Continued from Part 1
Methods and Contents of Education for Character Development
Character is centrally related to volition and affection. Therefore, in the education for character development methods appropriate to volition and affection should be more preponderant. At the same time, methods appropriate to cognition should also find a legitimate and even indispensable place.
A holistic, true education system gives importance to the methods of independent self-learning rather than dependent rote-learning,which allows a child to exercise his free will and individualized pace of progress. It takes care of the svabhava and svadharma of the child and helps in his inner growth. This indeed is the central teaching of Swamiji’s educational philosophy.
The system of education attempting for character development must give due importance to values for developing good character. These values include: unconditional love, harmony, sense of beauty, honesty, cooperation, compassion, forgiveness, perseverance, courage, truthfulness, goodness, sincerity, purity, passion for progress, pursuit of clarity of thought, search for perfection, irresistible will to realize higher humanistic, scientific and professional skills (Kireet Joshi, 1997). Swamiji emphasised these values whenever he spoke about the character development.
Another essential constituent in the education for character development is the role of the teacher. A teacher can inspire, guide and kindle the quest among the students by the way of his own example of character. It is only by personifying values within himself that a teacher can truly emit values to students. A good teacher puts his students upon the appropriate road to perfection. He must encourage the child to follow that road—watching, suggesting, helping, but not imposing or interfering. The best thing is to do it by personal example. Swami Vivekananda makes it clear when he says:
"No one was ever really taught by another; each of us has to teach himself. The external teacher offers only the suggestion which rouses the internal teacher to work to understand things." (CSWV, 1989, 1:78)
A character development programme has to take care of the mental, vital and physical education. It must aim at achieving a wide, supple and illumined mind; a strong, calm but dynamic vital capable of right emotion, right decision and right execution by force and energy; a strong, supple, poised, graceful body capable of expressing beauty and rhythm in all movement of life; an individual complete in all dimension of his personality. Swamiji points out:
"What we want is to see the man who is harmoniously developed...great in heart, great in mind, [great in deed]...We want the man whose heart feels intensely the miseries and sorrows of the world ... And [we want] the man who not only can feel but can find the meanings of things, who delves deeply into the heart of nature and understanding. [We want] the man who will not even stop there, [but] who wants to work out [the feeling and meaning by actual deeds]. Such a combination of head, heart, and hand is what we want." (CSWV, 1989, 6:43)
Swamiji emphatically added, "let only a handful of men work with these, and the whole world will be revolutionized" (CWSV, 1989, 8:280). He wanted the world to have giants who are equally active, equally knowing and equally loving. These harmoniously developed individuals are the men of true character and it is they who can harmonize the whole world.
Self-Knowledge and Self-Control as the Key
The entire process of character development can be reduced to the process of gaining self-knowledge and the adoption of self-control. One needs to introspect and closely observe oneself. It is by this that one can have the knowledge of the immense power that lies within. Swamiji while speaking about practical Vedanta says:
"You know but little of that which is within you. For behind you is the ocean of infinite power and blessedness. ‘This Atman is first to be heard of.’ Hear day and night that you are that Soul. Repeat it to yourselves day and night till it enters into your very veins, till it tingles in every drop of blood, till it is in your flesh and bone." (CWSV, 1989, 2:246)
Also, the more one observes oneself and the more one can control one’s passions and impulses, the more one will be able to deal with the world in a right manner by acting rightly and thus contributing to the increasing progress and unification of the society and the world. To know oneself and to control oneself is the secret of the entire process of character development. It is by understanding oneself that one realizes the enormous power and strength that one has within and one develops more and more faith in oneself. This according to Swami Vivekananda is again the master idea of Vedantic teachings: to have faith in oneself.
