Characteristics of Ancient Indian Educational System

– Dr. Raj Kumar, Assistant Professor, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA.

It is sad to see the status of the current educational system. Whether it is student-teacher relationship, related to fee, control of the state or central government, mental/ethical development of students, imparting social responsibilities or providing pure knowledge…..everywhere you will find flaws and need some serious introspection. These are the few reasons why we have fewer enrollments in higher studies (out of ~ 140 million High school students in India only 1.8 million students opt for postgraduate or MPhil or PhD). Other issues are: having less trained workforce and unemployment rates among higher educated personnel (among literates unemployment rate is higher among better qualified, unemployment rate is 7.23% among illiterate and 10.98% among literate (2011 census)). Although the primary objective of modern educational system is to satisfy modern societal needs, but it is not able to address this adequately. So I thought to look into what kind of education system was available in ancient times, and how that system operated.

The ancient education system can be best described by the following verse from Vishṇu Puraṇa.

तत्कर्मयन्नबन्धायसाविद्यायाविमुक्तये। आयासायापरंकर्मविद्यऽन्याशिल्पनैपुणम्॥

Tatkarmyannabandhāyasāvidyāyāvimuktaye।  Āyāsāyāparṁ karmavidya’nyāśilpanaipuṇm।।

 (Vishṇu Puraṇa 1-19-41)

That is action, which does not promote attachment; that is knowledge which liberates. All action is a mere effort/hardship; all other knowledge is merely another skill/craftsmanship.

The above quotation is the best portraiture of the Indian educational system in the past, and the Vedas form the basis of such a system. The word ‘Vidya’ is derived from the root vid, to know, which the same root as Veda is. Since the entire educational system is based on the Veda, Vidya garnered by Veda enables a person to know the truth regarding the universe and the individual relationship with the universe. The Rishis understood that student should have self motivation to succeed, and teaching should suit the natural inclination of a student. It’s the duty of a Guru to test the student and impart knowledge in the subject of his/her liking. That’s why in ancient times a teacher/guru provided only suggestions/advice to his students, and students needed to put their hearts and minds behind that to assimilate the knowledge.

This educational system teaches consciousness, self-control and purity of thought and action. A person who is not selfish and well-educated leads a pure life, conquers avarice by generosity or hatred by love. Such a person does not bother about caste, creed or color. All these distinctions come when education leads to the patch of commercial contracts, but when it inculcates purity, selflessness and self-realization, then it makes individual to realize the ideals of uplifting. It is clear that this system is based on the idea of attaining perfection without degrading self or humanity as a whole. This system is based on three fold system of Vidya; a) Parā-Vidyā, b) Aparā-Vidyā, and c) Kāla. Parā-Vidyā helps one to attain pure-consciousness, Aparā-Vidyā teaches the law of nature and the cause of other phenomenon, and Kāla deals with kauśala (applied science) (Ramdasi PhD thesis).

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Vedic education starts with an intimate relationship between teacher and the student. The relationship between the teacher and his students starts with a religious ceremony called Upanayana. By Upanayana ritual teacher impregnates his student with his spirit, and start students new birth. After this student is known as Dvija (born afresh; Agarwal, 2011). In this education system, student finds his teacher, live with him as family member, and treated by teacher as his son in every way. The school was in natural surroundings, Hermitage, away from urban distractions, and function in solitude and silence. In the words of Rabindranath Tagore: “A most wonderful thing was notice in India is that here the forest, not the town, is the foundation head of all its civilization. Wherever in India its earliest and most wonderful manifestations are notices, we find the men have not come into such close contact as to be rolled or fused into a compact mass. There, tree and plants, river and lakes, had ample opportunity to live in close relationship with men. In these forests, though there was human society, there was enough of open space, of aloofness; there was no jostling. Still it render it all the brighter. It is the forest that nurtured the two great ancient ages of India, the Vedic and the Buddhist. As did the Vedic Rishis, Buddha also showered his teaching in the many woods of India. The current civilization that flowed from its forests inundated the whole India.

Every education system is always associated with the social life of the time. In ancient time, the society was divided into four categories or Varṇās; the Brahmaṇa, the Kṣatriya, the Vaiśya and the Śudras. Education was given in the beginning mainly to the first three Varṇā of the society.  Initially, everything was taught to all the three classes. During the Vedic ages, persons of the same family group followed different occupations according to their individual taste. As time passed on and Varṇās were required to do some imparted duties (mainly in post-Vedic era or Upaniśad era), subjects got divided according to Varṇās. Birth not occupation then came to be regarded as the basis of the caste system. The Brahmaṇas learnt the Vedic texts, the Kṣatriya learnt the Veda, science of warfare and Arthsastra, and Vaiśya were taught commerce, agriculture, etc. Śudras were not entitled to formal education, they are apprenticed under the skilled individual in their trade and craft. In fact, for a time being they were also allowed for formal education. In the Baudhāyana Grihya Sutra, ŚudraRathakār was allowed to have the Upanayana Sanskar (Bakshi et al., 2005). Budhayana says: “Let him initiate a Brahmaṇa in Spring, a Kṣatriya in Summer, A Vaiśya in Autumn, a Rathakār in the rainy season or all of them in Spring”.

