Sikh Gurus’ Thoughts on Education
Thoreau and Emerson, both alumni of Harvard University, were once recalling their alma mater, in the course of which Emerson is believed to have said that the University had by now all the branches of knowledge. “Branches are fine”, Thoreau is said to have commented, “But what about the roots?” The remark clearly indicates that a great intellectual super structure needs a foundation which is strong enough to bear the weight of the super structure. A line in Gurbani says:
ਪੇਡੁ ਮੁੰਡਾਹੂ ਕਟਿਆ ਤਿਸੁ ਡਾਲ ਸੁਕੰਦੇ॥1
A tree cut off from its roots cannot have healthy branches and leaves. They are bound to wither and die away with time. That the great intellectual super structure we have built all over has started withering away for want of energy only roots can provide, is clear from the state of society we are witnessing today. Too much stress on rationalism and professional and vocational education after the Industrial revolution which necessitated the need for technocrats, while ignoring the higher dimensions of man has proved to be detrimental to the all round human progress. We have built a great super structure of education in the form of a large number of universities coming up here and there, which are engaged in the dissemination of a great deal of knowledge. Isn’t it a paradox that with so many institutions engaged in the task of education, we find ourselves in the midst of a crisis where everything appears to be falling apart and where the centre does not appear to hold. When a society is shaken by a crisis, it is taken as a sign of educational breakdown. Clearly there is something wrong with the great educational structure we have built and we have to find ways to remedy whatever wrong has been done by ignoring higher purpose of education.
Man, with his intellectual prowess, has taken unprecedented leaps to find his path along the ways that had remained un-trodden till recently. He has found for himself a place of pride in the field of science and technology. But happiness, in search of which, all achievements have been made, still eludes him. In these days of cut throat competition where excellence and perfection are the key words, the youth finds itself in a tight spot and is constantly in a state of stress. No wonder, books on self development find a ready market with them. This indicates the amount of pressure on the young men aspiring for success in a climate where only the best can survive. Living in stressful situations for long has certainly been detrimental to the physical and mental well being of the young people. An increasing number of young patients in the psychiatry wards, which increases manifold during examination days, bears testimony to the fact that something very vital and significant is missing in today’s system of education and it is in the fitness of things that some thought is given to finding stress-free ways, by which aspiring young men and women can accomplish the best they are capable of. It is possible only if deep thought is given to the education system so as to find ways which can help the youth in the development of an integrated outlook, the only way to lead a happy and fruitful life, which is the purpose of all education. Today’s seminar is an effort towards this end.
The word education has its root in the Latin word ‘educatio’ which means ‘to bring out’. The purpose of education is to bring out the best that is already there in man and brings him to the point of perfection that is his natural destiny. The word perfection in educational parlance is the goal of actualizing the highest human potential. Perfection in metaphysical sense is realization of soul’s perfect nature. At the empirical level, the concept of perfection has to address the various problems human being encounters while living in society. Education that does not help man equip himself for the struggle of life is of no use. Man is a multidimensional personality. A good education system will pay attention to all human dimensions: intellectual, physical, moral, emotional, social and spiritual.
The deplorable state of society at the time of the advent of Guru Nanak compelled him to think of the ways to correct the situation in all respects. He thought deeply and reached the conclusion that the root cause of the sad state of affairs was the vacuum caused by the absence of any true teacher who could guide the masses to the right path. The so called teachers and religious leaders themselves were steeped in corruption and greed. A dynamic personality as he was, Guru Nanak could not accept the things as they were. He decided to take the lead so as to rectify the situation. For this purpose, he undertook four journeys around the world to reach out to the people and guide them to the right path. Bhai Gurdas, the poet laureate testifies:
ਬਾਬਾ ਦੇਖੇ ਧਯਾਨ ਧਰ ਜਲਤੀ ਸਭ ਪ੍ਰਿਥਮੀ ਦਿਸ ਆਈ।
ਬਾਝਹੁ ਗੁਰੁ ਗੁਬਾਰ ਹੈ ਹੈਹੈ ਕਰਦੀ ਸੁਣੀ ਲੁਕਾਈ।
ਬਾਬੇ ਭੇਖ ਬਣਾਇਆ ਉਦਾਸੀ ਕੀ ਰੀਤ ਚਲਾਈ।
ਚੜ੍ਹਿਆ ਸੋਧਨ ਧਰਤ ਲੁਕਾਈ।2
For Guru Nanak education was the manifestation of perfection already in man. He was of the opinion that the inherent perfection of man will spontaneously manifest itself when external and internal obstacles were removed with the help of a capable teacher. As a teacher of the masses, the first thing he did was to make the people aware of the existing external obstacles in the form of unfair distribution of resources, inequalities in social, economic and political set up and in educational opportunities. At the same time he worked towards the removal of internal obstacles by ridding his pupils’ minds of the cobwebs of superstition and ignorance that stand in the way of man achieving his highest potential. A man ridden with all kinds of superstitions that are the root cause of all fears cannot experience the glow of freedom that all education should aim at. For him education had its meaning only in freedom- freedom from ignorance about the laws of nature that caused superstition and freedom from passion and prejudice while dealing with one’s fellow beings.
