“Tamaso Mā Jyotirgamaya”- Finding a Guru in Modern Times

– Dr. Aparna (Dhir) Khandelwal and Prof. Bal Ram Singh

Knowledge is a supreme reality that is not limited to experience, education, reasoning and practice. It is an awareness, or understanding of facts that helps in awakening the intellect of a person for making one wise, and use that wisdom (बुद्धि) to pursue naturally the purpose of life through चित्त, अहंकार (अस्तित्व), and महत (the supreme mind) according to the Sankhya Darśan. The mahat concept is the gateway to understanding the brahm (ब्रह्म), the ultimate seat of the knowledge. Thus, a journey of this kind requires training, practice, guidance, and ultimately the sākśātkār (साक्षात्कार) or darśan. An important individual who effectively guides in this journey is known as ‘Guru’. Since Vedic era the word ‘Guru’ is well recognised in various texts like Muṇdaka Upaniṣad (1.2.12), Śvetāśvetara Upaniṣad and Advayatāraka Upaniṣad.

Literally, ‘Guru’ word is constructed from two Sanskrit words, gu (गु) and ru (रु), gu (गु) means dark, ignorance, superficial, confusion, etc., depending on the context, and ru (रु) means to break, to remove, to end, deeper/heavier, or enlighten. Guru-Gītā, a Hindu scripture (Guru Gītā is a spiritual text originally constructed by Sage Vyasa, and narrated again in  the Sakanda Purāṇa where the nature of the guru and the guru/disciple relationship is described in the form of a dialogue between Śiva and Pārvatī). Śiva narrated the etymological derivation of the word ‘guru’ that is based on the syllables gu (गु) and ru (रु), and their meanings in different contexts. According to Wikipedia, there are different versions of Guru-Gita ranging in verses from 100 to 400. According to a Guru-Gita following verses are directly defining the term Guru. It is interesting to note that the primary meaning of the gu (गु) as dark and ru (रु) as the remover is retained to describe the concepts of the ślokas. –

गुकारश्चान्धकारो हि रुकारस्तेज उच्यते |

अज्ञानग्रासकं ब्रह्म गुरुरेव न संशयः||33||

‘गु’ शब्द का अर्थ है अंधकार (अज्ञान) और ‘रु’ शब्द का अर्थ है प्रकाश (ज्ञान) | अज्ञान को नष्ट करने वाला जो ब्रह्मरूप प्रकाश है, वह गुरु है | इसमें कोई संशय नहीं है |

 In this translation the physical reality of dark is removed by the physical element of light, and that is then metaphorically used to indicate that the guru removes the ignorance by eating it away (grāsakam), means destroying it permanently.

गुकारश्चान्धकारस्तु रुकारस्तन्निरोधकृत् | 

अन्धकारविनाशित्वात् गुरुरित्यभिधीयते ||34||

‘गु’ कार अंधकार है और उसको दूर करनेवाल ‘रु’ कार है | अज्ञानरूपी अन्धकार को नष्ट करने के कारण ही गुरु कहलाते हैं |

Here the guru is presented as someone who does not allow the darkness to continue, in other words the guru destroys it. Implications are here that the guru is a dynamic personality who can spot, assess, and prevent the ignorance from continuing.

गुकारः प्रथमो वर्णो मायादि गुणभासकः |

रुकारोऽस्ति परं ब्रह्म मायाभ्रान्तिविमोचकम् ||36||

‘गुरु’ शब्द का प्रथम अक्षर ‘गु’ माया आदि गुणों का प्रकाशक है और दूसरा अक्षर ‘रु’ माया की भ्रान्ति से मुक्ति देनेवाला परब्रह्म है |

Here guru is projected as someone who removes confusion from the illusionary māyā. Two points worth noting are (1) gu (गु) here is presented as the promoter of illusion by highlighting its qualities or features; and (2) ru (रु) means not just a remover of the confusion from this illusion but doing this from the perspective of the parbrahm (परब्रह्म), meaning after attaining that status.

Thus, a guru is a very dynamic personality who can provide guidance to his/her disciple (शिष्य) under a variety of natural and artificial (illusionary) conditions of activities to develop wisdom and vivek in the pursuits of the ultimate goals of life.  

The attributes of guru have to be such that such a dynamism in developing the disciple is readily feasible. Some of those attributes are described under stanzas on ‘आचार्यलक्षणम्’ in Śukla Yajurveda’s Advayatāraka Upaniṣad (an ancient Sanskrit text on Yoga), as outlined below.

आचार्यो वेदसम्पन्नो विष्णुभक्तो विमत्सरः ।

योगज्ञो योगनिष्ठश्च सदा योगात्मकः शुचिः ॥14॥

A truly competent teacher is, armed with Vedic knowledge, a devotee of Viśṇu to mean that the guru has full knowledge of the causal world, free from envy/jealousy through the knowledge, devotion, and practice of yoga. This is important for a guru so that there is no envy with the disciple, providing total devotion to the guidance of the of the disciple.

गुरुभक्तिसमायुक्तः पुरुष्ज्ञो विशेषतः ।

एवं लक्षणसम्पन्नो गुरुरित्यभिधीयते ॥15॥

He should be devoted to his own guru, meaning continues to remain a śiṣya in practice, thus being able to develop the camaraderie with his own disciple, is particularly well versed with the knowledge of puruśa and prakriti, the source and expressive powers of the universe, He who possesses various types of  such virtues is designated as a guru.

गुशब्दस्त्वन्धकारः स्यात् रुशब्दस्तन्निरोधकः ।

अन्धकारनिरोधित्वात् गुरुरित्यभिधीयते ॥16॥

The syllable gu (signifies) darkness. The syllable ru (signifies) the destroyer of the darkness. By the reason of the ability to destroy darkness he is called a guru.

गुरुरेव परं ब्रह्म गुरुरेव परा गतिः ।

गुरुरेव परा विद्या गुरुरेव परायणं ॥17॥

The guru alone is the supreme absolute brahm. Guru alone is the supreme way. Guru alone is the master of parā (as opposed to only aparāvidyā. Guru alone is the supreme and last resort.

गुरुरेव परा काष्ठा गुरुरेव परं धनं ।

यस्मात्तदुपदेष्टाऽसौ तस्माद्गुरुतरो गुरुरिति ॥18॥

The guru alone is the limit of all knowledge. The guru alone is the ultimate wealth. He is the teacher of the non-dual reality. Therefore, he is the ultimate guru.

The tradition of spiritual relationship and mentoring, where teachings are transmitted from a guru to a disciple, is known as guruśiṣya paramparā. This guruśiṣya relationship has evolved in Indian tradition since Upaniṣad era where guru and śiṣya developed resonance of thoughts and then guru transmits his knowledge to the person who respectfully sits down near him with śraddhā, in the quest for knowledge. A guruśiṣya relationship are beyond age, gender, and battlefield, as the guru can be Yama to a teenage boy Naciketā, lord Kṛśṇa to warrier Arjuna, or sage Yājñavalkya to his own wife (Gārgī / Maitreyī).

The concept of guru and Guru Purṇimā is quite old, the oldest being celebrated as the birthday of Ved Vyāsa, on the day of Aṣāḍa Purṇimā. The latest revival of Guru Purṇimā festival was done by Mahatma Gandhi in honor of his spiritual guru, Rajchandra. In its true tradition a guru does not expect anything in return from a śiṣya, and performs the imparting of knowledge as a karmayoga.  

With time, people started observing guru as a mentor, counsellor, advisor, who inculcates values in his disciples by sharing knowledge and his own experiences, and who cares about the wellbeing of his disciples. A guru, however, in its true tradition will dedicate his/her life caring about disciples spiritually, and educating them in accordance with their nature. Thus, he is an inspirational source for the spiritual evolution of the disciple. The tradition of guru runs deep in India. The entire Sikhism concept is laid down based on the the teachings of Guru. Its main scripture is called Guru Granth Sahib and the words therein called Gurbaṇī.

In present society too, we have come across many such gurus. Like Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekānanda, Swami Dayānanda Saraswatī, His Holiness Dalai Lama for Buddhism, ISKCON founder A. C. Bhakti Vedanta Swami Prabhupada for Bhakti Yoga, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for Art of living, Radha Swami, Swami Rāmdev Bābā for Yoga, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for Spirituality, and many others in such tradition. Their disciples usually refer to them as Gurudev! These spiritual leaders are kind of role models and sometimes preferred by people as an alternative to established religions to know more about divinity.

In olden days, the school or pāṭhśālā ran by guru was known as gurukula, later on in modern times they are called as āśrama, although the gurukula system of education is still in practice. Both of these are residential places of learning, without requiring any fees. Guru treats disciples or followers as part of their own family. In gurukula, students received complete knowledge of Vedic scriptures, philosophical-spiritual-medicinal-political, etc. along with various art forms, whereas in āśrama followers received spiritual preaching from their guru. Ultimately these are concentrated on such education that helps in revealing the purpose of life. While pursuing teaching or preaching, guru focuses on self-discipline among learners that result in inner perfection leading to liberation in the form of mokṣa.

Guruśiṣya tradition superficially still is observed in modern educational institutions, at least in traditional ones, where students in general pay respect to their teachers on occasions of Guru Purṇimā. Sometimes these occasions are observed in United States by Hindu groups, such as Vishwa Hindu Parishad America, and American teachers really appreciate such a devotion. The devotion to teachers, no matter where they are, is always beneficial to students, as śraddhā is critical for earning knowledge.

श्रद्धावान् लभते ज्ञानं तत्पर: संयतेन्द्रिय: |

ज्ञानं लब्ध्वा परां शान्तिमचिरेणाधिगच्छति || Bhagvadgita 4.39||

Those who are devoted and who are ready willing to control their mind and senses attain knowledge. Through such knowledge, they quickly attain everlasting supreme peace.

Thus, in Indian tradition the position of Guru is more or less same as Deva, the lord. One should be devoted to his Guru just like he is devoted to his Deva.  

यस्य देवे परा भक्तिः यथा देवे तथा गुरौ । Śvetāśvetara Upaniṣad 6.23

Will this system ever return, is it the right time for its return, can this system adapt to the modern time, can it compete with modern educational system, and will it be allowed in a time when education itself has become an over $6 trillion business? Only time will tell, but one thing is clear with forced adaptation during the Corona time, that the bluff of traditional system of institutional classroom has largely been called out! With the cost of education spiraling out of control at all levels throughout the world, the educational practices adapted during the Corona lockdown may in fact have provided the needed pause for pondering.

A trillion dollar question is whether gurus are ready to take their place! Let’s hope the answer would be YES by the next Guru Purṇimā!!

Worthy Gurus are absolutely needed!

– Dr. Aparna (Dhir) Khandelwal, Assistant Professor and Prof. Bal Ram Singh, Director, School of Indic Studies, INADS, Dartmouth, USA

पुस्तक की नियति

-डा. प्रवेश सक्सेना

भारत हो या विश्व के अन्य कोई देश, सर्वत्र पुस्तक आरंभिक दिनों में कहीं जीवित व्यक्तियों के रूप में, भोजपत्रों, पत्थरों या मिट्टी की गोलियों के रूप में या पिफर चर्म और धातुओं पर अंकित या उकेरी रही है। परिवर्तन संसार का शाश्वत नियम है। मानव जीवन के हर क्षेत्र में परिवर्तन होता है तो पुस्तक के क्षेत्र में भला क्यों नहीं होता? काग़ज़ के आविष्कार और मुद्रण कला ने क्रांतिकारी परिवर्तन किए हैं पुस्तक के रूप में। सबसे बड़ा परिवर्तन जो 20वीं सदी के अंत में कंप्यूटर और इंटरनेट ने किया और अब जो ‘ई-बुक’ का आधुनिकतम आविष्कार हुआ है, उसने तो न केवल पुस्तक का कलेवर बदला है, लेखक, पाठक, प्रकाशक और पुस्तकालय सबके समीकरण बदल डाले हैं।

पुस्तक के भविष्य को लेकर इस युग में प्रायः समाचार-पत्रों या पत्रिकाओं में इतस्ततः चिंता व्यक्त की जाती है। पुस्तकें गायब हैं? पुस्तक की मृत्यु हो चुकी है? आदि नकारात्मक बातें इस साइबर युग में बार-बार पढ़ी-सुनी जाती हैं? इक्कीसवीं सदी के इस साइबर युग में जबकि इंटरनेट, किंडल, ई-बुक आदि का प्रचलन बढ़ता जा रहा है तो पुस्तक के भविष्य को लेकर चिंता होना स्वाभाविक है। क्या होगा मुद्रित पुस्तक का भविष्य? क्या वह अजायबघर की एक वस्तु बनकर रह जाने वाली है? फिर पुस्तक की नियति के बारे में और भी प्रश्न मन में घुमड़ने लगते हैं? कैसे वह अस्तित्व में आई, कैसे मनुष्य ने लिखना सीखा, प्रथम पुस्तक प्रस्तर पर लिखी गई या भोजपत्र पर, काग़ज़ कब, कहाँ से आया? आदि-आदि। प्रथम मुद्रित पुस्तक किस भाषा में थी, क्या नाम था उसका? अर्थात् ‘पुस्तक की नियति’ को लेकर उसके ‘कल, आज और कल’ से संबंधित प्रश्न अगणित हैं। दूसरी ओर जब दिल्ली पुस्तक मेले या विश्व पुस्तक मेले लगते हैं तो ‘किताबें लौट आई हैं’ जैसे सकारात्मक शीर्षक भी नज़र आते हैं। जो भी हो 20वीं सदी के अंत और 21वीं सदी के इन प्रारंभिक दशकों में पुस्तक को लेकर चिंता व्याप्त है। कारण प्रथम तो यही कि कंप्यूटर, इंटरनेट और ई-बुक ने मुद्रित पुस्तक को पीछे छोड़ दिया है। द्वितीय कारण पठनीयता कम से कमतर होती गई है। यही सब कारण रहे कि ‘पुस्तक की नियति’ पर कुछ लिखने का मन बना।

पुस्तक की नियति के बारे में सोचते ही प्रश्न उभरते हैं कैसे वह अस्तित्व में आई, कैसे मनुष्य ने लिखना सीखा, प्रथम पुस्तक प्रस्तर पर लिखी गई या भोजपत्र पर? काग़ज़ कब, कहां से आया आदि-आदि? इन सब प्रश्नों के उत्तर खोजने के लिए अतीत के गर्भ में जाना जरूरी था। प्रागैतिहासिक काल में कैसे मनुष्य ने भाषा को सीखा, लिखना सीखा आदि प्रश्नों के उत्तर टटोलने ज़रूरी थे। इसलिए जितना संभव था उतना ढूँढ़ने की कोशिश की। आश्चर्य हुआ यह जानकर कि पुस्तक के जन्म या विकास को लेकर कुछ विश्वकोशों से सहायता भले ही मिल जाए परंतु ‘पुस्तक पर पुस्तक’ कहीं नहीं मिलती। दूसरे शब्दों में कह सकते हैं कि पुस्तक के जन्म और विकास की गाथा के सूत्र जहाँ एक साथ मिल सकें-ऐसी कोई ‘पुस्तक’ पुस्तक पर नहीं मिलती है।

