In the Indian view, all beings are evolving souls, each one representing a unique portion of the Divine, and ultimately sure of an eventual union or release into the Supreme Spirit. At the same time, this view recognizes that in the actuality of life, there are infinite differences among individuals. Some are more inwardly evolved than others who may be less mature as far as the inner development is concerned. A large majority of individuals are what may be referred to as “infant souls” incapable of taking great steps and making difficult efforts to pursue the highest aim of life.
This view may be somewhat difficult to accept if one is a staunch believer in the “politically correct” and somewhat more simplistic concept of “equality”, but this is the deeper spiritual truth as claimed by many different spiritual traditions. If we believe this truth to be true, it implies that each individual must be dealt with according to his or her innate nature and soul’s progress.
These infinite differences can be more thoroughly grasped if we first understand the law of graduality or the law of gradual progress which is another important aspect of the Indian cultural view.
A belief in a gradual inner progress and evolution is the secret of almost universal Indian acceptance of the truth of rebirth. According to this view, it is only by millions of lives in lower life forms that the secret soul in the universe arrives at humanity. And it is only by hundreds or thousands, perhaps even millions of human lives that a human being can discover his/her divine self-existence.
Each life can be a step forward in this discovery. But each life is not a simple linear path to progress, it is rather an upward moving spiral with experiences and learning from each life helping us move up toward the ultimate human aim. And yet each life must be filled with all possible forms and ranges of human knowledge and experience.
All forms of human experience, tendencies, life propensities must be given their due share if human life has to fulfill itself in all its richness and wideness. Here comes the role of the initial formal educational phase in life – to facilitate the learning experiences in such a manner so that an individual begins to recognize the due place and value of each of the claims of human nature and life.
Education must grasp the true meaning and purpose of this law of graduality in order to facilitate a gradual flowering and growth of all parts of the being in a learner. Each part must be given its due recognition and proper training and opportunity for its full potential to shine through. And at the same time, none of these parts must be left completely unchecked.
A guiding law is necessary to create an order for individual life, to encourage and guide the propensities of human nature and ultimately, when the individual is ready, to turn them all towards the ultimate spiritual aim of life. The Indian cultural view, however, duly recognizes that our being passes through stages in its growth, and that human nature is infinitely complex. The initial stages of life’s movement must be those which power and satisfy the powers of the natural ego, the outer tool that Nature uses for a while to develop the being within. The two initial movements or motives of human life are artha and kama – self-interest and fulfillment of desire. And these must be accepted for a fullness of life and given their due.
But these two motives can’t be left unchecked. If there is no restraint on the pursuits of kama and artha, the result might be an inner (within the individual) as well as an external anarchy (in the society). These must be guided by the third and a much deeper motive of human life, Dharma.
Dharma is a uniquely Indian idea which can not be merely translated as duty, religion, code of conduct, ethical rule, moral law, or other such English language words. It is none of these and yet may have something of these. It transcends all these limiting and limited terms and yet includes some things from each of these. It is individual and universal at the same time. It is fixed and evolving at the same time. It is of a person, and cosmic at the same time. It is an inner guide, which must be discovered individually and yet must be a part of the larger dharma of the group, the nation, humanity that one is a part of.
This unique concept of India must be the basis for Indian educational thought. But things don’t change only by thinking. I believe such profound ideas can also be applied to a very large extent in the actual workings of educational institutions.
To begin with, the idea of infinite differences between individuals has one of its most direct policy-making implication favouring a greater decentralization of educational decision-making and allowing as much individualization as possible. Schools in different neighborhoods must be given greater, much greater autonomy in determining their curricula and teaching practices keeping in mind the communities from which their student population comes. Hiring policies for teachers must also be rethought in the light of greater individualization that must be necessary to allow learners with varied temperaments and natures to feel their way through their self-discovery processes. For younger learners, parents may be given more opportunities to become part of their children’s learning processes in classrooms because they are the ones who are most closely familiar with their children’s temperament and nature. Pedagogical innovations must be encouraged to allow greater individualized learning, even in classrooms with a large group of students. Greater flexibility in assessment of student learning must be allowed.
Schools must gradually figure out the much needed balance between imposing an outer discipline and facilitating learners to gradually find their sense of inner guidance and self-discipline. While allowing the learners to grow in a multifaceted way by giving them opportunities to develop all their parts – physical, intellectual, emotional, aesthetic, ethical – education must never forget that ultimately all these parts are instruments of that inner being which gradually grows through them, and it is that which alone can be the source of the true inner guide which learners and adults need to walk through their lives. Even an intellectual acceptance of this idea can help guide those in the decision-making roles in educational institutions and other apex bodies in their work. The tendency to erect a system of strictest possible rules and regulations may gradually wither away and in its place we may find a more humane and individual-centered flexible system of broad guidelines and directions.
Many such practical approaches can be thought of and introduced in a gradual manner. But the practical also finds its true purpose and effectiveness when seen in the light of the larger ideal that guides it. What is most essential, therefore, is to recognize that these and many other practical ways, methods, means and approaches are not taken up simply for the sake of trying out something new or different. Rather, they must be consciously implemented with the larger purpose of helping prepare the children and youth of India to become true embodiment of the deepest values and ideals that India stands for. Because only then, these future generations will become capable and confident enough to offer their best possible contributions to the greater good of their country as well as the larger world and humanity. One can become truly global only after one has become truly national. It is all about gradual progress.
The material used in the text-pictures is taken from Sri Aurobindo’s volume, The Renaissance in India and Other Essays on Indian Culture.