Adding Innovation, Wisdom and Holistic Human Development to Our Universities

by Stephen Knapp

(Sri Nandanandana dasa)

 (Written for my presentation at the World Parliament of Science, Religion and Philosophies in Pune, India, October, 2018)


A long time ago, back when I was about 20 years old, and when I had already been studying such books as the Bhagavad-gita, the Upanishads, and other Vedic texts of India, I saw an article in my local paper by the principle of my local high school in which he said that when students come to school, they should already have an understanding of what they want to accomplish and what they want to get out of their education. When I saw this, I thought it was rather odd, because is not that what education is supposed to give you, the understanding of who and what you are, and how to reach your highest potential? But if the principle says that he expects the student should already have such insight before he or she arrives at school, this would seem to mean that there must be some kind of supplemental education that the student should have before he goes to school.

So I wrote a long letter to the editor of our local newspaper pointing this out, that there must be some kind of preliminary education that would provide the student with such insight. Otherwise, if he does not get that from school, from where is he expected to acquire such understanding? So, I mentioned that books like the Bhagavad-gita in the Vedic tradition could provide some of these insights, if people would take advantage of it.

However, some would say that this is spiritual knowledge, or even religious information, and how is that supposed to be provided in schools that are meant to be completely secular? The point is, as mentioned in the Sri Ishopanishad (Mantra Eleven), that to reach perfection in life, one must learn material knowledge side by side with spiritual knowledge. It is not enough to learn some craft or trade skills to make a living, but a person must also know the purpose of life and why we are here and who we are.

When we forget or do not know who we are, we also lose sight of the moral standards we need to accumulate to develop ourselves into decent and law abiding citizens, human beings who can make a substantial and uplifting contribution to the community and the world at large. Instead, we may fall to the platform of only trying to live at whatever cost, even if it is by trying to take advantage of others, rather than trying to better ourselves along with everyone else.

In this light, when I=m traveling and lecturing about the traditions of India, it is not uncommon that some people will ask me why there is often so much corruption, cheating and bribery in India. I often tell them that the fact is that people are forgetting their own culture, their own traditions of moral standards that the Dharmic principles are meant to teach them. In fact, it is often said that the problems you find in India are caused by India=s religion. But actually, wherever I go I find that it is not the case at all, but it is the result of forgetting, the distancing from, and the misinterpretation of the Vedic tradition that leaves the gaps in society and in the character of humanity that cause the problems of which we see so much.

The fact is that if we really understood and followed the culture that is the legacy and inheritance of this country, many of the social problems we see would simply disappear. Therefore, we need to continue to teach our children the basic principles of moral standards and character building that India=s Vedic tradition promotes. So, my advice was that we need to continue to spread the understanding of the Vedic Dharma traditions in order to show the proper example of truly noble character, not only in the teachings in such traditions, but by the example of the great character of the personalities and heroes that are described in the great epics of India. 

Actually, I also put this question about the corruption of India to M. Rama Jois, the retired Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court when I had met him on one of my tours while visiting Bengaluru several years ago. He had written a book called ADharma: The Global Ethic.@ In this book, he shows the many ways in which Vedic Dharma is not a religious teaching, but a moralistic code that can provide advice for people of all standings, and in all kinds of situations, and especially for the children which can use a standard of insight that they can take with them for the rest of their lives. He also showed, as I also say, that present-day problems are due to the neglect of Dharma. And that with Vedic Dharma, there would be a reduction of evil, confusion in society, the propensity for selfish motives and cruelty to others, and how an orderly society is an incarnation and manifestation of Dharma, and how Dharma does not mean religion, which is the means of worshiping God. But Dharma is a code of living by good conduct, respect for the law and our traditions, and the means to sustain society and the world, and propel them to a higher grade of living and refined consciousness. Without that, we can see what is happening.

Dharma is conformity with the truth of things, while adharma or vice is the opposition to it. On a national, ethnic, or racial level, Dharma is an instrument of unity, not divisiveness. That which helps unite everyone and develop love and universal brotherhood is Dharma. That which causes discord or disharmony or provokes hatred is adharma.

Dharma is also said to be the force which maintains the universe. Where there is Dharma there is harmony and balance individually, socially, and inter‑galactically. So the path of Dharma brings about the harmony and contentment that is also another aspect of what we are seeking. In this way, we want harmony inwardly, in our own consciousness, but we also cannot have individual peace unless there is harmony or cooperation socially, amongst the masses. So, where there is no Dharma, there is disharmony and a state of being that is out of balance. And socially it means that without Dharma, there is a lack of cooperation, along with escalating quarrel, fighting, corruption, and dishonesty.

When we act against the law of Dharma, we disrupt the very harmony and cooperation that we want. In other words, we create a life for ourselves in which there is stress, confusion, discontent, and frustration. And when we feel that way, that becomes our contribution to the general social condition. It is the exact opposite of what we wish to attain. Thus, to live a life outside of Dharma means to work against ourselves.

M. Rama Jois explained to me that years ago, before India=s independence, it was common that children would be taught before they went to school about the moral standards and character of the heroes of Vedic culture. Sometimes the schools also would include the Dharmic teachings to imbibe in children the character and principles of being a good and decent human being, and, thus, also a good student, which the children would then take with them for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, once India became independent it also became a secular nation, which meant that all such early teaching about human development, and moral standards based on the heroes and characters within the Vedic epics of India, could no longer be taught in schools or any government affiliated institution. It was considered religious teachings, and therefore was not allowed. With this, as M. Rama Jois explained, came the distancing of the youth from the Vedic culture and the high moral standards that went with it. And from this came the ever-increasing corruption that has infected much of the country.

These days, only through private schools, or in families that teach the Vedic culture, or I have also seen families who hold weekend classes in such topics for the neighborhood children, do the youth still learn of this type of knowledge that helps instill in them pride in their heritage and the principles of high moral standards, and the means to acquire insights into character-building for their own development, either before they go to school or even after they have already started their education. On the other hand, if secularism means a state without Dharma, then we will see a lawless state, a lawless country. Surely, the Indian constitution did not mean that we become a State of Adharma. Dharma regulated the mutual obligations and what is beneficial for individuals and society. Therefore, it was stressed that the protection of Dharma was in the interest of both the individual and the society. And the best way to protect it is to train youngsters in Dharma from the beginning of their lives. 

Therefore, the concluding point I am making is that the basis of knowledge, wisdom and holistic human development is to not only offer the necessary classes in material studies, sciences and skills, but to include the basis of human refinement that has been a part of India=s traditions since time immemorial, which includes that of Dharmic studies. Such could and should be part of the curriculum, or extra-curricular classes that students could take. This would transform India=s universities into true centers of innovation, wisdom, ethics, holistic human development, knowledge, and balance for the student=s life. This would add to the beneficial contributions such a student would offer to their family, society and the country. This would change the direction of India, and provide an example that the rest of the world should follow.

 Stephen Knapp (Author/Writer of over 40 books on various aspects of India and its Vedic culture.

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