अनेक पुस्तकालयों के चक्कर काटे। प्रकाशकों से संपर्क किया परंतु निराश होना पड़ा। हिंदी भाषा में तो इस प्रकार की पुस्तक मिली ही नहीं। हाँ, साहित्य अकादमी में ज़रूर एक अंग्रेज़ी ग्रंथ मिला पर उसमें संस्कृत, हिंदी का उल्लेख तो था ही नहीं अंग्रेज़ी साहित्य की पुस्तकों का ही उल्लेख था। पुस्तक के जन्म और विकास की गाथा का उल्लेख भी कुछ विशेष नहीं था।

एक पुस्तक एम. आइलिन की प्राप्त हुई, जिसका अंग्रेज़ी शीर्षक था ‘Black on White’ यह भी मूल रूप में नहीं मिली। ‘पुस्तक के जन्म और विकास की कहानी’ शीर्षक से जितेन्द्र शर्मा ने इसका रूपांतरण किया है और कौस्तुभ प्रकाशन, हापुड़-245101 ने इसे सन् 2010 में छापा है। अत्यंत रोचक तरीके से इस रूपांतरित पुस्तक में पुस्तक की गाथा वैश्विक संदर्भ में लिखी गई है। आश्चर्यजनक बात लगती है यह कि यहाँ संस्कृत जो कि विश्व की प्राचीनतम भाषा सर्वस्वीकृत है तथा ऋग्वेद जो विश्व-पुस्तकालय की प्राचीनतम लिखित पुस्तक मानी जाती है उसका उल्लेख तक नहीं। भाषा के अक्षरों तथा अंकों की खोज का श्रेय फोनिशियंस जो सेमिटिक जाति के थे, उन्हें दिया गया है। विश्वास है यह किसी पूर्वाग्रह या दुराग्रह के कारण नहीं हुआ होगा, संभवतः लेखक या रूपांतरकार दोनों ही संस्कृत से परिचित नहीं रहे होंगे। 

भारतीय संदर्भों में वेद मौखिक परंपरा से पीढ़ी दर पीढ़ी पहुँचे, ज्ञान दर्शन सबका संप्रेषण गुरु-शिष्य परंपरा से हुआ ज़रूर परंतु उस सुदूरकाल में लेखनकला भी उसके समानांतर चलती रही। पुस्तक के जन्म के या मूल के प्रसंग में इसे जानना रोचक और ज्ञानवर्धक रहा है। इसके लिए पुरातात्त्विक साक्ष्य जैसे शिलालेख आदि तो हैं ही साथ ही प्राचीन वाङम्य में अनेक अंतःसाक्ष्य भी उपलब्ध हैं।

इन्हीं सब विचारों को समेटे हुए तथा पुस्तक के प्रति आशावादी सोच रखते हुए ‘पुस्तक की नियति’ नामक पुस्तक को लिखने का विचार आया। कुल बारह अध्यायों में पुस्तक के मूल, उसके लेखक, पाठक और यहाँ तक कि लेखन सामग्री और पुस्तकालयों तक पर विस्तार से चर्चा; ई-बुक का चमत्कारपूर्ण संसार; समय-समय पर कथित विद्वानों द्वारा पुस्तक के महत्त्व के विषय में टिप्पणियाँ; पुस्तक को लेकर संस्कृत और हिंदी की कुछ कविताओं का संकलन; पुस्तक के विषय में प्राप्त रोचक तथ्य आदि का वर्णन है। कुल मिलाकर कहें तो यह ‘पुस्तक’ इस क्षेत्र में एक बड़े शून्य को भरती है।

इस कार्य द्वारा भारतीय और वैश्विक दोनों संदर्भों में ‘पुस्तक की नियति’ को जानने-समझने की कोशिश की गयी है। मेरा मानना है –

‘पुस्तक की नियति’ : पुस्तक थी, है और हमेशा रहेगी।

Dr. Pravesh Saxena, Former Associate Professor, Sanskrit, Zakhir Hussain College, University of Delhi

Disintermediation: The Future of Higher Education (Part II)

(Continued from part-I)

– Sh. Rajiv Malhotra

The single most important trend that is revolutionizing education is information technology, especially the internet. Teaching platforms like the Khan Academy are the wave of the future, not the physical classroom in a brick and mortar building. The old-fashioned teacher is being squeezed out along with the physical classroom. The total cost of higher education in the US is estimated to exceed $500 billion annually, using the old delivery models. Many administrators in major universities are worried that their institutions are becoming like the dinosaurs. A disruption is long overdue and we should see this as an opportunity for creative entrepreneurship. This may be seen as a part of the wider trend in dis-intermediation (bypassing of the middleman) taking place in various industries.

  • The new cloud-based teaching methods are rapidly threatening the old school systems in many ways, such as the following:
  • Huge campuses are becoming obsolete. In the future, the buildings required will be mostly those with laboratories and high-tech infrastructure that cannot become virtual. The ordinary classroom will become almost extinct.
  • Old teaching materials are already obsolete. The teacher’s class notes that were once written on the board or handed out in class are now a waste of time because all that is readily available online. With video conferencing, considerable interaction is also available without physical meetings.
  • This trend will lower tuitions significantly because it is not necessary to hire full-time faculty.
  • This also changes the demand side of university professors and impacts the future of academicians as a profession. Many subject matter experts who are not formally classified as professors will be teaching part-time and sharing their knowledge and practical experience. The old style professor with limited real world experience will be replaced by learned persons who will also bring their lived experience to teach.
  • All this means an end to the ivory tower academic snobbery of the past, in which there was great prestige associated with being a professor disconnected from mundane life. Now the floodgates are opening for teaching that is brought by knowledgeable individuals who are embedded within communities and who also speak as voices of the community.
  • Higher education will be a lifelong pursuit and not limited to a few years of college/university. Most workers will take online courses as a regular part of staying current with the trends in their field. Education will be seen as something you do all your life and for which you do not need necessarily to take several years off.

While the above list of changes pertains to the teaching side of higher education, there are equally revolutionary changes expected in the research side, especially in the humanities. Let us discuss religious studies in the US academy, as an example.

Twenty-five years ago, when I first started monitoring and intervening in the American academic research on Hinduism, the academic fortress was a formidable center of power. To make any impact, it was crucial to get inside the system one way or another. But today, an increasing amount of high quality scholarly works are being published by scholars and practitioners outside the walls of the academic fortress. Many guru movements have their own writings and publishing houses. The new works produced by Hindu movements are not only about standard topics like Bhagavad Gita, but also pertain to issues of society, politics, family, health, etc. Many other groups started by civic society now nurture non-academic research and publishing. These new suppliers are seen as threats to the turf traditionally controlled by the academicians. The academic empire is fighting back, but it is a losing battle. (I am an example of someone seen as a threat to the officially credentialed producers of knowledge about my culture.)

The number of readers who receive their knowledge about religion from sources outside the academy far exceeds the number who are sitting in class to learn from their professor. The American academicians refused to accept this trend during the past two decades when I tried to explain it to them. They were too arrogant to be open to this new reality. The pride of being the exclusive source of knowledge had been instilled in them during their PhD, and was seen as their ticket to success that could never be taken away. This attitude of the senior professors has misguided the new generation of academicians, and made the academic system insular and vulnerable.

Today, most people get their knowledge about religions (their own and those of others) through television, online sources, personal travels to sacred and holy sites, teachings from their gurus and swamis, and reading materials published by non-academic writers. If someone wants to invest in spreading particular ideas about our traditions, the investment is better spent on such platforms and not on feeding the old system which is rapidly becoming obsolete. Instead, they should rethink the dynamics of this intellectual kurukshetra of civilizational discourse. Only then can they develop a more viable strategy for interventions.

Indians have in the past bought used technologies and obsolete models in certain industries, at a time when the Western countries exporting these were migrating to new paradigms. I feel many of us are being fooled into investing in what is rapidly becoming an obsolete model of higher education.