वसन्तेब्राह्मणामुपनयीतग्रीष्मे राजन्यं शरदि वैश्यं वर्षासुरथकारमिति।  सर्वानेववा वसन्ते।

Vasante brāhmaṇāmupanayῑtagrῑṣme rājanyaṁ śaradi vaiśyaṁ varṣāsurathakāramiti। sarvānevavā vasante।।

(Baudhyana Grihya Sutra 2-5-6)

Notably, ŚudraRathakār is defined in this book as an offspring of a Vaiśya male and Śudra female.

In addition to this four Varṇās, there are four Āśramas which an individual is expected to experience in his/her lifetime; the Brahmacharya, the Grhastha, the Vanaprastha, and  the Sanyasa. These Varṇās and stages of life give us an idea of the aims and ideals of the ancient Indian education system.

Education was free and it was the teacher’s responsibility to take care of the primary needs of the students. Debate, discussion and seminar are essential parts of learning involving listening, contemplation, comprehension, self study and recall (Ramkumar, 2014). Rote learning was the technique used for elementary education. At the secondary level Vedic studies and writing was introduced, and higher education consisted of advanced study of the metaphysical subjects. Several schools were operated those days such as Pariśad, Tola, Forest colleges, Court schools, Temple colleges, Mathas, Ghatikas, and Agraharas (https://ithihas.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/ancient-indian-education-system-from-the-beginning-to-10th-c-a-d/). Teachers had designation according to their methods of teaching: Acharya (teach Vedas without charging fees), Upadhyaya (taught a portion of Veda or Vedangas as his profession), Charakas (wondering teachers), Guru (imparting education to his disciples), Yaujanasatika (teachers with their profound scholarship), and Sikshaka (teaching arts like dancing) (https://ithihas.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/ancient-indian-education-system-from-the-beginning-to-10th-c-a-d/).Various schools specializing in subjects like philosophy, law, the sacrificial ritual, astronomy, grammar and logic appear to come into existence since 500 B. C. Under the Brahamic auspices, universities like Takhsila were established. University curriculum included physical sciences, arts, literature, philosophy, logic, mathematics, astronomy, medicine and theology. In the course of time distinction between Arts and Science were drawn and practical pursuits were included in the arts. In later Vedic era, they evolved and expanded the curricula in all the fields of knowledge. With the expansion of education system, enrollment increases, which necessitated in development of various branches of specialization. This also amalgamated various school systems to create universities like Takshila and Nalanda (Sakunthalamma, 1994). These universities had various departments with specialties. In those days the departments were –

  1. Agnisthana: This was the place where fire worship and other prayers took place. Probably here the performance of religious rites and rituals were taught.
  2. Brahmasthana: This was the department of the Veda.
  3. Vishnusthana: In this department Rajnti, Arthanti and Vārtā were taught.
  4. Mahendrasthana: This was the department where military sciences were taught.
  5. Vaivasvatasthana: This department is for Astronomy.
  6. Somasthana: Department of Botany.
  7. Garudasthana: This was the department which dealt with the transport and conveyance.
  8. Kartikeyasthana: In this department the science of organization of military, patrolling and battalions, and the army was taught.

The examination was an oral one. The student was required to give oral answers in a congregation of scholars. If he satisfied them, he was given a degree or title, somewhat similar to the PhD dissertation defense today. The consensus of the scholar’s opinion was essential for obtaining such a title.

There are evidences that girls were admitted in the Vedic schools or Charanas (Agarwal, 2011). A Kathi is a female student of Katha school. There were hostels for female students and they were known as Chhatrisala. Though the state did not include education as one of the subjects under its administration, the head of the state and other wealthy merchants, etc., encouraged these activities with their endowments. After the student completed his course (in general, 12 years of learning), the school organized Samavartna Sanskar, which is similar to convocation today. Taittirῑya Upaniśad’s verse 1.11.1 describes address of Guru to his students, in which he exhorts to speak truth, practice social ethics and not to neglect the pursuit of knowledge. They were also advised not to forget the debt to the Gods and ancestors. According to Taittrῑya Upaniśad’s verse 1.11.2, students were specially asked to see God in their mother, father, teacher and guest. Students were also advised to give gifts to their teachers sincerely and according to their means. Finally the teacher ended his address with the words that what all he said was the import of the Vedas, the divine scripture, which was to be meditated upon.

