Samvit Excerpts - September 2012

Perfection through Education

The author,
Pravrajika Vivekaprana,
is in charge of the Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, Pangot, near Nainital in the Himalayas. This article, transcribed and compiled by Indu Ramchandani, is from the original lecture delivered at the decennial celebration of Rasik Bhita, Kolkata.

Swami Vivekananda said, 'Education is the manifestation of the perfection already in man.' In this context, I would like to recall the name, Rasik, after whom an educational institute, Rasik Bhita, is named. Who was he and what did he do to deserve an institute in his name? This institute was started and is run by the Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, Dakshineswar. In February 2012 it celebrated its tenth anniversary with a seminar focused on education, excellence and human opportunities. This is an institute named after a man whose name does not feature in our history books.

Rasik's is a very simple story. He belonged to the lowest rung of our society. He was an untouchable. He was a sweeper and used to work in the Dakshineswar Kali temple premises. He knew he was uneducated and was shunned, and had no other way to go. He could not see himself coming out of that milieu at all. Everyday he used to see all kinds of great people coming to Sri Ramakrishna and talking to him. There were days when there used to be a lot of singing of devotional songs and dancing. He must have also seen people meditating, praying and involved in spiritual discussions. Rasik just knew that Sri Ramakrishna was a great saint because he had seen eminent people from the elite society of Kolkata, come to him and listen to him speak. He was deeply impressed. He would watch from outside, never daring to go into the room himself because he was an untouchable.

One day, when he saw Sri Ramakrishna walking in the garden at the Panchavati, he asked him, 'Father, what will happen to me?' And what was the father's response? He assured him that he would achieve the goal at the end. Sri Ramakrishna promised Rasik that at the end, at the time of his death, he would achieve perfection. And apparently if you would like to believe it, at the time that he was dying, Rasik asked his family members to lay him down on the ground and light a lamp. Suddenly he said, 'O Father! You have come!' So saying, he passed away.

Today, this story and its events may seem very strange to us, as we have moved into the twenty-first century and we refer to ourselves as post-modern or ultra-modern! Not only are we claiming to be modern but post-modern! This man, belonging to the lowest level of society is simple and direct enough to refer to Sri Ramakrishna whom we perhaps refer to as an incarnation, saint or realized soul, as father and be worthy enough to be taken by the hand by Sri Ramakrishna to wherever perfection lies.

The Concept of Education

Today's education points to achieving something in the external world. Education is merely gathering of information. We gather the maximum information as possible, although it is a moot question whether we really apply that information in an effort to understand life itself, and receive some kind of wisdom out of it. The mind is restless as it is looking for a goal. We try to acquire all kinds of skills hoping they will make our life more interesting, varied and dynamic. But despite all the academic degrees and skills that we gather to make life more interesting, there is a very deep sense of dissatisfaction and frustration which is very apparent in every society today.

Rasik meets
Sri Ramakrishna
at the Panchavati

Rasik was an uneducated man whose work was to clean the privies at the Dakshineswar temple, day in and day out. Sri Ramakrishna had given him this simple instruction: 'Do your work and always chant the name of God.' What is the meaning of this kind of education? In today's academic and educational concepts, what Rasik was given is not education at all and yet he was given the very basis of a way of life, a simple approach and understanding of life through the work that he did and that in itself showed him the goal or aim of perfection in such a clear light.

So we need to ask whether the education of concentration of mind and doing a simple job to the best of one's ability, which Rasik performed in all humility, would we call that perfect education? We do not understand what education is meant for. It is supposed to make life more meaningful and balanced and not based on excitement; and it is supposed to lead us to a concentrated state of mind where we can accept the end of the body as a normal flow towards the culmination of this life. This kind of training of the mind is education in itself.

Ancient education wanted us to believe that there is perfection within oneself and the realization of that is the ultimate goal of human life. That is what will ultimately lead to the acceptance of the end of human life which culminates with the death of the human body, which is a problem to accept in modern society.

The Concept of Perfection

What is our concept of perfection? Today we are merely flitting from one path to another. from one desire to another, from one experience to another. This ancient concept of perfection through education is knowing the goal and accepting the final stage of the end with the same equanimity as we accept this journey of life. This is the true perfection and the ultimate education. Maybe it is not very clear to us today because we believe that perfection lies in acquiring a lot of information, struggling for excellence in a particular field. Yet, no one seems to reach the level of having achieved the goal and be at peace. The moment one goal is achieved, it seems insufficient and another goal is set. That means that despite the frenzy no one is achieving any final and fulfilling sense of perfection in the deeper sense of the term.

