One of the greatest adepts, teachers, writers, and humanitarians of the 20th century, Swami Rama (1925-1996) is the founder of the Himalayan Institute. Born in Northern India, he was raised from early childhood by the Himalayan sage, Bengali Baba. Under the guidance of his master, he traveled from monastery to monastery and studied with a variety of Himalayan saints and sages, including his grandmaster who was living in a remote region of Tibet. In addition to this intense spiritual training, Swami Rama received higher education in both India and Europe. From 1949 to 1952, he held the prestigious position of Shankaracharya of Karvirpitham in South India. Thereafter, he returned to his master to receive further training at his cave monastery, and finally in 1969, came to the United States where he founded the Himalayan Institute. His best known work, Living With the Himalayan Masters, reveals the many facets of this singular adept and demonstrates his embodiment of the living tradition of the East.
“Actually, what we call education is basically nothing but memorization. When children go to school and are exposed to such education, how can they grow properly? Modern education creates merely a superficial coating on the conscious mind. The focus of modern education is on memorizing facts of the external world; it ignores the growth and development of the inner being. Such education creates internal conflict and often, a serious barrier to the faculty of discrimination. It thus hinders the child’s ability to make decisions and blocks the progress of the child’s growth.
Modern education in both the East and the West shares the same tragic flaw; education helps one to understand and to be successful in the external world, the world of means. It doesn’t help one to know oneself. It presents only the means to stimulate the child’s external life and fails to explore the child’s inner library of knowledge. Thus the child is given the impression that anything that comes from within himself is not valuable, and that the key to all of life’s questions comes from the external world. He becomes dependent on other people’s thoughts and creativity, rather than developing his own inner kingdom of unique creativity and imagination. The real purpose of education is self-mastery of one’s physical, emotional, and mental levels. But today, educators and parents treat the mind as a mere collecting agent or computerized storehouse of unrelated facts that are never directly experienced by the child.
From the very beginning our mistakes are pointed out to us. When we go to school, there also the teacher keeps saying to us, “This is wrong, this is wrong, and this is wrong.” The teacher forgets to point out what we may have done correctly. In this way we learn that we make mistakes. When we are brought up in so much negativity, we naturally apply the same thing and form the habit of thinking negatively. We constantly repeat to the conscious mind: I am full of mistakes, I am hopeless, I cannot do anything. In school my teachers always used to correct my mistakes, but they rarely pointed out that I had done something good or had written something good. When a teacher corrects a student’s mistakes, she could also tell the student, “Look, this is a good thing. Your writing is good and your punctuation is good. You are wonderful; you are really a good student. Now come on.” Children do not receive that sort of education. Everybody is prepared to correct their mistakes, but nobody tells them about their good qualities. On the other hand, teachers and parents should also be cautious not to make the child dependent on them for praise and approval.
Teaching is a skill that cannot be taught by any training program. Discipline is an important part of education, but teachers are too often influenced by their own authoritarianism and egotism. Some teachers let out their frustrations on their students in the classroom and impose their authority in an overly rigid way. Teachers should never forget that children learn through love, rather than by rigid disciplines imposed on them. A teacher can be a positive influence by being kind and by being an example, not by beating or forcing the child. When the teacher becomes an example for the students, only then will they naturally start to learn. The teacher should prepare stimulating lessons that provide hands-on experience and then observe and verify the child’s experience, just as a scientist verifies the results of an experiment. After having given a simple, clear demonstration of what is to be done, the teacher should then remain silent so that the experience remains the child’s alone.
Not all children develop at the same pace, but parents and teachers expect them to grow in a uniform way. From the ages of five to seven years, children start to show signs of being unable to cope with the pressure to conform. Unfortunately, those children who are unable to keep up with their peers are often mislabeled as slow learners. Actually, except for those few children who suffer from mental disabilities due to a brain injury or a congenital defect, many of these children are not slow at all. When we introduce a curriculum that does not suit the needs of such children, we perceive them as being unintelligent and as failures, whereas actually it is the educational system that is failing the child. The educational system in India has not developed an adequate method for teaching children with learning problems. Such children are simply looked upon as inferior to their peers. This is not a fair attitude because each child has talents of his own; no two children share the same talents and abilities. There are many other ways for these children to develop their skills and to express themselves in a creative way. Parents and teachers should study each child’s individual talents and help him to develop his own special gifts. They should understand that many children can accomplish more with their hands than with academic studies.”
- Swami Rama in