References:

Sankuthalamma V. (1994). The trends of education in ancient India. PhD thesis, Shri Venkateshwara University, Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, India.

Agarwal, V. (2011). Principles of Education. Chapter 1. Lakshay Publication, India.

Ramkumar, A. M. (2014). “Gurukul to University”: Ancient education system and the present day. Golden Research Thoughts, 3, 1-5.

Ramdasi, N.R. Visualising Indian heritage digital library metaphor. Research paper of PhD thesis. C- Dac, Pune.

Bakshi S.R., Gajrani S., and Singh, Hari (2005). Early Aryans to Swaraj. Volume-3, 25 – 26.

 

Rediscovering Indian Culture : The Universal, Temporal and The Specific

-Mr. M.S. Srinivasan, Senior Research Associate, Sri Aurobindo Institute of Research in Social Sciences, Sri Aurobindo Society, Puducherry, India.

There are two aspects of Indian culture which we have to study carefully and understand thoroughly in order to harness fully its creative potential: first is the element of universality in its essential insights which gives it a global validity, and second is the element of uniqueness of its essential temperament and genius which distinguishes it from other cultures and is therefore of special importance to India. The founders of Indian culture were not ordinary people or mere intellectual thinkers but spiritual seers, Rishis, who lived in constant communion with a universal and eternal consciousness beyond Mind and observed and knew from it the deepest truth of Man, Life and Nature. They tried to build human society on the foundations of some universal spiritual and psychological principles which govern human life in the individual and the collectivity. The values and ideals of Indian culture are based on and evolved from these deeper spiritual discoveries of our Rishis.

But the orthodox exponent of Indian culture asks us to accept this fact on the basis of a blind belief in the greatness of our ancient Rishis and wants to revive the old ideals and values as they were without any remoulding and modification. Such a static and inert approach to Indian culture can never be progressive and creative. If the insights of our ancient Rishis are to be brought back to life and made creative for the present, they have to become our own insights. We have to rediscover them through spiritual experience, vision, intuition or reasoning and make them our own. And if these insights have to become live and creative for shaping the future, we have to re-examine their applica­bility to the contemporary and emerging society.

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The insights of our ancient Rishis may have a universal and eternal relevance, but the way and the form in which they were applied or expressed in ancient Indian society have only a limited and temporary validity. The master­-builders of Indian culture may have seen the truth of things in its essence and wholeness, but the evolutionary condition or consciousness of the society in which they lived may not have been ready or prepared to receive, express and manifest the entire truth they had experienced. That the Vedic sages were well aware of this fact is clear from their description of humanity as a year-old infant. They might have revealed only that much of truth which the infant humanity of their times was able to assimilate and express. So there could be a considerable dilution of the original insights of the Rishis when these insights took a final form in society―a partial step down from the spiritual truth experienced by the seer to the truth revealed or sought to be realised in society; then there was further dilution in the mental ideal through which it was expressed in thought; and again a still further degeneration in the process of practical compromises which the ideal had to make in order to acquire a vital or material form in society. So one of the first tasks in revitalising Indian Culture is to recover the original spiritual and psychological insights behind its past ideals and forms and re-examine their relevance and applicability to the present society. The other task is to examine how best these insights can be re-applied to the progress and evolution of modern society by giving them new and greater forms of self-expression suited to the present evolutionary conditions of humanity.

The other aspect of Indian culture is its uniqueness, its special temperament and genius which distinguishes it from other cultures. The main features of this uniqueness are an inborn spirituality and passion for the Infinite,  a scientific and pragmatic turn of mind in the field of religion and psychology―or, in other words, in the field of spiritual and psychological self-exploration and self­-development,―its tendency to create the exterior from within; its primary stress on inner progress; its repeated emphasis on renunciation and sacrifice as the means for this inner progress; and finally, the great respect it has for the spiritual person who has attained inner realisation. There are many others, but these are the major features of the special temperament and genius of Indian culture.  We have to understand deeply and with clarity these different aspects of our national temperament and genius; make them the basis of our motivational strategies and try to manifest them in every area of our national life.

Rediscovering Indian Culture : The Inner Resources of A Nation

-Mr. M.S. Srinivasan, Senior Research Associate, Sri Aurobindo Institute of Research in Social Sciences, Sri Aurobindo Society, Puducherry, India.

The need of the hour for India today is not a nostalgic dreaming of our past greatness but to think, dream and work for building a new and greater India of the future. But the future cannot be created in a vacuum; it has to be built out of the essence of the past. The power to shape the future has to be drawn from the roots of our national vitality and the spiritual and psychological resources of our nation.

