Student Life.


The universally accepted object of education all over the world at the present day is to make the student a useful denizen of this world. His body and mind are so trained as to make them capable of performing in the most efficient manner possible the increasingly arduous duties of a worthy member of the swiftly progressing civilized society of today. The student is carefully trained to observe and understand the processes of physical Nature that he may take his due share in bringing about a better adjustment between the bodies and minds of himself and other and their mundane surroundings. That person is considered to be properly adjusted to his surroundings who is in the position to extract from them the maximum quantity and quality of worldly facilities in the gross as well as subtle forms. A person who can walk faster than another, can build a better house than another, can draw a better picture than another, can sing or dance better than another, can cook, fight, or do more of these things or do them better than others is regarded as the more successful student. The most successful student is one who attains the capacity of enjoying the world in every possible way. The child, the adolescent, the young, the old have different capacities for such enjoyment. The object of modern education is to increase the range and capacity of the senses and of the mind at each stage for effectively enjoying the world. No empiric educationist has any objection on principle to sensuousness. The object of the ordinary teacher in the school-room, on the pulpit, at the bench, bar, the journalist’s or author’s desk, is to gild the pill of worldliness in order to impart to it a seductive appearance. The kernel of naked sensuousness, is however, liable to be exposed if only one cares to take the trouble of scratching off the thin coating of sugar provided by the cunning labour of the apologists or educationists. But as a matter of fact no one is seriously inclined to do this as the deceiver and the deceived have a mutual understanding of the trade. The increased gratification of the senses in diverse and effective ways made practicable by the discoveries of the physical and mental sciences is regarded as the promised attainment of the summum bonum of human existence, health, wealth, long life, intelligence, honesty, in fact every good quality by this test is valued just in the proportion in which it tends to yield this result. The Student is sedulously trained to make him succeed in this noble undertaking. The only sinner in this ideal arrangement is one who fails to procure by honest or dishonest methods an abundance or superfluity of these so-called ‘amenities’ of civilized life—for himself and others. Everyone is expected to work skilfully in order to be enabled thereby to live or help others to live a comfortable, refined and expanded life of worldly enjoyment. One who is lacking in industry or skill is condemned as he is likely to fail in the competitive struggle for obtaining the lion’s share of the good things of this world. The supreme desirability of worldly success is taken for granted as an axiomatic truth, society grudgingly acknowledging its duty of helping those unfortunate members from the consequence of their folly who fail to provide for their own livelihood, by a purposely niggardly arrangement of ‘poor relief’ that is compulsory forced upon them but by being left to themselves they become a greater obstacle in the way of its own enjoyments. Begging or stealing had been the uncivilized methods by which these paupers had managed to live on the products of the labours of the well-to-do. But as begging and stealing have been found on the whole a far more uneconomical provision for paupers than the work-house the latter has been imposed upon them and begging for livelihood is now a crime punishable by law in all highly civilised countries.

In India, however, the profession of begging as a means of earning a livelihood has not only been not suppressed but the giving of alms to beggars is cherished as a pious obligation of every house-holder,—so much so that in Bengal poor-feeding has come to be regarded as equivalent to feeding Narayana Himself! This last undoubtedly is a thoughtless and sacrilegious opinion from the point of view of science as well as of religion but is nevertheless current and popular. The existence of a particularly numerous body of so-called Sadhus who live by begging affords further ample scope in this country for the free exercise of the much prized virtue of indiscriminate charity.

In India the duty of offering alms to the Sadhus is universally recognised as obligatory on every house-holder. Sannyasis, Brahmacharis, peripatetic religious teachers, every one who passes himself as a Sadhu, claim that it is the bounden duty of the householders to place themselves and their property freely at their disposal. In the present article we are concerned with one of these classes of religious mendicants, viz. the students or Brahmacharis who live with their preceptors for spiritual training.

The traditional ideal of student-life in this country is that of the Brahmachari who is required to live as an inmate of the household of his preceptor and beg and perform menial and other kinds of service for his teacher. The Brahmachari in all cases is a celebate and practises spiritual living, as enjoined by the Shastras, under the direction of his preceptor. The Brahmachari may or may not marry and take up the life of a house-holder on the termination of his student-life. It is, however, his duty to be guided in this matter also by the advice of his teacher. The teacher himself may or may not be a celebate. In the monastic system the teacher as well as the students are celebates the object of both being exclusively spiritual. It is strictly forbidden by the scriptures to earn a living by religion. The Brahmacharies belonging to a monastery beg for their alma mater but the alms thus obtained may not be applied to the purposes of worldly living including the maintenance of the family of the teacher so that the case of the house-holder teacher who is maintained by the earnings of his students is quite different from that of the Sannyasi who is responsible for the spiritual education of a monastery.

