The Superior Teacher

Revered Secretary Maharaj, Revered Maharajjis assembled here, distinguished speakers on the dais, and dear teachers, today is the 2nd day of the Annual Celebrations of this Ashrama. We are having a Teachers’ Convention today. Before I begin my lecture, I wish to ask you all a question. This question is for my benefit. How many of you have some teaching experience? Those of you, who have five years of teaching in a classroom, please raise your hand. (Around 70% of the audience raises their hands.) You see, the topic given to me us ‘The Superior Teacher’. Excellence in teaching requires fine-tuning of the teaching experience. You don’t start off your teaching career as a teacher-par-excellence. So, what I am going to tell you today will be addressed mainly to those of you who have already had some teaching experience. The rest of you, who are probably studying B.Ed now, may keep my ideas in mind and implement them as and when you get the opportunity in the future.

I think it was George Bernhard Shaw who was once asked which was the most dangerous profession. He had replied that the most dangerous profession was teaching. His argument was – if a doctor commits a mistake, it gets buried six feet underground; if a lawyer commits a mistake, it hangs six feet above the ground; but if a teacher commits a mistake, it destroys six hundred years of his country’s future! Our profession is that important!

I have been associated with the teaching – learning activities in Ramakrishna Mission for the last ten years. You all know that Ramakrishna Mission has pioneered nationalistic education in India and has gained enormous experience in the last 100 years. I am going to present before you the best practices of our Ramakrishna Mission teachers. We believe that the high quality of education for which Ramakrishna Mission has become synonymous today is because of the high quality of our teachers. Hence, if I explain to you the practices of our Ramakrishna Mission teachers, that would serve as pointers to you, as a benchmark, regarding how to become a superior teacher.

Analyzing the distinguishing characteristics of the superior teachers in our Institutions, I have been able to categorize them under three cardinal rules for teachers.

The first cardinal rule for being a superior teacher is ‘Patience & cheerfulness’. Enormous patience is required when dealing with students. I remember seeing a documentary once in which a very old man asks his son if it is a Sunday. The son answers that it is indeed Sunday. Sometime later, the old father again asks the same question. When the old man asks the same question for the third time, the son loses his patience and yells at him. Then the old man brings out an old diary. In it he had recorded something that had happened about 30 years ago when that son was a 5-year old boy. The old man had written: Today, my son asked me the questions ‘why is the crow black?’ a total of thirty-two times and each time I had lovingly replied that black is the natural color of the crow!

Children tend to forget very quickly. You can’t help it. They forget. We need to keep on repeating the same thing again and again, and put in processes to help them internalize the points we tell them. We need to keep this point in mind when we discipline the kids. It won’t do if we just mention the rules of behavior once and then expect the kids to remember them. They just won’t. And we shouldn’t end up concluding that the child is willfully ignoring our advice. There was a Sufi saint who was entertaining some friends one day. He had served them tea in some very costly china cups. After the tea, he called his son and asked him to carefully take the empty china cups and give them to his wife in the kitchen for cleaning. He told the boy to be careful about the china. Then he slapped him hard. His friends asked him, ‘Hey, the boy hasn’t done anything wrong. Maybe he will be careful with the china. Why did you beat him before he has committed a mistake?’ The Sufi saint replied, ‘What is the use of beating him after he drops the cups and breaks them?’ We have to take care to see that we don’t end up behaving like this.

Disciplining is a difficult job. It takes lot of patience. Lot of repetition is required. You need to clearly specify what rules you want to be followed in your class. In fact, when I was in our Along School, I had announced that the first few days of a new academic year, the teachers would concentrate on just explaining the behavior they expected out of their students in their class. The teachers would first of all have the rules clearly written down. Then they would dictate them to their students. Then they would explain those rules to their students and ensure that each student understood each rule. The underlying idea of disciplining is to train the child to enter into the complex system of processes and procedures that exist in our present day society. Just look around you. Everywhere, it is system, process & procedure that operate. Take this very convention for example. You all didn’t just walk in today. The whole thing must have started a month ago. From this office here, notices would have gone to your schools and colleges. Then your school or college would have announced appropriately for your information. Then you would have registered your name in the specified place and manner. That is how the present day world works. The child has to be trained to deal with this. The whole idea of disciplining is this training – how to adopt oneself to this ever expanding network of systems and procedures.

We teachers will have to constantly introspect whether we ourselves are the cause of indiscipline in our students. An ordinary teacher learns to correct and train his student. But a superior teacher learns to respect his student as an individual. Swami Vivekananda wrote to Swami Brahmananda once, ‘Take care of how you trample on the least rights of others.’ You all remember the famous drama written by George Bernhard Shaw called Pygmalion. In that drama, Professor Higgins undertakes to train a rustic flower-girl into a very sophisticated lady. After she becomes a lady accepted in the highest social circles in London, she explains what actually made her a lady from her humble beginnings. She says it wasn’t the meticulous training of Prof Higgins. She says she became a lady the moment Colonel Pickering called her ‘Miss Doolittle’!

We ourselves are not clear what we want the child to do. All that we know is what the child shouldn’t do. A superior teacher has a clear idea of what the student must do and not just what he shouldn’t be doing. Let me explain what I am trying to tell. A young mother was once walking on the road with her small child. She met her friend on the way. As happens when two ladies meet, they started talking. The child got bored. Children get bored very easily. So this child asked its mother, ‘Mother, can I play with that dog?’ ‘No.’ after a few minutes, ‘Mother, can I go over to that shop and see those toys?’ ‘No.’ Again, after a few minutes, ‘Mother, will you get me an ice-cream?’ ‘No, ice-cream causes sore throat.’ The child started crying. The mother tells her friend, ‘Have you seen a child like this? So difficult to control; starts crying anywhere and everywhere.’ We are always telling the child what not to do. If we specify what the child should do, maybe children will be disciplined better.

When I was in Along, I noticed something very interesting. I was on the corridor outside the classrooms and I was observing a particular class. A boy in that class was seeing outside the window. He was intrigued by a butterfly outside. You know, in the North-east, you have very large and colorful butterflies. The teacher was teaching something, perhaps mathematics. This boy got up and asked the teacher if he could go out of the class. The teacher asked why. He said he wanted to go near and see that wonderful butterfly. The teacher flew into a rage and shouted him down. After sometime, that very boy stood up and said he had to go pee. The teacher allowed him. I was observing. The boy went out, didn’t go anywhere near the toilet, went out to the garden, played around the butterfly and came back! Just see what happened here. That teacher had ‘taught’ the boy to tell a lie! So, we need to be very, very careful.

Our main problem is we forget that communicating with children is different from talking to adults. Suppose I am to address this audience here today regarding maintaining silence it is sufficient to say ‘It will be good if silence is maintained here in keeping with the decorum of the Ashrama’. Do you think this statement would mean anything to students? What idea do they have about an Ashrama’s decorum? If I were to address an audience of students I should have been much more direct. Then they would have understood. Listen to a story.

There was once a couple who had trouble handling their son. There was no way they could convince him that paper should not be torn. He had developed a strange habit. Wherever and whenever he got a piece of paper or a book or a magazine, immediately he would tear it to bits. They had consulted educational experts, counselors, doctors and even psychiatrists, but to no avail. One day, a good friend of the boy’s father came to their house and stayed with them for a week. During that time, the boy became very close to this man. One night, after dinner, the parents explained their dilemma regarding the boy’s inexplicable behavior to this man. And from the next day, the parents found that the boy had stopped tearing paper! They were shell-shocked. Where experts in the field of education and medicine and psychology had failed, this ordinary man had succeeded. They asked him about it. His reply is note-worthy. He said, “I took him on my lap, looked him in his eye and told him, ‘Look here, son. Don’t tear paper. You should use paper to write.’ You see, what happened with him is, all of you tried to do so many things with him, except tell him directly not to tear paper. If only one of you had told him explicitly what to do, the boy would have understood and the problem would have stopped long ago.”

So, the first cardinal rule is – We have to be patient and cheerful. The second cardinal rule is something that the Jesuits always say. You know the Jesuits; they have made some great contributions to education. Saint Ignatius Loyola used to say, ‘To teach Mathematics to John, you need to know two things. You need to know Mathematics. And you need to know John.’ Please try to understand this statement. You need to know your subject. You must be thorough in your understanding of your subject. You make only one statement. But, there are 40 minds in your class. All may not understand what you said. You will need to tailor your statement in as many different ways as possible so that every mind in that class understands. You must plan your class. You know, you must have your lesson plan, your evaluation schedule and all that stuff that you learn in your B.Ed class. That is a vital requisite. But the other part of the Jesuits’ saying is even more important. You must know John. You must know your student in as much detail as possible. You must know the child’s home background. You must make notes about each student in a journal. Every data, every bit of information and your observation about that child must be present in that journal. The Jesuits have another wonderful saying. They say, ‘A child that gets love at home comes to the school to learn; a child that is not loved at home comes to the school to get love & affection.’ Please remember this marvelous saying. Problems at home reflect in the behavior of the student in class. Dysfunctional family reflects as inability to concentrate or as general restlessness in the child. Then there are many other symptoms such as ADD or ADHD or Dyslexia that may also be contributing to the child’s lack of focus. Today, most school boards have mandated that schools must have a dedicated counselor who has psychological expertise. But I hold that each teacher has to be a counselor.

So the 1st Cardinal Rule is ‘Patience & Cheerfulness’. The 2nd Cardinal Rule for being a superior teacher is ‘To teach Mathematics to John, you must know Mathematics & you must know John’. Now we come to the third rule. You must love your job. You must have a sense of pride in your job as a teacher. Today, it is a matter of great pride to say that I am a space scientist in ISRO. Do we feel the same sense of pride when saying ‘I am a teacher’? That is needed. The child may not consciously understand all this pride stuff. But it will intuitively grasp whether we love our job or hate it. If we love our job, our students will start respecting us automatically.

You know, there is no such thing as a difficult subject. Some of us end up feeling – Oh! I teach history. Mathematics or Physics has prestige, but not history or civics. That is to be avoided. Listen to a story. A man once purchased a pet dog. He was greatly enamored with that pet. He purchased lots of good books on how to rear a pet dog, read all of them and patiently went about doing all those things mentioned in them. In all of them, it said that pet dogs love cod-liver-oil, and that it was absolutely essential for the pet to grow up fit and fine. Well, our man brings home a big bottle of cod-liver-oil. He pours some oil onto a large spoon, catches the dog, splices the dog between his legs, forces open its mouth and pours the oil into it. The dog pukes out the oil and runs away. The owner is flabbergasted. Something must be wrong with his pet. It simply doesn’t love cod-liver-oil. But every day, he did the same exercise. Then one day, while he was maneuvering the spoon into the dog’s mouth, the dog jerked strongly, and the bottle of cod-liver-oil fell down and broke. The owner was now livid with anger. But, he was surprised to see that the dog was greedily lapping up the oil that had spilled onto the floor, and in a few minutes, it had licked the whole floor clean!

So, the dog did not hate cod-liver-oil. It just rejected the method through which it was fed its favorite cod-liver-oil! Do we have a lesson here, as teachers aiming to be superior teachers? Let us all kindly think deeply over it.

Some of you may have a question – how to love our job? There is such a thing called Shared Vision. You need to key yourself to a larger vision in order to get pride in the small job that you do. A senior Swamiji in our Order used to say ‘You may be doing a clerk’s job; but why do you have to do it with a clerk’s mind? Do it with the mind of the President of India.’ Please think about this statement. Imagine the mind of the President of India. He may be living in a small room in Delhi. But every moment he is thinking about the whole country. Every decision he takes, he will pause and think how it will affect the remotest village of his country. So also, we may be teaching in a small class room to only 40 students. But we may be aware in our minds about the future of those students, of the 600 years of our country’s future; how my teaching will affect them.

When I was a student, I was a member of Vivekananda Balaka Sangha in our Bangalore Ramakrishna Ashrama. There was a senior Swamiji of Ramakrishna Order called Swami Ranganathanandaji who later became a President of Ramakrishna Mission. He used to visit Bangalore Ashrama once or twice every year. Once when he came, he spent some time with us. We were all school-college boys, volunteers in the Sangha. It was afternoon, after his lunch. We all sat on the ground in front of him. He asked us ‘Can you tell me which is the golden period of Indian history?’ We were all good students and we started giving our answers. One of us said it was the Ashoka’s reign. Another said it was the Gupta period, especially under Samudra Gupta & Chandragupta-II. Yet another said it was under King Harshavardhana. The Mughal period under Akbar-Shah Jehan was also said by some. Swamiji was just looking at all of us when we were giving our answers. Then one of us asked the Swamiji, ‘What is the correct answer, Swamiji?’ What he said was marvelous. He said, ‘You know, I was recently in Japan. There I met some students, just like this. I asked them the very same question – what is the golden period of Japanese history? And they all answered ‘Swami, the golden period of Japan is the future and we are going to make it.’ When I heard that, I immediately felt that those young boys couldn’t have hit upon that answer all by themselves. There must have been some teacher who must have put that amazing idea in their minds. That is what is called ‘Shared Vision’.

You have all heard of NASA, the American organization that deals with its space programmes. Sometime in the 1960s, J F Kennedy announced that NASA would put a man on the moon. That was the goal he gave. Once he was visiting NASA’s office. When he was walking down the corridor, he met a man. That man was the janitor, whose job was to clean the toilets and corridors of NASA. He shook hands with that janitor and asked him what he did in NASA. That janitor replied, ‘Mr. President, I am putting a man on the moon.’ He didn’t feel ‘I am an insignificant toilet cleaner in NASA’. Instead he was able to identify himself with the mission of the organization. A superior teacher will be able to do that with respect to his job of teaching.

Before I wrap up my lecture, I will summarize the main points I have placed before you.

A superior teacher is found to follow three cardinal rules:

  1. He/she is always patient and cheerful.
  2. He/she realizes that ‘to teach Mathematics to John, you should know Mathematics and you should know John’.
  3. He/she will love his/her job of teaching. He/she will have genuine pride in being a teacher.

I pray to Guru Maharaj that all of you may be inspired to raise yourselves from an ordinary teacher to a superior teacher. Thanks for your patient hearing.

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How to teach Science & Maths

JBNSTS Science Teachers Training Program

at

Ramakrishna Mission Vidyamandira (Ekalavya Model Residential School), Jhargram

Revered Swami Shantimayanandaji Maharaj, Revered Swami Shubhakaranandaji Maharaj, distinguished guests on the stage and learned colleagues: it is a pleasure to be present here amongst you all today and to deliver the keynote address at the JBNSTC Science Teachers Training Program. I came to this school exactly one year ago, just a day before Ramakrishna Mission took over this school from the Government. Today, when I entered the campus, I was wonderstruck at how much it had changed. Indeed, the efforts of Shantanu Maharaj are paying off, and in an incredible manner. Who would have ever imagined seeing this kind of development in this remote school! And that too in so short a time! It will not be an exaggeration to say that Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna is using Shantanu Maharaj and his team to work up a revolution here in this Ekalavya School at Jhargram.

Today onwards, JBNSTC will be conducting a workshop for the Science and Math teachers. I am given to understand that there are teachers from various schools of Jhargram.

I too have been in this education area for the last decade. I know what problems areas exist for us. I am also aware of how ill-prepared we are for handling those problems. It is a tough job we are doing. In fact, our job is also very dangerous. You know, once George Bernard Shaw was asked about the most dangerous profession in the world. He replied that it was ‘teaching’. His humorous argument was like this: if a lawyer makes a mistake, it hangs six feet above the ground, and then the whole world forgets about it. If a doctor makes a mistake, it is buried six feet underground, then everyone forgets about it and the world moves on. But if a teacher makes a mistake, six hundred years of the country’s history gets damaged!

When I was asked to look after a school in Arunachal Pradesh, I made a special study of the Jesuit philosophy of Education. One particular saying of the Jesuit Father Ignatius Loyala seemed to sum up the entire philosophy of teaching, for me. He said, “If you wish to teach Math to John, you should know Math and you should know John.” Just look at this statement!

We must know our subject very well. After some years of teaching the ‘syllabus’, we become experts, so to speak. We develop the habit of going to classes without any preparation. We are confident of winging it! I remember seeing some books in our Bangalore Ashrama. There was a very revered Swamiji there long back called Swami Yatishwaranandaji. He was a great scholar and a highly venerated monk. Yet, till the last, he would prepare notes for his lectures! Those books had those notes; painstakingly he would write down all the points he would deal with in the class. He naturally had no need to such notes. It was all at his fingertips. Yet…

We should ‘know’ our student. What is meant by this? Is it that we should know about his family background? The problems he faces at home? Those things too matter. But what is more important is that the boy is not a blank slate. He comes with some fund of information in his young mind. Can we understand that? Unless we know that, we can never really teach him effectively. The problem is this – we too were students once upon a time, and we too had struggled with ideas; for a long time, the concepts and principles made no sense for us too. Then, the constant effort we put in bore fruit and connections were made with pre-existing ideas in our brain! And we have forgotten how exactly those connections were made. If only we can recall those moments, we will be able to really ‘know’ our student!

I am sure you all will agree with me that teaching Science and Math is especially challenging. Teaching any subject, for that matter, is a tough job. But more so with these two subjects. Why? Because they are very dry. Consider History or Literature. There are stories, plots, sub-plots, poems, intrigues, heroes and villains; there is always an excitement about what will happen next! That is completely absent with Science & Math. Just lifeless ideas and numbers! Have you wondered why there has been no blockbuster Bollywood movie on Science? Our subjects don’t lend themselves to that kind of treatment.

I wish to place two ideas before you today. Actually I will be sharing these two ideas, which are actually my life-lessons during my stint as a teacher. First, the importance of remembering facts and principles; second, some techniques I picked up on the way.

We must acknowledge the fact that we need two different approaches while teaching Science & Math. The approach we adopt for the students up to secondary level is different from the approach we adopt for teaching the HS students. But, in both cases, we need to emphasize the habit of learning by-heart a whole lot of facts. I am afraid, we don’t do this. Our present examination system is doing away with this habit. And it is working to the detriment of our boys. Unless the boy knows a whole lot of things my memory, he won’t be able to play with ideas. Playing with ideas, calls for a solid fund of facts in the brain. And what is Science & Math teaching-learning if it’s not playing with ideas! Just take a look at the ancient tols in our country. The first few years of the student’s life was spent in rote-learning. If the student could learn by-heart a certain set of books, he could graduate to the higher education. Then would start the most interesting play with the ideas which the boy could recall from memory!

For instance, in our Aalo School, I had to teach force analysis in Mechanics in Class-XI. I found out that the students had no clear understanding of trigonometry. During those days, trigonometry was taught in Class 9 & 10. So I passed on this feedback to teachers who handled those classes. The next batches became better!

Similarly, once our HS Chemistry had resigned in the middle of a year. So I had to handle Chemistry for Class XII. While teaching the class, I found that the students had trouble working numerical problems in Electrochemistry, especially the ones on Nernst’s Equation, etc. I found out why that was so. The students had to have a conception of logarithms for working these problems. And wonder of wonders, the CBSE in its great wisdom had removed logarithms from the entire school syllabus. Hence it was never taught! So, I sat with my teachers and decided that we would give an introductory class on logarithms to our Class XI students. That too bore great results later on for us.

Remembering facts and numbers must become a passion with students. It must seem rewarding to the students. We need to encourage students to develop their own ‘memory development techniques’. Mnemonics, for instance, could be very helpful.

  • To memorize the colors of therainbow: the phrase ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain’ – each of the initial letters matches the colors of the rainbow in order (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet). Other examples are the phrase ‘Run over your granny because it’s violent’ or the imaginary name ‘Roy G. Biv’.
  • To memorize the North AmericanGreat Lakes: the acronym HOMES – matching the letters of the five lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior)
  • To memorizecolor codes as they are used in electronics: the phrase “Bill Brown Realized Only Yesterday Good Boys Value Good Work” represents in order the 10 colors and their numerical order: black (0), brown (1), red (2), orange (3), yellow (4), green (5), blue (6), violet or purple (7), grey (8), and white (9).
  • To memorize chemical reactions, such asredox reactions, where it is common to mix up oxidation and reduction, the short phrase ‘LEO (Lose Electron Oxidation) the lion says GER (Gain Electron Reduction)’. An alternate mnemonic is ‘Oil Rig’ can be used – which is an acronym for ‘Oxidation is losing, Reduction is gaining’.
  • To memorize the names of the planets, use theplanetary mnemonic: Each of the initial letters matches the name of the planets in our solar system (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, [Pluto]).

Mean Very Evil Men Just Shortened Up Nature

Mary’s ‘Virgin’ Explanation Made Joseph Suspect Upstairs Neighbor

My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming Planets

Many Very Educated Men Justify Stealing Unique Ninth

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos

  • Mnemonic phrases or poems can be used to encode numeric sequences by various methods. One common one is to create a new phrase in which the number of letters in each word represents the according digit of pi. For example, the first 15 digits of the mathematical constantpi (3.14159265358979) can be encoded as ‘Now I need a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics’; ‘Now’, having 3 letters, represents the first number, 3, and so on. Piphilology is the practice dedicated to creating mnemonics for pi.
  • To remember the order oftaxa in biology

(Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species):

Dear King Philip Come Over For Good Spaghetti/Soup

Do Kings Play Chess On Friday Golf Saturday?

Do Kings Play Chess On Fat Green Stools?

Did King Paul Cry Out For Good Soup?

Do Kings Play Chess On Fine Green Silk?

Dumb Kids Prefer Candy Over Fancy Green Salad

Dumb Kids Playing Catch On Freeway Get Squashed

Do Kids Pass Chemistry Or Flunk General Science?

Does King Phillp Come Over For Grape Soda

Don’t Kill Parrot’s Carrots Or Face Gruesome Sicknesses

  • To remember the lifecycle of cells

(Interphase, Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase, Telophase, Cytokinesis):

Idiotic Penguins Make Antarctica Too Cold

I Pee More After Tea Consumption

  • To remember the common functional groups

(Hydroxyl, Carbonyl, Carboxyl, Amine, Sulfhydryl, Phosphate, Methyl):

Hair Care Can Always Save People Money

  • To remember the processes that define living things:

MRS GREN: Movement; Respiration; Sensation; Growth; Reproduction; Excretion; Nutrition

  • Metabolism; Response; Homeostasis; Growth; Reproduction; Nutrition:

My Really Hungry Grasshopper Refuses Neglect

  • To remember the roles of reproductive organs in flowers:

Stamen are male; stigma (as in mother) are female

  • To remember the number of humps on types of camels:

D in Dromedary has one hump; B in Bactrian has two

  • To remember the 6 nutrients (Water,Carbohydrates, Proteins, Minerals, Vitamins, Lipids).

What Car Protects My Vital Lips?

Order of mathematical operations

PEMDAS- Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication & Division, Addition & Subtraction can be remembered by the phrase: ‘Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally’.

BEDMAS – Brackets (parenthesis), Exponents, Division & Multiplication, Addition & Subtraction

BIDMAS – Brackets, Indices (exponents), Division, Multiplication, Addition, Subtraction

Trigonometry

ASTC stands for All Students Take Calculus, as well as the more simplified mnemonic Add Sugar To Coffee, which represents the trigonometric functions that are positive in each quadrant, beginning with the top right and continuing counterclockwise: All, sine, tangent, cosine – All Science Teachers Are Crazy – All Silver Tea Cups – Annie Spewed Terrible Curses

Remembering the definitions of sine, cosine, and tangent can be done by memorizing SOHCAHTOA, which helps to encode Sine = Opposite over Hypotenuse, Cosine = Adjacent over Hypotenuse, and Tangent = Opposite over Adjacent. These mnemonics are more useful if they can be recited in three groups of three words.