Instead of funding American higher education’s pre-internet era system, India should develop the next generation platforms. And India should not be content with a back-office role in this emerging industry, but should develop and own the brands seen by the end users (i.e. the students). Besides developing the platforms and delivery systems, Indians should also lead in content development and educational methodology, especially in areas where traditional Indian systems would give us a competitive advantage.

There are also examples where unethical opportunism is driving the disintermediation. For example, China is disintermediating the R&D centers of the West by stealing intellectual property. They take the lead in implementing others’ discoveries. We can argue about the ethics, but this is a ground reality shaping our world. The examples of disintermediation I am proposing in education are perfectly ethical and should be seen as natural evolution. The age of disintermediation is upon us. It is important to ride this wave rather than avoid it out of fear or ignorance.

– Sh. Rajiv Malhotra, Member, Board, WAVES-USA

Disintermediation: The Future of Higher Education (Part-I)

– Sh. Rajiv Malhotra

When I was consulting for AT&T, British Telecom and other IT giants in the 1980s on futuristic strategies, I used the term “disintermediation” to mean getting rid of intermediaries in various industries. The new technology would enable tech companies to replace the middlemen in a variety of fields. I argued that travel agents, stock brokers, record labels, book publishers, etc. were examples of highly vulnerable businesses. Displacing them with tech platforms presented great opportunities for my clients.

At that time, such ideas were considered too far out, but it made a lucrative consulting career for me to dish out path-breaking propositions for very large MNCs. They had virtually unlimited money to spend on exploring futurist ideas. Today, these ideas are considered established and even old school. Not only have the above mentioned intermediaries become obsolete, one can also see the same trend of disintermediation in retailing (i.e., Amazon), taxis (i.e., Uber), e-learning (i.e., education), to name a few.

One of my predictions for disintermediation that has not (yet) come true is politics. I had predicted that rather than democratic elections taking place every few years, there could be real-time measurement of the pulse of the voters and instant polls to make policies and elect/de-elect politicians. Further, one could envision an artificial intelligence system adapting itself in real time to reflect public opinion and have the authority to govern on some matters – subject to human supervision to avoid over-mechanization or abuse of some kind.

We must first understand how and why “intermediation” came about, before fully understanding dis-intermediation.

In the beginning, producers and consumers lived in close proximity to one another. The village was self-sufficient in many ways, and only certain kinds of products had to be imported from the outside. The industrial revolution changed this. It became more efficient and competitive to have middlemen between producers and consumers. The distance between the points of production and consumption increased and have become global. Distribution channels and supply chains are global today and there are many layers of intermediaries. This trend of globalized supply chains and distribution is likely to increase even further. It gives better resource allocation than the local model of small-scale self-sufficiency.

At the same time, every new wave of technology disrupts the supply chain and distribution channels. This means new opportunities for the creative and enterprising minds will continue to present themselves. My focus in this article is on the way such trends are rapidly disrupting the field of education.

Indians were once upon a time (during the days of Nalanda, Taxashila and other world-class universities) the preeminent producers and exporters of knowledge, ideas and values to the rest of Asia. Now we are consumers of what the Western institutions teach us. We are stuck in a system of dependency so serious that our elites feel they must get certified by the West in order to be credible back home in India. But a window of opportunity has opened up and we cannot afford to miss this chance to take back our leadership role as a knowledge producer and exporter. This window is due to the disruptions caused by the internet.

One of the latest trends in US universities is the growing role of foreigners, including Indians, in the affairs of these universities. First this role was only in the form of foreign students bringing in billions of dollars. Many US academic institutions are financially dependent on foreign students because they cannot meet their expenses through domestic student tuitions alone. An effect of this has been that a large number of Indian elites (both in USA and those returning to India) have been influenced by American values and principles, both good and bad. From the US side, this is not only a great source of tuition fees but also a way to spread its intellectual influence.

A more recent trend is for wealthy Indians to invest in US universities for personal brand building. (See an interesting article, titled, ‘Harvard is a hedge fund with a university attached.’) This is shortsighted and dangerous. Indians are giving grants and endowments to US universities without adequately evaluating the subject matter being produced by the scholars. It’s all about wealthy Indians seeking a seat at the high table of prestige in American society. They see their family name on a building or attached to an academic chair as their next step in climbing the social ladder. Few donors get sufficiently involved in the details of the subject matter and the impact that is being created by their donation.

A major contrast between India and China in this regard is that China retains strict control over the disciplines pertaining to its civilization, values, domestic politics and culture. They readily buy (or use unscrupulous means to acquire) Western science, technology and business knowhow. But they do not want to brainwash their youth with Western prejudices in areas of the humanities that are considered sensitive to the interest of national unity and security. India has not been able to appreciate this strategic point even now.

Against this backdrop, I want donors to understand some tectonic trends that are taking place in US higher education which are rapidly making brick and mortar university campuses obsolete. I wish to advise those giving donations to US academic institutions to step back and rethink their strategies keeping the future trends in mind. Most donations being given are wasteful because they fund obsolete models at a time when they should be funding the incubation of new models.

(to be continued….)

Sh. Rajiv Malhotra, Member, Board, WAVES-USA

Can we improve Indian education by using technology and going back to tradition?

Rajeev Srinivasan

Prof. Rajeev Srinivasan, IIM Bangalore

Education everywhere is going through trying times. India’s education system has demonstrated particularly poor learning outcomes in primary (India ranked 43rd out of 45th in the last PISA test it took part in. PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) is a standard global test for 15 year olds. In 2013, India debuted, and ranked so close to the bottom of the rankings that it withdrew from the PISA study thereafter. In contrast, China, another debutant in 2013, zoomed right to the top position. In regards to university education, there has not been a single globally lauded invention or discovery from India since 1947.) and tertiary (Dr. Gangan Prathap, a former VC, in 2017: “India has a presence in fifteen of twenty-two subject areas in which there at least 50 institutes globally that have published more than 500 papers. It has no institution which can be counted at this level of size and excellence in seven areas: Arts & Humanities; Business, Management and Accounting; Health Professions; Neuroscience; Nursing; Psychology; and Social Sciences. India’s research base is completely skewed towards the Physical Sciences and Engineering with very little for Biological Sciences and Medicine and virtually none in Social Sciences and Arts and Humanities when excellence at the highest level is considered. Its performance is also bench marked against three nations, namely Australia, the Netherlands and Taiwan which are of similar size in terms of GDP and scientific output… It is seen that although India has the highest GDP among the four countries, its performance lags considerably behind due to the very low expenditure on R&D.”) education. In this context, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s statement of April 23rd is noteworthy: “Serious discussions on how to include the ancient Indian traditions in educational system should begin. India has the capability to combine modern education with its ancient traditions to help solve problems in the world”, said the pontiff.

education-technology

(Source of image : https://edexec.co.uk/technology-vs-tradition-creating-the-perfect-learning-environment/)

It is remarkable that technological progress has made it possible to take in elements of traditional systems including gurukulas. What we have used over the last couple of centuries is a system imposed by British imperialists, driven by their needs at the time. That colonial education system was a product of the (First) Industrial Revolution. Their factories required masses of people who were literate, and able to follow instructions. That’s it: no creativity, please.

There is a contrast between this system and what is generally believed to have existed earlier: a broad, humanistic educational system with significant customization as well as practical problem-solving. The emphasis in India has traditionally been in the practical application of theoretical ideas: eg. in the creation of Vedic fire altars with precise mathematical properties.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, and especially the proliferation of computing power and Artificial Intelligence, negates the requirements of the First. We no longer need armies of drone workers toiling away. We need creative individuals.

Furthermore, the nature of work is changing. Earlier, people used to change jobs, but now they change careers, often pursuing three or four in sequence. Besides, the very idea of the lifetime job is looking shaky: we may instead have a ‘gig economy’ where free agent workers come together for a specific task, complete it, and move on. A large number of people may become permanently unemployable, too. The trick for each individual is to avoid that fate through choosing education wisely.

