The Renaissance in India: Sri Aurobindo

The following are three excerpts from the long essay ‘Renaissance in India’ by Sri Aurobindo. I hope that these excerpts add to your understanding of education and modernity in the Indian context.

Excerpt 1:

An ingrained and dominant spirituality, an inexhaustible vital creativeness and gust of life and, mediating between them, a powerful, penetrating and scrupulous intelligence combined of the rational, ethical and aesthetic mind each at a high intensity of action, created the harmony of the ancient Indian culture.

Excerpt 2:

When we look at the past of India, what strikes us is her stupendous vitality, her inexhaustible power of life and joy of life, her almost unimaginably prolific creativeness. For three thousand years at least, — it is indeed much longer, — she has been creating abundantly and incessantly, lavishly, with an inexhaustible many-sidedness, republics and kingdoms and empires, philosophies and cosmogonies and sciences and creeds and arts and poems and all kinds of monuments, palaces and temples and public works, communities and societies and religious orders, laws and codes and rituals, physical sciences, psychic sciences, systems of Yoga, systems of politics and administration, arts spiritual, arts worldly, trades, industries, fine crafts, — the list is endless and in each item there is almost a plethora of activity. She creates and creates and is not satisfied and is not tired; she will not have an end of it, seems hardly to need a space for rest, a time for inertia and lying fallow. She expands too outside her borders; her ships cross the ocean and the fine superfluity of her wealth brims over to Judaea and Egypt and Rome; her colonies spread her arts and epics and creeds in the Archipelago; her traces are found in the sands of Mesopotamia; her religions conquer China and Japan and spread westward as far as Palestine and Alexandria, and the figures of the Upanishads and the sayings of the Buddhists are reechoed on the lips of Christ. Everywhere, as on her soil, so in her works there is the teeming of a superabundant energy of life.

Excerpt 3: (This is how the long essay ends)

India can best develop herself and serve humanity by being herself and following the law of her own nature. This does not mean, as some narrowly and blindly suppose, the rejection of everything new that comes to us in the stream of Time or happens to have been first developed or powerfully expressed by the West. Such an attitude would be intellectually absurd, physically impossible,and above all unspiritual; true spirituality rejects no new light, no added means or materials of our human self-development. It means simply to keep our centre, our essential way of being, our inborn nature and assimilate to it all we receive, and evolve out of it all we do and create. Religion has been a central preoccupation of the Indian mind; some have told us that too much religion ruined India, precisely because we made the whole of life religion or religion the whole of life, we have failed in life and gone under. I will not answer, adopting the language used by the poet in a slightly different connection, that our fall does not matter and that the dust in which India lies is sacred. The fall, the failure does matter, and to lie in the dust is no sound position for man or nation. But the reason assigned is not the true one. If the majority of Indians had indeed made the whole of their lives religion in the true sense of the word, we should not be where we are now; it was because their public life became most irreligious, egoistic, self-seeking, materialistic that they fell. It is possible, that on one side we deviated too much into an excessive religiosity, that is to say, an excessive externalism of ceremony, rule, routine, mechanical worship, on the other into a too world-shunning asceticism which drew away the best minds who were thus lost to society instead of standing like the ancient Rishis as its spiritual support and its illuminating life-givers. But the root of the matter was the dwindling of the spiritual impulse in its generality and broadness, the decline of intellectual activity and freedom, the waning of great ideals, the loss of the gust of life.

Perhaps there was too much of religion in one sense; the word is English, smacks too much of things external such as creeds, rites, an external piety; there is no one Indian equivalent. But if we give rather to religion the sense of the following of the spiritual impulse in its fullness and define spirituality as the attempt to know and live in the highest self, the divine, the all embracing unity and to raise life in all its parts to the divinest possible values, then it is evident that there was not too much of religion, but rather too little of it—and in what there was, a too one-sided and therefore an insufficiently ample tendency. The right remedy is, not to belittle still farther the age long ideal of India, but to return to its old amplitude and give it a still wider scope, to make in very truth all the life of the nation a religion in this high spiritual sense. This is the direction in which the philosophy, poetry, art of the West is, still more or less obscurely, but with an increasing light, beginning to turn, and even some faint glints of the truth are beginning now to fall across political and sociological ideals. India has the key to the knowledge and conscious application of the ideal; what was dark to her before in its application, she can now, with a new light, illumine; what was wrong and wry in her old methods she can now rectify; the fences which she created to protect the outer growth of the spiritual ideal and which afterwards became barriers to its expansion and farther application, she can now break down and give her spirit a freer field and an ampler flight: she can, if she will, give a new and decisive turn to the problems over which all mankind is labouring and stumbling, for the clue to their solutions is there in her ancient knowledge. Whether she will rise or not to the height of her opportunity in the renaissance which is coming upon her, is the question of her destiny.

