More than one out of every five American adults, 25 million in all, are actively engaged in some form of educational pursuit, according to a recent Carnegie Corporation Survey. The above figures do not include unmarried people under 21, who make up most of an additional 5 million undergraduate students. And it doesn’t speak of public school students at all. As more people are engaging their leisure time in educational activities, naturally greater sums are being spent on books. Publishers in the U.S. report sales of last year’s books to have totalled $1.2 billion, a 10.6% increase over the previous year, and the general trend over the past fifteen years is in this direction. The printing industry has also been affected by the upsurge of interest in learning, to the extent that it now produces 16,000 printed sheets of paper an hour. The fact is that the world in general and the United States in particular are witnessing an unprecedented demand for knowledge, ranging from the latest in technology to the most obscure of trivia. There are many reasons put forward for this, such as prosperity, economic rivalry in cold war competition, technological advancement, etc. Media analyst Marshall McLuhan credits television with having whetted the world’s appetite for more knowledge in depth. With its “stress on participation, dialogue, and depth,” McLuhan observes, tv is largely responsible for the crash programming in education. Its appeal to the tactile rather then visual sense has brought on the great inundation of paperback books.
Setting aside the medium itself, and venturing into the forbidden realm of the message, what is it that people are learning; and just what, if anything, do they expect to find out? According to Sigmund Freud, all questions that children ask can be reduced to one: “Where do I come from, and who am I?” The pioneering psychoanalyst asserted that a child wants to find out about the process of sexual reproduction, but because of an insufficient fund of knowledge, cannot comprehend its full significance. Hence the child asks so many questions. Sex, however, does not provide a real solution to our quest for an ultimate source or absolute identity. Sex is the vehicle of material birth, but not the key to the source. It does not tell us the origin or nature of consciousness, which is the real “I” that the child is asking about.
The first principle of Krishna Consciousness, as found in The Bhagavad Gita and other Vedic sources, is expressed in the Sanskrit formula, “Aham Brahmasmi.” I am not this body, but pure spirit soul. Therefore, any ultimate answers, in order to give complete satisfaction to the individual, must of necessity relate to the spirit, and also to the Supreme Spirit, or Godhead, Lord Sri Krishna. This is explained in the First Canto of The Srimad Bhagwatam, where in addressing the sages of Naimisharanya, Suta Goswami says that there is “public welfare” even in just asking about God.
There is no benefit or public welfare in material questions and answers, because ultimately they cannot save us from—nor clearly explain—death. This is illustrated in the story of the scholar and the boatman: In India, where there are many rivers, travel by ferryboat is not uncommon. Once there was a pedantic scholar who, while being ferried across a river, kept plaguing the boatman with his useless questions:
“Do you know astronomy?”
“No,” replied the poor boatman, “I’m ignorant and don’t know anything about astronomy.”
“Oh,” scoffed the scholar.” Then 20% of your life has been wasted. Do you at least know any literature?”
The boatman again had to admit, “No. In fact, I can’t even read.”
“Then 50% of your life has been wasted.” And so on.
While the two were thus engaged, a tempest arose and smashed at the boat, which began to capsize. All at once the scholar lost his composure, and started yelling for help.
“Can’t you swim?” enquired the boatman.
The poor puffed up scholar had never learned.
“Now, one hundred per cent of your life has been wasted!” the boatman cried through the foaming storm.
Anyone who studies this and that branch of knowledge, without taking up Krishna Consciousness, the ultimate inquiry into knowledge of the Absolute, has simply wasted 100% of his life. Only knowledge of Lord Sri Krishna, the Godhead, can save one from death. Information on the material platform is always becoming obsolete because this material world is only temporary, both in its totality and in its parts. Whatever is here is here for some time only, and then it passes away. So this human life with its valuable asset of developed consciousness should not be wasted in dabbling at mental play.
Eating, sleeping, mating, and defending are aspects of cat and dog life as much as of human. The human form, however, is meant for more—for self realization. This term means to understand that I am part and parcel of God, Sri Krishna, and that my true nature is to render loving service to Him. The aim of education, as well as the overall aim of civilization itself, should be this self realization.
Unesco, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is currently pursuing a massive campaign to combat illiteracy, and has proposed that no less than $480 million be spent in the next ten years in order to make 330 million adults literate. Simply propagating literacy for its own sake, however, is of little real benefit to anyone so long as the basic questions regarding identity, being, and God are neglected. What good is learning about material Nature if one does not know how to escape from its miseries? Instead of eradicating ignorance, the U.N. is actually spreading it so long as it tries to impose upon mankind a sophisticated world view centered on the economic exploitation of Nature, rather than to offer an inquiry into the origin of material Nature itself. And beyond this lies knowledge of the distinctions between matter and the spiritual living force. Ignorance can only really be eradicated by the propagation of Krishna Consciousness, which teaches these things. This method of God realization is simple and sublime, and anyone can take it up, just by chanting the names of God: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Lord Chaitanya, Who was an incarnation of Krishna Himself, posed as one of the many fools of the present age in introducing this chanting of Hare Krishna. His Spiritual Master had told Him, He once explained, that He could not understand the Vedanta philosophy, and so was forbidden to tamper with it. Certainly, the Lord was no fool, but He was setting an example for us to follow. For if He, as the greatest scholar of His day, agreed not to engage in mental speculation, then we certainly should not do so.
There is another story of Lord Chaitanya and an illiterate brahmin whom He met one day as He was walking through a wood. The brahmin was holding a volume of The Bhagavad Gita in his hands and was weeping emotionally. When the Lord enquired why he was weeping, the brahmin opened The Gita and pointed to an illustration of Krishna driving Arjuna’s chariot, at which he wept anew.
“Although I cannot read,” explained the brahmin, “I’m holding this Gita and seeing how the Lord is so merciful! He is driving Arjuna’s chariot just like a servant, because of His love for His pure devotee.”
“Ah! You are the true Bhagavad Gita scholar!” Lord Chaitanya exclaimed.
All the pedants, scholars and fools who try to study the Vedic writing do not know that to surrender to Krishna in love is the final teaching of the Vedas. In The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says: “I am the Knower, the Compiler, and the Goal of the Vedas. “As Lord Chaitanya pointed out, this understanding is the real aim of all education.
Modern educational systems are generally a failure because, even though seemingly advanced in terms of paraphernalia, the emphasis is on material advancement rather than spiritual, and the people are therefore more miserable than ever, despite the wondrous achievements of technology. People are more miserable because any attempt to exploit and lord over material Nature is doomed to frustration and failure. And any system which encourages people to hope for the conquest of Nature and the glorification of man in the place of God is merely an agency of torment, aggravating the misfortunes of the material condition.
Real advancement in education comes through hearing of the transcendental pastimes of Lord Sri Krishna and His pure devotees. Krishna Consciousness, therefore, is the highest form of education. There is no question here of learning something alien. Rather, this science will revive the dormant Krishna Consciousness already present in our hearts. We have only to try it—to inquire and serve—and we will realize our eternally blissful and fully knowledgeable nature. When we are Krishna conscious, we can see Krishna in everything, and understand that everything belongs to Him. This is real knowledge.