Fortunately, we can now envision truly customized education. A curriculum, lesson plans, tests, and self-paced learning that are appropriate for a specific individual are now possible through the application of AI techniques.

In addition, there is learning material out there, available to all via MOOCs (Massively Online Open Courses) and others: Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity, TED, Wikipedia, edX, YouTube and also Indian equivalents. Much of the content is free.

There is also the tyranny of English, that is to say that English is considered the sina qua non for a person to be deemed ‘educated’ in India. Even if you are a highly-trained and skilled pundit in traditional knowledge, you will be viewed with derision by English-speakers (Ananda K Coomaraswamy on 1908: “Speak to the ordinary graduate of an Indian University, or a student from Ceylon, of the ideals in the Mahabharata—he will hasten to display his knowledge of Shakespeare; talk to him of religious philosophy—you find that he is an atheist of the crude type common in Europe a generation ago, and that not only has he no religion, but is as lacking in philosophy as the average Englishman; talk of him of Indian music—he will produce a gramophone or a harmonium and inflict upon you one or both; talk to him of Indian dress or jewelry—he will tell you that they are uncivilized and barbaric; talk to him of Indian art—it is news to him that such a thing exists; ask him to translate for you a letter written in his mother-tongue—he does not know it. He is indeed a stranger in his own land.”). There was a time when it was believed that English was an advantage for Indians; now it is apparent that it is stunting the development of independent research, not to mention killing off Indian languages.

Here too, technology can be the savior. For the first time, we can see a future where real-time translation enables people to learn in their mother tongue. If automatic translation becomes routine, then it becomes easy for our mother-tongue-speaking students to understand all the material out there in MOOCs: it will be delivered to them in their mother tongues, thanks to machine learning.

What might be useful in traditional education? The curricula documented by Dharampal as prevailing in pre-colonial India included vyakarana, tarka, ganita, rasa, darsana, arthashastra, and pramana. If you step away from the current STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) focus, these subjects would appear to help in the development of fully engaged and innovative  citizens.

Can we move to such a system overnight? Of course not. But the gradual introduction of such subjects into the curriculum will be useful for Indian students to have a competitive advantage in the future.

 

Prof. Rajeev Srinivasan, Adjunct Faculty, Strategy Area, IIM Bangalore

 

वेदों के प्रकाश में अपने स्त्रीत्व को खोजें व सही अर्थों में स्वतंत्रता प्राप्त करें

– Mrs. Suvrata Vinod

[ Editor’s Note – शास्त्रार्थ की संवाद शैली का प्रयोग करते हुए लेखिका ने अपने विचारों को यहाँ रखा है।]

शंका – वेद है क्या?

समाधान – वेद एक नियत शब्दराशि है।

शंका  – फिर ये शब्द दूसरे शब्दों से विशेष क्यों? इतिहास के गर्त में न जाने कितनी संस्कृतियाँ, राष्ट्र, समाज, व्यक्ति आए गए।बहुत थोडों का स्मरण शेष रहता है।वह भी अंशों में।वेद भी तो किसी के द्वारा बनाये गये थे और अत एव नष्ट हो रहे है।

समाधान – क्या सब कुछ मनुष्यकृत होना जरुरी है?

शंका – अर्थात् नही।

समाधान – तो सब वाक्य मनुष्यकृत होना जरुरी है?

शंका – हाँ।

समाधान -क्या कोई मनुष्य बिना किसी का वाक्य सुने, वाक्योच्चारण करते देखा गया है?

शंका – नही।परंतु पुरा काल में ऐसा हुआ होगा।

समाधान – अदृष्टपूर्वकल्पना बिना हेतु के करना अंधश्रद्धा है।फिर देखो जीवित कोष से ही कोषांतर देख रहे हो, मान भी रहे हो। ऐसे ही गुरु के पूर्वोच्चारण से शिष्य का अनूच्चारण होता है ऐसा दीख रहा है। फिर सदा से ऐसा हो रहा है ऐसा मानने में क्या आपत्ति है। इन वेदवाक्यों को गुरुशिष्य परंपरा से अत्यंत पवित्रता व परिश्रम से हृदयाकाश में सुरक्षित रक्खा जाता है। वेद किसी लिखित-मुद्रित पुस्तक का नाम नही है।वेद गुरु के हृदय में निवास करते है। उपदेशद्वारा गुरु उसे शिष्य के हृदय में संक्रामित करते है। तब शिष्य भी गुरु होने योग्य हो जाता है। जो वेदों को हृदय में धारण करते है उन्हें हम वेदवित् कहते है। ऐसे व्यक्ति के लिए उसके अपने राग-द्वेष, likes-dislikes, अच्छा-बुरा एक तरफऔर दुसरी तरफ वेदों के विधि-निषेध दोनों ही सामने उपस्थित होते हैं। यही पर पुरुषार्थ का अवसर है जो हमे प्रत्येक व्यक्ति में भिन्न भिन्न स्तर का ज्ञात होता है। जिसके पास पूर्ण स्वातंत्र्य हो उसे सिद्ध वा स्थितप्रज्ञ कहा जाता है।

रागद्वेषवियुक्तैस्तु विषयानिन्द्रियैश्चरन्।आत्मवश्यैर्विधेयात्मा प्रसादमधिगच्छति। श्रीमद्भगवदगीता २.६४

(राग और द्वेष से वियुक्त होकर विषयों का इंद्रिय से ग्रहण करते हुए, उन इंद्रियों को अपने वश ऱखते हुए, न कि उनके दास बनकर, जो व्यक्ति शास्त्रविधि से प्रेरित होकर कार्य करता है वह प्रसन्नता को पाता है। )

यह स्वतंत्रता ही आर्य जीवन में श्रेष्ठता का मापदंड है। जिसमें यह स्वतंत्रता नहीवत् होती है उसे दूसरों के द्वारा नियंत्रित करना आवश्यक हो जाता है। एवं जो व्यक्ति राग-द्वेषों पर नियंत्रण रखते हुए विधि-निषेध का पालन कर सके वह दूसरों को अपने अधीन रखने की योग्यता पाता है। विचारशील व्यक्ति को स्वयं के राग-द्वेष तो विना उपदेश स्वयमेव ज्ञात होते है परंतु विधि-निषेध का ज्ञान तो मनुष्यमात्र को उपदेश से ही प्राप्त होता है।

शंका – उपदेश ग्रहण करने की योग्यता वा पात्रता क्या है?

समाधान – पवित्र वेदों के धारण के लिए योग्य शिष्य चाहिए। जैसे पानी भरने के लिए मजबुत साफ घडा चाहिए।

नाविरतो दुश्चरितान्नाशान्तो नासमाहितः। कठोपनिषद् २.२४

(दुश्चरित से जो बाज नही आया, जो शान्त और समाहित-चित्त नही है, वह केवल प्रज्ञान से उसे (परमात्मा को) नही पा सकता।) 

तदेतत् सत्यमृषिरंगिराः पुरोवाच नैतदचीर्णव्रतोऽधीते। मुण्डकोपनिषद् ३.२.११

(इस (औपनिषदिक आत्म) सत्य को ऋषि अंगिरा ने पहले कहा, इसे वह व्यक्ति न पढे जिसने व्रताचरण न कर लिया हो।) 

तस्मै स विद्वानुपसन्नाय सम्यक् प्रशान्तचित्ताय शमान्विताय प्रोवाच। मुण्डकोपनिषद् १.२.१३

(विद्वान् गुरु उसे उपदेश करे जो पास रहकर सेवा करता है, जिसका चित्त ठीक से शान्त है और जिसकी वासना भी शमन हो गई है।) 

यतन्तोऽप्यकृतात्मानो नैनं पश्यन्त्यचेतसः। श्रीमद्भगवदगीता १५.११

(प्रयत्न करते हुए भी, जिसने अपने कर्तव्य को पुरा नही किया है, वैसे मूढ जन उसे (परमात्मा को) नही देखते।) 

शंका – कहाँ से आयेगा ऐसा शिष्य?

