Education as Assimilation
But I must advise you, students, to read these prize-books carefully, to reflect over their real import and, keeping in mind all the profound truths set out in them, follow the path enjoined by religion. Whether you are a girl or a boy, you will grow up one day and have to carry a heavy burden of worldly duties; give some thought, therefore, to the future. Truth is revealed not only in our scriptures but in the scriptures of other religions as well.
It is the duty of students to assimilate whatever they have learnt. They should have religious and moral instruction, as much of it as they can usefully apply. They need education in such measure that it would not become too much of a useless burden on them. I should like to address a few words exclusively to students. Men and women students, you will benefit from what you have learnt only to the extent that you have assimilated it. That should be the object of this institution too. You should ponder over the element of truth in whatever books of religion you read. If you cling to truth, success is yours. I would advise you from my experience, to profit well from your education. That will be to your advantage and to your country’s as well.
Speech to students in Bombay, 14 February 1915 (CW 13, p. 23)
Speaking about the timidity induced by their education, Gandhiji said: We may feel in our heart any measure of devotion for Tilak Maharaj, but where is the student who will express it freely?
For us, fear has become synonymous with life. What is the use of that education which does not help us to overcome fear, but which, on the contrary, strengthens it? What kind of an education is it which does not teach us to follow truth and to cultivate devotion for the country?
Speech at students’ meeting, Agra, 23 November 1920 (CW 19, p. 16)
Culture of the Heart
There is one thing which, as I am speaking to you occurs to me, which comes to me from my early studies of the Bible. It seized me immediately. I read the passage:
But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.1
I tell you that if you will understand, appreciate and act up to the spirit of this passage, you won’t even need to know what place Jesus or any other teacher occupies in your heart. If you will do the proper scavenger’s work, clean and purify your hearts and get them ready, you will find that all these mighty teachers will take their places without invitation from us. That, to my mind, is the basis of all sound education . Culture of the mind must be subservient to the culture of the heart. May God help you to become pure!
Speech at Central College, Jaffna, The Hindu, 2 December 1927 (CW 35, p. 343)
Education as Contemplation
Education, character and religion should be regarded as convertible terms. There is no true education which does not tend to produce character, and there is no true religion which does not determine character. Education should contemplate the whole life. Mere memorizing and book-learning is not education. I have no faith in the so-called systems of education which produce men of learning without the backbone of character.
Interview with W.W. Hall, October 1928 (CW 37, p. 320)
Education as Self-discipline
All your scholarship, all your study of Shakespeare and Wordsworth would be vain if at the same time you do not build your character, and attain mastery over your thoughts and actions. When you have attained self-mastery and learnt to control your passions you will not utter notes of despair. You cannot give your hearts and profess poverty of action. To give one’s heart is to give all. You must, to start with, have hearts to give. And this you can do if you will cultivate them.
Speech to students, Agra, 19 September 1929 (CW 41, p. 391)
Development of Body, Mind and Spirit
The English word ‘education’ etymologically means ‘drawing out’. That means an endeavour to develop our latent talents. The same is the meaning of kilavani, the Gujarati word for education. When we say that we develop a certain thing, it does not mean that we change its kind or quality, but that we bring out the qualities latent in it. Hence ‘education’ can also mean ‘unfoldment’.
In this sense, we cannot look upon knowledge of the alphabet as education. This is true even if that knowledge gains us the M.A. degree or enables us to adorn the place of a Shastri1 in some pathshala2 with the requisite knowledge of Sanskrit. It may well be that the highest literary knowledge is a fine instrument for education or unfoldment, but it certainly does not itself constitute education.
