple, outer aspects of Indian identity in such a way that each of the many outer aspects of Indian identity retains its individual status yet merges in something larger, something more whole than itself? What may be the deeper source of my connection with another Indian, or with Indian culture in general? Is there anything like the soul of an Indian? Or Indian soul which helps people who consider themselves “Indian in heart” connect with one another despite the external differences in any or all of the outer identity aspects?

These and other questions like these must be reflected upon by Indian educators, so that they, in turn, can facilitate such reflection among their learners - in age-appropriate ways, of course. At present, such introspection and reflection among teachers is hardly encouraged. I would even say it is never even considered a part of teacher's learning programme - pre-service or in-service. The emphasis in teacher workshops and in-service training sessions is often on promoting the newest educational technology or the latest pedagogical approach imported from elsewhere. But why not first work with the inner technology given to all of us, the ability to look within? 

Imagine when a teacher discovers that perhaps this Indian-ness, this essence of being Indian lies in our shared and firm belief in something invisible beyond the visible, something supra-rational beyond the rational, something infinite beyond the finite, something eternal beyond the temporal, something that transcends yet includes All that is, was and will ever be. And that there are many different paths possible to "test" this belief  and "realize" its truth within oneself-- perhaps as many paths as there are people on the planet, including the path of questioning and disbelieving this belief itself. Such an insight would  not only be deeply transformative for her own intellectual and personal growth, but it could also lead to some great discussions in classroom on discovering the truth behind the Indian principle of unity-in-diversity. 

Diversity concerns all that which is outer, visible; Unity concerns the invisible, the inner. It is the inner One that binds the Multiple outers. [Afterall, the same principle applies to who/what we are as an individual - an inner one self holds together, sustains and unites our multiple outer selves - physical, emotional and mental. Same truth holds for the collective being.] Any attempt to bring unity from the outside will lead to forced uniformity. And yet some uniformity in the outer mechanisms, structures, social policies, laws and rules might be necessary for an efficient and effective outer collective life of the society so that the true inner freedom and diversity may prevail. This fine balancing of the inner and outer, the oneness and the multiplicity needs to be brought home -- first in the hearts and minds of the educators, and through their example and influence to that of the learners. Don't we want our learners, our future generations to have a sincere intellectual awareness of and a deep commitment to this ideal that their country puts before them? Our future as a nation depends on this.

The other important question that is becoming more and more significant for almost all Indians with every passing day is this -- How to stay Indian in spirit and at the same time healthily assimilating the influences from other cultures -- that is the challenge we have in front of us in this fast globalizing world? This is a very real issue facing our future generations. Why shouldn't our education, and our educators be constructively and creatively involved in such an important discourse of our times? 

Most of us know that famous line of Mahatma Gandhi about keeping all the windows of our house open so ideas and air from everywhere can come in. He further emphasized that we should however not get swept away by the gush of outside air, but stand firmly rooted in our homes/roots. Extending this analogy a bit more, I may add that a good cross-ventilation in a house can keep the air circulating, and at the same time allow for some of the unhealthy influences (that don't mesh well with the overall spirit of our home) to easily move out keeping the inside environment fresh and renewed. Also, like in any good house we first need a strong foundation upon which rest of the structure can be built including the proper placement and alignment of windows. So windows or not, unless the house has a strong foundation it will not last for all times to come. 

This is perhaps we need as Indians too. If we are able to get back to the true foundations of our culture, if we can imbibe deep within us the true spirit of being Indian, the outer covering - food, clothing, religion, language, etc will not matter. Let me also add that Indian-ness is not something that can be taught (but then we saw earlier that nothing really can be taught), it is something that is discovered over time. But our schools and other educational institutions can play a very big role in facilitating such a discovery process - for students and teachers alike.

As we begin the process of knowing more about who we truly are in our deepest core, we begin the process of discovering what it means to be Indian. The search for the soul can lead us to the search for the soul of India. Sooner or later we are all -- born in India or elsewhere -- destined to be on this path of discovery, and until then all the outer changes and experiences we are going through may just be a preparation for us. Even this phase of excessive and mindless aping of the West we are presently going through in India may have a deeper purpose behind it. [As they say, we have to first try out something in order to know what to throw out and what to keep.] 