समाधान -परमेश्वर ने यह दायित्व स्त्री को दिया है।

मातृमान् पितृमान् आचार्यवान् पुरुषो वेद। बृहदारण्यकोपनिषद् ४.१.२-७

उत्तम माता, उत्तम पिता और श्रेष्ठ गुरु हो जिसका वही पुरुष उसे (परमात्मा को) जानता है। 

माता पतिव्रता यस्य पिता यस्य शुचिव्रतः। वाल्मीकि रामायण

माता जिसकी पतिव्रता हो और पिता जिसका शुचिव्रत अर्थात् वेदानुयायी है, उसी का मन ललचाता नही है। 

वह क्या है जो स्त्री के पास विशेष है? क्या में इस बहुमूल्य योग्यता को पहिचानती हूँ? क्या मैं इसका सही मूल्य कर पा रही हूँ? इसे संजोए रखने के लिए कुछ त्याग करने को भी तैयार हूँ?

शंका -आप किस बारे में बात कर रहे है हमें नहीं पता।

समाधान -यूरोप अमेरिका में 50 % स्त्रियाँ विवाह करना ही नहीं चाहती।क्या आजकल इंद्रिय-संयम ब्रह्मचर्य बहुत आसान हो गया है? 16 साल से कम उम्र में ही 90% से अधिक कन्याएं अपने कौमार्य को खो देती है।क्या हम भी इनके पिछे चल नहीं रहे? हमारी वेशभूषा तो कुछ ऐसा ही कह रही है।

शंका – क्या ऐसा होने से योग्य शिष्य पैदा नहीं हो सकेंगे? आजकल तो सब बहुत चमक-धमक वाला दीखता है।चारों ओर सुंदर-सुंदर स्त्री-पुरुष।कितना मनोहारी दृश्य है।कितने रंग! कितने स्वाद! कितनी सुगंध! इतनी विविधता प्रचुरता क्या पहले कभी थी? विज्ञान ने हर क्षेत्र मे नई ऊँचाईयों को छु लिया है। हमारे कई प्रश्नों के उत्तर दिये है। मानव आज अधिक सामर्थ्यवान् है।

समाधान – बिलकुल ठीक।मेरे अपने अनुभव से गत 30-40 वर्षों में हम बहुत बदल गये है। हमारे सही-गलत के मापदंड ही परिवर्तीत हो गये। कई बाते जो पूर्व में निंदात्मक थी वे आज प्रतिष्ठित है।जैसे मदिरापान, विवाहपूर्व संबंध, भ्रष्टाचार-रिश्वतखोरी।सर्वत्र दोगला व्यवहार दीख रहा है।अंदर एक बाहर एक।हमारे मापदंड तो परिवर्तनशील है पर क्या प्रकृति के मापदंड भी बदलते है। और अगर प्रकृति के मापदंड नही बदलते तो क्या हम अब सिर्फ नाम के फलाना-फलाना रह गये। संज्ञामात्र! वस्तु बदल गयी लेबल पुराना। प्रश्न है, वेद को धारण करना, आत्मज्ञान प्राप्त करना, इसकी योग्यता पात्रता हमारे मापदंड बदलने मात्र से क्या बदल जायेंगी? क्या पोथी-पुस्तक पढ कर पंडित हो जा सकता है क्या? शुद्धचित्तता हमारी कल्पना का विषय नहीं अपितु नितांत वास्तविकता है जैसे की सुवर्ण की सुवर्णता। हमारे purity standard घटाने मात्र से क्या सुवर्ण अपने स्वरूप को पा सकता है? यदि नहीं, तो हमे याद रखना होगा की वेदों को धारण करने की योग्यता भी हमें यथार्थ में प्राप्त करनी पडेगी। ऐसे अधिकारी शिष्य को जन्म देना और उसका संगोपन करके पिता एवं अनन्तर आचार्य के अधीन करना यह स्त्री का अनन्य कर्तव्य है।

women-body

(Source of image: https://www.menstrupedia.com/articles)

क्या हमे सोचना चाहिये कि नारी स्वतंत्रता हमे कौन सिखा रहा है।क्या हमारे सुसंस्कृत समाज को इसकी जरूरत थी।कहते है-

न स्त्री स्वातंत्र्यमर्हति । मनुस्मृति

स्त्री को यथोचित पुरुष को पुछे बिना कार्य नही करना चाहिए। 

यह अन्याय है। परंतु स्त्री ही नहीं धर्म किसी को भी स्वतंत्र मनमाना व्यवहार करने की अनुमति नही देता।

कः स्वतंत्रः यः ईश्वरतंत्रः।कः परतंत्रः यः इन्द्रियतंत्रः ।मधुसूदन सरस्वती

कौन स्वतंत्र है? जो ईश्वर के अधीन है। कौन परतंत्र है? जो इंद्रियों के अधीन है।

या तो आप साक्षात् वेद को धारण कर आत्मानुशासन में रहें या…। पर समाज में बहुत कम लोगों की यह काबिलियत होती है। इसलिए अधिकांश लोगों को उन आत्मानुशासित वेदपुरुष के मार्गदर्शन में रहने को कहा।जो कि निरहंकार भाव से देखने पर आसान विकल्प है सुखकर भी। If benefit is the same then why carry the burden of freedom.जो तो आत्मनियंत्रण से अथवा स्वेच्छा से किसी के नियंत्रण में रहकर प्रकृति के नियमों का पालन करते हुए निर्दिष्ट दायित्वों का निर्वाह करता है वह उन दायित्वों से मुक्त होकर अधिकाधिक आनन्द अनुभव करता है।इसके विपरीत स्वेच्छाचारी अधिकाधिक बंधनों मे जकड़ता चला जाता है।

उद्धरेदात्मनात्मानं नात्मानमवसादयेत्।आत्मैव ह्यात्मनो बन्धुरात्मैव रिपुरात्मनः।।बन्धुरात्मात्मनस्तस्य येनात्मैवात्मना जितः।आत्मनस्तु शत्रुत्वे वर्तेतात्मैव शत्रुवत्।।जितात्मनः प्रशान्तस्य परमात्मा समाहितः। श्रीमद्भगवदगीता 6.5-6

अपना उद्धार करे न की अपने आप को गिरा दे। स्वयं ही अपना बंधु है, जिसने अपने आप को जीत लिया। अन्य व्यक्ति जिसका इंद्रिय एवं चित्त स्वयं के वश में नही है, वह तो स्वयं ही स्वयं का शत्रु है। जितात्म-प्रसन्नचित्त व्यक्ति के परमात्मा सदैव पास ही है। 

आइये! वेदों के प्रकाश मे अपने स्त्रीत्व को खोजे व सही अर्थों मे स्वतंत्रता प्राप्त करे।

– Mrs. Suvrata Vinod, Anandavan Bhakta Samudaya, Institute of Advanced Studies in Veda and Science.

