Higher Education

Krishna and Balarama“These glorious acts of Yours will always be renowned all over the world. You are above all blessing, yet it is my duty to bless You. I give You the benediction that whatever You speak will remain as eternally fresh as the instruction of the Vedas. Your teachings will not only be honored within this universe or in this millennium, but in all places and ages and will remain increasingly new and important." (Sandipani Muni speaking to Krishna and Balarama after They recovered the guru’s son, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 44)

The issue of education seems to come up during every election cycle. Candidates from both major parties stress their commitment to education reform, promising to increase the quality of education in America. Usually, the proposed solution is to increase the amount of spending that goes towards education.

In America, primary education, K-12, is run by the government through tax payer dollars. Though private schools do exist, the majority of students attend public schools. The quality of education at these schools has steadily decreased, as evidenced by the rapid decline in test scores and graduation rates. The consensus opinion seems to be that the lack of funds devoted towards public education is to blame for the decline in student performance. Reformers typically stress the need for reduced classroom sizes and increased teacher pay as ways of improving the system. They say that such changes will provide for an environment more conducive to learning. Former President George W. Bush passed a major initiative in his first term known as the “No Child Left Behind Act”, which called for massive increases in education spending at the federal level. The bill was written primarily by the late Democrat Senator Ted Kennedy and it enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress.

There is no doubt that a problem exists in the education system. Minority students are hardest since their tests scores are considerably lower on average than white students. However, increased spending itself doesn’t solve the problem. This is evidenced by the fact that foreign students from countries such as China and India typically perform very well in American schools. In fact, many Asian countries themselves typically spend much less on education than America does, yet their average test scores are much higher. The real secret to improved performance lies in pushing students harder, asking more from them. The current public education system has descended to a point where it is now resorting to promoting failing students to higher grades simply as a way to get them out of the system. Ostensibly there are people graduating from high school without even knowing how to read.

Lord Rama in gurukula The classic Vedic system of education centers on the idea of teaching students discipline, respect, and self control. This life is meant for tapasya, or austerities performed with the aim of achieving spiritual advancement. In the classic system, young children would attend school at the home of a guru, or spiritual master. This school, known as the gurukula, provided an education on all subject matters, including religion. The bona fide spiritual master, a brahmana, was expert in all academic disciplines. Life at the gurukula was no picnic either. When students weren’t taking instruction from their guru, they were begging door-to-door for alms. This is the dharma for brahmacharis, those living in the first of the four Vedic ashramas, or modes of life. The first requirement for a brahmachari is that he must be completely celibate. Sex life is the biggest hindrance towards advancing spiritually, so it especially needs to be controlled in youths. The alms collected were then given to the guru, who would distribute it amongst his family and students. In this way, school was free, but the householders still supported the gurukula through their charity. If a student wasn’t given any food by the guru for whatever reason, they would not eat that day. Through this system, students were taught to respect their guru and to live a very meager lifestyle.

Contrast this would today’s scholastic environment. Children are given sex education classes and even given condoms while at school. Not knowing the true aim of life, educators are teachings students to live a care-free life with sense gratification being the only aim. Naturally academic performance will suffer as a result. No amount of government spending can fix such a system. As stated before, this human form of life is meant for tapasya. If one learns to regulate one’s senses early on in life, it will be much easier to make spiritual progress later on. There are 8,400,000 varieties of species in the world, but only the human being has the capacity to understand God and take the necessary steps to rekindle their lost relationship with Him. Animals spend all of their time on matters pertaining to eating, sleeping, mating and defending. All of us are born in complete ignorance and for this reason we require the guidance of our parents and elders in our early years. For this age of Kali, the Vedas declare that everyone, regardless of their parentage, is born a shudra, which means a fourth class person. Shudras are considered lower class because they have no training in spiritual matters. One can be promoted to a higher class person such as a brahmana, kshatriya, or vaishya only after being trained by a bona fide spiritual master. If we don’t receive an education about God and how to serve Him, we will continue to remain in an ignorant state.

Sandipani Muni A bona fide guru isn’t interested in earning money either. When Lord Krishna personally descended to earth, He and His elder brother Balarama accepted Sandipani Muni as their spiritual master in their childhood. As stated previously, the guru never received a salary, but was rather supported by the donations given to his students by the householders in the form of alms. Also, when a student finished his studies at the gurukula, he would then give dakshina, or a gift, to his teacher. The protocol was that the student would provide whatever the guru asked for. Sandipani Mani was so fortunate to have Krishna and Balarama as students. For dakshina, Krishna and Balarama recovered the guru’s lost son from the realm of Yamaraja. The boy had drowned in a lake on a previous occasion.

Shrila Prabhupada Money doesn’t equate to knowledge, therefore today’s education crisis can’t be solved by throwing billions of dollars at it. Brahmanas, the priestly class in society, voluntarily accept a life of poverty so as to concentrate all their time towards serving Lord Krishna. For this reason, their knowledge is perfect and one who submissively poses questions to them will have all of their problems solved. If governments are serious about reforming their education systems, they will enlist these brahmanas, pure devotees of Krishna, as their teachers. Though this likely won’t happen anytime soon, we can still take advantage of the teachings handed down by His Dive Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. One who sincerely reads his Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Shrimad Bhagavatam, and other works, will most surely find answers to all of life’s questions. These students will receive the highest education.

Categories: spiritual master

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