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Why does mainstream education neglect wisdom studies? || IIT Kanpur (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
27 min
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Questioner: Sir, I have been reading Krishnamurti and Vivekananda for the past three years and having learned from them, I genuinely feel that the teachings of such great teachers should be at the core of our education system. I personally feel that my decisions regarding my career and life would not have been emotionally driven had I studied these teachers before.

Unfortunately, we do not find the teachings of our saints in our mainstream education system, either at school or at the professional level. At most, there might be a few books tucked away in some corner of the library. Even in the premier institutions of this country, one would find complete negligence by the student community with respect to the Vedantic teachings and the sayings of the saints. The students are preoccupied with their pre-decided career paths and don’t pay heed to these teachings. Why are even these so-called intelligent students ignoring these valuable teachings?

Acharya Prashant: There are two reasons. The first reason is eternal and the second is contemporary. Let’s look at both.

The way man is, he is not designed to prioritize learning, wisdom, or realization over his more basic, primary animalistic needs and instincts. It is a bodily thing, it is an evolutionary thing. It is there in the entire mankind irrespective of nationality, ethnicity, gender, or age. Irrespective of what kind of identity you carry, we are not programmed to be naturally drawn towards the teachings of somebody like J. Krishnamurti or Swami Vivekananda. And there is ample reason why we would ignore their teachings or at times even be hostile to them.

You see, when you look at a person and you say here comes a human being, a man or a woman, what is the defining characteristic of the human being? It is the body. It is the body you look at; everything else comes later. So, no body, no human being. And that is the primary identity we all are carrying: we are bodies, and around that identity and from that identity all else is built. See, remove your body from your life, and what is left of your life? The moment you remove your body, you are called a dead man and your world comes to an end.

So, it is our bodily presence, it is our body-identification that marks our very existence. Remove the body and we cease to exist. And, as we said, from that body-identification all our actions, thoughts, emotions, ways of the intellect, information gathering by the senses, and then analysis and codification of that information, it is structuring into knowledge—all that happens. Remove the body—you don’t have any senses to even gather information. Remove the body—you don’t have any brains to interpret the information. Remove the body—you don’t have any science, no language, nothing.

So, even that which we call as the higher-order characteristics of human beings that we claim to separate us from animals are actually arising only from the body. We say man is different from animals, superior to animals because man thinks and man’s thinking is of a higher order. And we say man takes in information, processes it, and organizes it into knowledge. From there we have created such a vast body of science, from that we have great advances of all kinds. We say these are the things that separate us from animals. But if you look at the very basic fact, it is that there can be no science sans the body.

Science is based on observation, and you cannot observe anything that is not material, and you cannot observe anything without first yourself being material. In other words, you observe only bodies—bodies of very diverse and interesting shapes, names, forms, characteristics, but nevertheless, they remain bodies that you observe in the scientific process. And who is the observer? The observer is, again, himself a body.

So, even those things that we say are unique to human beings are actually just bodily, and if they arise from a bodily foundation, then man is really not very different from animals because that is how an animal operates: almost entirely like a body. Not much thought; yes, instinct it does have, but those instincts are again arising from, you know, bodily movements, bodily secretions, chemicals and glands and such things.

So, an animal is almost entirely bodily. Man, too, is almost entirely bodily. So, here is your normal, well-adjusted, average human being. Whether on the road, or whether in the most prestigious or cherished campuses of this country or any country in the world, doesn’t matter—what is he taking himself to be? A body. He might be working for the most advanced scientific laboratory in the world; he might have really important papers to his name; he might have been decorated with some really good awards and medals and recognitions. But all said and done, the fellow is still a body in his own eyes.

Now enter people like Jiddu Krishnamurti and Swami Vivekananda, and don’t forget that both of them were basing their teachings on the very, very solid foundation of Vedanta. So, what do they tell you? They enter and one of the first things they tell you, rather the first thing that they tell you is, “Son, you are mistaken when you take yourself to be a body.”

