Why There Is a Need for Gurukula
Anyone who visits a few of the hundreds of big universities in the United States and other advanced nations will see an impressive array of opulence. Every big state university has dozens of modern buildings with plush student unions, skyscraper dormitories, vast stadiums, acres of scenic campus grounds, etc. But what is the result of all this external opulence in education? By way of answer, there is a suitable allegory told by our spiritual master.
One time a rumor began that the Himalayan Mountains were going to give birth to offspring. Upon hearing this, many people gathered at the foot of these famous mountains because everyone wanted to see what kind of offspring such huge and formidable mountains would produce. With great anticipation, crowds of people gathered, but they were confused and amazed when they saw many rats come running out from the Himalayas. The greatest mountains in the world had given birth to a pack of rats! Similarly, although we have many big campuses staffed by professional managerial administrators, with many offices and many professors with doctorates, the offspring of these universities are frustrated men and women who do not know the actual purpose of life.
Considering this deficiency, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness has begun a school named Gurukula (which means, in Sanskrit, "the place of the guru or spiritual master"). Gurukula is revolutionary because it is producing devotees of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One who becomes a self-realized devotee of Krsna automatically develops all good qualities and is a first-class educated and cultured person because it is a fact that human life is meant for self-realization, for finding one's eternal relationship with the Supreme. A human being who neglects self-realization is actually no more than an animal, even if he is very proud of his scientific advancement. Try as he may by attempting to enjoy with the body or mind, a human being cannot be happy unless he develops knowledge of himself as a spirit soul who is an eternal part and parcel of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna. Yet self-realization is the all-important subject which is not taught in the schools and universities of the advanced nations of the modern world.
The first step in self-realization is to realize one's identity as separate from the body: "I am not this body but spirit soul." This realization is essential for anyone who wants to be actually successful and happy in this world, and furthermore it is the first step toward entrance into the eternal spiritual world. It is not that one can simply say, "I'm not this body," but one must actually realize it. This is not as simple as it may at first seem. We are not these bodies but pure consciousness, yet somehow or other we have become covered by a bodily dress. If one actually wants the happiness and independence to transcend death, one must establish himself in his constitutional position as pure consciousness. Each of us is a minute spirit spark who is hankering for the qualities of the whole knowledge, bliss and eternity but these hankerings are frustrated due to the material body. The information on how to obtain the goal of the soul's hankering is given in Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic literatures, and the pursuit of this goal is meant to be taken up by the practical lifelong study of Krsna consciousness.
The authority of these teachings rests on the Vedic literatures which were compiled in Sanskrit five thousand years ago in India. These teachings are completely free from the slightest taint of the religious or ethnic sectarianism which leads the less educated dogmatic religionist to argue that God is revealed only to Jews, only to Christians, only to Hindus, etc. Krsna consciousness is the eternal science of God and is therefore universal.
The reason that Krsna consciousness was only recently introduced in the West is that it requires to be taught by one who is a pure devotee of the Supreme Lord, Krsna. It has to be taught by one who understands thoroughly that God, the Supreme Person, is not the property of one small sect but is universal and full of love for all people. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is the first pure devotee to bring the Vedic process of devotional service to the West. Previous to his coming, there was no Krsna consciousness movement, and it is he who within the last six years has given the inspiration and guidance for almost a hundred authorized Krsna consciousness centers. Now the Krsna consciousness movement has begun the Gurukula educational project, a primary school for children from ages five to fifteen. From an early age, children can learn the Absolute Truth along with their reading, writing and arithmetic. Just as a child needs math and English to get along in this world, he also needs selfrealization in order to practically know his own identity, his duty in life, and how to solve the problems of material suffering. If children can learn that each one of us is actually an eternal spirit and is meant to serve the Supreme, they will not waste the great opportunity of human life; such children can grow up to truly help others find the real meaning of life.
