Byа N. Sri Ram

(Reprinted from The Theosophist April/May 1960 and as given out in a talk at the School of the Wisdom)

What we call Theosophical Education must be education in a real sense, not the inculcation of a few ideas which we may label as Theosophy. First of all, it has to be realized that education is primarily education of the individual, not instruction in any subject or the teaching of any technique, although these may be very necessary, and should come in incidentally. It is not imparting anything from without so much as the drawing out of what is within, the capacities that are already in the Ego or soul, fostering the process of its natural growth and development in its fresh manifestation at a period when such help is greatly needed.

Education has to become part of the process of life's expansion, which is always from within. Because the child is not set but malleable and has not attained to any degree of self-awareness, it becomes extremely important that any teaching, instruction or training should be given in a manner that is agreeable and does no violence to his natural growth. Always life seeks to expand, to deploy its innate capacities, as well as extend its contacts with the external world, learning to overcome the difficulties that are presented in its encounter with the facts of that world. This effort begins from one's nativity, if not even earlier. And we must bear in mind the fact that the phenomenon of expansion begins with a nature that is unconditioned, therefore extremely plastic, not self-aware, therefore easily warped, affected not only by tangible actions designedly brought to bear upon it, but also by every subtle influence, the appeal of everything within the range of its consciousness, the ripple of every incident that takes place in its environs. Impressions rain in all the time upon the growing entity and are recorded in its conscious as well as subconscious mind, which is more sensitive than we imagine and therefore affected by the thought and feeling of those with whom it comes into contact. While this is wholly the case with the child, it is so also, though less and less, with the adolescent boy or girl who is a child in a diminishing degree.

It seems to me that, although the environment is of very great importance, even more important to the child is the person closest to him, who looks after him, first the mother, then the father, and the teacher; because the person on whom the child depends can help him not only to make the best of whatever environment he is in, but even to alter its significance in a measure. It may beа an environment in which there is much suffering, but if the influence brought to bear upon the child is of the right type, and sufficiently determinative, even that suffering can become the means of evoking from the child a feeling of compassion and sympathy. If, on the other hand, everything around the child is happy, beautiful and nice, then those conditions have to be used not to make the child self-indulgent and egotistic, but to foster certain other developments possible in that environment. Almost anything can be turned to good account from the standpoint of one's development if a person knows how to do so.

The very realization that certain things are not nice, that they should be different or should not exist, produces a change in one's consciousness and brings out the will and the capacity to change them. Therefore, the teacher must be a person who has an all-round understanding and whose nature, including his thoughts, emotions and feelings, fits him to be helpful to the child at every turn. Such a man or woman is not easy to find. We may search the whole realm from end to end; it would be more difficult to find such a teacher than to find a previous gem on the ground we normally tread. Therefore, we can only do our best in the existing circumstances. We can at least try to understand what a teacher should be, and look for persons who approximate to that type.

The teacher must not be a person who sits in a big chair and wields a ferrule or even a sharp tongue, but he must be a companion in a real sense and guide the child in that capacity. He must inwardly grow with the child, beginning with the child's understanding, entering into his problems and looking at the world through his eyes. He must have the capacity to devote himself to the child. Unless the teacher or the parent enters into such an intimate relationship with the child, any mechanical care or tuition can only superficially bridge the gulf between them, either leaving the child to his own problems and devices in vital matters, or if fear and authority take the place of loving guidance, producing complexes that make his whole life more difficult than it need be.

I do not believe that in order to evoke respect- the man who deliberately seeks this only succeeds in making himself ridiculous- it is necessary to keep oneself aloof in a kind of high and mighty state, inaccessible to others. True respect is not only compatible with affection but is a necessary ingredient thereof. Without a measure of understanding, which only a free and natural relation can bring about, there can be no genuine respect. There may a form of respect, a restrained demeanor, but that is nothing but play-acting, putting on a mask. The kind of respect which arises from fear breeds dislike, and one always hates the person he fears.