Guru Nanak and his nine spiritual successors made concerted efforts towards achieving the goal of removing both internal and external obstacles that stood in the way of their aim of the development of the integrated personality of common man. The Guru believed that while the system should help by providing adequate educational opportunities to the common man; it should also remove the evils and the superstitions that stand in the way of a person building a healthy frame of mind.
The Gurus not only theorized these ideas, they took practical steps to bring perfection in their pupils at both metaphysical and empirical levels. The first Guru undertook four journeys throughout the world to enlighten the minds of the people towards the issue. Though his travels are called udasis in common Sikh parlance, they are in no way udasis in the ordinary sense of the word where it means being a recluse or mendicant. His travels were like the travels of a serious businessman whose mind was fixed on his objective; the objective being to impart education to the people in a way that they realized their inner potential to the highest level.
Guru Nanak was aware of the inequality of the educational opportunities which were available only to the selected few belonging to the elite class, to the higher strata of society who had the privilege of knowing the language in which all knowledge was available. To make knowledge available to everybody without any distinction of caste or class, he composed the text book that was to be a part of the curriculum, in the language of the people, thus making it readily available to all and was at the same time easy to understand. Modern day educational policy makers should likewise strive to make it imperative that mother tongue be the medium of all instruction.
Guru Nanak believed that a true teacher was one who had the capacity to come down to the level of his students. Wherever he went during his travels, he talked to the people in their language and their idiom. While talking to a farmer, a trader or an artisan, he would use their respective terminology and gave examples that were closer to their daily life, making it easy for them to understand the message given by him. He went to the extent of dressing up the way the people of the area being visited by him dressed themselves up, so that he identified himself with them and developed an instant rapport with them. Proper communication between the teacher and the taught was very important to him. This made him a very popular and beloved teacher.
Guru Nanak addressed not only the physical concerns of man; he reached out to the innermost self of his pupils. Music being the language of soul, he made music the vehicle of his thoughts. His soulful rendering of Gurbani in different measures of classical music brought about an inner rhythm and peace and made an immediate effect on his pupils and their personalities underwent a total metamorphosis. It was not only the music that the Gurus considered important part of the education of man, all fine arts and other crafts too were made integral part of education. Setting up of the bazaars of different trades in Amritsar not only improved the economy of the city, but also gave encouragement to skilled craftsmen. Fine art on the walls of Harimandir Sahib stands witness to the aesthetic tastes in Sikh tradition.
Guru Nanak considered it important for a teacher to know the strengths and weaknesses of his pupils. Sikh tradition relates the story of Bhumia, a hard core thief. When told by Guru Nanak to give up stealing and lead a morally upright life, Bhumia frankly and honestly told him that he won’t be able to stop stealing as it was his profession and that his livelihood depended on it. Guru Nanak, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of his pupil Bhumia, allowed him to steal only if he remained true to his salt and refrained from telling a lie. Tradition says that a sincere and committed student as he was, Bhumia had to quit stealing just to adhere to these two commandments, which he had promised to abide by. So well Guru Nanak knew his students and so effectively could he bring home the message that his followers had to obey him. That is the hallmark of a great teacher. The present day teachers must try to find out the reasons behind the indiscipline and a tendency towards disobedience among the students. They must ensure that it is not because of their distance from their pupils.