True education is something different. Man is made of
three constituents, the body, mind and spirit. Of them, spirit is the one permanent element in man. The body and the mind function on account of it. Hence we can call that education which reveals the qualities of spirit. That is why the seal of the
Vidyapith carries the dictum ‘Education is that which leads to moksha’.1
Education can also be understood in another sense; that is, whatever leads to a full or maximum development of all the three, the body, mind and spirit, may also be called education. The knowledge that is being imparted today may possibly develop the mind a little, but certainly it does not develop the body and spirit. I have a doubt about the development of the mind too, because it does not mean that the mind has developed if we have filled it with a lot of information. We cannot therefore say that we have educated our mind. A well-educated mind serves man in the desired manner. Our literate mind of today pulls us hither and thither. That is what a wild horse does. Only when a wild horse is broken in can we call it a trained horse. How many ‘educated’ young men of today are so trained?
Now let us examine our body. Are we supposed to cultivate
the body by playing tennis, football or cricket for an hour every day? It does, certainly, build up the body. Like a wild horse, however, the body will be strong but not trained. A trained body is healthy, vigorous and sinewy. The hands and feet can do any desired work. A pickaxe, a shovel, a hammer, etc. are like ornaments to a trained hand and it can wield them. That hand can ply the spinning-wheel well as also the ring and the comb while the feet work a loom. A well trained body does not get tired in trudging 30 miles. It can scale mountains without getting breathless. Does the student acquire such physical culture? We can assert that modern curricula do not impart physical education in this sense.
The less said about the spirit the better. Only a seer or a seeker can enlighten the soul. Who will awaken that dormant spiritual energy in us all? Teachers can be had through an advertisement. Is there a column for spiritual quest in the testimonials which they have to produce? Even if there is one, what is its value? How can we get through advertisements teachers who are seekers after self-realization? And education without such enlightenment is like a wall without a foundation or, to employ an English saying, like a whited sepulchre. Inside it there is only a corpse eaten up or being eaten by insects.
Navajivan Education Supplement, 28 February 1926 (CW 30, pp. 58-59)
Strengthening of Character
In my wanderings among the students I made the discovery at an early stage of the movement that in order to conduct a movement of this kind character must be the foundation. We also found that real education consists not in packing the brain with so many facts and figures, not in passing examinations by reading numerous books but in developing character. I do not know to what extent you students of France lay stress upon character rather than upon intellectual studies, but I can say this that if you explore the possibilities of non-violence you will find that without character it will prove a profitless study.
Speech at meeting of students, Marseilles
Young India, 1 October 1931 (CW 47, p. 422)
Fighting Social Evils
All this means education of a character that will revolutionize the mentality of the youth of the nation. Unfortunately the system of education has no connection with our surroundings which therefore remain practically untouched by the education received by a microscopic minority of the boys and girls of the nation. Whilst, therefore, whatever can be done to abate the evil must be done, it is clear to me that this evil and many others which can be named can only be tackled if there is education which responds to the rapidly changing conditions of the country. How is it that so many boys and girls who have even passed through colleges are found unable or unwilling to resist the manifestly evil custom which affects their future so intimately as marriage does? Why should educated girls be found to commit suicide because they are not suited? Of what value is their education if it does not enable them to dare to defy a custom which is wholly indefensible and repugnant to one’s moral sense? The answer is clear. There is something radically wrong in the system of education that fails to arm girls and boys to fight against social or other evils. That education alone is of value which draws out the faculties of a student so as to enable him or her to solve correctly the problems of life in every department.
Harijan, 23 May 1936 (CW 62, p. 436)
Education is just a means. If it is not accompanied by truthfulness, firmness, patience and other virtues, it remains sterile, and sometimes does harm instead of good. The object of education is not to be able to earn money, but to improve oneself and to serve the country. If this object is not realized, it must be taken that the money spent on education has been wasted.
Indian Opinion, 9 March 1907 (CW 6, p. 361)
The Indian community has a moral to learn from this case. Without the right kind of education, the community will not only remain backward, but become increasingly so. Education in England, the study of English, world history and of the sciences—all these are essential in the world of today. Without them one is crippled. It is also necessary to learn how to put the knowledge thus acquired to proper use. In itself knowledge is only a means. It can be employed for good, for making money, and in the service of public causes. Knowledge is justified only when it is put to good use and employed in the public cause. Otherwise, as we pointed out once earlier and as everyone will readily admit, it is like poison.