The environment for the child's growth has to be the best possible for its purpose. The object must be to bring out of each child- and that is the meaning of the word education- the best qualities as well as capacities present in him, and not to afford encouragement to any weaknesses or vices which he may have in germ. Every one of us has certain latent tendencies which come out, given a little encouragement, and it is remarkable how little is enough to bring them out. Sometimes a child brought up in a very good home and family, under favourable influences, develops in a peculiar way because of certain strong tendencies in him for which there could not have been much encouragement in that environment. Nevertheless, there must have been some provoking cause. If there is not soil for the seed, it just cannot grow.

If all that is good in a child is strengthened as much as possible in his early years, he will be able later when he goes out into the world, where the influences are very mixed, to meet whatever is evil with his already developed strength. This does not mean that the child should be kept completely isolated from the facts of life and brought up in a palace of illusion; it cannot be good for anyone to be so sheltered, and have life made so soft and easy that later he is unable to manage its problems; that would not be any real service to him. But just as the foetus in the womb or a tender sapling requires a measure of protection from adverse influences, so the child inа his physical helplessness and ignorance needs to be protected and trained with care.

There seems to be a theory that the child should be left completely free to do what he likes and he will learn by experience. But should not the child be told not to plunge into deep waters without learning to swim, or run after a poisonous snake? The child has to be given the benefit of other people's experience at least to that extent. If in the name of freedom the child should be left to roam about in the streets, and learn for himself, he will not develop even the necessary capacity to protect and maintain that freedom. He will probably succumb ere long to influences from which, even if he is innately virtuous, it will take him long to recover. While yet the plant is tender, if it be exposed to blasts and changes of weather, which it cannot bear or to which it is unable to adapt itself, surely it cannot grow into a strong and sturdy tree; the battle, if life be a battle, would be lost before it began. There will be plenty of occasions later for the boy or girl to grapple with life's problems, but first the young person has to be prepared to meet them.

It is not educating a boy (or a girl) to let him learn everything for himself from scratch, like a modern Robinson Crusoe. Education has to be a process of helping him to cover quickly all the stages that have already been passed in the growth of knowledge, and enabling him to go forward by himself from that point. A measure of tuition and guidance while the brain is growing obviously provides a better start for one's own discoveries.

What should be the principal features of education in the early years, when the soul, the inner man- the soul of course is neither man nor woman-is only the gradually getting hold of his vehicles and getting acquainted with the world around him? What would help him not merely to get adjusted to the external world,а but also to make the best use of the conditions into which he has come? Obviously the influence that surround the new entity, new for all practical purposes, should be vital, stimulating and wholesome. The nursery, classroom or home should be colorful, not anaemic or nondescript. How to surround the child with things which will attract and bring out his intelligence, his warm sympathies and all that is best in his nature, requires to be carefully thought out.

There can be nothing more helpful to any human being than the influences of Nature, the trees, the flowers, running water, and so on, and a child has a natural interest in anything which is alive, in insects, birds and animals. The value of such natural surroundings and contacts cannot be overestimated.

Education as a total process can never be reduced to a system of rules and principles, but has to be just as much an art to be developed from day to day as it is a science. Art does not consist only, or even mainly, in technique; it requires more than a perfect technique to make a real artist, whether he be a creator of music or of any other type of beauty. The human plant needs of course scientific culture as much as the plant with which the horticulturist is concerned. Therefore, the educator has to know such things as the sort of food which is good for the child, the importance of fresh air, sunlight, and so on. But in addition to all that, he has to have an insight into the nature of the child, in order to understand how the child's mind is moving out towards the objects of his environment, and how he is being affected by them.

I do not know if we all realize how inhibiting and even warping is fear of any sort. Even if there be something undesirable in the child or the boy which has to be eliminated, the best method is to explain and convince the child that it is undesirable. The process of growth is one of bringing out what is within, not self-expression in the ordinary sense, because that has usually an ingredient of vanity or conceit, but the expression of whatever is within the individual awaiting expression, his innate qualities, genius and talent, which is possible only in a free atmosphere.

