Book Reviews

Good Old Values*

In the closing years of the millennium human values became a fashionable subject even for publishers. The blitzkrieg of consumerism riding piggy-back on trillions of bytes flashing across geographical barriers and political bound aries in nanoseconds and the inexorable march of competitive capitalism sweeping across the globe carrying all before it, have given rise to a wide spread sense of insecurity within communities who are turning back to their roots to find something that is permanent and can be held on to in the face of the protean rapidity with which the world is changing constantly. A professor of education and a soil scientist have collaborated to sponsor this pub lication of twenty-four papers that seek to address a subject that seems to have acquired seminal impor tance in thefin de siecle mood of the 1990s.

The book has four sections. In part I nine essays discuss the concept of human values with a pro nounced emphasis on eco-sustainability. Part II pre sents essays on Mahatma Gandhi and Mangat Ram, a paper by Antonio Craxi which should have fea tured in Part I and reports on six experiments in implementing value education in Satya Sai Institute, the Dayalbagh Institute, the Brahma Kumaris, Banasthali Vidyapith, Ramakrishna Institute and the Krishnamurthi Foundation. For unexplained reasons, there are two papers on Mahatma Gandhi by the same author and also on the Rishi Valley school. The second paper on Rishi Valley is merely a reproduction of an evaluation and one wonders how the editors justify the inclusion of publicity material in what purports to be a section evaluating the implementation of value education. The last part has a proposal on value education in the central school system by one of the editors, an "afterward" (sic.) by the other editor which is incongruously followed by the Citizen Development Society's proposal on value oriented education with an "additional note" (!). Most surprisingly, the last paper is an extract from a letter by a district governor of a Rotary district! The reader is left with the impression that the editors have stitched together papers, stapling the last three at the end without integrating them into their conceptualization of the publication.

The book starts off well with the Dayanand Ashram's Swami probing the core issue of what val ues connote and whether there are any universal values at all. He provides a simple yet excellent definition: my norms for what is proper or good are based on what I want others to do to me or for me and that is my concept of dharma. Hence, non-injury, humility, charity, truthfulness are all universal because that is how I expect others to behave with me, The relativeness of values arises when I begin to apply them, when others become the beneficiaries of these very values. For instance, he asks, does the veteran hit man want himself to be hit, or the hijacker to be hijacked, the terrorist to be terrorized? He highlights the root cause of conflict: individual, situational values linked to some intensely craved personal end interfere with my expression of general values. When the knowing of values is limited to the intellect and has not been integrated into one's personality, it gives rise to the knower–doer split. The expression of one's life is nothing but the expression of the value structure that has been assimilated. In the typical Indian manner, Swami Dayanand Sarasvati clinches his presentation with a parable of birds: mindless mouthing of desired values leads to the predicament of the birds parroting, "Be careful of the hunter's net" but not flying away when the hunter approaches. On the other hand, for one who has assimilated ethical values, the mind is not overcast with clouds of conflicts. In such a person, "the teaching of Vedanta is like the meeting of gas and fire. Knowledge ignites in a flash".

S.S. Gupta, a former Vice-Chancellor (we are not told of which university), points out the major misconception in identifying human welfare with satisfying mounting material wants, which has reduced man to a soulless machine instead of stimulating his growth. He posits the Indian heritage that stresses the development of man not as human capital but as integrated personality. The integration of the vertical dimensions of an individual's five-fold sheaths (physical, vital, emotional, intellectual, blissful) and the three fold horizontal dimensions (family, society, world) is essential for this purpose. Professor Raghu Nath's paper, drawing on Dr Laskow’s work combining visualization and meditation, merely describes the seven chakras, associates each with values and urges rising from the lower to the higher levels to overcome the destructive results of pursuing the former. The editors should have opted for a longer paper providing a description of the methods for achieving this upward movement. Some of the papers in Parts 3 and 4 as also Ashwani Kumar's vague generalizations could very well have made space for this. Dewan and Singh's paper on sustaining the ecology of the Himalayas is very much of a specific agenda and is out of place. Moreover, sweeping generalizations such as, "If the Himalaya decays, India decays" hardly befit a scholarly publication, particularly one with the stated purpose of discussing human values.