Children in Epics

Children of ancient intellectual traditions that are remembered time to time in reference to spiritually, strength, determination and firmness:-

Lava and Kusha

Kuṥa and his twin brother Lava were the children of Lord Rāma and his wife Sītā, whose story is recounted in the Hindu epic Rāmāyaṇa written by Valmīki. According to Uttara Kāṇḍa of this great epic, pregnant Sītā was banished from the kingdom of Ayodhyā by Rāma due to the gossip of general folk of kingdom. She then took refuge in the ramof the sage Valmīki located on the banks of the Tamasā river. According to Rāmāyaṇa, Sītā gave birth to both Lava and Kuṥa at the same time in the support of Valmīki’s disciples. Kuṥa was the elder of the two and is said to have whitish complexion like their mother, while Lava had blue complexion like their father. Names to both kids were given by sage Valmīki. They were educated and trained in military skills and given many natural powers under the tutelage of Valmikī. When Rāma performed the Ashvamedha Yajn᷈a, Lava and Kuṥa attended it with their fatherly sage. At that occasion, they sang the story of Rāmāyaṇa in the presence of king Rāma and his vast audience. When Lava and Kuṥa recited about Sītā’s exile, Rāma became grief-stricken and Valmīki produced Sītā. Sit̄ā called upon the earth, her mother, to receive her and as the ground opened, she vanished into it. Rāma then learnt that Lava and Kuṥa were his children.  Launandan-3

Some poetic works have depicted poetically that Lava and Kuṥa caught the horse of Yajn᷈a during the phase of Aṥvamedha Yajn᷈a, and for that they also gave a good fight to Rāma. Brave sons of Rāma, Lava and Kuṥa became rulers after their father and founded the cities Lavapurī and Kasur respectively. These children are known today for their amity, fearlessness and charm.

Abhimanyu

Abhimanyu, mentioned in the great epic Mahābhārata, was the courageous son of the great Arjuna and Subhadrā, and the nephew of Lord Kṛṣṇa. His story begins just before he was born. When Abhimanyu was in his mother’s womb, Ṥri Kṛṣṇa used to take his sister Subhadrā on excursions. Kṛṣṇa used to relate many of his adventures to the pregnant Subhadrā for her delight. Once he was narrating his experience with the technique of Cakra-vyūha, a military formation which was an effective form of defense. The army would be arranged in the form of a circular grid and would then challenge the enemy to break that grid. It seems that Subhadrā did not find this topic interesting and therefore, after some time she felt asleep. However, someone else was interested in Kṛṣṇa’s narration and he was Abhimanyu in his mother womb. He was carefully following all steps of this vyūha. When Kṛṣṇa noticed that Subhadrā was not responding and she was indeep sleep, he gave up his narration and returned to the palace. Thus, Abhimanyu could only obtain the technique of entering into the circles of the cakra-vyūha. Whatever he had heard from Kṛṣṇa, he carefully preserved in his memory.Unfortunately, he could not know the technique of breaking its circles. He grew up to be a brave, handsome adolescent young man. Many years later, during the Mahābhārata war at Kurukṣetra, the Kauravas set up a cakravyūha and challenged Pāṇḍavas to break it. Only Arjuna knew the technique of doing so, but he was fighting elsewhere at that time. To meet the challenge, Abhimanyu came forward and offered his services for the task of breaking the cakra-vyūha. Despite his incomplete knowledge of the technique, he entered the grid and overcame one circle after another, until he come to the seventh one, the breaking of which he had no knowledge. Brave and ambitious Abhimanyu fought heroically in the unequal struggle but finally met his end.

abhimanyu-badh-gauri-shanker-soni

This story highlights the importance of the childhood saṁskāras and mental growth of a child. Abhimanyu is always remembered for sharp memory, intelligence, courage and bravery.

Dr. Shashi Tiwari, President, WAVES–India & Former Prof. of Sanskrit, Maitreyi College, University of Delhi

Children in Puranas

Great personalities have always their bright childhood as continuity of qualities is a fundamental truth-

 Dhruva

In some Purāṇas, we find story of a child Dhruva who was a symbol of firm determination and profound devotion towards God. Dhruva was son of King Uttānapāda  and his wife Sunīti . The king also had another son named Uttama, born to his second queen Suruchi, who was the preferred object of his affection. Once, five year old, Dhruva was sitting on his father’s lap at the King’s throne. Suruchi, the step-mother, who was jealous of the Dhruva, forcefully removed him from his father’s lap. When Dhruva protested and asked if he could not be allowed to sit on his father’s lap, Suruchi scolded him ruthlessly saying; ‘only God can allow you that privilege. Go ask him.’

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(Source of Image : Daily Bhaskar.com)

Sunīti, a lady of gentle nature but lesser favorite wife of king, tried to console her distressed son, but Dhruva was determined to hear about his fate from the Lord.  Seeing his firm determination, mother Sunīti allowed him to go to the forest. Dhruva was determined to seek for himself his rightful place. Noticing his resolution, the divine sage Nārada appeared before him and tried to abstain him from obtaining severe austerity at such an early age. But Dhruva was firm on his decision, and therefore, overwhelmed sage guided him towards his goal by teaching rituals and mantras to meditate and please the lord Viṣṇu. The one mantra, taught by Nārada which was effectively used by Dhruva, was Om Namo Bhagavate Vāsudevāya. Little Boy fixing his mind on Lord, started his meditation, and went without food and water for six months for the gratification of Viṣṇu. His tapasyā shook the heavens, and Lord appeared before him, but the child would not open his eyes being merged in the inner vision of Viṣṇu’s form described by Nārada. Lord Viṣṇu adopted a strategy to disappear that inner vision. Immediately Dhruva opened his eyes, and seeing outside what he had been seeing in his mental vision, prostrated himself before the Lord. He could not utter a single word. The Lord touched his right cheek by his divine conch and that sparked off his speech. He recited a beautiful poem of twelve powerful verses in the praise of the Lord which is called Dhruva-stuti. The Dhruva-stuti as mentioned in the ViṣṇuPurāṇa is quite different from the Dhruva-stuti of BhāgavataPurāṇa.

Having spent a long time in the Lord’s commemoration, he even forgot the objective of his tapasyā, and only asked for a life in memory of the Lord. Pleased by his tapasyā and by his stuti, Viṣṇu granted his wish and further decreed that the child would attain Dhruvapada – the state where he would become a celestial body which would not even be touched by the mahā-pralaya. Dhruva returned to his kingdom. Now he was warmly received by his family. He attained the crown at the age of six and ruled his kingdom for many decades in a fair manner. Today people highlight any fix position or firm decision, saying it as ‘dhruva.

 Prahlāda

Prahlāda, a young boy is known in the Purāṇas for his firm devotion towards Lord Viṣṇu. Demon king, Hiraṇyakaṥyapa was his father who had commanded everybody in his kingdom to worship only him. But his son, Prahlāda refused to worship his father and became an ardent devotee of Lord Nārāyaṇa. Hiraṇyakaṥyapa tried several ways to kill his son Prahlāda but Lord Viṣṇu saved him every time. Finally, he asked his sister, Holikā to enter a blazing fire with Prahlāda in her lap. For, Hiraṇyakaṥyapa knew that Holikā had a boon, whereby, she could enter the fire untouched. Holikā took her seat in a blazing fire with Prahlāda in her lap. Holikā was not aware that the boon worked only when she entered the fire alone. Prahlāda, who kept chanting the name of Lord Narāyaṇa, came out unharmed, as the lord blessed him for his extreme devotion.

prahlad-as-the-devotee-of-lord-vishnu

(Source of Image : http://www.padhokhelo.com)

Prahlāda was finally saved by Lord Narasiṁha (half-man half-lion), a prominent avatāra of Viṣṇu who killed his wicked father too. After the death of Hiraṇyakaṥyapa, Prahlāda took his father’s kingdom and ruled peacefully and virtuously. He was known for his generosity, kindness, determination and faith in God. In the story, we see that God saved his devotees and punished the evil. Therefore, Prahlāda is regarded as a symbol of goodness and divine faith.