Guru Nanak did not believe in delivering long lectures in the form of monologues. He often engaged himself in dialogue with people of different faiths, to tell them what he thought about the life and how it should be led in a manner which is fruitful for the individual as well as society. ‘Sidh Goshat’ is one of the finest examples of his method of teaching by way of dialogue.
Guru Nanak’s way of teaching was so interesting and dramatic that even his adversaries could not help listening to his logical arguments very carefully. His dialogue with the people at Haridwar where he started throwing water towards the west, at Kurukshetra where he is believed to have cooked non-vegetarian food during solar eclipse and at Multan where he very intelligently told the leaders of various groups of saints that he could accommodate himself even when he was made to understand that there was no place for him in the city; prove the point that he could make his teaching interesting by putting his point dramatically before his pupils whose number indeed was very large. A stanza in Asa di Var shows how convincing was he in his arguments that there was no way people would not agree with him. The stanza (pauri) goes like this:
ਜੇ ਮੋਹਾਕਾ ਘਰੁ ਮੁਹੈ ਘਰੁ ਮੁਹਿ ਪਿਤਰੀ ਦੇਇ॥
ਅਗੈ ਵਸਤੁ ਸਿੰਝਾਣੀਐ ਪਿਤਰੀ ਚੋਰ ਕਰੇਇ॥
ਵਢੀਅਹਿ ਹਥ ਦਲਾਲ ਕੇ ਮੁਸਫੀ ਏਹ ਕਰੇਇ॥
ਨਾਨਕ ਅਗੈ ਸੋ ਮਿਲੈ ਜਿ ਖਟੇ ਘਾਲੇ ਦੇਇ॥3
Guru Nanak takes up a hypothetical situation and agrees to concur for a moment that the articles donated in the name of the dead ancestors reach them. If that is really so, he argues, we must ensure to make donations for this purpose only from our hard earned money. If we do so by stealing the articles from other people’s houses, these will be recognized by the ancestors of the genuine owners, who too would be present in the next world. Thus the ancestors in whose name the articles have been donated will be declared thieves in the next world and the pandit who has mediated will also be severely punished and his hands will be amputated for being an agent of the stolen property. Thus the Guru very logically teaches that one should earn his livelihood by honest means.
Great psychologists as the Gurus were, they were well aware of the power of mind which takes the driver’s seat and drives the body wherever it wants to take it. When the mind is alienated from the self, even the best of the circumstances refuse to make him happy and everything goes topsy turvy. ਮਨੁ ਪਰਦੇਸੀ ਜੇ ਥੀਐ ਸਭੁ ਦੇਸੁ ਪਰਾਇਆ[4 It speaks of the predicament of modern man, who having lost touch with his inner self, finds himself alienated from everything around and feels lost even when surrounded with abundance. The Gurus lovingly address the mind and advise it to tread the right path:
ਏ ਮਨ ਪਿਆਰਿਆ ਤੂ ਸਦਾ ਸਚ ਸਮਾਲੇ।੫
ਸੁਣਿ ਮਨ ਮਿਤ੍ਰ ਪਿਆਰਿਆ ਮਿਲੁ ਵੇਲਾ ਹੈ ਏਹ।੬
ਏੇ ਮਨ ਮੇਰਿਆ ਤੂ ਥਿਰੁ ਰਹੁ ਚੋਟ ਨ ਖਾਵਹੀ ਰਾਮ।੭
ਮਨ ਮੇਰੇ ਰਚੁ ਰਾਮ ਕੈ ਰੰਗਿ।੮
The Guru wanted men to be the masters of their mind and keep it under control as that is the only way to achieve a state of joy and bliss which is the aim of all education, the aim of life.
