This paper was presented at
Psychology: The Indian Contribution
National Conference on
Indian Psychology, Yoga and Consciousness
organised by the Indian Council of Philosophical Research
at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education
Pondicherry, India, 10-13 December 2004

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Yoga, Meditation and Education. A Way of Character Building

Ayushman Goswami
Regional Institute of Education (NCERT),
Sachivalaya Marg, Bhubaneswar - 751 022

‘Yoga’, in Indian intellectual tradition has been discussed from different perspectives by different schools of thought. Theoretical aspect of yoga has never been at the centre of thought among spiritual masters but its continuous and effective practices have always been taken seriously by sages or yogis. History of the development of Indian intellectual thought reveals metaphysical and epistemological differences among traditional schools of thought. We find a series of drastic changes with improvement in our thought since Vedic period to contemporary thinkers like, Vivekānanda, Aurobindo, Gāndhi, Tagore, Rādhākrishanan, J. Krishnamurty, Ramana Maharsi etc.

Having major differences in metaphysics, epistemology and rituals the schools of thought unanimously accepted importance of yoga and meditation in their system. Scriptures of Buddhism and Jainism are full of arguments which were given against Vedic-Upanisadic tradition to criticise supremacy of Brahamans, Vedic rituals, importance of Yajna etc. But Astāngicmārg of Buddhism and Panchamāhāvrata of Jainism clearly support Upanisadic path of meditation and Sādhanā. It seems, at the depth of the process of upliftment of consciousness the sages feel an unique experience that extinct all differences. Yoga and meditation can be understood as unique and universal experience of spiritual masters.

As we have mentioned above, yoga has been accepted into different forms in Indian tradition but we will discuss here its two forms which have been accepted widely. One that has been explained in Gitā with three forms of Karmayoga, Bhaktiyoga, Jnanayoga and second, which was given by Patanjali to Indian philosophy as Pātanjalyoga. Here not only we will explain both types of yoga with their traditional meaning but also try to reveal their educational implications. We will also explore new ideas about yoga and meditation to improve quality of education as well as life of teachers and students.

Let us discuss on Bhagwatgitā’s view. Bhagwatgitā deals yoga with its specific divisions of Jnānyoga, karmayoga and Bhaktiyoga. These three types of yoga are three paths of salvation according to the nature of man. Those who are attaining knowledge through supreme wisdom to get highest perfection are called Jnānyogi. Those who are performing actions renouncing attachment and desire of fruits with commitment are called Karmayogi. At last, people who have surrendered themselves completely to the god and have no desire except god are called Bhaktiyogi.

Here Gitā’s perspective of yoga can help us to improve quality of education, methods of teaching and moral of teachers with bright future of students. We are not expecting teachers to become Jnānyogi as discussed in Gitā but teachers may involve themselves committedly in teaching to build bright future of their students. Teachers should impart knowledge in such a way that inner capabilities of the learners can be brought out. One thing should be kept in mind that knowledge gained by a person regarding any area of life is a result of his efforts with creative cooperation of society either seen or unseen. Therefore, knowledge must be used for one’s all round development as well as betterment of society. This attitude will be considered as ‘Jnānyoga’ for teachers and practice of Jnānyoga will encourage them to pursue knowledge on one hand and to search new skills, methods of effective teaching on the other hand. Here teachers are supposed to hand over their knowledge to coming generation so they may use it for betterment of society and enrich it by giving their own experiences. Jnānyoga, will not only help a person having knowledge of science, literature or technology but also those who have learnt any skill from tradition. Masters of traditional skills will hand over their talent to deserving learners to make their future bright. This new direction of Jnānyoga will make teachers sensitive towards knowledge and its meaningful expansion.

Teachers will also grow with Karmayoga. Teachers, who are working with devotion and commitment, should renounce attachment and desire of fruits. Renouncing attachment and desire of fruits does not mean to forget prescribed duties or expected outcome of academic exercise, nor does it mean to become pessimist. Teachers should keep their minds free from negative attitude and also hope of obtaining a reward in return. A real Karmyogi never expects any return but keeps his will alive to perform prescribed duty with full determination. The teacher should keep his will alive to grow, to learn, to contribute and to teach with joy. We need Karmyogis in the form of teachers who can practice Karmyoga in teaching.

Gitā’s third form of yoga is Bhaktiyoga, which advocates teachers to surrender themselves to the education. Unless our teachers surrender themselves to education, the quality of education can never be improved. The quality of education can’t be defined in a vacuum, it needs true surrender of teachers as well as students to their duties. Although, basic structure is also needed to improve quality of education like classroom, black-board, teaching materials etc. but the support of physical materials is less important than human commitment. If teachers do not teach with heart and mind no teaching material can make teaching effective. Conscious efforts made by teachers justify effective use of unconscious materials. Therefore, in ancient India teachers had been considered both-subject teachers and spiritual masters. The modified form of Gitā’s Bhaktiyoga makes teachers aware of their prescribed duties. Their profession is their god and true surrender is required to the profession.

