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Anti-life education || Acharya Prashant, with IIM Calcutta (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
19 min
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Questioner: Namaste Acharya ji. My question is that I see many institutions are fueling the concept of Maya. Because I have seen on many premier institutions having Upanishadic phrases as their mottos— Na hi jnyānen sadṛushan pavitramih vidyate , Téjasvi nāvadheetamastu , sā vidyā yā vimuktaye . But at its core, I believe that besides some ritual, there is no meaning in their entire knowledge system.

So, my question is, no one is talking about the Truth. So, unless we build one strong system for it, and I have heard that you have some goal to build institution like Nalanda or something like that. So, will you please throw some light on it? And why this is happening that many institutions are just become job placement agencies and nothing more than that?

Acharya Prashant (AP): No, it's not to do with popular culture. Institutions do not lie at the root of culture, it is culture that gives rise to institutions. And later on it becomes a cycle, where the institution keeps reinforcing the culture. But ask yourself, what came first?

We established our institutions; and when we established our institutions, our institutions reflect our mindset. We decide what we are going to our institutions for. Are you referring to institutions of higher learning or to social institutions? Political institutions? I suppose you are referring to institutions dealing in education, typically professional education, right? You are talking about the coaching industry, you are talking about IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) and IIMs (Indian Institute of Management) and such things, right?

Q: Exactly.

AP: Right. Now, tell me, if you come to know that there is a recently established IIM that guarantees no placement at all, would you be eager to go there? Are you from IIM Calcutta? First thing.

Q: I am from IIM Jammu, third year Ph.D. student.

AP: Right. So, before you go to IIM Jammu, don't you inquire about the placement scene? In fact, that's also what decides the rankings of the various institutions. No? Does it not? Yes, that's the ground reality.

Somebody tells you academics are better, let's say at IIM Bangalore, but placements are better at IIM Ahmedabad; you know what you are going to put your finger on, right? So, that's how it operates. Now, what can the institution do? When I went to IIM Ahmedabad or was it IIT, but at one of these places, it was either the PGP chair or the dean academics, they said, “To most of you who have just landed, there are only two offices that matter—the admissions office and the placement office. Everything in between is just time pass.” And that's why you don't like to attend classes.

Even CGPA (Cumulative Grade Point Average) is just a means to clear the minimum cut off needed for the most coveted companies. If the companies ask for eight point zero cut off, you would want to keep it at eight point three, or if it's seven point five, then accordingly. So, it's got to do with us. What can the poor institution do? The institution comes from us.

I know of several great institutions where the academic fraternity has even thought of banishing campus placements. They have said, “Our role is to educate you and empower you. And once you are empowered, you go out and you seek employment on your own, or you start out on your own, whatever.” But then there has been a great resistance from the students. The students say, “We have come here not just to be educated, but to be employed. The onus is on the institution to serve us jobs on a platter.”

It's got to do with the philosophy of the times. We are not students, we are wannabe consumers, let's face it. You do not go to an IIM to be a great manager, you go to an IIM to be a great consumer. You want the best gadgets, you want to be there in New York or Chicago, you want to be an investment banker in London; and that's the reason why you go to an IIM, or to an IIT, or even to any other place, and that's also the reason why you write the UPSC. You don't want to become IAS (Indian Administrative Services) so that you may serve the country or bestow your compassion on the less fortunate beings of this planet or your district. You are there so that now your lust for consumption can be further aroused and further ingratiated. Is that not so?

Now what can the poor institution do? They can write vidya dadāti vinayam, you will say, “vidya dadāti placement.” And if vidya does not dadāti placement, then vidya is of no use. They might say, “ Yā vidyā sā vimuktaye ,” you would say, “Yā vidyā sā placementiye” . Only that is vidya which gives you placement. The poor campus itself will fall on global rankings, because the global ranking take in account the quality of intake. The moment a campus declares, “I am not going to put so much emphasis on placements,” students would start boycotting, the parents would start boycotting.

You have to ask yourself, “Do we exist to consume?” When the philosophy at the ground level will change, then you will find all your institutions are changing. Not merely IIT-IIM, your political institutions, the institution of the family, the institution of marriage, your art, your science, your medicine, everything will change. Right now, because at our core, all we want to do is get, get and get more and eat it up and get fat; that's what the common man lives for. So that's also what is reflected in the institutions. But at the same time, something else can happen. And what is that? I am talking about grassroots change in culture.

Now some visionary can come up with an institution specifically built to change the culture. And remember, culture is not just conditioning; culture is not just things and concepts you tell your kids to condition them. Culture is founded on spirituality, if culture has to have any meaning. If culture is not founded on spirituality, then culture is just a set of principles that condition.

