Saturday, 26 April 2014

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

#atozchallenge
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 questioner....it 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

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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.