By Dr.P.K.Sabu

Narayana Guru

About Dr.P.K.Sabu

Dr.P.K.Sabu / Narayana Guru

Dr.P.K.Sabu is a retired Professor of Geology, College of Engineering, Trivandrum, Govt. of Kerala. He has authored a popular science book 'Nanotechnology' in Malayalam. Dr.Sabu is involved in publishing numerous articles on Narayana Guru and translating the 'Psychology of Darsanamala', an elaborate commentary on 'Darsanamala' (Narayana Guru's philosophical work in Sanskrit by Guru Nitya Chaitanya Yati), based on lectures given in University of California.

Sree Narayana Guru

Education, Culture and the Philosophy of Oneness

Destiny of a nation is determined by the cultural and value-based life of its members. There are signs of a tendency whereby lifestyle and value system of the youth revolve around superficial pleasures. Also there are indications that the trend of corruption, nepotism and antisocial activities are also not much decreasing in public life. A reversal of this trend is possible by modifying the educational system, bringing in a balance between the material and non-material aspects of life. Narayana Guru, through his life and teachings demonstrated that a blending of ancient wisdom and modern technology can bring about balanced human development. In other words it is the application of the notion of "oneness" in the realm of education.

Sree Narayana Guru

Culture and Samskara

In Indian philosophy, the nearest word to culture is "samskara", and samskara is to be distinguished from mere instincts. The term roughly corresponding to the hereditary factor of instincts is vasanas. According to geneticists, we carry many hereditary factors in our chromosomes which form the blueprint of our lives. In Sanskrit these are called vasanas; the concept of vasana is more complex than the geneticist's version. Vasanas are the essences of consolidated memories, called samskaras. A samskara is a processed or cultured impression that remains within a person for the rest of the life. When an experience is received by the sense organs, and the quality of that experience is condensed and kept in the system as a memory bit, these are called samskaras. Samskara in Sanskrit means cultured, and something is cultured within an individual - a raw experience is made into a culture and stored. Whatever has come to the individual's life as a hereditary factor are the vasanas and samskara is added to it in the present. The samskara in its turn will some day become vasana when passed over to the next generation.

When anything happens in life by way of an experience, it leaves an impression. The impression registers its impact on the mind and can be recalled afterwards. The very fact that it can be recalled shows that it is already recorded there. Whatever impressions are coming to the present life are known as samskaras. Indian psychologists also believe that samskaras can be further processed and consolidated to change them from a subtle to causal state. A gross experience is first processed to become part of our causal or seed consciousness. Samskaras condition individuals , by gradually changing the shape of their individual landscape.

In verse 76 of Atmopadesasatakam, Narayana Guru presents the process of enculturation in a beautiful, metaphorical way:

As countless grains of sand ceaselessly blown onto
the surface of a pond generate ripple after ripple,
by untruths successively blown,
the inner self is transformed from within into various forms.

Nitya Chaitanya Yati1 comments on this verse : "You have to consider this analogy as representing the events in your daily life... Your world is full of horizontal winds that affect your equanimity: the actions of people and what they say about you, natural events and disasters, good and bad news, radios, television and all manner of public media. There is more than enough to disturb you, wherever you are. This is all the sand blown in to bring chaos to the serene surface of your personal pond.

If it were only a surface phenomenon, you could say it was essentially harmless, but there is more to it than that. Whatever has caused the disturbance settles in to clog up the water. After blowing horizontally, the sand falls vertically down into the very depths of your life. First it affects your surface consciousness, then the water where your thoughts, ideas and emotions are, and then it sinks to the very bottom. The bottom is what has already been formed in you as your samskaras or the reactions through which you have built up your personality traits, innate dispositions and consolidated memory. Though it is invisible, this terrain of the very bottom is affected from moment to moment by the detritus that sifts down from our conscious experience. You can never remain precisely the same."