The culture, true culture founded on spirituality—if an institution can nurture that, then that institution will serve as the base to change, reform, and really modernize all other institutions. We require an institution of that kind. And that's the reason why I talk of the university I want to build in my lifetime.

What would be the nature of that university? Where would that come from? All that is quite hazy right now. But in some sense, I have already started that university, that institution in an online way. Even this that we are doing right now is a process within that university. I do not have the resources to have a huge campus and raise structures of brick and mortar, but I can talk and I can create educational material. We can write books, we can have video interactions.

So, that's what our university is currently doing. One day, probably it will become or it will assume visible characteristics of a mainstream university. Those characteristics it does not have now, but it's already functional in an authentic way.

Q: I have a follow up question to that. As far as the higher education institutes are concerned, it is fine that students go there for placements, that is still understandable. But when we go to the grassroot levels, like earlier schools, high schools etc., we don't see a lot of spiritual based subjects there, or spiritualism as a subject itself is not taught as part of the school curriculum. All we have is the traditional five, six subjects, which keep on repeating every year. So why is that? And do you think that can change in the future?

AP: Because there is nobody who understands the importance of that. Obviously, reflection, philosophy, life-education, core spirituality—they must be there in the curricula. But then who would teach? Who would set that kind of syllabus? Who would test? Who would invigilate? Who would accord the grades? You first of all need some competence to be a teacher of spirituality or life philosophy. We do not have those kinds of people.

First of all, at the level of policy making, we have been quite unfortunate. Our policymakers, when it comes to education, have been people who had no respect for spirituality. So, in the name of modernity, in the name of progressiveness, and also in the name of secularism, they kept spirituality just totally away from the books and minds of our young people. For them, spirituality was a taboo, something not to be touched because it is very dangerous. Why? Because they themselves are not spiritual people.

So, you require a big change in that because India and the entire world is paying very dearly for that mistake. The problems of today can have only spiritual solutions. And you have kept the young population totally oblivious of spirituality. So, how will the problems of today be solved? I keep asking, can you have technological solutions to something like climate change, when climate change is very obviously a crisis of consumption. It is a crisis of attitudes and behaviours, it is a crisis of greed, it's a crisis of lack of compassion, it is a crisis born out of cruelty and insensitivity. How can you have technology coming up with solutions to that?

Similarly, technology can give you nuclear weapons, but technology cannot give you the wisdom to avoid a nuclear war. Or can technology do that as well? Technology can give you the means to colonize another planet, but technology will not give you the love to save your own planet. The problems of today can have solutions only in spirituality. And we are such foolish people, we are depriving ourselves of the only help we can have. We are keeping our kids, our teenagers, our young population away from all kinds of wisdom literature.

We have conflated religious dogma with spiritual wisdom, we do not know the difference. Now, religious dogma is obviously something we want to keep aside, it has no place in the world of today. It actually should have had no place at any time in history, but it continued. Spiritual wisdom is something totally different. The essence of the Upaniṣads and Gītā is the only thing that can save us today. And when I say that, I do not mean to exclude other scriptures. I am talking of Vedānta as representative of all wisdom, it's an inclusive thing.

Our education has become very dangerously anti-life. Because life, when it comes to a human being is about consciousness, not just biological activity. You eat, you consume, you see, you hear, you move, you breathe; that's not what we can call as the life of a human being. A human being is alive only if he can reflect and understand. Somebody who can't reflect, somebody who can't understand is as good as dead or is only as alive as an animal or vegetable. Our education is preventing us from reflecting into life, from understanding our own existence. Therefore I am calling it anti-life.

Q: Pranam Sir, this is a question regarding education. So, we spoke that these days education institutions are not life giving, but they are in fact life sucking where they only make machines out of students. So, I have been very clearly realizing this for the past few years. We spoke about educational institutions, but I am also kind of finding that even the institution called family is not so life-giving, because the people in the family are also equally educated by the same institutions, and they are all kind of energy vampires.

Then I started believing that it is good for the kid to be away from such institutions, at least for a certain period, so that the process of self-inquiry can start. One of the key things that have helped me for self-inquiry was travels, breaking my patterns, going to different environments and trying to live in those cultures. So, I have started a journey where I would take my family to such communities, and break certain patterns and give us the space where we can explore different ways of self-inquiry.

I would like to understand for a kid of nine or ten years old, how important it is to not only help him to get out of such influences, but also to expose him to different environments; so that self-inquiry can naturally come to him?

AP: It's quite important, very important if you expose him to different environments. But obviously, like all exposures, there has to be a deftness in the one making the experiment or bringing about the exposure. Otherwise exposures might not help or might even be problematic.