(‘The Renaissance in India and Other essays on Indian Culture’ is available for download as volume 20 of the collected works of Sri Aurobindo here)

The history of Bharatvarsha: Rabindranath Tagore

“The kind of unity that the European Civilization has opted for is discord-centered; the kind of unity that Bharatavarshiya Civilization has opted for is concord-centered.”
From ‘The history of Bharatvarsha’ by Rabindranath Tagore

The article from which the above quote is taken reminds us to stay grounded in an Indian perspective when we try to make sense of our Indian history. I hope the extracts given below encourage you to read the full article.

Extract 1: The history of India that we read and memorize for our examinations is really a nightmarish account of India. Some people arrive from somewhere and the pandemonium is let loose. And then it is a free-for-all: assault and counter-assault, blows and bloodletting. Father and son, brother and brother vie with each other for the throne. If one group condescends to leave, another group appears, as if, out of the blue; Pathans and Mughals, Portuguese and French and English together have made this nightmare ever more and more complex.

But if Bharatavarsha is viewed with these passing frames of dreamlike scenes, smeared in red, overlaid on it, the real Bharatavarsha can not be glimpsed. These histories do not answer the question, where were the people of India? As if, the people of India did not exist, only those who maimed and killed alone existed.

Extract 2: However, while the lands of the aliens existed, there also existed the indigenous country. Otherwise, in the midst of all the turbulence, who gave birth to the likes of Kabir, Nanak, Chaitanya, and Tukaram? It was not that only Delhi and Agra existed then, there were also Kasi and Navadvipa. The current of life that was flowing then in the real Bharatavarsha, the ripples of efforts rising there and the social changes that were taking place, the accounts of these are not found in our history textbooks.

Extract 3: What is the chief significance of Bharatavarsha? If a precise answer to this question is sought, the answer is available. And the history of Bharatavarsha upholds that answer. We find that a single objective has always been motivating Bharatavarsha. This objective has been to establish unity among diversity, to make various paths move towards one goal, to experience the One-in-many as the innermost reality, to pursue with total certitude that supreme principle of inner unity that runs through the differences. It has also been her endeavor to achieve these without destroying the distinctions that appear in the external world.

Extract 4: It needs talent to make outsiders one’s own. The ability to enter others’ beings and the magic power of making the stranger completely one’s own, these are the qualities native to genius. That genius we find in Bharatavarsha. Bharatavarsha has unhesitatingly entered other’s beings, and has effortlessly accepted things from others. Bharatavarsha has not discarded anything and has made everyone her own after accepting him or her.

Extract 5: Amongst the civilizations of the world Bharatavarsha stands as an ideal of the endeavor to unify the diverse. Her history will bear this out. Amidst many travails and obstacles, fortunes and misfortunes, Bharatavarsha has been seeking to experience the One in the universe as well as in one’s own soul and to place that One in the variegated, to discover that One through knowledge, to establish that One through action, to internalize that One through love, to exemplify that One through one’s own life. When through the study of her history we would be able to realize this everlasting spirit of Bharata, then the rupture of our present with the past will disappear.

The full article is available here. Let me know what you think.

Microschools: Networks

The current schools seem to contain the following components:

The area of land on which the school stands
The classrooms, labs, library etc., the academic infrastructure
The playground, swimming pool etc., the sports infrastructure
The office and other administrative infrastructure, the engine that runs the school

Except for sitting in the classrooms for most of their school day, the children get to use this infrastructure only minimally. However, the parents are willing to pay high fees for this real-estate package deal. Strange!