Thus the monastery is the real academy of spiritual education in complete accord with the principles laid down by the Shastras. The ideal monastery is free from all worldliness. The inmates of a monastery, teachers and students alike, dedicate their lives to the exclusive service of the Supreme Lord. There is no service more acceptable to the Lord than that of rendering spiritual aid to the sinners. The inmates of a monastery by seeking the voluntary help of every householder for their institution serve the Lord by trying to associate all worldly people in the perfectly selfless worship that is possible only in the monastery. By such participation in the monastic service all the participants are spiritually benefited. Those outsiders who thus participate in the worship of the monastery are soon enabled to realise the fact that their alms are not being given to beggars but really to the sole Proprietor of themselves and their belongings. In this way they gradually learn to regard all their worldly possessions including their bodies and minds as held in trust for the Lord to be used in His service and for no other purpose. This real enlightenment by means of such spiritual co-operation in due course dawns equally upon the student and the people at large by the system of monastic education conducted under the supreme direction of really competent spiritual preceptors.

As soon as a community is blessed with spiritual enlightenment even to a slight extant its worldly problems tend to be solved automatically and in a manner which is harmful to none. The soul functions perfectly on the spiritual plane. As soon as the awakened soul begins to function on its own proper plane it dominates without disturbing the arrangements of this world and perfects them in the process. The establishment of this spiritual dominion over the material is the outwardly invisible revolution which alone possesses the potency of bringing about real harmony and thereby removing all the miseries of this world.

Those who are prepared to admit the transcendental nature of the spiritual will find no difficulty in subscribing to the above view. Secular education misses its object and becomes a source of further increase of our miseries is it minimises the spiritual issue. All activities, including the education of the people, should be subordinated to the spiritual purpose. The service of the transcendental Lord is the one thing needful. The complete acceptance of this as the only principle of all conduct is the real summum bonum and the only consummation that is worth striving for.

Every one who seeks real enlightenment should ponder seriously over the proposition that secular education and worldly activity all can never enable one to realise the truth. On the contrary all secular education as such has an undoubted tendency of obscuring the truth just in the proportion of its supposed success. If one believes that he can fly about in the air, move under the water, analyse the rays of light coming from the remotest stars, predict the future of everything, his self-confidence is proportionately increased. He learns to believe in his own effort as the means of increasing his knowledge and power. But the transcendentalist knows that such assurance is an aggravation of the ignorance which is the root-cause of all the miseries of the sinful state. The person who allows his judgement to be thus misled by the seductive forms of worldly facilities promised by empiric knowledge turns out the most stubborn opponent of all spiritual enlightenment. This is the danger and mischief of secular education and secular living. They keep up our belief in the necessity of worldliness and tend to perpetuate the delusion that our souls are the denizens of this phenomenal world and have no better work to do than laboriously building castles in the air which give no shelter against the rain and the wind. If one really desires to escape the consequences of ignorance which is at once the cause and the result of all secular activity he must in the first place avoid relying on the advice of empiric educationists.

I say all this with due deliberation being fully aware that the scientific pedagogues, will point derisively to the present wretched condition of India as the logical result of the endeavour to translate the spiritual ideal into actual practice. My reply to such opponents is this. The transcendentalist covets neither the learning nor the wealth of this world for its own sake. Neither does he absolutely object to being poor and illiterate. He knows that the circumstances in which a person happens to be placed in this world are a necessary consequence of his worldly activities and are intended by Providence to cure him of the taste for such activities by the bitter experience of their consequences. This world is a vast reformatory school for the reclamation of souls that are addicted to worldliness. Those who are dull or inexperienced do not understand that this is so. It is only such people who seek the help of secular education which wholly misrepresents the object of life by recommending the pursuit of worldly objects for the purpose not of escaping but of enjoying their consequences. But those alone are deceived by these hollow promises of worldly happiness who are themselves unduly attached to the pleasures of the senses. It is for this reason that worldliness necessarily appears as the summum bonum of life to such persons.

I do not maintain the opposite view that the absence of worldly prosperity is necessarily a proof of spiritual well-being although their co-existence is neither impossible nor rare. But the one is really different from the other. Worldly prosperity and worldly adversity are indeed the consequences of worldly activity but it has not been given to man to have any control over the results of his acts. The progress and decline of civilization are controlled by a power higher than man’s. Man is allowed to speculate on them to his heart’s content but the string is pulled by Providence and His ways have always been and will ever remain perfectly inscrutable to the little brain of man.

But the soul of man need not wait for his peace and happiness upon the incalculable pleasure of the power that marshals the phenomena of this world. He can make himself perfectly immune from the vicissitudes of this world by simply stepping into his own proper plane. As soon as he does so he finds everything friendly and intelligible including physical Nature herself. He also understands how he is to behave towards her. By their fundamental postulates the sciences built up by the reason of man are doomed to grope in the darkness of a perpetual ignorance. But when a man finds his soul he finds himself face to face with the Reality which no longer hides its face from him. He is, therefore, automatically freed from the necessity of always guessing wrongly. He walks with perfect confidence in the light of his clear vision. It is this real enlightenment which is sought to be produced by the seminary of the monastery managed by persons who themselves possess the spiritual vision.