In the ultimate analysis, the long-term viability and progress or the “sustainable development” of a nation depend not so much on its material, ecological or technological resources but primarily on its spiritual and psychological resources. And the greatest of the spiritual and psychological resources of a nation are its people. In the Indian view Man is primarily a spiritual and mental being, or in other words a soul and a mind, and only instrumentally a vital and physical being or a life and a body. In a similar way the essential and enduring part of a collective being like a nation is not its economics, politics or ecology which form its outer body but its Culture, which is the expression of its Mind and Soul. So the other important source of the spiritual and psychological resources of a nation is its cultural heritage.

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But what exactly are the essential cultural resources of a nation? They are, basically, the unique temperament and genius of its mind and soul. They are not the outer forms of music, art, literature or architecture­ and so on, but the inner spirit, vision, insight and the spiritual, mental and moral attitude, ideal, temperament and the distinctive genius behind these forms that are the enduring and essential cultural resources of a nation. It is this inner spirit behind the outer forms of culture which every nation has to preserve from its past heritage and make it a foundation for its future evolution and progress. This does not mean that the exterior forms of culture have no value or significance. But a mere token preservation of the outer forms, without making any attempt to cultivate in the consciousness of the people a living understanding of the inner spirit of culture, does not have any creative value for the higher cultural life of the nation-—whatever may be its economic utility as “tourist attraction” or its entertainment value in catering to the superficial tastes of the masses. Even in tourism, if it has to become an instrument of culture and not, as it is now, a tool of commerce to fill the nation’s coffers with foreign exchange. The primary aim of cultural tourism has to be to awaken the tourist to the inner spirit of a culture and make the person aware of the fact that the exterior form has value only as an expression of this deeper spirit.

So just as the outer material and economic progress and well-being of a nation depend on a scientific preservation and harnessing of the material and biological resources of its ecological heritage, the internal evolution and progress of a nation depend on the enlightened preservation and harnessing of the spiritual and psychological resources of its human and cultural heritage.

Imparting Indian Culture: A Global Perspective – I

-Mr. M.S. Srinivasan, Senior Research Associate, Sri Aurobindo Institute of Research in Social Sciences, Sri Aurobindo Society, Puducherry, India.

MS Srinivasan Profile PhotoThe main theme of his studies and research is to evolve an integral-spiritual approach to human development and its application to various fields of knowledge and activities of life with a dominant interest and focus on Management, Psychology, Social Sciences and Indian Culture. He is the editor of e-magazine in management published by SAFIM: Fourth Dimension Inc. Towards Integral Management.  His blog page: https://integralmusings.aurosociety.org & https://gnosticpsychology.aurosociety.org

Culture is the expression of the Mind and Soul of a Nation and the source of its true genius. A Nation can play its true role in the evolutionary progress of humanity only when it discovers its deeper Mind and Soul through an awakening of its cultural values and ideals. So, if India has to recover its greatness and fulfill its mission, there must be a widespread cultural awakening through education. However, culture should not become an instrument for promoting narrow-minded religious or cultural chauvinism. The culture of a Nation has to be understood in a global context of the evolutionary destiny of humanity as a whole.  This article examines some of the basic concepts and attitudes, which have to be inculcated in the mind of the learner to create such a deep and broad understanding and appreciation of Indian Culture in a global perspective.

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The Fundamentals of Indian Culture

What are the fundamental and unique features of Indian Culture?  Sri Aurobindo says, Indian Culture

“Has been a spiritual, an inward-looking, religio-philosophic culture.” (Sri Aurobindo (1972), Collected Works Vol. 14, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, CWSA.42, Pg. 335.)

 Here are the three essential characteristics of Indian Culture, the meaning of which has to be conveyed to the student.

The Spiritual Genius of India

India is well-known all over the world as a land of religion, philosophy and spirituality.  But not many has a clear perception of what is precisely the essence of Indian spirituality or the spiritual genius of India.  We will not enter into any detailed discussion on the rich and many-sided vistas of Indian spirituality.  But a student of Indian culture, must be awakened to the two most important and central aspects of Indian spirituality. The first one is the quest for a spiritual reality beyond Mind as the ultimate source of the Individual and the Universe and the highest goal of human life. Second is a scientific and experimental approach to the inner realization of this spiritual reality based on a deep understanding of psychology or a Science of Consciousness.  This predominantly scientific, psychological approach to spiritual growth is the essence of India yoga which is nothing but Applied Psychology.

Thus, the essence of Indian spirituality is the systematic application of a spiritual psychology for psychological and spiritual development of the individual, culminating in an inner union or identity with an eternal and infinite Reality beyond mind.

