Education - words of Sri Aurobindo & Mother

  • By Sri Aurobindo
  • June 2003

Courtesy and Copyright Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry.

Life is full of surprises. I was searching for some books in the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan bookshop when I overheard a middle aged women ask where she could donate about hundred books on Indian culture and philosophy. Out of a desire to help and partly because I wanted some of those books I picked up a conversation with her. That’s when she told me that it was not her but her sister who had these books. She gave me her sister Pooja Munshi’s numbers and me to call. I gave Pooja the name of a learned Sanskrit professor who could add these books to his college library. The marketer in me got me talking to her about my site. Sensing my interest she told me about a Aurobindo ashram sponsored seminar in early October. Having shown my keenness to attend we wished each other goodbye. 

It was I think October 1 some 7.30 in the morning. Pooja called to say that the seminar was from October 1-3, she could not call earlier since the piece of paper on which she had scribbled my number had got misplaced. Bhagwan alone knows how she found it! Perhaps it was divine help. When I reached the Sophia auditorium on day two I was surprised to see women around, not that I mind, since a couple of them were stunners. There were only six men in the crowd all over sixty and me a bacha. That’s when I decided to find out what the seminar was all about. Aah! It was a three-day Intensive course for teachers on Integral Education. Now that’s not something I had bargained for!

Unsure about what was in store I decided to sit through nevertheless. The first session was on the impact of music, sound on our minds and body. The second was on Integral education. Believe me it was marvelous, truly enlightening. During lunch I picked up a book titled The Right Object of Education – And India’s National Education, Words of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. I liked the book so much that it is reproduced in parts for you.

It been three years since I have tried to stop controlling my life and flow with the tide, enjoy life as it unfolds. Since then things just keep on happening as if by some divine intervention. The more I look within the more I discover that education has always interested me but not knowing anyone in the field I never knew from where to start. Out of nowhere I met Pooja Munshi who initiated me into the subject.

After reading the book I realized that education is not, about studying ten subjects simultaneously with the sole intent of getting a degree, job, but lots more.

Forward Towards Perfection                                                                                       Words of the Mother
Do not aim at success. Our aim is perfection.

The aim of education is not to prepare a man to succeed in life and society, but to increase his perfectibility to its utmost.

To work for your perfection, the first step is to become conscious of yourself, of the different parts of your being and their respective activities. You must learn to distinguish these different parts one from another, so that you may become clearly aware of the origin of the movements that occur in you, the many impulses, reactions and conflicting wills that drive you to action.

It is an invaluable possession for every living being to have learnt to know himself and to master himself. To know oneself means to know the motives of one’s actions and reactions, the why and the how of all that happens in oneself. To master oneself means to do what one has decided to do, to do nothing but that, not to listen to or follow impulses, desires or fancies.

….the finest present one can give to a child would be to teach him to know himself and to master himself. Essentially, the only thing you should do assiduously is to teach them to know themselves and choose their own destiny, the path they will follow; to teach them to look at themselves, understand themselves and to will what they want to be. That is infinitely more important than teaching them what happened on earth in former times, or even how the earth is built, or even…. Indeed, all sorts of things which are quite a necessary grounding if you want to live the ordinary life in the world, for if you don’t know them, anyone will immediately put you down intellectually: “Oh, he is an idiot, he knows nothing.”

But still, at any age, if you are studious and have the will to do it, you can also take up books and work; you don’t need to go to school for that. There are enough books in the world to teach you things…..

But what is very important is to know what you want. And for this a minimum of freedom is necessary. You must not be under a compulsion or an obligation You must be able to do things whole-heartedly.

For the last hundred years or so mankind has been suffering from a disease which seems to be spreading more and more and which has reached a climax in our times; it is what we may call “utilitarianism” People and things, circumstances and activities seem to be viewed and appreciated exclusively from this angle. Nothing has any value unless it is useful. Certainly something that is useful is better than something that is not. But first we must agree on what we describe as useful- useful to whom, to what, for what ?

For, more and more, the races who consider them-selves civilized describe as useful whatever can attract, procure or produce money. Everything is judged and evaluated from a monetary angle. That is what I call utilitarianism. And this disease is highly contagious, for even children are not immune to it.