Let us try a thought experiment…

The classrooms inside a school are insular and don’t interact with each other too much. If we took the classrooms and physically moved them far from each other and still managed to run the administrative engine, it may be possible to have a fully functional school.

Many microschools with a common name who identify themselves as part of the same networked school
They function independently but meet at regular intervals in a rented or public space
They are managed by an online administrative engine that allows things like co-ordination, scheduling and monitoring
The children create and manage their own independent time-tables and record/ monitor their academic progress using this online tool
The parents and facilitators have admin access and can see the progress of their children
The children learn on their own and the facilitator understands and encourages this process

The networked microschools can be thought of as a distributed version of the current schools with the focus shifted from infrastructure and regimentation to relaxed learning. The saving in fees and the reduction in travel-time, stress etc. will be substantial. I think it is an exciting vision. What do you think?

Microschools: The future of education?

I wrote a blog post titled ‘The educational institution of the future: A fantasy’ in January 2009. Some days ago I discovered that the idea put forward in this post became what are now being called microschools. And Wikipedia tells me that the name microschools was put forward for the first time in February 2010. A full year after my blogpost! 🙂

The wikipedia article defines microschooling as:
“Micro-schooling is the reinvention of the one-room school house, where class size is typically smaller than that in most schools (15 students or less in a classroom) and there are mixed-age level groupings. Generally, micro-schools do not meet all 5 days of the school week, and their schedules look different than a traditional public or private school.”

My blog post talking about a very similar idea is reproduced below:

—– My 2009 blog post —–

Add another adult facilitator or so and add not more than a couple of children and there you have the prototype for the school of the future.

What fun!

It is foolish from our fast changing perspective today to predict the contours of a future even a few years ahead in time. But we have to begin the discussion somewhere. So listed out below is a random, incomplete look at the practical details of a school of the future.

No school has more than 10 students.
There are no teachers (Only facilitators who speak when they are spoken to 🙂 ).
The facilitators direct the efforts of the students when they can or pass them on to other facilitators who can guide them.
Anybody above the age of 14/15 and who has been a student of this type of school from their first school days is considered qualified to become a facilitator (Till we get the first batch of such facilitators any industrial era trained person who has a high school certificate can become a facilitator).
All schools run in their local communities in a house or community area not more than a ten minute walk for any child.
The minimum infrastructure in a school is an internet ready computer.
The thousands of school buildings and their administrators that mushroomed across the world for the industrial era become sports and other similar educational infrastructure providers.
The education of the future focuses on body, mind and spirit development (Includes things like sports, yoga, CBSE text books, meditation etc).
The education of the future also focuses on social and cultural development (Includes interpersonal growth, music, social service activities etc).

—– End of my 2009 blog post —–

My blog with the above and other education related posts is available here.

I think that after last year’s Covid-impacted school experience, many parents and children will be ready to shift to microschools. What do you think?

If education has to happen?

(This Monday’s post is a slight twist on a short story written by my favourite author – Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer. The story is called ‘Yuddham avasanikkanamenkil?’ or ‘If war has to end?’. I replaced ‘If war has to end’ with ‘If education has to happen’ and made some other trivial changes to get the story in this format. Here is an excerpt to get you interested…)

“If education has to happen!” – with his teeth clenched, the left corner of his lips twisted and giving out a “shh” sound, happily scratching his eczema, lying spread out on a deck chair, the deep-thinker, the mighty man, the one with the terrible rage, the outstanding author, answered the young journalist’s question with his own:

“You mean, what should I do to make education happen?”

“You don’t have to do anything,” explained the journalist, “What we would like to know is your opinion about all of this. What should people do to make education happen once and for all?”

“Nothing! It’s enough if you go away from here: fool!”

“You must say something. The world is suffering very much. Terrible destruction is occurring in the world. All of this must stop. Calm and peace must rule in the world now. Your valuable advice in this regard is asked for. If education has to happen?”

“Go and ask the other idiotic thinkers; don’t trouble me!

“We already asked them”, said the journalist sheepishly, “Don’t we all know of your rage? It’s only that you were the last in line. Of course we know that your opinion is more important than the opinions of the others.”

