THE GREATEST CHALLENGE

 

Alok Pandey

The twentieth century has been a period of phenomenal advancement. It was a period when many age old notions and long held beliefs and traditions were challenged and either broken or else recast in a new form closer to the eye of truth. It was a period when man explored distant Space and measured minutest Time. He raced with both and even bent them to his use. It was an era when man played at once with the atoms and the stars. And all his education was accordingly moulded along this line that is a study of outer objects, of life itself as an object cut into neat bits and pieces and reassembled in the classroom with the help of reason. Truth was no more a mystery but stood naked and raw before the searching gaze of Science that tied its body and limbs into new formulas while remaining careless of its soul. Nothing was left unguessed, nothing left untouched, nothing left to imagination. Subjectivity was abolished to a minimum and along with it the subject too. Man was a machine amidst other machines, the engine of his life driven mechanically by organs that were nothing more than mud and water. With all his achievements man was a soulless machine nothing more than an oversized worm wriggling in spacious halls and in the skies rather than in the mud and water of earth. It was as if the world’s disorder was hardening into law. But then somewhere around the middle of the previous century or

 

perhaps a little past it a new force began to stir in man. It was the well known revolt of the sixties with the coming of the flower children and the hippie revolution whose vibrations still continue to echo in the footsteps of our children today. It was the revolt of the human heart, its cry for a soul lost in the crowd of politics and industry and science. It was a cry from the bosom of man that has revolted against the idea of state machinery and government machinery and scientific machinery and all machinery that had only led to an increasing mechanization of life under the nice and neat name of organisation and order. Yet this was a closed organization with no room for freedom and error, the two trap doors through which truth often enters disguised into our life. The revolt was therefore as if God ordained, it was the saving grace of life which sought to free itself from too tight a machinery that Science and Politics had created entrapped the human soul in it. What is worse, his Science had enthroned man’s ego as the lord of nature and survival of his solitary self.  And this we taught and continued to teach in our schools. The first results are already coming! We have manufactured children as products who have either become perfect machines disconnected with their souls, whose sole motive is to succeed and stand first in the rat race of life. Or else they have revolted against all this and gone over board to the other side, to another extreme of freedom, to drugs and to licentiousness, to a life given only to recklessness and fun. It is sometimes difficult to say which one is better. They are rather two sides of the same coin.

 

Today as we enter into the present century, we stand at the cross roads where our children do not know whether to choose between a life given only to a blind rat race where you bear the labels of marks percentage and degree and post as badges and seals along with your name much as market products bear the various specifications and quantity of each ingredient in them. Or else to choose to be a vagabond and out of the mainstream of collective existence. It is truly hard on them when we as teachers and parents and guides ourselves a product of the past labouring under the night of the previous century are ourselves not clear about who we are and why are we here upon earth, with what goal or purpose, if any? Whither goes the journeying wheel of life? To what unknown port of hope sails our life’s ship? And who is its compass and pilot and guide? This is the real challenge before us in this present century. The challenge is to know man himself, to discover the true and real man, to find the lotus soul blooming within this mass of mud and water. After we have explored our outer spaces what is left and is of much more fundamental importance is to explore our inner spaces. After we have measured time what is left is to discover That which is Timeless and cannot be measured. After we have learned all the laws and organized truth into bits of formulas it is perhaps time to discover that which is free, beyond laws, beyond organization. We have learnt about the small but not yet of the vast. We have learnt about our surfaces but not yet of our depths. We have learnt about our bodies but remain ignorant of our souls. After we have known all about all the objects building this universe the greatest challenge before us today is to know about man himself!    

 

What happens to us as a race depends upon the answer we give to this most fundamental question “Who am I?” If the answer is that we are just a body, a conglomeration of cells dependent upon chemistry as the source of life and biology for thought and action, then it is idle to teach value education and any such higher things. For then we give to the child a contradictory message. On the one side we tell him that you are an animal, even if a social animal whose sole aim is survival, an ephemeral creature of mud and water who is ever chased and ultimately caught by death in its unseen claws. On the other side we expect this ephemeral creature of mud and water to beat celestial wings in some ethereal space and dream of nobility and virtue and truth and good. On the one side we stress so much on the ego-individuality, on the temporary identities formed of the circumstances of birth and family and custom. On the other hand we expect a child to grow up into a selfless being who thinks of the whole world as one large family. Such inherent contradictions plague a child’s mind and generate conflict between what he has been taught and has learnt from significant others and what he dreams and instinctively feels. For it is a fact that children if unpolluted by the conditioning imposed by the elders have generally a natural trust in life and are instinct with a sense of the larger picture. That is why they can dream the impossible and fantasize and imagine the unthinkable. They have a sense of careless freedom which we find often too disconcerting to our stress-laden life. We almost find it strange that they can be so carefree and laugh in the face of destiny. Perhaps behind this carefree outlook is a trust in life and destiny, a trust we have hence lost chasing the shadow of life through the pursuit of desire. The paradox is that we feel happy when the child has also got into the rut and begun to chase the shadow rather than the light. And we are happy when we see him/her  sitting before bagful of books and doing his/her  homework diligently as if that is the peak of Nature’s possibilities in man.

