Para Vidya: The Core of Holistic Education System
A proper definition of Education is required at first. The definition should be complete and unified otherwise it will lead to confusion and the purpose of the education will be lost. Let’s take the definition given by Swami Vivekananda: “Education is the manifestation of perfection already in man”. To get the significance of this definition let’s analyse the term “perfection” critically.
To be a good professional one needs to be perfect in his thoughts and actions, or in other words, he has to be perfectly skilled in his working domain. This skill is expected from an educated person. But skill provides only external perfection; it is not sufficient to develop a complete personality. One may be a skilled engineer but he may be involved in cut money or other corrupt practices. A good writer or reporter may represent facts with false interpretations to fulfil his personal interest. Do we want our skilled persons be corrupt? Is the skill sufficient to lead to total perfection?
To answer this question let us see the hard reality which was a news in USA in 2008. In this year banks of USA failed. The experts blamed the corrupted bankers. Teachers of USA analysed the case deeply and published some articles in ‘Harvard Business Review’. They found the root of this problem lies in education system. The ex-students of these big universities play the key role in banking, business or finance systems. Were there any morality or ethics in their character this would not happen. They realised, “we are producing intelligent selfish giants through our education year after year. This system of education must be revised”. They realised, it is not money, it is the humanity and spirituality that could better guide the students towards true professionalism.
Therefore, not only external perfection or skill but we need internal perfection also as the core of education. Our current education system does not have this core. But in Ancient Indian Education system it is observed. It shows how a complete education system can be developed emphasizing on both the external (apara vidya) and internal perfection (para vidya).
Mundaka Upanishada says: द्वे विद्ये वेदितव्ये इति ह स्म यद् ब्रह्मविदो वदन्ति परा चैवापरा च।. There are two sorts of knowledge to be acquired – the higher (para vidya, internal perfection) and the lower (apara vidya, external perfection). If the bookish knowledge and its worldly applications are concerned then it comes under apara vidya. It provides only skills that cannot change the personality. The personality gets changed through practice of para vidya. Apara (external) is connected with: ‘universe as it appears’, ‘within time space causality’, ‘within reasoning’, ‘ego-centric’. Para (internal) is connected with: ‘universe as it is’, ‘beyond time space causality’, ‘beyond reasoning’, ‘soul-centric’.
Para vidya is the continuous internal practice to realize the Self (Atman) that gradually changes the personality causing internal perfection. In ancient Indian System this regular and rigorous practice was called ‘Brahmacharya’. The internal perfection obtained through ‘Brahmacharya’ will enhance our skills on one hand by increasing the power of mind and incorporate values in character on the other hand. That is why internal perfection is the core of holistic education.
But the internal perfection caused by ‘Brahmacharya’ needs to be elaborated. Here enters the concept of dharma or properties.
We identify things by their properties, i.e., properties or characteristics hold them, sustain them. In other words things are identified by their ‘Dharma’ or properties. Dhri + man = dharma. Properties of matter hold matter and give them identity. Properties of solids distinguish solid from liquid and gas and are fixed by the nature. One fine morning if the solid appeals to nature, ‘I get bored to behave always in the same way, for a change let me behave like a liquid’, the nature will not allow. The non-living things are not able to change their properties. But if we shift from non-living to living world we notice there a change. If a large piece of stone is kept in Calcutta it would come to the thermal equilibrium with the surroundings and attain Calcutta’s temperature. But when it is kept in Darjiling it will attain the temperature of Darjiling due to the same law of thermodynamics. But a small amoeba made of single cell will maintain the body temperature in both places. It does not obey the natural law of thermodynamics like the piece of stone. So the properties of living bodies are not fully fixed by the nature. There is some flexibility.
This flexibility goes on increasing as we proceed along the path of evolution of species. When we come to the human being we notice that the properties or characteristics are so flexible that they may be pairwise opposite to each other. A man can tell both truth and lie. He can both love and hate. Corresponding to each positive property there is a negative counterpart. If we create two groups of properties, positive and negative then the question arises, which group stands for Dharma, the inherent property of man. Here, we have to obey some basic postulate which will be taken granted to build the whole structure of spirituality. There are basic postulates in science also which cannot be questioned. For example, they occur in Geometry, Classical Mechanics, Electromagnetic theory, Quantum Mechanics and others.
