How can India’s wisdom-literature be introduced in the education without the saffronization of the syllabus?

by Chaitanya Charan dasJune 12, 2014

Answer Podcast

Transcription by– Keshavgopal das & Ambuj Gupta

Question: Now there is a proposal by the government to introduce teachings from the Vedic scriptures but at the same time it is being criticized by media as saffronization of the syllabus. What is ISKCON’s stand on this issue and how can devotees participate or help in this any way?

Answer: What should actually be a simply a matter of syllabus correction has been unnecessarily made politicalized and that has become a volatile issue. There are three-four different levels at which this can be understood.

For example, every country has its national legacy. France has its national legacy, Britain has a national legacy and that national legacy is naturally studied as part of the history within the education syllabus of the schools. If a country’s national legacy happens to be largely religious then will that country in the name of being pluralistic or secularistic not study it because we are a secular country so we will not study Hinduism? Would that lead to that we will not study about our own national history? That is absurd. No country does that.

For example, if we look at the syllabus in America, when we study American history at that time they definitely study about the founding fathers of America, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others. They were actually the founding fathers for the constitution but before that Mayflower ship which carried protestants who came from Europe to America and settled in America. They were clearly religious people and they wanted to protect themselves from the religious persecution that was going on against protestants by the Catholic church in Europe. When they came, they came for religious purpose and they established America. Today America has a very aggressive atheistic movement and does that mean that the government will not study the Christian roots of America? No, they will study because this is not Christian history we are studying but we are studying national history.

In the same way if we are going to study Indian history, India has been for a large part of its history following the Vedic tradition and even now the Vedic tradition is today largely now known as Hinduism and large majority of Indians are Hindus. It is only in India that in the name of secularism the illustrious contributions of India to world history, to the world civilization, to the world culture, they are not talked at all. What do we mean by they are not talked at all?

For example, firstly we can look at objective glories, for example the Indian wisdom literature say Bhagavad Gita has been appreciated by some of the greatest thinkers in the world. Even Elbert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, Nobel laureates, poets, artists and so many people all over the world have appreciated the Bhagavad Gita. When the Bhagavad Gita is being taught or when Indian history is being prepared at that time there is no reference to Bhagavad Gita. The fact that Bhagavad Gita is such an important book that so many all over the world have appreciated. Shouldn’t this fact be something that needs to be known to Indians? For me history was my favorite subject and I never came to know about the glory of the Bhagavad Gita from my history books. Only later when I started doing more research about Bhagavad Gita then I found that so many thinkers all over the world have appreciated it. If there are objective factual glories or features of the Indian literature, Bhagavad Gita is just one of them. There are eminent Nobel laureates who appreciated the Upanishads and their wisdom and so many things like that. They may not have subscribed to a particular philosophy but they appreciated the wisdom over there. So these are the wisdom literature of India and why should their glory not be told to Indian students. Why should that be locked away or kept in oblivion, or the students be kept in darkness in the name of secularism?

Not only that, this is with respect to literature but apart from that there are so many contributions. For example, Vedic Mathematics is quite a significant contribution of the Indian wisdom tradition to the world and has many brilliant and insightful techniques. Even if it is not adopted as mainstream mathematics, still why not talk about how Vedic mathematics bring simplicity and how it is being used in so many places. Or for that matter many Indian researchers have made striking contributions to mathematics in general, to physics, to chemistry. A person no lesser than Einstein has said that we owe a lot to the Indians because they gave us zero and they gave us the decimal point system. These are more of less indisputable historical facts and they have been acknowledged by prominent authorities.

For example, we may learn the Pythagoras theorem. Pythagoras theorem has been found before Pythagoras in Baudhayana Sutra. This sort of secular knowledge, secular in the sense that it is not religious knowledge, it is not promoting a particular religion or a particular God but it’s simply knowledge which is remarkably advanced and which has been developed in India in some way or the other. So why this sort of knowledge not be given to Indian students about their own culture’s glory? Unfortunately that is not given. These are well acknowledged facts or well acknowledged quotes.

Beyond that there may be some which are not so acknowledged but still which are open to discussion and debate. For example, the main stream academic opinion a few decades ago was that the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are mythological, but there is strong amount of research especially on Dwarka that indicates historicity of Dwarka and there by historicity of Krishna. Even if this research does not prove or did not provide evidence for the supernatural activity that Krishna had done for example, like lifting Govardhan or anything like that, but it does prove the historicity of Krishna. So rather than students in schools thinking that this pastime in Ramayana, Mahabharata are mythological, at least they should be given exposure that yes, some scholars who might think mythological, but evidence is showing that Krishna is a historical person. There is no clear evidence that it is mythology and there is a good amount of evidence that it is not mythology. In spite of that it is being taught as mythology, it is very unfortunate.