The driving spirit behind the secular enterprise of the modern West is the application of an externalized science, technology and organization for the progress and perfection of the outer life of man. The driving spirit of the Indian spiritual enterprise is the application of an inward-looking Science of Consciousness for the progress and perfection of the inner being of humanity. But these two endeavours of the East and West are not contradictory or mutually exclusive. They have to complement each other and ultimately fuse into a synthesis, which leads humanity towards its integral perfection. This is the future evolutionary enterprise in which India’s mission is to awaken and manifest the crucial and life-giving spiritual dimension in the individual a well as the collectivity. So in imparting Indian Culture, even while emphasizing the unique spiritual genius of India and its importance for the future evolution of humanity, it must be placed in a global perspective, so that admiration for the spiritual greatness of India does not lead to any disdain of or sense of superiority over other cultures.spirituality-word-cloud-concept-26405959

Spirituality, Religion and Philosophy : The Indian Equation

However, spirituality in ancient India, remained at the summit of the civilization, like a Sun in the sky, enveloping it like a luminous penumbra, infiltrating into the society in a more or less diluted form through religion and philosophy. But spirituality never took direct control of the society, sitting on thrones of power, life and action and ruling it, except perhaps for a brief period in the upanishadic age when most of the kings were yogis. So spirituality at the summits and religio-philosophic in the mass is the structure of Indian culture. But, in Indian Culture, Religion and Philosophy worked in tandem, mutually complementing each other, with religion illuminated by philosophy and the ideals of philosophy made dynamic and living by the disciplines and practice of religion. This brings us to some clarification regarding the terminology. Swami Vivekanada, makes no distinction between religion and spirituality and uses the term religion as the spiritual quest for the Divine. But Sri Aurobindo makes a distinction between religion and spirituality and regards religion as the external form of worship or expression like symbols or mythology. And spirituality, according to Sri Aurobindo, is the inner quest for an inner community with the divine Reality. This distinction has a practical validity because most people who belong to traditional religion do not go beyond external worship towards inner communion.  Moreover Religion in ancient India is not entirely outward and external. Most of the fundamental ideals and practices of Indian spirituality like for example indwelling divinity, unity of the divine, timeless transcendence of the Absolute, many paths to the divine, meditation, paths of yoga are incorporated into the religious system and communicated to the masses through epics, mythology, symbols, religious discourses and wandering teachers. As a result a pervasive and enduring religious, philosophical and spiritual temper was implanted in the consciousness of Indian masses.  Spirituality remained behind or at the top as a general inspiring influence.

It is perhaps for the future of India to create a truly and entirely spiritual civilization and culture.  In this higher spiritual culture, spirituality or spiritual consciousness will remain no longer behind as an inspiration and influence, acting through the higher mind, or religion or philosophy, but takes direct control of every activity of the society, giving a total spiritual direction to life, with spiritually illumined leaders appearing not only in religion or culture, but also in politics, business, economics, media and the masses.

to be continued…..

Scientific Significance of OM

              – Dr. Raj Kumar, Assistant Professor, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA.

IMG_5362Dr. Kumar has developed a broad multidisciplinary background in analytical chemistry, biochemistry, spectroscopy, biophysical studies, cell culture, cell and animal assays. He is an alumni of Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi where he completed his bachelor and master in science. He completed his Ph.D. from University of Massachusetts, USA, in the field related to Botulinum Neurotoxin. Before joining to the institute, he worked as a lecturer in UMASS, Dartmouth. Apart from his own field, he has also developed the interest in studying the various aspects of Vedas. He already published an article about Ayurveda. As a rational thinker, he emphasized more on scientific aspects of Vedas.

From the very words of the Krishna Yajurveda, Kapisthala-katha-Samhita (42.1) —–Prajāpatir vai idam āsīt: In the beginning was Brahman. Tasya vāg dvitīya āsīt; with whom was the Vāk (or Sound)… Vāg vai paramam Brahma; and the Vāk (Sound) is Brahman”. According to the “Shabda Yoga”—– The Science of Light and Sound, creation came into being through the light and sound of the creator. This sound is called OM. There is no scientific evidence which can provide proofs whether OM is a sound of creation or not. Although all the spiritual thoughts/aspects/truth cannot be verified with modern scientific tools, a few fundamental bases can be tested with modern scientific instrumentation (may not be appropriate all the time). In this blog, my efforts will be more concentrated on the scientific basis rather than the spiritual one.

First look into the phonetics of the word. According to Mandukya Upanishad (Johnston, 1923), OM is the manifestation of all states of time, Atman, consciousness, and knowledge. In Sanskrit, the sound “O” is a diphthong spelled “AU”.  A diphthong is a mixture of two vowel sounds and can be separately heard. This is why OM sounds “AUM”, which represents the 3-folds division of time.

