The following is part of a commentary of Swami Chinmayananda on Taittiriya Upanishad.
Dharma is a word which has no corresponding word in English. Somebody in haste had translated it as ‘righteousness’ and those who had followed him had merely repeated the same word; thus, traditionally dharma is ‘righteousness’. But it is too meagre a word to carry the load of meaning which is the contents of dharma. All those fundamental values of life which are universally good at all places and at all times; which form the foundation of all efforts at moral rearmament and all edifices of ethical perfection; which constitute the corner stones for all temples, churches, mosques, synagogues and gurudvaras; which are the eternal duties of every man who want to live up to the full dignity of a human being and strive consistently to grow into his fullest stature as a God-man in this very life. In this ampler meaning, we may, for our convenience, and not with satisfaction, translate dharma as duty.
Hinduism is built upon duties and not on rights. The European way of thought has moulded itself upon the ‘principle of rights’ and they have been growing through arrows and boomerangs, bullets and shells to reach the present when they are threatening each other with atomic weapons and secret instruments of mutual slaughter, to demand and maintain the rights of each against the rights of the others. They are demanding rights; rights are to be taken, to be acquired; to be preserved. A civilisation that is based upon ‘rights’ must necessarily come to clamour and fight and the instincts of acquiring and hoarding, keeping and maintaining should develop in that society and ultimately upset the peace.
On the other hand, the glorious Sanatana Dharma of the Hindus recognises his right ‘to do his duties’ as the fundamental privilege in life. When it is duty to be performed, a generation that has understood it, will be trained to demand of life only ample chances to fulfill their duty. Duty therefore develops the spirit of giving, the urge to be charitable rather than the lust to hoard or the anxiety to keep.
The growing buds of the generation, as they are leaving the teacher’s presence, are advised to keep this glorious principle of fulfilling their duties towards the society, towards their relations and towards themselves.
The students were not asked to pay any fees before they entered the gurukula institution. That was not the rule in ancient India; education was free. A student entering the portals of education was a pleasant challenge, as it were, to the teacher who took up the challenge and saw to it that he made out of that raw material an efficient and independent earning member of the society.
After his education, the student was not thrown out into the world of tension and chaos from which he had been for so long and so efficiently kept away in the gurukula, as today we keep them in the libraries and laboratories. On the other hand, the educational system was so organised as to work perfectly in unison with the demands of the society and the needs of living at that time, so that a child who had walked out of his teacher’s protection, from the day he reached his home, proved himself to be a fully trained soldier to fight the battle of his life.
The gurudaksina (the fee) was not even demanded of the boys when they were leaving the institution after their education. The gurukula system seemed not to justify itself to demand fees simply because they had educated the boys. The system was thorough and they were so confident of the results that they insisted that they would be receiving the payment only from the first independent income of the individual!
As soon as the student reached home, he plunged into work and his early savings that he could make entirely go towards the gurudaksina. And who among them could forget their own days of gurukula activities and the fact how, during their days, the old students had maintained the rsi universities? Thus the boys of each generation continued subscribing towards the gurukula funds almost year after year or at least during the various stages of their life.