Now there is one more question we must consider – is Indian-ness something that is limited to a particular set of geographic boundaries? If Indian-ness is a way of being (more on this coming up in the next post), can it really be bound by boundaries or by bodies born within certain boundaries?

If one feels some sort of quest to seek beyond the known and visible, to search for something invisible, something beyond the limit of human reason, and tries to make this seeking the true basis for all other seeking and progress in life, then one has chosen a certain way of being in the world. And perhaps that may be called Indian-ness. 

This idea of Indian view of life and its relation with Indian education will be picked up again in my next post, on V. 

Let me conclude this post by adding that a truly Indian education will encourage and must facilitate such kind of deep reflection and introspection - for educators, for students, for all those entrusted with the task of educating and preparing India's future generations.

Picture credits: 1,  2 

This post is written for the A-Z Challenge, April 2014. The theme I am exploring is - Putting India back in Indian Education

Click here for the previous post in this series.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

T is for Teacher, the Seeker

This post may be seen as a continuation from my earlier post on P, Personality of a Teacher. 

As mentioned in an earlier post, India teaches us that essentially a human being is a potential divinity, whose true aim in life is to discover the Divine within and grow in the light of that Divinity (and this aim generally spreads over many lifetimes, with each lifetime providing a gradual progress toward the goal). Can education help us make some progress toward that aim? Should it? If you read this post, you will probably agree that it should.

Is an educator whose dharma is to help the learner grow and develop to his or her full potential aware of what is meant by human development, as per this Indian view? Or even what is a human being? Is human being only a physical, emotional, mental being, mixed up together? Or is a human being essentially a soul, spark of the Divine, manifesting itself in and through the physical, emotional and mental selves that are in turn always becoming who they are? In this view of human being, human development takes the form of a conscious aspiration and effort to constantly develop, perfect and harmonize the various becomings or manifestations of the real self, the soul, the inmost being, even when we are not in direct touch with that real being within. What does such a development process look like?

These are some of the key questions educators must keep exploring and place in front if they want to become conscious of their true role as educators. This is the call of the hour, the need of the times. After all, for the most part teachers are themselves the products of the currently prevalent education system which ignores this Indian spiritual view of human being and human development.

It is of utmost necessity that teachers must first unlearn what they presently know or think they know about the function of a teacher. And they should then re-learn the true role that a teacher must play in the child's life - that of a gentle facilitator who tries to create an ideal atmosphere where the children can discover the knowledge that lies hidden within them through proper impetus and gradual unfolding and development of various faculties.

The role of a teacher can't be over-emphasized if we want Indian education to become India-centric. In a true and living Indian education, the aim is to make sure that the various instruments of the soul - body, life and mind - are well prepared and trained so that the students feel ready to live an inner life or a life of self-discovery and self-transformation while they choose to engage in worldly occupations and all other aspects of a worldly life after completing their high school and college education. Here an important point to be made is about the influence of a teacher.

If the teacher is himself or herself a seeker, a life-long learner, an aspirant on the path of inner growth and self-discovery, he/she presents a real-world role model for the students who can see in their teacher that it is possible to continue on one’s inner life while being engaged in external work. Personal example and influence might be the best way an educator can emphasize for his or her students this aim of inner discovery, this urge to be on a quest for the discovery of the truth within.

In a true Indian education a teacher’s own inner work will be a key factor in facilitating students’ inner un-folding. Everything else – curriculum, course texts, learning materials, assignments etc. – will have its importance, but nothing will be as important as the teacher and his or her own inner progress.

