If I don't know what I am, then what do I know?
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© 2004 - Hansadutta das

Enough School Already—I'm Ready to Learn Something Useful

Hansadutta das
Conversation with Two Public School Teachers, 16 Novenmber 2005, California

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When I grew up as a kid in New York, I hated school. I just flatly refused to do any work, because deep down I somehow knew that it was all nonsense. Most students will make a show, an attempt to do the least possible to just get by, but I outright rejected all of it. If you ask kids, most of them will tell you how much they hate school, how bored they get, and how they will never actually use any of the things they are being taught. Take for instance my daughter Govinda. She went through years of school, and now she has a job at Friedman Brothers as a checkout cashier, making $7 an hour. Does it require going to school until you are 17 to learn to be a checker? No, in a few minutes they can teach you that skill on the job.

So in the schools, they are simply teaching the students all of these things except the most important single piece of information, which is to know what I am. If I don't know what I am, then what do I know? Real education means to draw out what is already inside each of us. It comes from the Latin word educere, educe, like reduce, produce, induce, seduce, etc. So to bring out my identity—what am I? What distinguishes me from you? What makes me unique?

What makes me unique is my relationship with the Supreme Unique. Krishna is the most unique, because no one can compare with all of His qualities; every qualification He has in the supreme quantity, whereas we have in minute quantity. So, we have a relationship with Krishna, just as your children are related to you. They have some qualities that you have.

The ultimate education is to know myself. This is the aim of education. We may know other things, but if we do not know ourselves then what do we know? I may know other things, like 2+2, and how the sky is blue, but I have to know what is my self, and how did I come to this place, and what am I supposed to do, and when my life is finished, where do I have to go, and why, and who made these arrangements?

No one is teaching these things; therefore, the kids sometimes hate the teachers. The children are angry and frustrated, because what they really want to know, naturally... what they need to know... that is deliberately set aside. And even if a child has some initiative to know these things, it is discouraged, and they are frowned upon, and belittled and embarrassed, and made to look stupid.

The result is that we are getting a population of children who have no aim in life, because they don't know what they are, they don't know where they are going, they don't know what's to be done, and they are being forced to spend year after year after year [in school], from the age of 5 or 6 until at least 18—and that's just preliminary; you can't do anything profitable with that education. They will tell the kids that if you want a good-paying job, then you will have to go another 4 years in college, and these days, even that is mediocre. If you really want the big bucks and a secure position, then you'll have to do post-graduate schooling and become a lawyer or a doctor. By that time, I'm in debt, because I've borrowed so much money, and still, I haven't learned what I am. I've only learned superficial things which can't help me or satisfy me. Therefore my heart is vacant and empty. I want my heart to be filled up with joy, with meaning, with purpose, and I want to exhibit my energies, my enthusiasm, my talents in some way where there is no reservation, no doubt, but I can't, because I don't know what I am.

So the children leave home, because they can't have a relationship with their parents—they have nothing in common. What is the common thing? The common thing is we're all part and parcel of Krishna, and as a family we are to cooperate by serving Krishna, and thereby go to Krishna. But since that is not established, why would I want to stay at home? I stayed there 18 years and you couldn't help me. In fact I came to literally hate my parents, and now in hindsight I can see why, because they didn't know the goal of life, so they couldn't help me.

This is the sum and substance of education: to know this [who and what I am]. Once this is known, then a child's natural, inherent material talents will blossom, because he or she will use those things to support that relationship with Krishna. It is not that Krishna devotees just know Krishna, and then zero, and they become like fanatic Christians. No. Once we know Krishna and our individually unique relationship with Him, then our naturally inherent talents will blossom to the maximum degree. Why? Because I will want to serve Krishna and ultimately to love Krishna. I'll want to show my real appreciation to Krishna. Then you can have the basis of a real society. You can have a healthy, wholesome society on every level, not just that "Oh, we're spiritual, and we can't participate." No. People have been misled to think that spiritual life is something monastic and reclusive and estranged. The great devotee Arjuna was a warrior, he was fighting, political, he was married, etc. So what gives us a platform for enthusiasm is when we know that we have a goal, we have a relationship with the Supreme, therefore we can apply ourselves supremely, without any reservation, without any fear, in full enthusiasm. Whatever my natural abilities are, they will surface, and I can exhibit them.

But when there is no goal in life, no inclination to serve Krishna and go back home, back to Godhead, then the goal is reduced to eating and sleeping. Well, hey, I can go behind the Safeway supermarket and do that, and people do opt for that. The intelligent ones will. They will say, "Why should I knock myself out working day and night like cats and dogs just to eat and sleep?" That was the hippie generation. They threw up their hands and refused to just do what their moms and dads did. They were a bunch of lunkheads sitting on a sofa watching TV. To just do that, I don't have to spend so much time and energy in school. So they tried on their own by experimenting with drugs and sex, by breaking all the restraints and social taboos. Of course, that was a mistake, because we need to be systematically taught how to go to Krishna, just as we need to be taught how to read and write.

