Traditional knowledge, modern educationWe need to document the rich home-grown knowledge system and save it for posterity.
Nepal's education system at the moment, especially the level of higher educational institutions, is mainly dominated by Western philosophical traditions and knowledge bases. But it is now time to bring to the fore our traditional wisdom by exploring the rationale behind the texts treasured in ancient scriptures. Several reputed higher educational institutions around the globe, such as MIT, Massachusetts and Maharishi International University, Iowa in the United States; IITs and IIMs in India; and institutions in China, are either offering academic programmes in yoga or trying to incorporate several aspects of traditional knowledge in their curricula. Likewise, courses in transcendental meditation and consciousness-based education are being offered. More importantly, such courses and techniques enhance learning by eliminating stress, increasing creativity, and developing inner stability. Research evidence suggests that such programmes raise well-being and overall quality of life.
Yoga and mindfulness
The need for such programmes has increased in this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world as higher education graduates have to grapple with new challenges and uncertainties. Yoga and mindfulness are time-tested ways and means to keep oneself grounded. In our context, it is essential that these rich practices, whether in yoga, meditation, agriculture, "vastu shastra", or allopathy, be documented and embedded in the curriculum. Traditional herbs, biodynamic farming and permaculture are some of our country's age-old and rich practices that can be part of the curriculum. Now, such practices which constitute part of traditional farming are being scientifically established. For instance, regenerative agriculture works with ecological principles and processes and combines traditional ecological knowledge with Western science. This is being done to offer innovative solutions towards production practices that build resilience and produce the highest quality nutrient-rich food.
Today, agriculture has become a contentious issue, driven by greed and focused solely on incremental output. This problem about agriculture gets aggravated as we notice a huge divide between the philosophies and perspectives of the East and the West. This continues to make "replication" a real challenge when we lack scientific approaches and methodologies. Documenting such local and home-grown practices by embedding them as part of the curriculum and disseminating it among higher education learners becomes imperative.
Moreover, tremendous potential can be tapped by studying and researching the particular choice and use of words such as "Om''. It is claimed that chanting "Om'' has a positive and calming effect on the brain and nervous system. This calls for an in-depth study. Similarly, thoroughly exploring the knowledge embodied in the Vedas is essential. Again, research should be carried out to establish how cow urine (goumutra) is considered to have many non-toxic benefits. To dispel misconceptions and brush aside rumours, we need to conduct more research to establish this scientifically.
We must properly blend the available scientific knowledge and empirical evidence from Western practices with Nepal's native literature. It will be a real admixture for addressing environmental degradation, ecological protection and food security issues. Utilising traditional construction materials not only ensures sustainability but also makes business sense. This will put an end to the ruthless exploitation of rivers. They need to be protected at all costs, as wasteful extraction of water resources will wreak havoc on a country's civilisation.
What universities can do
A major problem in Nepal is that a natural "yearning for learning" is lacking on the part of people in general and students in particular. They tend to distance themselves from treading the path of knowledge and the search for the ultimate truth. Hence, courses on transcendental meditation and consciousness-based education or embedded courses by clubbing yoga and meditation can be a starting point for producing conscious individuals who realise their true potential. Today, we are witnessing a paradoxical situation. Locals speak about the rich ethical values and the greatness of the Eastern ethos, but they keep sending their children overseas for Western education. This moral dilemma needs to be resolved. Designing courses that are attractive to locals and foreign students might increase their relevance at the international level and prevent the out-migration of our students.
Culture and civilisation lie mainly in the hands of intellectuals. Hence, the role of academics becomes critically important in shaping the progress of a nation's civilisation and its citizens' well-being. In this context, the role of universities becomes critically vital. Traditional Vedic rituals such as darshan and havan deserve to be examined and tested empirically to establish their usefulness. In this endeavour, universities and other stakeholders in civil society need to play a collaborative role so that home-grown research starts gaining prominence.
It is equally important to encourage new learners to raise the right and relevant questions. They also need to seek meaningful answers while firmly rooted in the glorious traditions of the past to create a great future for this nation. Documenting the rich home-grown knowledge and preserving it for posterity is the duty of every stakeholder in our higher education ecosystem.
Of late, our nation has become competent enough to design and deliver courses independently. In this regard, establishing universities following these traditional scientific practices becomes a preliminary for the country to have a distinct advantage over its Western counterparts. An effort has been made at Kathmandu University by offering a Bachelor in Yogic Science and Well-Being that aims to combine physiology, neuroscience and science with the essentials of yoga to combine traditional knowledge with the latest scientific findings.