Nearly a hundred years ago Swami Vivekananda showed the close connection between culture and education. Wherever there is a great culture, you will find behind it, a highly developed system of education. Ancient India could produce a great culture because it developed a wonderful system of education.
In those days, people took education seriously. In the Taittiriya Upanishad, we find a discussion on what true tapas is. The opinion of the Vedic Rishi is: "swadhyaya pravacana eva-eti" - "study and teaching alone" constitute true tapas. Education itself is the best tapas, that is, the best form of human effort.
According to Swami Vivekananda, the basic purpose of education is the total development of human personality. Everyone is endowed with certain capacities, which remain dormant, although in a potential form, in childhood. Swami Vivekananda believed education is the process by which these inherent potentialities in human personality manifest themselves in completing his or her total development.
This total development of human personality includes intellectual and moral development. Most of the present day school and college curriculum only aim at intellectual development. It is in this field that western science, technology and commerce have attained tremendous success.
Science is systematic pursuit of knowledge at empirical level. The scientific method gives a very good training to the mind. It was by applying the scientific method that western countries made tremendous advancement in technology and acquired great wealth and power.
Swami Vivekananda was one of the first among religious teachers to understand the importance of science and technology. In the first place, Swamiji saw that poor countries like India would be able to overcome poverty and backwardness only by mastering technology. Secondly, Swamiji saw that science is not contradictory to the eternal spiritual principles, which is the foundation of Indian culture. Both Science and eternal religion are concerned with truth. Science seeks truth in the physical world, whereas religion seeks truth in the spiritual realm. Thus, religion and science are complementary.
The other primary purpose of education is to build character and to enable people to lead moral lives. However, this is precisely the field where most of the modern systems of education have failed. Swami Vivekananda has given a new definition of morality. To quote his words, "The only definition that can be given of morality is this: that which is selfish is immoral, and that which is unselfish is moral". For Swamiji unselfishness and service are not mere matters of rules and regulations but of reality. If God dwells in all beings as the Supreme Self, if every man is potentially divine, then to serve God in man or man as God is the best form of worship. To quote Swamiji's own words: "It is a privilege to serve mankind, for this is the worship of God. God is here in all these human souls. He is the soul of man." (C.W.I. 424)
[Above is the excerpt taken from address by Most Revered Swami Gahananandaji Maharaj delivered/read out during the inauguration of Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda Educational and Research Institute at Belur Math. Most Revered Swami Gahananandaji Maharaj served as 14th President of the Ramakrishna Order]
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