Ancient Indian Education and Ethics – Its Relevance Today

We are here to critically understand the relevance of Ancient Indian education system in the modern time. Has the modern education ethos has helped to understand the Indian society. Do we want to become original thinkers again or remain in the present system which breeds mediocrity? India need to think carefully how much foreign system of education has helped her. Time has come to go back to high level of education which will produce thinkers.

Basis of Indian education has been learning and understanding. It became just memorizing after countless invasions. India was the most prosperous nation in the world in the ancient times. It believed in exploitation of the natural resources just that much which was needed. Excessive exploitation of natural resources was not done nor was it encouraged. In India people worship nature: plants, wind, fire, water, sun and so on. This proves the respect it gave to all the living plants and animals on the Earth. In Hindu religion it is said that over exploitation of the sea, should be avoided and that is known as “samudramanthan.” Giving education was considered as noble job, a solemn duty of the teacher and he should not expect remuneration from the students. A teacher used to be dedicated and did take teaching as a mission.

Academics also helped to reform the societies. We could recall the contribution made by the great economics teacher of Takshashila and Nalanda Universities; Chankaya who realized that for economic development in the region it was necessary to make an undivided nation: India. He helped Chandragupta to establish the Mauryan Empire which ruled the entire subcontinent and beyond. This empire in recent time gave the system that gave us the ethical standards which Indians value even now. The education standards were high and people came from far lands to study all streams of subjects here in India. Indians also worship goddess of education “Saraswati.” Even today it is celebrated with great fanfare.

Hindus do have a function where the child is introduced to learning and that is the culture of India. Indian society is based on education. People in education are given the highest position in society called Brahmins. In ancient times one had to work very hard to become a Brahmin. In those days it was not by birth. One had to take that profession then only he could become a Brahmin. The Brahmin could not take money to give education. Education in ancient India was free to all. The kingdom would fund education. India is a country which has low literacy but high education. People know about life, nature, plants, and its importance and so on.

Indian education system was based on the principle of total development; mind and emotions. Indian system paid great emphasis to development of ethical sole and therefore, introduced brahmacharya system. During this period a student is supposed to learn only. Indian system gave emphasis to learning through practice. It was indeed based on religious practices and religious acts. One must appreciate that religion in those days was just a way of life hence, no conflict with education. One had to follow a strict way of life which one has to still follow. Athavaveda an ancient book talks in detail the education part; the system and methods to be followed.

It however, had some defects. Education was restricted to those who deserve and was not available to all. Second it was Guru (teacher) centric i.e. for every thing one had to depend on the guru and his knowledge was considered perfect. Buddhism democratized the education by allowing all to study. This helped to spread education and institutionalise education by forming Universities. Buddhism did not deviate from Hindu system of imparting education but made it broad-based. Here again educators and students had to be religious people and had to follow a strict rules. Even here it was not fully devoid of old Guru System. Even Buddha said “Buddham saranam gachchami” (Come to Buddha to get enlightenment). Mind you, in ancient times the great saints did research on their own and developed body of knowledge which was in contrast to what Buddha said. However, he challenged the system of concentration of knowledge in few hand. This might have diluted the quality of knowledge but this improved the understanding of the people in general in India.

This also developed a bond among people of India which is keeping this country together. This is the secret of unity in diversity of India. A diverse country became one population having same principle of life that is achieving mokshya (eternal bliss).

Indians always paid great importance to education which would improve the ethical standard of the population. Resilience of ancient Indian education system was proved again and again. Since the early stages of foreign invasion India lost all its material wealth but not the Indian ethos and superiority of our (Arian) culture and believes. This was possible because of the foundation of Indian education system. Others talk about Ethics but Indians practice through education.

Aims of the Indian System as I think were:

1. The direct aim was to make all students fit to become useful members of the society so that they could follow the duties of all other Ashrams of life faithfully.
2. The aim was to make firm and good character through moral values.
3. The Indian education system made a distinction between mere scholarship and total education.
4. The aim of the system was development of total personality.
5. Next was inculcation of civic and social duties. India in ancient time was a society mainly governed by social laws which gave us our strength. It is the only society where the social system of conducting business was so strong and independent that we survived in spite of foreign invasion and rule.
6. Indian education promoted social efficiency and happiness. We all know in our ancient books there are examples of people helping the society.
7. Ancient education system taught preservation of national heritage and culture hence we still have a culture different from all other societies. This still remains our strength and some day we will be able to re-establish our national pride. This has given us the unbroken continuity since the ancient times. It is the strength of our ancient education that we survive as a nation.

Then the question is where did we go wrong? Our education system got encased in a shell for it had to be protected from foreign influence. This violent massacre of our culture by foreign invaders made us extremely introvert. The openness of our society was lost and formal education became the domain of few. This destroyed the ability of our academia to expand knowledge. The burning of our established centers of education made people scared. The mass lost the desire to learn because they did not value home-grown knowledge. People drifted from formal learning process and this gave way to all sorts of raw practices in our society. Indian society lost the basic ability to acquire and take advantage of knowledge. The body of knowledge became foreign which was a rare commodity only the rich could afford. The British rule took advantage of this void and introduced a system to suit needs of the Empire. The system did not encourage beyond copying. This practice is still prevalent in Indian education system. It discourages boys from having their own independent opinion on a subject.

We stopped learning and all our ancient texts were being considered as part of religion. We should re-design our education system incorporating the main ethos of our time- tested old system with new knowledge. We must reintroduce the concept of self-control which has been there in our society. This may make our people to appreciate need for ethical standards. Yes, let us go back to the relationship that existed between education and society defined by our age-old tested system. The quality of some of the books written 2500 years ago or beyond is so high that people of today can not write. That was the level of our original research why and when we lost that ability is a matter of concern even now. We must revive that and rebuild the education system in India as we want it; the total development. Copying of the west has not helped and it shall not help in future this has to be recognized once for all. We believe in the Ethical values of the society and that can not be compromised at any cost. Society has lost thousands of years and let us not loses further time in search of right education for India.
Dr Aloke Chakravartty
School of Management

Dr. Aloke Chakravartty is at present Dean of TIG Business Schools in India. He has over 28years of experience of the industry and over 6 years of international consulting experience. He has set up many projects small medium and large. He was promoted to write this article after seeing how private education in developing countries are growing

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