At an age when they should be dreaming of beauty, greatness and perfection, dreams that may be too sub-lime for ordinary common sense, but which are never the less far superior to this dull good sense, children now dream of money and worry about how to earn it.

So when they think of their studies, they think above all about what can be useful to them, so that later on when they grow up they can earn a lot of money.

And the thing that becomes most important for them is to prepare themselves to pass examinations with success, for with diplomas, certificates and titles they will be able to find good positions and earn a lot of money.

For them study has no other purpose, no other interest.

To learn for the sake of knowledge, to study in order to know the secrets of Nature and life, to educate oneself in order to grow in consciousness, to discipline oneself in order to become master of oneself, to overcome one’s weaknesses, incapacities and ignorance, to prepare oneself to advance in life towards a goal that is nobler and vaster, more generous and more true…. They hardly give it a thought and consider it all very utopian. The only thing that matters is to be practical, to prepare themselves and learn how to earn money.

In a general way, education, culture, refinement of the sense are the means of curing movements of crude instinct and desire and passion. To obliterate them is not curing them; instead they should be cultivated, intellectualized, refined. That is the surest way of curing them. To give them their maximum growth in view of the progress and development of consciousness, so that one may attain to a sense of harmony and exactitude of perception is a part of culture and education for the human being.

All studies, or in any case the greater part of studies consists in learning about the past, in the hope that it will give you a better understanding of the present. But if you want to avoid the danger that the students may cling to the past and refuse to look to the future, you must take great care to explain to them that the purpose of everything that happened in the past was to prepare what is taking place now, and that everything that is taking place now is nothing but a preparation for the road towards the future, which is truly the most important thing for which we must prepare.

It is by cultivating intuition that one prepares to live for the future.

To love to learn is the most precious gift that one can give to a child: to love to learn always and everywhere, so that all circumstances, all happenings in life may be constantly renewed opportunities for learning more and always more.
The things to be taught to a child:
1) The necessity of absolute sincerity.
2) The certitude of the final victory of Truth.
3) The possibility and the will to progress.
Good temper, fair play, truthfulness.
Patience, endurance, perseverance.
Equanimity, courage, cheerfulness.

Two things need to be done. Children must be taught:
a) not to tell a lie, whatever the consequences;
b) to control violence, rage, anger.

If these two things can be done, they can be led towards super humanity….
Those two things must be achieved to be able to be what may be called “superman” : not to tell lies and to control oneself.
A complete devotion to the Divine is the last condition, but these are the first two things to be achieved.

Education to be complete must have five principal aspects corresponding to the five principal activities of the human being: the physical, the vital, the mental, the psychic and the spiritual. Usually, these phases of education follow chronologically the growth of the individual; this however, does not mean that one of them should replace another, but that all must continue, completing one another until the end of his life.

Principles of True Teaching                                                                              Words of Sri Aurobindo
Nothing can be taught to the mind, which is not already concealed as potential knowledge in the unfolding soul of the creature. So also all perfecting of which the outer man is capable, is only a realizing of the eternal perfection of the Spirit within him. We know the Divine and become the Divine, because we are That already in our secret nature. All teaching is a revealing, all becoming is an unfolding. Self-attainment is the secret; self-knowledge and an increasing consciousness are the means and the process.

The first principle of true teaching is that nothing can be taught. The teacher is not an instructor or taskmaster, he is a helper and a guide. His business is to suggest and not to impose. He does not actually train the pupil’s mind; he only shows him how to perfect his instruments of knowledge and helps and encourages him in the process. He does not impart knowledge to him; he shows him how to acquire knowledge for himself. He does not call forth the knowledge that is within; he only shows him where it lies and how it can be habituated to rise to the surface. The distinction that reserves this principle for the teaching of adolescent and adult minds and denies its application to child is a conservative and unintelligent doctrine. Child or man, boy or girl, there is only one sound principle of good teaching. Difference of age only serves to diminish or increase the amount of help and guidance necessary; it does not change its nature.