Formerly, in classical Vedic society, influential citizens sent their children at five years of age to the home of the spiritual master to be trained in austerity, sense control and God consciousness, for thus in later life, no matter what occupation they would enter, they would not forget the purpose of life as service to Krsna. To train children from the early age of five in these devotional practices is to train real leaders and good citizens. Indeed, one cannot expect a good society without Gurukula. If children are taught an artificial standard of sense gratification, their brains become spoiled, for by the time they are twelve years old they think that life is meant simply for enjoyment of the senses to the fullest extent. We cannot expect sane leaders or responsible citizens from such an education system. However, children who are shown by example that serving Krsna in many ways is the real happiness of life-children who come to understand transcendental knowledge regarding their eternal, blissful servitorship to God will be happy and useful in society.
One who does not know the real purpose of life cannot help anyone, not even himself. The great leaders of humanity, therefore, are the great devotees. From the Vedic histories of India we learn that in bygone ages the great leaders were all holy sages who were able to give the citizens guidance in the real mission of life.
The qualities of a devotee are mentioned as follows in the Vedic literature: kind to everyone, does not quarrel with anyone, fixed in the Absolute Truth, equal to everyone, faultless, charitable, mild, clean, simple, benevolent, peaceful, completely attached to Krsna, free from material hankering, meek, steady, selfcontrolled, eating no more than required, sane, respectful, humble, grave, compassionate, friendly, poetic, expert, silent. These are the first-class human qualities that are being developed at Gurukula. The leaders of every nation are supposed to protect all the citizens under their jurisdiction, not encourage them to live in the illusion of sense gratification, thinking that increased material standards, more cars and bigger tv's will make them happy. The real leader is one who can simultaneously protect the citizens and give them the opportunity to cultivate self-realization while living in their occupations.
A society in which people of all occupations strive to go back to Godhead by their practical daily work, under the guidance of leaders who have thoroughly realized the principles of God consciousness, is not merely theoretical or utopian. It is stated in Bhagavad-gita that Krsna Himself has created in man all the qualities needed for a socially and spiritually successful society in which everyone can work together in God consciousness. Such a society would offer the highest benefit to all living entities, even to the animals who live within the state. However, in order to be successful, such a state must operate under the strong administration of a God conscious leader, and as long as there are no God conscious leaders, such a state is impossible.
As stated in Bhagavad-gita, whatever a great man does, others will follow. Nowadays the leaders of society are the lowest class of men, for they lead people only toward the illusory goal of happiness obtained by increased material sense gratification. It is this illusory leadership that results in the corruption, war, crime, poverty, pollution and myriad other problems that plague the modern world. Only if men of saintly quality can lead the affairs of the nations of the world can there be peace, prosperity and spiritual advancement for all. This is the version of all the world's scriptures: the real leader is the man who can give spiritual guidance, and the good, sober citizen is one who is trained in Krsna consciousness. Gurukula has been established to fill the need for an institution to train such leaders.
The Philosophy of Gurukula
By studying the lives of great devotees, we learn that they started devotional service from the earliest age. Our spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, gives credit to his father for encouraging him from childhood to practice devotional service in his play. The Vedic histories also cite the same training in the life of great devotees such as Maharaja Pariksit, who used to imitate worship of the temple Deity in his own childish play at home. Maharaja Pariksit later became king of the entire world and leader of the most successful God conscious monarchy in history. Prahlada Maharaja is another great devotee of Lord Krsna who lived long ago and was trained in the devotional principles from the earliest age. When he was only five years old he used to tell his fellow classmates, "My dear friends, now is the time to learn what Krsna consciousness is, while we are still very young." Whenever the teacher left the room for recess, he would speak in this way.
