The role of a teacher in inculcating moral and spiritual values in young minds

Swami Sarvalokananda’s address to teachers at the Ramakrishna Mission School at Vijayawada

Vidyadana is the highest service

Teachers occupy a very high position in society. In our scriptures it is very beautifully said – Matri Devo Bhava, Pitru Deva Bhava, Acharya Devo Bhava. The teacher is as high as God. Their position is like a God. Dear teachers, you are not ordinary people . Your profession is not an ordinary one, it is the noblest one.

In our scriptures and tradition, there are different kinds of ‘dana’ – donation: Anna Dana, Vastra Dana, Shrama Dana, Artha Dana, Vidya Dana etc. Vidya Dana is considered to be the greatest. So dear friends, you are giving dana of vidya – knowledge. So you are a great.

There are many professions, but no profession can mould the life of an individual except teaching. Only a teacher can mould and build the life of an individual. That is why you are great, and you should feel proud of it. Sometimes I hear teachers say – my profession is inferior to a District Collector, or MBA or CA or doctor or engineer. However, please understand your profession is a great one. Because a doctor cannot mould, change or build a life. You can bring change and transformation in the lives of young men and women. Therefore, even today, people in the society bow down to teachers.

My subject today is the role of a teacher in inculcating moral and spiritual values in young minds. You cannot teach morality in the classroom with a blackboard, chalk or book. You can teach morality and ethics through your life – your exemplary life.

What does a TEACHER mean?
T stands for transparency
You must have a very transparent, clean and spotless life. This is one condition of becoming a teacher. That is why people in the society respect you so much – because your life is very transparent, spotless and clean. Now a days we say in general parlance that the younger generation doesn’t pay respect to the teacher. Why is that so? Because the life of the teacher may not be so transparent, spotless or clean. So this is the first condition.

E stands for equality
The teacher must treat all students equally. There should not be any favoritism or importance to any particular student.In a real teacher, no student should be high or low, with a high intellect or low intellect or dumb or mediocre. The teacher should treat all students equally. This is very important. Generally the brilliant student, or the topper becomes a favorite, and there is no favor or importance given to a dull or mediocre student. This should not be.

A stands for ability
There should be an ability to communicate. A teacher may have degrees after degrees. There may be learned teachers, but they are unable to communicate things to the students. That should not be. You must have this ability. Now-a-days there are powerpoint presentations. They are important – there is no doubt. However, in earlier days there were not such presentations. How did our ancestors – the ascetics, the great acharyas communicate complicated spiritual knowledge to the students? Not through powerpoint presentations, but through eye-to-eye contact. If there is a powerpoint presentation, the eye to eye contact will not happen. Often students say the class is monotonous. They do not get interested in the class. Why is that? Because teachers are not able to communicate to the students. So the teacher must have this power of communicating to the students.

C stands for caring
You must be very caring while teaching the students and have the patience to teach the students. All students are not very bright and intelligent. The mediocre and dull students can naturally not understand things properly, so they come to the teacher, and ask again and again. And in irritation teachers ask – “Is there cowdung in your head? You are not able to understand anything?!” A teacher must be caring and sharing.

H stands for humility
In hindi it is vinamrita. The teacher must be very humble. Sometimes teachers become very egoistic – ahankari – oh I know so much! I have tremendous knowledge. That is not ok. “vidyadadativinayam” – if you truly are a learned person, then you will become humble and benign. See the tree. When the fruit comes on a tree, the branches bow down. Similarly if you have true knowledge, you cannot be very egoistic and aggressive. You will be humble.

E stands for exemplary
This is very important. You must put your life as an example before the students. Otherwise nobody will listen to you. There is a proverb – “practice what you preach” then only it will have some effect on the student. Therefore, you must inculcate the values in your life first. Only then you can tell students what they must do. If the teacher is speaking a lie all the time and he/she tells the student to speak truth, the student will not listen to you. Therefore an exemplary life is important.

In this context I would like to tell you a wonderful incident. It happened in the life of Mahatma Gandhi as well as Guru Nanak. A little girl was fond of having too many sweets and the mother was very anxious. The mother had told the girl a hundred times not to have so many sweets that are very injurious to her health. The girl didn’t listen to the mother. One day the mother took the girl to Guru Nanak and explained everything to him. He asked the mother to come after 5 days. She was surprised why he said this, but after 5 days she went back to him with the daughter. Guru Nanak again asked her to come after 7 days. The mother was perplexed again – why is he doing this. However she took her daughter back and came again a third time. At that time Guru Nanakji told the little girl “taking too many sweets is injurious to health. You should not take so much of sweets. You must take only that much which is required for maintaining one’s health.” He explained this in many ways. Both the mother and girl were satisfied. Then the mother told Guru Nanakji – “you could have said this on the first day. Why didn’t you?” He said “How could I? I was myself very fond of taking sugar and sweets. When I am fond of this, how can I tell the little girl not to! I have no right to. I practiced for 5+7 days how not to take sweets. Only after practicing for these 12 days, when I starting taking very less sweets, did I tell your daughter!”