The teacher should adapt himself to the growth of the child, meeting the processes of that growth just as those points where help, instruction or guidance is needed. He has to watch, observe and wait for the psychological moment when the needed help can be given. Of course this is more easily said than done, and requires patience and love of the child, without which it is difficult to achieve any success in the task.

The child has, of course, a threefold nature, that of body, emotions and mind, and he is related to everything round him at these three levels. Each of these aspects has to be helped to grow and expand in a natural way without any distortion. To take the child and mould him to one's own heart's desire is to turn him into an unnatural image, not corresponding to what he himself is inwardly as a unique Ego or soul.

In the early years, perhaps it is the growth and control of the body which requires most attention. Anyhow that is the principal thing which happens, although the mind and the emotions also begin to develop. It goes without saying that the child should be well and properly nourished, that the body must not be neglected. The physical nature of man is the basis for experience and action in this world and is as much a vesture of the soul as other aspects of his being. The mastery of the physical body, its perfect fitness and the use of it in ways which are graceful and naturally expressive will make it a proper instrument for the inner spiritual Ego to use. The child must be helped to attain a measure of self-control, learn good manners in the use of his limbs as well as in relation to others, and co-ordinate his movements. He should be taught to manage the horse, which is his body, with grace and ease, and enjoy doing so.

The child has to learn, from his earliest years, to keep himself clean in every way. It is very difficult when a person has grown up to teach him cleanliness. He may have certain habits which are disagreeable, but how is one to speak to him about them? But in the child-stage, the parents and teacher can talk to him about almost anything; therefore it is in that stage that a person should be taught to be clean in all ways, in every nook and corner of his body.

Then there should be the training of the senses, including the perception of shades of color andа sound. We do not think of such training as important except for artists, but every individual has a certain capacity to perceive shades of difference in color, sound, shape, and so on, which unfortunately is not developed at all. When a note is struck, he should be able to recognize its difference from other notes and its place in the scale of notes. One way to come into touch with the life in Nature is to listen to its sounds. If you take one sense after another, particularly the senses of touch, sight and hearing, it will be found that each is capable of being considerably educated, and when they are educated to notice forms, colors, tones and textures, and perceive even subtle distinctions, the whole life of the individual is enormously enriched. It is part of education to be taught to pay attention to the things that are around, and also to appreciate harmony in color, sound and forms, see how one sound or color blends with another but not with a third. All this may sound as though it is the education of one who is going to be an artist. But everyone needs to have his whole capacity for attentionа brought out in his early life, without any compulsion and through the joy of such training. It is common knowledge that a blind person develops an extraordinary sensitiveness of hearing and of touch, which we who are endowed with eyesight do not possess. What is to prevent us from having that same acuteness of hearing and sensitiveness of touch, even when we are blessed with a pair of eyes which are functioning? All of us are born into this world with certain faculties. Should we not train and use them? Everyone should be taught to do this especially when the world is still new and interesting, and the senses ready to be trained. We do not realize how much we miss because of not having had such training.

It has been said that the senses are the windows of the soul. When their range is increased the whole surface of contact with life is increased thereby. This means not only fuller and more complete living on the physical plane, but also a more extended basis for the imagination that begins to develop simultaneously. Our thinking, the image-making that is part of our thinking, is based upon sense impressions. The imagery of our thought, when it is analyzed, will be seen to consists of elements that have come in through the avenues of the senses and modifications thereof. Imagination does not take place in a vacuum; it is stimulated by our reactions to things; and such impressions as we receive from the world around us can be faulty or true, sketchy or full. When the material which the mind receives and classifies in its own way is richer and more varied, the possibilities of imagination are extended accordingly. There is a better, closer understanding of life, when there is a fuller, closer contact with things, persons and events.