“Well, what did the others say; if education has to happen…?”

“The world should accept Krishnamurti, the world should accept Waldorf, the world should listen to the tune of Rabindranath, the world should follow Gandhiji, the world should follow Sri Aurobindo, the world should believe in Montessori, the world should follow Ramakrishna… and so on and so forth.”

“Is that it!”, that one with the terrible rage asked while scratching his eczema furiously, “Didn’t the other set say anything?”

“They did. If education has to happen, the world should accept communism; so said one person. Others said, anarchism should be accepted. Another thinker said that fascism should come. Yet another person said that the principle of non-violence should be accepted. And what do you say- if education has to happen?”

(The full story is available here.

The translation from the original Malayalam to English is done by my son, Srikant. His translation is available here)

About Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer:
I grew up in Delhi but, fortunately, went to a school where they taught me how to read and write Malayalam. Much later, when I was going through a phase of reading Malayalam literature, I came across an intriguing book title, ‘Ntuppuppakkoranendarnnu’ or ‘My-Grandad-Had-An-Elephant’. Written in colloquial Malayalam, it is a gentle, masterful, wisely-told love story. I read it and was hooked! I went through everything Basheer had written and his wise, gentle voice has been a part of my life and a source of inspiration.

Links for further study:
Please read the other stories on my Basheer translations blog linked earlier and available here.
I plan to translate Basheer’s ‘Maantrikappoochcha’ or ‘Magic-cat’ and upload it on this blog soon. This is the best novel I have read. Ever!

The cheerful pandit: Kapil Kapoor

“In Patanjali’s words, all great thinkers of India were Shishtas, cultured people. A cultured person in our tradition is one whose worldly goods are constituted by a jar of grain. And without motive or purpose a Shishta devotes himself to a branch of knowledge and excels in it. Today he will be called a moorkh.”
Professor Kapil Kapoor speaking about the obsessions of Indian Intellectuals in the video linked below

In this talk, Dr. Kapil Kapoor talks about the obsessions of Indian Intellectuals. He says that Indian Intellectuals are Rudaalis, professional mourners. The caste system, our bad treatment of minorities, the way we treat our women etc., our intellectuals are constantly, publicly, mourning such issues. Professor Kapoor then goes on to list out the main traits of the Indian intellectuals:

– They are always worried (chinta-grasth)
– They have a feeling of inferiority (heen-bhavana-grasth)
– They suffer from Hanuman syndrome (Hanuman lost his powers because of a curse and, years later, had to be reminded by Jambhavan)
– They suffer from the Tittiri complex (The Tittiri is a very small bird that sleeps on its back with its feet up in the air in an attempt to stop the sky from falling down)

This is the skeleton on which Professor Kapoor weaves a deeply interesting story. Enjoy!

About Kapil Kapoor:
Kapil Kapoor is an Indian scholar of linguistics and literature and an authority on Indian intellectual traditions. He is former Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and served as professor at the Centre for Linguistics and English, and at the Centre for Sanskrit Studies there before retiring in 2005. He is Editor-in-Chief of the 11-Volume Encyclopedia of Hinduism published by Rupa & Co. in 2012.
From the Wikipedia article about Professor Kapoor available here

Links for further study:
Myths about Sanskrit

Panorama of India’s knowledge traditions

A mathematical genius: C.K. Raju

“Education today is unfortunately seen as a process of learning to ape the West, a la Macaulay, so math is taught from a purely Western perspective. This way of teaching math retraces the European experience of learning math: so the historical difficulties experienced by Europeans are replayed in the math classroom.

The solution to this difficulty is to throw out the religious beliefs that have crept into mathematics, and to go back to something very close to the original understanding in which things like the calculus developed as primarily a tool for calculation. This makes math very simple, and also makes it ideally suited to the present-day technology of computation which has greatly enhanced the ability to calculate.

Some philosophical adjustments are required in the understanding of math; but this should not be a serious problem for anyone except those who are currently regarded as math experts!”
From ‘A new way to teach Math’ by C.K. Raju available here

The video linked above is an easy-to-understand and very enlightening talk by Professor C.K. Raju. To get you interested in listening to the full talk, I will just reproduce the bullet points he uses to make his introductory points. Enjoy!