A (apti) represents the waking state (symbolizes darkness, inertia, ignorance).

U (utkarsha) represents the dream or creative state (symbolizes passion, activity, dynamism).

M (miti) represents the state of deep sleep or meditative state (symbolizes purity, truth, light).

When we sleep we dream and this dream state is part of bigger dream state which we experience in waking state. The dream which we see in the meditative or sleeping state is the dream within dreams, and the life is a big dream or illusion. At the end of OM chanting, there is complete silence.  This represents the state of Turiya, the fourth state; infinite or pure consciousness. Achieving this state evaporates all dreams and one faces the reality (dream disappears and truth emerges). Chanting of OM symbolizes a journey of darkness to pure light—–

The symbol of OM is also representation of these four states (Johnston, 1923). The large bottom curve symbolizes the waking state, A. The middle curve signifies the dream state, U. The upper curve denotes the state of deep sleep, M. The dot signifies the fourth state of consciousness, Turiya. The semi-circle at the top represents “Maya” and separates the dot from the other three states. The illusion of Maya due to the materialistic world is an obstacle to the realization of the pure consciousness (Fig. 1).

Figure 1Figure 1: A representation of word OM.

Now, examine the significance of the above explanation scientifically. Heisnam Jina Devi and colleagues analyzed sound related to OM (A, U, M and AUM). They observed that A is flat, U is initially flat but finally tapered off or flattened off abruptly, and M is the synchronized sound of U which gradually tapered or flattened off. Thus, OM sound is a mixture of all three sounds (A, U, and M) (Fig. 2).

Figure 2 Figure 2: Spectral analysis of Vedic mantra OM (AUM) (Taken from Heisnam Jina Devi et al., 2004).

In another experiment, scientists analyzed fMRI before and after OM (Kalyani et al., 2011). Chanting of OM affects the vibration and generate resonances near to the ear, very close to the cranial nerves. These resonances are transmitted through the auricular branch of the vagus nerve. Chanting of OM has significant deactivation of amygdala, parahippocampal and hippocampal brain regions.

Chanting of OM mantra sequentially activates the stomach, spinal cord, throat, nasal and brain region. The energy moves from stomach all the way to the brain. Resonance observed in fMRI in the vagus nerve supports the above point. So, chanting OM has several benefits – therapeutic, physiological and spiritual.

Om is also called Pranava, meaning it sustains life and runs through the breath or Prana. The ‘O” or ‘AU’ sound makes all the bones of the thoracic cage vibrate, which leads to the vibration of lungs and finally to the delicate membranes of the alveolus. This can stimulate pulmonary cells and enables a proper exchange of air in the lungs.  These vibrations produce a much accentuated effects in the endocrine glands. This leads to the balance activation of several glands and organs. Besides this vibrational message, which results from the emission of the vowels ‘AU’, the latter acts especially in the abdominal and thoracic cage, whilst the vibration of ‘M’ in the skulls induces a vibration of the cranial nerves. Gurjar and Ladhake (2008) concluded, based on their research, that OM chanting steadys the mind, which ultimately helps in reducing stress of the human mind.

Based on the above data OM can be represented as a model (Fig. 3), summarizing the above arguments as follows. By chanting ‘A’ we activate communication of body and mind, whereas chanting ‘U’ and ‘M’ activates conscious and unconscious mind which finally connects to infinite or pure consciousness.

Figure 3(1)Figure 3: A model representing different components of OM.

In my view, there are two important components which are the basis of Vedic philosophy: a) The unmanifest (avyakt) gives rise to the manifest (vyakt), and b) Sound vibration is a tool which provides a medium for this transformation. The primordial sound is a medium (pure consciousness) from where everything emerged and to which everything will return. Thus, sound vibration has a profound effect on the physical, conscious/unconscious, astral, and spiritual body. This is one of the reasons why Vedic philosophy considers OM as a primordial sound.

References

Devi, HJ, Swamy, NVC, and Nagendra, HR (2004). Spectral analysis of Vedic mantra. International Journal of traditional knowledge, 3, 154 – 161.

Gurjar, AA, and Ladhake, SA (2008). Time-Frequency analysis of chanting Sanskrit Divine sound “OM” mantra. International Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, 8, 170- 175.

Johnston, C (1923). The Measures of the Eternal – Mandukya Upanishad. Theosophical Quarterly, October, 1923, 158-162.

Kalyani, BG, Venkatasubramanian, G, Arasappa, R, Rao, NP, Kalmady, SV, Behere, RV, Gangadhar, BN (2011). Neurohemodynamic correlates of “OM” chanting: A pilot functional magnetic resonance imaging study. International Journal of Yoga, 4, 3–6.