The Gurus also guided their pupils (Sikhs) as to how they are to conduct themselves in everyday life; including elements of loving inter personal relationships, which are the basis of a healthy social set up. Family relationships find adequate voice in Guru Granth Sahib. ਮਾਈ ਬਾਪ ਪੁਤ੍ਰ ਸਭਿ ਹਰਿ ਕੇ ਕੀਏ॥ਸਭਨਾ ਕਉ ਸਨਬੰਧੁ ਹਰਿ ਕਰਿ ਦੀਏ॥9 God manifests himself in all relationships: ਮਾਤ ਪਿਤਾ ਭਾਈ ਸੁਤ ਬਨਿਤਾ ਤਿਨ ਭੀਤਰਿ ਪ੍ਰਭੂ ਸੰਜੋਇਆ॥10 As such man must cultivate loving family relationships: ਮਾਤ ਪਿਤਾ ਸੁਤ ਭਾਈਆ ਸਾਜਨ ਸੰਗਿ ਪਰੀਤ॥11 Camaraderie between father and son too finds reference. ਪਿਤਾ ਪੂਤ ਰਲਿ ਕੀਨੀ ਸਾਂਝ॥12 while unnecessarily entering into argument with the father has been denounced: ਕਾਹੇ ਪੂਤ ਝਗਰਤ ਹਉ ਸੰਗਿ ਬਾਪ॥ ਜਿਨ ਕੇ ਜਣੇ ਬਡੀਰੇ ਤੁਮ ਹਉ ਤਿਨ ਸਿਉ ਝਗਰਤ ਪਾਪ॥13 Legitimacy of the love of a mother for her son is endorsed ਮਾਤਾ ਬਾਰਿਕ ਦੇਖਿ ਅਨੰਦ॥14 Mutual love between brothers has been sanctifiedਭਾਈ ਹਮਾਰੇ ਸਦ ਹੀ ਜੀਵੀ॥15 A daughter too is an object of love and adoration for the parents ਬਾਬੁਲ ਕੈ ਘਰਿ ਬੇਟੜੀ ਬਾਲੀ ਬਾਲੈ ਨੇਹਿ॥16 and so is the sacred love of husband and wife for each other. ਧਨ ਪਿਰ ਨੇਹੁ ਘਣਾ ਰਸਿ ਪ੍ਰੀਤਿ ਦਇਆਲਾ ਰਾਮ॥17 Dn ਬਿਗਸੈ ਗ੍ਰਿਹਿ ਆਵਤ ਕੰਤ॥18 Guru Granth Sahib also guides how a person should conduct himself in different situations. While importance of sweet demeanor has been stressed upon, one has also been guided so as how to behave when confronted with a fool: ਮੂਰਖੈ ਨਾਲਿ ਨ ਲੁਝੀਐ।19 and should that fail then ਮੁਰਖ ਗੰਢੁ ਪਵੈ ਮੁਹਿ ਮਾਰ।20 Lessons in art of living which have fascination for students these days, have been given, guiding a person in different situations of life.
Guru Nanak appears to be the precursor of the modern Waldorf Education developed in early twentieth century by Rudolf Steiner who believed “Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able by themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility—these three forces are the very nerves of education.”21
According to this system the same teacher moves with the child which results in a level of trust, love and a permanent bonding and loving relationship with the teacher which opens doors to freedom, the ultimate aim of all education. Guru Nanak took care that his pupils were under the loving care of a spirited teacher, the second Nanak and thereafter third, fourth and ultimately tenth Nanak. The same teacher (Guru Granth Sahib) is still guiding the pupils. The result is permanent bonding with the Great Guru which continues till today, and the pupils still draw inspiration for self development socially, intellectually, physically and spiritually even after more than five hundred years have elapsed.
Though Guru Nanak demonstrated by example how a student should be given lessons, he was never in favor of a particular methodology to be followed. He was aware that most often a particular technique if recommended gets precedence over the student who becomes an object for the experimentation of the technique. This was not acceptable to the Guru. He wanted to nurture the students to bring out their highest potential. For this he gave freedom to the teacher to devise his own way to make his teaching effective for the students. The aim was to bring out the best in a student knowing the psychology of the student. One single teaching methodology that he wanted all the teachers to follow was the love for the students. Only by having deep love of learning and teaching could a teacher make an impact on the students. A teacher working merely for the sake of making money and earning his livelihood can never be an effective teacher. Such a teacher has been condemned in following words:
ਮਨਮੁਖੁ ਬਿਦਿਆ ਬਿਕ੍ਰਦਾ ਬਿਖੁ ਖਟੇ ਬਿਖੁ ਖਾਇ ॥੨੨
ਮਾਇਆ ਕਾਰਨ ਬਿਦਿਆ ਬੇਚਹੁ ਜਨਮੁ ਅਬਿਰਥਾ ਜਾਈ॥23
On the other hand how education should be imparted to the students too has been told:
ਪਾਧਾ ਪੜਿਆ ਆਖੀਐ ਬਿਦਿਆ ਬਿਚਰੈ ਸਹਜਿ ਸੁਭਾਇ॥24
A qualified teacher imparts instruction all time spontaneously.