The child- I use the word to mean the subject of education, thus including boy or girl- needs to be trained in the use of his body by graceful physical movements which do not distort or strain the limbs. The body has to attain quickness in action, co-ordination of movements, precision and balance. An acrobat in a circus and people who are expert in different games show what extraordinary precision in movement involving judgment of a number of factors and co-ordination of eyes, hands and limbs can be achieved by training, and in how many, and in how many different ways the body can balance. It is not necessary for all people to be acrobats or perform various kinds of feats, but as everyone has a physical body, he has to develop its capacities and make it a capable instrument in all ways. He must learn to be alert in ordinary life, walk with grace and avoid ungainly postures. Such control of body will conduce to unison between mindа and body and even between body and soul. In the course of various physical activities, such as swimming, running, jumping and so on, one learns to judge many things such as velocity, distance, the time that would be needed to accomplish certain things. Every form of action depends on a set of physical perceptions which must all be sharp and precise.

Coming to the emotions and feelings, obviously in a normal human life they play a more important and vital part than either the physical body or the intellect. Even health depends to a large extent on one's emotional condition. But our education pays no attention to it and is centred almost exclusively on theа cultivation of the mind. If we can help the child to develop and express such emotions as will conduce to a state of inner harmony and create happy relations with others, we will be giving him more valuable help than can be given in any other way. It is a help to the whole being of man, and thus more valuable than the giving of temporary pleasure. If we can bring out of a person his capacity for affection and sympathy towards others, we are giving an impetus to his whole evolution through the series of lives that are to come. If we can help a boy to grow up into a kind, unselfish person, more intent upon helping others than on getting things for himself, that is a lasting service to his character by which his whole evolution in the human stage is made easier; very much karma that he might otherwise generate might be avoided. When unspoiled, children like to be helpful and nice to animals and birds; they enjoy playing with the little creatures of the field. It is a perversity to want to inflict pain on another sentient being. To be kind and compassionate is a natural instinct. But there are no hard and fast methodsа to draw out this instinct. The teacherа must first have it himself. That does not mean he should be a sentimental person but acting naturally himself, he should help the child to manifest his innate goodness, not making the child dependent upon himself.

Appreciation of the arts and the practice of any specific art for which the child has an aptitude should be a part of the programme, as that is surely one way of refining and educating the emotions. I do not say that everyone, whether he likes it or not, should be made to paint or draw or sing. But everyone has in him some capacity to appreciate and create the beautiful, and he should be taught to like what is good in Nature as well as in art.

A child must be taught from his early years orderly ways, good manners, and consideration for others in every context in life. Education should prepare one to go on learning all one's life. Such learning is as much through observation and listening as from books. Every child should be taught therefore to observe and to listen as well as to talk sensibly and well. So few of us really care to listen to another. Even when the other person is speaking, we interrupt his speech, we want to come out with some clever remark. From early childhood it should be taught as part of good manners that one must listen with respect and more than one speaks. The child or the young person should learn to have patience, to wait when necessary, to give precedence to othersааand to take pleasure generally in giving more than in receiving. All this will become natural and enjoyable after a time, just part of a gracious way of living. A person should be helped to learn as much from life itself as from books. All these things education should accomplish, because education is really for life, the livelihood being only an incidental. It does not really matter whether a person has much money or comparatively little, for one's happiness does not really depend on one's possessions.

With regard to the mind, it has to be carefully trained to develop its capacities and not overloaded with things which it is unnecessary to remember. The important thing is to develop a mind or spirit that is not merely imitative, that is able to act upon its own and tries to learn and discover things for itself, while making use of the knowledge of others. It should be a mind that, like a sensitive radio receiver, is able to pick up things sharply and keep them unconfused, perceive implications and go beyond irrelevancies to the truth of the matter.

A really complete education would mean acquainting the boy or the girl with the fundamentals of almost every important branch of knowledge, but this must be done without overloading the mind with details. The training should be such as will draw out the different faculties, artistic, scientific, and so on, even though the individual may have to specialize later along some line, in some technique or vocation in order to earn a living. We stuff the brain with many unnecessary things. Suppose we eliminate all that, and find out what it is that would be of use to the individual, what is essential for him to know, what are the things which will give him a good knowledge of the world he is in, and give all this to the child; it would be education of real value to him.