Now, that really brings the house down. That cannot go down very well with you because all your life, your achievements, your identity, your happinesses, your hopes, even your despairs are all founded on the body. That is how we are built in the evolutionary way: to operate purely as the body. And if you have the intellect, which again is the function of the body, then you use that intellect to create a lot of things as a body and for the body. You look at all the products of technology. Tell me a single product that is not useful to you as a body.

So, we may talk of our towering intellect. We may really touch the skies when it comes to exercising our brains. But what is all that really for? For the safety, upkeep, and pleasure of the body, is it not? Try to think of a single product of technology that does not benefit the body. Think of it. Try to think of a single product of technology that you do not require your body to operate or benefit from. Even something like a telescope that you might have just to satisfy your curiosity is ultimately pleasing you, and pleasure is a sensation in the brain, and that sensation couldn’t have come to you except through the sensual route. Would a telescope be able to please you had you had no eyes? Would you experience the pleasure that you do had you had no brain? You require a bodily brain, you require these bodily eyes. Everything is for the service of the body.

And now come the sages, and what they are saying is not going down well with anybody. They are bombing your favorite pic, show spoilers. You are happily going about the normal business of life, assured, certain that you are the body, and they come over and very strongly, very irrefutably they demonstrate to you how mistaken you are. How can you like this thing?

So, there is a definite evolutionary reason why man will never really like wisdom and, therefore, why man would never really be spontaneously or naturally attracted to a real teacher. The real teacher is a put off; he destroys your mood. And if you allow him too much leverage, he will destroy your world. Surely not somebody you would want to invite to your house for dinner!

But you will say, “No sir, many of the most important teachers, including the two we are right now talking of, have had legions of followers. How did that happen?” You see, how many of those followers were really getting what the teachers were saying? And how many of those followers were prepared to pay the requisite price to live by the teachings of the teacher? It is one thing to be a part of a crowd; it is another thing to be willing to pay the price and lay down your life, if required, in the service of Truth.

There are very few who are serious students. It is just that, you know, it might be an in-thing in intellectual circles to be seen carrying a Krishnamurti book. And it might be almost a mandatory thing in Vedanta circles to be talking of Shri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. And that is easy, no price needs to be paid; it is quite cheap. All you need to know is a couple of quotes from Krishnamurti and a couple of anecdotes and fables related to Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, and you are home; you are part of the crowd or accepted.

So, you have to understand the primitive, prakritik reason the teacher is never, never a likeable figure. The teaching is always unpalatable. Doesn’t matter how compassionate the teacher may sound; doesn’t matter how well-meaning he is; doesn’t matter how clearly he demonstrates to you that he is a well-wisher. He is a captive to Truth. He is helpless, the teacher. Even if he tries his best to keep you consoled and happy, even if he sweetens his words to the maximum, still there is one compromise that he can never make: he cannot dilute the Truth. He cannot say something false just to please you.

So, in spite of his best efforts to appear amicable and nice and decent and civilized, he would soon be exposed. He cannot hide his true colors. And when he is exposed, then you are after his life—and that is quite fair, isn’t it? He was destroying your world, you want to destroy his world. Tit for tat. Was he not bringing your world down? Of course he was. It is just that the old foggy was saying, you know, “I am bringing your world down because your world is false and because you deserve the Truth.” “Two hoots to the Truth! I have my world and I have worked hard to create it, and who are you to disrupt it? Who are you to cause an explosion within it? And if you will harm my world, I will ensure that you are paid back in kind!”

So, that is how we are paying the sages back: by ignoring them. Didn’t they ignore your thoughts and feelings? Of course they did. See how you have said that had you read these two teachers earlier in your life, then your decisions won’t have been so emotionally driven, which means very clearly that when the teacher comes in, then you cannot lead your same old emotionally-charged life; then your decisions cannot keep coming from that same emotional or hormonal or instinctive center.