Sanskrit : A Language Sculpted to Perfection

– Dr. Sampadananda Mishra, Director, Sri Aurobindo Foundation for Indian Culture, Pondicherry, India

 Sampadananda Mishra

Dr. Sampadananda Mishra is passionate about Sanskrit. He has spoken at various conferences both nationally and internationally, conducts workshops, teacher training programmes and authored many books. Dr. Mishra has launched the first ever 24 hours Sanskrit Radio called Divyavani. The Govt. of India has conferred the President’s award (Maharshi Badarayna Vyasa Samman 2011) on Dr. Mishra for his outstanding contribution to Sanskrit.

Sanskrit, as many conscious learners have experienced, generates joy, clarity, purity and peace. It is indeed a perfect harmonizer (saamarasyaparaayanaa) that balances the body, mind and soul. It leads to true happiness and fills the heart and mind with a perfect sense of immortality. Its purity draws us, inspires us, constantly reminds us of the true aim of our life, and makes us conscious of the Truth that exists within us. The rhythmic beauty and melody of this language, vibrational purity of its sounds, richness of its phonetic quality, transparency of its root sounds and their senses, richness of its vocabulary and thought content, all these have made Sanskrit truly great.

Sanskrit always starts from a deeper base. It believes that the Sound and the Word are at the origin of creation. It believes that they have light, consciousness and power – the sound has potency. Therefore the meaning of the fundamental Sanskrit roots is not arbitrary but based on a deeper truth. Through a process of deep contemplation and intuition, it is possible for one to enter into the heart of a sound vibration and discover its meaning. This was the way of the Rishis when they gave meaning to the roots. Thus each seed-sound and each root-sound in Sanskrit has a fundamental meaning associated with this. Further the fundamental meaning can give rise to many other meanings related to the root-experience. By a deeper analysis of the Sanskrit sounds and words derived from root-sounds one can arrive at the fundamental experiences associated with those sounds and words. In this manner each word in Sanskrit has its own connotation, its definite shade of meaning, its special nuance.

Let us look at a few examples.

A letter in Sanskrit is called akshara (a + kshara) which literally means imperishable. This is not merely attributive. The term akshara reveals the whole secret of the speech process or the sound system. It says that the sound is eternal. It does not perish. Shabdonityah. Nityaavaivaak. Na vaakkshiiyate. It shows that the moment one makes a sound, it remains forever and can be retrieved by special yogic power. This is how the Veda Mantras are revealed to the Rishis in their meditation. The word vyakarana (vi + aa + kri + ana) is not limited simply to grammar. It shows the development and growth of speech from its undistinguished stage to the distinguished stage, and while doing so it leads to the Sound-force, the eternal shabdabrahman. The word darshana (from root drish to see) is not philosophy, but a seeing revelation; svaadhyaaya is not mere reading but the process of going deep into self contemplation. The word chatra is not an umbrella but anything that covers. The Sanskrit word for beauty is sushama. In its true sense it means superbly (su) equal (sama). This shows that true beauty is full of harmony. To remain svastha is not just to be healthy but to remain stable in one’s own state of being. When someone falls sick he becomes asvastha which means he has fallen from his own state of being. These are few examples showing not only the high connotative power of the Sanskrit words but also how Sanskrit has derived meanings of its words from their very depth. It shows that the meaning of the word is inherent within the word itself. And it is always discoverable by going back to the root of the word. And further the word and the meaning are inseparable. They fuse into one another and give life to one another. An in-depth study of many Sanskrit words shows that in this language a word is not just a conventional expression for an idea, but itself the parent and the creator of ideas. This transparent system of formation of words from the root sounds follows a natural process and is one of the important factors that makes Sanskrit an ever-creative language.

The resonating power and vibrational purity of Sanskrit make it a perfect instrument for an integral spiritual growth. Its very name Samskritam means ‘polished’, ‘refined’, ‘sculpted to perfection’. The physical structure of the language is flawless. Its construction follows an organic and logical development. In Sanskrit, all the sounds are articulated through five distinct places of articulation located in the mouth: throat, palate, cerebrum, root of the upper teeth and lips. Therefore, the sounds are guttural, palatal, cerebral, dental or labial. Though the letters of one group are pronounced from one location, yet each sound of that group differs from the other because of its internal efforts. For example: ka, kha, ga, gha and nga belong to the guttural group. Here ka is a hard unvoiced consonant with minimum breath; kha is also hard and unvoiced but it is pronounced with maximum breath; ga is soft and voiced with minimum breath while gha is soft and voiced with maximum breath; nga is the last sound in the group which is soft and voiced but nasal. For this sound, the breath gets released through nostrils and the mouth. The arrangement of the rest of the consonants in the Sanskrit alphabet follows the same order. The importance of this scientific organization lies in the degree of resonance created by each sound. Thus, the sounds of Sanskrit are amazingly capable of bringing clarity of articulation. And because of this refinement, perfection and structure, Sanskrit is capable of infusing into its conscious users a sense of completeness, scientific spirit and, at the same time, a sense of beauty and harmony.