Indian Opinion, 4 April 1908 (CW 8, p. 171)
If you practise the three virtues1 if they become part of your life
so far as I am concerned, you will have completed your education—your training. Armed with them, believe me, you
will earn your bread in any part of the world and you will have paved the way to acquire a true knowledge of the soul, yourself and God. This does not mean that you should not receive instruction in letters. That you should and you are doing. But
it is a thing over which you need not fret yourself. You have
plenty of time for it and after all you are to receive such
instruction in order that your training may be of use to the
Letter to Manilal Gandhi, 25 March 1909 (CW 9, p. 205)
Not Mere Employment
You—the students of Madras as well as students all over India—are you receiving an education which will make you worthy
to realise that ideal2 and which will draw the best out of you, or
is it an education which has become a factory for making Government employees or clerks in commercial offices? Is the
goal of the education that you are receiving that of mere employment whether in the Government departments or other departments? If that be the goal of your education, if that is the goal that you have set before yourselves, I feel and I fear that
the vision which the poet3 pictured for himself is far from being realised.
Speech at Y.M.C.A., Madras, 27 April 1915 (CW 13, p. 65)
Thinking and Becoming
But I am afraid that most of the students do not pay any regard to the real aim of education. They go to school merely because it is the custom to do so. Some go to be able to obtain employment later on. In my opinion, to think of education as a means of earning a living betrays an unworthy disposition of mind. The body is the means of earning a living while the school is the place for building character. To regard the latter as the means of fulfilling one’s bodily needs is like killing a buffalo for a small piece of hide. The body should be maintained through doing physical work. How can the atma, the spirit, be employed for this purpose? You earn your bread by the sweat of your brow—this is one of the most significant sayings of Christ. The Gita also seems to say the same.
Students who attend school without taking thought as to the true aim of education, should first make sure what it should be. Such a student may resolve this very day that, henceforth, he will regard school as a place for building character. I am sure that he will effect a change for the better in his character in the course of a month and that his companions will also bear witness to his having done so. The shastras assert that we become what we think.
Speech at Bihar Students’ Conference, Bhagalpur, 19 July 1917
(CW 14, pp. 134–35)
Knowing the Self
As I have earlier pointed out, most of the students look listless and devoid of energy. Many have asked me what they should do to overcome lethargy and serve the country? What should they do to earn their living? I have the impression that they are anxious about this matter. Before answering these questions it is necessary to find out the aim of education. Huxley has said that the aim of education is the building up of character. Our seers aver that, if in spite of his knowledge of the Vedas and shastras, a man fails to know himself and acquire the power to liberate himself from all bonds, his knowledge is useless. They have also said: “He who has known the Self knows all.” Knowledge of the Self is possible without any literary education. Prophet Mohammed was an illiterate man. Christ too did not attend school. But it would be impudent to deny that these great men had acquired knowledge of the Self. Though they did not pass any examination, yet we hold them in high esteem and worship them. They were in possession of all the fruits of learning. They were mahatmas—men of great spiritual attainment.
Speech at Bihar Students’ Conference, Bhagalpur, 19 July 1917 (CW 14, p. 133)
All education must aim at building character. I cannot see how this can be done except through religion. We are yet to realize that gradually we are being reduced to a state in which we shall have lost our own without having acquired the new. I cannot go more into this, but I have met hundreds of teachers and they sighed in pain as they told me of their experiences... If pupils in schools lose their character, everything will have been lost.
Speech at Gujarat Educational Conference, Broach, 20 October 1917
(CW 14, p. 29)
The main object of this school is to strengthen the pupils’ character. It is said that real education consists in teaching the pupil the art of learning. In other words, a desire for knowledge should grow in him. Knowledge, however, is of many kinds. There is some knowledge which is harmful. If, therefore, the boys’ character is not formed well, they will acquire the wrong kind of knowledge. Because of lack of proper planning in education, we observe that some persons grow to be atheists and some, though highly educated, fall a prey to vices. It is therefore the main object of this school to assist in building the moral character of boys. We can see this aim realized in Mr. Hassan Mia and Mr. Ravikrishna. We can form some idea of what Mr. Hassan Mia has been doing in England. Mr. Ravikrishna is in gaol today for the sake of the country. Both these have gone out from the school at Phoenix.