Sree Narayana Guru

The Transition from Culture to Techno-culture

The term 'techno-culture' is used to refer to constructions of culture that incorporate technological aspects. Even though 'techno-culture' is used to mean 'all technologies created through human culture', it is more often reserved exclusively for 'tools of mediated communication through which cultural material is created and circulated'. Thus, fridges, cars or electricity would not be considered to be techno-cultural, but written language, phones, books, films, TV and the Internet would be. Technologies affect processes and techno-cultural tools affect perception, increased engagement in techno-culture creates new patterns of behaviour in modern educational institutions, with life being articulated around technology and culture. This pattern is gradually spreading to society and there is the possibility of the culture of the entire nation being modified in tune with this.

'Technoculture' of the youngsters is largely influenced by the Internet, which is not a virtual culture but a 'real culture operating in virtual space'. There is an argument that "...late twentieth century machines have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and artificial, mind and body, self developing and externally designed and many other distinctions that used to apply to organisms and machines".2

The screen at the edge of cyberspace - the point at which the hardware, the software and the individual interact also screens the individual from the content of cyberspace, and from its other users. This is, arguably, the specific cyborg juncture for everyday twenty-first century life. Here the emotion, the psychology and the culture of humans (as organisms) are translated into digital cyber communication for the construction of culture and understanding through interactivity in a virtual, not material, domain.3

The change in the concept of technology and the basic motive of business studies are also imposing an enculturation on the students of these disciplines. Technology was earlier meant for the 'benefit of human beings'. Of late it is redefined as for 'any desired purpose'. The impact of this omission of the human touch from technology also can be cited as a reason for accelerating the rate of cultural degradation.

Sree Narayana Guru

Establishing purpose and meaning of life

Since culture or samskara can by 'cultured', education can play a major role in shaping the attitude of the youth by giving deeper insight into the meaning of life. Since actions or karma come from the deep impressions or seed habit (samskara), actions can be modified by redefining samskara. The superstructure of modern education is built on the foundation of educational theories, which give importance to pragmatism alone, and any step to check the cultural degradation has to begin by redefining the basic philosophy of education. Once such a philosophy is established, practical measures can be chalked out to implement it.

A distinction has to be made between pleasures of a superficial nature and real happiness. In the absence of proper guidance or education to distinguish between these two aspects, it is quite natural that the youth may be misguided and pleasures may be mistaken as happiness. Thus the first step to find the crux of cultural degradation is to find the factors that determine the purpose and meaning of life. In Atmopadesasatakam4, his most prominent philosophical work in Malayalam, Narayana Guru shows the master motive of life as:

Every man at every time makes effort in every way
Aiming at his Self-happiness; therefore in this world
Know faith as one; understand thus,
Shunning evil, the inner Self into calmness merge.

Here the generalization is made that happiness of the Self is the master motive regulating human conduct everywhere in the world. In other words, Happiness refers to a supreme human value in whose light all other motives are only secondary considerations.

Based on this realization, Narayana Guru has also given the very basics of social ethics. Another verse5 of the same work states:

What here we here view as this man or that
Reflection reveals to be the Self's prime form;
That conduct adopted for ones Self-happiness
Another's happiness must also secure at once.

This is a guidance to become a fully developed person and such a development makes one not only a brother to all fellow humans, but also in kinship with all of existence.

The modern education system, as an offshoot of contemporary economic policies, gives the impression that the only meaningful aspect of human life is economic considerations. It also fails to identify the deeper philosophical aspects of happiness and places material goods as the source of happiness, which in reality is only comforts and at the most may serve the purpose of a means to blossom the inner bulb of happiness.

Sree Narayana Guru

Defining Swadharma

The goal of ancient Indian education was to establish 'swadharma' and give guidance to individuals to live according to ones swadharma. Even though this system of education did not penetrate in to a mass education programme, a treasure of philosophical literature is available to ponder over and redefine to cater the needs of modern world. For example, the Bhagavta Gita clarifies the concept of swadharma as:

Sreyan svadharmo vigunah para-dharmat svanusthitat
Svadharme nidhanam sreyah para-dharmo bhayavahah

(Better is it to be engaged in activities that conform to one's own inner nature even when ill-done, than to be engaged in activities not proper to oneself, though well done. Even if resulting in death, to be engaged in activities proper to oneself is much better; applying oneself to activities improper to oneself is frightful)

In his commentary, Muni Narayana Prasad6 links this verse to an 'eco-friendly' system of education: "We have to decide how we are to live as ourselves as part of the cosmic form. Adopting a way of life and action which fits one's natural temperament is 'swadharma', and this transforms one's life into the happiness of realizing oneself. Resorting to a pattern of life foreign to one's nature, known as 'paradharma', is disastrous and fearsome. Doing one's swadharma, in effect, is to realize oneness with the cosmic form.