Our holy scriptures like Upanishada has already addressed us as Son of Immortality which says that our basic nature consists of the summation of all positive properties, i.e., values. The summation of all values is called divinity. Swamiji says, Religion is the manifestation of Divinity already in Man. So internal perfection is nothing but the manifestation of divinity already in man which is dharma or religion.
Then how come the disvalues, the negative properties? If it is not inherent then what is the source? These negative properties we have achieved through our misdeeds which is stored in our subconscious mind as Samskara or tendencies. Each thought or action leaves an impression in our subconscious mind. The summation of all these impressions is Samskara which gets activated on similar situation. The negative tendencies create a cover on the values, the inherent positive nature (divinity). The religion (here, Para Vidya) is a means to remove the covering cloud of samskars to express the Sun of divinity. Therefore, one should be very much careful about his thoughts and actions that create samskaras. These samskaras are carried forward through births.
Para Bidya or internal perfection is based on spiritual practices. There are three steps: Shravana (reading books, listening from teacher), Manana (reflection in mind) and Nididhyasana (meditation). Only shravana and manana cannot create sustainable character. Ultimately one has to go upto Nididhyasana to get result, to change his personality. This needs rigorous and regular practice to give transcendental knowledge beyond consciousness. For guidance we have the vast scriptures. They form the pillars of our ancient traditional system. There are four such pillars upon which Dharma is established: Philosophy (Darshana), Mythology (Purana), Rituals (Pooja-archana) and Code of conduct (Smriti).
But, is it available in our Education system? The hard reality is just opposite. Every hour one student commits suicide in India, with about 28 such suicides reported every day, according to data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). In last five years, according to MHRD, as many as, 50 suicides were reported at IITs and 10 such cases in Management Schools. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in the world for those aged 15-24 years. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
In Srimadbhagabadgeeta, we see Arjuna to be depressed and counselled by Sri Krishna. When Arjuna’s chariot was placed between the two armies Arjuna saw who are prepared for war. He saw there grandfathers, fathers-in-law, uncles, brothers and cousins and their sons, grandsons, teachers and friends. Compassion overpowered him. It happened due to loss of discrimination. He lost self-control, which is the first step into the abyss of ignorance. He asked, “What pleasure indeed could be ours from killing these persons? Sin only could take hold of us”. Finally he cast away his bow and arrows, sank down on the seat of his chariot, with his mind distressed with sorrow. Arjuna was applying reasoning which is agreeable and which is disagreeable. After applying sufficient reasoning he thought what he is going to do is a sin and he will have to be affected from its dire consequences.
These thoughts came into his mind out of illusion. He forgot which one is temporary and which one is permanent. He came nearer to ego (Apara Vidya), and shifted far from soul or true Self (Para Vidya), lost his discriminative power, viveka. The more one is able to identify oneself with the permanent Self, the less one is affected by the agreeable and disagreeable conditions of life. Shri Krishna says
सुखदु:खे समे कृत्वा लाभालाभौ जयाजयौ |
ततो युद्धाय युज्यस्व नैवं पापमवाप्स्यसि ||
Fight for the sake of duty, treating alike happiness and distress, loss and gain, victory and defeat. Fulfilling your responsibility in this way, you will never incur sin.
योगस्थ: कुरु कर्माणि सङ्गं त्यक्त्वा धनञ्जय |
सिद्ध्यसिद्ध्यो: समो भूत्वा समत्वं योग उच्यते ||
Be steadfast in the performance of your duty, O Arjun, abandoning attachment to success and failure. Such equanimity is called Yoga.
To overcome all kinds of griefs and sufferings one has to stop seeing varieties, differences, separations. He would see everything is connected to every other thing leading to oneness and he himself is same as oneness. Isha Upanishada says:
यस्मिन् सर्वाणि भूतानि आत्मैवाभूद् विजानतः। तत्र को मोहः कः शोक एकत्वमनुपश्यतः॥If there exist one and only one then there is no provision for pain and pleasure, sorrow and happiness. Both pain and pleasure become constituents of actual happiness or bliss.
आनन्दाद्ध्येव खल्विमानि भूतानि जायन्ते। आनन्दॆन जातानि जीवन्ति। आनन्दं प्रयन्त्यभिसंविशन्तीति।
From Bliss, indeed, all these have been born, they are sustained by Bliss; they move to and merge in Bliss.
These are the final words of Para Vidya which leads us to realisation of Self (Oneness) or Bliss.