Boys will be taught their own language, that is, Gujarati or Hindi and, if possible, Tamil, as also English, arithmetic, history, geography, botany and zoology. Advanced pupils will also be taught algebra and geometry. It is expected that they can be brought up to the matriculation level.
For purposes of religious instruction, parents will be allowed to send any religious teacher of their choice. Hindu boys will be taught the fundamentals of the Hindu religion in any manner that may be desired by their parents. Indian Christians will be taught the elements of Christian religion by Mr. West and Mr. Cordes on the basis of the teachings of Theosophy. For boys of the Muslim faith, we want to arrange for a Moulvi, if possible. They will be permitted to go to Durban on Fridays. We believe that the education of any people is fruitless without religious instruction. Therefore, it is the duty of parents with a religious bent of mind to provide their children with both religious and secular education. We shall find on reflection that what we call secular education is also for strengthening the religious instinct. We think education imparted without any such aim is often harmful.
Boys will be taught the history of ancient and modern India so as to inculcate in them love of India and help them grow patriotic.
Apart from this, there is no other information to be given. We hope that those who want to send their boys will do so indeed. As for the difficulty about the building, it is the duty of the parents to remove it. It is hardly necessary to mention that a report on the school and a statement of accounts will be published regularly.
[The results of the experiments in the school Gandhiji established at the Phoenix Ashram, 13 miles away from Durban, South Africa, 1904]
Indian Opinion, 9 January 1909 (CW pp. 138–39) (Translated from Gujarati)
The question of religious education is very difficult. Yet we cannot do without it. India will never be godless. Rank atheism cannot flourish in this land. The task is indeed difficult. My head begins to turn as I think of religious education. Our religious teachers are hypocritical and selfish; they will have to be approached. The Mullas, the Dasturs and the Brahmins hold the key in their hands, but if they will not have the good sense, the energy that we have derived from English education will have to be devoted to religious education. This is not very difficult. Only the fringe of the ocean has been polluted, and it is those who are within the fringe who alone need cleaning. We who come under this category can even cleanse ourselves, because my remarks do not apply to the millions. In order to restore India to its pristine condition, we have to return to it.
Hind Swaraj, p.107
Dharma and Scriptures
I feel, too, that both Hindus and Muslims should study each other’s religious scriptures with due respect and try to understand them.
(CW 14, pp. 136–37)
A curriculum of religious instruction should include a study of the tenets of faiths other than one’s own. For this purpose the students should be trained to cultivate the habit of understanding and appreciating the doctrines of various great religions of the world in a spirit of reverence and broad-minded tolerance.
Young India, 25 August 1927 (The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi, pp. 69–70)
I shall say to the 75 per cent Hindus receiving instruction in this College that your lives will be incomplete unless you reverently study the teaching of Jesus. I have come to the conclusion, in my own experience, that those who, no matter to what faith they belong, reverently study the teaching of other faiths broaden their own, instead of slackening their hearts. Personally, I do not regard any of the great religions of the world as false. All have served in embellishing mankind and are even now serving their purpose. A liberal education to all should include, as I have put it, a reverent study of other faiths, but I do not want to labour this point, nor have I the time to do so.
The Hindu, 2 December 1927 (CW 35, p. 343)
Religious versus Fundamental Virtues
To me religion means Truth and ahimsa or rather Truth alone, because Truth includes ahimsa, ahimsa being the necessary and indispensable means for its discovery. Therefore, anything that promotes the practice of these virtues is a means for imparting religious education and the best way to do this, in my opinion, is for the teachers rigorously to practise these virtues in their own person. Their very association with the boys, whether on the playground or in the classroom, will then give the pupils a fine training in these fundamental virtues.