The second principle is that the mind has to be consulted in its own growth. The idea of hammering the child into the shape desired by the parent or teacher is a barbarous and ignorant superstition. It is he himself who must be induced to expand in accordance with his own nature. There can be no greater error than for the parent to arrange beforehand that his son shall develop particular qualities, capacities, ideas, virtues, or be prepared for a prearranged career. To force the nature to abandon its own dharma is to do it permanent harm, mutilate its growth and deface its perfection. It is a selfish tyranny over a human soul and a wound to the nation, which loses the benefit of the best that a man could have given it an is forced to accept instead something imperfect and artificial, second-rate, perfunctory and common. Every one has in him something divine, something his own, a chance of perfection and strength in however small a sphere, which God offers him to take or refuse. The task is to find it, develop it and use it. The chief aim of education should be to help the growing soul to draw out that in itself, which is best, and make it perfect for a noble use.

The third principle of education is to work from the near to the far, from that which is to that which shall be. The basis of a man’s nature is almost always, in addition to his soul’s past, his heredity, his surroundings, his nationality, his country, the soil from which he draws sustenance, the air which he breathes, the sights, sounds, habits to which he is accustomed. They mould him not the less powerfully because insensibly, and from that then we must begin. We must not take up the nature by the roots from the earth in which it must grow or surround the mind with images and ideas of a life, which is alien to that in which it must physically move. If anything has to be brought in from outside, it must be offered, not forced on the mind. A free and natural growth is the condition of genuine development. There are souls, which naturally revolt from their surroundings and seem to belong to another age and clime. Let them be free to follow their bent; but the majority languish, become empty, become artificial, if artificially molded into an alien form. It is God’s arrangement that they should belong to a particular nation, age, society, that they should be children of the past, possessors of the present, creators of the future. The past is our foundation, the present our material, the future our aim and summit.

…The wise teacher will not seek to impose himself or his opinions on the passive acceptance of the receptive mind; he will throw in only what is productive and sure as a seed, which will grow under the divine fostering within. He will seek to awaken much more than to instruct; he will aim at the growth of the faculties and the experiences by a natural process and free expansion. He will give a method as an aid, as a utilizable device, not as an imperative formula or a fixed routine. And he will be on his guard against any turning of the means into a limitation, against the mechanizing of process. His whole business is to awaken the divine light and set working the divine force….

Central Object of Our National Education
It … should be clear that the only true education will be that which will be an instrument for this real working of the spirit in the mind and body of the individual and the nation. That is the principle on which we must build, that the central motive and the guiding ideal. It must be an education that for the individual will make its one central object the growth of the soul and its powers and possibilities, for the nation will keep first in view the preservation, strengthening and enrichment of the nation-soul and its Dharma and raise both into powers of the life and ascending mind and soul of humanity And at no time will its lose sight of man’s highest object, the awakening and development of his spiritual being.

In any country the best education that can be given to children consists in teaching them what the true nature of their country is and its own qualities, the mission their nation has to fulfil in the world and its true place in the terrestrial concert. To that should be added a wide understanding of the role of other nations, but without the spirit of imitation and without ever losing sight of the genius of one’s own country.

Importance of the Sanskrit Language                                             Words of Sri Aurobindo & the Mother

..each language is the sign and power of the soul of the people, which naturally speaks it. Each develops therefore its own peculiar spirit, thought-temperament, way of dealing with life and knowledge and experience…. Therefore it is of the utmost value to a nation a human group-soul, to preserve its language and to make of it a strong and living culture instrument. A nation, race or people, which loses its language, cannot live its whole life or its real life.

Indian’s nature, her mission, the work that she has to do, her part in the earth’s destiny, the peculiar power for which she stands is written there in her past history and is the secret purpose behind her present sufferings and ordeals. A reshaping of the forms of our spirit will have to take place; but it is the spirit itself behind past forms that we have to disengage and preserve and to give to it new and powerful thought-significances, culture-values, a new instrumentation, greater figure. And so long as we recognize these essential things and are faithful to their spirit, it will not hurt us to make even the most drastic mental or physical adaptations and the most extreme cultural and social changes. But these changes themselves must be cast in the spirit and mould of India and not in any other, not in the spirit of America or Europe, not in the mould of Japan or Russia.