In the modern classroom, the teachers are basically babysitting the children. It's like a free babysitting business. And parents are glad they don't have to deal with their kids. The parents actually hate summer vacation because they've got to put up with their kids. They will make some token gesture like going camping, but actually they would rather not. My mother actually tried to send me to summer camp, and I said, "No way." For us city kids to go to the country was like going to hell, because there was nothing to do—no cars, no buildings, no subways, nothing. In fact that's why I joined the Navy. My parents had moved to Florida to a little town called Lakeworth, near Palm Beach. It was so awful, I had to get out of there, so I joined the Navy.

But the point is that the very thing we need to learn, the most essential thing—WHAT I AM—is being withheld deliberately. And they wonder why kids do what they do. The kids are bored stiff. They're not giving them a direction. They haven't indicated that there's a goal; only that "You are this body." So in that case, "Hey, let's take some drugs, let's smoke, and let's have sex".

School is an awful thing, the worst thing a person can be subjected to. No one can deny it. If I say these things in the school, the kids will all agree.

Jim: And now the kids are getting into more and more extreme things, like extreme sports, extremely graphic video games, extremely violent movies, extreme lyrics in the Rap music.

Hansadutta: Yes, because familiarity breeds contempt. When I become familiar with something, then I need something more stimulating, and when I become familiar with that, then again, I need something even more stimulating. That's why you will see in material life, those persons who excel... like celebrities... they've gone up, up, up, and they've got wealth, women and prestige, they are being adored by thousands of followers, and they're doing drugs, drinking and overindulging in sex. They get to a point where it's like how much sex can you have? How many drugs can you take? How much money can you spend? They come to a point where even all of these things fail to give them any satisfaction, so they basically self destruct. For some, it happens over many years, but for those who really go for it, they commit suicide. There are so many examples: Elvis Presley, Janice Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Curt Cobain, etc. In business also. It happens everywhere. When you can get unlimited facility to indulge in unrestricted sense gratification, you go crazy. It is said in the Bhagavatam that when we make sense gratification the aim of life, we go mad. Did you read the book on John Lennon's life? He became a madman. In the last 5 years of his life, he became completely crazy. In politics you'll find the same thing. They become crazy. In every field you'll find examples. Look at Howard Hughes. He was fabulously successful, wealthy, and he went crazy.

So then the question arises, "What to do? Do nothing?" No, it is simply that whatever you do, you do for Krishna. That's the answer. But anything you do for yourself will drive you mad [just as] Howard Hughes became a madman. Success means sense control. We must learn how to control our senses. Why? Because I'm not the senses, I'm not this body, and this body is simply a machine. We have to learn how to control our machine, as we must learn how to control the car, or an airplane, or a computer. Education begins when the child learns how to control the mind and the senses. Thereby he can come to understand "I'm not this body; I'm the spirit soul inside this body". When he comes to that point, then... that is the beginning of real education. Real knowledge and real life can begin, both material and spiritual—they go hand in hand. Not one to the exclusion of the other. Once a person can distinguish the difference between matter and spirit—"I'm not this body; I'm a soul, and I have to learn how to control my mind and senses"—he treats his body as a person would treat an automobile. There is an objective relationship, instead of a confused one, where the person thinks, "I AM this body", and therefore feels that every whim, every impulse has to be satisfied, whatever it may be. "Because if that's what I am, (the body) then the most important thing in life is Me, I'm the most important thing". Yes, you are, but that "me" you have got wrong.

Krishna Consciousness is the ultimate selfishness. It is the ultimate in self-satisfaction. Why? Because the aim is to first of all determine what "ME" is, what I am. When you know what that "I" is, then the next realization is, "Oh, there is another 'I', and He is the Supreme", and you're part and parcel of Him, and your business is to serve Him. You're always the servant, just like my finger is always the servant of my whole body. The business of the finger is to just take care of my body, and that is the natural, happy, pleasing connection.

This point is missing in all of our education: to know what my identity, purpose and direction in life actually is. This is missing. No one teaches me to know what makes me unique. Just like what makes this finger unique to this finger over here? There is no other finger like this one on the whole body. This finger here is related to the whole in a way that no other part is. Similarly, we are each related to Krishna in individually unique ways; no one else has our relationship. Everyone wants to know what it is about himself that is unique. He must know how he is related to the Supreme Unique. Krishna is unique and I'm unique, and I have to know how I am related to Him. Then and only then can I be happy. The realization comes, "I'm unique, and I don't have to be jealous of you or be like you. I am unique. I'm an individual.

The point is: it's a spiritual endeavor, not a material one. Like Ernest Hemingway wanted to be a rugged individual, but when he found out that he couldn't have sex anymore, he committed suicide, because that was everything to him; that was the apex of his life.

