Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Home Schooling

 Sita Devi with her parents and husband “I have been taught by my father and mother to follow my husband in all conditions of life, and I shall carry out now what I have been taught. I shall not abide by any other counsel.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

According to Vedic philosophy, women and shudras are considered the less intelligent class of people. They are given such a designation due to the fact that they traditionally didn’t receive a formal education. Shudras are the working class of people in the varnashrama dharma system, which is the division of society and life stages based on a person’s natural qualities. The four varnas are the brahmanas (priests), kshatriyas (warriors/administrators), vaishyas (merchants/farmers), and shudras (laborers). The four ashramas represent the progressive stages one goes through in life, namely the brahmacharya (celibate student life), grihastha (married life), vanaprastha (retired family life), and sannyasa (complete renunciation from family life).

In the ancient Vedic system, male children would be invested with the sacred thread which signaled the beginning of their second birth. Everyone’s first birth is from their biological mother and father, but the second birth is more important since that is when spiritual education begins. Upon receiving the sacred thread, boys would then live with their spiritual master in what was known as the gurukula. The gurukula was the school system, with boys living there at no charge. Everyone needs food to survive, so in order to meet this demand, the students, known as brahmacharis, would go begging for food door to door from the grihastha or householder community. The collected food would then be given to the guru, who would in turn distribute it amongst his family and his students. In this way, people living in family life would support the schools and their students. At the gurukula, students would be taught on all subjects of life, but mainly on spiritual matters. They would be taught how to worship Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and they would be imbibed with the highest understanding of the soul and its position relative to this material world.

Shudras and women would not attend gurukulas. Shudras are the laborer class of people so they don’t require an education. Their duty is to serve the three higher varnas. The brahmanas, kshatriyas, and vaishyas in turn must do their part to provide complete protection to the shudras. Women would be provided protection in their youth by their father, and would then be married off as soon they reached the age when puberty starts. At that point, they would be protected by their husbands. It is for these reasons that women and shudras are frequently referred to as unintelligent in the Vedic literatures.

Gurukula Lord Rama was an incarnation of Krishna, and thus was no different than God Himself. He advented on this earth many thousands of years ago in the town of Ayodhya and as part of His pastimes, He willingly accepted a punishment of exile into the forest from His father, Maharaja Dashrata, the king of Ayodhya. The Lord was married at the time to His beautiful and chaste wife Sita Devi. Rama informed her of the punishment and begged her to remain in the town for the duration of the exile period. He put forth all the pertinent arguments relating to the rules of propriety and also warned her of all the dangers of forest life. Sita Devi in turn completely rejected His arguments and put forth her own. She explained the proper duties of a wife and how she was taught to always serve her husband.

Now growing up as an “uneducated” woman, how did Sita have such a high understanding of these rules? Well, she explained to the Lord that these lessons were taught by her mother and father. Sita Devi was an incarnation of the goddess of fortune, Lakshmi. Lakshmi is always serving the Supreme Lord in the spiritual sky, and so when God comes to this earth, she naturally follows Him. Sita didn’t have an ordinary birth, but was instead born from Mother Earth, who is known as Bhumi Devi. The highly exalted King Janaka found her when she was just a baby while he was plowing a field. He raised the girl as his own daughter and he treated her as his most precious jewel. Janaka had a world famous reputation for having the highest character and having his senses under control. Having such wonderful parents in Janaka and his wife Sunayana, Sita Devi received a world-class education at home, without needing to attend school.

In the modern world, gurukulas are almost nonexistent and most education takes place in public schools and universities. While these places may provide a nice education on material subjects, they don’t teach anything about the soul or devotion to Krishna. So in actuality, people attending such institutions aren’t receiving any worthwhile education. We are all growing up as shudras, not having taken our second birth. We learn from Sita Devi’s example just how important it is to teach Krishna consciousness at home. Parents can start teaching their children about God at any age. It has been evidenced that children naturally take to the singing of the Lord’s name, without any cajoling. A child can see a picture of Krishna and immediately understand that it is no ordinary picture, but that it is the Supreme Lord Himself. This is all due to past karma and life experiences. We are all originally devotees of Krishna, but somehow or other we have forgotten Him and are left to struggle in this material world. If parents allow their children to hear about Krishna, to chant His holy name, to eat His prasadam, and to offer prayers to Him, then they will grow up to be more intelligent than the greatest of PhD scholars.