- Holistic Education and Vipassana
- Prof. P.L. Dhar
said Albert Einstein, is that which remains when everything that is learnt in school is
forgotten. If we evaluate modem education by this definition, its chief outcomes can
easily be identified as aggressive competition, pride and envy. At its best, the modem
educational system imparts some professional knowledge and skills, but it lacks any
cultivation of heart. The result is only to make the students conceited materialists.
Consequently, at an age when children should be dreaming of beauty, greatness and
perfection, they now dream about sensory titillation and wealth, and spend time worrying
about how to cam money . No wonder that our society today is being devoured by the twin
devils of acquisitiveness and unabashed consumerism, with the resultant serious social
problems of corruption, strife and violence; and ecological problems such as environmental
pollution and the rapid depletion of resources which threaten the very survival of
humankind on this planet. Thinkers and philosophers of all hues , whether in India or
abroad, agree that a complete revamping of the educational system is a prerequisite for
the solution to these serious maladies besieging mankind. For, unless human beings become
harmonized within themselves, through a fundamental change in their animal instincts-which
should be the most important purpose of education-all changes in their outer circumstances
will ultimately be overwhelmed by their instinctual, animal brutality.
A Vision of Holistic Education
Education should be concerned with the totality of life
and not with immediate responses to immediate challenges . Broadly speaking, four
different but inter-related aspects of human life can generally be recognized: viz., the
physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. Holistic education should cultivate all
these aspects in full measure. For example, physical education should include not only the
performance of physical exercises to keep the body fit, but also the training to use the
senses and physical framework wisely.
Similarly, emotional education should emphasize the type
of training of mind that develops the positive human emotions of universal love,
compassion, forbearance, humility, equanimity, etc., and eradicates the baser instincts
such as greed, envy, pride, aggressiveness, etc. In this way, one can establish a healthy
relationship with society.
Intellectual education should require not only the
development of the ability to think, but also the ability to act independently, rationally
and logically on the basis of a deep understanding of the various phenomena of nature.
Finally, spiritual education should cultivate a refinement
of the mind, to manifest that elusive "fourth dimension" of the human
personality from which springs forth an intuitive understanding of the very purpose of our
existence, and a clarity of what ought to be done to achieve it. It is quite clear that
the modern educational system completely sidesteps the emotional and spiritual aspects of
the human personality, and caters only to physical and intellectual growth-and this, too,
only in a superficial manner. It is not as if the educationists and education planners
have not been aware of this deficiency, for as early as 1966, the Kothari Commission
recognized the need for inculcating social, moral and spiritual values through education
. But the way to achieve this in a composite society like India, where the notions of
caste, creed and religion are very strongly entrenched, has defied a universally
acceptable solution. There have, of course, been many attempts to impart moral education
indirectly through various means such as prayers, discussions and contemplation sessions,
etc. Even direct attempts have been made through meditation methods, lectures and
discourses in various institutions such as Christian missionary schools; Islamic schools;
Anglo-vedic schools; schools associated with the Ramakrishna Mission; ISKCON; Maharishi
Mahesh Yogi centres; the Krishnamurti Foundation; and the Saibaba Trust, etc. However,
these approaches have not been able to gain wide acceptance.
There exists in India and many other countries today, a
scientific method of control and purification of mind which, if properly integrated with
the educational process, has the potential of becoming a universally acceptable technique
for nourishing the emotional and spiritual dimensions of human personality. This
technique, an ancient science of mind and matter, is called Vipassana meditation.
Following is a brief description of the technique and how it can be integrated into modern
Viewed from the perspective of holistic education, Vipassana
meditation can be described as a technique of purifying the mind of its baser instincts so
that one begins to manifest the truly human qualities of universal goodwill, kindness,-
sympathy, tolerance, humility, equanimity, etc., and simultaneously gains an insight into
the true nature and purpose of human existence. This is achieved in a very scientific
manner through a systematic cultivation of Right Mindfulness coupled with non-reactivity;
that is to say, development of the habit of paying penetrating attention to whatever is
happening in our total organism-the body with its five senses and the mind which operates
in and through it-without any admixture of subjective judgments or reactions. The quality
which purifies the mind at the deepest level is the mental factor of objectivity, or
equanimity, which develops from the constant, thorough understanding of the impermanence
of all components of the mind-body phenomenon (ref. , p.258).