We do not question the mind ever. Why are we in this state? Why are we here? Why do we behave the way we do? Such searching helps us to discover our tendencies. And then we can look at our experiences and how we behave in those experiences. What one needs to find out is why one repeats the same experiences without learning; and finally how long do we want to continue to repeat experiences?

The Goal of Life

In today's society, excitement and enjoyment are the goals of daily life. We believe that to make life interesting, we need to be excited all the time, and for that we run from one event to another, from one experience to another, which will give us some kind of sensation of pleasure, as that is seen as the goal of life. And as each aspect ceases to hold our interest, we move on to something else. But here was a man, Rasik, whose life was the worst kind of drudgery. For his entire working life, Rasik did the same most lowly and menial work. So there could not have been anything interesting or exciting for him at all! And yet he attained something that we today, with all our ambitions and opportunities, cannot seem to touch. Why?

In the ancient type of education, which Rasik clearly had already, was to be able to perform one's duty in such a way that it slowly led to the dynamic end of achieving a balanced and concentrated state of mind, where there were no anxieties and worries, excepting the conscious awareness that one should be able to let go at the end. And that is today the biggest anxiety.

This desire for excellence is intrinsic to every human being. Swami Vivekananda says that every human being has this desire for excellence, the desire for Truth, perfection, and God realization. Everyone has it, and each one tries to move towards it. But for that we need to understand our tendencies; accept them, and then go to someone who can guide us to a particular path. Rasik had the humility and understanding to surrender to Sri Ramakrishna and ask for a path, believing that this man was capable of giving him the path to that excellence. When the mind is concentrated and at peace, there are no more questions, there is no more restlessness; then the mind is silent and it manifests the innate perfection that Swamiji is talking about.

Every human mind believes in its own perfection, goodness and excellence; till we face society and others point to the imperfection in us. Society says we need to go outside into the world to be educated, whereas our ancient psychology says that we need to discover for ourselves that perfection which is already within us, and for that the discipline is concentration of the mind and purity of motivation. When we have these two, the perfection which is already within, will shine through. Perfection is already there; we do not need to achieve or acquire it from anywhere, we only need to uncover it. We do not need too much information for this purpose. Whatever information we do have we need to apply it to our daily lives. The information we get from society is that we have to work out our own destiny. And if we do not believe in the work we are doing, if we do not do it with dedication, if we do not accept that the work is the road towards the goal, then how will perfection shine through? We have the belief; we need to uncover the basis of that belief. To do this we all take a path. But with lack of faith we waver and swerve out of the path. We need to understand that whatever work we do, apart from giving us the utilities of daily life, it has also to be the path to the ultimate goal. So then what would be our attitude to that work? What kind of motivation should we have? If the motivation is to realize the intrinsic perfection and excellence, then it will help us to uncover that through whatever we are doing.

The perfection Rasik had, therefore, was evident in the complete commitment and dedication. The purity of his mind gave him the goal and excellence together and he did not need anything else. And with the implicit faith in his Master, Sri Ramakrishna, Rasik did his job-to perfection, united in thought, mind and action.

The Level of Perfection

Rasik dies saying,
'O Father,
you have come!'

When Swami Vivekananda explains our ancient religious psychology, he talks about three levels. The first is the physical level, the body; then we have the mental level and finally, we believe there is a spiritual level which we call the level of the Atman. And Swamiji asks, are there three-in-one, one-in-three or is there just one level?

The answer depends on whatever medium we use to perceive our own reality or the reality outside. If we use our sense organs the physical reality is the only reality that we can become aware of. When we start thinking and start realizing that behind the multiplicity there has to be some common thread, we reach another level, where we use another medium, the mind, and we perceive the same reality as an ideal reality. Now at this three-in-one level, is it possible to be perfect without realizing that there is some kind of unity, some kind of integration? Can we be perfect at the physical level if we neglect the mental-intellectual levels, and if we neglect to recognize our own claim of being a unit principle? We all believe we are one unit individual. But in what way are we a unit?

