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EditorialEditorial : Religious Education

Education is the kindling of knowledge. It is the journey from the known to the unknown. It encompasses all the spheres of life and all aspects of one’s personality, external and internal. To educate oneself is to equip oneself to face the struggles of life and the vagaries of the world. And so, every attempt at education should have the balance of external expertise and inner poise. The pull of the manifest world should be withstood by the anchor of the inner self.

An education that focusses only on the external would invariably lead to a discontented personality and a disturbed society. Without an anchoring in a plane of one’s personality that is unaffected by the mundane realities of the world, the slightest tremor in one’s happy world would shatter one’s very being. While it is undoubtedly necessary to educate oneself in the art of creating, acquiring, and developing, human experience of millennia is testimony to the fact that the wisdom of refrain, relinquishment, and silence has brought more satisfaction to the human mind than anything else. A balanced personality is one that has the ability to accommodate like a sponge, the ever-increasing voluminous outpourings of suffering the world has to offer.

Education is often understood as defining things and pigeonholing them into categories that we can understand and handle without getting confused. With this concept of education, often what we learn or teach is not the understanding of a phenomenon but its labelling and theorising. For example, even a basic phenomenon like the gravitational force is taken for granted and all one does in the name of studying it is to go through scientific laws, which at best, just state the obvious.

Religion or spirituality teaches us to be prepared for the uncertain.

The whys and wherefores of the gravitational force are seldom understood in depth. This is just an example to show how often our idea of education does not bring any clarity but only comfortably covers mysterious phenomena in the guise of knowledge.

Thus, education has been seen as being synonymous with certainty. But, is it possible to be certain of all that we come across in our lives? To begin with, are we certain of our own behaviour or thoughts? Are we certain of our worldview? Even the wisest human beings could not or cannot claim to have achieved a position of such certainty. This brings out the complete futility of our education. And this is where religious or spiritual education finds relevance.

Religion or spirituality teaches us to be prepared for the uncertain. Instead of being a search for the definite, it takes us on a journey to grapple with the indefinite. This is more in line with the realities that we encounter in our lives. And so, the need for religious education cannot be overemphasised. This need has become more pronounced in our age of distraught selves.

Unfortunately, the first idea one gets when hearing of anything connected with the word ‘religion’ is a sectarian and parochial set of values that differentiate a group of people from the rest of the world and cause unnecessary strife or conflict. That is why, whenever the topic of religion is raised, people become alert and cautious to the possibility of sentiments being hurt and emotions flaring up any minute. So, religious matters are left to be the prerogative of the clergy or at best, some academics, both of whom revel in their punditry, enveloped in a jargon that ever alienates such wisdom from the masses. Religion or spirituality has a great impact on an individual’s life. This relevance is lost in our fears of having to deal with some communal tension that is mostly created because of such preconceived notions. The therapeutic effect of religion or spirituality should not be lost to our society, particularly in these times of increasing psychological ailments.

Ignorance leads to fear. The lack of knowledge of religion and spirituality leads to misunderstanding of faith traditions. Religious education can show the path to peace and fulfilment. When a person is dissatisfied with material pursuits and achievements, one can travel the varied and often adventurous religious or spiritual road. For this the seeds have to be sown much earlier, right from childhood, so that one can appreciate the value of such insights later when a mature mindset is achieved.

Many people are averse to the concept of religious education because they consider such an endeavour to be nothing but some bigoted fundamentalists pushing down the throats of the innocent young, old parochial ideas of hate and seclusion. But such a brainwashing is not what is meant here by religious education. Instead, the idea is to impart some universal values contained in every faith tradition that would enable a person to better understand and cherish the oneness amongst beings. While such education would have ideas or motifs specific to one faith tradition, the goal would be to see through these multicoloured specifics, the broad general theme that pervades through all human attempts to know the infinite.

Now, the challenge is to find able teachers who can impart such religious or spiritual education. Such teachers should be shining exemplars of the wisdom being imparted. Actions and character have the power to speak to the inner core of a being, where no language can find access. Individuals rooted in the contentment of one’s ultimate nature alone can take the mantle of religious teachers. Parroting of rhythmic syllables or donning colourful attire cannot authorise a person to be a religious teacher. Practising and getting established in the precept is the only, albeit rare, credential required for a religious teacher. This explains why religious education has become dubitable in our times as a lack of qualified mentors has led to the constant modifications to the message itself.

How to proceed in such a scenario? The next best alternative is to just stick to the teachings of religious scriptures sans the regional or temporal specifics. Just concentrating on the universal aspects of the teachings of such religious texts and honestly transmitting them without bringing down the ideal, and better still, accepting the difficulty of practising it, would be a good way to ensure that the ideal is not lost.

What religion to teach should be a choice given to the student, the young individual. It could be a religion one is born into or a faith tradition one is curious about. A religion should be studied in its entirety, not just the religious texts but also the traditions. One would have to tear open the veil of mystery surrounding such practices and find their significance.

We need to equip the future generations of humanity with all possible tools to counter the emptiness that is the characteristic of modern development. Religious or spiritual education is the best tool to this end.

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