(The writer is an independent researcher of unorthodox education and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last Thursday’s International Yoga Day, the fourth of its kind this year, was celebrated not just for the sheer physical rigour that the ancient Indian yogic tradition helps shape in man’s physical being, not just because it is a raging craze across the Western world these days, not just because there is a Swami Ramdev who has almost commercialized it with the masterstroke of a seasoned corporate strategist, or not just because some people are now talking of taking the physical component of yoga to the Olympics as well one fine dawn. The celebration was also about India’s best gift to the world – spirituality, which eludes precise definition. But yes, the ancient Indian mind had always been spiritual. But not so now, which is a huge tragedy because the Occidental has always viewed, and flocked to, India as the world capital of spirituality.
What is spirituality then? First, let us make a clear distinction: it is not, and can never be, religion as is generally understood, practised, and perpetuated. For, religion has to have a founder and a holy text with all its prescriptions on the virtuous and the profane, and even if it has no founder as in the case of Hinduism, still there are do’s and don’ts in addition to a bewildering gamut of rites and rituals. In religion, faith is compulsory – you must believe in something, some god, some well-defined paradigms however absurd and irrational, some structure. It is a belief system. In religion, there is no room for the atheist (such as this columnist), although there could a little space for the confused agnostic. It is a cosmos of theists – all believers, most of whom are tenaciously diehard.
Where does still the frustrated atheist, discovering the emptiness of the material world, with no god to pray to, nor concern him, go? He craves for a destination to make some meaning out of his existence. The atheist, wedded fully to the faculty of reason, refusing to be cowed down by the merciless crowd of believers, and intelligent as he is, feels there must be something more than what is visible in the sensory world, or more than what seems to be the ultimate reality, including his own feelings and thoughts in his deep inner recess.
Here comes spirituality – a way of life, and just a way of life. The Hippies, with their long hairs, flowery shirts, unconventional behaviour, and of course their hookahs, made spirituality a fashion statement in the early 1960s. When the Beatles, led by the legendary John Lennon and George Harrison, landed in the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for transcendental meditation and awakening and discovery of man’s inner world of restless and fleeting feelings and thoughts, what they were essentially looking for was education, of the strictly spiritual kind.
Spiritual education is essentially about ‘inner engineering’, to quote Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, the brilliant new-age spiritual guru. Its quintessence lies in man’s spectacular journey into the beautiful inner world of sublime feelings and thoughts, this incredible universe of mysteries, and cracking them. The goal is an understanding of oneself. Of one’s peculiarities without being judgemental. Of one’s inner secret world at constant loggerheads with the external world. Of one’s potential to evolve into something greater, more beautiful, closer to the spontaneity of life and flowing with it eventually. Of one’s innate power to explore the inner cosmos and become, so to say, a Buddha! Nirvana of the mind, which is its greatest potential, is the goal of spirituality.
When you talk to yourself without being judgemental or analytical, with the sole intent to know yourself and appreciate what you are fundamentally, and thus when you embark on a journey of self-understanding and self-appreciation, you have just hit the road of spirituality. The immensity of its destination has the profoundest element of awe, such as the awe of Christ or Buddha.
The most radical mystic and spiritual guru of modern times, Osho Rajneesh, who was far ahead of his time but was vilified by the purist and the prudish for his extraordinarily rebellious views on human sexuality, said something as extraordinary about awe as he endeavoured to define it: that awe is when you come across something so immense, so incredible, so mind-shattering (the usual mind conditioned by myriad typical traditions), so sublimely beautiful that the mind becomes still, that it does not move, that it just stays there, absolutely thoughtless. And he referred to Christ or Buddha. It is like this: What if a Christ or a Buddha were to come face to face with you? This would be an awesome experience, Osho tried to elucidate.
But even to begin to think on such lines would require in a person an extraordinary inward-moving capacity. This is not to be found in the books around. Not in any schools of the time. The harnessing of such mind is itself a creative process. This is to be found in a school of spirituality, where all man-made barriers, customs and traditions, conditionings of the past refusing to give way to a radically deconditioned way of life, and negatives such as hate and envy melt and get remoulded into a New Age Mind.
This New Age Mind was what Luthar Burbank, the world-famous horticulture scientist, had in mind when he saw human beings as human plants while conducting various ground-breaking experiments in cross-breeding that led to the creation of new and incredibly amazing flower varieties. In his epoch-making The Training of the Human Plant, he says, “The most stubborn living thing in this world, the most difficult to swerve, is a plant once fixed in certain habits… Do you suppose, after all these ages of repetition, the plant does not become possessed of a will, if I so choose to call it, of unparalleled tenacity? Indeed, there are plants, like certain of the palms, so persistent that no human power has yet been able to change them. The human will is a weak thing beside the will of a plant. But see how this whole plant’s lifelong stubbornness is broken simply by blending a new life with it, making, by crossing, a complete and powerful change in its life (emphasis added). Then when the break comes, fix it by these generations of patient supervision and selection, and the new plant sets out upon its new way never to return again to the old, its tenacious will broken and changed at last. When it comes to so sensitive and pliable a thing as the nature of a child, the problem becomes vastly easier” (quoted from Autobiography of a Yogi, an international bestseller in spirituality, by Yoganand Paramhansa, the first Indian spiritual guru to appeal to the Western audience in the 1920s)
This scientist-spiritualist is pointing to the possibility of moulding a child – “so sensitive and pliable” – into a new form, a New Age Mind deconditioned from the stagnancy and spiritual bankruptcy of the past, the belief systems of the past, the dead-man-walking existence of the past, so that the child, in his metamorphosed state of flowering of his latent merit and all creative powers, becomes a new leader to create more leaders of unmatched valour, resolve, love, compassion, fellow feeling, and humanism as his sole religion.
Remember, our schools, even the best ones available, are not producing any human whose sole religion is humanism. We are ‘educating’ our children to become mere job holders, who are total strangers in the world of their own emotions, thoughts, and ideas; they are a confused multitude. This is what, one would do well to remember, the legendary poet and humanist Rabrindranath Tagore too had wanted to undo as he set out on the course of his Shantiniketan, now Viswa Bharati University. This is what he had to say on the core education imperative: “True education can never be crammed and pumped from without; rather it must aid in bringing spontaneously to the surface the infinite hoards of wisdom within.” This is spiritual education.