Sri Guru Nanak Dev's Philosophy on Education
1. If one dwells on the essence of knowledge one becometh a benefactor of humanity (M. 1, Adi Granth, p. 356)
2. The gems, jewels, rubies are in the mind, if one were to find should hearken to the Gurus call
3. It is He who giveth to each all on Him, on Him, oh let me call. (M. 1, p. 2)
The ‘Shabad’ is the Guru and the mind attuned to the ‘Shabad’ is the disciple. (M. 1, p. 943)
Such like educational thoughts are dispersed throughout the Bani of Sri Guru Nanak Dev ji. After going through these educational ideas dispersed in his Bani, it is not difficult to piece them together and come to the conclusion that he had definite views on education, the role of education in human life, the teacher, the content of education, the methodology of education the duties of the learner, education and society, education and religion, value of discipline in life and so on.
According to Dr. G.W. Leitner (History of Indigenous Education in Punjab. P. 1), Dr R.L Ahuja (Indigenous Education in Punjab p. 184, 1934), Principal Teja Singh (Growth of Responsibility in Sikhism), Guru Nanak was the pioneer of a new educational movement. He enjoined upon his followers to open elementary schools attached to the Gurdwaras for boys and girls. This practice continued up to the beginning of the twentieth century. According to Dr Ahuja, Guru Nanak’s contribution to this educational movement was threefold. Education, both religious and ethical in character was provided in the schools. Secondly the mother tongue of the people i.e. Punjabi was used as a medium of instruction. Thirdly, the chief aim of enlightening the minds of the people was to be achieved in two ways by instructing the adults through sermons and discussions and by giving education to the children right from the early steps of life.
From times immemorial India has been a land of spiritual consciousness. For ancient Indian educationists, education enabled a student to realize his spiritual nature. “Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached” is the essence of Upanishads. In the light of Isha Upanishad, education helps in salvation ‘Savidya ya Vimukhtaye’ is a well known Indian saying. In the modem times idealists in Education like Mahatma Gandhi, Tagore and Swami Vivekanand believe that there is divine spark in man. The aim of education is to awaken the divine that slumbers in man and develop his spiritual nature.
Guru Nanak was a great spiritual teacher. His concept of education is rooted in Indian tradition. In his concept of education we find the same noble ideas. Education helps in self-realization and self manifestation.
One who realizes oneself is a truly educated man.
He alone is learned and educated who gains self knowledge through self enlightenment.– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 938
True education enables a man to attune himself to God. It aims to enlighten his mind with divine knowledge and realize himself. The Guru has emphasized this idea.
“An educated man, a scholar or seer is one who puts the garland of Ram Nam around his neck.”– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 938
The garland of Ram Nam stands for the evolution of cosmic values of Truth, beauty, goodness, wisdom, courage, contentment, justice, fearlessness, humility and service of mankind etc. By leading a noble and disciplined life one can evolve such higher values in life. Wearing this garland of Ram Nam an educated man, a scholar or a seer becomes an awakened soul awakening other souls, a light kindling other lights.
“He alone is a really educated teacher, who is God centered or Gurmukh,
Who awakens divine intelligence in his disciples,
Who meditates on the divine name with concentration,
Who cherishes the name in his mind ,
Who gains the gain of God realization
Which is the main purpose of human life. – Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 938
In this process of self-realization and self-manifestation, the acquisition of divine knowledge, the Gyan Guru helps. Of all the elements the most significant is the element of knowledge. It is avidya (ignorance) which forges fetters to bind the mind. Education enlightens the mind with the light of knowledge, as with the appearance of the sun. The moon disappears, so with the appearance of the sun. The moon appears, so with attainment of knowledge ignorance is dispelled (MI- P.791). The lamp of wisdom burns steadily when it is fed by the oil of the essence of knowledge.(MI-p.1109). just as the darkness disappears when the lamp is lighted, through the study of books of wisdom, ignorance of our mind is removed and it gets enlightenment. It becomes clean and does not get dirty again.
“One can clean the mind with the Jewel of wisdom and thereafter it is soiled not again.”