Along with that what is unfortunate is that there can be a lot of research done into many of the sacred places around India and remains of ancient civilization can be found out if adequate funds and support is provided. But that is also not done. So overall the spiritual glory of India is minimized by downsizing, downgrading and postdating the Vedic wisdom tradition.

Downsizing means that which is a vast kingdom for example even in recent history, Shivaji Maharaja, less than five hundred years ago, when he was ruling, the kingdom that he has established eventually it became so big that it expanded from Cuttack in the east to Attuck (in Pakistan) in the west. It was a huge kingdom. In its heyday Maratha kingdom was bigger than the kingdom of Akbar and Aurangzeb. But in the text book it is often taught that Shivaji Maharaja was just a local provincial ruler. This is miseducation. Similarly there are very great kings who have been there in the past and their glories are not talked about. Many of these kings were virtuous and dharmic. So by downsizing, downgrading and postdating, postdating means, now there is a significant body of evidence indicating that the Vedic civilization is actually very-very ancient. But because of misinterpretation by many scholars, it was thought that actually Krishna if it all He existed even Ramanayna, the Mahabharata was written after Jesus came because there are some similarities between the stories of Jesus and Krishna. Krishna was a cowherd and Jesus was a shepherd. Krishna was named in a cowshed and Jesus took birth in a pastoral setting. So because of some similarity some Christian thought ok, Krishna stories were stolen from the Bible. Of course there was a nationalist reactionary wing which said no, Jesus stories were stolen from Krishna. Where there are things which are debatable then neither can be put or both sides can be put but just putting one side which downgrades, postdates or downsizes the Vedic civilization that is undesirable.

The fact that Indian spiritual civilization, India’s spiritual wisdom has penetrated even into the intellectual heart of the world and especially among Americans. There are millions of people of yoga practitioners in America. There are thousands of people who do kirtan yoga and there are large number of people who practice spiritual paths coming from India seriously. So much so that there are main stream Americans historians who have written books about this. But none of this India’s spiritual glory is practically not talked about at all.

Spiritual glory doesn’t have to be talked about in such a way that the religious sentiments of other religions have to be hurt. For example, what need not be taught is, there are some Hindu scholars who claim that Taj Mahal was a Shiva temple, teja mahalaya. The historical evidence for this is debatable and more over this is something which can cause communal riots because Muslims may start feeling that you are misappropriating what is our cultural legacy. So where its volatile and where the feelings of certain communities may get hurt then that doesn’t have to be taught but beyond that there is much that can be taught.

There are so many universal principles which are taught in the Vedic literature for example vasudhaiva kutambakam, the whole earth is one family or the idea sarve janah sukhina bhavantu, that everyone be happy. So these are universal prayers, universal auspicious meditations and this contribution of universal wellbeing which is essential spiritual message of the Vedic literature, this needs to be presented to the Indian students.

Yes, there have been some superstitions and those superstitions are often undesirable but rather than talking only about superstitions, we need to also talk about the glories over there. When we talk about saffronization, what it means, it a derogatory term that is used by the media. Actually the Indian history is going to be distorted in such a way as to promote Hindu hegemony, Hindu superiority over others. Yes, that sort of thing playing games with history for the sake of religious propaganda. That is undesirable, that should not happen is a democratic setup but when games have already been played in the name of truth, when distortion have already been done in the past then doing correction of that is not at all wrong. Doing that correction is essential so that people can actually recognize the true glory of India. Indians don’t have to feel ashamed of their own national legacy. Now the hope is that India will become a economic super power or super power of future but Indian students have the idea that we were ruled and a trampled country for thousand years. That is true but in spite of that India’s cultural glory goes far beyond that. Whatever facts are well known about India’s cultural glory, they definitely should not be kept out of syllabus in the name of secularism. They need to be taught and by that sense of authentic and desirable honor and pride in Indians for that cultural and spiritual legacy needs to be instilled. That is primarily not to distort history to favor a particular group but to correct history so that the disfavor that have been done to the followers of Vedic tradition that disfavor is corrected. Thank you.

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Chaitanya Charan das
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