Other ways to remember SOHCAHTOA are:

Some Old Horses Can Always Hear Their Owner Approaching

Some Old Horse Came A-Hoppin’ Through Our Alley

Silly Old Henry Can’t Add Hundreds, Tens Or Anything

Some Old Hags Can’t Always Hide Their Old Age

Some Old Hippie Caught Another Hippie Tripping On Acid

SPH-CBH-TPB (sine = perpendicular/hypotenuse, cosine = base/hypotenuse, tangent = perpendicular/base)

Some People Have Curly Brown Hair Through Proper Brushing

Some People Have Curly Brown Hair Turned Permanently Black

Another odd permutation:

Oranges Have Segments, Apples Have Cores, Oranges Are Tangy

In Hindi, there is a funny mnemonic — Sona Chandi Tole Pandit Badri Prasad Har Har Bole, where:

Sona = Pandit / Har (sine = perpendicular/hypotenuse)

Chandi = Badri / Har (cosine = base/hypotenuse)

Tole = Prasad / Bole (tangent = perpendicular/base)

Let us remember that if we initiate our students into this interesting game of forming mnemonics, they will later on formulate creative ways by themselves. And that will go a long way in enabling effective teaching-learning in the higher classes. It is like building a large vocabulary when it comes to speaking a language. If you don’t have a good fat fund of words, what will you speak?

So, this is the first idea I wanted to share with you. The second idea I want to share with you all is – I have picked up some important techniques which I have used to great advantage with my students. I will explain them one by one.

We must try to provide a physical manifestation of the concepts we teach. For instance, while teaching fractions; consider we have to teach the concept of 2/7. Take a long stick and divide it into 7 parts. Place all the parts on the table and show how it can be called 7/7. If you take 2 parts away, then the arrangement would be called 2/7. A child who sees this demonstration will develop a new insight into numbers, which will blossom into something wonderful in the higher classes.

Why can’t we provide a rationale for the concept that is being taught? What do we do? We take up some idea like differential calculus. We open a standard text book, start dealing with the rules and then proceed to working out the numerical problems. Of course, our Indian boys and girls are really good at picking up unrelated bits of ideas and living their entire lives with those bits of nonsense running riot in their brains! I once read in a book how to introduce the students to the concept of Limits that forms the basis of differential calculus.

We all know the famous story of the hare and the tortoise. Let us assume that the tortoise is given a head start. After the tortoise runs for 1 hour, let us allow the hare to start running. Let us assume that in 1 hour, the tortoise has covered 100 meters. Let us assume that the hare covers this distance in 1 minute. Did the hare catch up with the tortoise? No. Why? Because in that 1 minute, the tortoise would have moved 1 inch more. Let the hare cover that 1 inch in say 1 second. Did the hare now catch up with the tortoise? No. Why? Because in that 1 second, the tortoise would have moved 1mm. Let the hare cover that distance in 1/100th of a second. Again, our linear logic tells us that the hare will never catch up with the tortoise. So, the four operations on numbers – addition, subtraction, multiplication & division – are incapable of analyzing this problem for us. We need a new operation now. And that is Calculus. When the time and distance divisions become smaller and smaller so that they approach the limit of zero, the hare will finally overtake the tortoise! Thus, in this case, the real world and mathematics will match only if we adopt this new tool called calculus.

We teachers have to provide a perspective for the concept we teach. We seldom do that. The ideas we teach are obvious to us. They need not be so obvious to our students. I recall; I was once teaching the concept of coefficient of thermal efficiency to Class IX students in Aalo. I used the standard example of the railway track, as given in the NCERT textbook. At the end of the class, I saw blank expressions in the eyes of my students. I delved inside their minds to find out where the disconnect had happened. Why hadn’t they understood what was to me a very simple concept? Do you know what I found out? Those students hadn’t ever seen a real railway track! The only tracks they had seen were in TV and movies. You never get to see the gap in the tracks in the movies or TV, you see.

How about making the students aware of multiple approaches to same problem? Many of us have the habit of teaching according to the ‘syllabuses’. Then there are the five-year or ten-year question papers. A lot of today’s education is governed by these two – syllabus & past question papers. I once overheard one of my teachers; a boy had asked him something; this sage replied, ‘Hey, that is not in your syllabus; they will never ask that in the Exam; don’t bother!’ And, we all worry – why don’t the students of the present generation respect us anymore?! Anyway, we need to make students aware of more than one method of approaching the same problem. Take the example of Factorization. Let us say, we need to find the factors of (x2+5x+6). This is exactly of the [x2+(a+b)x+ab] = (x+a)(x+b) form. With a=2 and b=3, we can factorize this expression as (x+2)(x+3). Well, that is one way of doing it. If we make the students work out many problems of this type,

Then there is another way too. Suppose we need to factorize (x2+5x+7). The students cannot do this with the technique we taught them. They will need another technique for this. Hence we will teach them about roots of the quadratic equation. : . Now, the original expression itself will be seen in a different form, not the [x2+(a+b)x+ab] form, but as (ax2+bx+c). Then we teach the students that these two forms of the quadratic equation are indeed one and the same, interchangeable.

Another important technique I learnt about teaching Science to students is to explain the historical background for those concepts. Take for instance thermodynamics. We know that there is the Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics. Now, how can someone name a law as the Zeroth Law? It is unimaginable. Listen to a story.

There was a numismatic exhibition. Many famous coin-collectors had put up their collections on exhibition. There was a prize for the rarest coin. The prize went to a person who had exhibited a coin which mentioned ‘53 BC’! Now, how can someone print BC on a coin? BC means before Christ. How the hell did the people at that time know that they were 53 years before the birth of Christ?! That coin was fake!

Similarly, with this Zeroth Law! How could anyone know that this was the Zeroth Law? Any sane person would have named it the First Law of Thermodynamics. What actually happened was this: the 1st, 2nd & 3rd Laws of Thermodynamics were enunciated long ago. Then, sometime in the 1930s, there was a British Science teacher called Fowler who was teaching Thermodynamics from a book written by two Indians Saha & Srivastava. In this book, on the 1st page itself, the two authors have mentioned the principle of equivalence of temperatures. Fowler realized that if the three known laws of thermodynamics have to stand, then this equivalence principle was fundamental. Hence, he couldn’t name it as the fourth law of thermodynamics and was constrained to name it the Zeroth Law! That is how it happened.

Lastly, I wish to emphasize the idea of teaching students to imagine vividly, in pictures. We have to understand this world around us. We need a language to do that. Mathematics evolved as that language. However, we can still think quite clearly about everything in this world without resorting to Math. This habit has to develop. After sufficient failure in dealing with this world purely in pictures, we will be forced to resort to Math; not before! The mistake we do is to introduce Math to students without allowing them to struggle with the situation purely armed with their imagination. For instance, take this problem[1]:

A boat carrying a large stone is floating on a lake. The stone is thrown overboard and sinks. The water in the lake, with respect to the shore

  1. Rises
  2. Drops
  3. Remains the same.

It is possible to imagine what happens here. The answer can be arrived at by purely imagination. Math is not required to answer this question. However, if we need to find out how much the boat will rise after the stone is thrown, we will need to use numbers, not until then.

So, I have shared some of my ideas about teaching Science & Math with you all. I believe I have set the tenor for the workshop. I hope the next three days will be profitable to all of you. I pray to Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna to shower His blessings on you all and on this EMRS Jhargram School.

***************

[1] These problems are called “Mazur’s Concept tests”.

Self-Management

{Delivered at Larsen & Toubro Ltd, MMHIC Headquarters, Godrej Towers, Newtown, Kolkata on 25th August 2014}

 Om sthapakaya cha dharmasya sarva dharma svarupine

Avatara varishtaya ramakrishaya te namaha.

Many thanks to Mrs Minakshi Bhattacharya for introducing me to you all; Revered Swami Sarvapriyanandaji Maharaj & dear friends, I begin today’s session by offering my pranams to Rev Swamiji here. Let me explain to you the details of today’s programme. First of all, I will speak for about 15 to 20 minutes on ‘Self-Management’ from the monastic point of view. Then Rev Swami Sarvapriyanandaji will speak for about 30 to 45 minutes on ‘Self-Management’ from the corporate point of view.

I worked in a corporate house just like this some 15 years ago. Then, I joined the Ramakrishna Mission. Ramakrishna Mission too is a corporate entity. It is also an organization, just as yours is. Of course, many will object saying that while yours is a ‘For-profit’ organization, Ramakrishna Mission is a ‘Non-profit’ organization. Yet, both are organizations, having rules and procedures and personnel and dealing with services and money and other kindred aspects concomitant with being an organization. Similarly, problems you find in your organization will be found in Ramakrishna Mission too. In fact, when I first joined the Mission, I would very keenly observe for these matching points. And then, what I discovered in each case was a paradigm altering view-point. I shall explain one of them to you today.

I remember my days in the corporate world. I remember very well that my entire life was governed by a foreboding sense of fear, of a perpetual apprehension. ‘What’s going to happen to me? Will my boss be kind to me with my annual performance appraisal? I hope I get a good rating this time. Does my boss know that the vital idea for that particular project came from me? I hope I get confirmed in my post this year. I hope that goof-up I made on that particular site doesn’t weigh down upon my personal records’ and stuff like that. I found that more often than not, my attention was pegged on the ‘other’ man out there, say, my boss or my seniors. So much of energy gets frittered away on things outside of me, on people around me. My happiness, my peace of mind depended on what the ‘other’ man out there felt about me! Although I felt this was ridiculous, I slowly started learning the mechanics of leading life like that; some of my friends in the company didn’t approve of it. I thought perhaps remaining aloof as they did from this ridiculous social rigmarole would keep them happy. But it didn’t. They would drink their fears away! I reckoned that it was better to go through the foolish social rigmarole than to drown oneself in the haze of alcohol and frustrated soft middle age! Anyway, what I was trying to tell you was that fear governed my life. And it wasn’t just me. So with all my friends; and the worst part of it was – so was it with my boss! I feared him; and he feared the one above him; and he also feared me, for he had no clue what I would do behind his back! And thus it went on. You see, fear is terrible. It leads to very strange situations. A man was once walking along a road. He saw that two policemen were walking behind him, a little far away. He stole a look at both of them. He suddenly felt that their faces and their animated body language seemed to tell him that both of them were discussing about him and that they suspected him about something. A fear enveloped him and he bolted. As soon as the two policemen saw that the man before them was running, they gave chase. He came across a huge iron gate. He jumped over it and entered a graveyard. There was a freshly dug out grave. He jumped into it and hid there. But it wasn’t long before the law enforcement officers caught him there. They asked him why he was hiding there. When they asked him that question, he realized that he had acted in haste and that he was never a suspect in the first place. He gave an answer which I appreciate a lot. He said, “Officer, you have asked a simple question. But I assure you that I cannot give you an equally simple answer to that question. All I can safely tell you is this – I am here because of you both, and the both of you are here because of me!

Our actions are most of the times knee-jerk reactions when we act out of fear. You won’t even know what real work is until you start working in a fear-free environment.

Then I joined Ramakrishna Mission and what a breath of fresh air it was! Don’t we have appraisals here? Yes we do. But then, we are free to remain as we wish, true to our own selves. Your suckering up to your immediate superior doesn’t affect your appraisal in any way. Here I found that one could truly remain true to himself and in that sort of environment alone does work become a joy. I used to feel surprised that work was stressful before. Now, work is a joy. I don’t need any further ‘entertainment’ after work for refreshing myself. The work I do is in itself quite refreshing to me. I don’t need to take vacations. In fact, ever since I joined Ramakrishna Mission, till date, I haven’t gone on a vacation. And I still feel fresh, rejuvenated. Don’t we have deadlines here? We manage huge institutions. Naturally, crises occur; deadlines have to be met; personnel problems arise; legal battles have to be fought; very similar to what you all face. But, the centering in our own self that is possible in Ramakrishna Mission makes it possible to experience a ‘flow’ in the job we do.

After a few years in the Mission, I analyzed where the difference was. I was able to pin it down to the view I had about myself. In a company like yours, I have value based on what my boss perceives about me. In this organization, my value is based on what I intrinsically am. Others’ perception doesn’t matter and doesn’t evaluate me. Suppose I were a manager in your company and I were to be made an Asst manager! Imagine the stigma that would attach to me! I would seriously consider resigning from my job. Not so in this Mission. Today I may be a Principal in a huge School or College. Tomorrow I may be manning a books show-room, selling books. My value hasn’t changed one single bit here. I am not evaluated by the post I hold now. I remain a monk, whether I am in the School at its helm or in a poultry-farm rearing chicken for our students hostel.