So much for instruction in the universal essentials of religion. A curriculum of religious instruction should include a study of the tenets of faiths other than one’s own. For this purpose the students should be trained to cultivate the habit of understanding and appreciating the doctrines of various great religions of the world in a spirit of reverence and broad-minded tolerance. This if properly done would help to give them a spiritual assurance and a better appreciation of their own religion. There is one rule, however, which should always be kept in mind while studying all great religions and that is that one should study them only through the writings of known votaries of the respective religions. For instance, if one wants to study the Bhagavata one should do so not through a translation of it made by a hostile critic but one prepared by a lover of the Bhagavata. Similarly to study the Bible one should study it through the commentaries of devoted Christians. This study of other religions besides one’s own will give one a grasp of the rock-bottom unity of all religions and afford a glimpse also of that universal and absolute Truth which lies beyond the ‘dust of creeds and faiths’.
Let no one even for a moment entertain, the fear that a reverent study of other religions is likely to weaken or shake one’s faith in one’s own. The Hindu system of philosophy regards all religions as containing the elements of truth in them and enjoins an attitude of respect and reverence towards them all. This of course presupposes regard for one’s own religion. Study and appreciation of other religions need not cause a weakening of that regard; it should mean extension of that regard to other religions.
In this respect religion stands on the same footing as culture. Just as preservation of one’s own culture does not mean contempt for that of others, but requires assimilation of the best that there may be in all other cultures, even so should be the case with religion. Our present fears and apprehensions are a result of the poisonous atmosphere that has been generated in the country, the atmosphere of mutual hatred, ill-will and distrust. We are constantly labouring under a nightmare of fear lest some one should stealthily undermine our faith or the faith of those who are dear and near to us. But this unnatural state will cease when we have learnt to cultivate respect and tolerance towards other religions and their votaries.
Young India, 6 December 1928 (True Education, pp. 127–28)
Ethics and Religion
The Governments can only teach ethics based on the main principles common to all religions and agreed to by all parties. In fact ours is a secular State.”
Harijan, 9 November 1947 (Basic Education, p. 120)
The life of students is similar to that of Sannyasis. You must therefore live in complete purity and celibacy as befits a brahmachari. The two civilizations—the old and the modern—are at present vying with each other or for supremacy over the student community. The old civilization lays stress on self-control. It proclaims that the more a man reduces his wants consciously and with full understanding of what it means, the greater is his progress towards higher living. Whereas modern civilization holds that progress lies in increasing one’s wants. There is the same difference between control and abandonment as between dharma and adharma or the right and wrong way of living. The method advocating control accords an inferior status to the trappings of material living, and rightly gives more importance to the quality of our thoughts and emotions or spiritual and mental well-being. There is the danger, at present, of our people being carried away by the lure of the newer civilization and throwing away the older one. Students can do a lot in warding off this danger. For instance, the students of this University will be judged not by what they know but by what they do. Therefore, teaching and practice of dharma should be given prior consideration in the scheme of education at this University. Students should offer their whole-hearted co-operation in achieving this object. I, personally, feel that we shall not derive any real benefit from political reforms unless we first arrive at a clear conception of dharma, or the right way of individual and social life for us in India. For it is not these reforms which will create and establish dharma but dharma which will show up the defects of the former and help us in removing them.
Speech delivered before the students of the Hindu University
Navajivan, 29 January 1920 (True Education, pp. 208–09)
An Autobiography, book I and II, as included in The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. I and II.
Bapuni Chhayaman/Balvant Singh. Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1956.
Basic Education/M.K. Gandhi. Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1956.
Gandhi Album, Publication Division, Government of India, 1994.
Hind Swaraj, as included in The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. IV.
The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 1 to 90. Publication Division, Government of India.
The Making of the Mahatma/Ravijibhai M. Patel. Ahmedabad: R.R. Patel, 1990.
The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi/edited by R.K. Prabhu and Y.R. Rao, Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1987.
The Problem of Education/M.K. Gandhi. Ahmedabad: Navjivan, 1962.
