Role of Education and Culture in Holistic Growth

Role of Education and Culture in Holistic Growth

Sriyankar Acharyya

 The growth starts from individual level encompassing body and mind together. Individual growth is the building block of social and as a whole national growth.

What is the current status of growth at individual level throughout the world? The picture is quite alarming. An estimated 264 million people worldwide suffer from depression. Nearly 700,000 people die by suicide in the world each year, which is roughly one death every 40 seconds. Suicide is the 4th leading cause of death in the world for those aged 15-19 years. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide (WHO report). In India, in last 5 years (2014-2019), 27 students across 10 IITs took their own lives (MHRD reports). Every hour one student commits suicide, with about 28 such suicides reported every day, according to data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Ranks (given in parenthesis) of some advanced countries in committing suicide, are – South Korea(4), Japan(14), France(17), Switzerland(18), India(21), United States(27)[1].

Let us see the status of holistic growth of these countries. How is the growth of a country measured now? The Human Development Report Office of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) [2] now evaluates development not only by economic growth but also improvements in human well-being. The evaluating parameters to estimate well-being are: long and healthy life, knowledge and a descent standard of living. The overall measuring index designed on the basis of these three parameters is called Human Development Index (HDI). Ranks (given in parenthesis) of the above mentioned countries in achieving HDI are: South Korea(23), France(26), Japan(19), Switzerland(2), United States(17), India(131) [3]

If we match the ranks in these two criteria (committing suicide and achieving HDI) we observe some discrepancies. Rank of a country in these two conflicting criteria should be opposite. That is, if a country has higher rank in achieving HDI, it is expected to have lower rank in committing suicide. In this respect, India’s rank is justified (131 in HDI and 21 in suicide). But for other countries we observe that they are more or less upper ranker both in achieving HDI and committing suicide. This proves HDI is not a measure of actual well-being. The people in spite of having good physical health, good education and good income are still committing suicide. This means the definition of HDI is not complete and unable to account for holistic growth.

What should be the ideal growth parameters for an individual? In Indian culture the ultimate growth is called ‘Purushartha’[5](ends to be striven for in life). It consists of two steps: ‘Abhyudaya’ (worldly prosperity) and Nihshreyas (liberation from trans-migratory existence). ‘Abhyudaya’ is composed of ‘Dharma’ (righteousness), ‘Artha’ (wealth) and Kama (desire). If we consider only the worldly (material) growth we notice that acquiring wealth (Artha) and fulfilment of desire (Kama) is sufficient to strive for. But if there is only cut-throat competition for ‘Artha’ and ‘Kama’ there prevail conflict of interest and no sustainable growth can be obtained out of it. To make it sustainable some higher norms and standards – the righteousness compatible with the inherent divine nature of man to be set up that is called ‘Dharma’. Every person is free to strive for ‘Artha’ and ‘Kama’ being within the constraints of ‘Dharma’. This was the rule of the game for Abhyudaya.

But there is no limit to ‘Artha’ and ‘Kama’ and they never can be satiated. So there must be a higher goal of life to be striven for, which is ‘Moksha’. This is total liberation from the trans-migratory cycle of birth and death to be established in the state of eternal bliss. Indian culture is centred to this fourfold ideals (Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha). This is the proper holistic growth technology.

Now what we see, the whole world is running after ‘artha’ and ‘kama’ leading to a unhealthy partial growth. There should be ‘dharma’ to control the lust (for ‘artha’ and ‘kama’) and ‘moksha’ to lead human being to the ultimate goal of eternity. In ancient India it was achieved through education and culture which is not being followed in that sense now and that is the root of all these miseries. The definition of ‘education’ should always be complete and unified otherwise the proper guidance will not come out of it.

Let’s take the definition of education given by Swami Vivekananda. He says, “Education is the manifestation of perfection already in man”[4].

Here, ‘perfection’ is the most significant word and needs to be elaborated. The perfection is two-fold: external and internal. The external perfection is manifested through development of skills and the internal perfection is manifested through building character. The external perfection or skill is used for worldly growth which cannot be sustainable without internal perfection. This internal perfection is not achieved in our education system which is why the term ‘culture’ comes into action. Without culture education is incomplete and thereby growth is incomplete.

Culture, in our language, is called Samskriti. It is obtained from Samskara which is the summation of tendencies accumulated in subconscious mind. Each and every thought or action leaves an impression in our subconscious mind. These impressions are accumulated in mind as tendencies and influence us to undertake similar thoughts and actions afterwards in a similar situation. Therefore, the building blocks of Samskriti are thoughts and actions. Thought leads to action or a new thought. Present thought depends on past thought/action—it is a chain process. The synonym ‘Krishti’ means cultivation, normally used in the sense of cultivating land for growing crops. Here it is used for cultivating the land of mind to reap human quality crops. In this land sow the seeds of thoughts, reap actions, sow the seeds of actions reap habits, sow the seeds of habits reap character. The character or personality is the final outcome of culture. This is the building block of social or national character.

Finally, education and culture play the key role in developing sustainable holistic growth. In terms of Purushartha, the holistic growth, education system gives us skills used to acquire artha and kama. Artha and kama without Dharma is the most dangerous thing which is reflected in the current worldwide scenario. Dharma plays the key role in setting the righteous path in all activities. It helps achieving artha and kama within the perimeter of morality and ethics at one hand and shows the path of moksha at the other hand. In Sanskrit it is derived as Dhri + man, that which holds or sustains. The holistic growth was achieved in ancient India through the culture of Pusartha.

Here we can show only the GDP growth of India which is available from the OECD research project. The GDP growth in ancient India shows that so long its culture was followed all over the country the growth rate was almost steady (33% – 29% of the world GDP), during 0 to 1000 AD and it remained at the top position [6]. Due to cultural decay it fell down to 22.4% in 1600 AD, but again in 1700 AD it reached 24.4% (highest in the world at that time). During the British Rule, India lost its culture to a great extent and became backboneless. It lost the strength of its human resource which is reflected in its GDP when British left (4.2%). Let us see the gradual changes: 1700 (24.4%), 1820 (16.0%), 1870 (12.1%), 1913 (7.5%), 1950 (4.2%), 1973 (3.1%), 2001 (5.4%). India needs a cultural change to get back its earlier position.

In conclusion, the dearth of internal perfection in education and culture is causing worldwide miserable situations. Each soul is potentially divine (perfect) but that is covered with the sheath of negative samskaras. If one goes through wrong exercises (thoughts and actions), i.e., wrong culture, he acquires negative samskaras. On the contrary if one is set to the path of right culture (Dharma) he will acquire positive samskaras which will remove negativities and help manifest the inherent divinity. Then only people will be joyful without any depression and the holistic growth will be achieved.


  4. Education, compiled from the speeches and writings of Swami Vivekananda, by T.S. Avinashlingam, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Madras
  5. A Concise Encyclopaedia of Hinduism: Vol. 2, by Swami Harshananda, Avaita Ashrama

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