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What our Country needs today: Commencement Lecture

What our Country needs today Commencement lecture Delivered at Narula Institute of Technology, Agarpara, Kolkata on th 8 August 2013 Good afternoon, dear students. Today, I will be speaking to you on the topic Education & Character. That will be the topic of my commencement lecture to this batch of fresh engineers at NIT. I was informed by your Principal that you all have just cleared the Higher Secondary Exam & the Joint Entrance, and have obtained admission here. I welcome you to the interesting world of Engineering. I place a condition before I speak. I need your undivided attention when I am speaking from the Dias. I will not brook any talking amongst yourselves. Good. Let me start by asking the question What is Education? You may say that that th ere is actually no need to define the obvious. You may say that you all know very well what education is, for, otherwise, why would you have got admitted into this Engineering College! Well, I must tell you things arent as simple as they seem. I agree that you all have a good, working idea of what constitutes education. But allow me to tell you an incident that occurred sometime back in my College, Ramakrishna Mission Shilpamandira. You all know that I too have some bright young students pursuing a Diploma in engineering there. I was speaking to them one day. I gave them an interesting exercise. You all must have seen that on the way to Salt Lake from Airport, there is a flyover that has collapsed. I asked the students to analyse why that portion of the new flyover had collapsed. Just think about it. The Howrah Bridge, which must atleast 80 years old, is still strong & sturdy, while this flyover, built just the other day has already collapsed! It calls for some serious analysis. Well, answers started pouring in. Some said there was some problem in the design; some others said that there must have been blunders in the materials procurements section; yet others said that the execution team must have committed some blatant errors, so on and so forth. A few students said that there was something seriously wrong with the personality of the men involved in the team that constructed this flyover! Now, that is a novel answer. And the students themselves came up with this view. I was very happy. Yes, that is true. All the people involved with such a prestigious project must have been excellent engineers with excellent track records in their exams. Or else, they would not have got the jobs that they were doing in the Govt or in the Corporate companies that built that flyover. Yet, the flyover collapsed! There was something wrong, not with their engineering knowledge, but with their integrity as human beings! Now, nobody in this college, or in any other college, is ever going to teach you anything about integrity or stuff like that. Where will you learn this aspect becoming a good person? And who will teach you? These are vital questions. I will answer them presently. But one thing is clear from this discussion. Education is not just what you are going to get here. What this college will provide you with is just one part of education, the academic part of education. There is another, very important, part of education too. And that is called Value-Education today by people who for various reasons dont wish to use the words Morality or Ethics or Character. Swami Vivekananda used to call this vital part of Education as Character-Building and Man-making education.

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What our Country needs today: Commencement Lecture

How important is character in our life? Isnt it sufficient today if I have enough academic knowledge? Moreover, when there is so much corruption all around us, who will be really searching for people who are honest for recruiting? Mere academic knowledge is not sufficient for living in this world. It never was, it never will be. Even if we accept that there is a lot of corruption all around us, Govt agencies and the Corporate world seeks for young men with a good moral streak when they want to hire. Do you know the psychology behind this? You see, even the most hardened liar wants an honest man as his assistant! Even a confirmed rogue wants an honest, moral man for his assistant. They may lie & steal. But they dont want an assistant who will lie to them or rob from them! So, no matter what the moral condition of the society is, there is always a necessity of good character. Now the other questions where will you learn about character-building & who will teach you? These things cant be taught in colleges today, in India, you know. In fact, I cant teach these in my own college to my own students! If I start teaching something about morality and stuff like that, there is every possibility that students will directly ask me to stick to the syllabus! Such are the times we are living in! If I say that you may approach some Hindu monks or Christian fathers to learn this, well...what shall I say! The newspapers & TV keep on highlighting the faults & weaknesses of some of these so-called holy men so loudly, that you will all end up thinking that most monks & fathers are of that type. You will have lost all faith in such persons, persons most ideally suited for that type of education, that their words would make no effect on you at all! If I say, learn those things from your parents, well again...who listens to parents these days! If parents advise you not to do something, that happens to be the cue to do that very thing. In fact this adolescent age that you all are passing through is characterised by this quality rebellion & anti-authoritarianism. Anyway, all said and done, whose responsibility is it to train you young people in matters of character & morality? Parents blame teachers and teachers blame parents and both sometimes join hands and squarely blame society & the media! In the meantime, the students are going to dogs! I guess that was too subtle for you all. That means you are getting lost! So, while we elders fight it out as to whose fault it all has been or whose responsibility it is to be doing something worthwhile for you all, why dont you do something about developing yourself? After all, its your life. You oug ht to do something about it. I, in fact, insist that its your prerogative to do something about yourself. Todays world has opened up everything. Everything is free on that most wonderful of human inventions the Internet. I really cant understand why you cannot find something even remotely uplifting and elevating there for yourself. You know, in todays world, you really cant blame us elders anymore. Some blessed fellow made everything good & bad freely accessible to everyone. Go ahead. Find something there that is useful for you. And get busy developing those aspects of yourself that we teachers cannot be bothered with. If any of you care, I may offer you one piece of advice. Go read Swami Vivekananda. Why do I say this? Well, for one thing, I personally benefitted enormously from him. You all have heard his name. But, have you read him? Well, have you? Its a shame if you havent. Firstly because he is the greatest man this land of Bengal has produced till date. As a young man or young woman from this land, the least you can do is study him. Secondly, he was seriously interested in the welfare of our country. Do you know my most considered opinion? I hold that the most important job we have as engineers is to think about our countrys development. What do I mean? You see, I hold that the only people who contribute solidly towards our national growth are farmers and engineers. The rest are just dabbling in service activities or peddling goods around that we produce. Well, let me not digress. I will mention only one statement this great Swami once said about our country. I wish all of you learn this statement by heart. He once said, Do you know what our country needs today? What we want is western science coupled with Vedanta, Brahmacharya as the guiding motto, and Shraddha & also faith in oneself.