– Dr. Shashi TiwariGeneral Secretary, WAVES –India & Former Prof. of Sanskrit, Maitreyi College, University of Delhi

‘Prajā’ in the Light of Vedic View

The whole human race is ‘Prajā’ is the notion of Vedic society as told by Black* Yajurveda’s Taittirῑya Samhitā verse 1.5.1.3 –

तस्मान्मानव्य: प्रजा उच्यन्ते 

Tasmānmānavyaḥprajāucyante

This ideology continues to Upaniśadhic literature and developed as ‘Eko’ham Bahusyāmῑ’ i.e. “I [Brahman (ब्रह्मन्/ब्रह्म)] am one; may I become many”. Thus, this whole world or human race is manifested from Brahman. Here Brahman is the ultimate reality or the eternal truth/knowledge or the universal power that pervades whole creation. In Puruśasūkta of Ṛgveda, Brahman is clearly stated as supreme and from Brahman classification of society into four varṇas is listed –

ब्राह्मणो अस्य मुखमासीद बाहू राजन्य: कृत।

ऊरू तदस्य यद्वैश्य: पद्भ्याम शूद्रो अजायत ।।

Brāhmaṇoasyamukhamāsῑdabāhūrājanyaḥkartaḥ

Ūrūtadasyayadavaiśyaḥpadbhyāṁśūdroajāyata 

It said that brahmin was born from the mouth, kṣatriya from the shoulders, vaiśya from the thighs and śūdra from the feet of the creator.”

(Ṛgveda 10.90.12)

Today the word ‘Prajā’ is majorly used for the fourth varṇa i.e. śūdra and these śūdras are comprising of OBC/SC/ST/Dalits whereas in Vedic view śūdras were born from the feet of Brahman. Symbolically feet represent the foundation. So, śūdras are the foundation of the society. It can be elaborated as anyone who lays the foundation of the society is known as ‘śūdra’. Laying down the foundation means to build up. In other words, one who builds up the society by providing his/her services to the society is known as ‘śūdra’. In this sense, all the service providers of society such as teachers, doctors, engineers, environmentalists, musicians, painters, agriculturists, dancers, economists, writers, architects etc can be called śūdras. With these service providers a society, a nation builds up and sustains forever.

From above annotation, śūdras i.e. ‘Prajā’ are revealed as the creators of society. The etymological meaning of word ‘Prajā’ is ‘Pra’ (Prefix) means intense and ‘Jan’ (root) means creative. The word ‘Brahmā (ब्रह्मा)’ develops from Sanskrit root “Bṛh” which means “to grow” or “to expand”. Though the term ‘Brahmā’** does not appear in Vedas it is more prominently mentioned as deity of creation (one of the trinity) in the post-Vedic-texts and Puranic mythologies. Hence, sometimes Vedic god ‘Prajāpati’ is identified as ‘Brahmā’ – the creator {Brahma is the Puranic heir of Vedic Hiranyagarbha, and Brahmanic Prajapati (https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-Brahma-Brahman-and-Brahmin)}. Because of this very similarity even in today’s society ‘the creators of society’ i.e. ‘Prajā’ address themselves as ‘Prajāpati’. Like ‘Prajāpati’, Vedic god ‘Vishwakarmā’ too is considered as the lord of creation. In modern era, since creative talents are perceived by ‘Prajā’ people, so they relate themselves with above mentioned Vedic gods such as potters use ‘Prajāpati’ and carpenters, blacksmiths, jewellers use ‘Vishwakarmā’ in their surnames in recognition of their traits with ‘Prajāpati’ and ‘Vishwakarmā’. Thus, there is no harm in calling ‘Prajā’ people as lord of the society, as long as they possess the creative qualities.

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(Source of Image : http://www.scvo.org.uk )

We often come across certain Vedic texts highlighting non-allowance of śūdras for formal education. I feel such meanings of Vedic texts are misinterpretations, and there is a need to have deeper study and understanding. ‘The Whole world as the manifestation of Brahman’ is referred by Vedas many times in different ways, hence how could Vedic hymns encourage discrimination among people? In our opinion, there could have been two categories of centres of education during Vedic era. One was based more on theoretical-knowledge-creation-learning system where primarily intellectuals got admitted for deeper basic research. For skill development the vocational or practical training centre was the other choice for applied knowledge and development. In modern times these would be similar to basic fields like science, economics, etc. for basic knowledge and professional courses like engineering, medical, business, etc. for applied knowledge.

According to popular quote–

जन्मना जायते शूद्र: संस्कारात द्विज उच्यते।

वेद पठनात भवेत् विप्र: ब्रह्म जानाति इति ब्राह्मण।।

JanmanāJāyateśūdraḥsanskārātdvijuchyate

Veda pathanātbhavetvipraḥ brahma janātiitibrahmaṇaḥ।।

“By birth one is a Śūdra (lower caste), by education or by reformation, one becomes a Dvija (higher caste), by study of the Vedas one becomes a Vipra, and one who knowns Brahma is a Brahmaṇa.”

It can be understood that everyone born with capability to be a skillful person. The creativeness of each individual sometimes developed by his own or sometimes by inheritance of the family tradition or sometimes one has to go to special school of training such as we have engineering or medical colleges with specialized streams. Like at present everyone cannot go to every school similarly in Vedic times there was a definite line of schools for various streams of knowledge. We should always look into the context Vedic hymns are referring to rather than arguing on the basis of biased explanations.

It is a perception that Brahamins were the ruling class and śūdras are the lower (fourth) class. Actually there is no ascending or descending order in taxonomy of four varṇas. In our opinion, it is completely a choice-based-system where a person either wants to pursue his practically inherited/acquired skills (as śūdra) or to carry out deeper research (as in case of a brahmin). It can be explained as one who is doing a field job or practice of his skill is a śūdra and one who is inclined to enhance his intellect is a brahmin. This is, what is defined in the statement by Lord Śṛῑ Kṛśṇā–

चातुर्वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टम गुणकर्मविभागशः

Cāturvarṇyaṁmayāsṛṣṭaṁguṇakarmavibhāgaśaḥ

I (Lord Śṛῑ Kṛśṇā) am the creator of the fourfold human society according to aptitude and profession (karma)”.

(Śṛῑmadbhagavadgῑtā 4.13)

and later Sanskrit texts –

न जात्या ब्रह्मणश्चात्र क्षत्रियो वैश्य एव न।

न शूद्रो न च वै मलेच्छो भेदिता गुणकर्मभि:।।

Na jātyābrahmaṇaścātrakṣatriyovaiśyaevana

Na śūdronacavaimlecchobheditāguṇakarmabhiḥ।।

“In this world nobody is brahmin, kṣatriya, vaiśya, śūdra or mleccha by birth. Qualities and their deeds are responsible for these differences”.

(Śukranῑti 1.38)

The words ‘cāturvarṇyaṁ’ and ‘sṛṣṭaṁ’ are singular numbers, which testify that the four varṇas together constitute one singular society (https://sites.google.com/site/hindunew/dharma).  It can be said that Vedic sages didn’t narrate any kind of discrimination. Social unity and welfare were the only aim.

Above discussion is a hypothesis, for today’s society. If this system can be adapted then equitable society and social structure can be achieved. Inequality and social differences among the people can then be addressed.

Notes-

* The Yajurveda is broadly classified into two – the Kṛśṇā (loosely translated as black Yajurveda and the Śukla (loosely translated as white Yajurveda. The term “Kṛśṇā” implies ‘the un-arranged, unclear collection’ of verses in Yajurveda, in contrast to the “shukla” which implies the ‘well arranged, clear’  Yajurveda. 

** One should not be confused in the words Brahman and Brahmā. The Brahma(n) is a neuter gender word that ends in ‘ न्’. It is the Upanishadic (Vedantic) spiritual concept of oneness whereas the masculine gender word Brahmā is the four-headed Puranic character who is the creator among the Puranic Trinity concept. It can be said that Brahman is a divine concept of Hinduism and Brahmā  is one of Hindu Deity.

Dr. Aparna Dhir, Assistant Professor and Prof. Bal Ram Singh, Director, School of Indic Studies, INADS, Dartmouth, USA