Then I analyzed how this change in my view about myself had come about in me, since my joining the Ramakrishna Mission. I was able to zone it down to one single practice that I was asked to perform every day. I was routinely allotted duties in the Ashrama I stayed in. I was asked to perform my allotted duties sincerely, in an ‘unattached’ fashion. Ah! The catch is there; most of us work sincerely even in an organization like yours. But then ‘unattached’ work – well, that is difficult. What exactly is this ‘unattached’ work? Let me tell you a story.

There was once a king whose close friend was a monk. This king, as you all can understand, had a very stressful job.  Indeed, what job can indeed be more stressful than that of an all-powerful, absolute monarch?  So, one day he went to meet his friend the monk in the forest and told him, ‘I am fed up with running this kingdom. I have decided to renounce it all and go somewhere and live a low-key, peaceful life.’ The monk commented, ‘Is that so? Well, let me see…you must certainly have made provisions for your successor?’ The king had made no such arrangement. His own son was but a small boy. But he was planning to choose someone from his large kingdom so that he could hand over its reins and be free. However, since he was a conscientious king, who took his kingship very seriously, there was a nagging fear that he might not get the right kind of successor who would care for his immense kingdom just the way he had done all these  years. The monk understood all this. He volunteered, ‘Say, why don’t you gift your kingdom to me?’ The king was overjoyed. Where could he get a better successor than his closest friend?! So, he gave away his kingdom to the monk. There was a visible relief on the king’s face now. The monk asked him, ‘Where will you go now? What is your next plan?’ The king said, ‘Well, I will now go to my palace, take some money, go to a neighboring kingdom. I know many trades. I will earn my livelihood there.’ The monk stopped him, ‘Hey, wait. Did you say ‘my palace’ just now? Remember that the palace, along with everything in the kingdom is now mine!’ The king was indeed taken aback. Yes, what the monk said was indeed true. Without another word, he turned and was about to go away when the monk stopped him and said, ‘Say, my friend, you said you are ready to go elsewhere and do some job and earn your living. What do you say if I offer you a job right here?’ This was indeed acceptable and he agreed. Then the monk said, ‘Well, you see, I have just come upon this huge kingdom. I am a monk. I live according the voice in my soul. I need a trust-worthy man to look after this beautiful kingdom on my behalf.  You have sufficient experience in running kingdoms. Say, I will fix a certain amount as salary for you.  Why don’t you run this kingdom on my behalf?’ The king readily agreed. Thus he went back to his palace and went about managing his kingdom exactly the same way as it was before. A month later, the monk came to meet the king in the palace. He asked the king, ‘How are you? Are you facing any problems now?’ The king now replied, ‘I am doing fine. Problems, yes, of course there are; but I and my team of ministers keep solving them on your behalf.’

That is how you do ‘unattached’ work. I was taught to offer all the work I do to the Lord. Thus I would do a whole lot of work in the course of the day, and then I would offer all that to the Lord and I was a free man once again. How do you offer ‘work’ to the Lord? Flowers and stuff we can offer. How does one offer an intangible thing like ‘work’ to the Lord? Well, you may have noticed that I began today’s programme with a prayer. I am now delivering my speech. I will finish it by uttering another prayer and go my way with the peace of mind that I did all this as a loving offering to my Lord.

I do not claim that I am an expert in all this, or that I am a perfected man. But this much is true; I have practiced these things, just as I have explained to you now. And I have reaped enormous benefits for myself. So much so that I am able to compare myself to my own condition before I joined Ramakrishna Mission with my condition thereafter. Sometimes I have felt, if I had been taught this wonderful practice even while I was working in the other organization, perhaps I wouldn’t have felt the need to leave it and join Ramakrishna Mission. For, is it not possible to work as I have delineated just now, in your company, for instance? Perhaps it is possible. I don’t know. But then, there is one thing. If I had not joined Ramakrishna Mission, perhaps I wouldn’t have picked up this mode of working at all! It wasn’t easy for me in Ramakrishna Mission either, picking up this mode of working ‘unattachedly’. Again and again, I would forget. That would invariably lead to inter-personal problems. Again and again I would pick myself up and go about it. Over the years, it became sort of a habit.

Later on, I read Swami Vivekananda’s books and came to know that he had envisaged such a revolution among the masses; you know – a revolution in their thinking, in their mode of working. According to Swami Vivekananda, it wasn’t enough that his monks alone work like this. He wanted that everyone in India should work like this – unattached; well, at least the majority should work like that. That is what he envisaged.

How are the masses to work ‘unattachedly’? Which form of God are they going to offer their work to? Well, they will offer their work to whichever form of God appeals to them. Also, one can work unattachedly even when one doesn’t believe in God. How? The organization itself will be his highest ideal. There will have to be an apotheosis of the organization. Recall for instance India’s freedom struggle. Most of the great men of that period considered our nation as their highest ideal, apotheosizing it to a Goddess, and every act of theirs was an offering to Her. Similarly, for those of us who do not or cannot believe in what we cannot see, then we will have to metamorphose our conception of the organization for which we work into the highest ideal and then consider our work as an offering to that metamorphosed version of our company. Why offer again, some may ask. Duty isn’t enough. Offering is required. There is a small difference. Duty is a compulsion. Offering is voluntary. I remember a friend telling me once. He had just returned from Japan. This was in the early 2000s. He said that his Japanese friend’s shift started from 8am and ended at 5pm. But every day he found his friend arrives at the factory at 7am and leave at 6pm. He checked to see if he claimed any OT benefits. No, he didn’t. He asked him. The Japanese friend told him that the two hours were for his country and the 8 hours were for his company. I was stunned when I heard this. No wonder a country no bigger than West Bengal is today the 3rd largest economy in the world.

I don’t know the basis of their thinking. But here, in our country, we have a strong philosophy that backs such an outlook. So, I am very optimistic that in the years to come, we will see innumerable people take to this mode of working; a mode of working which is actually a spiritual practice; a mode of working which yields worldly fruits as well as confers spiritual benefits on the worker.

I leave you all with these ideas. I shall meet you all again. Thank you for patiently hearing me. Now, I too will sit peacefully over there and listen to Rev Swami Sarvapriyanandaji. I must inform you all that Rev Swamiji is one of the most sought after speakers today in Ramakrishna Mission. I too look forward to an intellectual treat from him today.

Om shantih, shantih, shantihi. Harihi Om, Sri Ramakrishnarpanam astu.

******************

Swami Vivekananda: His new monastic Order

Swami Nirvanananda Memorial Lecture

at

Ramakrishna Math, Bhubaneswar

on 25th July 2015

 Om sthapakaya cha dharmasya sarva dharma svarupine

Avatara varishtaya Ramakrishnaya te namaha.

Revered Secretary Maharaj, dear Mihir Maharaj and dear devotees and friends, generally, in our Order, we do not speak after our Revered Secretary Maharaj has spoken. Today I am making an exception because Revered Maharaj has himself asked me to speak after him.

I have come from Ramakrishna Mission Shilpamandira, Belur Math. It is a Polytechnic College where we give training to Diploma students. Belur Math, as you all know, is the headquarters of the worldwide Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, two organizations started by Swami Vivekananda.

Today’s topic for deliberation is ‘Swami Vivekananda: His new monastic Order’. The topic has the words ‘New monastic Order’. This suggests that there are at least two types of monastic orders – the old one and the new one. I will tell you some things about the old monastic order so that you will be able to appreciate the new one founded by Swamiji.

Who is a monk? Or, what is monasticism? And what is a monastic order? A monk is person who has dedicated his life for God realization. That is the single aim of his life. Monasticism is therefore a way of life, distinct from that of the majority of the people in the world. What do I mean? The majority of the people in the world are born, go to schools and colleges, learn some skills, engage in some profitable activity, earn money, get married, have children, grow old and die. The Hindu way of life has designed that all these activities be sanctified by certain rituals called ‘Samskaras’, so that by participating in these activities, he or she may also further one’s spiritual evolution. A person is born. There is a samskara to be done. Then the child is named and that has another samskara or ritual. Then the first food, weaning away from the mother’s breast and that has another ritual. Then marriage, another ritual. And so on until death, which is the final rite or ‘Antima Samskara’. Thus, society has prescribed specific rules and regulations on every person born into society.

Thousands of years ago, there arose a rebellion against being bound like this by social rituals. They claimed that they be allowed to lead a life unfettered by social bindings and their claim was based on the fact that right from childhood or youth, that is, after their formal education, they would like to delve into the method and means of God realization directly. They did not want to go through the circuitous route of the society. They would stay away from society and achieve the same goal. Society also prescribes the same goal for those who stay inside its confines. Their goal is also God realization. However, there are too many rules, regulations, duties, and responsibilities associated with life in society. Some people wanted to be freed from all those bindings and be allowed to engage in self-discovery directly, by the path known as Yoga. These were actually social outlaws. They are the monks. They perform a grand ritual known as Viraja Homa and sever all connections with society. They will not produce anything. They will not produce wealth or children. They are out of all competition. If you analyze the innumerable activities that people do in this world, you will find that all of them will fall into these two categories – production of wealth and production of progeny. A monk declares that he is out of both of these. What else is there to do? Does he not eat and wear clothes? Where does he get them?

The only activity of the monk is to realize God. His only activity is meditation. When he does not meditate, he may spend some time talking to people about his spiritual practices, his own realizations and discussing the practices and realizations of other monks of the past, which are enshrined in our holy books. That is all he is allowed to do. Society in India, even thousands of years ago, acknowledged this mode of living and said that it would support such people with bare food and clothing. That is how monks came into existence. When their numbers grew, there came about classifications among them too. There were rules worked out for them too, but these rules were mainly codes of conduct for the monks. This led to the formation of ‘Monastic Orders’. Monks who followed a certain set of rules of conduct claimed to belong to a certain monastic order. Over the centuries, [and I am speaking of a time much before the Buddha here], these monks got classified into two types – the wanderer and the settler. They were called ‘Bahudaka’ and ‘Kutichaka’.

The Hindu society did one more grand thing. When they recognized the validity of this claim of some people to be let free from the social bindings, they tried to incorporate this urge for freedom into their social structure itself. The leaders of society declared that every person would be accorded this freedom in the last stage of his life on earth. A person would study, set up a house, rear up his kids and get them settled in life and then, he and his wife could take monastic vows. This decision was a stroke of genius, for, it ensured that there wouldn’t be an exodus of people away from society into monasticism. If such an exodus occurred, society would crumble down. In due course of time, certain other conditions too got added on concerning caste. Slowly, all learning got accumulated among these forest recluses, and hence their power grew to a great extent. These subtle oppressions necessitated a transformation in monasticism that the Buddha brought about.

Buddha himself was a Bahudaka monk. He was a Vedantic monk. Later on, he brought about some vital changes into monasticism. These changes were so drastic that those monks had a tough time integrating with the mainstream Hindu monks and hence they developed as a separate type of monks called Buddhist monks.

These Buddhist monks spread all over the known world and from some of those monks, Jesus Christ was deeply influenced. And from him grew yet another category of monks called the Christian monks. We must understand that the Christian monks lived in a society that was totally different from the Indian society that had given birth to the monastic lifestyle. Hence, the Christian monks lived by working and producing things of value for the society. Of all the known religions of the world, only Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity have monastic orders. [Jainism recognizes monasticism, but then, Jains are generally considered as a part of Hinduism.]

