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Education for self-knowledge

Swami Suddhananda reminisces on his vision for a more humane world, which has been realised in the form of schools run by the Akshar Educational Trust. In conversation...

AS ONE entered the Suddhananda Ashram, one was greeted by the cackling of geese. The snow-white birds marched in a single file across the garden leading to the Swamiji's quarters, and dived into a lotus pond in the grounds quite at home in this hinterland, making you wonder whether such a place exists in the vicinity of Chennai.

For one who is more familiar with his insightful lectures on abstract Vedanta texts, a meeting with Swami Suddhananda on his home turf proved to be an eye-opener. Punctual to the minute, he kept his appointment and opened up to the suggestion for an informal conversation. A couple of his devotees joined in to listen to Swamiji reminisce on his vision, which has actualised into the schools run by the Akshar Educational Trust — Suddhananda Foundation for Self-knowledge. The Trust runs four schools — one near the Ashram at Uthandi and the others at Ammapettai, about 50 km from Chennai, and Jagatsinghpur and Nachhipur in Orissa.

It was on a day nearly a decade ago, as he sat in tune with the peace of the predawn hour that he asked himself, "To whom do I owe this peace, this quietude, this serenity, this fulfilment?" The vision that was granted to him then became a passion and has touched and transformed those who have come into contact with him.

He realised that he owed his ineffable, abiding peace "to everything, to everybody — from an atom to the systems, from a tiny cell to the all-pervasive God, the Absolute Reality! Without the universe itself with all its numberless galaxies, stars and planets, the Earth itself will not be there. Without the Earth, the human beings will not be there; without the human species, the parents will not be there. Neither shall there be the child nor growth, education, conflict, the teacher and the scriptures, and without all these, enlightenment shall not be there. Neither, therefore, shall be the present moment of eternal blissthat overwhelms a quiet dawn, still unfolding itself in the distant horizon in the lap of the ever-expanding vast universe... "The realisation that "the greatest learning becomes unlearning, the greatest teaching is `being' and to `unlearn and to be' is the seed that must be planted in every learning so that the learner never loses sight of the ultimate purpose of learning — the unlearning!" impinged on his consciousness.

But when this is compared with "the agony of humankind — the anger, deception, hatred, greed, jealousy, the murder and mayhem, the death and destruction, the insatiable greed and selfishness, the starvation (physical and mental), cruelty, war, torture in the name of God, religion, money or political ideology — the beatific portrayal of an enlightened nothingness in all-pervasiveness almost pales into a ludicrous heartless day-dreaming of an escapist... " stared in the face and his mission became clear to him.

But, long before this vision becomes possible, an individual has to undergo formal education to get material security in life. Suddhanandaji pointed out, with his characteristic candour, "The outcome of the prevailing system is such that it enhances the ego of the student and makes him arrogant because he identifies himself with his degree, profession and success in career. There is nothing wrong with it but even the most successful or wealthy person who seems to command every comfort is unable to handle his emotion when it is threatened. His education has not taught him how to tackle his fears and thus he becomes a total wreck the moment there is a problem."

So what is the alternative he recommends? Is spiritual knowledge a panacea for human afflictions?

"We cannot dispense with formal education but must integrate Self-knowledge into the existing curriculum right from the time a child starts formal education in school, so that there is simultaneous development of its personality. Any day, a materially comfortable person with emotional conflicts is better off than a poor man with problems. While the poor man can chase his dreams, the affluent one cannot. That is why he is more frustrated. He must realise that he is the source of his happiness and also his conflicts. If Self-knowledge is taught along with formal education from a young age, it becomes easier to handle the ego, which is responsible for emotional conflicts. Formal education today is creating roles for individuals without developing their personalities. Before we condemn the next generation, we have to ask ourselves whether we have found true happiness and are humane."

"Self-knowledge is not a religion, a faith, a dogma or something good only for a few. It cuts across not only the barrier of politics, economics and religion but also the barriers of race, sex and age. The time has now come for education or learning to introduce man to himself/herself... "

SUDHAKSHINA RANGASWAMI

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