This brings us to something quite fundamental to the kind of Indian education being proposed or suggested here, one that is based on the Indian view of man/woman, the individual and the aim of human life. How essential it is for a teacher, in this view of Indian education, to have some sense of (even if it is on an intellectual level) or at least an open-minded curiosity to “experience” something that is called “soul”? How essential it is to have a faith in this entity called “soul” or the divine spark within? If someone is intellectually convinced that there is no such thing as soul and that only through a clear rational thinking and reason can one dig deep into oneself, can such a person ever be an effective educator in this framework? In other words, if someone is convinced that only through an intellectual reasoning one can know oneself and that there is no other deeper layer to oneself other than what can be analysed and deconstructed by reason, will such a person ever be able to facilitate the “integral” un-foldment of the learner?

I guess I am actually asking an even more fundamental question. How important it is for someone interested in learning about or working in such a system of education to have a faith in or at least an open-minded curiosity to conceive of the possibility that there is something Divine in the Universe and within all of us? We can seek to discover something only when we can sense in some way that it exists. I guess in some way this goes back to the perennial argument between materialists and spiritualists -- materialists asking for a proof of the God before they can believe in It, and spiritualists arguing that proof is in seeking of the God itself, a seeking based on a faith that all including the matter is a manifestation of God.

Perhaps a truly Indian Education will have a room for such debates, such questionings and such multiple truths. Because as mentioned in an earlier post, it will be based on two fundamental Vedic truths: Truth is One, sages call it by many names; and Let noble thoughts come to us from every side.

Ultimately, a true and living Indian education will be built on the ideal that teachers must have faith in the child’s inner teacher to guide his or her own becoming.  And undoubtedly, this will equally apply to the teacher herself – to have a faith in her own inner teacher - whatever one may call That presence within. And that she must work constantly to unfold this inner teacher, so that she can be guided by this inner teacher which is beyond mind’s reasoning ability. A teacher can only give the child as much respect for her inner teacher, as much freedom for her becoming, as the state of her current unfoldment empowers her.

So instead of worrying about whether these high ideals of a true Indian Education can be applied in real-world classrooms and schools with all the deeply entrenched problems that ail the system, perhaps teachers should first be asking themselves – to what extent are we working on our un-foldment as whole and integrated persons?

In other words, a truly Indian Education will require teachers to live the life of life-long learners and seekers, with a full faith in the first principle of true teaching that nothing indeed can be taught.

This post is written for the A-Z Challenge, April 2014. The theme I am exploring is - Putting India back in Indian Education

Click here for the previous post in the series.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

S is for Stories

After all that serious and "Reason-able" talks from yesterday, today we speak of something that is more fun. Stories.

From the timeless oral traditions to the present written texts, from the heard and spoken word to the read and written word, India has always been a land of storytellers and poets. [Click here for a previous post on Indian folktales on this blog.]

Our epics, mythologies, folk tales and contemporary narratives blend the fine art of storytelling with the essence as well as the rich and varied hues of our lives. Whether told by a traditional kathavachak,  the village or town storyteller, or a fond grandmother – as children most of us (I may be speaking mostly of Indians of my generation, around 40-50 years of age) learned values, morals, and finer aspects of our culture from the uniquely rapt, otherworldly experience of a perfectly narrated tale. The tale could have been about a grandmother's friend, real or imaginary, or about a local vegetable-seller, or about Lord Krishna, it didn't matter. What mattered was how the story-teller and the listeners engaged with the tale being narrated.

But for some reason, we really haven't found a way to incorporate this great tradition of storytelling in the mainstream Indian educational thought and practice as prevalent today in majority of schools. Perhaps as a culture, we have been gradually losing this art of creative storytelling. Or like other creative arts, here too we are seeing more of an imitation as far as fictional genres and styles of writing and telling stories are concerned. [A side-effect of this is perhaps seen in the fact for a long time now we haven't really seen many powerful stories or scripts in mainstream Hindi cinema. Of course, many may disagree with me on this point, and I respect their right to their opinion on this matter!]

Geeta Ramanujam is a Bangalore-based academician and a storyteller and founder of “Kathalaya: The House of Stories” – an organization aimed to revive the ancient art of storytelling and to use it in schools as a cultural tool in education. She says: "In India, the story has always been the learning tool par excellence. All our great teachers taught through the story, whether it be Shankara, Auvaiyar, or Akka Mahadevi, giving pleasure, indulging in the paradoxical, giving listeners a chance to explore meanings. The beautifully taut poems of the Bhakti poets demanded one to look deeper."

