Tiruvalluvar describes education as wealth that cannot be destroyed. He says a person should keep studying as long as he is alive. Thus, the acquisition of knowledge does not begin and end with formal education; it is a continuous process. In a plural society, it is education that unites the people. It also makes people appreciative of other cultures, Malayaman said in a lecture.
But to acquire knowledge that gives us such empathy, we must think beyond what is taught in universities and colleges. We must supplement what we are taught there with extensive reading. The Tamil work Achara Kovai says there should be no delay in seeking knowledge or performing penance. Thus, the acquisition of knowledge is equated with the performance of penance.
One should not only read a lot, but also listen to discourses and discussions that throw light on various issues that confront society. Even the uneducated benefit by listening to the learned. One can pick up valuable tips on facing life’s problems from spiritual discourses. When one feels depressed, these tips will be useful. Those in the habit of listening to discourses will become humble. They will not be spiteful or indulge in gossip, says Achara Kovai. Those who have read and analysed good literature will refrain from carrying tales or coveting other people’s property. The habit of reading also enables one to be a good public speaker. Achara Kovai says one should not repeat oneself; one should be honest in speech. One should speak appropriate words at the appropriate time.
It is important to read the right sort of books. Reading about the lives of the Azhvars and Nayanmars and other saints shows us the overwhelming bhakti they had for God. Even when in difficult situations, such bhaktas never lost faith in God. Such saints saw in God a father, mother and even a child. That is why Periazhvar sang verses imagining himself to be Lord Krishna’s mother.
It takes bhakti of a great order to see oneself as God’s parent. It is not enough to start reading about the lives of our saints when we are old. We must encourage children to do that for learning invaluable lessons that will guide them in their lives.