Hindu monasticism underwent three major transformations before Swamiji. The Buddhist transformation was the first. Centuries before the Buddha, Hindu monasticism had started and had thrived in India. But, there were some criteria for allowing a person to leave the society and take up monkhood. Also, more often than not, monkhood was considered as the last stage of life. A person was directed to live a full life in society, following all its rules and regulations, contribute in terms of wealth and progeny to society and when he reached an age of retirement, he was allowed to accept monastic vows. Therefore, we find even today that the purificatory mantras one chants before becoming a monk expiates him from all sorts of sins, even the sins of killing Brahmins, warriors and fetuses! But, people were not allowed to become monks without first having lived in society and served the society by contributing wealth and progeny. So, typically, a person was supposed to have picked up some skills in life during his youth; then he was supposed to have engaged in some gainful activity and produced wealth. Then he was supposed to have married and set up house. Then he was supposed to have produced a couple of children and reared them up. When the children had married and had set up their own houses, he was given permission from society to leave his own house and all that he had created in society and retire to the forest. In the forest, he generally set up a small hut, lived with his wife, and engaged in spiritual pursuits. Often, young boys and girls would also come from society and live with him. He would teach them the various skills he knew. Sometimes, the monk would remain a wanderer, without any fixed hermitage, especially if he was a widower. This was the scene until Buddha came.

Buddha brought about a great change in Hindu monasticism by relaxing many of these norms. He allowed anyone, at any stage of life, to become a monk. This transformation was so drastic that finally Hinduism had to dissociate itself from Buddha’s ideas. But the one change that remained in Hindu monasticism was the concept of the Akhada. Before Buddha, Hindu monks either lived in small hermitages or were free wanderers. Buddha’s influence remained in Hindu monasticism in the form of Akhadas. These were very large hermitages with an Abbot. The daily activities of the Akhada were managed by the Abbot and a team of monks. Apart from this Abbot & his team, innumerable monks lived in the Akhadas, without any fixed duties, engaged in spiritual pursuits, free to come and go as they fancied. There were general rules of conduct to be followed.

Later on, Acharya Shankara brought about tremendous systematization into Hindu monasticism. He classified Hindu monks into ten different orders of monks. All the extant Vedas and Upanishads were allotted to the various orders of monks for safekeeping and cultivation of the spiritual culture. He further established four monasteries in India and gave charge to the Abbots of these monasteries for these ten orders of monks. He felt the need to start these four monasteries because in the wake of the Buddha’s revolutionary transformations, the forest hermitages had lost their relevance, and they needed to be revived.

Gradually, Islam entered into India and started persecuting the Hindu monks. Innumerable monks died in the onslaughts of Islamic rulers. Another monk called Madhusudhana Saraswati brought about another transformation at this time. He started a new wing in each of the ten orders of Vedanta monks called the Naga wing. These monks were warriors and monks at the same time. If any attack occurred on the monasteries or on wandering monks, these Naga monks would fight back for self-protection. They carried all sorts of arms but followed a policy of ‘not-attacking-first’.

Now, the traditional Hindu monasticism is as I have described until now.

As I said, the old monastic orders prescribed that the only goal of a monk was to realize God. And the path for realizing God also was prescribed. It was a complete negation of everything of this world. For, it is the things of this world that held us back from God. Hence, the monk renounced everything of this world, that is, of this society. The motto of the traditional monk was ‘Atmano mokshartha sanyasahrama grahanam’ – that is, ‘Embracing monasticism for the sake of self-liberation (i.e. God realization)’. The conception of the goal was also a very interesting thing. I told you about the three reformations in Hindu monasticism that happened before Swami Vivekananda. One of the important things that Acharya Shankara introduced into monasticism was a particular conception of the goal. He specified that the goal was Nirvikalpa Samadhi and nothing else. Until that time, the goal was quite flexible. There used to be monks who strove to obtain a vision of a particular deity; that was the proclaimed goal for which they had renounced society. But Acharya Shankara changed that. He directed that nothing less than Nirvikalpa Samadhi would the goal of monks and that all monks who wished to adopt monasticism under the Vedanta tradition would have to compulsorily accept Nirvikalpa Samadhi as the goal.

This had a strange fallout on the monastic society as well as the Indian society. Acharya Shankara, apart from proclaiming the goal of monks, also prescribed the particular path along which the monks had to tread in order to realize that goal. That path was the ‘path of negation’ in accordance with the Advaita Vedanta School of philosophy that he had rigorously established through his treatises and commentaries on the Upanishads, Gita and Brahma Sutras. As a result, everything belonging to this world had to be renounced as useless. Every pursuit or activity pertaining to this world was condemned as a distraction and hence had to be rejected. The goal was one of perfect inactivity; it was a state of pure Being; doing was a fall from that supreme state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Hence, a gradual devaluation of all kinds of activity occurred in the monastic society. This slowly rubbed itself onto the larger Indian society as a whole, since, it was these monks who taught religious pursuits to the people in the society.

The first two transformations wrought by Buddha and then by Acharya Shankara had another very detrimental repercussion on the Indian society. Before Buddha, Hindu monasticism was open mainly to persons who had lived a full life in society. By a full life, I mean, they had worked hard in some gainful activity, produced wealth, got married, begot children, strove to get their children educated and married and only then were they eligible for monastic life. In this scheme of things, the presence of these social outlaws did not affect the efficacy of the society. Buddha changed this delicate structure and declared that anyone, in any stage of life, could take monastic vows. This change had on the one hand completely disturbed the delicate balance of the economy and on the other hand had brought in unspeakable degradation into monastic society. Of course, we must understand that these detrimental changes occurred over a period of a few centuries and they were simply fallouts of Buddha’s policy and were not intended specifically by the Buddha at all! So Acharya Shankara made it a norm that only those people could become monks who decided to do so right from their childhood and not later on. Married people couldn’t become monks. Further, women were deprived of the right to become nuns, since much of the post Buddhist degradation could be traced to the free intermixing of monks and nuns.

Both these developments led to a very strange outcome in the Indian society. Firstly, the man in the society started developing an inferiority complex with respect to oneself. Secondly, marriage was considered as a compromise to one’s inability to lead a celibate’s life and hence the married man was always lower in spiritual stature compared to a monk. Thirdly, any activity, especially wealth creation was considered as unholy since all spiritual pursuits called for complete renunciation of all activity. Fourthly, women became liabilities since they were barred from all higher spiritual pursuits.

I must clarify one thing here. When I say that these problems were the fallouts of Buddha’s and Shankara’s attempts at transformation, I do not mean that these two great prophets meant it to be like that. That would be an absurd conclusion. The great ones proclaim the truth, as they perceive it. Society then starts working it out and ends up muddling it up.

This is the ‘old monastic order’ that I wanted to describe to you before starting on today’s topic. Against the background of these ideas, you will be able to appreciate what exactly Swami Vivekananda achieved by establishing the ‘new monastic order’.

Sometime in 1886, the young boy Naren lived in Cossipore Garden House with Sri Ramakrishna, where the latter was being treated for his throat cancer. Along with nursing their Guru, the young boys led by Naren engaged in spiritual practices too. One day, Naren experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi. When he regained normal consciousness, he went to Sri Ramakrishna and told him that he wished to remain immersed in that blessed state of consciousness. But Sri Ramakrishna chided him, ‘Is that all! I thought you were different, but I see that you are very small minded. Let me tell you, there is a state of consciousness that lies beyond Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Aim for that.’ This state of consciousness that lies beyond Nirvikalpa Samadhi is called ‘Bhavamukha’.

Let us consider the above-mentioned event in detail. Naren had already achieved the goal of traditional monasticism. All that was left for him to do was to accept the formal vows of Sannyasa. Such monks, who accept monastic vows after achieving the goal, are called ‘Vidwat Sanyasis’. Generally, monks accept formal monastic vows and then attempt to achieve the goal throughout their lives. These monks are called ‘Vividisha Sanyasis’. Naren was a traditional vidwat sannyasin. He had already achieved his goal of personal liberation, having experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi. And in such a circumstance, his Guru is exhorting him to go beyond! What indeed can be there beyond the grand goal of Nirvikalpa Samadhi?

Sri Ramakrishna too had accepted formal monastic vows from his Guru Tota Puri. Under Tota Puri’s guidance, he too had experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Having experienced that supreme state of consciousness, he remained in that blessed state for six months. His Nirvikalpa Samadhi rendered him utterly useless even to safeguard his own body! He couldn’t even eat. By a strange coincidence of events, a young man had come to Dakshineshwar at that time that recognized the supreme state in which Sri Ramakrishna lived. He realized that if this man did not eat, his body would simply fall down like a dried leaf falls from a tree. So, every day, he would take a long stick, beat Sri Ramakrishna’s body repeatedly, and bring him down to normal consciousness for a little while, during which time he would force a few morsels of food down his throat. And immediately after that, Sri Ramakrishna would merge himself in Nirvikalpa Samadhi again. This went on for about six months. Then, Sri Ramakrishna slowly started to accustom himself to coming down to a state of consciousness a bit below Nirvikalpa Samadhi.

Nirvikalpa Samadhi is a state of consciousness that occurs when there is only one thought-wave in the mind. That thought-wave is the wave of self-consciousness. It is a state where one is completely identified with consciousness per-sé, there being no predicate for that consciousness. It is a state where one is merely “aware”, not aware of one, two, or more things; there is awareness; there is not even the awareness that I am aware. It is said to be the state where one has become awareness itself. One reaches this state only after one has rigorously renounced every thought about others and about oneself and has, for a protracted period, concentrated purely on the awareness burning within oneself. Sri Ramakrishna attained this state and lived in that state for six long months. Then, Sri Ramakrishna slowly started to accustom himself to coming down to a state of consciousness a bit below Nirvikalpa Samadhi. He wasn’t the first person to have done this. Innumerable people before him had done this. However, in this case there was a vital difference.

In all the previous cases, this coming down to normal consciousness from Nirvikalpa Samadhi was considered as a “fall” from the supreme state. This was therefore followed by an attempt to regain that state of bliss. Moreover, the exact state of consciousness in which one would remain after coming down from Nirvikalpa Samadhi was left to chance, more or less. Sri Ramakrishna made a great deviation here. On the one hand, he did not consider his coming down from Nirvikalpa Samadhi as a “fall” because he had his ‘Divine Mother” to fall back upon. He interpreted his coming down as the will of the Divine Mother. He could do this because of the unique path he had followed on the way up to Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Unlike the others before him, he hadn’t followed the path of total negation up to the top. He held on to his Divine Mother until the end. He was able to use his conception of the Divine Mother and merge everything that he perceived into Her form. Having done that, there were only two left – he and his Divine Mother. In the final step, he took the sword of knowledge that was in his Divine Mother’s hand and cleaved Her divine form into bits. With that final act, he passed on to the supreme state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi. In other words, he had effectively perceived that his Divine Mother showed Herself to him in Her popular form as Kali sometimes and some other times, if it fancied Her, She would reveal Herself to him as pure awareness, without any form. After spending those six months in undifferentiated consciousness, Sri Ramakrishna learned to slowly accustom himself with states of consciousness that occur when he came down from there. He could come down all the way to the state of perceiving multiplicity like we all do. He could also come down to the state where he was aware of only himself and his Divine Mother. There was however a distinct state of consciousness just below Nirvikalpa Samadhi, but above the state where he perceived his Divine Mother alone. In this state, he was able to perceive that there was an underlying sea of consciousness that took the forms of everything that we see as individual things in our normal state of consciousness. He slowly started to dwell in this state of consciousness. He named this state as “Bhavamukha”, as I mentioned a little while ago.

While chiding Naren about his proclivity towards Nirvikalpa Samadhi, Sri Ramakrishna told Naren that “Bhavamukha” was the ideal for which people have to strive for. And he trained his young disciples like Naren, Rakhal, Baburam, Shashi, Hari and others to attain to this state and live after his demise. Further, he exhorted Naren to find out a new path for leading the masses to this ideal.

Even while he was alive, he informally conferred monasticism on these young boys. Later on, after his demise, these boys took monastic vows formally and became monks belonging to the Puri Order of Vedanta monks, in keeping with the monastic tradition of their Guru Sri Ramakrishna. Although these monks belonged to the old tradition, during their lifetime, they instituted some amazing changes in their monasteries and next generation monks.