India is destined to work out her own independent life and civilization, to stand in the forefront of the world and solve the political, social, economic and moral problems which Europe has failed to solve, yet the pursuit of which and the feverish passage in that pursuit from experiment to experiment, from failure to failure she calls her progress. Our means must be as great as our ends and the strength to discover and use the means so as to attain the end can only be found by seeking the eternal source of strength in ourselves.

The recovery of the old spiritual knowledge and experience in all its splendor, depth and fullness is its [India’s] first, most essential work; the flowing of this spirituality into new forms of philosophy, literature, art, science and critical knowledge is the second; an original dealing with modern problems in the light of Indian spirit and the endeavor to formulate a greater synthesis of a spiritualized society is the third and most difficult Its success on these three lines will be the measure of its help to the future of humanity.

…what constitutes this higher or highest existence to which our evolution is tending? In order to answer the question we have to deal with a class of supreme experiences, a class of unusual conceptions, which it is difficult to represent accurately in any other language than the ancient Sanskrit tongue in which alone they have been to some extent systematized.

The [Sanskrit} language itself, as has been universally recognized by those competent to form a judgment, is one of the most magnificent, the most perfect and wonderfully sufficient literary instruments developed by the human mind, at once majestic and sweet and flexible, strong and clearly-formed and full and vibrant and subtle, and its quality and character would be of itself a sufficient evidence of the character and quality of the race whose mind it expressed and the culture of which it was the reflecting medium.
The Sanskrit language is the devabhasa or original language spoken by men in Uttara Meru at the beginning of the Manwantara; but in its purity it is not the Sanskrit of the Dwapara or the Kali, it is the language of the Satya Yuga based on the true and perfect relation of vak and artha. Everyone of its vowels and consonants has a particular and inalienable force which exists by the nature of things and not by development or human choice; these are the fundamental sounds which lie at the basis of the Tantric bijamantras and constitute the efficacy of the mantra itself. Every vowel and every consonant in the original language had certain primary meanings, which arose out of this essential Shakti or force and were the basis of other derivative meanings. By combination with the vowels, the consonants, and without any combination, the vowels themselves formed a number of primary roots, out of which secondary roots were developed by the addition of other consonants. All words were formed from these roots, simple words by the addition again of pure or mixed vowel and consonant terminations with or without modification of the root and more complex words by the principle of composition. This language increasingly corrupted in sense and sound becomes the later Sanskrit of the Treta, Dwapara and Kali Yuga, being sometimes partly purified and again corrupted and again partly purified so that it never loses all apparent relation to its original from and structure. Every other language, however remote, is a corruption formed by detritions and perversion of the original language into a Prakrit or the Prakrit of a Prakrit and so on to increasing stages of impurity. The superior purity of the Indian language is the reason of its being called the Sanskrit and not given any local name, its basis being universal and eternal; and it is always a rediscovery of the Sanskrit tongue as the primary language that prepares first for a true understanding of human language and, secondly for a fresh purification of Sanskrit itself.

Everyone should learn that [Sanskrit]……
Not Sanskrit from the point of view of scholarship, but Sanskrit, a Sanskrit – how to put it? – that opens the door to all the languages of India. I think that is indispensable. The ideal would be, in a few years, to have a rejuvenated Sanskrit as the representative language of India, that is, a Sanskrit spoken in such a way that Sanskrit is behind all the languages of India and it should be that. This was Sri Aurobindo’s idea, when we spoke about it. Because now English is the language of the whole country, but that is abnormal. It is very helpful for relations with the rest of the world, but just as each country has its own language, there should…. And so here, as soon as one begins to want a national language, everyone starts quarrelling. Each one wants it to be his own, and that is foolish. But no one could object to Sanskrit. It is a more ancient language than the others and it contains the sound, the root-sounds of many words……

Every child born in India should know it, just as every child born in France has to know French. He does not speak properly, he does not know it thoroughly, but he has to know French a little; and in all the countries of the world it is the same thing. He has to know the national language. And then, when he learns, he learns as many languages as he likes…

So I would like to have a simple Sanskrit taught…., as simple as possible, but not “simplified” – simple by going back to its origin…. all these sounds, the sounds that are the roots of the words which were formed afterwards.

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