An important prerequisite for the systematic practice of Vipassana
is scrupulous observance of five basic moral precepts-viz., abstention from killing,
stealing, false speech, sexual misconduct, and intoxicants-since any willful violation of
these precepts causes violent mental agitation which makes it impossible to observe the
mind objectively. Of course, Vipassana practice also helps one to gain the mental
strength needed to observe the moral precepts in day-to-day life. While the complete
details of this systematic practice are best learnt in a meditation camp under the careful
guidance of a teacher, some salient features of the technique and its theoretical basis
are explained here.
The foundation stone in the cultivation of Right
Mindfulness (or Awareness) consists of paying attention to the body (ref. 8, pp. 2542591.
The practice of systematic self-observation begins by focussing attention on the
respiration (ref. 9, p.5), the breath coming in and going out of the body. This
practice-called Anapana-is an exercise in cultivation of, right awareness, not
regulation or control of the breath (such as praa.naayaama or other breathing
exercises). There is just a silent "bare observation" of the natural flow of
respiration, with a firm and steady attention free from any strain. One observes the
length of the breath, short or long. To aid the development of concentration, the student
is advised to focus the attention on finer details, such as which nostril the breath is
coming in and going out, or where the breath is touching in the area around the nostrils.
The whole exercise is one of observing the reality as it
is, without any preferences or reactions. It is quite natural that in the beginning it
will not be possible to focus the attention continuously on the breath, even for a minute
or two. The habitual tendency of the mind to wander away from the assigned task comes to
the fore very quickly, allowing the student to experience for him or herself the turbulent
nature of the mind. The student learns to observe this fact itself dispassionately without
feeling dejected about the repeated "running away" of the mind-and once again
focuses one's attention on the breath.
With the systematic practice of Anapana for a few
days, the concentration increases, and a natural calming and equalizing of the breath
takes place. As the breath is very intimately related to the mind, this leads
simultaneously to a tranquilizing of the mind-in fact, of the entire life-rhythm [61. The
mind also becomes sharp enough to observe subtler realities of the body-mind complex,
e.g., the sensations occurring in the area around the nostrils where attention is focused
during the practice of mindfulness of breathing.
This leads us to the next step in the cultivation of Right
Mindfulness, viz., awareness of the bodily sensations (ref. 9, p.21). The object of
meditation now is body sensation. Sensations occur on the body, but they are felt by the
mind. When one is investigating the internal experience of one's sensations, one is
actually observing the interaction of mind and matter (Vedanaa-samosara.naa sabbe
dhamma: Everything that arises in the mind is accompanied by sensation) (ref. 8, p.
253). Moreover, sensations (vedana) provide the crucial link between the impact (phassa)
upon the six sense doors and the resultant reaction of craving and aversion (ta"nhaa)
which is the root cause of all suffering [7; 8, p.2551. This profound discovery is, in
fact, one of the most fundamental aspects of the teaching of the master scientist of mind
and matter, Gotama Buddha.
The practice of Vipassana consists of
"feeling" the sensations throughout the body without any reaction or evaluation
whatsoever, thus developing equanimity at a very deep level. This is of course more easily
said than done, because our subconscious mind, which is constantly "feeling" the
body sensations, has the stubborn, recalcitrant habit of reacting to these sensations in a
particular manner. It habitually reacts to pleasant sensations with craving and to
unpleasant sensations with aversion, thus strengthening the mind's conditioned tendency to
run after sensory pleasure and to run away from pain.
The exercise of awareness and equanimity in the face of
the entire spectrum of sensations acts to gently break this habit pattern. One repeatedly
observes the sensations as they actually are: constantly changing-arising, staying for
some time, fading away, and giving rise to other sensations. Through this repeated
practice, the habit of reaction is replaced by an experience of the truth of anicca or
impermanence. The student is trained to focus one's attention on the changeful nature of
the sensations, thereby gradually correcting the conditioned habit of evaluating them as
pleasant or unpleasant. This scientific method of observing the sensations as they really
are-without any evaluation based on past conditioning-is what is described by the word vipassana.