At first Prahlada's young friends told him: "Leave us alone. We are only five years old; let us play. When we are older we will take the time to learn about Krsna consciousness." Prahlada, however, spoke with great compassion to the young boys and girls. "My dear friends," he said, "we must take to Krsna consciousness without delay." Prahlada explained that the life span of a human being is at most one hundred years, and it is calculated that the first twenty years are wasted in the games and sports of youth, the last twenty years in rest and retirement in a state of greater or lesser infirmity, and the middle twenty years, in which the sex urge is strong, in raising and maintaining a family. Thus sixty years are spent without self-realization. How much time is left to find the real value of life and begin eternal loving service to Krsna?
With this consideration in mind, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has asked his disciples to reintroduce the original Vedic system of Gurukula. It is described in the Vedic literatures that children living in a God conscious society would go to the home of the spiritual master at five years of age. Even if the children were of a very aristocratic home, they would submit themselves to the spiritual master as menial servants to perform service for him and receive spiritual instruction. It is described that a young student would rise early, spend all day receiving knowledge and training from the spiritual master, and in the evening he would eat a little rice and then go to sleep. He would think such life great fun because he was serving Krsna. Nowadays, children are spoiled at a very early age; they miss the real point of life because they are mistakenly taught that to please the senses is the all in all. Thus they take to a kind of pampered animalism for the rest of their days, working in order to maintain a high standard of eating, sleeping, sex and defense, and they become useless men who are unable to perform real service for humanity.
At Gurukula, however, children are carefully guided to appreciate that serving Krsna is fun. One of the basic requirements of real spiritual life is to learn how to control the senses. Bodily pleasure is flickering and intoxicating, and one cannot actually enjoy it because of its momentary nature. One who can come to understand the philosophy of the self as spirit soul will never leave it in favor of a whimsical life of unrestricted sense gratification. In his book Beyond Birth and Death, Srila Prabhupada has written, "We have to understand that if we want to continue the artificial enjoyment of the body we will not be able to obtain our position of eternal enjoyment." Therefore Gurukula works to give realization that the purpose of life is to serve Krsna and to gain freedom from the shackles of material life.
After being trained in Krsna consciousness a man can marry and enter household life and yet not fall prey to unrestricted sense gratification. Materialistic householders live simply to work hard and spend money for family maintenance, sex and comfortable sleep at night. Thus they ruin their lives in the darkness of ignorance. But if one learns about the real meaning of life by hearing from the spiritual master at Gurukula, he can enter any occupation in the material world and not be materially implicated. In fact, unless one understands the real meaning of life, he cannot be successful as a citizen, as a family man or in any other sphere of life. Therefore the philosophy of Gurukula is a prime necessity for the present day.
Religious principles such as austerity, truthfulness, cleanliness and mercy are essential to any human civilization. Even though a secular state naturally wishes to declare itself impartial to religious sectarianism, it cannot abandon these religious principles, for in their absence we have pilfering, prostitution, corruption and cruelty. However, if one becomes a devotee of Krsna, he automatically develops all good qualities. Therefore, in addition to their academic subjects, Srila Prabhupada has asked us to teach the children at Gurukula four things: to always think of Krsna, to become His devotees, to worship Him and to offer Him obeisances.
It is a well-known fact that one becomes like his associates. For example, if one associates with thieves he will become a thief, or if one associates with scholars he will become a scholar. Similarly, one can become saintly in the association of saintly devotees who are guided by a bona fide spiritual master. By associating with those who are vital in Krsna consciousness, the children at Gurukula also follow and become Krsna conscious themselves.
Children take seriously whatever they learn from their elders. Therefore the teachers at Gurukula teach not simply by precept but also by example. Activities in devotional service begin with chanting and hearing about the pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and the teachers at Gurukula are committed to this hearing and chanting process. The chanting of Hare Krsna is especially recommended in the modern age for a person interested in God realization, and the children al Gurukula take this up with greal enthusiasm by association with older devotees who are themselves enthusiastic over this great chanting for deliverance-Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. The children take it up because the older devotees are doing it. They could be singing the latest sensuous rubbish broadcast over the radio, but instead they are singing the glories of the Lord simply by right association.