Do we find here the unfortunate blindness of the North Indian towards anything south of the Vindhyas that has been the bane of our country? The essay by Juanita Skolimowski {about whom the editors provide nothing beyond the address) is quite redundant and suffers in comparison with Dayanand Sarasvati's. "The High Road" by Henryk Skolimowski (again innocent of any background besides the address) is a restatement of what is universally known about statements of ethics and morality in western and eastern philosophy. This part could easily have been edited out so that the focus was on the latter half of his essay which is devoted to ecological ethics and sustainability. Skolimowski's paper is cast into the shade by Krishna Chaitanya's trenchantly argued presentation on human values for a sustainable society which is so characteristic of this eminent philosopher. It shows the vast gulf separating the trained philosophic mind from one content with pronouncing prescriptives bordering on platitudes. Mohapatra's paper is peppered with italicized emphases which show poor editing and are evidence of lack of ability to develop an argument towards an irrefutable conclusion that does not need italics to bring home its impact. The editors would do well to go through the outstanding writings of the founder of cybernetics, Stafford Beer, on the subject of syntegration for sustaining human civilization using insights based upon the Indian heritage (cf. "The World in Torment" and "May the whole earth be happy" in the journals Kybernetes and Interfaces).

The reports on experiments leave one disappointed. The Satya Sai Institute report is dated 1992. Surely, the authors could have updated it over the last five years with an evaluation of the effects of the system, particularly when a mere two-day visit is the basis for this report? We would have benefited from an analysis of the process whereby "highly dedicated, competent and motivated teachers" are recruited and "correct" values developed among students. Have any of them become leaders in different enterprises in terms of the goal? Even more disappointing is the fact that this is a typical bureaucratic report commissioned by the Ministry of HRD and has not even been edited to drop the bureaucratese of style and presentation and the unctuous gratitude recorded to "revered Chancellor Bhagwan Sri Sathya Sai Baba" which does not befit an academic work. The same defect of lack of information regarding what happens to students graduating from the "deemed university" vitiates Chilana's papers on Dayalbagh Educational Institute, Banasthali Vidyapith, Rishi Valley school, RK Mission Institute and the Brahma Kumaris’ self-styled university. If they train Karnataka government teachers in moral education, why is there no attempt by the author to evaluate the impact? D.N. Saraf’s paper on Mahatma Mangat Ram is a devotee's offering, which is wholly out of place in a scholarly anthology. The two essays by Kamala on Gandhiji appear to be an introduction for those who do not know anything about his thoughts, and they do not contribute anything concrete to development of methodologies for imbibing human values today. It is with Chilana's paper on value education in the central schools that one feels most let down, for here he describes a pilot project with not a word about its impact, no evaluation whatsoever! The entire paper is full of "shoulds" and "musts" and provides no feedback about what happened when the project got underway.

English language publishing in India today is marked by a deplorable lack of attention to basic standards. This book provides more than adequate evidence of inattention to syntax, punctuation, spelling and norms of editing. For instance, M L Dewan's "afterward" (sic.) has this remarkable sentence: "Quoting from my own book Agriculture Rural Development in India: A Case Study on Dignity of Labor. I am quoting "A special project aimed at building individual character in India"! The blurb states in the bio-data of Chilana that he is a specialist in education. Unfortunately, it seems Concept Publishing's editor has dropped articles, introduced disagreement of verb with subject, ruined the syntax while the proof reader has sprinkled the pages liberally with errors. Of course, they are in distinguished company: Oxford University Press, Foundation Books (Cambridge University Press' Indian imprint) and Rupa make their mark these days by total disregard for proofing and editing as well! Chilana and Dewan's The Human Values A Task for All is assuredly a valuable publication in that it is a pointer to what writers and publishers must guard against if this extremely topical and relevant subject is to engage the serious attention of readers.


More by :  Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya

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