Colombo Telegraph

Educating For A Lesser Idea Of Knowledge

By Arjuna Seneviratne –

Arjuna Seneviratne

The greatest knowledge there is, is that there is no greater knowledge than that which enables one to be in harmony and in contentment with one’s self and the externalities that affect one most.

Harmony and contentment are difficult to engineer without much trial and error, without spectral scoping and without many lifetimes because one must be able to absorb and resolve both internal and external negatives and positives with joy, compassion, equanimity, understanding and insight. Tough though this certainly is, some have come very close to achieving precisely that harmony, precisely that contentment. All of them had that rare ability to heal souls and calm troubled waters not because they crusaded for it but simply because they existed. Most of them basked in happiness and signed off on their lives with the slogan “a job well done”. A few, a very few, spent their lives instructing others on how to sample that happiness and achieve it if not to a higher degree than they did themselves, then at least to a level equal to theirs.

Some of these I have known, some I have heard of, some I have read of or studied and from others I have got to know many things.  They were the accomplished ones. They saw a lot and instructed those that came into their orbit to look both wide and deep. They knew a lot of things about a lot of things and encouraged others to know similarly before they call themselves “knowers”.  They subsumed their egos completely in order to instruct those who were full of it in the skills they required in order to perform.  They never held up a board saying “Come to me, I am a teacher”. Instead, people naturally gravitated to them and were given instruction according to their abilities. None, ever, were sent away empty handed.  They taught the world all that was worth knowing.

Disapamok Aduru” is the word used to describe such a one. The word literally means, “A teacher who is foremost in all ten directions” or, one who is universally knowledgeable. From Dronacharya who taught the Kuru princes to Sarvamithra who taught the young Siddhartha through Nagarjuna of Nalanda and Aryadeva of Madhyamaka,  down towards other august individuals of that same ilk, they created the great educational communities of old and edified our world and gave it the sight, direction and stratagems that it required for its continuity.

Unfortunately, by the advent of our age, such people and places of their congregation were few and becoming fewer still. The Thakshilas, Bhathkands and Santhinikethans were rare indeed. Time, that great destroyer of all things brought into being by human endeavor, slowly, surely, brought about the degeneration, sickness, old age and death of these communes.  The heyday of absolution through knowledge was going…going… and is now almost gone.

The knowledgeable became less so. Instructors became less interested in what they knew and more interested in what they were. Seekers became therefore less well instructed and they in turn instructed yet others not on what needed to be known but on what they themselves knew. Impatience, belligerence, intolerance, extroversion, fighting, continuously assaulted these communes in serial and parallel waves that tugged, twisted and kneaded them into shallower and shallower thinking and lesser and lesser ideals of what constituted quality and what did not.  Communities therefore became less and less able to sustain themselves as the harmony and contentment that built them became slowly but inexorably corrupt, breaking apart at the seams like structures held together with substandard glue.

As the age progressed and self-enhancement became more important than self worth, as getting became more important than giving, as ego became more important than humility, the bloodlines of the greatest instructors became thinned to the point that it was difficult to even determine the original pedigree from which they had sprung. Nothing finally remained of these, other than the throw forward of their efforts, which bore not the slightest resemblance to the original.

Schools we call them. Universities. Teachers. Students. None of which had much to do with knowing, but a lot to do with learning. The ideal from which our social “knowledge gaining facilities” became, were lost in the mists of time, irrelevant, outdated and of no consequence to a world that understands itself primarily by measuring the worth of self.

When “self” walks in through the door, “teaching” jumps out the window.  Selves have this habit of labeling themselves, qualifying themselves, promoting themselves and insisting on themselves. Selves, by definition, love only themselves, their understanding, their voices, their dress, their ornaments, their style. They are possibly good at doing things, but they are disasters at teaching things. Tied inwardly, driving a train of their own make through a very narrow tunnel whose end they know not a lot about and care not much about, they would be lucky not to hit oncoming traffic let alone safely transport a trainload of students into the future.

Where once, the title of “Guru” was vested in a person, these days, selves arm themselves with qualifications, claim that title, and sally forth to desanitize the future of the world by either cauterizing or corrupting minds.

Where once, teachers strove to expand the minds of people, now  they try to contract them into their own mold. Where once the goal of a teacher was to ensure that their protégés became greater than themselves,  now they make sure that they are never even going to be their equal. Where once, teachers who were spectrally knowledgeable recognized and encouraged students to exercise their creative and intellectual faculties to optimal levels, now, they try to manufacture higher averages. Where once difficult students were a thrill and a joy to instruct, now they are labeled as unmitigated nuisances. Where once, a teacher was the first person one would go to when faced with a problem, now, they only go to them if they are forced to do so. Where once, the cane was used to correct a wrong and discipline a young soul, now, the cane is used in anger and hatred because a child has refused to acknowledge the “self” of a teacher.

So, where once, teachers were revered not for what they were but for what they made people see in themselves, now, they are ridiculed and fought by their classrooms. Where once, teachers were worshiped for what they were; now they are shot for what they are. Through successively degenerative cycles, all that we have managed to do is create arenas for these people to joust incessantly with each other  in the name of the weirdest sport ever invented in modern times: education.

Education has done just one thing. It has placed so-called teachers and so-called students in a situation of contention competing with one another for one-upmanship. Nothing more than that.  This is a great sadness and a great tragedy for our world. There is little wonder that we are faced now with impossible situations. Each succeeding generation is given less and less weaponry to battle the ills of the world. Each succeeding generation is less and less impressed by those from the preceding one that claim to be their teachers.

Many laud education as a great thing and a fundamental right of people but in its present form, it should be recognized for the evil that it is, where giving an education is practiced by stunted minds and getting an education is practiced by angry minds. I understand that this is not going to happen. Since it has sold itself on this idea of education, it is hard for the world to see it as a corrupter and not an edifier. It is difficult to see it as essentially useless. It is near impossible to see it as a world destroyer.

*shrugs* Let them think as they will. Let them do what they will. I never created this mess nor subscribed to it so I shall not insist. For a world at war, these portals of war may have some relevance. Let them tie their idea of knowing to fencing bouts between teachers, students and parents, imposing buildings, pieces of paper and three letter dirty words.

In the end, most of us will say “we learned” and some of us will say “we taught” and because of this – not despite of it – I fear that a very large percentage of human beings shall go to their deaths in complete ignorance of the fact that they never acquired or imparted anything even remotely close to knowledge. More disconcertingly, most will not know much about how that death came about.

*Other articles by the same author can be found at 

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