A Bhagavata Philosophy Of Education
-Some Preliminary Thoughts-
By Radhika Ramana Dasa
(Prof. Ravi M. Gupta). Charles Redd
Chair of Religious Studies, Utah State University
Philosophy as a ﬁeld of study is generally divided into four branches: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics (or praxis), and aesthetics. Thus, for ease of organization, we will discuss philosophy of education from the perspective of India’s classical Bhagavata tradition in these four areas. The foundational principles of education given below are drawn from the ﬁrst three verses of the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, which contain the essence of the entire Purāṇa.
The purpose of this short essay is to outline broad principles and purposes of education, not to delineate speciﬁc methods and strategies. Our thoughts here are preliminary and much more can be (and has been) said about this topic. Thus, we invite readers to modify and develop these ideas further.
All direct quotations (found in parentheses) are taken from the ﬁrst three verses of the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (Bhāgavata Purāṇa 1.1.1-3), and therefore no verse numbers are given here. We encourage the reader to carefully study Śrīla A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda’s translations and purports on these three verses before reading this essay. They are easily available at www.vedabase.com.
Aesthetics of Education
We begin with aesthetics because of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s conviction that pure love (prema) for Kṛṣṇa is the ultimate purpose of human life. Thus, it follows that the purpose of education, for adults and children, is to help them cultivate prema, which is both an aesthetic and rational experience. This love for Kṛṣṇa is already present within the individual’s heart. The teacher need only reawaken the students’ relationship with Kṛṣṇa (pibata bhagavatam rasam ālayam), and teach them to express that relationship through practical devotional service and good character.
First and foremost, the symptom of an educated person is good character, and the most important element of character is compassion for other living entities (sivadam. tapa- trayonmulanam) . Thus , the Bhagavatam defines knowledge as “reality distinguished from illusion for the welfare of all.” In other words, it is not enough for something to be factual; it must also be beneficial for others.
From a teacher’s perspective, this means that he or she must meet the students where they are at, and tailor instruction to their individual needs, just as in later Cantos of the Srimad Bha-gavatam, Na-rada Muni taught Prahla-da and Dhruva in different ways. This requires helping students advance toward love for Kr.s.n.a, but also ensuring that they have the skills and knowledge needed to satisfy their material, temporal needs. This dual goal is best accomplished through the practice of dharma, namely, ethical action in this world based upon a
person’s psycho-social nature. By diligently practicing their own dharmas in the world, students can advance toward the ultimate dharma, namely devotional service to the Supreme (dharmaḥ projjhita-kaitavo ‘tra paramaḥ).
Epistemology of Education
All education, whether spiritual or material, requires the guidance of a teacher, or guru (śuka-mukhād amṛta-drava- saṁyutam), who receives knowledge through a lineage of teachers. The relationship between teacher and student creates the circumstances that lead to knowledge. The student approaches the teacher with both humility and inquisitiveness, since neither blind following nor absurd inquiry are helpful. In return, the teacher helps the student develop powers of observation/experience, pratyakṣa (tejo-vāri-mṛdāṁ vinimayaḥ), as well as strong reasoning skills, anumāna (anvayād itarataś ca), but most importantly, the ability to hear and reﬂect upon śāstra (tene brahma hṛdā). The teacher must model the abilities and qualities he or she wishes to cultivate in the student.
Metaphysics of Education
The teacher uses these methods in order to help the student distinguish reality from illusion (vedyaṁ vāstavam). This reality is Kṛṣna, the highest truth (satyaṁ param), along with His three energies—the spiritual world (dhāmnā svena), the material creation (janmādy asya yataḥ, yatra trisargo ‘mṛṣā), and the living beings (dhīmahi), who are eternal spirit souls, distinct from matter. There, every student is by nature good at heart, even if they are conditioned by less- desirable, external qualities. In other words, the Bhāgavata asserts that there is an eternal, Absolute Truth that transcends and yet pervades the temporal reality of social, political, and historical contexts. Any educational system must acknowledge that although we can approach the Absolute Truth, we can never fully comprehend Him (muhyanti yat sūrayaḥ), for He is limitless.