Think of exposing your swollen knee to X-rays. Done rightly, it assists the treatment; done wrongly, it can itself become a problem. Or the exposure that you provide to the photographic film when you open the camera shutter. Exposed rightly, you will get a beautiful picture; if there is underexposure, all you will get is darkness; if there is overexposure, you will get a bland brightness. So, first of all, you must know the frame, you must also know the shutter speed and you must know the art, the skill, the craft. So, be careful. Uncaring and unthought out exposures may not help that much.

We have had people who travel a lot, we have professional travels, we have tour guides; do they automatically become liberated people? They don't. So, it's not as if exposure by itself suffices. There has to be constant care and attention as to what kind of exposure, what it is bringing to that person; and after the exposure, there has to be reflection and deliberation and due talk so as to put the exposure in perspective.

Let's say you take the kid to a slaughterhouse and he gets to see how that very modern and automated slaughter facility is functioning. It can work both ways: on one hand, it can help the kid realize the cruel ways of our world; on the other hand, it can, if not put in perspective it is possible the kid starts even appreciating the fineness of automation and the sophistication of the mechanical and computer systems there. Think of it. So, one has to be attentive.

But one thing is certain, experience helps. Experience helps. And the other thing I would want to talk of is facts. The kid must know history, the kid must know what is going on in the world. The kid must know all the things that constitute the mind of the common man.

Just think what is it that fills us up? What is it that we are so concerned about? What is it that occupies TV screens? What is it that most people are surfing on the net? It is these things that make our minds. No? Simple, right? Beyond our genetic baggage, what are we made up of? There is something we bring into the world with the body, and the rest of it we simply acquire from the TV screens, and what we see and what we hear. We must know what is it that makes us up, and then the facts of those things must be very clearly brought out to the child.

For example, religious conflict, political ideologies. Why don't you start discussing communism versus capitalism with your kid? Marx versus Smith? Why not? In a very simplified form, obviously, the kid must be able to know what is going on. What is, for example, the difference between the Left and the Right? Why not discuss it? Because that is what constitutes so much of the popular debate these days and it's going to continue for decades, it's a very old topic. So, the kid must know these things and the father, the mother, all the well-wishers, the teachers, the relatives, the friends, it's upon them to sit with the kid and take up these matters.

What does the left want? What does the right want? What's the difference between a leftist, a socialist, a communist? Are they one? Are there differences? What happened in Russia? What happened in France? What were these revolutions? What happened in Europe in those times? And if the kid can develop a taste for these things, then this is an insurance against a lot of nonsense.

If the kid can start relating geography to history, if the kid can start relating our biological tendencies with social structures, if he can start looking at a house and asks, “What does this tangible house of bricks and cement represent in mental terms?” You know you have been a great father, the day the kid asks a question of this variety. What is it in man's mind that gives rise to houses or to theatres, or to schools or to hospitals? You don't find these things in the jungle, right? And why are some houses bigger than others? Right? Why do houses have these specific rooms, these specific compartments and divisions? Why must there be a bedroom, a drawing room, a kitchen? How exactly have we come up with these ideas? Because these are not rooms, these are ideas first, right? So, what do these ideas represent in our mind? What is it about us that gets tangibly represented as the idea of the drawing room? Let's say.

The kid must be encouraged to ask these questions. This is a drift, this is a kind of cultivated habit, it has to be cultivated in the beginning. Later on, when that faculty is awakened, then it becomes spontaneous for the kid. But initially, like a good farmer, you will have to plough the field and sow the seeds.

If you will wait for things to happen by themselves, they might take a lot of time, they might not even ever happen. So, don't leave things to chance. Plough the field, sow the seeds, water them, take care of them, save them from all kinds of animals, including the animal within.

So, that's what a good father ought to do. I hope I am not putting too many and too severe conditions on parenting, but because I look at the upbringing of the kid as a very, very serious matter. Love is something serious, is it not? Therefore, I think parents must realize that they carry a tremendous responsibility. There's nothing in the world that must not be discussed with the kid, right? India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, China. Why not? Why must the kid not know the mind of, let's say, Putin? Why exactly did Russia have to get into Ukraine? What's going on? And can now the kid relate it with the European Reformation and Renaissance and the general thought?

Can the kid look at, for example, China and India and think of Gautam Buddha and Acharya Shankar? Obviously, it's not a clean parallel, but I am talking of free thought and free connections. When you can connect to seemingly disparate things in the mind, it means that the faculty of creativity is being aroused.

Q: Thanks Acharyaji. I really don't have a clear path on how I am going to do that, but I am sure I would keep inquiring myself and also help as much as possible to help him inquire. But this is still trying and testing only. I am testing various things, I might fail, I might again figure out something else. But definitely a lot of inputs from you is helping me. Thanks a lot.

YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=us4lKmx21M4

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