It is a pity that today education has turned into a big industry where money making is the only aim. This is not approved by the Gurus.
Guru Nanak not only guided on how a student should be taught; he also gave his opinion as to what should be taught. The aim of education according to him is:
ਵਿਦਿਆ ਵੀਚਾਰੀ ਤਾਂ ਪਰਉਪਕਾਰੀ॥25
Only that kind of education is worth its name which makes a man a socially useful person, one who spends his life in the service of humanity. ‘Mukti’- liberation or salvation has no meaning for the Gurus if a man does not involve himself socially in useful work after attaining knowledge or enlightenment. ‘Nam’ in gurbani has very broad connotations. One is expected to immerse his whole self in ‘nam’ and thus transform his personality to work for the betterment of the entire humanity. S. Kapur Singh ICS, beautifully sums up the aim of education as propagated by the Sikh Gurus:
The ultimate aim of man was not a vision of God which culminates in the re-absorption of the individual into the Absolute Reality but the emergence of a race of God-conscious men who remain earth aware and thus operate in the mundane world of phenomena, with the object of transforming and spiritualizing it into a higher and more abundant plane of existence. He thought in terms of utilizing the God consciousness for transforming and spiritualizing the life on earth and the humanity.26
For the Gurus the ultimate aim of all education was to create a race of God conscious men who would transform and spiritualize life on earth and the humanity. For this, the Guru had to take people “out of ignorance, out of idol worship and sacrifice, out of bigotry and prejudice, out of stony prison of caste, out of every chain ever forged by his fellowmen to enslave the mind.”27 Mere knowledge of three R’s was not enough for the purpose. To transform humanity and life on earth the Gurus stressed on the need to create a perfect man who has been called Gurmukh in Gurbani. For the Gurus, transforming manmukhs into gurmukhs is the aim of all education. The Gurus laid emphasis on the attainment of knowledge (ਬਿਬੇਕ ਬੁਧਿ) for leading a pure and sanctified life, saying:
ਗਿਆਨ ਰਤਨਿ ਮਨੁ ਮਾਂਜੀਐ ਬਹੁੜਿ ਨ ਮੈਲਾ ਹੋਇ।28
Merely attaining bookish knowledge which does not transform the core of one’s being does not find approval of the Gurus. Gurbani says:
ਹੋਰੁ ਕੂੜ ਪੜਨਾ ਕੂੜੁ ਬੋਲਣਾ ਮਾਇਆ ਨਾਲ ਪਿਆਰ।
ਨਾਨਕ ਵਿਣੁ ਨਾਵੈ ਕੋ ਥਿਰੁ ਨਹੀਂ ਪੜਿ ਪੜਿ ਹੋਇ ਖੁਆਰੁ।੨੯
ਪੰਡਿਤੁ ਪੜਿ ਪੜਿ ਊਚਾ ਕੂਕਦਾ ਮਾਇਆ ਮੋਹਿ ਪਿਆਰੁ।
ਅੰਤਰ ਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਨ ਚੀਨਈ ਮਨਿ ਮੂਰਖ ਗਵਾਰੁ।੩੦
Only a person who cultivates virtue has been considered learned:
ਗੁਣ ਵੀਚਾਰੇ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਸੋਇ।
ਗਿਆਨ ਰਤਨਿ ਤਤਿ ਪਰਗਟ ਹੋਇ।੩੧
ਸਾਝ ਕਰੀਜੈ ਗੁਣਹ ਕੇਰੀ ਛੋਡਿ ਅਵਗਣ ਚਲੀਐ।੩੨
Cultivating virtues like simplicity of mind, humility, and selfless service to humanity is the gist of all knowledge and makes one learned in the true sense of the word.