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 992
Guru Nanak believes that the supreme knowledge helps in the harmonious development of body, mind and soul. Cultivation of Gyan is the most important factor in developing a fully integrated personality.
“When we acquire treasure of divine knowledge, we get insight into all the three realms of body and soul.”
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 60
With the help of knowledge man is able to discriminate between good and bad, right and wrong. He shuns evil and follows the virtuous path. He is able to fight evil impulses of his mind with the sword of knowledge.
“Man’s desires subside in his mind, when he fights against them, with the sword of wisdom.”
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1022
In his Japji, Guru Nanak has described Gyan Khand which is full of light. The flames of thought keep it bright. A million brooks of joy are there, it is only after passing through Gyan Khand that man passes into Sach Khand, meaning thereby that acquisition of divine knowledge helps in self-realization. For Guru Nanak, education is not synonymous with book learning. He differentiates education from mere information and passing of examinations in the modem times. One may read and read innumerable books and still may not be a rightly educated person. Reading loads of books without realization and understanding the knowledge gained is useless. It is just a burden on the mind.
“Talking on one’s knowledge and mere reading of scriptures is load on the mind”
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 412
A mere store of information or knowledge does not constitute real education. The ability to use what we learn is a fundamental aim of intellectual education. This is what he explained to Pandit Dharam Dass, who felt proud in displaying his learning.
“We may read and read books
And fill carts with their load
“We may read and read books
And store caravans upon caravans with their loads.
“We may read and read books
Throughout the life and for all the breaths allotted to us.
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 467
And still may not be a rightly educated person if the knowledge gained does not make us a better person.
“There is no dearth of educated men in the world but rare is the wise man,
Who makes use of the knowledge gained.
There is no dearth of learned scholars in the world
But rare is the man of wisdom who reflects on the wisdom gained and acts accordingly.”
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 413
Like the modem educationists, Guru ji believes that education that kindles the spark for quest and enquiry in man, improves his thinking, sharpens his imagination and makes him a socially useful person, is the right education.
A person of real research becomes a creative man but a talkative one who indulges in mere prattle destroys himself.
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1255
According to Guru Nanak true wisdom can be realized only through a life of action.
Wisdom cannot be sought through prattle,
To describe its essence is also hard,
Those alone can gain wisdom
Who through God’s grace
Lead the very practical life of Karam yoga
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 464
How strikingly modern does he appear in his approach. Acquisition of divine knowledge leads to eternal bliss. But this divine knowledge can be obtained through the practical evolution of higher virtues alone. Truth is high but higher still is truthful living.
There can be no devotion without cultivating noble qualities.
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 4
The mark of an educated person is that he tries to inculcate higher values of life in himself.
“He alone is a wise man who gains practical enlightenment of life,
Through meditation over the divine virtues.”
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 940
A person may read large numbers of books and acquire degrees but he will not be considered an educated person if he suffers from selfishness, greed and ego.
“An educated person is a fool
If he indulges in ego, greed and lust.”
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 140
As a moral teacher, Guruji emphasizes the inculcation of higher values in life again and again and these virtues our friends help us to overcome vices.
Nanak, as many are the vices
So many are the chains around our neck.
Yea one removes vice with virtue.
For virtue is our only friend.
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 595
The educated person of Guruji’s conception is a fully blossomed personality who like a fragrant flower scatters the fragrance of his virtue around. “I have not come on this earth bringing the message of heaven, I have come to make this world a veritable heaven” says Rama in Saket written by Hindi Poet Mathilisharan Gupta. The educated person of Guru ji’s conception does not only work for his own emancipation. He does good to others.
“He is really an educated person who does good to others.”
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 356
Service of man is service of God. Religion and education should inspire man to dedicate his life and genius to the service of humanity. Knowledge is futile if it helps only in personal salvation that is why the teacher of Guru’s conception regards teaching the students as his mission and does not hanker after tuition work for wealth. The teacher who works only for amassing wealth is not a true teacher.
The egocentric selleth his knowledge and poison he earneth and eateth.
