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Conception And Aim Of Education According To Guru Nanak


Jun 1, 2004
Conception and Aim of Education According to Guru Nanak
Dr. Amrit Raina*

* Principal, Mata Gujri Girls College, Sardulgarh (Mansa) 151507.

Propounder of a new religion, Guru Nanak was a versatile genius who dealt with all phases of life elaborately. He wrote profusely on religion, philosophy, moral and social ethics, education, social welfare, economic and political evils of his time.

In his writings and discourses. Guruji has frequently referred to the role of education in human life, although his views are scattered in his works and one is apt to believe that he has not propounded any philosophy of education. It is true that a systematic philosophy of education as such was not developed and discussed by him in the modern sense. He did not sit down to theorize as a modern educationist would do. Nor did he carry on any experimentation in any laboratory school, nevertheless, his many thoughts on education provide rich material on the philosophy of education. After going through his educational ideas lying here and there in his works, especially in the Japuji, Patti, Asa-di-Var and Onkar, it is not difficult to come to the conclusion that he had definite views on education.

But his educational philosophy has to be inferred from his diverse as well as methodical utterances. All through his thoughts on education, one finds intimate relations between his educational views and general philosophy.
Guru Nanak’s conception of education encompasses the entire vista of man’s life on earth. The highest education, according to him; is that which develops the whole man in a way that he realizes God’s existence and gets in tune with Him. Says Guru Nanak:

That Teacher alone is educated,
Who enlightens his mind with divine knowledge,
Through right reflection in a spontaneous way,
Who sublimates his education into right understanding of life,
And cultivates devotional love for Ram Naam (Page No ?)

From times immemorial India has been a land of spiritual consciousness. For ancient Indian Educationists, education enabled a student to realise his spiritual nature. ‘Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached, is the essence of the teachings of Upanishads. In Guru Nanak’s conception of education we find the same noble ideal. One who realizes himself is a truly educated man:

Nanak says in all humility:
He alone is the man of wisdom
Who gains self-knowledge,
And attains the realization of God,
That seer alone becomes acceptable in the Court of God,
Who becomes enlightened in his life.
Through the grace of the Guru. (Page No ?)

According to Guru Nanak, real education enables a man to gain self-realization and self-manifestation in a spontaneous way. He says emphatically that a really educated man is one who enlightens his mind with the divine knowledge and realizes himself. He has emphasized this idea again and again:

An educated person, a scholar or a seer is one
Who wears the garland of Ram Naam ever round his neck. (Page No ?)

The "garland of Ram Naam" stands for the adoption of the cosmic values of knowledge. Love, beauty, purity, sportsmanship, humour and universality. Ram stands for all pervading universal spirit and Naam for Name which is the very embodiment of truth, life, joy, beauty, purity, righteousness and heroism. Truly, Ram Naam is the special word which the Guru has associated with education especially in his poetical compositions of Asa-di-Var and Onkar.

Thus to wear the garland of Ram Naam to be a really educated man is not a mean task. One must lead a noble and disciplined life, and then alone one can evolve such high values in life. But once one has inculcated such high ideals in life, one becomes acceptable in the court of Lord.

A rightly educated person whose soul and mind,
Are awakened into the realm of self realisation
Becomes acceptable in the court of God,

Surely, there flies the flag of God’s Kingdom over his head.1
That is why some people sing the praises of God through gaining knowledge which is based on wisdom and enlightenment.2

Aims of Education: Needless to mention that aims of education, mentioned by Guru Nanak, are corollaries from his philosophy of life and that of education. He finds the highest good of man in the perfection of his spiritual nature, in nobility of heart and mind, in love of all that is great and good, in hearty acceptance of duty, in strenuous honest labour, in earnest longing for truth, in appreciation and development of higher values of life, and these ideals of human life are reflected in his aims of education.

Self Realization: The ultimate end of education is determined by the ultimate goal of life which has always constituted the highest aspiration of man. The people of yore regarded the aspiration for the ‘Bhuma’ or ‘Infinite Plenty’ as the highest aspiration of man.

Influenced by such a philosophy, Guru Nanak regards, self realisation and self-manifestation as the ultimate aims of education on which the upliftment of man depends:

He is a man of wisdom who gains
Self knowledge through self enlightenment. (Page No ?)

Guru Nanak has used two special words ‘Vigas’ and ‘Pargas’ for the evolution of man’s life. ‘Vigas’ means evolution of divine beauties in life and ‘Pargas’ signifies manifestation of divine enlightenment through life. A man can gain honour of life only if he develops divine consciousness in him. And a true teacher is he who awakens divine consciousness in his deciples:

He alone is a really educated teacher,
Who is God-centered - Gurmukh,
Who awakens divine intelligence in his disciples,
Who meditates on the divine name with concentration,
Who stores name in his mind,
Who gains the gain of God realisation,
Which is the main purpose of human life. (Page No ?)