Our life is like a rolling wheel of nature (prakriti). We are miniscule outgrowths that emerge from and re-merge in to this wheel, lasting a short while at some point in that boundless wheel, yet each one has a place and a role to play in the rolling. What is the place and this role, we have to find out on our own. It will vary in accordance with our inner nature and disposition and we must seek it out so as to live accordingly. The way of life as well as the vocation we choose should give full expression to our role in this context, and the proper goal of any well-conceived educative process should be to make this possible. When we are thus engaged in activities attuned to inner propensities, at the same time seeing ourselves to be one with prakriti, then each of us could be considered to be in ones own 'swadharma'. A man is true to his swadharma when he does not willfully and abruptly break away from his own previous nature and nurture. In needs and capacity, each man is unique and this unique specific quality is to be respected. An artificial role that a man might play, if incompatible with his own background, would be fraught with danger.

The source of happiness is also metaphorically illustrated in verse 75 of Atmopadesasatakam. A free translation of this verse7 is: "It is as if we are in an ocean of consciousness. Nature can be equated with water. The Self is the ocean, while the body is like the foam. What constantly arise as 'I','I', are the waves. The flowerings of knowledge in the mind are pearls. What each person enjoys is the nectar of immortal bliss.

Today the selection of a particular course of study is purely on the basis of career prospects, and most often that too is decided by parents and no consideration is given to see whether this choice conforms with the 'swadharma' of the student. Engaging in paradharma i.e. in a course of study which is totally alien to the inner make up of a person will lead to frustration.

Sree Narayana Guru

The Model of Narayana Guru

With his life and teachings, Narayana Guru has set a model by proving that ancient wisdom and modern pragmatism can be harmoniously blended to educate the masses. This blending has acted as a fulcrum in bringing about revolutionary changes in Kerala, what is referred to as 'an enigma of green Kerala'.

Narayana Guru has not written any specific work on educational philosophy, but his life and teachings offer clear proof of what his educational philosophy was. The two schools founded by him, the Sanskrit school at Aluva in central Kerala and the English school at Varkala in south Kerala , show the perfect manifestation of his philosophy where mind and matter find a neutral meeting point. He was an idolater and iconoclast at the same time. It is clear to see, from the historical set up of Kerala, that Narayana Guru's consecration of temples was also a means to educate people. The hymns written at the time of consecration of many temples are meant to impart a philosophical base even when worshipping idols. Even though the consecration was to cater to the local needs, the messages were of universal nature. There are plenty of occasions where Guru gave messages asking people specifically to give importance to education and asking rich people to help poor students in this regard; even the annual pilgrimage was treated as an occasion to give education to the masses. Even before the submission of 'Wardha Project' under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, which is considered as the first report in India stressing the need of technical education, Narayana Guru had initiated the setting up of the 'Sivagiri Free Industrial And Agricultural Gurukula' in his ashram. Technical and cultural education was blended in the typical manifestation of the Guru's philosophy of treating the 'personal factor' at the core of human life.

All the philosophical works of Narayana Guru contain subtexts to develop an effective educational theory; verses 36 to 42 of Atmopadesasatakam require special mention. Doctoral degrees are awarded based on the works of the Guru from a range of faculties like Education, Philosophy, Psychology, Literature and Sociology from many universities of India and abroad, including the Sorbonne and Stanford. The World Education Manifesto, authored by Nataraja Guru details how Narayana Guru's idea of oneness may be applied in the field of education.

This educational philosophy is developed around what is described as the 'personal factor' based on verses 36 to 42 of Atmopadesasatakam. Free translations8 of these verses read:

Verse 36. Innumerable are the powers of knowledge. They can be mainly categorized as two: 'sameness' and 'the other'. One should awaken to the clarity of vision in which all forms of 'otherness', merge and become one with 'sameness'.

