Education for Life

Our dharmic festivals lift us to another level of understanding, that of the symbolisms that connect us to the cosmic dimension, and it is only an exalted form of knowledge that can do that

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

There are two types of education: education for a living and education for life.
– Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, Chancellor, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham

All Mauritians know about Maa Amrita who has visited Mauritius several times and conducted yoga, prayer and meditation sessions, as well as her signature hugging sessions which last for hours altogether, at the end of which she still looks as fresh as when she started, with no sign of tiredness. I was blessed to receive such a hug many years ago at the local centre in Quatre Bornes. She went on non-stop from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., and I learnt afterwards that she got ready to leave for the airport by 5 a.m. to catch a flight to Reunion, accompanied by her devotees belonging to several nationalities. Being from Kerala in South India, she speaks only Malayalam, but the connect between her and her devotees who have different mother tongues ‘surpasseth’ ordinary understanding.

The Tripundra or three horizontal lines made using holy ash represent respectively: purity in thought, purity in speech and purity in action. Photo – The Tripundra or three horizontal lines made using holy ash represent respectively: purity in thought, purity in speech and purity in action. Photo – vedictribe.com


Like a true Mother, she knows the children who come to her and their minds. Not only did I receive a hug, but she signalled to the devotee channelling the crowd there to make me come on stage and sit on her left side. She gave me a smile as I sat down cross-legged. After a while, she put out her left hand and handed me a small book, one of the several that contain her addresses to various bodies worldwide, the UN included.

I took a look at the book, and for a moment I froze! A few minutes earlier, before joining the session, I had gone around the exhibition of books in the space next to the main hall, and had spotted one that I told myself I would come back and buy after the session was over.

It was the exact same title that she had given me… and when I was leaving, the book exhibition had closed already!

How did she know which book I had selected out of the dozens of titles there? And there was no particular reason for her to have singled me out to come and sit next to her, out of the hundreds that were filing past and receiving her darshan that last but a few seconds, but leave a forever imprint in one’s being.

She had read my thoughts, and that was her shakti. As Sri M, mystic and Guru explains, it is the primordial conscious energy that pervades the whole of existence. Those who can attune to it by means of rigorous and demanding spiritual discipline (sadhana) know the past, the present and the future – like Sri M himself in fact. But they don’t go about showing off. If you ever come in contact with such enlightened beings, though, and approach them with what we call shraddha, that is a conviction that they are specially endowed and can grace you, the shakti will manifest in some form. This is what happened in my case on that day, nearly twenty years ago.

Maa Amrita never received any formal education, and yet her organisation runs renowned educational institutions. There, ‘education doesn’t just prepare students for a bright career; it also develops their understanding of the world to create better human beings.’

And if there is one thing that the world needs most – always, but especially in these times – that surely is better human beings.

So many events and incidents that are taking place around the world – starting at home, here to begin with! – confirm that it is the worse types of human beings that are having a field day, insulting, maiming, killing wantonly both one-to-one and at scale, often at the behest of equally sickly ones. For power or money grab, for greed, for hate and jealousy.

Alas, we can no longer rely on our current education system to impart that education for life that will counter such tendencies and the genesis of such rogue elements, and instead produce better human beings, so heavily focused has it become on career orientation alone. Of course, this is important, but it is not enough. We are producing intelligent machines with the only objective that they will compete to outdo – if not eliminate — each other. What is needed instead are rounded human beings, equipped both to be machine efficient and to cooperate with one another so as to build a better society.

This is what such sublime occasions like Thaipoosam Cavadee and the other festivals spread in our calendar year can help to inculcate in us. By their very nature they bring people together to prepare for the celebration which, as I have had opportunity to explain earlier, is as much of the mind as it is of the body. The myriad little things that have to be done demand devotion, discipline and attention, and working together in a spirit of joy and sharing, helping out, volunteering. In the past, the Boy Scouts movement fulfilled much of that role, though the emphasis was rather on the more material, practical aspect. That was equally valuable, no doubt.

But our dharmic festivals lift us to another level of understanding, that of the symbolisms that connect us to the cosmic dimension, and it is only an exalted form of knowledge that can do that, what is referred to as ‘Gnana’ or ‘jnana Shakti’ (gn/jn being pronounced like in the French poignet for example).

This is what the Vel that is carried symbolizes, Gnana Shakti or the Power of Higher or Divine Knowledge, lower knowledge being the knowledge of things material required to transact with the world (skills, professions, etc – can also be termed transactional knowledge). Its pointed top end signifies a sharp mind that enables us to discern the good from the bad and think critically.

The Tripundra or three horizontal lines made using holy ash represent respectively: purity in thought, purity in speech and purity in action. When we speak and do as we think, then we create and live in an environment of truth around us that is conducive to peace and harmony; when, on the contrary, our words and actions are not aligned with our thoughts, we generate falsehood and fakeness which have destructive potential. This is what we are currently witnessing on several fronts. The broad base and length of the Vel symbolize respectively the breadth and depth of Knowledge that we need to attain wisdom.

According to our holy scriptures the Puranas, the Vel was given to Lord Murugan by Maa Parvati, Consort of Shiva. Our next major festival in the Hindu calendar is Maha Shivaratri, and it is exactly the same symbolism paradigm that applies.

Vel Muruga, Vel Muruga, Vel…


* Published in print edition on 29 January 2021

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