– The Math we teach in school and college today is formal math. Which is also known as axiomatic math. This differs from traditional (pre-colonial) ganit. How exactly does ganit differ from math? Isn’t 1+1=2 in both?
(The answer to that is that, no, it is different in both. But you will have to listen to the full talk to understand why)

– Consider the elementary concept of angle (as defined in the Hindi NCERT text). It uses a term called ubhaynishth for the common initial point of an angle made by two straight lines (rays).
(ubhaynishth prarambhik bindu waali do kiranon se eik kon banta hai)

Ubhaynishth is not there in the Hindi or Sanskrit dictionary. Student must infer its meaning from ubhay and nishth (in Sanskrit) as ‘loyal to both’. Use of such a complicated term suggests that the corresponding concept is absent in Hindi. Is it? What is the Hindi word for angle? kon? Wrong!

– Word ‘kon‘ is not found in Hindi before the 18th century. (Used by Samrat Jagannath 1723 in Rekhaganit, a Sanskrit translation of “Euclid’s” Elements from Farsi)

– So, did Indians have no concept of an angle, earlier? They did. RgVeda divides the circle into 360 degrees or 720 half degrees. The Vedanga Jyotish has even finer divisions of around 0.1 degrees. The concept of the angle in India was different. Chaap is the correct traditional term for “angle”. Angle = relative length of an arc.

– If an angle is about two straight lines, why do we need a semi-circular protractor to measure it? And, what instrument in a geometry box can be used to measure angle in the sense of chaap? None. The two concepts of angle require different instruments for their measurement. The chaap definition requires a flexible string.

– Immediate point is this: Math is NOT universal.

(The rest of this talk is about a more difficult problem, 1+1=2 🙂)

About C.K. Raju:

“Mr Raju has shown that he has great initiative and has worked extremely hard. He is the sort of student one wants to help…. He is working on excessively difficult problems. No one knows the correct lines on which they should be solved.”
P.A.M. Dirac (Nobel Prize 1933) on a paper by Prof Raju that was later expanded to become Prof Raju’s Ph.D. thesis

“Chandra Kant Raju (born 7 March 1954) is a computer scientist, mathematician, educator, physicist and polymath researcher. He received the Telesio Galilei Academy Award in 2010.”
From the Wikipedia article available here

Bernardino Telesio and Galileo Galilei are both symbols of resistance to authority. Therefore, it is apt that a key reason why the award is being given to me is for having pointed out Einstein’s mistake, and for having corrected it—for Einstein is one of the greatest figures of scientific authority today.
From Prof Raju’s acceptance speech of the Telesio Galilei award (full speech available here)

“C-DAC (Centre for Development of Advanced Computing), Pune and Delhi, Member Technical Staff 1988-95. As head of initial Application Development Group, played a lead role in building the first Indian supercomputer PARAM.”
From Prof Raju’s website linked below

Links for further study:

Dr C.K. Raju’s website
Four part interview with Claude Alvares – Part1 . Part 2 . Part 3 . Part 4
Another interesting talk: A tale of two calendars

Shaking us awake: S.N. Balagangadhara

“Colonialism is not merely a process of occupying lands and extracting revenues. It is not a question of encouraging us to ape the western countries in trying to be like them. It is not even about colonizing the imaginations of a people by making them dream that they too will become ‘modern’, developed and sophisticated. It goes deeper than any of these. It is about denying the colonized peoples and cultures their own experiences; of making them aliens to themselves; of actively preventing any description of their own experiences except in terms defined by the colonizers.

The European culture mapped on to itself aspects from the Indian culture so as to understand the latter. These mappings, in the form of explanations, have taken the status of frameworks to us. Liberalism, Marxism, secularism, etc. have become our mantras: we chant these without understanding them in the hope that if we do so long enough and sufficiently loud, the fruits will be ours to enjoy. However, in this process, we have assumed (without quite realizing what we are doing) that the European cultural experience is the ‘scientific’ framework for us to understand our own culture. However, this very assumption prevents us from accessing our own culture and experience. We are busy denying our experiences while futilely busy trying to make alien experiences our own.”
From an article by Professor S.N. Balagangadhara available here

Every time I read or listen to Professor S.N. Balagangadhara, Balu, I get some startling new insight. It is as if apparently unconnected things get connected and I get a little more clarity about my world. The YouTube talk linked above is no exception. It showed me why stories have been so important to me. However, I chose to feature this talk because in the first 7 or 8 minutes, where he sets the context, we get an insight into the path-breaking work he has done over the years.