A couple of years ago, I met a young bright woman, Deepa Kiran, who is also working on bringing the art of storytelling into educational practice. (Recently I came across this delightful read about another young storyteller Vikram Sridhar who is doing his part in the revival of this great art of storytelling while also teaching children about wildlife conservation.)

Perhaps the most important way to engage learners and have them actively participate in their learning is by keeping them interested. A teacher's work is more than half done if students are interested in the topic being explored in the classroom. Storytelling can be a wonderful way to keep the learners' interest high, especially in situations where children's attention span or concentration may be otherwise limited or dispersed.

#indianeducationAs we saw in an earlier post, stories can also be creatively used to provide necessary intellectual encouragement to the learners for their moral and character development. We all can remember from our childhood how we felt inspired or uplifted through certain stories of great men and women from our rich and diverse mythologies and histories. When such moments become part of children's formal educational experience, going to school becomes an act of joy, learning about the world becomes a process of discovering the inner worlds, a peek into another's life becomes a stepping stone into knowing the layers of oneself.

Folktales and stories from diverse regions and backgrounds can help learners develop a greater appreciation of the rich diversity and pluralism of India. Carefully selected and creatively told stories from mythology and oral traditions can help create a deeper understanding of how traditions are kept alive in a culture and how collective memory facilitates transmission of cultural knowledge and traditions. Educators should also help facilitate learners to tell stories from their lives and that of other people in their lives. This helps build imagination and creativity.

In addition to a careful selection of age-appropriate stories from diverse ethnic, cultural, linguistic, religious traditions - from India as well as other cultures, educators must also encourage learners to engage constructively with the stories. Multiple interpretations and perspectives must be allowed when discussing the story. Diversity of opinions should be valued, and learners should be encouraged to come up with a higher synthesis of diverse perspectives. This helps encourage flexibility in mind, an important aspect of a good mental education.

While educational thinkers and innovators in many other parts of the world are recognizing the value of storytelling in education [see here and here as examples], we in India have been slowly forgetting this art in the name of making our education more "professional" and "career-oriented." Efforts of individuals like Geeta Ramanujam and Deepa Kiran are noteworthy in this context and much necessary for bringing back this tradition into our mainstream education system, as regular part of children's learning experience.

Performing arts like dance, drama and ballet as well as carefully selected age-appropriate films can also bring in the much needed element of learning through stories. It requires some creative thinking and careful planning on the part of the educators, but practically a storytelling approach can be used to teach pretty much any subject or topic. What matters is how a story is woven around the topic that has to be presented to the learners. Personally speaking, I have found some ways to use stories in my undergraduate and post-graduate classes in the past, short stories that I read out to the students. And these were not classes on literature or folklore or other such topics. These were classes in disciplines as diverse as sociology, teacher education, conflict resolution, management and Indian culture. I have used music videos from Hindi films - that speak of something like a story - in my post-graduate classes on Research Methodology to bring home the point about subjectivity in research and other related aspects. The point was well made, in my opinion, as we discussed the plot that we imagined being played out in the song video. And the class had some fun too while reflecting on some dense topics. I have also used (in silent mode, and with no subtitles) selected clips from a popular Hindi movie to get teacher education students to reflect upon the value of learning via mother-tongue and the debate surrounding bilingual education in the US public school system. I can share several examples like these from my own experience as an educator, but the larger point I want to make is that such an approach to make learning more interesting and joyful experience for learners is possible at any level of education.

I can't end this post on Stories without telling my readers a story, that wouldn't be fair. So here is a wonderful story by none other than Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, titled The Parrot. Read it. You will love it if you haven't read it earlier. And if you have read it before, you will love it even more.

Or if you are more of an audio-visual type, click here.

A helpful video resource for storytelling traditions in India may be found here. 

This post is written for the A-Z Challenge, April 2014. The theme I am exploring is - Putting India back in Indian Education

Click here for the previous post in this series.