That is why he asks the Pandit, the scholar to dwell on adorations of God-
"O, Pandit, why writest thou of strife and involvement,
Pray, write thou, only the God’s name by the Guru’s grace." (Page No ?)

Guru Nanak decries that education which stimulates the senses without arousing the inner spirit. Real education should help in spiritual experience:
"What use is that education", says Guru Nanak, "which does not help us to get out of our animal existence, and which does not awaken the spiritual depths in man but, on the other hand, sharpens his intellect to become clever, selfish, shy and wicked"3

Thus like the ancient Indian Teachers, Guru Nanak believes that education is that which liberates. Even in the modern times, Vivekanand and Gandhi have upheld this aim of education. According to Tagore, too, to know the infinite, to attain the ‘Bhuma’ is the highest aim of human life. 4

Book Learning is not Synonymous with True Education: Guru Nanak differentiates education from mere information; one may read innumerable books and still may not be rightly educated person. Once, Guru Nanak met an eminent Kashmiri Pandit, Dharam Dass, by name. He was profound scholar of Sanskrit literature, and often carried cartloads of books where-ever he went to display his learning. He came to Guru Nanak also for the sake of scholarly discussions. Guru Nanak explained to him that the store of information or knowledge did not constitute real education:

We may read books endlessly
By cart loads,
And assemble caravans with their loads,
And stuff boats, and hollows with their loads,
Through all the years and months which are at our command.
Throughout the life and for all the breaths at our disposal
Yet, says Nanak,
That all our education will be a mere prattle of ego.
Unless we realize the philosophy of unity of
God-head through it,
To make our destiny divine. (Page No ?)

Thus to Guru Nanak, mere book learning is not education. God is the summun-bonum of human life. In fact, that alone is the real education which enables a person to realise the divinity latent in him:

He alone is a man of wisdom,
Who gains self knowledge through right reflection.

Guru Nanak does not want to live by amassing knowledge, which is merely external stuff. But he wants to avoid death and destruction through an education which will generate immortalizing nectar within the soul. He condemns the scholars of his times who were contented only with the
mass of knowledge they acquired for fruitless discussions, but did not realize the actual aim of life :

The scholars study more and more to gain knowledge,
But they use it for vain discussions,
They do not use education,
For the realization of divine substance which is in them. (Page No ?)

Indeed, Guru Nanak is of the opinion that if one goes on reading and reading for its own sake, without practical realization of knowledge, he worries himself more and more. The more you write and study without practical realisation of Wisdom, the more you worry yourself. (Page No ?)

Education for Illumination: From the Sat-yuga downwards, the conception of education of the Indians has been that it is a source of illumination giving us a correct lead in the various spheres of life. Knowledge is rightly called the "third eye" of man, which gives him insight into all affairs of life and teaches him to act correctly. Nothing gives us such an insight as education, says the Mahabharata.3 Ignorance is the real bondage of man.

Knowledge is Strength: Guru Nanak considers education essential for the enlightenment of body, mind and soul. It is avidya (ignorance) he says, which forges fetters to bind the mind. Writing about the masses of his own times he says:

The people live in utter ignorance,
Like dead souls they obey the despots. (Page No ?)
Those people who are devoid of knowledge,
Fall an easy victim to deception of life, and are eaten up by the god of death. (Page No ?)
Education illumines the mind and helps in loosening the hold of these fetters.

Knowledge leads to wisdom and insight: At another place, Guru Ji regards knowledge as collyrium which, when applied, adds to the vigour and sight of eyes. Just as the darkness disappears when the lamp is lighted, similarly through the study of books of wisdom, ignorance of our mind is removed. It becomes clean and does not yet dirty again:

One can cleanse the mind(only) with the Jewel of wisdom
And thereafter it is soiled not again.1

Knowledge elevates body, mind and soul: For Guru Nanak knowledge helps in the harmonious development of body, mind and soul:

When we acquire treasure of divine knowledge,
We get insight into all the three realms of body, mind and soul.2

Knowledge is Virtue: With the help of knowledge man is able to discriminate between good and bad, right and wrong. He shuns evil and follows the virtuous path. He is able to fight the evil impulses of his mind with the sword of knowledge :

Man’s desires subside in his mind,
When he fights against them,
With the sword of wisdom.3

Wisdom leads to spiritual consciousness: For Guru Ji, constant curiosity and alertness of the mind and the emancipation of the intellect from inertia and dead habits should constitute a real element in the intellectual make-up of an individual, as he is aware of the utility of knowledge for spiritual upliftment also. But by knowledge he means divine knowledge which helps to gain eternal bliss:

The man of wisdom, gains eternal life of spiritualism,
Because he develops divine consciousness in himself. (Page No ?)

Education for life of action and labour: Guru Nanak stands for a life of action. He says that man can carve out his destiny through his own efforts.1 A man cannot get salvation of life without adoption of Karam-Yoga. The Karam-Yogi is the real enlightened person. A man devoid of such creative actions suffers all weaknesses of life.2

While choosing his successor, Guru Ji was not swayed by affinities of blood-relationships but was guided by consideration of merit and worth. He found dignity of labour and hardwork in Bhai Lehna and appointed him as his successor.