I would recommend that you listen to the full talk but these are the points Balu makes in the beginning:

– He has been researching India and Europe for 30 years and he discovered that what Europe spoke about India doesn’t describe India at all. It describes Europe’s experiences with India. People in Europe and India have mistaken the description of the European experience of India as Indian culture.

– India has many religions, it has a caste system, It is very corrupt etc., are not stories about India but about the European experience of India. Indians and the whole world accept these stories as descriptions of India. Balu’s research is about why this confusion arose.

– The European propaganda machine says the following – Suddenly in the last few centuries Europe was full of geniuses. Leonardo Da Vinci, Newton, Kant, Einstein etc. The Renaissance and the ‘Enlightenment’ happened in Europe. During all this time there were no geniuses in Asia and in the other parts of the world.

– Prof Balu’s research showed that the kind of questions asked in Europe didn’t make sense to anyone outside the Semitic religions. So the questions were not ‘scientific’ questions but theological questions. All European claims about human beings – that human beings have Rights, about the nature of the State, nature of Law etc. are secularized versions of Christian theology. And they don’t make sense to people like Asians who don’t have these religious frameworks.

– Prof Balu claims that if his research program is right, then the last 300-400 years of social sciences (sociology, political science, philosophies of law etc.) in the world are completely worthless.

About Professor Balu:

“S. N. Balagangadhara (aka Balu) is a former professor of the Ghent University in Belgium, and director of the Research Centre ‘Comparative Science of Cultures’. Balagangadhara was a student of National College, Bangalore and moved to Belgium in 1977 to study philosophy at Ghent University. His doctoral thesis (1991) was entitled Comparative Science of Cultures and the Universality of Religion: An Essay on Worlds without Views and Views without the World. His research centers on the comparative study of Western culture against the background of Indian culture. He analyses western culture and intellectual thought through its representations of other cultures, with a particular focus on the western representations of India and attempts to translate the knowledge embodied by the Indian traditions into western conceptual frameworks.”
From the Wikipedia page on Prof Balu available here

There is a lot of material about Balu available online. The TV interview linked below has an anchor who is in a hurry and keeps interrupting Balu’s flow, but it was the only place where I found a lot of interesting personal anecdotes. If you can ignore the anchor, you may like it.

Links for further study:
All roads lead to Jerusalem! Prof Balu’s website
TV interview with Prof Balu

A radical spokesman of Tradition: A.K. Saran

“Knowledge is, paradoxically, a knowledge of the Unknowable, a thought of the Unthinkable, a vision of Things unseen, an audition of Sound unproduced. It is ultimately knowledge of That which shines forth when we see or hear or think, and is then alive in us, being the only seer, hearer, thinker – itself unseen, unheard, unthought within us. All formulations of traditional knowledge are thus indirect and symbolic, all learning a remembering and all education a rekindling. Traditional methods of education accordingly are graduated forms of indirect communication.”
– From ‘Illuminations’ by A.K. Saran

Of the 500 copies of ‘Illuminations’ printed by Central Institute Of Higher Tibetan Studies (CIHTS) in 1996, I could still find copies to buy in 2018. That, and the fact that most people in India have never heard of A.K. Saran, is a sad commentary on how we treat our wisest men. I was so inspired by reading Illuminations that I bought many more books in the series. All of them written in luminous, inspired, difficult-but-addictive prose (and some poetry), moved me deeply.

In this post I want to talk about ‘Illuminations’ which I consider a very important book for people with an interest in education. But, I can provide no links to it as there is practically nothing about A.K. Saran or his work available online. What I will do instead is to copy passages from the book as answers to hypothetical questions from a reader. I hope you get the flavour of A.K. Saran’s wisdom.