Vipassana, a Pali word, literally means "to see things as they really
are"-in their true nature, their true characteristic of impermanence (anicca).
One can thus gradually train the mind to observe the
bodily sensations in an objective manner-without any notion of their being G4my
sensations"-in the same way as one would dispassionately observe the waves arising
and disappearing in the sea. With the practice of this objective observation, the attitude
of "enjoyership"-one of the chief manifestations of ego-is thus enfeebled.
The attitude of remaining equanimous towards all internal
phenomena arising from the interaction of mind and body is simultaneously strengthened, as
the student repeatedly observes the fact of the evanescent nature (anicca) of the
The systematic practice of mindfulness of sensations
integrates within itself other important aspects of the cultivation of Right Mindfulness,
viz., the mindfulness of the state of mind and the contents of the thought at any given
moment (ref. [91, p.25). As the alertness and objectiveness of the meditator increase (by
the. continual practice of non-reactive observation of sensations), he or she can quickly
become aware of the mental reactions which keep arising from time to time. As an adjunct
to the main practice of mindfulness of body sensations, a student practises from time to
time the bare registering of one's state of mind. One observes the various mental states
without self-justification or self-condemnation. This practice reveals the changing nature
of the mental states, and thereby strengthens the meditator's conviction about the anicca
of all body-mind phenomena.
The most significant consequence of Vipassana
practice is that it gives the mind a natural slant towards the goal of full enlightenment,
the complete liberation from all bondages. Simultaneously, one develops the steadfast
confidence that all hindrances on the Path can be overcome.
Role of Vipassana in
We can now understand how Vipassana can fill that
vital gap in modern education-viz., the training of mind, leading to a balanced,
harmonious and purposeful life. Vipassana meditation imparts a way to observe all
the phenomena of this sensory world objectively and impersonally under the penetrating
gaze of an equanimous mind. The multifold benefits which accrue from this practice are
being discussed at length in this seminar and have formed the basis for research conducted
by the Vipassana Research Institute (Igatpuri, India) in many areas of human
activity. Here, only those aspects related to the field of education are being discussed.
The attitude of "bare attention" (bestowed by a
mind at once aware and non-reactive) slows down the transition from thought to action,
allowing the practitioner more time-those crucial few moments needed to come to a mature
decision. The tendency of the base, animal instincts to overpower the faculty of human
reason can thus be effectively checked, leading to a gradual reduction in negative traits
such as rashness, intolerance, intemperance and aggressive behaviour which characterize
modem youth. This emotional education should naturally lead to a marked improvement in the
student-teacher relationship, which has been constantly deteriorating over the years due
to the corroding influence of a materialistic world view coupled with the negative traits
On the positive side, this training of non-reactive
observation of facts, coupled with the insight of anicca enhances one's ability to
face the vicissitudes of life squarely and equanimously without taking recourse to such
escapist alternatives as smoking, alcohol and drugs, which have become the bane of modern
society. This attitude of equanimity also reduces the obsessive preoccupation with
indulgence in unending materialistic desires, thereby allowing space for the manifestation
of the so-called "higher needs"-the self-actualization needs of meaningfulness,
justice, truthfulness, service, love, compassion, etc., which modem psychology recognizes
as essential components of basic human needs . Recent research has shown that people
able to manifest these "higher needs" are generally much more creative and
innovative, because self-actualization needs provide "a more durable fuel for
creativity" than the drive for sensual gratification .
The observation of mental contents is also a powerful tool
of self-education because it reveals to the meditator a very clear picture of his weak
points and strong points without doing damage to his self-esteem. The habitual attitude of
hurriedly glossing over one's weaknesses, or blowing one's strengths out of proportion, is
thus checked. One gradually gains the inner strength needed to overcome one's weaknesses
without a need to exercise a violent exertion of will or forceful repression, both of
which are harmful in the long run. This candid self-examination promotes honesty towards
oneself, increases one's tolerance of others' faults, assists in the development of
humility and compassion, and reduces vanity.