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 938
Guru ji’s concept of teacher is elevating and inspiring for the instructors of today. Like the modem educationists he believes that every child is endowed with infinite potentialities which can be made to blossom under the personal care of the teacher through dedicated efforts, “In the mine of the human soul there are so many gems and jewels of faculties waiting for development only if one cares to listen to the word of teacher.”
Guru Nanak advocates the harmonious development of personality through education. He has not neglected the physical, social, emotional, aesthetic development of personality. The physical fitness of the body is the most important factor in the education of a pupil. "Sport and play are the mind’s amusement.” He upholds the dignity of labour and a life of action for physical fitness. Then human body is the temple of God and should be kept in a healthy condition by regular habits. The use of intoxicants is totally prohibited.
“Avoid such foods which cause pain to the body and passion in the mind.”
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 16
Guru Nanak has not only expressed his views on education, he took practical steps to educate the masses. In his days, illiteracy was widespread. Instead of Sanskrit and Persian, he preferred to impart education in the vernacular. It helped him to take education to the doors of the masses. He seems to understand the psychology of the child and wants the child to get education in his mother tongue. He feels that the learning of one’s language is very important to keep intact one’s culture. His own contribution to the development of Punjabi language and literature is unrivalled. He is a true nationalist. At several places he condemns the adoption of foreign culture and language by the people.
The Kshatriyas have given up their real Dharma.
They have adopted the language (culture) of the ill intentioned foreign rulers.
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 663
An educated man is an improved man. Guru Nanak designed the daily routine of his disciples in such a way as to provide them practical training in his social service, moral, spiritual, cultural and aesthetic development. To remove the barriers of caste and creed, high and low, rich and poor, he started the institutions of Sangat and Pangat. The Guru and his Sikhs began their daily routine with meditation, musical recitation of shabads, katha discussion and prayer which provided them spiritual, emotional and aesthetic food. Then they dispersed for the day’s labour. They were advised to earn their livelihood through honest, hard labour. In the evening again they all gathered to have spiritual food together. Through this daily routine of disciplined life, the disciples learnt a life of action, service, exchange of ideas and corporate living. It also provided them with intellectual and spiritual food. Higher moral values were inculcated.
During the times of Guru Nanak there was great political, religious, cultural turmoil and chaos in India. Kings had become butchers, cruelty was their knife. The moon of truth was not visible anywhere. Babar invaded India disguised as Yama. The Guru’s soul cried in anguish to see the terrible slaughter. He tried to awaken, the people politically by his clarion call of nationalism.
“What is the use of living if we cannot protect our honour and freedom”
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 142
He traveled extensively throughout the whole of India and the neighboring countries to bring about better understanding, goodwill and ties of friendship among the people belonging to different regions and countries. Wherever he went, Sangats were established which became the centres of educating the masses. He was a walking, talking philosopher like Socrates and Buddha. These were some of the practical steps he took to bring about national solidarity, social, emotional, cultural, integration and international goodwill.
Thus reading and writing became common among the followers of the Guru. A new literacy movement spread among the Sikhs and a network of simple informal type of elementary schools sprang up to make education accessible to all. The movement grew and developed during the times of the later Gurus. While the first Guru gave education its new basis, substance and content, The second Guru made ‘pothis’ of the Sabads and sent these to various centres of education. This tradition was carried on by the third and fourth Gurus. The fifth Guru compiled Sri Guru Granth Sahib, which has become a source of light and life to millions of people. The tenth Guru realizing the needs of his times gave extensive training the use of weapons. By the time of the tenth Guru, seats of learning came to be established at Amritsar, Anandpur Sahib Paonta Sahib and Damdama Sahib. The knowledge of three R’s as well as skill in warfare henceforth became the essential equipment of a Sikh. The literacy drive of the masses went hand in hand with religious education. Every new Dharamshala came to be a centre of education.
The study of Sri Guru Granth Sahib became an indispensable part of the education of the Sikhs. The ‘Model Book’ of the spiritual and temporal instruction became the curriculum itself.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2013, All