The Urgent Need to Reach a Higher Moral Ground

The births of John Dewey (1859–1952), the father of modern education in the United States, and Narendranath Datta (1863–1902), later known as Swami Vivekenanda, one of the great teachers and patriotic saints in India, heralded a modern yet ancient way to perceive the purpose of education.  Vivekenanda would come to teach us that, “Education is the manifestation of the perfection already existing in man.” Human potential lies within us.  John Dewey suggests, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

John Dewey and Vivekenanda would no doubt agree with contemporary luminaries, from the East and the West, like the Dalai Lama, Erik Erikson, and Wangari Maathai (respectively), that there is an urgent need to: nurture our natural human potential and our sense of fundamental human values, to find a way to educate to ensure “… the protection of another’s essence as a developing person,” and “to shift to a new level of consciousness” and “reach a higher moral ground.”

That’s why I chose the title, “The Dharma of Education.” Dharma means many things to many people in many lands, from India, Nepal, Tibet, Thailand, and Japan to the U.S.A., where it reached prominence as the name of an alternate life-style personality in the television show, Dharma and Greg (1997–2002). The most basic of dictionary definitions of dharma include something like “virtue and duty in accord with the natural, cosmic, or divine order.” Dharma is more complex than that, of course. The Sanskrit root of dharma is drh, meaning wear, that which is worn, that which protects, that which lends charm and dignity to life. What does that? Something of great value, intrinsic, and lasting; a way of being that guides us to a higher moral ground. Dharma!

While not a household word, dharma is fairly well known in every western country where yoga is taught. Yoga means to join, yuj in Sanskrit, to harness oneself to, enter into union with. The yoga that engages the body, breath, and mind in order to experience union of body, mind, and spirit through yoga postures is a path in the pursuit of human excellence. One of the overarching characteristics of dharma is the moral imperative to pursue human excellence by living in harmony with the universal and fundamental human values that are intrinsic to human beings. We call that character.

Character is not exactly a household word either, nor was it held up as something of importance during the many years I worked my way through a bachelor, master, and finally doctorate degree in education. If we are going to nurture the human potential needed to reach a higher moral ground, we need to identify the fundamental universal human values that are the foundation of the moral and spiritual dimensions of our human development.

What human qualities and strengths do we need to draw out and nurture in order to be able to think, to feel, to know, and to be in the 21st century? Are we providing students with the self-knowledge they need in order to meet the increasing number of moral choices they face in this expanded and seemingly limitless world in which all of us now live together? How can we organize pedagogy and curriculum to meet this need? These are the questions, and their answers, that we’ll continue to explore in “The Dharma of Education.”  What do you think?  Looking forward to your views!