So, the teacher doesn’t really care for emotions; all he cares for is the Truth. That boring fellow! Your emotions are so colorful, so spicy, so varied, and you demonstrate all your emotions to him. You, in fact, even try to trap the teacher using your emotions, but he offers no respect at all; he just doesn’t care. And if he doesn’t care for your emotions, why should you care for his well-being? He took away what you cared for the most. What is it that you cared for the most? Your emotions, your hormones, your ideologies, your thoughts, your relationships, your false world.

The teacher is hurting you where it hurts the most. Had he just said, “Son, you know, your beliefs are false,” you could have probably tolerated. Had he just said your knowledge is false, you could have said, “Well, let’s keep talking.” Even if he had only gone to the extent of declaring your relationships as false, you could have probably stood his assault. But here he is telling you, “Son, you are false. What you think of yourself is absolutely stupid and you don’t exist. You think you are the personality and you are mistaken.” He is taking away from you that which you value the most—your sense of self.

So, you really have to do something about it. What is it that you do? You say, “This teacher, for all his emotionlessness, all his apparent dryness, still has a weak point. He is just too concerned about everybody’s welfare! That is one desire that he has. Now I know how to hurt him: I will not allow that desire to be fulfilled.” The teacher was prepared to lay down his life so that his words could reach the intended audience, so now you know what is the best way to hurt the teacher: do not allow his words to reach the masses. That is your revenge.

You say, “Sir, you denied me what I wanted the most. What is it that I wanted the most? I wanted the fulfillment of my desires; I wanted the continuity of my relationships; I wanted a certification of my sense of self, and you denied all this to me. You denied to me what I wanted the most, I will deny to you what you want the most.” So, that is what we are doing. We are denying to them what they wanted the most.

J. Krishnamurti was an educationist. He established schools, he had so much to say about our education system, and this is how we are honoring him: by keeping him totally out of our education system. This is the world’s standard reply to all Krishnamurties: “We will hurt you by ignoring you. We will kill you by being indifferent to you.” It is strange how somebody can be killed just through indifference. Yes, somebody can be killed through indifference because that somebody is dying to get your attention. Is the teacher so desperate, really? Yes, he is. Why else is he the teacher?

There is a difference between a saint and a teacher. Do you understand that? There is a difference between a realized person and a teacher. The realized person need not necessarily be a teacher. He has his realization, and he can keep wallowing in its pure bliss. He has everything that one can ask for himself: pure, unadulterated, uninterruptible *ānanda*—that is what he has attained. He can keep this invaluable property totally to himself and relax and retire.

The teacher is made of crazy stuff, then. The teacher says, “Yes, I have everything that I possibly can have for myself, I have known the heights that are almost impossible for a human being to reach, but I am prepared to give up all of that in order to share what I have with the world. My desire to help everybody is so strong that I am prepared to compromise on my personal bliss and solitude for the sake of the world.”

So, the teacher does not really allow this desire to recede; in fact, he stokes this fire. He lets this desire become the center of his life. He says, “I exist to teach—teach whom? The world. I don’t exist for myself, I exist for the sake of the world; that is my desire.” And you know how to hurt a man: don’t give him what he wants the most. A Vivekananda hurts you, you hurt him back, and you hurt him back in the cruelest way possible.

So, there are those who will not listen to a wise man because they just don’t get what he is saying, and then there are those who would listen to a realized man, partially get what he is saying, and would, therefore, turn hostile to him. That hostility need not be a very conscious thing, it need not be a very considered decision; that hostility is mostly subconscious. It operates in a very passive way. You don’t really go and break the teacher’s skull; that would be active revenge. We don’t engage in active wrongdoing against the teacher. Instead, we hurt him passively by ignoring him.

Now, the second part. You are asking, why is it so that in the education structures and in the curricula of even the most prestigious institutions in the world, we find the wise ones, the great ones very absent?

The second reason is power. The first reason was Prakriti . We are made in a way that does not quite allow us to appreciate transcendence. We are built with our body at the center of our being, whereas all wisdom is fundamentally about transcending the body. So, that was the prakritik reason. The eternal reason is Prakriti , the eternal reason is evolution. The contemporary reason is power—power and politics.