The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi/edited by Shriman Narayan, 6 vols. Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1968.
Towards New Education/M.K. Gandhi, edited by Bharatan Kumarappa. Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1953.
True Education/M.K. Gandhi. Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1962.
True Value of Education
The real difficulty is that people have no idea of what education truly is. We assess the value of education in the same manner as we assess the value of land or of shares in the stock-exchange market. We want to provide only such education as would enable the student to earn more. We hardly give any thought to the improvement of the character of the educated. The girls, we say, do not have to earn; so why should they be educated? As long as such ideas persist there is no hope of our ever knowing the true value of education.
True Education, p. 38
The Pall Mall Gazette, a well-known journal in England, has explained the nature of real education. Its comments deserve the attention of us all. The writer in The Pall Mall Gazette says:
We hold that real education does not consist merely in acquainting oneself with ancient or modern books. It consists in the habits which one knowingly or unknowingly imbibes from the atmosphere, one’s surroundings and the company one keeps and above all in work. It is all very well to acquire a stock of knowledge from good books or from other sources. But the more important thing is to learn humanity. The primary function of teachers is, therefore, not to teach the alphabet, but to inculcate humanity. Aristotle said that virtue is not learnt by reading big volumes. It is by doing good deeds that we learn virtue. Another great writer also says that it is well for one to know what is good, but one will be considered a happy person only if one acts upon that knowledge.
Judged by these standards, English schools will not be found wanting. If we think of English schools as places for turning out human beings, we shall see that they give us statesmen and administrators. Those educated in German schools may have greater knowledge, but if they become also men of action like the pupils of Eton, it is not by virtue of their training in the schools. Despite the defects that may exist in English schools, it is these that produce true men. They are men who are ever ready to meet an enemy threatening at the gates of England.
We can readily realize how a country that invests education with such a noble purpose becomes prosperous. India’s star will shine bright when Indian children receive such education. Parents, teachers and pupils ought to ponder over the passage quoted above. It would not do merely to know it, it is necessary to act upon it. That is to say, parents should provide for excellent education, teachers should discharge their responsibility and pupils should recognize that mere literacy is not education.
Indian Opinion, 18 May 1907 (CW 6, pp. 484–85) (Translated from Gujarati)
Education as Training
Now I have read a great deal in the prison. I have been reading Emerson, Ruskin and Mazzini. I have also been reading the Upanishads. All confirm the view that education does not mean a knowledge of letters but it means character building, it means a knowledge of duty. Our own word literally means ‘training’. If this be the true view and it is to my mind the only true view, you are receiving the best education—training—possible.
Letter to Manilal Gandhi, 25 March 1909 (CW 9, p. 208)
Service Before Self
I was extremely glad to read your letter of the 21st (ultimo) about Mr. West. I read the letter twice. I felt proud of you and thanked God that I had such a son. I wish you to remain such for ever. To do good to others and serve them without any sense of egoism—this is real education. You will realize this more and more as you grow up. What better way of life can there be than serving the sick? Most of religion is covered by it.
Letter to Manilal Gandhi, 17 September 1909 (CW 9, p. 417)
The true occupation of man is to build his character. It is not quite necessary to learn something special for earning [one’s livelihood]. He who does not leave the path of morality never starves, and is not afraid if such a contingency arises.
Letter to Manilal Gandhi, 27 September 1909 (CW 9, p. 435)
Living a Good Life
The service you are rendering to Mr. West and others is the best study for you. He who does his duty is all the while studying. You say that you had to leave your studies; but it is not so. You are certainly studying when you are serving. It would be correct to say that you had to give up reading books. There is no harm in thus leaving studies. One can get academic education later on. One cannot say that one will get an opportunity of serving others later on...’ Let this be inscribed in your heart that, since your mind is pure, you will not fall ill while serving others. And even if you fall ill, I will not worry. You and I, all of us, will achieve perfection only by being moulded in this manner. Learning to live a good life is in itself education. All else is useless.
Letter to Manilal Gandhi, 12 October 1909 (CW 9, p. 475)