Thus for the Gurus, curriculum encompasses the whole life, not mere bookish knowledge. Curriculum prescribed by Guru Nanak was not a fact based but a value based curriculum which covers everything from aesthetics to martial art. While Guru Nanak disseminated knowledge in all four corners of the world, he gave practical lessons in the dignity of manual labor when he settled down at Kartarpur during the last part of his journey on this mortal world. He would till his lands himself doing all kinds of manual labor. In fact, when Bhai Lehna, who was to be the second Nanak very shortly, met Guru Nanak for the first time, he was working in his fields taking out weeds with his hands. Bhai Lehna too joined him. This served as a practical example for their followers teaching them the dignity of manual labor.
The second Nanak, Guru Angad Dev started the practice of holding competitions for children in all the sports popular during those times, a tradition which was carried on by all the Gurus who held regular competitions including competitions in horse riding and in the art of weaponry. The tradition continues till today. Annual competitions are held at Anandpur Sahib on the occasion of Hola Mohalla. This helped the pupils develop strong and healthy bodies.
To create a healthy social order fulfilling the social aim of education, the Gurus made efforts to clear the minds of men of all the cobwebs of superstition and ignorance, and motivated them to develop a high degree of critical intelligence and not to be blind followers. mn nIvW miq aucI - humility of the mind and highly awakened intelligence was the motto. All the Gurus during their life time worked towards the eradication of all social evils prevalent because of the superstitious attitude, which found a fertile ground in an environment, where knowledge was not freely available to the masses. While the fifth Guru compiled Guru Granth Sahib to make the knowledge available to all and one in their mother tongue, they also saw to it that their pupils received the best that was available at that time. Guru Arjan Dev ji included the best talent of the time in Guru Granth Sahib, and the tenth Guru ensured to get the popular books of the time translated into the language of the masses. It is a well known fact that Guru Gobind Singh sent his pupils to Benaras, a great centre of learning during those days, so that they could master all branches of knowledge and equip themselves with the best of training available in those days. This made them not only intellectually awakened, but also instilled in them a lot of self confidence, the first prerequisite of a successful man. He also collected the best of the intellectual talent of the day and stationed them at Paonta Sahib. These poets of high caliber would recite their poems to the congregation every day. Kavi Sainapat and Bhai Nand Lal were among the poets who ever remained in the presence of the Guru. Thus this intellectual activity became a regular feature of the daily routine of the Guru during his stay at Paonta Sahib. Bhai Vir Singh, a noted poet and scholar recounts the efforts of the tenth Guru at Anandpur Sahib to make his Sikhs intellectual stalwarts. He says, “ਵਿਦਿਆ ਦਾ ਬਹੁਤ ਸਾਮਾਨ ਹੋਇਆ। ਬਹੁਤ ਵਿਦਵਾਨ ਸੰਸਕ੍ਰਿਤ ਆਦਿ ਵਿਸ਼ਿਆਂ ਦੇ ਆ ਜੁੜੇ।ਲਿਖਾਰੀਆਂ ਦੀ ਗਿਣਤੀ ਅੱਸੀ ਤੋਂ ਘਟ ਨਹੀਂ ਸੀ।ਕੇਵਲ ਪੰਡਤ ਹੀ ਨਹੀਂ ਪੰਜ ਵਡੇ ਕਾਜ਼ੀ ਆਲਮ ਦਰਗਾਹੇ ਦੇ ਕੇ ਰਖੇ ਸਨ।ਦਰਜੀ ਲਲਾਰੀ ਰੰਗਰੇਜ, ਲੋਹੇ ਪਿਤਲ ਅਤੇ ਲਕੜੀ ਦੇ ਅਤੇ ਸਾਰੇ ਤਰ੍ਹਾਂ ਦੇ ਕਾਰੀਗਰ ਇਕੱਠੇ ਕਰ ਲਏ ਸਨ।…… ਸਾਹਿਤ ਦੇ ਕਵੀ ਅਤੇ ਟੀਕਾਕਾਰ ਪਾਸ ਰਖੇ।ਸੰਸਕ੍ਰਿਤ ਦੇ ਡਬਿਆਂ ਵਿਚ ਬੰਦ ਪਈ ਵਿਦਿਆ ਦੇ ਉਲਥੇ ਕਰਵਾਏ ਤਾਂ ਜੋ ਆਮ ਲੋਕੀ ਲਾਭ ਉਠਾਉਣ।”33
Women education was another area which was given the attention it deserved. In Sikh tradition women have always had equal rights and responsibilities with men. Right to education was no exception to this rule. No distinction was made between boys and girls when the Guru imparted education to the students. That Bibi Amro, the daughter of the second Guru had learnt so much of Gurbani, proves the fact that women had the right to read scriptures, the only source of knowledge in those days. Kesar Singh Chhiber says in Bansavalinama:
ਬੀਬੀ ਅਮਰੋ''ਜਪੁ,ਓਅੰਕਾਰ, ਸਿਧ ਗੋਸਟਿ' ਕੰਠ ਸੀ ਕੀਤੀ।
ਨਂੇਮ ਨਾਲਿ ਨਿਤ ਪੜ੍ਹਨ ਕਰਿ ਪ੍ਰੀਤੀ ।34
When Guru Amardas ji established a number of centers for the propagation of his thought among the people, he appointed a good number of women along with men as heads of the centers. The Guru had not reserved any quota for the appointment of women to these centers. These women deserved it as they had evolved themselves to their highest potential and had become capable of holding these posts.