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What our Country needs today: Commencement Lecture

Let me try to explain this statement to you a little so that you can appreciate this mans genius. Western Science, we already have sufficiently. Your lecturers will be giving enormous loads of western science during your four years stay here. In fact, they will be giving so much of it that in some cases, indigestion occurs and some students end up with back papers too! So, western science is there. Swami Vivekananda says, along with western science we need Vedanta too. What is Vedanta? And who will give it to us? And where? Vedanta is a huge field. A detailed study will require atleast a decade of intense effort. Let me tell you the gist of Vedanta. Vedanta means a conviction of I can do it. If you ask p eople who are experts in Vedanta to explain it to you, they will be using words like spirit, and Atman, and Brahman, and Satchidananda. But I assure you, Vedanta in essence means just this I can do it. There is a detailed science behind arriving at this conclusion. I need not take you through it all in this short class that I have for you today; maybe some other time, some other place. Just know this much Vedanta means I can do it; I can achieve it. You may ask I can do what; I can achieve what? Well, there are no predicates that Vedanta prescribes. You need to decide on that. Whatever you decide to do, Vedanta assures you, you can do it. Whatever you decide to achieve, Vedanta assures you, you can achieve it. The next word is Brahmacharya, a word that conjures up all sorts of confusion in the minds of the listeners. It generally brings with it ideas of a Diksha ritual, a celibate monastic life like the one I lead, and basically calls for killing all the joy that this world has just recently opened up for you all! Brahmacharya has come to be a euphemism for Killjoy. That is unfortunate. Brahmacharya actually means a focussed life. You keep your mind focussed on what you want to achieve, on your goal. You fix a goal for your life. Then you organise your entire daily life in such a way that you will inch towards your goal on a daily basis. All this comprises Brahmacharya. Do you realise that we are often at a loss when it comes to fixing a goal for ourselves? Even if we listen to someone say something that seems correct and logical, something inside us refuses to believe it. We ridicule everything. We make fun of everything. That is due to the lack of Shraddha. Swami Vivekananda used to thunder, Give up this awful disease that is creeping into our national blood, that idea of ridiculing everything, that loss of seriousness. Give that up. What happens if we supply these ingredients western science, Vedanta, Brahmacharya & Shraddha? Swami Vivekananda contends that this will produce a marvellous personality in you and you will be able to make some genuine contributions to your country. This is something you could atleast experiment with in your own life. It would be really adventurous to do so. I will give you just one small piece of advice to start you on your adventurous journey of building your character. There are tons & tons of advice on this issue. I will give you just one piece of advice. Just one. Start with that. And that advice is Do only one thing at a time. This may seem too simplistic. You may be thinking to yourselves: We are such great persons, we have passed Higher Secondary with such fine marks, we have obtained such good ranks in Joint Entrance Exam, and here you are giving us such a simple, paltry advice! We should have been given something much better, much more difficult, say, some advanced meditation or stuff like that! But, believe me; I have given you an advice, which, if you try to work it out, will take you at least a couple of years to achieve! I know that when you all sit down to solve some numerical problems, or sit down to write some laboratory practical record book or some such academic activity, most of you listen to music on your phone or iPods. Dont you? Yes, you do. I hold that this is a most dangerous habit. It is degenerative. Finish the homework, and then sit and listen to as much music as you want, or vice-versa. Never do both at the same time. The present world has got some fundamental things all wrong, I tell you. There is too
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What our Country needs today: Commencement Lecture

much hype today about multi-tasking, doing many things simultaneously. Believe me, it is just a lot of hot air. You will remember that as soon as I started to speak, I said that I wanted pin-drop silence in this room. I demand single-minded attention from you all. I cannot stand it if you talk amongst yourselves when I am speaking here. As we progress with this habit, I start insisting that you should not shake your leg, or even that you should not scratch that itch on your nose-bridge, as I speak in the class. For, that sort of seemingly harmless activity is still, nevertheless, eating my share of your attention. Imagine for a moment the extreme silence of a mind that has such a single-minded attention! Let me tell you a story from the Mahabharata. You have all heard that Dronacharyas favourite disciple was Arjuna. Many couldnt understand why Drona favoured Arjuna as the best. One day he planned to demonstrate to his critics why he believed so. Arjuna was asked to shoot at a target. The target was a wooden bird kept on a tree branch. Arjuna took some time for aiming. A few minutes after Arjuna started, Drona asked him what he saw. Arjuna replied that he saw only the bird and nothing else. After some more time, Drona asked him what he saw now. Arjuna replied that he now saw only the head of the bird and nothing else. After still some more time, Drona again asked him what he saw and Arjuna replied that he was able to see only the black pupil of the birds eye and nothing else! We are all capable of fine-tuning our attention to this level. So, we discussed about Education, about character, about one particular statement made by Swami Vivekananda. Then I gave you one piece of valuable advice on how to start building a good character. I shall end my lecture now and welcome any questions you may have for me. I pray to our Lord that you may all have a most meaningful learning experience here at NIT. Thank you.

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