Learning a lesson from nature
The undergraduates of today will be our nation builders of tomorrow. Our educational processes, therefore, should mould them into thinking, responsible citizens, capable of living in peace and harmony and solving our Motherland’s multitude of problems. Our curriculum should, therefore, be holistic, instilling in them knowledge, skills and attitudes that will equip them to make the right decisions at the right time.
Nevertheless, what do we experience in reality? Disgruntled and unemployed graduates are clamouring for jobs, taking to street violence, becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol, losing their traditional values and, in-short, leading a meaningless life, feeling frustrated and hopeless. Instead of being the cream of our society, they turn into mindless reactionaries and desperadoes, throwing our country into chaos and turmoil.
We, as teachers, will, therefore, be failing in our duty if we do not take the initiative to stop this present trend of events. As a lecturer in Zoology for about fourteen
Educational system should help children make right decisions at right time. File photo
years in the university system, I have been noticing with growing concern the lack of interest on the part of our students in offering Biology as a major subject for their degree.
Living in a materialistic world which is used to weighing all its decisions in terms of costs and benefits, our students are, perhaps, made to view Biology as a subject meant only for those living in ivory towers, far removed from the demands of the present age of knowledge based economic societies.
This article is, therefore, an appeal to our undergraduates and future nation builders, to change their perspectives of life and to understand the manifold lessons Biology can teach us. The study of Biology, I feel, can certainly create an awareness of the goal and purpose of life on earth, making our strife torn life a little bit easy to bear with!
The ubiquitous tree stands testimony to one of the most important, interesting and practicable lessons in life to be learned from nature - ‘The philosophy of life.’ Conventionally, the biologist defines the tree as a living organism with true roots, erect woody trunks, branches and leaves. It grows and reproduces, bearing in most cases, flowers and fruits which leave behind seeds that sprout into a new generation.
The tree is also a habitat, offering a variety of homes (niches) to insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals which through the food webs they create help in the recycling of energy on earth. To the conservationist, the tree is a part of the forest ecosystem that contributes to the maintenance of ecological balance on our planet. The tree is a cornucopia of limitless supply of economically valuable products to both the agriculturist and the industrialist.
However, to the common man, be he a road weary traveller or vendor, the tree provides shade and shelter from the harsh weather. It offers a soothing sight to their tired eyes, lulling them to sleep with the gentle breeze produced by its ever fluttering leaves. From time immemorial, the trees have also been a source of inspiration to both the artists and the scientists, producing thought provoking works of art and, at times, ideas which have given birth go great theories such as the world famous theory of gravity!
In religious scriptures and practices too, the tree has assumed a prominent role as an object or place of worship and meditation. It is a well known fact that the Buddha attained Nirvana (spiritual realization) under the sacred Bo tree. Furthermore, in every nook and corner of most Sri Lankan and Indian villages, it is very common to see, under the trees, statues of Lord Ganesha, the Hindu god of wisdom.
It is very likely, therefore, the tree has been, over the ages, whispering somehow the secrets of the philosophy of life to our psychic spiritual teachers.
The vedantic philosophy of life as extolled to the world by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and his disciple Swami Vivekananda, simply states that our life is a constant struggle to realize and bring out the god (or super-consciousness) within us, in order to develop a worldview on life. We may achieve this, according to our talents, through four major pathways or margas as follows: selfless action (karma yoga); unselfish devotion (bhakti yoga); soul searching pursuit of knowledge (gnana yoga) and intense spiritual practice and meditation (raja yoga).
These four yogic practices serve to calm down and discipline our minds so that we can listen to the voice of our atman or conscience which guides us to make the right decisions at the right time. To a discerning person, this philosophy of life can be seen to be reflected in the functioning of a tree as it grows from a sapling in to a mature fruit bearing plant.
Just as the sapling tree absorbs nutrients and water from the surrounding soil through its ramifying network of roots, a growing human child absorbs good values, morals and virtues from his/her society through a network of relatives and friends.
Just as the conducting system of the tree serves as a vehicle to distribute the absorbed nutrients and water throughout the plant, making it grow a heavy truck covered with a protective bark, the values a child absorbs are established through the constant performance of his/her duties to himself/herself, his/her family and the society. This act concentrates the human child’s mind, developing as he/she grows, the power of discrimination which helps to ward off the company of evil people and evil thoughts.
Having developed a healthy trunk with a protective bark, the tree begins to support a network of sprawling branches carrying innumerous leaves that flutter constantly in the air and obtain oxygen and food to the growing tree. Likewise, the adult human being too is expected to choose, with discrimination, a ranch of life or occupation in which he/she is supposed to be active constantly both mentally and physically in order to lead a productive life.
Mature human being
As the tree matures it develops buds which blossom in to often attractive, colourful and pleasant smelling flowers full of nectar. In a mature human being with a disciplined and discriminatory mind too intellect buds and later flowers into wholesome personality. Just as bees flock to the flowers in search of nectar and in the process facilitated the cross fertilization of gametes, wise men are automatically attracted towards persons of great virtues and intellect. The cross fertilization of minds that follows gives birth to a new born person with great wisdom and creativity.
Such a new born mature and wise person continues to serve the world just as the fruit serves as a source of food to many and at death, like the fallen fruit, disappears from earth leaving behind only seeds of great thoughts to be immortalized in the following generations.
If a person fails to acquire good virtues of fails in his/her duties, he/she will develop in to a mentally indisciplined and confused person with no power of discrimination. Without a goal in life his/her intellect will be blunted and his/her personality will be stunted and uncreative.
The rapid rate at which forests are being wiped off the face of our planet may be symbolic of man’s refusal or inability to understand the philosophy of life embedded in the so called tree of life. The ensuing global climatic changes may be a harbinger of doom that will very soon fall on a decadent immoral society driving itself to the brink of its own extinction.
Hence, its time for us to wake up and learn a lesson from Mother Nature before it is too late!
The writer is a Senior Lecturer in Zoology