 

This is not to say that studies are not important or that children don’t do worse things when they have time, such as being caged by the TV and the PC.  They do and these are genuine problems that each parent and teacher has to face as an additional challenge today. But that apart the point is the excess importance given to school performance and career that would fetch a handsome salary or help the child settle in some wealthy country is the real spoiler. Even when parents complain about the child being glued to the television it is not so much because they are concerned about the child’s inner good as much as the concern is about the dropping performance due to the TV mania. It means that if a child does well in exams then he can do whatever he/she  feels like. The rest is of importance only in relation to his/her performance. And somewhere in all this the child begins to loose contact with his/her  soul and he/she  no more has trust in life and begins to doubt himself/herself  and his/her  destiny. Then he/she  resorts to one of the two things. Either he/she  studies very hard to get good marks so as to secure a good future or else unable to cope up he/she  opts out of the struggle of life and takes to the life of a vagabond of a recluse, as if he/she  were simply life’s leftover, an unwanted byproduct of the factory called school.

 

If only we could inspire a child to discover his/her  own true self-worth, his/her  own true image which is independent of all the rest. If only we could inspire him/her  to believe in himself/herself  and his/her destiny, to help him/her  develop trust in life and trust in God and trust in himself /herself and his/her  uniqueness. If only we could help him/her  understand that we are each given something unique, a role in the grand drama of life that we alone can fulfill, a place that we alone can occupy and it is our task to find that place and to fulfill that role. If we do what we are meant to do, then we fulfill life’s demand in us, however small that place may be in the eyes of men/women. But if we fail to find that place meant for us, then we loose life’s mission and our purpose even if we are in the most fortunate of circumstances. Better to be a competent shoe-maker than to be an incompetent king! That is the true meaning of discovering one’s own self-worth which has to be guided by the child’s swadharma, Nature’s unique mode of working, the existential angst. One indication of this swadharma is to find that which is a natural source of satisfaction , life-line of joy and accomplishmentin a child. Another indication is  special abilities and capacities that  Nature has gifted to each one for the work that is intended. The child has to be led to discover that and it is here is the  need for  some help and guidance and not in doing  projects and home-works. Through this, the child would discover its  true individuality,  soul’s need, the cry of life, the very purpose of  birth. And once that is discovered then the rest is easy. Otherwise he or she has to be contented to lead a borrowed life, someone else’s life and that is never a happy situation even if it be outwardly a comfortable one. But how can we help the child discover that unless we stop laying this excess, almost exclusive stress upon material success. This is the canker in the fruit of our education that has crept into our efforts at child-building and nation building and whatever else that we seek to build through our children. A better world!! But how can we build a better world with children who have been taught over and over again to strive for material success alone as if that was the one and only thing desired in them. Because if that be so then it is only natural they would become increasingly selfish and money-centered and power hungry and then nature in them will take a deviant and distorted course in life rather than a straight and natural one. What we need therefore is a re-orientation of the central value. What we need therefore is not a change of policies and systems but first and foremost a change of the very aim of education. What we need therefore is not job quotas and job centered education but rather a child oriented and soul centered education. If we can change the very purpose of education from man manufacturing to man making, from career building to soul building, from finding a job to discovering himself/herself, then all the rest will flow and follow from this. But if we cannot do so and our education continues to cater simply to job and careers as the primary aim then it does not matter what systems or syllabi we use, we will end up manufacturing the same average product, that of a wealthy and powerful man but one without a soul. This will be the challenge before the coming century, the path that we take on this high curve of destiny where either with one giant leap we can reach the rare summits to which we secretly aspire for or with one wrong step we loose all and drown into an abyss. For it is education alone that can prepare us for the right decision when the call of destiny comes knocking at our doorsteps. We shall make the right answers if we have grown conscious of our soul and seek to fulfill its urge in us. But if we continue to remain careless of its voice and answer to its intimations with a deaf ear, then we have to only remember a message  to us at the turn of the previous century: ‘Men, Countries, Continents,The choice is imperative-Truth or the Abyss.’