“I read your article on education in India”, a friend told me, “but there should be a follow up. It should be discussed in public and reach the officials concerned. Education in Indian schools has to change,” he stressed. He is, so to speak, an aggrieved party. Together with his wife he started coaching the children of their servant. Other kids were added and now they have some 10 children and a teacher coming every afternoon for tuition. “Why should they learn who invented the telephone?” my friend asked. The children themselves will probably defend it, wanting to get as much ‘general knowledge’ as possible. They keep cramming their brains with facts I have never heard of and probably will never need, including old cricket and movie stars.
Before wondering what could be done to improve education in India, of course it would be good to define what is meant by education. Being able to fluently write and read one’s mother tongue and English (or maybe Chinese?) would be a worthwhile goal. Knowing how to do calculations and solve mathematical questions is also useful. What else? Of course there can be added much more since 12 years is a long time. It could be put forward in an interesting manner and not with the sole, frustrating goal to reproduce it word by word at the next exam.
When I think of my own education up to college, I hardly remember anything beyond the basics. Whatever was taught in school I automatically tagged as ‘boring’. I memorized it for the exam and then let go of it. Now when an 8 year old neighbour boy shows me his books, it looks all new to me: five types of forests and soils and…oh, his grammar book! I had to call once an English friend for clarification who herself had to look up the dictionary. I am sure the boy will also forget about it soon.
Yet the urge to know is deep rooted and was so in me, too. After my high school, I was dismayed that I knew so little, in spite of my good grades. I became a voracious reader, wanted to know everything. At that time I did 3 years training with Lufthansa and the world was open to me. And I wanted to know the political and economical situation in every country or at least in those which I visited, and I visited some 40 of them. I made files for South America, Africa, Asia, etc. and whenever I found an article in one of the major weeklies in Germany regarding such counties, I read it and filed it. After some time I only filed it, resolving to read it later which, of course, never happened. Slowly it dawned on me that I simply can’t know everything.
One morning I was sitting in a restaurant for breakfast, when suddenly a picture came to my mind: I ‘saw’ all this knowledge I wanted to acquire like being lined up on the circumference of a huge circle with me in the centre. It would never be possible to learn all this out there. And then I wrote a sentence into my diary that surprised me: “I believe there is a point inside me, and when I reach that, I know everything.”
This certainly was a strange sentence for a 20 year old German. And what a surprise when I came to India many years later! Here I read in the ancient scriptures that the goal is ‘to know THAT by which everything is known.’ Well, here I felt at home.
Now, if it is really possible to know That by which everything is known, then of course it should have priority in education. The focus should definitely be on this one thing. Yet there is a difficulty now, because it becomes very subtle and is not anymore only in the realm of reason. It can’t be put into words in an article. There has to be openness for spirituality. ‘That’ is namely our core; it is the intelligence, power and life in everyone. It is not an object to be known. It is the invisible essence, consciousness without content. And if That can occasionally get an opening through the maze of constant thinking, inspiration and worthwhile knowledge happen.
The Rishis claimed that this intelligence can be approached by being still, by occasionally not thinking, by being fully present in the moment, by devotion. Putting attention on ‘That’ has tradition in India since ages and is called dhyan, or meditation in the west. And it may not be far fetched to assume that this was the main reason for the amazing knowledge the ancient Indians had.
If Indian educationists are not de-cluttering the textbooks and introducing at least a few minutes of dhyan and other means which help to be fully present and not to be constantly lost in thoughts, who will? Maybe the west will actually try it out as they are in a real educational crisis. Does India again want to wait till the west appropriates her knowledge and makes it into an “international phenomenon” like yoga?
For example, Hermann Graf von Keyserling, a German, who traveled through India already in 1911, wrote: “I can say from own experience that this seemingly useless and often ridiculed ‘being still’ (meditation) is of great importance… all great personalities are masters of their mind and not slaves of their automatism… a few minutes every morning of being still have more effect in increasing concentration than the strictest schooling.
I read that the great Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan felt that Namagiri Devi, a goddess he worshipped, helped him solving mathematical riddles. Even on his deathbed he dreamt of a mathematical formula that did not make much sense at that time but was validated some hundred years later, in 2012. Einstein also had his path breaking insights in quiet moments. Another scientist dreamt at night the solution to his problem in chemistry. It all points to the fact that great intelligence is within us, which means, it is very close. It has to be so, as we, as individuals, are not in a position to make our bodies and minds function. It is done by some greater intelligence. This intelligence can be tapped into. How this tapping is best done, has to be enquired into and experimented on. In all likelihood it is not done by more thinking, but by occasionally stopping to think. And maybe the motivation also has to be taken into account. It may not work if the motive is to outshine others. Maybe also certain qualities like humility and genuine gratefulness to that inner intelligence are required. It would be worthwhile to find out, wouldn’t it?
by Maria Wirth