This body is made up of multiple cells although it apparently functions as a unit. With the help of science, we know today that it is not a unit. The body is made up of billions of cells, billions of units. Then there is the combination of the mind, intellect, thoughts and emotions which also seem to function as if they are connected together, as if they are under our control as one unit and so we assume that mentally we are a unit. But a little reflection shows us that we are not at all in control! Random uncontrolled thoughts, unchecked emotions race though our minds and we are invariably their helpless victims! Therefore the mental level, the mind, is also a level of multiplicity.

Is there anything beyond? Is there a level of Oneness? If we think about it, every one is saying, 'I am,' 'I am.' And obviously the implication is not that, 'I am a multiple-unit person.' A multiple personality or a dual personality is a sign of mental sickness. If we become aware of the division within ourselves, of the apparent three levels of body, mind and soul, we would definitely become schizophrenic. On the other hand, if we are a unit, then why are we so divided all the time?

Today, if we look around and look within ourselves, all the dissatisfaction, frustration, depression and tension are due to not being able to function as a unit. The aim of perfection should teach us how to integrate ourselves as a unit. Each of us believes that we are a unit. We watch the growth of the body as it passes from childhood to youth, old age and death. We are also watching the movement of the mind with its millions of images, thoughts, ideas and emotions. If we are watching the body and mind then we are the observers.

We are always the observers. As the observer, I am a unit. The exception is when we feel the pain of the body. 'While enjoying pleasure in a healthy body we do not feel separated but with pain we do separate ourselves. We become uncomfortably aware of a kind of division. We become aware of something we do not like, the pain. This happens in front of our mental eyes, through the neurological system.

Then there is the mental level of ideas and emotions, and we are again watching all the time. It is true that we get confused and say, for example, I am angry or we say, I am in pain, not realizing that the anger or pain is an observation and observation is possible only when we are aware of something in front of us, separated from us. We can never become the object. The universe is our object, the mind is our object and this body also is our object. I am not an object.

This is the message of our ancient psychology. This is the concept and message that Swami Vivekananda reemphasized. This is one simple way of understanding that we are units; we need to accept this.

Preparing for the End of the Journey

Preparing for the end is an education we are never given. First of all, is the need to accept the inevitable end and welcome it. Right now the concept is that the end is an unnatural and violent termination of life and it should not happen. Why do we fear death?

There was a time when education was focused on living life according to a certain goal in mind and to be clear about the limitations of the time and energy that a living being has; and accepting that it has to terminate in the death of that particular body. The time we have between birth and death has to lead to a peaceful end, so that we are not dragged from life, but we can flow with the events that take place in daily life and at the same time, be prepared to let go at the end.

This is a tremendous training in itself which can be called education and excellence in the deepest sense of the word.

The Ideal Education

The perfection of education therefore lies in that: knowing the goal; knowing the limitations of the body; and knowing that there is a path to follow that culminates with death which is the critical part of ending this particular journey. This was Rasik's perfection. There was a time in India when this kind of analysis and understanding was given as a part of daily education, and that was the ideal education. But fora long time it got lost. Perhaps there were series of historical events that changed the level of perception and gradually we began to feel, 'I am small, the universe is huge;' whereas the original concept is the opposite: I am the one with whose awareness the universe is there! If I am That, then how can I be small? How can I be divided? How can I be one with the object?

If this basic fact can be taught to children, and before that, if we as adults can convince ourselves with the help of modern science, that this is the basic truth-we create our experience, therefore we can control our participation. But if we believe that the world is completely independent of us; whatever is happening is simply happening to us; we are passive, then it is not possible to take the position of the controller. And we know through personal experience that we all wish to be in control. We try our level best through education or skills and we try to be in control, though we know deep down within ourselves that we are not in control. We are depressed, we are tense, we are divided against ourselves and therefore against everyone around us, and it is high time that we realized that this integration or perfection is not outside of ourselves.

Swamiji says, 'We want that education by which character is formed, strength of mind is increased, the intellect is expanded and by which one can stand on one's own feet.' We need to be in charge, and for that, is the need to accept that we are units. When we use the sense organs, we are aware of the physical reality; when we use the mind we become aware of a mental reality and of the laws and principles that apply to the world both outside and inside; finally, as a unit, I am That, which is the achievement of perfection through education.