The attitude of Right Awareness coupled with equanimity
closely corresponds to the disposition of the true scientist and scholar, which is
characterized by clear definition of the subject, unprejudiced receptivity for the facts,
exclusion of the subjective factor in judgment, and deferring judgment until a careful
examination of the facts has been made (ref. , p.39). This practice should therefore be
of great help in augmenting the scientific temper.
Vipassana meditation reinforces the scientific
outlook in another much more direct way. Every meditator, after some length of practice of
mindfulness of sensations, reaches a state where he experiences the whole body as a mass
of vibrations. This experience is in line with the quantum-relativistic description of
matter . This direct experience provides much more clarity about the nature of matter
than the scores of mathematical formulae produced by classroom descriptions.
Another important benefit of the systematic
practice-especially of mindfulness of breath, which is of crucial significance in
education-is improvement in one's ability to concentrate on a task. As explained earlier,
the essence of the practice is to train the mind to keep the attention continuously on an
object (viz., the breath), and to minimize the drifting of the mind into futile daydreams,
which are the chief obstacle to concentration. The training of observing the mental states
also comes in handy. Once such daydreams have arisen (whether during meditation or during
normal activity), if one briefly makes these daydreams themselves an object of close
observation, their power of distraction is drastically curtailed and they get quickly
dispersed. This results in a quick retrieval of concentration.
The attitude of impersonal non-reactive observation is of
profound value in the ultimate deliverance of the mind from all bondages, which is the
true purpose of spiritual education. To quote Venerable Nyanponika Thera (ref. , p.43):
"The inner distance from things ... as obtained temporarily and partially by bare
attention, shows us, by our own experience, the possibility of winning perfect detachment
and the happiness resulting from it. It bestows upon us the confidence that such temporary
setting aside may well become one day a complete stepping out of this world of suffering.
It gives a kind of foretaste, or at least an idea, of the highest liberty, the 'holiness
during lifetime' that has been alluded to by the words 'in the world but not of the
To achieve this objective, the principal requirement is to
develop an insight into the basic characteristics of life. Impermanence (anicca) is
the fundamental characteristic with which a Vipassana student is continually
confronted. As this experience becomes ingrained, realization of the other
characteristics-viz., of suffering (dukkha) and egolessness (anattaa)-automatically
develops, leading one to a clear understanding of the purpose of life and the way to
achieve it-the very acme of spiritual education.
It should be evident from the preceding brief description
that Vipassana meditation is a purely scientific technique, a universal culture of
mind, which does not subscribe to any sectarian beliefs, dogmas or rituals. It should be
universally acceptable, therefore, as an integral part of education. Its benefits have
been corroborated by thousands of practitioners-both young and old belonging to diverse
castes, creeds, countries and religious beliefs. Vivekananda's dream of evolving a
"man-making education"  could be fulfilled by the integration of Vipassana
into modern education. It is high time that an action plan in the field of education be
drawn, at least on an experimental scale, to scientifically validate the efficacy of Vipassana
over an extended period. Some of the crucial issues which need to be addressed include:
1. How to motivate the students, teachers and management
of schools and colleges to introduce Anapana and Vipassana, and reduce
resistance from unwilling students and teachers?
2. The extent of training needed before authorizing
educational staff members to teach meditation in schools and colleges.
3. The format and minimum duration of in-house camps
organized to initiate young students to Anapana meditation, keeping in view the
practical constraints (especially of overnight stay).
4. How to maintain continuity of practice within the tight
schedule of schools and colleges?
5. Should there be a formal course on meditation in the
curricula of schools and colleges?
6. How to assess the beneficial influence of Vipassana
on teachers, students and the teaching-learning process?
7. How to integrate Vipassana with the student
counselling services in the schools and colleges?
A properly thought out action plan if sincerely
implemented should ultimately pave the way for the formation of institutions, which can
impart truly holistic education. Such institutions would make a crucial contribution to
developing wholesome individuals and a harmonious society.
Thanks are due to Dr. Kishore Chandiramani for reading an
early draft of the paper and making valuable suggestions.
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Sincere thanks to
Phramaha Witoon Thacha for retyping this article.