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  • Writer's pictureJitendra Savanur

Degree Matters, but only to Some Degree

Updated: Apr 21, 2020

The Modern Education System


Albert Einstein had said, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learnt in school.” This quote by Einstein depicts the weariness of the prevalent education system back then, a system not very different from what we have today. Yet, almost as if second nature, we equate education with wisdom. Education and the subsequent degree that is received is seen as a trophy, a proof of one’s wisdom and knowledge, one’s ability to make a difference in the world. While that is true to an extent, from a standpoint of values and ethics, the world has not seen any significant uplift in recent years. The word ‘education’ is derived from the Latin word ‘educare’, which means to bring up, rise, nourish, train or to mound. It stems from bringing out the innate qualities and powers of an individual and given scope to develop and be nourished. When the truly innate qualities of an individual are nourished and developed, the positive impact that he/she can have on the world will be truly meaningful.


Far from fulfilling its true purpose, the scenario with the education system nowadays has taken a very sad turn. Today, more degrees are being awarded than required in all industries combined. The result? Unemployment or employment in a sector completely unrelated to one's domain of education. And within all this, values and ethics appear to be a distant dream. Whether it is the quality of education being offered, or the receptiveness of the student to be blamed, the result is, today's education system seems inadequate even for basic skill development that is supposed to be a natural result of education in a recognized institution.


The Vedic Skill Management Strategy


Vedic life was so arranged that the skill set of an individual was utilised perfectly according to his place in the fabric of human society. Being divided into the four varnas, the Vedic society was a harmonious balance between the brahmanas (teacher and thinkers), the kshatriyas (military administrators), vaishyas (businessmen and farmers) and sudras (skilled laborers). And Krishna mentions in the Bhagavad Gita (4.13) that this varnashrama system is His creation, in which the place of an individual is decided based on his guna (qualities) and karma (activities). Observing the nature of a student, the guru would hone the student to perfectly fit into one of the classes mentioned above. So just like for the smooth functioning of a machine, all its parts have to function in conjunction with the others, Vedic life was characterized by a cooperative relationship between the classes. In other words, an individual's skill set was put to perfect use for the betterment of the society as a whole and his contributions would be recognized and lauded.


And what is the purpose of the smooth functioning of this society? It is mentioned in Srimad Bhagavatam (1.2.13),


ataḥ pumbhir dvija-śreṣṭhā

varṇāśrama-vibhāgaśaḥ

svanuṣṭhitasya dharmasya

saṁsiddhir hari-toṣaṇam


"O best among the twice-born, it is therefore concluded that the highest perfection one can achieve by discharging the duties prescribed for one's own occupation according to caste divisions and orders of life is to please the Personality of Godhead." Thus, with the common sublime goal of self realization, Vedic life offered everyone an opportunity to dovetail their talents towards the Supreme.


Is Education Enough?


But is education in and off itself enough for self realization? No, say the Vedas. While enlisting the qualities that constitute knowledge, Krishna mentions amamnitvam (humility) and adambhitvam (pridelessness) as the first two (Bhagavad Gita 13.8). It is pertinent to note that high education or philosophical expertise are not even in the list of these qualities mentioned by Krishna. Queen Kunti goes one step ahead and says that qualities like beauty, high birth, education are hindrances on the path of bhakti (Srimad Bhagavatam 1.8.26). This is indeed a strong thing to say, given that she herself belongs to the Kuru family. The reason, acharyas explain, for her stance is that material accomplishments like beauty, high education and birth have an ability to make us proud of possessing them, and pride is considered as unfavorable to the path of bhakti, Krishna's words above being the testimony. The blinding potency of the pride that these accomplishments bring along with them is enough to keep us bound to this world forever. And truly, more often than not, the education that we receive in today’s world does not, in any way, push us to inquire into life’s ultimate truths.


When Lord Chaitanya was travelling throughout South India, He met a brahmana at Sri Rangam. This brahmana was trying to make an effort to read the Bhagavad Gita, when it was clearly apparent that he could not even properly read the Sanskrit. The other brahmanas in the temple were having a good laugh at this. But what caught Lord Chaitanya's eye was that he was shedding tears of love as he was reading the Gita. When asked by Lord Chaitanya the reason for his tears, he said, "My guru has told me to read the Bhagavad Gita. Though I'm not able to read the Sanskrit properly, I'm trying to make an effort as per the order of my guru. When I thus see the magnificent form of Krishna instructing Arjuna, I am filled with ecstatic happiness." Hearing this, Lord Chaitanya embraced the brahmana and declared that He considered him the foremost scholar of the Bhagavad Gita, because he had the most important qualifications of humility and devotion required to understand Gita's message.


The Importance Of Education


The beauty of the path of bhakti is whatever we possess, it can be engaged in the service of God. There is no need to reject or give up something we are good at to advance spiritually. When we utilise our accomplishments in the service of God, though temporary, the accomplishments become spiritual. Ultimately, the distinction between material and spiritual is our consciousness with which we perform our actions. Prabhupada has stressed this point time and again by quoting Rupa Goswami from Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu (1.2.255),


anāsaktasya viṣayān

yathārham upayuñjataḥ

nirbandhaḥ kṛṣṇa-sambandhe

yuktaṁ vairāgyam ucyate


The more we are able to connect our actions to Krishna, the more spiritual they become, although they may seem identical to materialistic actions externally. The vaishnava kings of bygone ages like Yudhisthira, Parikshit, Kulashekara etc. had this consciousness when they ruled their subjects. Considering their subjects as children of God, they would strive for their material as well as spiritual well-being and happiness. Thus, though each and everyone of us has to act in some way or the other, the path of bhakti offers a sublime way to spiritualize those actions.


Also, Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita (3.21),


yad yad ācarati śreṣṭhas

tat tad evetaro janaḥ

sa yat pramāṇaṁ kurute

lokas tad anuvartate


"Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues." If someone, by the dint of their education is impacting many people in a positive way and if such a person takes to spiritual life, that will inspire many more to turn towards spirituality. Thus, education and a subsequent position in the world works as an encouragement for common people to turn to God and improve their lives, thus fulfilling the highest goal of varnashrama system, which is to please Lord Hari.


The examples of Prakashanand Sarasvati and Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya are worth noting here. Both of them were highly learned in the impersonalistic interpretation of the Vedas and were highly respected as Vedic scholars by common people. But after their hearts got transformed by their conversations with Lord Chaitanya, thousands of people followed suit and took to bhakti the way they did.


Conclusion


Someone rightly said, 'Today the world has guided missiles but misguided men.' This means that there is a general lack of a sense of direction in what we do. By turning towards spirituality, our skills get a positive direction towards which they can be engaged. Thus, as Prabhupada used to say, all our accomplishments are like zeroes, but when we worship Krishna with them, we add a one to the list of zeroes, thus giving value to all the zeroes, which don't have any value by themselves.Thus, in whatever situation we are, educated or illiterate, whether we possess a degree or we don't, let us take shelter of God and move upwards in our journey of self realization.


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