Swamiji repeatedly says that he is truly an atheist who does not believe in himself. He further explains that this faith in oneself should not be a selfish faith. The ideal of Vedanta is oneness. The faith in you means the "…faith in all because you are all. The love for yourself means love for all, love for animals, love for everything, because you are all one" (CWSV, Vol. 2, p. 301). This love must transcend all selfishness and self-centeredness. It is this love that brings about the ultimate harmony. With this love one needs illumination and heroism. Swamiji repeatedly said that one needs to become free from all weakness and be bold. One who is weak cannot realize the self. To grow conscious of oneself and change oneself is the supreme key that can build the true character or personality. In Swamiji’s words:
"We have seen that it is the subjective world that rules the objective. Change the subject and the object is bound to change; purify yourself, and the world is bound to be purified. This one thing requires to be taught now more than ever before. We are becoming more and more busy about our neighbours, and less and less about ourselves. The world will change if we change; if we are pure, the world will become pure. The question is why I should see evil in others. I cannot see evil unless I be evil. I cannot be miserable unless I am weak. Things that used to make me miserable when I was a child, do not do so now. The subject changed, so the object was bound to change; so says the Vedanta." (CWSV, 1989, 1:342)
This ideal of the Vedantic teaching must become the central idea of the character development.
Another important aspect of character development programme is to harmonize the factors and methods of character development with the demands of freedom and discipline.
The content and the method of a character development programme must underline those elements of education which seem to be indispensable for everyone to grow up as a well-developed human being, irrespective of one’s special interest or skill.
- Everyone needs to know the mystery and excellence of the human body, as this is the foundation or material base of pursuit of whatever ideals one chooses to embody in one’s individual and social life.
- Everyone needs to understand one’s impulses, desires, emotions, and willpower in order to understand how to have control over oneself and grow into a personality guided by wisdom and inspired by the sense of harmony and heroic courage.
- Everyone needs to know how the mind functions and how rationality, morality and aesthetic refinement grow into higher realms of consciousness.
- Everyone needs to practice attitudes and powers of concentration and harmonization of inner and outer life.
- Everyone needs to know how to learn and how to continue to learn throughout life.
- Everyone needs to develop the capacity to choose the right aim of life and to pursue that aim with determination and perseverance.
All these need to be incorporated into the contents of character development programme in a graded manner so that the whole process can be a part of the man-making education envisaged by Swami Vivekananda. It is this that can prepare and polish the inside of the man, the true personality of the man. The one whose
inside is polished is a man of true character. In the words of Swamiji:
"The ideal of all education, all training, should be this man-making. But instead of that, we are always trying to polish up the outside. What use is polishing up the outside when there is no inside? The end and aim of all training is to make the man grow. The man who influences, who throws his magic, as it were, upon his fellow-beings, is a dynamo of power, and when that man is ready, he can do anything and everything he likes; that personality put upon anything will make it work." (CWSV, 1989, 2:23)
Through the rigours of character-building the light of spirituality shines forth.
Character is the distinctive quality, individuality, identity, personality in its uniqueness. A true system of education takes care of the development of individuality, selfhood, and character. This system of education must look upon human beings not as resources but as ultimate ends. Also character refers to the individual’s links with the society and his performance in the society. So the education system must take care of developing integral personality.
One may be said to have a fully integrated personality when there is consistency in one's thought, word, and deed, and when one achieves along with a balanced and progressive development of the physical, mental, moral, emotional and spiritual an equilibrium between individual and the collectivity. Feeling for others, loving service to the fellow beings, beauty and harmony, conscious will-power, strength, fearlessness and vitality, tremendous activity, wisdom, intuition and discerning intellect, all these are part of that education system concentrating on character development.
The purpose of this education must be to communicate those values which are connected with motivation. The higher the motivation in life, the higher is the character. Motivation can refer to various situations such as personal situation, social situation, spiritual situation or even civilizational situation. All these factors need to be taken into account by a true system of education. It must take care of the inner growth of the individual and at the same time it must be able to produce men of such character who could help build the nation.
A nation is nothing but a sum total of its people. A nation which can build, through education, greatness of character in her people will be a great nation. Another important factor which Swami Vivekananda brings out is that strength of a nation depends on its ability to unify the collective will of her people around a cause. Those nations which are able to do it will be the leaders of the race and render great service to the entire humanity.
Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (CWSV) (1989) Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama.
Joshi, Kireet (1997) Education for character development. Delhi: Dharam Hinduja International Center of Indic Research.
Susman, Warren I. (1984) ‘“Personality” and the making of twentieth-century culture’, in Susman, Warren I. (ed.), Culture as history: The transformation of American society in the twentieth century. New York: Pantheon Books.
Cover image: Swami Vivekananda, circa 1900. Photo available in public domain.