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The mere speaking of or listening to the sounds of Sanskrit generates joy, clarity and inspiration. It has a refining influence on one’s consciousness. By a conscious use of this language one gets the result of doing Pranayama. Thus, Sanskrit, with its power of great resonance is highly powerful and potent for creating a happy and peaceful atmosphere in and around the one who uses it consciously. Furthermore, each language has its own dharma, its uniqueness, and when its growth and development are in harmony with that, then the language becomes capable not only of sustaining itself but also of enriching its users in many ways. An intimacy with Sanskrit also reveals that in its journey it has always been in harmony with its svabhava and svadharma.

The seers and sages (rishis) of ancient time were minutely discerning in their observations, and were highly conscious in the matter of using the language. They did not use the language just for the purpose of communication, they used it as a tool for discovering the true nature of their selves and all that they saw in and around themselves. Herein lies the sacredness of Sanskrit—it helps to discover the nature of everything; it helps to discover the sacredness of life. It is a force that functions at many levels of consciousness, ever purifying, ever formative and creative. It has tremendous potentiality to make the Divine Life possible on the earth.

However, the most practical value of learning Sanskrit lies in the fact that it trains the mind to think logically, brings clarity of expression, develops intellectual strength, and provides keen insight into the meanings of the words. The vibrational quality of Sanskrit has a direct impact on the functioning of the brain, and can help in enhancing memory and the ability to concentrate. Moreover, it helps in the growth of consciousness, has immense power in bringing a greater transformation.

Concept of Peace in Hinduism

– Prof. Shashi Tiwari, General Secretary, WAVES-India

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Prof. Tiwari is an eminent Vedic and Sanskrit scholar. Authored 27 books and honored with 15 academic awards including the most prestigious ‘Rastrapati Samman , 2015’. She is Former Professor of Sanskrit, Maitreyi College, University of Delhi

The religion that has come to be known as Hinduism is certainly the oldest and the most varied of all the great religions of the world. Hinduism calls itself the Sanatana Dharma, the eternal faith, because it is based not upon the teachings of a single preceptor, or on any one text but on the collective wisdom and inspiration of great seers and sages from the very dawn of Indian civilization. A variety of beliefs, customs, rites and philosophies have merged here from time to time. According to Hindu thought, Dharma is the first of the four goals because it is the most comprehensive and is valid throughout the life of a human being. It implies not only the religious and philosophical framework but a total world-view, including the scheme of right conduct under various circumstances. Hinduism seeks to look after the welfare of the entire humanity. Peace and non-violence are the virtues broadly accepted in Hinduism in the ancient texts and practice.

In Sanskrit the term shanti is used for peace. The word’s literary meaning is peaceful, non-violent, calm or undisturbed. It denotes abstention from mental and physical violence and disturbances. It is a virtue under which some sentiment is to be removed from the mind instead of generating some sentiment in the mind. It is to bring the refusal of violent feelings from mind and violent activities from the life.

The principles of peace are described variously in Hinduism. The Vedic rishis were spiritualists. They instructed a philosophy of non-difference of self and others. Hindu religion believes in the existence of God (Ishvar) everywhere, as an all-pervasive, self-effulgent energy and consciousness. This basic belief creates the attitude of sublime tolerance and acceptance toward others. All living beings are same and are from the same God so there should be a sense of equality and one should not harm or hurt others. For a peaceful coexistence, the Vedas visualize the key principles of synthesis and balance. The concept of shanti is established on these principles. Peace as a highest human value is interlinked with other values such as with truth, nonviolence, purity, friendliness, forgiveness, tolerance, and. Peaceful attitude is regarded the foundation of all morality.

Shri Krishna became Shantiduta i.e. messenger of peace in Mahabharata to teach the lesson of peace to the enemy, but finally supported Arjun to fight against the wicked enemy. So shanti can exist with the absence of non-violence too. In fact peace is to be performed on three levels – mind, speech, and action (manasa, vaca, karmana). Collective peace or wellbeing does not refer only to humanity, because animals and plants also come under its vision. It goes even further and stresses the well-being of all in the famous Shanti-Mantra of Yajurveda (36.17). Accordingly, shanti is a state of equilibrium which is needed for the proper existence of all and everyone in this universe.

(Presented at the meeting of Heavenly Culture World Peace Restoration of Light (HWPL), Seoul, Korea in association with World Alliance of Religions Peace Dialogue (WARP) at India International Centre, New Delhi, Sep. 1, 2015)