DR. SYED MUTAHAR AAQIB
THE tradition and culture of Kashmir span over 5,000 years. It has been a crucible of diverse spiritual traditions and philosophies, shaping the minds and lives of its people. The recent Youth Conclave 2023, organised by Kashmir Central at the Environment Hall, Handwara, in collaboration with the Indian Army, brought to the fore a theme of paramount importance – ‘Education for enlightenment and innovation’. The event was graced by the presence of experts and professors from diverse backgrounds, including Prof. Farooq Ahmad Shah (former vice-chancellor, Central University of Kashmir), Bashir Assad (senior journalist, author and editor-in-chief, Kashmir Central), Prof. Shahid Rasool (Dean, Academic Affairs, Central University of Kashmir), Dr. Humaira Qadri (Dean, Research & Head of the Department of Environmental Science, Government Degree College, Baramulla); Dr. Abdul Roouf Bhat (Dean, Academics Affairs, head of the Department of Chemistry, Government Degree College, Baramulla), Dr. Syed Mutahar Aaqib (HOD, PG Department of Computer Science, Government Degree College, Baramulla), Riffat Wani (author and social activist); Mushtaq Ali Khan (filmmaker), Dr. Shafia Khan, assistant professor, Higher Education Department; and distinguished dignitaries of the Indian Army. This session served as a poignant reminder of the profound connections between Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Sufism within the sphere of education for enlightenment in the Valley of Kashmir. Beyond celebrating these spiritual traditions, the event underscored the pivotal role of education in nurturing the seeds of enlightenment and fostering an environment of vibrant discussion, and cultural celebration.
- Education as a beacon of enlightenment
Education, when thoughtfully harnessed, emerges as a powerful vehicle for personal and collective enlightenment and innovation. It equips individuals with tools to broaden horizons, question established norms, and gain a deeper understanding of the world. In the context of Kashmir, education transcends the mere acquisition of knowledge; it becomes a pathway towards enlightenment and a catalyst for innovation, mirroring the teachings of all major religions and philosophies.
- Kashmir: A confluence of spiritual traditions
Historically, Kashmir has been a melting pot of diverse cultures and religions. Once a thriving centre of Buddhism, it provided a fertile ground for the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. The Buddha’s emphasis on knowledge as a means to liberate oneself from the cycle of suffering and attain enlightenment and innovation has left an indelible mark. The 4th Buddhist Council, convened in 72 AD under the patronage of Kanishka and held in Kashmir, had served as a significant historical milestone. This council, which played a pivotal role in the evolution of Buddhism, was emblematic of the profound connection between education and enlightenment. Buddhism, at its essence, is a spiritual tradition deeply entrenched in knowledge, wisdom, and the relentless pursuit of enlightenment. This schism had profound educational implications, marking a critical juncture in the development of Buddhist thought. The council itself was a model of democratic and intellectual discourse, where disputes were addressed and harmoniously resolved through the power of peaceful dialogue. The proclamation of Buddha that “ignorance is the root of suffering” underscores the transformative potential of knowledge. In the lap of the magnificent Himalayas, his teachings resonated, offering solace and enlightenment to countless seekers.
- Enlightenment across spiritual traditions in Kashmir
The term “enlightenment” finds its roots in the Sanskrit word Bodhi’, signifying awakening and understanding. In Buddhism, it is synonymous with Nirvana, the ultimate realisation and liberation from suffering and innovation. Education in Buddhism serves as a tool for self-awareness and inner transformation, leading to enlightenment. The Eightfold Path, a fundamental teaching, includes ‘Right Knowledge’ and Right View’, underscoring the significance of wisdom and education in the pursuit of Nirvana.
Education serves as the vessel that carries seekers towards self-realisation and understanding, two pivotal milestones on the path to enlightenment.
In Hinduism, the concept of ‘enlightenment’ encompasses various ideas, including ‘moksha’ (liberation) and ‘jnana’ (knowledge). The quest for knowledge, self-realisation, and the ultimate truth lies at the heart of Hindu spirituality. The pursuit of ‘moksha’, or liberation from the cycle of birth and death is intricately linked to knowledge and self-realisation. Education is a means to comprehend the self, one’s dharma (duty), and the interconnectedness of all existence, leading to spiritual enlightenment. Hinduism posits that education is a means to grasp the nature of the self, one’s duty (dharma), and the interconnectedness of life, leading to spiritual enlightenment and fostering innovation. Kashmir has associations with the legendary Pandava brothers from the Indian epic, the Mahabharata. It is believed that the Pandavas, during their exile, traversed the Himalayas, leaving their indelible mark on the region. The stories of their valour and wisdom continue to be an integral part of Kashmiri folklore and highlight the enduring influence of Hinduism on the Valley.
The notion of ‘enlightenment’ in Islam is deeply rooted in the concept of ‘Illumination’ (Irfan). Islam places a profound emphasis on knowledge, as reflected in the Quranic verse – “Read in the name of thy Lord”. In the realm of Islam, ‘enlightenment’ signifies a journey towards God’s light. Sufism, the mystical aspect of Islam, champions the inner quest for illumination, often guided by a Sufi mentor. The Sufi traditions in Kashmir offer a tribute to mystical sufi saints like Sheikh-ul-Alam RA. Sufism regards enlightenment as the awakening of the heart to divine love and wisdom and fostering innovation. Sufi education is not a purely intellectual endeavour; it represents a transformative journey where knowledge converges with spiritual illumination.
- Education and innovation: A bridge to enlightenment
The cultural collage of Kashmir, enriched by its spiritual traditions, stands as a testament to the profound harmony among diverse faiths and the synergy they share. Education becomes the common thread that binds these spiritual traditions, fostering not only intellectual learning but also spiritual awakening and innovation.
- The youth conclave: a beacon of inspiration
The Youth Conclave 2023 marked a pivotal moment in the recent history of Kashmir. It acted as a crucible where the younger generation could explore and appreciate the shared values of these diverse traditions. Themed ‘Education for enlightenment and innovation’, the panel discussion inspired young minds to view education as a vessel for spiritual awakening and innovation. It ignited a spark within the participants, urging them to tread the luminary path of enlightenment, much like the venerable traditions that have thrived for ages in the Valley and fostering innovation.
The role of National Education Policy 2020
The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) has ushered in a transformative era in education. It aspires to make education holistic, flexible, and innovation-centric. The NEP 2020 encompasses a wide range of reforms, from curriculum overhauls to pedagogical advancements and the integration of technology in education. In the context of Kashmir, this policy becomes a catalyst for aligning education with the spirit of enlightenment and innovation propagated by its spiritual traditions.
Kashmir, with its profound spiritual legacy and unwavering commitment to knowledge, stands as a beacon of the transformative potential of education in the journey towards enlightenment and innovation. By weaving together the teachings of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Sufism, the youth of Kashmir can embark upon a multi-dimensional expedition towards personal and collective enlightenment and innovation. The Valley is poised to lead the way in merging these traditions into a comprehensive approach to education, one that nurtures not only intellectual knowledge but also spiritual illumination and innovation. The horizon of Kashmir’s future holds the promise of a brighter, more enlightened path that radiates hope, unity, and spiritual awakening, driven by innovation.
(The author is a former scientist/engineer at NIC, MeitY, Government of India, and presently an assistant professor in the Department of Higher Education, UT of J&K. The views and ideas expressed are his own).