Saints have always required patronage. Be it the rishis of yore or a Gautama Buddha, their message couldn’t have reached millions and billions had they really not received royal protection and patronage. So, that is needed. And the ones in the seats of power today are probably not people who personally respect wisdom so much that they would want wisdom literature to be a part of school and college curriculum.

And I am not talking only of the people who are in power in 2020; I am talking of all who have been responsible for shaping India’s education policy over the last 70 years. It doesn’t quite appear that there were many policy makers who valued wisdom or were really interested in the Truth. They were interested in other things. They were interested in vocational training, knowledge of various kinds, but spirituality or wisdom does not look like any of their concern. And that is probably the case all over the world.

You see, the democratic system is a great one, but there are some problems associated with it. One of the problems is this: the leader comes from the masses and the masses by themselves, of their own will and volition, are never really attracted towards wisdom. The majority of the people need to be educated and trained in wisdom. They need external support. If that external support and that conducive external climate is there, then they would turn spiritual; then the fuel within their being would get ignited and there would be fire and light. But if the environment is not conducive, then the spark within them remains just that much—a spark. And a spark does not last long, you know that very well.

So, when the choice of the leader is left to the majority, the masses, it is obvious that most of them are anyway not going to be very interested in knowing whether their would-be leader is spiritual or not. The masses have other priorities, no? The masses would be interested in knowing how many jobs will you generate for us, whether or not you will attack that particular neighbor, what will you do with respect to this dispute regarding that particular river. “What is your religion, sir? If you want to be my leader, tell me your caste. Where do you come from? Which state do you belong to?” These are the things that masses are known to consider in some way or other, whether in India or abroad. “What is your ideology? Conservative, liberal, orthodox? Where are you coming from?” Now, in all of this, where is spirituality?

Have you ever found a voter asking his leader, “Sir, have you read Krishnamurti? I am about to go and vote, but before I cast my vote I want to know how many Upanishads have you read.” Ever found such a voter? So, the leaders know very well what is it that they can easily ignore. They can ignore the scriptures and they can ignore the teachings of the saints because the masses anyway don’t bother about the saints. The masses came to bother about the saints after royal patronage.

It is an elitist thing, you see. It might not appear very fashionable when I say this, it might not appear as per the times when I say this, but every height is a solitude, and spirituality especially is not egalitarian. It begins as a very personal thing. It is really not a thing of the masses, though a great teacher wants to benefit the masses and definitely benefits the masses as much as he can.

But then, you really can never have a situation, or at least historically we have never had a situation where every third man is a great teacher. Somehow we don’t seem genetically disposed towards that kind of a happening. A great teacher is a rarity. A great teacher is in someway an abnormality.

Therefore, a great teacher will almost be an alien amid a population. So, it is a great population, thousand people, a million people, and then there is a teacher. The teacher is the smallest minority possible in a democracy. Who cares for him? When you are only counting heads, why will you count what is within the head?

We talk so much about protecting minorities. I say a Swami Vivekananda is an absolute minority in dire need of protection, and so is J. Krishnamurti, and so is every teacher worth his name. But the democratic process really does not offer anything worth it or something special to the teacher. In the democratic system the teacher is only worth as much as a neighboring Tom, no?

So, what is the way out? There is no way out; it is cyclical. There is a reason why Indians conceptualized time as cyclical. What does that mean? That means that when nonsense and foolishness increase too much, that is the point after which Satyayuga (the age of Truth) arrives. So, you keep ignoring the teacher, keep ignoring the teacher, and that will bring you to such a pathetic state that you will be forced to change and listen to the teacher. It is cyclical.

So, I appreciate your concern and your sadness. You would want to see Vedanta and Upanishads and Swami Vivekananda in the syllabi, and that would be such a beautiful thing, obviously. If that could happen, that would eradicate so much ignorance and pain from this world.

But mind you, Satyameva jayate (Only the Truth wins). If that is not happening right now, it merely means that it is waiting to happen. How would it happen? If it happens right now, if the masses embrace the teachers willingly, then the learning would come at a small price; the whole movement, the transition would be smooth. But if the masses do not listen to the teachers, and if the leaders of these masses are not sensitive and wise enough to incorporate spiritual teachers in the academic curricula, then the change would happen in a very explosively disruptive way.