Reader question: Illuminations is a proposal for a new type of school that awakens us from the unconsciousness induced by our schools. Is my understanding correct?
A.K. Saran: Indeed, it is unbelievable but true that our entire academic and educational establishment – schools, colleges, universities, institutes of advanced learning, research centres, research projects, seminars, conferences – is working incessantly, formally and informally, to keep us etherized upon the table, trying to ensure that we may never have the scorching but maybe the cathartic experience of the flames. Excess of chloroform is our fate.

Reader question: How will the school work?
A.K. Saran: The plan for this school is simple. A small group consisting of postgraduate students and young teachers from different universities (and also from outside them) and a few scholars (both from and outside academia) with varying degrees of familiarity and intellectual affinity with the aims (and the doctrines) of the school will be invited to live together at a carefully selected place for a period of two to four weeks or so. The idea of living together is important. What we have in mind is something deeper and richer than just the requirement that the participants should not be scattered but lodged at one place and should breakfast, lunch and dine together. We envisage not only a gathering but an in-gathering of the participants. There should be a general feeling for the goodness of living a shared life, the intellectual deepening and enrichment being an integral part of it.

An anthology of passages and sentences from diverse sources has been made. This will serve as a kind of sourcebook which will be circulated to members of the school in the hope that each one of them according to his or her mental level and habit will be hit hard by one or the other passage. The community setting and the presence of scholars of different levels and types of intellectuality are then expected to provide help to the participants in delving deep.

Reader question: How is it possible to get through to minds conditioned and saturated by modernity?
A.K. Saran: The first requirement of such a situation is to get out of the tradition-modernity antithesis or dichotomy. Education aims at truth, and not at desired types of mentality. The second requirement is to create a free, uncluttered intellectual space so that there can grow genuine receptivity in the minds shaped and equipped by the present educational system for gullibility of one sort or another. The third requirement of our present pedagogical situation is to restore the internal relation between knowledge and action, theory and praxis, thinking and living; a relationship that modern education completely disrupts.

Reader question: There are many ideologies and we are taught that truth is relative. What do you think?
A.K. Saran: A crucial first step towards intellectual and political freedom is to realize that freedom of thought is defined by love of truth, not by intellectual philandering, by mastery of passions, not by passion for opinions, by the ability to think originally and upstream, not by a sort of monomaniac search for and pursuit of the novel and the exotic. Intellectual and political freedom is constituted by the opportunity to pursue the ultimate good, not by the liberty to ‘think’ what one likes and do what one wants to do.

About Professor A.K. Saran:

Professor A. K. Saran (1922-2003) is known as one of the most radical spokesmen of Tradition in today’s world. Following contemporary exponents of the Perennial Philosophy such as Ananda Coomaraswamy, Rene Guenon, Marco Pallis and Frithjof Schuon, Saran especially took on the negative side of the task as his vocation – i.e., breaking of the “spell” by which modern man has been deluded into the suicidal pursuit of a mirage, becoming utterly forgetful of who he is and of the eternal truths that Tradition embodies.

Serving for a long time as a teacher in the fields of social sciences at various universities, both at home and abroad, Saran’s consistent endeavour was, thus, to work out thorough internal critique of those pseudo thought systems of modernity. This internal critique – critique proceeding dialectically from within the very system that is being critiqued – is of a quite unique kind; in spite of certain seeming similarities, Saran’s critique of modernity is totally distinct from fashionable discourses like that of “alternative outlook”, “new age”, “postmodern”, or “postcolonialism” – all of which, for Saran, are simply new devices for masking the truth.
From the blurb on the dust jacket of one of A.K. Saran’s books

Links for further study:
A.K. Saran at the ‘Studies in contemporary religion’ website here.
The Coomaraswamy Foundation set up by students of Professor Saran has a website available here.