We have discussed on three paths of yoga in the light of Gitā’s view. Now, let us come to Pātanjalyoga. Patanjali is known as the traditional founder of the yoga system. Here ‘yoga’ means ‘union’, i.e. spiritual union of the individual soul with the universal soul. Pātanjal yoga is also known as ‘Rājayoga’ which means king of all Yogas. Yoga is defined as the cessation of the modification of Chitta.1 This cessation is through meditation or concentration which is also called yoga.2 Now, we can say yoga teaches spiritual effort to attain perfection through the control of the body, senses and mind. In teaching, control of the body, senses and mind is necessary. The control on body means to make it strong and healthy by doing regular exercise. Control of senses means to preserve their natural power, to enrich their perception and to utilize them in the right direction. Control on mind means to develop its inner powers, to keep it free from evils like lust, anger, prejudice, intolerance, jealously etc. and to prepare it for meditation to get perfection. The teachers, having control over the body, senses and mind can hold on intellectual task and satisfy their students. This control can only be achieved by a path of moral and spiritual exercise. Yoga suggests the Eightfold path (Astāngyoga) of Discipline to overcome evils. Let us explain these steps one by one in order.

1.The first step is called Yama1, which expects a person to obey five fundamental human values. These values have already been accepted by Jain philosophy under Panchamāhavrata and Buddism under Astāngicmārg.

  • Truth (Satya) means a Sādhak is supposed to adopt truth completely by mind, speech and behaviour (mansā, vāchā, karmanā). This principle is very useful for academic growth of teachers and students. A teacher should be real teacher by his mind, speech and behaviour and students should devote themselves to learn more and more to make their mind creative from all directions.
  • Non-violence (Ahinsa¯) is a fundamental value for peaceful coexistence of living beings. When we use violence to fulfil our desire it hurts the divinity which exists in every living being (Sarvamkhalvidam Bramha). Therefore every living being should be given an opportunity to live. We should give up violence completely from mind, speech and act. This is the negative aspect of violence, but the positive aspect has a more deeper sense. Here one has to develop love for every living being created by god. No physical punishment should be there in schools. Teachers must ensure it that their students are neither physically punished nor mentally harassed.
  • Not to steal (Asteya) which makes a person honest by heart and mind. One should earn money or livelihood by fair means. We should not claim on others rightful dues. Teachers and students should discharge their duties honestly.
  • Not to collect things more than requirement (Aprigraha). Collection of things more then requirement makes a person greedy and where there is greed there is no education. Because it diverts our attention from real to unreal.
  • Chastity (Brahmacharya) it is a technique to control over the desires. We should be masters of desires rather than slaves of desires. Nowadays incidents of sexual harassment are in rise specially in educational institution because teachers and students have not learnt the principle of chastity. Why students were called Brahmachāri in ancient system of education because they had to follow strict norms of Gurukul for controlling lust, anger, greed etc. Why teachers were called āchārya, because they had shown themselves men of values.

2.Second steps is called Niyama1, means to follow five principles –

  • Purity (Sauch) means physical purity and mental purity. In physical purity a person is supposed to keep his body clean by taking regular bath to keep disease away. Mental purity is more important then physical. Here Sādhak is expected to keep his mind free from evils and get ready to think positively, critically and comprehensively. In teaching learning process both teacher and student are supposed to attain this principle of Sauch. If teachers are biased how they can teach in the right direction.
  • Satisfaction (Santosa) means to become satisfied in odd circumstances. Those who are satisfied are also happy in comparison to those who do not keep themselves in satisfaction and spoil their inner qualities. This principle helps teachers to become satisfied by giving up greed to earn money more then requirement and students to live a simple life devoted to education.
  • Austerity (Tapa). It is a kind of spiritual practice to keep the mind stable in opposites of victory and defeat, pleasure and pain, profit and loss, rise and decline etc. Those who are capable enough to control their mind in such extremes of opposites are called tapasvi. Teacher and students should never become extremists because it spoils their natural growth.
  • Study of spiritual scriptures (Swādhyāya) The traditional meaning of Swādhyāya is reading of spiritual scriptures in a devoted manner for giving a right direction to mind and develop it as regular part of life. Swādhyāya develops an ability to distinguish between real and unreal. Here swādhyāya can make teachers devoted to study emerging concerns of their subject and incorporate them to improve quality of education. Swādhyāya can also be understood in the realm of students. Under Swādhyāya, students are supposed to develop a habit to study and complete the assignment in time given by teacher.
  • Devotion to god (Iswarprānidhāna) means to develop faith on god. For teachers and students their work is worship. Here they are supposed to concentrate on their own duties. Unless teachers take their duties seriously no one can save the future of the coming generation.