Verse 37. It is hard to win over the obduracy of 'the other' without having achieved a vivid vision which leaves nothing outside of it. By conquering the power of the indistinctiveness of 'this', which forces consciousness to split in to specificity, one should gain the wisdom of integral unity. That alone will gain one access to pure wisdom, which leaves no room either to objectivise or to have the agency of a subject.

Verse 38. What is known distinctively as separate and specific entities is the 'other'. What shines forth as the indivisible whole is 'sameness'. This is going to be elucidated hereafter. Having known these states, verticalise knowledge and learn the art of unifying consciousness in the exclusivity of 'sameness'.

Verse 39. Moreover, of these two powers, 'sameness' is unitive while 'the other' pertains to that which is never exhausted of its indistinctness and begs for clarification. They are of two separate kinds.

Verse 40. Their specific powers alternate between synthesis and analysis. Even though the contexts of operation are innumerable, the dual functions of the assumption of the agency of the subject and the knowledge of the object belong entirely to these two entities.

Verse 41. When one says, "This is a pot", what comes first as 'this' is difficult to discern, while pot is its qualifying attribute. When the endless sense-oriented cogitations proliferate, one should bear in mind that the indicative pronoun 'this' is the fountainhead.

Verse 42. When one says, "This is knowledge", what comes first as 'this' is the unifying sameness, its distinguishing attribute is 'awareness'. For all mental functions like discursive cogitation to cease, and to gain liberation, one should contemplate on 'this', which inheres in the universal identity.

The 'personal factor' is here represented graphically9 with the help of two axes cutting at right angles (Fig.1). The horizontal axis represents the quantitative aspects of life and the vertical axis, the qualitative aspects. The progress of human life is through the intersection of both the aspects. Both the qualitative and quantitative aspects are given due consideration in the educational philosophy derived from the analyses of the above verses.

Further, four states are identified in the innermost aspects of the personal factor. Each of these aspects refers to four aspects of consciousness representing the four states of waking, day-dreaming, sleeping and general awareness which come within the common experience of all. A pictorial representation of all these states is shown in figure 2. Nataraja Guru labels these four aspects as 'overt-objective of the waking state', 'virtual-objective of the day dreaming state', 'the bright, blissfulness of deep sleep' and 'the pure awareness of the deepest stratum of the consciousness', which permeates all others. He writes " ...As the greater part of the iceberg is under water, the self which is hidden below the stimulus-response aspect, is quantitatively as well as qualitatively, by far the more important aspect of the personality. To give the three other aspects their place in education is what this Manifesto particularly insists upon".

It may be seen that with the stress on the 'objective' aspects, modern education is overemphasizing state 1 alone. Human life is controlled by the other aspects too and Narayana Guru gave importance to the other three states also.

Sree Narayana Guru
Personal Factor / Rhythmic Alternation
Sree Narayana Guru
Personal Factor / Innermost Aspects
Sree Narayana Guru

The East-West University Experiment

Whereas most people see this world as one of variegated forms, multiple functions and endless strife, Narayana Guru saw it as one reality which he equated to a garland of freshly gathered flowers of the finest choice, strung on the invisible thread of an irrefutable existence which is identical with its own self-revealing awareness and the blissful verity of all items of value that characterize the love for life seen in all sentient beings. The Guru's vision is epitomized in the maxim, "Man is of one kind, one faith and one God." To give a living expression to this vision he conceived the idea of a wisdom school, Brahmavidya Mandiram (Brahmavidya means Science of the Absolute). The realization of this dream became an accomplished fact in 1963 when his disciple Nataraja Guru founded the Brahmavidya Mandiram in Varkala, Kerala.

Based on this philosophy of oneness of Narayana Guru, later, the concept of an 'East-West University' has been developed and the Brahmavidya Mandiram10 has been expanded accordingly as an informal educational organ under the aegis of the Narayana Gurukula. The outlook of this institution is given in the prospectus of The East-West University: "The geography and climate of the western world created a sense of urgency and caution, and people had to generate all sorts of devices to make life secure. The result was an attitude of conquest, aggressive defence and sharp competition. In the tropical East, both geography and climate favoured people to have a far easier life because there was no need to protect themselves from harsh wintry nights. The insecurity that threatened life in India was not the external climate or a conquering enemy, but inner vices like greed or lust, attachment or hatred and the ever- haunting ignorance called avidya. The best of its contemplative sources came from the South, the North being comparatively aggressive. In China and Japan, we can see a happy blend of the contemplative and pragmatic outlooks of life. While it was possible for the Chinese and Japanese people to soar high into contemplative sublimities, the northern harshness of climate, the flooding rivers of China, and the quaking islands of Japan kept the people of those regions always alert. The result was the emergence of a people of great industry and realism who are equally sensitive to the finest shades of sensibility in creativeness.

The original design of the world has been altered. It is now equipped with devices that make climatic and geographic conditions mostly irrelevant. A constant flow of people from East to West and West to East has broken most of the age-old barriers of exclusiveness. There is an ever-increasing search to know and to probe deep into the fountain source of traditions which were hitherto treated as alien or exotic. As a result a situation has now arisen in which everybody can even adopt everybody else's culture or heritage, at least in principle, even if it is hard to make a full identification.

It is great to sink deep into ones own grass-roots heritage and to know its secret promises and hidden sources of never failing inspiration, but that should not bar our natural privilege to know and share the beauty and richness of all other heritages. The East-West University is conceived as a forum for this friendly exchange, and also as the conscience of mankind to ward off tendencies that are likely to blindfold man's universal vision or mar the dignity of homo sapiens."

Following the scheme outlined in Fig.2, the East-West University of Brahmavidya gives importance to all four quarters of the individual psyche. The first quarter represents the transactional function of the mind. However, interesting and complicated this transactional world is, all these belong to the first quarter. It is in the second quarter of consciousness that one abundantly lives ones love and hate, hope and fear, clarity and confusion, resolution and indecisiveness. It is presumed that the psyche has even a third quarter, which functions as a hidden reservoir of all sorts of urges and compulsions that can be either healthy or pathological. Wise men like Narayana Guru give various evidences of the fourth and final quarter, which is called the transcendental.

Sree Narayana Guru


Brahmavidya or the Science of the Absolute and its difference from modern education can be summarized as "The studies that are undertaken by academics are mostly confined to one or the other of the first three quarters. A holistic pursuit of wisdom can only be undertaken by resorting to a unitive and integral synthesis of the transactional, the subjective, the causal and the transcendental approaches to life, with a view of enriching our understanding to the extent that our approximation will tend to make our horizon grow wider and wider so that we can progressively move on from satisfaction. Such is our concept of Brahmavidya, the Science of the Absolute."11

In the realm of formal education this concept of 'Universal outlook', giving a balance between modern developmental concepts and cultural values , can be introduced by incorporating a module on 'Philosophy of Life' in the curriculum of all undergraduate courses, including professional courses. We need a text book for this purpose which does not lean towards any particular religion or school of thought. Narayana Guru's philosophy of oneness offers us the guidance for such a task of far reaching positive consequences.

Sree Narayana Guru


1. Nitya Chaitanya Yati (2003), That Alone, the Core of Wisdom; DK Printworld, New Delhi.

2. Haraway, D (1991), Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, Routledge, New York.

3. Lelia Green(2007), Technoculture, Allen & Unwin, Australia.

4. Narayana Guru (1969), Atmopadesasatakam, (translated with commentary by Nataraja Guru), Gurukula Publishing House (verse 49).

5. Ibid, Verse 24.

6. Muni Narayana Prasad, (2005), Life's Pilgrimage Through the Gita, DK Printworld, New Delhi. Verse III-35.

7. Nitya Chaitanya Yati, (2003), That Alone, The Core of Wisdom, DK Printworld, New Delhi.

8. Ibid, Verses 36 - 42.

9. Nataraja Guru (1996), Experiencing One World, DK Printworld, New Delhi.

10. East-West University of Brahmavidya Prospectus,Varkala, Kerala.

11. ibid.

Sree Narayana Guru

This article is a modified version of a paper, with a different title, presented at IIAS (Indian Institute of Advanced Study), Shimla in a Guru related seminar during 2011. This was published in Vol-III, Issue No.II of 'Oneness', SNGCC Shillong.

Note: Contact the author through phone no: +91 94478 63335 or email to Dr.P.K.Sabu (

Sree Narayana Guru