The towering genius: Ananda Coomaraswamy

In an article written in 1915 titled ‘What has India contributed to human welfare’, Ananda Coomaraswamy says:

‘If we regard the world as a family of nations, then we shall best understand the position of India which has passed through many experiences and solved many problems which younger races have hardly yet recognized. The heart and essence of the Indian experience is to be found in a constant intuition of the unity of all life, and the instinctive and ineradicable conviction that the recognition of this unity is the highest good and the uttermost freedom. All that India can offer to the world proceeds from her philosophy. This philosophy is not, indeed, unknown to others – it is equally the gospel of Jesus and of Blake, Lao Tze, and Rumi – but nowhere else has it been made the essential basis of sociology and education.’

The full article is available online here. However, because this blog is about education, I will point you to another very insightful essay he wrote criticizing the British education system. It is called ‘Education in India’ and is the 9th chapter in ‘Essays in national Idealism’. The essay is available here and the full book is available for download here.

The following are some excerpts from the essay. You can see that the essay sounds completely contemporary a century after it was written:

‘The system of education set up by the British creates antinational tendencies by ignoring or despising almost every ideal of the Indian national culture. Most students lose all capacity for the appreciation of Indian culture and become strangers in their own land. Indian culture, whether Hindu or Muhammadan, is essentially religious. Regardless of the example of almost every Indian ruler since history began, the Government completely ignores Indian culture. The schools are not part of Indian life (as were the tols and maktabs of the past), but antagonistic to it. The education is really based on the general assumption- nearly universal in England- that India is a savage country, which it is England’s divine mission to civilize. The facts were more truly realized by Sir Thomas Munro, when he wrote that “if civilization were to be made an article of commerce between the two countries, England would soon be heavily in debt.”

Here are some of the points of view which are intrinsic in Indian culture, and must be recognized in any sound educational ideal for India; but are in the present system ignored or opposed:—

  1. The almost universal philosophical attitude. In India, even the poorest peasant may say that “All this is maya.” Consider the deepening of European culture needed before the peasant there could say that “The world is but appearance, and by no means Thing-in-Itself.”
  2. The sacredness of all things. The antithesis of the European division of life into sacred and profane. In India religion idealizes and spiritualizes life itself, rather than excludes it.
  3. Etiquette. There is a Sinhalese proverb that runs, “Take a ploughman from the plough, and wash off his dirt, and he is fit to rule a kingdom.” “This was spoken,” says Knox, “of the people of Cande Uda (the highlands of Ceylon) because of the civility, understanding, and gravity of the poorest men among them. Their ordinary Plowmen and Husbandmen do speak elegantly, and are full of compliment. And there is no difference between the ability of speech of a Country-man and a Courtier.” There could be said of few people any greater things than these; but they cannot be said of those who have passed through the ‘instruction machines’ of today; they belong to a society where life itself brought culture, not books alone.
  4. Control, not merely of action, but of thought. Concentration, one-pointedness, capacity for stillness.’

About Ananda Coomaraswamy:

I couldn’t find it again, but I remember an interview where Ananda Coomaraswamy’s son is talking about the number of languages his father was proficient in. The son who thought that his father knew some 25 languages was surprised to find Ananda Coomaraswamy in the Chinese section of a library. Upon asking, Ananda said that yes he knew Chinese but didn’t consider himself very good at it, which is the reason why he hadn’t told his son about it. Here are some quotes that can inspire you to delve deeper into the large body of his work:

“It is almost impossible to slot Coomaraswamy into a single category for he was all of them: philosopher, historian, art historian, polyglot, cultural anthropologist, metallurgist, mineralogist, archaeologist, art collector, and a revivalist. Coomaraswamy is in the same league as Swami Vivekananda or Dayananda Saraswati.”
—Sandeep Balakrishna, author (The full article from which this quote is taken is linked below)

“Over sixty years have passed since the death of Ananda Coomaraswamy; yet his writings remain as pertinent today as when he wrote them and his voice echoes in the ears of present day seekers of truth and lovers of traditional art as it did a generation ago. In contrast to most scholarly works which become outmoded and current philosophical opuses which become stale, Coomaraswamy’s works possess a timeliness which flows from their being rooted in the eternal present.”
—Seyyed Hossein Nasr, University Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University (Quote from the World wisdom website linked below)

Links for further study:

Sandeep Balakrishna’s profile of Ananda Coomaraswamy
About Ananda Coomaraswamy’s life and work at the World wisdom website