Distance education, a very recent phenomenon in the field of education, too was experimented upon by the Gurus when they sent their followers far and wide with copies of the written word of the Guru with them. In the absence of the printing press, duties were assigned to prepare hand written copies of the sabd, which were provided to the teachers who were sent to distant places. They would teach the sabd and propagate the message of the Guru to the people following the text provided by the Guru. Assembly in the personal presence of the Guru at frequent intervals was a regular feature. Eventually at least two personal meetings with the Guru on the occasions of Diwali and Vaisakhi became a regular biannual feature.
Right to Education granted to all Indian children recently through enactment of a law in 2010, was given to all who came under the influence of the Guru. Total literacy was not a distant mission to be achieved, but was an accepted practice in Guru’s jurisdiction where everyone had to be well conversant with the sabd, compiled by the Guru, the virtual text that was the basis of the prescribed curriculum in the Guru’s system of education. The very fact the Sikhs have a book installed as a virtual Guru, which can be approached only by the learned and intelligent people, speaks of the importance of the word, i.e., ‘sabd’, in other words, education, in Sikh thought.
Guru Gobind Singh sent the chosen talent among the Sikhs to Kashi, a great centre of learning in those days, so that they got the opportunity to be in the company of the most learned of the time. Later Damdama Sahib was established as Guru ki Kashi and was developed into a great centre of learning. Bhai Mani Singh was entrusted with the duty to look after its affairs. It came to be called Damami Taksal. A taksal is a place where coins are minted. In this Taksal, Guru Gobind Singh minted scholars who attained high levels of spiritual, moral and ethical standards. In modern idiom, it was no less than a university.
The irony of the situation is that a community with a strong tradition in academics is lagging behind in the field of education. Today’s seminar is a humble effort to meditate on the importance of education in the Sikh world view. We will consider the seminar a success if we are able to bring into focus the attention of the community toward this issue of great importance in today’s environment where only the best can hope to survive. I am sure it will not prove to be a cry in the wilderness.
*Keynote Address read at the seminar on ‘Educational Philosophy of Sikh Gurus’ held on Dec 1-2, 2012.
1. Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p.317.
2. Bhai Gurdas, Var 1, Pauri 24.
3. Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 472.
4. Ibid., p.767.
5. Ibid., p.918.
6. Ibid., p. 20.
7. Ibid., p.1113.
8. Ibid., p. 238.
9. Ibid., p.494.
10. Ibid., p.77.
11. Ibid., p.70.
12. Ibid., p.1141.
14. Ibid., p.1180.
15. Ibid., p.1141.
16. Ibid., p.935.
17. Ibid., p.435.
18. Ibid., p.914.
19. Ibid., p.473.
20. Ibid., p.143.
22. Ibid., p.938.
23. Ibid., p.1103.
24. Ibid., p.937.
25. Ibid., p.356.
26. Kapur Singh, Me Judice, p. 55.
27. Puran Singh, The Sisters of the Spinning Wheel, p. x
28. Ibid., p.992.
29. Ibid., p.84.
30. Ibid., p.86
31. Ibid., p.931.
32. Ibid., p.766.
33. Bhai Vir Singh, Kalgidhar Chamatkar,p. 165-168.
34. Kesar Singh Chhiber, Bansavalinama, Ch. 2, Stanza 33.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2012, All