The method and process by which knowledge is traditionally acquired by a disciple from a teacher is called education. This knowledge or vidyahas been classified into two types: apara-vidya and para-vidya — lower and higher knowledge. This division, however, does not imply superiority or inferiority of knowledge, but is a way of denoting its objective and subjective contents. Apara-vidya is knowledge of the objective universe, whereas para-vidya is knowledge of the Subject — the Knower, not as an agent of the process of knowing but as the Eternal Subject, the veritable embodiment of knowledge as Awareness or Consciousness.
Materialistic sciences cultivated in the West concern themselves with the objective reality, that which is perceived, seen, and experienced. Spiritual science, called the ‘Science of all Sciences’ (sarva-vidyapratishtha) in the Upanishads, cultivated in the East, deals with the subjective reality, which is the Perceiver, the Seer, the Experiencer. The former, the objective reality, is known as the kshetra, the field of knowledge. The latter, the Subject, is called the kshetrajna, the Knower of this field. The knowledge of the kshetra is apara-vidya, and the realisation of the Knower, the Self, the Atman, is para-vidya.
The Orient has cultivated the science of para-vidya, while the Occident, the science of apara-vidya. Now comes the grand question, viz. is it possible to combine these two ideals and create a new order of civilisation in which the best elements of both worlds, spiritual idealism and materialistic practicality, Eastern religion and Western science, inner realisation and outer perception, are harmoniously blended “for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many” — bahujana hitaya bahujana sukhaya?
Swami Vivekananda, perhaps for the first time in the history of humankind, propounded a grand synthesis of the two ideals. And like the GUT (Grand Unification Theory) of modern physics, Swamiji believed this unification scheme, this harmonising and mingling of the two ideals, would usher in a new world order. This is, in fact, an echo of the message in the Gita: Ksetraksetrajnayorjnanam yattajjnanammatam mama, “In My [Lord Krishna’s] view, that is real knowledge which combines the knowledge of both the outer (objective) and the inner (subjective) realities.”
Swamiji’s scheme of education should be understood in the light of his vision of a new world order as mentioned above. Through the lever of education he wanted to create a band of men and women who would combine in their lives the spiritual idealism of the East and the material practicality of the West. “Can you become an occidental of occidentals in your spirit of equality, freedom, work and energy, and at the same time a Hindu to the very backbone in religious culture and instinct?” Swamiji asked. And he answered: “This is to be done, and we will do it. You are all born to do it.”
Swamiji’s aim in starting various educational institutions to teach the so-called secular subjects like modern sciences, technology, vocational-oriented sciences, arts, English, etc. on the one hand, and the so-called spiritual subjects like the ancient Upanishads, Sanskrit, Vedic literature, etc. on the other, was to create a complete human being, all-round and fully developed in the three ‘h’s — heart, head, and hand.
It is in this light that his statement that the Ramakrishna Mission and Math would ultimately blossom into a full-fledged university is to be understood. The entire history of the Ramakrishna Mission’s educational endeavour should be studied and comprehended against this vision of Swamiji.