Truth has to win. Either you happily surrender to it, and if you don’t happily surrender to it, then the victory of Truth would come at the price of your existence. Either you align yourself with the Truth, or you will find that you have been annihilated. Either way, Truth has to win.

Right now, it does not quite look probable that the world would willingly embrace Vedanta. Then, how would the world embrace Vedanta? The world would be forced to embrace Vedanta. Depression and all kinds of mental disorders, conflict within the human being and among human beings, and conflict among sections and countries, and widespread chaos and strife would force humanity to listen to the teachers.

But it seems that we are so obstinate that we listen to the teachers only after all our other options are exhausted and after we have totally decimated our world. We want to keep the teachers as our very last option. We want to try everything else before we turn to the teachers, as if you are saying that everything is acceptable, more acceptable than the teachers. When nothing else works, only then will we go to the teacher.

And if that is the condition mankind has set, then you must know the implications of that condition. What you are saying is, “I have fifty options and listening to the teacher is my absolutely fiftieth option. So, I will try out 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, right till number 49, and only after all 49 have failed and exhausted will I unwillingly embrace number 50.” Which means all your 49 options will have to be proven false; which means 49 deep defeats to mankind; which means mankind will invest everything that it has in those 49 false options; which means that before mankind comes to the fiftieth option, it would have practically already devastated itself. But that is the route, it seems, we all want to take.

So yes, obviously, had the teachers been physically alive they would have been greatly pained by this situation. But nevertheless, if Truth is Truth and if a teacher is actually representing the Truth, then there is no way you can ignore the teacher for long. Maybe he won’t be physically there anymore, maybe you will listen to him two hundred years after he is gone, but listen you will. That is an existential law; you cannot disrupt it. Certain things are unbreakable, like this law.

Additionally, you have said students are preoccupied with their pre-decided career paths and they don’t pay heed to the teachings, and why are even so-called intelligent students ignoring the valuable teachings.

See, this intelligence you are talking of is not wisdom. What you are referring to is the intelligence that you usually measure as your intelligence quotient, right? That in no way denotes wisdom. All this is just a misuse of the word ‘intelligence’; actually you are just talking of intellect. You are talking of the brain’s capacity to assimilate external knowledge. You are talking about the brain’s capacity to make sense of the world, detect patterns and use those patterns to get useful answers and useful solutions. Useful to whom? To the body. That is what you are calling as intelligence. That is not intelligence.

So, if you think that the so-called premier institutions are places where intelligence resides, no sir, that is not the case. Yes, you have people with greatly sharp intellects, you have people with gifted brains—the average IQ at an IIT is likely to be significantly higher than the average IQ of the population—all that is there. But that in no way means that somebody who has cleared an engineering entrance examination or some other competitive exam or is topping his batch has any great capacity for self-reflection or self-inquiry. No, no such correlation exists.

It is a totally different faculty. It is not even a faculty; it is a purity of intention. You want to know what is really going on within you. You don’t merely want to know the object of your experience; you want to know who is it sitting within who keeps experiencing everything. You are not interested merely in knowing whether this pillar is real or whether that clock is working just fine; you are interested in knowing whether you are real and whether your insides are working just fine. It is a very different way of looking at life and inquiring.

The intellectual person, intellectual mind is keenly interested in the world. The intelligent person—and here I am using ‘intelligence’ as a synonym of wisdom—the intelligent person is much more interested in knowing that entity which he calls as ‘I’. So, he does look at the world, but even if he looks at the world, his intention is to know the ways of the ‘I’. It is the self that is his primary attraction.

But yes, if you do have that intellect, then that intellect can enable you to come to yourself via the world. Potentially, it can enable you. But whether or not you actualize that potential, again, depends on your intention, not your intellect. That intention to move within has to be there. If that intention is there, then your sharp intellect can be of some use, otherwise no.

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