3.The third step is called āsana1, it means to make the body stable and to get a comfortable posture. Yoga has suggested various kinds of postures which help to practice meditation. Practice of āsana should be made compulsory for teachers and students in schools. Regular practice of āsana under the guidance of experts will bring out inner capabilities of students. They can make themselves physically strong by doing āsana. By using yogāsana in schools we can understand real meaning of Vivekanand’s view of sound mind in sound body.

4.Fourth step is called Prānāyāma. It is an unique technique to control the process of breathing. It covers inhalation, retention and exhalation of breath. It must be practiced under the guidance of a trained master of yoga by following scriptural instructions. Prānāyāma will help us to eradicate frustration and to reduce tension of mind. Nowadays school students are found with so many mental tension, they are working under pressure and seem over loaded by home assignment. In this critical condition little practice of Prānāyāma will help them to overcome mental pressure and frustration.

5.Fifth step is Pratyāhāra, which means control of senses. Our senses have a natural tendency to go to outward objects. Pratyāhāra withdraws the senses from their objects and directs them towards the internal goal. Teachers and students should develop their insight to evaluate their actions.

6.Sixth step is Dhāranā1, means fixing the mind on the object of meditation. This is a previous stage of concentration where the mind is fixed on the object to get undistributed position.

7.The seventh step is called Dhyāna2. When a person gets continuity of meditation without any disturbance or diversion of mind, then it is called Dhyāna. Dhyāna leads us towards Samādhi, which is the last stage of yoga. The Samādhi is the status of complete isolation from external world and its evils. In Samādhi, the Sadhaka enjoys spiritual bliss in himself and by himself. The last three steps of Yoga – dhārnā, dhyāna and samādhi are called antaranga sādhan, unique internal means. These steps can be practiced after getting perfection on external means (bahiranga sādhan) – yama, niyama, āsana, prānāyāma and pratyāhāra. Although samādhi is the status of spiritual bliss and isolation from external world but it does not mean that teacher and student will forget their duties towards society. They have to change external world to change their internal world, because education can never be isolated from society. In India philosophy has never taught disciples to give up their prescribed duties to attain moksh, nirrvāna kaivalya or salvation. After getting moksha one has to act for suffering humanity (Loksangraha, Bahujan hitāya Bahujan sukhāya). Let us remember Sri Aurobindo’s view – “I am concerned with the earth, not with worlds beyond for their own sake; it is a terrestrial realization that I seek and not a flight to distant summits.”

A critical analysis of yoga reveals its importance in education. Yoga starts with ‘yama’ and ends at ‘samādhi’. If we remind the meaning of yama, it is clear that moral life is a necessary presupposition for spiritual life. Yoga starts from ‘yama’ and ‘niyama’ not from ‘āsana’ or ‘dhyāna’, it means practice of ‘āsana’ or ‘dhyāna’ is not possible without practice of values. This has been always an unique characteristic of Indian philosophy, that all philosophical schools accept the importance of moral life to get spiritual perfection. Yoga provides an opportunity to make strong character by pursuing values, a healthy and stable mind by practicing meditation and perfection in life by controlling body, senses and mind.

Nowadays, teachers and students are facing a lot of problems in their personal, educational and social life. They need effective solutions of the problems or proper training to develop abilities to find out the solutions on their own. Yoga can help them to eradicate frustration, dissatisfaction, tension, intolerance, fear etc. Meditation can help them to bring out inner capabilities and build up self-confidence. Better adjustment can be made in odd circumstances to achieve success by regular practice of yoga and meditation. Learning achievement can also be enhanced by giving training to school children about concentration in study. The concept of joyfull learning is incomplete without yoga and meditation. Teachers, teacher-educators, educational institutions should encourage researches to promote Indian heritage. Yoga and meditation should be introduced in teacher training courses as well as schools at secondary stages. We are emphasizing on value education, environment education, population education, sex education for solving emerging problems. Beside this if we would have seriously thought about yoga education and its implementation the picture would be different. Now, there is a need to study glorious past to make future shining. Nowadays, it is a major responsibility of the teachers to build strong character of their disciples or students due to their close association with them. Whatever impact a teacher will leave on student it can always be seen in his life through his behaviour. So far as teacher – student relation in India is concerned both have always been considered seekers of truth. Both are going on the path of Salvation (Moksha). One (teacher) has gone a bit further or even to the limit, but the other (student) also is going towards it. Great philosopher Sankarāchārya in his famous writing Satasloki indicates that the teacher must be as good or equal to the disciple. He is not a superior person handing down inaccessible wisdom which the other must accept unquestioningly. It means a teacher is a person who knows a little more then student and he can guide him up to some extent. Here teachers are supposed to obey their duties besides classroom teaching. They have to understand their role as spiritual leaders. At last we can say education is nothing but an unending dialogue between past and present to make a glorious future.