Guru Ji was no arm-chair philosopher. He himself led a life of creative and constructive action throughout life. Work and workship, love and labour, silence and song were blended together in the life at Kartarpur.1
For Guru Ji true wisdom can be realised only through a life of action:

Wisdom cannot be sought though prattle,
To describe its Essence also is hard,
Verily those alone can gain wisdom,
Who through God’s grace,
Lead the very practical life of Karam Yoga. (Page No ?)

That is why he says :

A person of real research becomes a creative man,
But the talkative one who indulges in mere prattle,
Destroys himself. (Page No ?)

Thus Guru Nanak scorns knowledge that does not lead to action. True testing of learning, according to him, is action.

Social and Civic Training: According to Guruji, Education should aim at the inculcation of civic and social virtues and promotion of social efficiency and happiness. For him essence of wisdom is the service of humanity.
If one dwells on (the essence of) knowledge.
One becometh of benefactor of all.4

Guruji is not individualistic in his aims of education. He wants the greatest good of the greatest number. The most outstanding aspect of his education is his humanism. He wants an educated person, first to evolve his own personality, and then serve society. Action and service are the two most important features of his teachings. Since he believes in the service of man, education of his conception should promote, among the young pupils spirit of service, social-sensitiveness, co-operation and sacrifice. He emphatically says:

We can get an honourable seat in the court of God.
Only when we practice disinterested service in the world.
And thus win glory, beauty and joy of life. (Page No ?)

According to Guruji, education and spirituality should inspire man to dedicate his life and genius to service of humanity. Spirituality, wisdom and virtues are futile if they help in personal salvation only. When the Yogis who had long retired into the Himalayan peaks for personal salvation ask him about the prevailing conditions of the world of men, he ironically replies, "When sages and perfect men like you, who have acquired enlightenment, keep hiding in the mountains, who will save the world and what do you expect the world of men do be!" For him, really educated man is he who is not egoist and individualistic but sees one God in all, and works for their upliftment:

He alone is an educated man, and a scholar,
Who realizes Divine knowledge, through spiritual experience,
Verily one who sees one God in all,
Cannot assess his egoism at all. (Page No ?)

Education for Harmonious Development: One single aim of education which embodies all the aims of education is: education as harmonious development of personality, ‘to draw out the best from body, mind and spirit’. Guru Nanak’s major emphasis is on education for self-realisation and self manifestation. But he asks for the physical, intellectual, emotional social, moral and spiritual development of the child as well.

In Siddha Ghosht he admonishes the ‘Sidhas’ not to torture and starve their bodies in hope of winning salvation. ‘Body is the vehicle of the soul. So it must be kept in fit, strong, and healthy condition. It is the basis for the performance of various worldly duties, and hence must be kept in perfect order. He upholds dignity of labour, like Rousseau in the modern age, and wants the child to work like a peasant and think like a philosopher.

1. M.I., Dakhani Onkar. Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, p.938.
1. Siri Rag M.I., P.25.
2. Dakhani Onkar, M.I., p-938.
3. Harnam Dass, "Kingdom of God" Spokesman weekly, Baisakhi Number, 1957, p.29.
1. M.I., Rag Dhana Sari Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji p. 662.
2. M. I. Japji, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. p.1
3. M. I. Rag Gouri Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji p. 152
1. M.I., Dakhani Onkar Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji p. 938
2. Ibid p. 930
3. Tirlochan Singh, Guru Nanak’s Conception of Education. ‘Spokeman Weekly’, Guru Nanak Number, Delhi 1956 p. 23.
4. H.B. Mukerjee, Education for Fulness. Calcutta : Asia Publishing House, 1962 p. 267.
1. M. I. Asa-di-Var Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji p. 467.
1. M.I. Rag Gauri Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji p. 152
2. M.I. Asa-di-war Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji p. 467
3. A. S. Altekar, Education in Ancient India, Benares: Nand Kishore and Bros, 1948 p. 4.
4. M.I. Asa-di-War Sri Guru Granth Sahib Jip. 465
5. M.I. Asa-di-War Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji p. 469.
1. M.I. Rag Maru Sri Guru Granth Sahib Jip. 992.
2. M.I. Siri Rag, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji p. 60
3. M.I. Saru Sohile Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, p. 1022
4. M.I. Solak Wara Te Wadhik, p. 1412.
1. M. I. Asa-di-War, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Jip. 474.
2. M.I., Siri Rag, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji p. 25
1. T. L. Waswani, A prophet of the people, Poona : Gita Publishing House, p. 69.
2. M.I. Asa-di-Var Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji p. 465.
3. M.I. Rag Malhar Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji p. 1255
4. Raga Asa, M.I. p. 356
1. M.I. Siri Ram, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji p. 26.
2. M.I. Rag Asa Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, p. 356.


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