Does education provide a roadmap to happiness?

by Sahadev Komaragiri

At the time of my graduation from high school, I visited one of my teachers to request for an autograph. Students do this to get one lasting impression from their favorite teachers. This teacher taught Telugu and she was one of those rare teachers who effortlessly quoted poems from many Telugu texts. She always taught us that there is nothing in life that is more valuable than education. So she gave me her autograph with these golden words – “vidya yosagunu vinayambu” which translates to “education bestows humility”.  I heard this adage several times, but I never tried to understand the significance of it. My research in the recent times led me to this Sanskrit verse from Hitopadesa:

Vidya dadati vinayam,
vinaya dadati paatrataam,
paatratva dhanamaapnoti,
dhanat dharmam tatatsukham

Translation: Education bestows humility, humility in turn gives worthiness, worthiness to earn wealth, wealth bestows righteous life and happiness comes from righteousness.

So, the ultimate source of happiness is supposed to be coming from education. Does this mean that all the educated people are generally happy? Take a look at the sequence again:

Education -> Humility -> Worthiness -> Wealth -> Righteous Life -> Happiness.

Somewhere along the way, this chain got broken. The sequence got simplified to just one equation: education bestows wealth. Humility, worthiness and righteousness are thrown to the wind and the sole purpose of education now appears to be that of generating wealth. Happiness remains perpetually elusive. The author of the above verse from Hitopadesa assumed that education will continue to be in its true form, that is, education taught in schools will be value based. True education should give humility to the seeker. The more you know the more there is left to be known. After reaching new highs in the field of science and technology, the scientific community is baffled with the ever expanding horizons of what is still unknown. An individual is typically not baffled at what is unknown but simply revels in what he knows. Humility takes a backseat.

In my opinion when you don’t put your heart and soul into the job you are doing then worthiness loses its meaning.

What about worthiness? This subject is a little more abstract than the subject of humility. In the modern times, most people pursue only that field of education that is considered lucrative. At a very early age, many people encounter a simple choice between sticking to one’s own passion or consider a career option in a field that appears to be profitable. Most people choose the latter option. Wealth making becomes the center of the decision making process. In some cases it is simply based on the availability of financial resources. Our education system fails in helping students identify their passions and sticking to them. Society measures the success of a man by his material possessions. People simply don’t recognize that they can pursue their own passion and still make a living. For many, this is a starting point or a significant source of unhappiness for the rest of the life. People in the work force do receive the payment for their services. I don’t remember where I read this, but in employment area the employer pays just enough to keep the employee and the employee works just enough to not get fired! This is simply not true in the case of those people who pursue the careers that they truly believe in. So what does all this say about worthiness? In my opinion when you don’t put your heart and soul into the job you are doing then worthiness loses its meaning.

We are just too busy to know and understand what we ought to seek and possess

Let us now discuss some wealth considerations. Wealth and education are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Wealth and worthiness are not supposed to be mutually exclusive either, but that tends to be case in the modern times. All the generated wealth is used to acquire possessions in the hope that the wealth and its associated possessions will bring happiness. But most people remain on the treadmill of leading a life from paycheck to paycheck, consistently buying things that they can live without and then postponing the pursuit of happiness for a future time. We unwittingly participate in a rat race, a race to nowhere. We are just too busy to know and understand what we ought to seek and possess. Wealth on its own does not bring happiness. I do not think there would be a need to provide any corroborative evidence! Schools at the secondary and tertiary level fail to teach these basics.

Righteous living should be a virtue that should be independent of all other factors. There is an age old belief that when there is enough money to deal with all insecurities in life, a person tends to be generally more moralistic. That is exactly why governments across the world struggle to keep their citizens employed to ensure their livelihood. A self-sufficient society is generally a safer place to live in. People with enough disposable incomes are expected to be more responsible and sympathetic towards the less fortunate. I think the author of the poem has this in mind when he talked about righteous life that emanates from wealth.

I think contentment and happiness is easy to achieve when one leads a life of humble learning, worthy earning and generous giving.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Deepa Vedavyas October 4, 2010 at 7:34 am

Beautifully said, it is so true that the chain of education to happiness is broken for the most part even at the level of conveying it to today’s children by the grown ups. As hard as it is to believe, patience is lost in today’s world as they strive from education to wealth to happiness.

We need more organizations like the “Character is Power” (CHiP), the educare institute
http://www.educare.org/4436.html. Swami has repeatedly emphasized the value of true education in simple terms http://www.sssbpt.info/ssspeaks/volume34/sss34-20.pdf.

Sairam thank you for making us think and reflect. Keep it coming.

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Sahadev Komaragiri October 4, 2010 at 8:07 am

Thank You. The purpose of this site to learn from each other is being realized with your valuable comments and your sharing of the links.

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Nirmala Sekhar October 5, 2010 at 12:10 am

Well said. Following the chain, absence of humility takes away the link to happiness as well. This happens when a person is caught up in one’s own ego and how others perceive or should perceive them.

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Rafi June 12, 2011 at 11:06 am

Sahadev,
You hit the nail on the head when you say we are just too busy to know and understand what we ought to seek and possess. Unfortunately media in collaboration with businesses and government tends to promote the view that you can buy “happiness” outside of yourself, which is not true.
True education for me is one that makes us secure and compassionate. Real education opens up our hearts to love others as if the entire world is our own. The focus then becomes more about contribution to life and not about vain pursuits of possessing things and people. The challenge is to create an experience based education system that transforms students minds and hearts to pursue their passions in the benefit of all. I wonder if such an education system is possible without incorporating timeless spiritual principles/disciplines.

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sai leela swaminathan December 17, 2012 at 7:52 am

Na cha chora haryam, na cha raja haryam
Na cha brathru bhajyam na cha bhara kari
Yyaye kruthe vardhathe evan nityam
Vidya dhanam sarva dhana pradhanam……… so said Bharthruhari.
………………. These very versus exclaim that education is the blossoming of human excellence. No thief nor any King can steal or forcibly take away knowledge. It cannot be shared among the siblings nor it is so heavy that one needs to save it in bank. Knowledge shall and will remain always with us. Therefore Knowledge is considered as the most wealthiest form of wealth among the riches in this world.
How and which method or ways can Educationists impart this kind of value systems in today’s children about the importance of education. Education is for living is what is tutored in all schools and colleges. but how many are teaching that ‘Education is for Life’. In my humble acquisition of degrees after bachelors in Education, I did pursue Masters in education, but Not much was learnt. But the knowledge, values, insights, experiences in the divine company & the inner thirst for higher knowledge acquired on my own has made me meet creative minds best in the field of education. The exchange of experiental learning is much more.
We end up understanding the Real purpose of Life itself.

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Sahadev Komaragiri December 18, 2012 at 1:50 am

Thanks for your valuable comments. It is indeed true that a learned man is respected all over the world. A simple man in his house, a king in his kingdom, but a learned man all over the world!

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Lalitha August 2, 2015 at 8:04 am

Sahadev,
i was searching for this poem,which i remeber reading in my school days.wanted to tell my son about it. thank you so much for writing the meaning as well..it was very helpful.in todays times as you said meaning of life itself has changed ,bringing in a lot of changes in every aspect..gets a bit difficult to explain what is the right way to a young child..
thank you !!

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