I am a big fan of the great Indian epic Mahabharata. One of the key things I learnt from the epic is about education and virtue. It is in Mahabaratha that I learnt what is the main goal of education. The main goal of education is to instill virtue. One of the beautiful note from Mahabharata actually illustrates the problem in the modern education.

The knowledge that is merely so much undigested information crammed into the mind cannot instill virtue. It is just an outward show like our clothes and is no real part of us.

In olden days people believed in acquiring knowledge by three means.

  • Self learning
  • Taught by a teacher
  • AusterityWhile the first two are obvious the third one may be mysterious to the modern world. Learning by austerity is done by meditating intensely and praying God to present them with the knowledge in the subject they want to learn. Even Gods used to pray to other Gods to get knowledge about some subjects. There are lot of examples in Mahabharata for this type of learning. One of the stories about learning by austerity is the story of Yavakrida.

    Yavakrida was angry because his father was not respected inspite of being versatile scholar in veda. He wanted to master the vedas and gain knowledge but did not want to learn it through a teacher or self-learning. He instead opted to learn by austerity. He meditated and prayed lord Indra to give him the knowledge of vedas. He tortured his body to get the boon the wanted. The lord appeared twice and asked him to learn the vedas through hardwork, dedication and devotion. He refused to accept that and insisted God to gift him that knowledge.

    One day Indra decided to teach him a lesson so he came to earth as an old man. He was taking sand in his hand and throwing into the Ganges river. Yavakrida watched the old man doing it for hours and was curious to know what the old man’s goal was. He inquired the old man about his project. The old man replied that he is trying to build a dam across Ganges river. Yavakrida could believe this and he was laughing and said to the old man that to built a dam across the mighty river he has to take on a more laborious large scale work and that he cannot build a dam just by throwing the sand into the river.

    At this point the old man asked Yavakrida that if he thinks that the old man cannot build a dam by throwing sand what makes him think that mastering vedas by austerity will help him become a learned scholar. Yavakrida realized his mistake and was granted to boon to learn vedas by studying it.

    This story clearly illustrates the fast paced learning that is happening in the society today. Education is not building up people. It is giving them status but not a good self-image. Education today is not instilling the virtue to lead a life of rectitude. I have managed freshers in my projects for the last 9 years. Including myself I have noted that freshers always wanted to learn by austerity. In today’s world learning by books and videos is still similar to learning by austerity. They think that the knowledge acquired by books and videos are sufficient enough for them to take on challenges. We look to learn everything overnight. We don’t recognize and respect the knowledge of seniors in the team or organization. I did the same mistake but I learnt that when I started to see how freshers in other industries learned. In India graduates from law school join a senior lawyer’s team and work for him for years and follow his footsteps and learn by servitude. The same is true with doctors in India.

    On a sarcastic note the government and entrepreneurs want people to learn things through austerity. People who are displaced by technology are expected to upgrade themselves through austerity and get a new job. For example if you are a blue collar worker who worked in manufacturing industry when your country was a manufacturing economy and lost your job to a foreign country you are expected to immediately learn something totally different from your past work and become part of service oriented economy.

    Credits and References

    • Mahabharata the great Indian Epic by Valmiki
    • Mahabharata abridged version by C. Rajagopalachari