There were two of these young monks who spearheaded this transition from the old to new state of affairs. One was Swami Vivekananda and the other was Swami Brahmananda. Swami Vivekananda realized in due course the greater implication of the chiding that Sri Ramakrishna had given him long ago when he had innocently and sincerely asked to remain immersed in Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Having understood that, he set himself to work. He carefully placed before humanity the new ideal that his Guru had revealed, the state of Bhavamukha. Did he undo Acharya Shankara’s work by this? No. One may still aim for achieving Nirvikalpa Samadhi. But Swamiji said that it would be wrong to stay immersed in it. For, that would mean that Nirvikalpa Samadhi alone was the Reality. But, multiplicity is the same Reality too! One has to aim for achieving that supreme state and then further aim to come down to the state of Bhavamukha and interact with everyone in this world in myriad ways. Simultaneously, Swamiji also specified the path to be followed for achieving this new goal. The new ideal called for action. What action? Every action that springs up from society trying to sustain itself. For, the new goal is to see that society itself but another form of the Reality that reveals itself as the Divine Mother and as undifferentiated consciousness in Nirvikalpa Samadhi.

Sister Nivedita explains this most wonderfully as follows: “…as Sri Ramakrishna expressed (it), ‘God is both with form and without form. And He is that which includes both form and formlessness.’ It is this that adds its crowning significance to our Master’s (Swami Vivekananda’s) life, for here he becomes the meeting-point, not only of East and West, but also of past and future. If the many and the One be indeed the same Reality, then it is not all modes of worship alone, but equally all modes of work, all modes of struggle, all modes of creation, which are paths of realization. No distinction, henceforth, between sacred and secular. To labour is to pray. To conquer is to renounce. Life is itself religion. To have and to hold is as stern a trust as to quit and to avoid. This is the realization that makes Vivekananda the great preacher of Karma, not as divorced from, but as expressing Jnâna and Bhakti. To him, the workshop, the study, the farmyard, and the field are as true and fit scenes for the meeting of God with man as the cell of the monk or the door of the temple. To him, there is no difference between service of man and worship of God, between manliness and faith, between true righteousness and spirituality. All his words, from one point of view, read as a commentary upon this central conviction. ‘Art, science, and religion’, he said once, ‘are but three different ways of expressing a single truth. But in order to understand this we must have the theory of Advaita (Vedanta).

Swamiji wanted the masses in India and the world to espouse this new ideal of Bhavamukha. The present day world is ripe for adopting it. This ideal answers the spiritual needs of the modern man. How would he do that? He understood that unless he had a pilot team who could exhibit its efficacy, the masses would have trouble grasping it. So, he established a monastery in Belur in Howrah. Many young men had joined the fledgling Ramakrishna Math in Baranagore and Alambazar when Swamiji was in the West. Now he rallied all of them at Belur and started training them in a new way. He gave them a rallying motto ‘Atmano mokshartham jagaddhitaya cha sannyasashrama grahanam’. I quote from a lecture that is recorded in the book ‘Lectures from Colombo to Almora’:

A parting Address was given to Swamiji by the junior Sannyâsins of the Math (Belur), on the eve of his leaving for the West for the second time. The following is the substance of Swamiji’s reply as entered in the Math Diary on 19th June 1899:

This is not the time for a long lecture. But I shall speak to you in brief about a few things which I should like you to carry into practice. First, we have to understand the ideal, and then the methods by which we can make it practical. Those of you who are Sannyasins must try to do good to others, for Sannyasa means that. There is no time to deliver a long discourse on “Renunciation”, but I shall very briefly characterize it as “the love of death”. Worldly people love life. The Sannyasin is to love death. Are we to commit suicide then? Far from it. For suicides are not lovers of death, as it is often seen that when a man trying to commit suicide fails, he never attempts it for a second time. What is the love of death then? We must die, that is certain; let us die then for a good cause. Let all our actions — eating, drinking, and everything that we do — tend towards the sacrifice of our self. You nourish your body by eating. What good is there in doing that if you do not hold it as a sacrifice to the well-being of others? You nourish your minds by reading books. There is no good in doing that unless you hold it also as a sacrifice to the whole world. For the whole world is one; you are rated a very insignificant part of it, and therefore it is right for you that you should serve your millions of brothers rather than aggrandize this little self. 

“With hands and feet everywhere, with eyes, heads, and mouths everywhere, with ears everywhere in the universe, That exists pervading all.” (Gita, XIII. 13)

Thus you must die a gradual death. In such a death is heaven, all good is stored therein — and in its opposite is all that is diabolical and evil.

Then as to the methods of carrying the ideals into practical life. First, we have to understand that we must not have any impossible ideal. An ideal, which is too high, makes a nation weak and degraded. This happened after the Buddhist and the Jain reforms. On the other hand, too much practicality is also wrong. If you have not even a little imagination, if you have no ideal let guide you, you are simply a brute. So we must not lower our ideal, neither are we to lose sight of practicality. We must avoid the two extremes. In our country, the old idea is to sit in a cave and meditate and die. To go ahead of others in salvation is wrong. One must learn sooner or later that one cannot get salvation if one does not try to seek the salvation of his brothers. You must try to combine in your life immense idealism with immense practicality. You must be prepared to go into deep meditation now, and the next moment you must be ready to go and cultivate these fields (Swamiji said, pointing to the meadows of the Math). You must be prepared to explain the difficult intricacies of the Shâstras now, and the next moment to go and sell the produce of the fields in the market. You must be prepared for all menial services, not only here, but elsewhere also.

The next thing to remember is that the aim of this institution is to make men. You must not merely learn what the Rishis taught. Those Rishis are gone, and their opinions are also gone with them. You must be Rishis yourselves. You are also men as much as the greatest men that were ever born — even our Incarnations. What can mere book-learning do? What can meditation do even? What can the Mantras and Tantras do? You must stand on your own feet. You must have this new method — the method of man-making. The true man is he who is strong as strength itself and yet possesses a woman’s heart. You must feel for the millions of beings around you, and yet you must be strong and inflexible and you must also possess Obedience; though it may seem a little paradoxical — you must possess these apparently conflicting virtues. If your superior order you to throw yourself into a river and catch a crocodile, you must first obey and then reason with him. Even if the order be wrong, first obey and then contradict it. The bane of sects, especially in Bengal, is that if any one happens to have a different opinion, he immediately starts a new sect, he has no patience to wait. So you must have a deep regard for your Sangha. There is no place for disobedience here. Crush it out without mercy. No disobedient members here, you must turn them out. There must not be any traitors in the camp. You must be as free as the air, and as obedient as this plant and the dog.

Here Swamiji very clearly states that as compared to the old order of monastic life, he was initiating a new order of monasticism. And that these young monks would be the torchbearers of this new kind of monastic life. He placed a new ideal before the young monks. Then he prescribed a new method of achieving that new ideal. Is that ideal different from the old ideal of Nirvikalpa Samadhi? Yes, it is different. But it is not an ideal that rejects the old ideal. The new ideal of Bhavamukha subsumes the old ideal and develops on it. I am to realize that I am undifferentiated consciousness and then I am to realize that everyone else and everything else in this world around me is the same undifferentiated consciousness. Having realized that, I am to work as per my position in society. The method I am to follow is the method of ‘Man-making’ as he explains in this lecture. Elsewhere, he calls it the method of ‘Practical Vedanta’. It is a synthesis of all the spiritual practices that have been discovered till date. All of them will have to be practiced in a harmonious manner in my own life, for Reality is indeed of that nature; it is All things to All men. Thus, it is no longer the norm that only meditation and ritualistic worship of the deity are spiritual practices. Scavenging too is an act equally holy and so is every activity that society sanctions me to do. This society itself is the visible Deity for me and I will follow its dictates on me. I will discharge my duties as dictated by society in the spirit of worship, knowing that it is undifferentiated consciousness that is revealing Itself to me as everything I see and conceive.

The traditional ideal of Nirvikalpa Samadhi completely negates this world. Since it negates everything, the path towards achieving it must necessarily be world negating. The new ideal of Bhavamukha reveals that undifferentiated consciousness reveals itself as me and the world around me. Everything that exists is nothing but undifferentiated consciousness. Hence, the path towards achieving it can be world-affirming.

I wish to draw your attention to three ideas in the lecture quoted above. Firstly, Those of you who are Sannyasins must try to do good to others, for Sannyasa means that. Traditionally, Sannyasa did not mean that. How and why should a monk help others? If a monk were to help others, why didn’t he stay within the confines of society? A monk was supposed to refuse to recognize the world around him and realize the blessed state of undifferentiated consciousness and hold on to that state for as long as his body lasted. A monk was called upon to seclude himself from contact with society and meditate in silence. Here, specifically, Swamiji calls upon his young monks to “help” others, and further states that this “helping others is the raison d’être of Sannyasa”! This is something new for Hindu monasticism.

Secondly, In our country, the old idea is to sit in a cave and meditate and die. To go ahead of others in salvation is wrong. One must learn sooner or later that one cannot get salvation if one does not try to seek the salvation of his brothers. You must try to combine in your life immense idealism with immense practicality. You must be prepared to go into deep meditation now, and the next moment you must be ready to go and cultivate these fields (Swamiji said, pointing to the meadows of the Math). You must be prepared to explain the difficult intricacies of the Shâstras now, and the next moment to go and sell the produce of the fields in the market. You must be prepared for all menial services, not only here, but elsewhere also. From time immemorial, the idea of personal liberation, Moksha, has been the driving force behind Hindu monasticism. This idea translates into the Nirvikalpa Samadhi when we speak in terms of mystical language. The traditional idea of monasticism has centered on individual liberation. Swamiji makes a tremendous deviation here by asserting that seeking personal salvation alone is wrong. This is a powerful statement. We can seek our own Mukti, provided we simultaneously strive for the salvation of others too. Seeking one’s own salvation has been the immense idealism that Swamiji speaks of here. Ignoring completely anything else that pertains to spiritual life and considering that this world is all we have got and all we can hope for, and therefore to make the best of this life here is the immense practicality that Swamiji speaks of in the next breath. In other words, it is materialism, as we know it today. He says we ought to combine both. Actually, this almost seems like saying ‘mix darkness and light’ or ‘mix truth and falsehood’. If Nirvikalpa Samadhi is indeed the goal before us, if pure idealism is the goal before us, wont it make better sense to completely renounce everything pertaining to this world and immerse oneself purely meditation as the monks of old times did? Surely, the goal has shifted; else, there was nothing wrong with the traditional practices of Hindu monks. The traditional practices of the Hindu monks were completely in line with the traditional goal they aimed for. Has it not produced a steady line of saints until the present day? Those methods have proven to be efficacious beyond any shadow of doubt. It is because the goal itself has changed that Swamiji is exhorting for a new method here.

We may ask then, is Swamiji hinting that we become humanitarians? Helping our fellow beings and not bothering about the ideal state of existence? Certainly not. The goal he presents before us is not a rejection of the Nirvikalpa Samadhi, neither is it a state short of it, but something “beyond” that. It is very important to clarify this point here. Else, it will look as if he is asking us to stay contented with the lives we lead and not dream about anything ideal. Living in this world, as we already do, will seem to be the method, if we miss this point. No. The point is – we need to renounce and we need to serve. It will not do to serve without renouncing. It is not a comfortable religion that Swamiji is giving here. Elsewhere he says “Our method is very easily described. It simply consists in reasserting the national life. Buddha preached renunciation. India heard, and yet in six centuries she reached her greatest height. The secret lies there. The national ideals of India are renunciation AND service. Intensify her in those channels, and the rest will take care of itself. The banner of the spiritual cannot be raised too high in this country. In it alone is salvation (of the Indian masses).” Then, are we to understand that Swamiji wants all of us to formally renounce and then come back to society to serve? Again, no. but perfect control over all our senses, emotions, thoughts and faculties are a sine qua non for service. Any interaction with others without backed up by practice of perfect Brahmacharya is falling short of the new ideal.

Lastly, “The next thing to remember is that the aim of this institution is to make men.” When did the objective of a monastery become the making of men? The objective of a monastery has always been the making of saints, persons who can demonstrate the attainment of the state of pure consciousness. What indeed does this ‘making men’ mean? This is a topic I will discuss on a later occasion. Suffice it to say that a person who achieves the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi is a saint, while a person who achieves the state of Bhavamukha is a ‘man’.

Swamiji started this new monastic order with the view that these monks would demonstrate to the world how this new path has to be followed and how the new ideal translates into experience. The masses were the target group that needed this ideal most of all. Once the masses caught on to this new ideal and the new path, the aim with which Swamiji started this new monastic order would stand fulfilled.