Back to my original point, there are thousands and thousands of schools like the ones you two teach in, with millions and millions of students simply being repressed, being kept in the dark about the real goal of life. And at the appropriate time, they will be shunted off to the war fields or to the factories, wherever they need a "landfill". They are simply sent off to wherever these demonic leaders need places of labor filled up, while they [the leaders] are just whimsically talking of war like they were talking of sports scores. Everyone knows that the president is a lying SOB, but it is just going on and on because no one knows what to do, how to drag this guy down. All of the leaders are just talking in some diplomatic doublespeak, juggling words, avoiding the issues, and the kids see that and they think everything is BS. That's the conclusion that they have to come to. They can't come to any other conclusion. On top of that, if they see their parents are doing things that they're telling the kids not to do, then "My parents are full of BS too." Basically, they go out into the world after graduating from school as frustrated individuals in a herd. Eventually they get a job, get a spouse, etc. And people wonder why kids get depressed. How can you not be depressed?

Jim: It's always mind-blowing for me to watch the TV when I go up to my mother's house, because it is so saturated with illusions: the hype to consume and go shopping, the nonstop flow of sense gratification, and of course the rapid degradation of sexual images and suggestive advertising techniques.

Hansadutta: Yes, in fact I read an article the other day that research has found the amount of sex on television has doubled or tripled in the last ten years. If you give it another ten years, that's all it's going to be on TV, just sex, basically porn. Why should we rent that stuff if we can watch it on the tube? Now you can get it on your cell phone. I saw a report that now you can download pornography onto your cell phone.

Jim: Now you can watch "Sex and the City" on regular network channels, where before it was only on HBO. I read today that the author of the book "Sex and the City" is writing or has written another book that's even steamier than the current one. And of course you've got "Desperate Housewives", where they glorify these women who are having affairs with various hunks. And the kids love it. My junior high students think that shows like these are great. It's so sad.

Hansadutta: We can't change anything. This is Kali Yuga, the age of quarreling, hypocrisy and degradation. The more you resign yourself, the more you let it all go, the happier you feel. The same energy you would have expended combatting all of this you can apply to Krishna. Only a person who has accepted Krishna can do that. Unless a person accepts Krishna's proposal to go back to home, back to Godhead, they can't be peaceful.

In every field, everyone wants to be loved, adored, honored, admired and glorified. As long as that aspiration remains, they can't be happy, because actually no one cares about anyone else; everyone is simply self-absorbed, in their own agenda. No one cares about anyone but themselves, and unfortunately, that too is mistaken, because they take that self to be the body, not the soul. And if they see something in you that can augment their bodily or mental enjoyment, then there will be some feigned relationship of love, friendship and society. But it's always pretentious, selfish. Unless we actually have embraced Krishna and accepted the goal, then we can't help but be drawn into these shallow, pretentious, mundane relationships. We can't help it. "Oh, I love you so much, you are so wonderful." Then it turns into hate—"I hate you." In the west, that apex of that false, material love was illustrated in the story of Romeo and Juliet. The culmination of their attraction was suicide, because they could not get any satisfaction. They wanted to love each other, but everyone frustrated them, because the families were in conflict. They loved their families too, so they couldn't reconcile the conflict, and they committed suicide—an attempt to become zero. That's Buddhism—to be zero.

Jim: Did you know that the modern clinical definition of falling in love is temporary insanity? They acknowledge that.

Hansadutta: It's actually permanent. [Laughter] The only relief we get from the oppression of material life is when we accept the fact that we are actually not obliged to participate. But it's our choice. It's like when your neighbor's house burns down, it doesn't bother you. Why? Because you're not attached to that house. You're attached to your house. We are attached to participating in this social environment with friends and family, and so long as that remains, this anguish will come at regular intervals. To the degree that we embrace our real life of devotional service to Krishna, then we'll realize, "Oh, there is really nothing to be done here. I have to become self-realized, and prepare myself to give up this present material body, so that I can make progress on the journey back to Godhead." These are the only two alternatives: one to try your best and make everyone happy, the other one is to throw up your hands and resign yourself to be Krishna Conscious. It shouldn't be sentimental like a born-again Christian; it should be based on detachment and knowledge. We have to actually know things as they are. It's a question of being educated and trained. There has to be clear understanding and detachment, to be actually detached. That's very difficult in America, because there is no environment where people can live and be supported spiritually. You live here, Jackie is over there, and I'm someplace else... like that. But at least we should know that this is the aim, this is the direction, so that when things become intense, we can take shelter in that understanding. Krishna. Hare Krishna.


Hansadutta das
Rittvik Representative of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Trustee, BHAKTIVEDANTA BOOK TRUST
WORLD SANKIRTAN PARTY


Enough School Already—I'm Ready to Learn Something Useful/ WORLD SANKIRTAN PARTY
©2004-Hansadutta das
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