To all this I would add the teaching of certain fundamental truths, such as the One Life; thatа man is not only the body but something which is the most beautiful aspect of himself, that uses the body; that he creates his own destiny; and even reincarnation and karma. All this should be taught not as a dogma, as something to be believed, but as a view of life, and presented in a way that is plausible and reasonable to accept. It should be possible to perceive the truth in any view, when it is properly presented, by looking at it directly rather than by going round it in arguments. We can tell the child what we think with regard to such matters, without forcing our ideas upon him.

One thing on which stress should be laid from the very beginning is the doing of every piece of work, however small it may be, as well and beautifully as possible. The child should lean not only to do useful things, as a Boy Scout does, but also to take a delight in doing things nicely. The importance of a piece of work or of a thing does not depend upon its magnitude, but upon its place, the way it is done, its function in a particular scheme.

Many children have in them great possibilities, butа these do not usually come to pass; they have concealed talents for which there is no scope in their lives. That of course is due to karma, but if it is possible for us to help the child under our care to develop those faculties which he has brought over from the past, it should be possible for society later on to make use of them. Our studies in Theosophy should make us realize how supremely significant is each individual, how much potentiality is in him, and how much can be done for each one, at his particular stage, by such means as we can intelligently employ to facilitate the realization of those possibilities.

When a person is given the job of teaching a child, he should not think it an insignificant job, that it would be better to play a bigger part in life than being a poor humble teacher. Such a view is completely wrong, because if we help the child who is in our care to develop in the best way possible, then he will grow up and do many things in life. Often by helping another we may be helping the world as a whole much more than we understand. It is not necessary that all the great things should be done by oneself.

As I said in the beginning, education should be not so much in the subjects of a curriculum, however well designed, but the education of the whole man; therefore it cannot be a matter of mass-production. We cannot produce really educated men and women as we produce goods in factories. The individual child is not mere clay to be moulded; there are factors of his own psychic and spiritual heredity overshadowing him, even when they have not actually come into play. We may not be able to treat each individual child as a unique subject, but we can recognize at least the broad differences between one child and another in temperament, capacity and aptitude, and provide for these differences.

Of course every child should have as much education as he or she can receive,а and should not have to pay any fees for it. The child ought to receive from society the very best care and training that society can afford. Nothing less than the best will do when taste is still unformed but beginning to form itself delicately in a hundred and one different ways. There is truth in those words ofа Ruskin: Tell me what you like, and I will tell you what you are.

Therefore, only the best men and women should be chosen as teachers; not necessarily the best from the point of view of academic degrees, because often those who win degrees do so through over-concentration on one particular subject, which in many cases produces a narrow and somewhat unbalanced outlook. It is not always the very learned who are the best to accomplish particular tasks or to understand persons.

Education should be free from any kind of State or party control, because neither party nor State understands what education is, and in their hands it will become the means for ends, which are not the ends of life itself, but their own ends. It may even become the means for death, for stereotyping the mind, establishing a particular ideology, fixing things in a particular manner without any possibility of change or progress.

What is the end of life? The end of life is perhaps more life, the increasing realization of its potentialities and its power to create so that it flows ever more freely and creates what it will. A person should be helped to attain the highest degree of intelligence possible for him and to be free in the use of that intelligence, and then in his freedom he will do what he wants to do, and what he then does will be part of the process of the advancement of life. Education should mean the opening of avenues in the brains and hearts of the young, avenues that will widen and lead endlessly onwards through a process of never-ceasing learning, through a constructive chain reaction from environment to soul and soul to environment.

Life! More Life! Was the title of one of Brother Jinarajadasa's books. The words ring very true, because life ever gives rise to more life, not more in the sense of quantity or magnitude, though it does even that at a certain level, but life more intense, of a superior grade with a superior power. The truth about man has been expressed in these words: The soul of man is immortal and its future is the future of a thing to whose growth and splendor there is no limit. When this is realized, education in the real sense must be the education of body, mind and emotions in such a way that together they may form an instrument for the expression of the harmonies that are in the soul and the carrying out of its purpose.


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