Vinoba Bhave on Education, Self Reliance, and Critical Thought

Vinoba Bhave was Gandhi's appointed successor to the great Satygraha Movement. His work was tireless and manifold. He is greatly credited for his help in establishing economic (and hence psycho-socio independence) for exploited rural Indian women who had little choice (except to die) other than obeying abusive conditions because of lack of any economic alternatives. Bhave's movement (the Bhoodan movement) concentrated on small collective industries, such as clothes making, distribution, and sales where the bulk of the profits would reside with the woman workers. Today throughout many impoverished rural Indian areas, these collectives provide an effective means for socio-economic and spiritual independence through establishing a viable and functional alternative.

Bhave however was dedicated toward uprooting the basic "causes" of exploitation and abuse, and attacked material and spiritual impoverishment as inter-related having roots in early childhood programming and corruptive conditions such as mis-education.. He advocated education collectives run by women whose purpose was first and foremost to create the context of learning -- self reliance in thought, teaching children how to be able to form their own opinion, to be able to think for oneself -- what is commonly called critical and creative thought. He saw that Western education (as well as what had become orthodox Indian education) impoverished creativity and freedom by rewarding children to become obsequious -- rewarding them for the "right" answers, conformity, and punishing them for the wrong behavior. In other words, education that rewarded conformity to established authority, bred the opposite of a creative and free socio-economic society or nation, but rather bred stagnation if not totalitariansim and slavishness. Thus Bhave pointed out that education must establish this critical and creative ability in the young rather than damage it, beat it down, or repress it, and that is the same as honoring the creator -- the creative spirit - the natural enthusiasm and inquiry into "Self" -- awe, wonder, and joy in learning; so that children can make a "better" future world out of celebrating spirit in all our relations.

Excerpts from Vinoba Bhave, Thoughts on Education. Rajghat, Varanasi: Sarva Seva Sangh Prakashan, 1996 fourth edition Chapter 6.


Boys are taught various bits of information in school nowadays, but they are not taught how to acquire knowledge independently for themselves.

Many people would agree about the importance of self-reliance in education. Self-reliance, for me, has a very pro­found meaning. It is not merely that the child should be taught some handicraft, some manual skill by which he may support himself. There must of course be manual labour, everyone must learn how to use his bands. If the whole population were to take up some kind of handicraft, it would bring all sorts of benefits—class divisions would be overcome, production would rise, prosperity and health would improve. So that, at the very least, this measure of self-sufficiency must form part of educational programme. But self-sufficiency as I understand it involves much more than that.

It seems to me that education must be of such a quality that it will train students in intellectual self-reliance and make them independent thinkers. If this were to become the chief aim of learning, the whole process of learning would be transformed. The present school syllabus contains a multiplicity of languages and subjects, and the student feels that in every one of these he needs the teacher’s help for years together. But a student should be so taught that he is capable of going forward and acquiring knowledge for himself. There is an infinite sum of knowledge in the world, and each one needs some finite portion of it for the conduct of his affairs. But it is a mistake to think that this life-knowledge can be had in any school. Life-knowledge can only be had from life. The task of the school is to awaken in its pupils the power to learn from life.

Most parents are anxious for their boys to complete the school course so that they can get a salaried job and lead an easy life. This however is a wrong way of looking at education. Learning has value in its own tight. The purpose of learning is freedom—and freedom is another word for what we have called Self-reliance.

Self-reliance means freedom from dependence on others, or on any external support. A man who has true learning is truly free and independent. The first and least part of this self-sufficiency is that the body must be educated and made skilled in a craft. A second, and a very important, part of it is the ability to acquire new knowledge for oneself. There is a third essential element in freedom, and this also is a part of education. Freedom implies not only independence of other people but also independence of one’s own moods and impulses. The man who is a slave to his senses and cannot keep his impulses under control is neither free nor self-sufficient. Temperance, vows and service therefore have their place in education, for it is by such means that this third aspect of freedom can be learned.

Self-sufficiency, then, has three meanings. The first is that one should not depend upon others for one’s daily bread. The second is that one should have developed the power to acquire knowledge for oneself. The third is that a man should be able to rule himself, to control his senses and his thoughts. Slavery of the body is wrong. The body falls into slavery for the sake of the belly; therefore a free man must know how to earn his living through handicraft. Slavery of the mind is wrong. If a man cannot think for himself and teach an independent judgment, his mind is enslaved; a free man must have acquired the power of independent thought. Slavery of the emotions and the senses is also wrong, and it is an essential part of education to overcome their tyranny.

Parents ought to keep these three principles in mind when thinking about their children’s education. The parents’ whole duty has not been done when the boys have got jobs and a marriage has been arranged. They will find their true satisfaction in seeing their children happy, skilled and respected by all their neighbours

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