Similarly dear friends, you must practice first what advice you will give the students.

Narendranath (Swami Vivekananda) went to many spiritual leaders asking the same question: “Have you seen God?” Nobody could reply. But when Narendranath came to Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineshwar the first time and asked this question, – “Sir, have you seen God”, spontaneously he replied: “Yes I have seen God. If necessary I can show you also”. This is the language of science – I can show you also. Sri Ramakrishna could answer this question so boldly and spontaneously because he had already realized.

The great men like Buddha, Nanak, Dadu, have realized. Lord Buddha preached 2,500 years ago. His teaching has great impact on society and people even today. Why is that so? Many people preach and teach – even teachers. But everybody does not have such a permanent impression on the minds of the student. This is because whatever Buddha taught, he practiced in his life. Only then has he preached. That is why the saints like Buddha, Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, have the power and tremendous effectiveness of the teaching.

R stands for righteousness
This is the last word. Righteousness is ‘dharma’. There is dharma and adharma. In the earlier days when the student went to the teacher, the first lesson that the teacher would teach was ‘satyamvada, dharmamchara’ (सत्यमवद धर्मंचर).

So the first thing to teach is righteousness. The teacher must practice righteousness in their life.

Word-talk – what you practice you must preach or you must preach what you practice. You can teach morality and ethics by your exemplary life. Your life must be an example before others. Then only you can do it. That is why Swami Vivekananda use to say – one ounce of practice is greater than thousands tonnes of learning. So practice comes first, then teaching.

And for the teaching you must not punish or rebuke anybody. Suppose students throw a piece of paper on the ground, you should not first call the student and tell him – you should not do it otherwise I will slap you – put it somewhere else. It will be more effective if you yourself pick up this paper in front of the student and put it in the dustbin. It will be a great lesson for the student. He will never do it again! He will feel ashamed. So you first show with your example. Then they learn.

So friends, you are teacher, the moulder of lives. You have a great responsibility and you have to play a great role in inculcating morality and ethics in the minds of the youth.

Now a days, we teach them academics – geography, history, English, mathematics, science, etc. Along with this, we are unfortunately not teaching morality and ethics. Both of these should go side by side. Otherwise teaching will be incomplete.

In earlier days, the curriculum had a small chapter from the lives of different great men. Now-a-days the government has removed it from all curriculum. So moral and ethical teachings are absent. Otherwise you memorize things, collect data over the internet web searches, go to the examination hall and vomit it! All students are doing this. And the teacher also teaches the same way! But now, it must go side by side. Then only the teaching will be complete.

If you ask students about how they became great in life, they do admit that they got these values from their teacher. The first teacher is the parent – that is true. But the second teacher is the school/ college/ university teacher.

You may ask how can we teach this – it is out of the curriculum. You can teach through your day-to-day life! For example, the teacher should come to class on time. Teachers are often not punctual. Then what do the students learn? If they see the teacher coming on time, that is what they will learn.

Ethics and morality cannot be taught by giving lectures, powerpoint presentations, or with chalk & blackboard. These are taught only through good, exemplary lives. When Swami Vivekananda came back from the West he wanted to make his work in the West permanent. He called one of his Guru Bhais – Hari Maharaj – Swami Turiyananda. He told him I have come back from the West. Now you have to go there and preach Vedanta. Turiyananda said how can I teach Vedanta? I have never taught or preached! I will not go to America. Swami Vivekananda told Swami Turiyananda. You cannot preach – that is alright. You need not preach. You go there and live the life. Then others will imitate you and learn from you.

Similarly teachers: they need to live a ‘decent’ life so that they become role models. Then you will automatically teach morality and ethics. This is the way – to lead a decent, transparent, clean life.

I would like to end with saying – never feel yourself to be inferior. Yours is the noblest profession. What if you have not become doctors or engineers or MBA – whatever it be. You are a teacher, and a teacher is the most respected person in society today. So you must maintain the nobility of the profession.

Teaching is a noble profession!
Today the relationship between the teacher and the taught had become commercial in many places. Earlier it was love and respect. This doesn’t mean you cannot earn your livelihood. In the early days also they did earn. There was Guru Dakshina. Not demanding! Students and parents would give some Guru Dakshina to the teacher/ Acharya.            But today we find it has become a nexus – especially the coaching classes. Teachers do not take proper classes in the university, and call the students to the coaching classes to help them pass with distinction. In our Indian culture and tradition, Vidya Dana was never a trade. We need to take note of this – the relationship between a teacher and student was one of love and respect.

A teacher & student are friends first
The relationship is also like a friend. Read the life of Swami Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna. Their relationship was like a friend. They were not distant from each other – even though Sri Ramakrishna was a realized person and Narendranath was not. There was no high or low. The relationship of friends is that of equals. The guru and shishya are at an equal level. If you don’t feel this equality, you cannot teach. Otherwise you will go to the class and try to teach, students won’t understand and things will go above their head.

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