When we send our children to school obviously we hope that they will be taught the truth. Well, at least some of the time. It seems that painful truths may have to wait, such as the non-existence of Santa Claus. A teacher who recently made the grave error of informing children in her class that Father Christmas was not real found herself out of a job. Parents were furious. “My son came home in tears,” said one anguished mother. “I didn’t know what to say.”
We want our children to be happy and with this in mind we send them to school. Without knowledge we will suffer, being unable to get through life very well. Ignorance is the root of misery as it leads us to foolish action or even inaction, and hence to the painful consequences. But what is the best knowledge? What is that understanding which will eradicate all misery, permanently?
Believing in Santa is obviously an illusion, and we have all had to face that terrible fact at some point in our lives. But how many other illusions have we been sold? Have we been given the whole and highest truth? Are we actually becoming free from all our suffering?
Probably not. In fact much of what we learn at school is subject to constant change, especially in the field of science, where new discoveries are always being made and old theories rejected. Which makes all of it highly suspect. The Vedas declare that an important criterion of truth is that it never changes. Two plus two equals four – it always has and always will. This is the test of real knowledge. It is perfect and unchanging.
These days though we are fed theories, such as the “theory” of evolution, as if they were accepted facts. But there are so many different opinions about such so-called facts, ideas are always changing, and there is every chance that in a hundred years from now a whole different theory will have replaced the one we are now obliged to learn.
And all the while we are not taught about a very real fact that we all have to face. The poet Porteus said, “Teach him how to live. And oh! Still harder lesson. How to die.” This is the best knowledge, and the elephant in everyone’s room that we mostly try to ignore. One great Vedic teacher said that we are all “sojourners on the path of death.” Whatever great things we may achieve in life will soon be annulled by the fact of our death. We will not take any of it with us. And where then shall we go? We have no idea. We can guess, hope, or boldly state that we will go nowhere at all, that we will cease to be, but in reality we are in complete darkness.
The Vedas therefore enjoin that this is the first and most important lesson. “Now you have a human life you must inquire into the absolute.” Ask the big questions. Who am I? Why am I here? Where do I go when I die? At least we should dedicate some of our time to seriously investigating these areas of major importance. But what school does that?
Rather we are encouraged to work very hard to improve our material living conditions. Get a better job. Earn more money. Live in a nice house with all the trappings. The Vedas suggest that this endeavour rests on an erroneous assumption, namely that we are the body. We are identifying with the bag of blood and bones that we inhabit, assuming it to be ourselves. But Vedic wisdom tells us we are different from the body, that we are eternal, indestructible parts of the supreme whole or God.
If this is true, and the evidence suggests that it is, then our entire education devoid of spiritual content is selling us an illusion to match that of Father Christmas. What evidence? Just observe how the body changes, from a baby through childhood to adulthood. A complete transformation, but are we a different person? Of course not. We remember our childhood and know that we are the same personality now, despite all the changes. We are something different from the body. And that unchanging person is the eternal soul. When the body makes its final change at death the soul continues. Why not?
This is surely an observable truth, but who is observing it? What lessons do we get in school about understanding our true self? As time goes on we go further away from such teachings, more and more toward material acquisitions, toward any kind of immoral behaviour as long as it satisfies our bodies, which is what we believe we are, and therefore what we think will make us happy. But how can we be happy if we have started with the wrong conception of self? As the ancient Greeks said, echoing the Vedic instruction, “Know thyself.” Only then can we be happy.
Therefore the Vedas say that from the very beginning of life we should be taught spiritual lessons. We do not have to suffer. We are meant instead for eternal life, for unending happiness with the Supreme Lord Krishna in his immortal abode, and the training for this must begin from childhood. Death may come at any time and we must be prepared. Our ostrich–like educational approach has to change. Face up to the elephant. Otherwise we can carry on with Father Christmas. But he may bring us some rather unexpected presents.
Jan 22, 2023
Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies