5.2 History of Education: What relationship existed between Hinduism and education in ancient India?

Chapter 5


5a ii). Examine the relationship between Hinduism and education in ancient India

Hinduism and Education

Hinduism is one of the leading religions of the world, in terms of the number of its followers scattered all over the world.   The religion has   three main gods:

  • Brahma, the creator, or lord of the universe
  • Vishnu, the preserver of the universe, and
  • Siva, the

Teachings about, these gods are contained in the    Upanishads.

Hinduism is a complex and eclectic religion, combining several ideas, and being polytheistic in worship and action, but monotheistic in theory.

According to Hinduism, salvation means ascending from the sinful materialistic world into god, Brahma. Accordingly, the main aim of education is to enable one to be free from earthly desire.

The language of Hindu learning and scriptures is called Sanskrit. The Vedas contain Ancient Hindu religious teachings, which include hymns, chants and rituals. The Vedas are the holy texts. They clearly show that Indian society was stratified into a rigid caste system, which prescribes the duties of each caste. The castes included:

  • The Brahmans – the intellectuals, rulers, teachers and
  • The Kshatriyas – warlords, warriors and administrators
  • The Vaisyas – farmers, herders, money-handlers and
  • The Sudras – menial servants and serfs of the first three classes. Members of each caste had their own duties, responsibilities and

privileges. The caste system was thus a social and religious stratification and was central to the operation of Hinduism.  The caste system allowed no mobility between the classes and no equality of opportunity, even in education. The Sudras and women hardly received any education.

Those cast out of their classes for non-adherence to the rigid stipulations were referred to as Pariahs. These were casteless and had no rights or privileges.

Note:   Once again we have come across the unequal nature of another ancient civilization in regard to educational opportunities. The denial of education or limited access to it to women and those of low-socioeconomic status would appear to be deeply rooted in history.

Question:   What were the major aims of Hindu education?

Activity: Using this text, compare the relative equity of educational opportunity given to the various gender and social classes in ancient societies.

Buddhism and Education

Buddhism developed as a major religion from about 500 B.C. due to the following factors:

  • The emergence of an alternative civilization centered on the Ganges River Valley.
  • The new civilization rendered Hinduism inadequate for the rich, independent-minded and urbanized

By 200 B.C., Buddhism had spread from the Indian Peninsula to other parts of Asia.

The founder of Buddhism was Gautama Siddharta (563 B.C – 489 B.C), popularly known as the “Buddha” or the “Enlightened One” by his followers. Born in Nepal to the northeast of India, the Buddha became disillusioned with his aristocratic lifestyle and left his family to lead an ascetic life of meditation through Yoga. Six years later, at 35 years of age, he received a revelation on the right path in life. This major motivation for adopting an ascetic life was to understand why suffering existed in the world. In the revelation, the Buddha is said to have seen the past, the present and the future, and found the cause of suffering to be desire. The right or noble path revealed to him consisted of eight steps, namely:

The right views, right aspirations, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right contemplation. The Buddha emphasized that one’s success in following the right path during his present life is determined by his/her behaviour in preceding lives, or the law of Karma which determined ones order of reincarnations.

The ultimate aim in following the right path was to reach a state of nirvana in which suffering has been overcome, a desireless state that stops any further reincarnations, with the soul becoming nothing.

In Buddhism, knowledge was accepted from all sources and was respected. The main aim of education was to produce an individual who could free himself/herself from self-centeredness, one who could become compassionate, pitiful and enduring. In Buddhism, education was for all, irrespective of caste.


Note:  Unlike in Hinduism, equal educational opportunity was a principle followed in Buddhism.

Question:  What was the major aim of Buddhism education?

Activity: Discuss each of the eight steps in the Buddhist  right  path, showing how you think each would contribute towards living  a more desirable life in modern society.


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