Om shantih, shantih, shantih. Sri Ramakrishnarpanamastu.

***************

Swami Vivekananda & Organization

“Why is it that organization is so powerful? Do not say organization is material. Why is it, to take a case in point, that forty millions of Englishmen rule three hundred millions of people here? What is the psychological explanation? These forty millions put their wills together and that means infinite power, and you three hundred millions have a will each separate from the other. Therefore to make a great future India, the whole secret lies in organization, accumulation of power, co-ordination of wills.”

 I begin by quoting this passage from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. This passage appears in his lecture ‘Future of India’ delivered by the great Swami in Chennai on 14th Feb 1897.

We see a few interesting points in the above passage:

The first thing to note is that here we have a spiritual giant of the stature of Swami Vivekananda discussing such a mundane idea as making a nation great! Isn’t that the job of politicians and diplomats? Isn’t that the job of the leaders of political parties? Isn’t that the job of leaders who have legislative power? Should a monk speak or think on these issues?

The second thing to note is – Swamiji says that the forty millions of Englishmen put their wills together. Did they, really? If so, how and why? Does history mention any such development where the forty million Englishmen of the 19th century came together and decided that they would put their wills together? None of the history books mentions such a development. Why is Swamiji mentioning this here?

The third thing to note is – Swamiji says here ‘Do not say organization is material’. Who said organization is material? Most of us don’t even know what organization means! Some of us perhaps think that organization means corporations, consisting of profit-minded executives; some perhaps even think that it refers to groups of people who come together for a particular cause, such as the organization for blacks’ rights, or organization for the economically deprived. Even if we do understand this word to mean something like that, who amongst us ever felt that organization is ‘material’?

The fourth thing to note is – in order to become a great nation, India needs to do only one thing! There is no need to do many things. Only one thing is necessary, says Swamiji. And that is – ‘Coordinate the wills of the Indians’.

Let us deal with each of these points one by one.

Why is a spiritual man, a monk, and that too, one of the stature of Swami Vivekananda, talking about the future of a nation, about making India great, about organization? Shouldn’t a monk confine himself to spiritual practices, to scriptural study, to rituals and spiritual ministration? Isn’t it wrong for a monk to deal with ideas such as those mentioned in this passage?

Well, traditionally, monks have dealt with such issues. Our country has had a marvelous history.[1] The social power structure has always been managed by the two upper castes – the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas. Between them, they ruled the people of this country. When the Kshatriyas lost touch with the ground reality and became too dictatorial, the Brahmins overthrew the Kshatriyas and took power into their hands. Same thing happened when the Brahmins lost touch with the ground reality and became arrogantly powerful and oppressed the people whom they ruled. It is because of this dipole power structure in India from ancient times that class struggle (so fondly studied by the Communist historians) never arose here.

Over and above the four castes of this unique social structure, there was one more group of people who outlawed themselves from this four-caste structure and stayed outside the society. They were the monks. This group of people were quite objective in their perceptions of society and were sensitive to the tilts in the power balance of the ancient Indian society. Since the monks were self-declared outlaws, they did not need patronage from anyone, neither the Brahmins nor the Kshatriyas. They would boldly point out the flaws in their functioning and warn them to correct themselves or get ready for an upheaval and overthrowing from power. Moreover, since monks themselves were not beneficiaries in the resulting social change, their observations and advices carried a great moral value. Repeatedly, this happened in Indian history. However, the unwritten norm of the Hindu monks has been that the monk could at most point out the flaw and then hands off! The monk would not engage in actually re-structuring the power equations in society. From time immemorial, it was considered one of the activities assigned to monks to point out the corrective measures that society needed to get back on track; and it was simultaneously considered anathema for monks to directly get involved in engaging in the political activities required for bringing about the prescribed social changes.

This is what we see Swamiji do here. He was able to see why Indians lived as slaves to a foreign power. He was able to see why a foreign power was able to enslave the Indians and rule over them. He was able to see how Indians could break themselves from the shackles of such foreign domination. But, he wouldn’t involve himself directly in any political activity required for breaking India free from foreign rule. He however delineated what was required for Indians to become a great nation, which included obtaining political freedom, educational self-reliance and economic superiority in the comity of nations. If we were concerned about our country’s future, we would heed these words of Swamiji and work as directed by him.

Swamiji says that the forty millions of Englishmen put their wills together. Did they, really?

The rise of the Joint Stock Companies in Europe, especially in Britain was a watershed event in the history of mankind. This event fueled the Industrial Revolution as much as the scientific discoveries did, if not more. Man knew a particular type of production until then. Production activity was largely localized. And it was confined to a small group of people who held the technical knowhow as a safely guarded secret. All of a sudden, the British were engaged in a new type of production that required enormous coordination of the activities of an enormous number of people across enormous physical distances. For instance, a large number of people were engaged in one part of the world in growing cotton. Once they had grown the cotton, it was all collected by another large group of people and transported across oceans to huge mills situated in some other part of the globe. Yet another large group of people ran these huge mills. They worked day and night to manufacture standardized cotton threads. These threads were then collected by yet another large group of people who were engaged in manufacturing clothes out of those yarns. One more large group of people then transported those clothes all over the world and handed them over to a different large of people who then sold them to end-users.

This was the main reason behind the rise of the organization in Britain. The cause was economic in nature. More and more number of people joined together in a particular enterprise. Large amounts of money and resources were pooled in. Huge amounts of things were manufactured in a short time. And the things thus manufactured were more often than not, very complex. As long as man confined himself to the old style of manufacturing, all he could produce was a bullock cart, or a horse drawn carriage. Once large number of people came together, as they did in Britain, man was able to produce a motor car. It is impossible to produce a modern motor car in the old style of production.

Whatever be the reason, the British had found out a way to get a large number of people to come together, pool in their money, resources and effort, and consequently multiply their individual strengths while cancelling out their individual weaknesses. This strange form of community activity was later on given the term organization. Thus, the root of the modern organization, as we know it today, is purely economic, purely material.

The point that Swamiji is trying to make here is – granted that the western world’s organization has purely materialistic roots, but, once an organization has been formed, it no longer remains a purely materialistic entity. Why is that so? The objectives of forming an organization may be to earn money, to wage wars and kill people and to conquer new regions. But what exactly is an organization? Is any motley group of people called an organization? If a group of people is to be considered an organization, there are certain important criteria. First, there has to be a group of people, who, amongst them have a wide variety of skills, talents, experiences and abilities. This allows for division of labor amongst them. Secondly, they have jointly agreed upon a common goal, or a common set of goals to be achieved. Thirdly, all of them pool in their resources, energies and time to work together in order to achieve those commonly set goals. Fourthly, their attitudes and behaviors are conditioned by commonly accepted norms. And lastly, all of them recognize that the group has an existence of its own, just as all of the individual members have an existence independent of one another. In other words, the group is considered as a living entity, just as the individual members are. And this existence is recognized in all the individual and collective activities and decisions of the group. These criteria show one very important characteristic: the existence of the organization, therefore, is not temporal. The existence of organization is in the minds of the members. The more the individuals get identified with this mental construct, the stronger that organization becomes. The individual members pour in their life-force into the sustenance and growth of this organization. That organization now develops a life of its own, as it were. It develops individuality, as it were. Long story short, it comes into existence. All that exists has Spirit as its basis. Hence, Swamiji says that we shouldn’t write off organizations as inconsequential by thinking it is a mere material entity.

These ideas that we have explored till now in this article lead to a wonderful theory, which have enormous ramifications on our actions and on our lives. Let us try to analyze that briefly:

Swamiji said to Sister Nivedita once[2], “That is precisely my position about Brahman and the gods! I believe in Brahman and the gods, and not in anything else!”…. You see, I cannot but believe that there is somewhere a great Power that thinks of Herself as feminine, and called Kali, and Mother. And I believe in Brahman too …But is it not always like that? Is it not the multitude of cells in the body that make up the personality, the many brain-centers, not the one, that produce consciousness?… Unity in complexity! Just so! And why should it be different with Brahman? It is Brahman. It is the One. And yet and yet it is the gods too!” Elsewhere he makes a significant statement about God: “….the only God that exists, the only God I believe in, the sum total of all souls[3]” It seems fairly clear to us now that Swamiji saw God as the sum-total of souls, apart from subscribing to the Impersonal aspect. When we extend this idea to an organization, we find that when a group of people come together, putting in their wills together for a common goal, no matter how trivial or mundane that goal be, in effect, there is a spiritual entity, a god, that is created!

This is a very powerful idea.

Our actions here have a repercussion on the spiritual realm! It has always been believed to be the other way around. It has always been held that some entities somewhere in an unapproachable spiritual realm decides that something should occur on earth, in our lives, and then we human beings act out that decision of the gods. This has been the commonly held belief. When we combine these three ideas of Swamiji – first, that organization is a spiritual entity; second, Reality is Personal as well as Impersonal; third, Personal God is the sum total of souls; – we arrive at a totally different conception of human actions. Gods may or may not influence our actions. But it is of much greater importance for us that our actions here influence the spiritual realm! By our actions, we can create new spiritual entities. If we decide to get together and combine our wills, we give rise to a new god! And that god needs to be worshipped. How? By our actions, again. Take an organization such as a factory. The moment you consider yourself a part of that organization, you are in the presence of a new god, the spiritual entity associated with that organization. You will need to worship that new god. Since this new god has a strange form, unlike a stone image, consisting of buildings and machinery and people and processes, your worship will have to be in consonance with this new form. Your so-called ‘work’ in that factory will be nothing but worship that the new god demands.

Some readers may object to the line of thought presented here, saying, I am blowing a simple idea of Swamiji out of all proportions. To answer such objections, let me quote one amazing statement of Swamiji: “Now we have a new India, with its new God, new religion, and new Vedas.[4]

This brings us to the fourth point: What India needs for a bright and strong future is just this – organization. People living in the geographical confines of India should feel identified with India. That is one organization Swamiji definitely wanted to take shape. All through history, people have populated this particular geographical region but have seldom felt identified with it as a Nation. Our identity has all along been to the religious and cultural mores of the sub-regions rather than to the abstract concept of a Nation.

The historic struggle for freedom from the British Rule in the early 20th century saw the development of national sense in us. The post-independence period in India however has done little to ensure that this national sense grows in the coming generations. The national sense grows along various lines in different cultures. The Civic sense is the basis in most western countries. In India, we do not see much hope along that line. A poor nation, habituated to hunger and squalor cannot be expected to appreciate the civic sense to any decent degree. Our hope lies in spiritualizing the abstract concept of the Nation. Swamiji makes a significant observation in a letter as follows: “But, excuse me if I say that it is sheer ignorance and want of proper understanding to think like that, namely, that our national ideal has been a mistake. First go to other countries and study carefully their manners and conditions with your own eyes – not with others’ – and reflect on them with a thoughtful brain, if you have it: then read your own scriptures, your ancient literature, travel throughout India, and mark the people of her different parts and their ways and habits with the wide-awake eye of an intelligent and keen observer – not with a fool’s eye – and you will see as clear as noonday that the nation is still living intact and its life is surely pulsating. You will find there also that, hidden under the ashes of apparent death, the fire of our national life is yet smoldering and that the life of this nation is religion, its language religion, and its idea religion; and your politics, society, municipality, plague-prevention work, and famine-relief work – all these things will be done as they have been done all along here, viz. only through religion; otherwise all your frantic yelling and bewailing will end in nothing, my friend![5]

India is a living goddess and She demands our worship. Won’t we respond? Extrapolating this idea further, every sub-structure within the nation is also a goddess (or a god, if you will). Every organization constituting the national economy is a living goddess. Let us worship these goddesses with the appropriate form of rituals. While a stone or marble image of a goddess called for the ritualistic dashopachara or shodashopachara puja, these new goddesses call for meaningful, systematic labor of our hands, heads and hearts. Let us please these modern goddesses, which are organizations, and allow our Nation to reach great heights of economic and social development simultaneously achieving our own spiritual unfoldment, ‘Atmano moksha jagaddhitashcha’.

***************

[1] Cf: Complete works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-4: Modern India: An essay written for Udbodhan magazine, wherein Swami Vivekananda delineates this history in a masterly fashion, giving ample evidences from Indian history.

