for Proper Education
A brahmachari is one who
practices brahmacharya — a word that has become associated mainly,
over time, with sexual self-control, though its full and true meaning
is "flowing with Brahma.” To flow with God, or divine inspiration,
is to be in tune with the Lord in every aspect of one’s life.
Brahmacharya is also
the first of the four classically designated ashrams, or stages
of life: the student stage. The other three ashrams are grihastha (householder), vanaprastha (partially retired from worldly life),
and sannyas (full renunciation).
There is therefore a special
link between the first and the fourth stage of life. Both of them were
specifically directed toward offering one’s life up to God: the first
stage, in preparation for seeing Him as life’s true goal; the fourth,
in devoting one’s life to the quest for liberation. The ashram system
in India was specifically directed toward living in godly ways. It originated
during a higher age, when the concept of life’s purpose was understood
widely enough to become crystallized in an actual system. Though such
is not nowadays the case, there is at least the possibility of creating
examples within society where it can be practiced: in special schools,
for example, where children can be educated in this system; and in separate
communities, which members join with the conscious intention of living
I should add that such schools
and communities already exist. I myself have founded eight of them.
In most of them, moreover, we already have “Living Wisdom” schools
based on the principles expounded in my book, Education for Life.
Even our Living Wisdom schools,
however, still need to introduce the concept of renunciation. Thus,
although in a sense we teach the children to “flow with Brahma,”
we have yet to introduce more fully the concept of renunciation, whether
as tyagis, brahmacharis, or as swamis.
I suggest that it is time
now to give serious thought to teaching the need for self-control before the growing adolescent finds himself trapped in habits that
must, in time, ruin his life, or may at least make it very difficult
to steer it in an upward direction.
Already in our Ananda schools
we teach the need, and give reasons for, upholding higher values in
life than the usual craze for money, fame, and worldly power. Even when
a child desires these goals, he is taught to see them as a means for
doing good in the world. Ananda children learn the benefits, to themselves,
of including other people’s happiness in their own. They are taught
the importance of self-control. And they learn, in addition, the value
to themselves of all true virtues.
In national tests, our children
usually score in the ninety-fifth percentile.
When they graduate or go
to other schools, they invariably become outstanding students in their
new situations, and often rise to become leaders, whether of the student
body, or in the world.
Children at Ananda schools
learn not to tamper with hallucinogenic drugs or with alcohol. They
learn self-discipline, concentration, cooperation with others, and the
importance of living by high spiritual ideals.
We have not yet been able
strongly enough to emphasize sexual self-control. The importance of
deep spiritual commitment is, I think, not so much taught as implied.
I suggest that, in future, not only Ananda schools but schools everywhere
include all these ideals in their curriculum. For as the children are
raised, so does a society become.
I suggest that, in time, gurukuls be created as in ancient India. It would
be well, even today, for people to study that system and see which of
its features might be adopted.
One thing I recommend is
that boys and girls be separated during their adolescent years. Sexual
awakening is a time of great emotional upheaval. A child needs to learn
how to cope with new feelings that, with puberty, are virtually inflicted
on him by Nature itself. Separation of the sexes can give the adolescent
a chance to learn for himself how to handle the sudden, disruptive imperatives
of his own body.
In my book, Education
for Life, I state that each of the six-year periods of life leading
to adulthood has its own specific needs. During the first six years,
the primary need is to develop physical coordination. During the next
six years, until the age of twelve, there is a need to channel one’s
emotions rightly; from twelve to eighteen, the need comes to direct
the will with discrimination; and from eighteen to twenty-four, the
need is to hone and refine the intellect. Ideally, education should
(and, in the actual school of life, does) continue to the age of twenty-four,
after which time one has — as well as he ever will have — the tools
to cope with objective reality.
The “will” years, from
twelve to eighteen, are extremely important for inculcating in the growing
child an understanding of how to use his will power for self-conquest,
not for the conquest of others: how to rule himself, and not to impose
his will on others.
An adolescent’s energy
is often directed primarily toward making a conquest of someone
of the other sex. A boy thinks, “How can I win her affection?” A
girl thinks, “How can I best attract him?” It is important for both
to learn not only the “facts of life,” but how to direct that knowledge
upward, toward a higher understanding of the uses and abuses of the
sex instinct. Sound reasons need to be given, to which the adolescent
can relate intelligently.
Every generation considers
itself the first ever to discover sex. Adolescence is a time of exaggerated
ego-consciousness, arising from a heightened spirit of competition,
which develops with puberty and the following “will” years. Teenagers
may tend to be overconfident — almost ridiculously so — or just the
opposite: to develop an almost pathetic sense of utter incompetence,
and an ego-paralyzing inferiority complex.
I suggest even what, in some
societies, has been called a “rite of passage.” This rite should
be conducted for children of both sexes, and not only — as has been
traditionally the case — for boys. Boys, especially, should be taught
that what is at first pleasurable often ends in misery, if the energy
is not brought under control and wisely directed. Girls should be taught
that, while it is easy to attract boys with “feminine wiles,” they
will lose the boys’ respect and will only, in the end, alienate them.
Each should be taught above all to respect the other, and should
be given good reasons not to view anyone in terms of conquest.
I suggest the rite be conducted
by several adult (that is to say, truly mature) men or women — men,
obviously, for the boys, and women for the girls. It could be a formal
ceremony, at which every participating adult addresses some specific
aspect of the meaning of true maturity.
There could then be a fire
ceremony, into which the participating children symbolically cast their
former expectations: that of being forever cared for and supported (emotionally
and financially), and that of being childishly dependent on the will
of others (of their parents, of course, especially). From now on, they’ll
need to act, will, and think more for themselves. Teenagers have a natural
tendency, anyway, to test the knife-edge of their will. It seems wise
to help them to direct this tendency toward their own highest good.
Each child may then be given
a token of his acceptance into this new phase of life: perhaps a yellow
badge of some kind, which can be pinned on clothing as a constant reminder,
especially to oneself, of the high principles that have been embraced.
The ceremony should consist
of a prayer and a pledge. The prayer should be for divine guidance in
one’s life, for God’s acceptance of one’s devotion, and for the
grace to be able always to share with others whatever blessings one
receives in life.
The fire ceremony should
be accompanied by the Mahamrityunjaya mantra:
Aum, triambakam yajaamahe
(May He liberate us from
death and bring us immortality, even as the cucumber is severed from
its bondage to the creeper.)
After repeating it three
times, as a demand for liberation from all physical, mental, and spiritual
karmas, the participants should cast a handful of rice into the fire
to symbolize the burning of the seeds of their past karma.
The pledge, after an invocation
to God and His great saints, may be as follows:
“I know that that action
is best which most truly brings me happiness.
“I understand that I am
happiest when I include the happiness of others in my own.
“I will seek always to
be useful and helpful to others, to society, and to all mankind, and
will try to find happiness not only for myself, but for everyone.
“I will always be grateful
to my parents for the good they have given me, and will forgive them
for any hurts, for I know that I myself will suffer most if I hold negative
feelings in my heart toward anyone.
“I will treat my body as
a temple of God, and will do my best to keep it clean and holy: as a
place where I can humbly worship.
“I will try to live always
by the highest ideals — for my own and for others’ happiness and well-being.”
After each verse in the above
pledge, each participant should offer a small teaspoon of ghee (clarified
butter) into the flames as a symbol of the purity of his intentions.
Chapter 16: A Vision for the Future