Although in mundane schools the academic qualifications of the teachers are carefully considered, their personal character and habits are often most abominable. Indeed, it would be a rare institution that could boast that its teachers are free from smoking, drinking, gambling and loose sexual relationships. According to the Vedic system, however, which is followed by the present-day Gurukula, the teacher must not only be learned but also spotless in character. To be a teacher at Gurukula, one must strictly refrain from gambling, intoxication, meat eating and illicit sex, and, most importantly, one must be an initiated devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Therefore the strength behind Gurukula is the ultimate teacher-the bona fide spiritual master for it is the spiritual master's association that is the cause of all spiritual progress.
The Vedic literature reveals that Krsna, the Absolute Truth, is certainly the Supreme Person, and He appeared on earth five thousand years ago. To attract everyone back to Godhead, He displayed His transcendental pastimes here just as they are going on eternally in the spiritual world. These pastimes are described in our spiritual master's book, Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and the children at Gurukula very much enjoy acting out the Lord's activities. One child will play that he is Krsna, and another will play that he is His brother, Balarama, as They go off to the woods to find the cows. Sometimes They meet demons sent by Kamsa. Krsna kills the demons and dances and plays with His friends, who are one hundred percent absorbed in love of Krsna.
The sublime, exalted activity of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His intimate unalloyed devotees cannot be understood even by the greatest philosophers so long as they attempt to understand them on the basis of mental speculation and concoction. The mundane mind takes Krsna to be an ordinary historical person and His activities to be fiction, but according to all Vedic scriptures and the disciplic succession of spiritual masters, God is the Supreme Person, and He engages in pastimes of love for the pleasure of His devotees. In other words, the dry scholars and professors will have to take lessons from the children of Gurukula regarding the relishable nature of the pastimes of Krsna. Just in their playing about Krsna, they are realizing that God is a person and that although He is a person He is the Supreme Lord who maintains all.
As for classroom academics, Sanskrit, English, primary math, history and geography are taught during six hours of daily study, as described below.
Gurukula in Dallas
The first large Gurukula school of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness has been operating for a year on a large estate near the downtown area of Dallas, Texas. As of this writing, there are twenty boys and twenty girls attending this transcendental boarding school. The classroom atmosphere is very serious, and the teachers maintain strict discipline. The classes are so arranged that one teacher can instruct twenty students at once, even though they are at various levels of age and achievement. All the students work simultaneously on individual assignments given by the teacher, and thus the whole class works silently while the teacher at his desk privately instructs each student one at a time. For example, one student may be learning to write the very first letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. The teacher will go over the work with the student and then give him an assignment to write out. As he returns to his seat to do this, another student, who may already be writing whole verses in Sanskrit, is given further private instruction and an assignment suitable to his or her advancement. Thus all ages can be accommodated side by side in any class, and within a short time the students advance very quickly. They also take to the serious nature of the classroom with great appreciation and are very happy to engage their minds in directed study.
The teachers at Gurukula are all initiated disciples of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Jamadagni dasa Brahmacari teaches in the Sanskrit department. Rupavilasa dasa Adhikari and his wife Candrika devi dasi are English instructors, and Jayajagadisa dasa Brahmacari and Dinatarini devi dasi are math and geography teachers. The teachers associate constantly with the children and live with them. The students' parents visit the school on semi-annual "parents' weekends," but the real instruction comes from the teachers, who have dedicated their full time and energy to this upbringing of children in Krsna consciousness. The children study six hours per day in a six-day week, and on Sunday they are free to play as they like, imitating the pastimes of Krsna and taking part in the Sunday festival that is held at the temple for the many guests who attend.