[2] Cf: Complete works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-1: Master as I saw him: Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, Kolkata: 1967: pg-118

[3] We can recall here the fact that Sri Ramakrishna used to go into Bhava Samadhi whenever he saw a gathering of people assembled for singing the praises of the Lord. Could it be that he perceived a vision in those cases, the vision of the spiritual entity corresponding to that group? See for instance, Cf: Sri Ramakrishna & His divine play: Swami Saradananda: Vedanta Society of St. Louis: 2003: pg 235 & pg 858.

[4] Cf: Complete works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-7: Epistles: Letter No. XXXII, dated 27th April, 1896, written from Reading, USA to his brother disciples at Alambazar Math

[5] Cf: Complete works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-5: Writings: Prose and Poems: The East And The West (Translated from Bengali) Chapter-I: Introduction

 

A Blue-print for Academic Improvement in Arunachal Pradesh (As sought for by the Director of School Education)

Based on the lessons learnt in the last four and a half decades in Ramakrishna Mission School, Aalo (Along), West Siang District, we present a dissertation on improving academic education in Arunachal Pradesh.

 

Aim of Education:

By imparting education to the Arunachali child, we wish to achieve the following:

  1. Integration of the child with the Indian Nation.
  2. Empowering the child with sufficient skills to participate meaningfully in the Governmental machinery & social set-up.
  3. Acclimatizing the child with the basic concepts of language (at least three), science, mathematics and history, required for making sense of the natural and social phenomena occurring around him/her.
  4. Developing in the child a faculty to express its thoughts, feelings and emotions in terms of words, both spoken & written.
  5. Awakening in the child a sense of wonder, a faculty for searching for truth and a faculty of aesthetics.
  6. Enabling the child to become a part of a team in a meaningful way.
  7. Spontaneously developing in the child a capacity for delayed gratification of various hungers – in other words, sublimation of the various natural urges in the child.
  8. Enabling the child to acquire a valid certificate from the Board by passing the prescribed examination procedures, thereby creating a sound base for its further education in a university.

 

The ideas associated with academic improvement can be classified under two headings – Academia & Discipline.

 

Academia:

  1. Syllabus & plan for its completion: Since the School will have to be affiliated to any one of the recognized Boards, such as CBSE, New Delhi or Arun Board, Itanagar, there is no flexibility or freedom in framing the syllabus, as such. But regarding completion of the syllabus, the School can plan in great detail, much to the greater benefit of the students. The completion of syllabus must be evenly phased out through out the working year so that the load on the student is even. Especially for the Board Exam classes such as Class VIII, Class X & Class XII, the entire syllabus must be completed by December, so that the student gets sufficient time for self-study and repeated revisions.

 

  1. Exams & tests: At least three exams must be conducted before deciding whether the child can be sent to the next higher class. The syllabus for the 1st Part Exam need not be repeated for the 2nd part exam and so also for the 3rd and final part exam. This will reduce the load on the child as well as give the child sufficient scope to dive deep into the syllabus meant for that particular semester. Monthly Tests must be held, especially in English, Math and Science. This will keep the child always in touch with the subjects. Else, the typical Arunachali child has the habit of studying only during the exam period, which could be academically detrimental for its intellectual growth.

 

 

  1. Hostel life versus Day scholarship: In the general situation prevailing in the Arunachali society now-a-days, the child may often not get a congenial study atmosphere at home. A strictly run hostel, however, provides wonderful opportunities for study culture in the child. By the time a child enters a hostel at the age of 5 years, he/she must have learnt to control its bowel movements. By the time it crosses the age of 10, it should have learnt to sit continuously at one place for at least 2 hours at a stretch. Without this training, study habit cannot be formed. By the age of 13, it should be introduced to the moral training of restraining its limbs and senses. A hostel environment is ideal for achieving these.

 

  1. Unisex schooling versus co-educational schooling: It is heartening to note that the Arunachali society has inbuilt systems for meaningful and healthy interaction between boys and girls, right from babyhood. Unisex schooling could upset this advantage. Thus, even where hostels are provided, it would be socially beneficial to have both boys and girls in the school.

 

  1. Role of games, sports & PT: The Arunachali child has an instinctual ability for team work. Hence these children excel in team sports like football, handball, volleyball and cricket. However, there is a need to popularize games that enhance mental abilities such as chess, sudoku, crossword and scrabble. A hostel environment is ideal for this. The natural litheness and suppleness of the Arunachali child’s body makes it ideal for acrobatic games such as gymnastics. Hence the school must have a gymnastics teacher. Every child must be given physical training instruction through drills and exercises in the morning. This helps the child to regulate its limb movements.

 

  1. Role of co-curricula: Children have tremendous energy. And the Arunachali child seems to be especially so endowed. Various opportunities must be provided by the school for canalizing this energy in meaningful ways. NCC, Social service, scouts & guides, and band training must be provided for the extroverted child. Depending on the child’s preference, it can opt for any one of these from Class VI. Painting, clay modeling, Crafts and origami training must be available for the aesthetically oriented child. Quiz groups, debate groups, study circles and philately clubs must be available in the school for the intellectual child.

 

  1. Role of art: Compulsory training in line drawing and color drawing must be given in the school right from KG up to at least Class VIII. After Class V, however, the specially endowed children must be identified and given further training in advanced forms of drawing and painting such as landscaping, perspective drawing and abstract art. Structured music must be taught to the child. Every Arunachali child today grows up being able to sing only contemporary songs of the cinema and music bands. This however does nothing to infuse culture in the child. Structured music, on the other hand, strengthens the personality of the child. The child that is unable to sing classical music must at least be taught to appreciate it. Avenues must be available for the child to learn to play some musical instruments like the harmonium, tabla, flute, guitar and the mouth organ. It is very strange that this land of bamboos does not have flautists. Girls must be taught structured dances of various cultures, apart from traditional tribal dance forms. This will result in infusion of cultures later on in the Arunachali society. The innate ability of the Arunachali child to draw, paint, sing and dance is something unparalleled in the world. This ability has not drawn the world’s attention purely because there is still no systematic training being imparted to the Arunachali child in these fields.

 

  1. Need of the Library & reading room: The child must be exposed to the world of books. By the time a child passes class VIII, he/she must have developed a habit of spending at least a solitary hour with a book, speaking to the author through its contents. Awakening a love of reading in the child is one of the great achievements of the school.

 

  1. Need of computer education: Compulsory computer education must be imparted to the child at least from class V onwards. By the time a child passes class VIII, he/she must be conversant with working on MS office and browsing the worldwide web.

 

  1. Instruments for developing National Consciousness: By the time a child passes class VIII, he/she must have a clear identification with the State and the Country. National pride in every child is the greatest security that the nation can have. Special assemblies on Martyrs’ Day, Sadbhavana Divas, etc must be conducted by the school. Processions and Prabhat Pheris must be organized by the School and the children must be encouraged to participate in them at least once a year. Children must be guided to prepare wall magazines on topics related to Indian Nationalist movement, Nationalist leaders and issues concerning the nation presently.

 

  1. Instruments for developing Time Consciousness: the primary instrument is the Morning Assembly. Every child must be encouraged to attend it. The Assembly must be meaningfully structured and must be short. Other instruments include a strict time keeper in the school and hostel. Every day, he shall ring the bell at the stipulated hours, and this must be adhered to at any cost. The child who learns to stick to the routine by the clock during its school days will develop healthy work habits later on in life.

 

Discipline:

  1. Discipline defined: As we have noted in Sl.No. 3 under ‘Academia’ supra, by the time a child enters a hostel at the age of 5 years, he/she must have learnt to control its bowel movements. Without this habit, the child won’t have a healthy psychological growth. By the time it crosses the age of 10, it should have learnt to sit continuously at one place for at least 2 hours at a stretch. Without this training, study habit cannot be formed. By the age of 13, it should be introduced to the moral training of restraining its limbs and senses. Thus discipline means training of the sensory and motor organs.

 

  1. Instruments for disciplining the child:
    1. Dressing: Uniform must be worn. And that too in a particular fashion only. Hairstyle and footwear must not be allowed to deviate beyond a permissible limit.
    2. Routine: every child must stick to the routine as maintained by the school and hostel time keeper.
    3. Attendance: the child cannot be allowed to be absent from school or hostel without notice.
    4. Punishments for deviations from the norm:
  1. The norms must be clearly spelt out for the child again and again, and from time to time.
  2. The punishment for deviation from the norm must be aimed at the conscience of the child and not at its ego or self-esteem. Quite often, we hurt the self-esteem of the child while punishing him/her and this is counter-productive in the long run. We only end up creating imbalanced individuals by doing so.
  • Corporal punishment must be avoided at every cost, even for small children of the KG and primary classes.
  1. While punishing adolescent children, special care must be taken to safeguard their self-esteem and image in the student-society.

 

  1. Counseling: Children everywhere need counseling. And the Arunachali child needs it all the more. We say this because the Arunachali child starts asserting its individuality much earlier than children in most other parts of India. So the teachers need to enter into quasi-parental relationships with the child and teach the child what right behavior is & what prohibited behavior is.

 

  1. Factors to be considered while disciplining the child:
    1. All too often, disciplining the child tends to be negative. The child is taught ‘Don’t tell lies’. But the child is not taught how not to tell a lie. More importantly, the child gets punished if it tells the truth in most cases. Whatever be the case, whatever be the actual event or situation, when the child speaks the truth, it must be rewarded. That is the only way of establishing discipline and reinforcing discipline in the child. In this regard, teachers need to be specially trained in handling Arunachali children.
    2. The present system of education depends largely on strict parental control over the child’s mind and its behavior. The Arunachali social set-up frees the child from parental control by the time the child reaches the age of 12, especially for boys, as we have seen. Unless this system is altered, and parental control remains until the child finishes its university education, there seems to be hardly any way in which the present system of education can benefit Arunachali society. In this regard, the school aught to form a Parent-Teachers Association and discuss this matter seriously between themselves.
    3. Since parental control relaxes itself too early in the child’s life, the Arunachali child forms very strong peer relationships. But peer relationships can never provide a moral standard for the child. At the same time, no peer relationship must be forcibly broken by either teachers or parents. Forcible isolation of the child from its peer circle is counter-productive. Again, counseling by the teachers, who have to double-up as quasi-parents, and strengthening of parental control over the child alone can remedy the situation and provide the child with a solid moral rudder for forming its personality.
    4. Children learn by imitation. Hence our behavior while children are around must be highly regulated. For instance, it won’t work if we are impulsive and blow our top for every small reason and then expect the child to be calm and composed. Children seldom listen to our words. Rather they study our actions and then follow suit. If a child does not show respect to elders, we can be sure that he/she has seen some of us behaving disrespectfully towards those persons. If a child does not show sympathy and consideration towards other children, we can be sure that we have not set examples of sympathy & fellow-consideration in the vicinity of the child. It is impossible to invoke moral behavior in the child while we exhibit corrupt practices ourselves.
    5. Consumption of intoxicants among adolescents in Arunachal Pradesh must be given serious thought by both teachers and parents. Children are too susceptible for addictions. The Arunachali society, which is undergoing a transition, must urgently bring in certain checks & measures to prevent sale of intoxicants to minors. Teachers must regularly explain to the child the terrible consequences of substance abuse on the tender organs of the growing child.

 

Sympathetic teachers-Arunachal’s need of the hour:

True education boils down to presenting persons of high character, in the form of teachers, before the child during its schooling period. Especially for the Arunachali child, we need teachers, who can truly sympathize with the child, because the Arunachali child is typically very sensitive and has a soul of great plasticity. It is easy to find teachers who are stentorian and strict disciplinarians, whose stickler attitudes stifle the child rather than allowing it to blossom. But persons who can empathize with the child are needed in large numbers, and they are needed urgently; and once we get such persons, they must be encouraged to stick around.

This is a land of great potential in terms of human resources. Great potential also means greater responsibility in nurturing it and harnessing it.

We pray to the Lord Almighty that this immense potential finds its fullest manifestation.

 

(Swami Vedatitananda)

Principal

Academic improvement dissertation for DSE