Religious education in India

The issue of religious education was examined by University Education Commission headed by Dr. Radhakrishnan. The Commission recommended in its Report of 1948-49 that the intention behind secular state was not to ban all religious education but to ban dogmatic or sectarian religious instruction in State Schools. If we teach sectarian creeds to our children in public schools, instead of developing in them the spirit of peace and brotherly love we encourage the spirit of strife, as the children become conscious of their divisive creeds and group loyalities. We do not accept a purely scientific materialism as the philosophy of the State. That would be to violate our nature, our svabhava, our characteristic genius, our svadharma. Though we have no State religion, we cannot forget that a deeply religious strain has run throughout our history like a golden thread. The fundamental principles of our Constitution call for spiritual training. There is no State religion. The State must not be partial to anyone, religion. All the different forms are given equal place. Each one is at liberty to approach the Unseen as it suits his capacity and inclination. If this is the basis, or our Secular State, to be secular it is not to be religiously illiterate. It is to be deeply spiritual and not narrowly religious.

 We must civilise the human heart. Education of the emotions and discipline of the will are essential parts of a sound system of education. Religion is a permeative influence, a quality of life, an elevation of purpose. Our institution, if they are to impart religious vitality, should have simplicity and an atmosphere of consecration that permanently influence lives. To quote the relevant extract of the Report.

“16. Democracy and Religion-Besides, in the preamble to our Constitution, we have the makings of a national faith, a national way of life which is essentially democratic and religious. Whenever a human being strives upward toward enlightenment, goodness and concern for others, the spirit of religion is active. If we bear in mind that the whole future of our democracy depends on freedom of conscience, freedom of inquiry, moral solidarity, our secularism is an act of supreme courage and sublime loyality to our national faith.”

 We have to understand that the great virtues of loyalty, courage, discipline and self sacrifice are essential for a successful citizen. Unless morality is taken in a larger sense, it is not enough. If we exclude spiritual training in our educational institutions we would be untrue to our whole historical development. We must habituate the students to right emotions, induce in them the formation of good moral, mental and physical habits. Our attempt should be to suggest and persuade, not command or impose. The best method is to teach them by personal example. The books should contain not moral lessons but lives of great men and women which exemplify the living of great thoughts and noble emotions.

Dealing with broad sweep of the Hindu philosophic concept, it has been stated thus:

(33). ..Though philosophic concepts and principles evolved by different Hindu thinkers and philosophers varied in many ways and even appeared to conflict with each other in some particulars, they all had reverence for the past and accepted the Vedas as sole foundation of the Hindu philosophy. Naturally enough, it was realised by Hindu religion from the very beginning of its career that truth was many sided and different views contained different aspects of truth which no one could fully express. This knowledge inevitable bred a spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the opponent’s point of view. That is how the several views set forth in India are considered to be the branches of the self-same tree. The short cuts and blind alleys are somehow reconciled with the main road of advance to the truth [ibid, p.48].’ when we consider this broad sweep of the Hindu philosophic concepts, it would be realised that under Hindu philosophy, there is no scope for ex-communicating any notion or principle as heretical and rejecting it as such.

However, dealing with the development of the Hindu religion and philosophy from time to time, it is observed thus:

(37)……..The development of Hindu religion and philosophy shows that from time to time saints and religious reformers attempted to remove from the Hindu thought and practices elements of corruption and superstition and that led to the formation of different sects. Buddha started Buddhism; Mahavir founded Jainism; Basava became the founder of Lingayat religion, Dhayaneshwar and Tukaram initiated the varakari cult; Guru Nanak inspired Sikhism; Dayananda founded Arya Samaj, and Chaitanaya became Bhakti cult. If we study the teachings of these saints and religious reformers, we would notice an amount of divergence in their respective views; but underneath that divergence, there is a kind of subtle indescribable unity which keeps them within the sweep of the broad and progressive Hindu religion.

“Ultimately, reference is made to the working formula evolved by Tilak and is found to be adequate and satisfactory formula. That working formula is quoted thus:

Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are diverse; and realisation of the truth that the number of gods to be worshiped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of Hindu religion. [B.B. Tilak’s Gitarahasaya].””

The secular ethos of our Constitution may be best appreciated by considering the broad sweep of Hindu Philosophic concepts. In Shastri Yagnapurushdasji and others & muldas Bhundardas Vaishya and another [AIR 1966 SC 1119] a Constitution Bench of Supreme Court observed that the Hindu religion may broadly be described as a way of life. In that context, Gajendragadkar, C.J. who spoke for the Bench considered the questions elaborately as to what are the broad features of Hindu religion, thus :

“(29). When we think of the Hindu religion, we find it difficult, if not impossible, to define Hindu religion or even adequately describe it. Unlike other religions in the world, the Hindu religion does not claim any one prophet; it does not worship any one God; it does not subscribe to any one dogma; it does not believe in any one philosophic concept; it does not follow any one set of religious rites or performances; in fact, it does not appear to satisfy the narrow traditional features of any religion or creed. It may broadly be described as a way of life and nothing more.

(30). Confronted by this difficulty, Dr. Radhakrishnan, realised that to many Hinduism seems to be a name without any content. Is it a museum of beliefs, a medley or rites; or a mere map, a geographical expression [The Hindu View of Life by Dr. Radhakrishnan, P.11]? Having posed these questions which disturbed foreigners when think of Hinduism, Dr. Radhakrishnan has explained how Hinduism has steadily absorbed the customs and ideas of peoples with whom it has come into contact and has thus been able to maintain its supremacy and its youth. The term Hindu, according to Dr. Radhakrishnan, had originally a territorial and not a credal significance. It implied residence in a well defined geographical area. Aboriginal tribes, savage and half-civilized people, the cultured Dravidians and the Vedic Aryans were all Hindus as they were the sons of the same mother. The Hindu thinkers reckoned with the striking fact that the men and women dwelling in India belonged to different communities, worshiped different gods, and practised different rites [the Hindu View of life by Dri Radhakrishnan, p. 12](Kurma Purana).

(31). Monier Williams has observed that it must be borne in mind that Hinduism is far more than a mere form of theism resting on Brahmanism. It presents for our investigation a complex congeries of creeds and doctrines which in its gradual accumulation may be compared to the gathering together of the mighty volume of the Gangas, swollen by a continual influx of tributary rivers and rivulets, spreading itself over an ever increasing area of country and finally resolving itself into an intricate Delta of tortuous streams and jungly marshes. The Hindu religion is a reflection of the composite character of the Hindus, who are not one people but many. It is based on the idea of universal receptivity. It as ever aimed at accommodating itself to circumstances, and has carried on the process of adaptation through more than three thousand years. It has first borne with and then, so to speak, swallowed, digested, and assimilated something from all creeds (Religious Thought & life in India by Monier Williams, p.57).”

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