Gurukula and The Future
There is a Sanskrit saying, "Judge the process by the result." We invite all interested persons to visit Gurukula in Dallas, Texas. Rather than merely tell you that these children are happy, we invite you to come and see for yourself. There is no doubt about it; they are coming out successful. They are already well behaved and happy and are advancing quickly in all academic subjects. Moreover, they are becoming thoroughly realized in what Bhagavad-gita calls the "king of education." We very much look forward to the time when these children will come of age and usher in the new era of worldwide Krsna consciousness. There is nothing so rare, pure and valuable in this world as a devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead; therefore, one should appreciate the serious work of Gurukula.
We ask all readers, regardless of their religious upbringing or philosophy of life, to consider the youth of today and the future of their countries and the world. At the rate things are going, civilization is headed for total barbarianism. Gurukula, therefore, is a practical Godsend, and it is to the credit of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada that it is working right now, even as you read this article! The students are there, the teachers are there, the result is being produced. Gurukula is a practical, tangible, workable and successful project which should be continued and expanded upon. Let us all endeavor to familiarize ourselves with this important educational project and offer encouragement and help in any way we can.
The Guidance of the Spiritual Master
Gurukula is ultimately directed by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, whose correspondence with his disciples in Dallas shows how carefully he guided, advised and encouraged the program from its inception. In October of 1971 he wrote: "The important matter is that the children are taken care of nicely. . . Now you organize our Krsna conscious school on the basis of a kindergarten and primary school for children up to fifteen years old. As you develop our program there, I shall give you more hints." Similarly, in December, Srila Prabhupada wrote: "Encourage them to chant Hare Krsna as much as possible, but there is no question of force or punishment. Try as far as possible to discipline them with love and affection so that they develop a taste for austerity in life and think it great fun to serve Krsna in many ways. Rising early and attending mangala-arati [the first temple worship of the day, which is conducted at 4:30 a.m.] is enough austerity. Besides that, let them learn, chant, dance, and eat much prasadam if they like, and do not mind if they have a playful nature."
Gurukula in Dallas is located in large and excellent facilities. When ISKCON was negotiating for purchase of the school buildings, at one point it became doubtful whether the owner would sell, and Srila Prabhupada wrote: "I have been getting good reports that you are all. serious to develop this program, so I am sure that Krsna will bless you with the desired building. Good things do not come so easily; you know the difficulties that I encountered in my first year in your country. Sometimes I did not even know where I was to live, nor when I came did I have any friends. But I was always determined to do everything possible to fulfill the desire of my spiritual master, and despite all difficulties I always remained enthusiastic. So do not diminish your program in any way now. Continue the school project enthusiastically and expect Krsna's mercy at all times. Everything will come out all right."
By Krsna's grace the purchase went through successfully, but in one letter to Srila Prabhupada, the Gurukula president expressed some concern about taking on such a seemingly worldly enterprise as the purchase and maintenance of big buildings. His Divine Grace replied: "Externally we may behave like ordinary men, but internally we remain fixed in the service of Radha-Krsna. The Mayavadi [philosopher who thinks God impersonal or void] cannot accept this fact, and he takes devotional service to be an ordinary material affair. You should never, however, accept the impersonal philosophy at any time."
His Divine Grace continues to give all guidance regarding Gurukula, as can be seen in a recent letter to one of the Gurukula teachers: "I am very glad to learn that the children at Gurukula are making good progress in their Krsna conscious education. That is very good news. Yes, if we simply train them properly they will come to the highest standard of Vaisnava devotees. And what is that training? They should simply be engaged in such a way that they are somehow or other remembering Krsna at every moment, that's all. It is not some mechanical process: ' If we force them in such a way, they will come out like this. ' No. We are persons and Krsna is a person, and our relationship with Krsna is always open as a voluntary agreement. That voluntary attitude-' Yes, Krsna, I shall gladly cooperate. Whatever You say. ' that ready willingness to obey is only possible if there is love. Forcing will not make me agree. But if there is love, oh, I shall gladly do it. That is bhakti. That is Krsna consciousness. Similarly, if we train children by developing and encouraging their propensity to love Krsna, then we shall be successful in educating them to tho topmost standard "