CONCEPT OF SPIRITUAL EDUCATION
"Man cannot rest permanently until he reaches some highest good."
"To fulfil God in life is mans manhood."
There are two misconceptions about the term Spiritual and both are too stubborn to give way to an objective explanation of the word. First, spiritual and spirituality are understood as synonyms of religious and religion. Second, Spiritual is taken to be the opposite of material, pragmatic or practical, an idea that inspires in our minds the picture of other-worldliness and asceticism.
To confuse spirituality with religion, of course, is not always wrong, for much depends on what one understands by religion. Says Sri Aurobindo, "There are two aspects of religiontrue religion and religionism. True religion is spiritual religion, that which seeks to live in the spirit, in what is beyond the intellect, beyond the aesthetic and ethical and practical being of man, and to inform and govern these members of our being by the higher light and law of the spirit. Religionism, on the contrary, entrenches itself in some narrow pietistic exaltation of the lower members or lays exclusive stress on intellectual dogmas, forms and ceremonies, on some fixed and rigid moral code, on some religio-political or religio-social system. Not that these things are altogether negligible or that they must be unworthy or unnecessary or that a spiritual religion need disdain the aid of forms, ceremonies, creeds or systems. On the contrary, they are needed by man because the lower members have to be exalted and raised before they can be fully spiritualised, before they can directly feel the spirit and obey its law. An intellectual formula is often needed by the thinking and reasoning mind, form or ceremony by the aesthetic temperament or other parts of the infrarational being, a set moral code by mans vital nature in their turn towards the inner life. But these things are aids and supports, not the essence; precisely because they belong to the rational and infrarational parts, they can be nothing more and, if too blindly insisted on, may even hamper the suprarational light. Such as they are, they have to be offered to man and used by him, but not to be imposed on him as his sole law by a forced and inflexible domination. In the use of them toleration and free permission of variation is the first rule which should be observed. The spiritual essence of religion is alone the one thing supremely needful, the thing to which we have always to hold and subordinate to it every other element or motive."
The Human Cycle
Viewed in a comprehensive perspective, Materialism, the material science in particular, by exploring the mysteries of Nature and harnessing her powers for welfare and progress, has made man more and more conscious of his own potential capacity on the one hand, and, on the other hand, of the infinite possibilities and promises that are there in Nature. This increase or expansion of mans knowledge of himself and of his environment can never be opposed to his spiritual quest. If spiritual quest leads man inward, makes him look for the inner splendours of his consciousness, the material quest helps him to understand the phenomenon outside and around him. It is the poverty of human mind and human perception which fails to recognise the harmony between Spirit and Matter, their secret intimacy and the fact that both owe their existence to a common source.
Matter itself is a form of Spirit in which consciousness remains asleep and involved. "Matter means the involution of the conscious delight of existence in self-oblivious force and in self-dividing, infinitesimally disaggregated form of substance", says Sri Aurobindo
(The Synthesis of Yoga)
It is our ignorance which does not allow us to get over the dichotomy between Matter and Spirit. But, says Sri Aurobindo, "The affirmation of a divine life upon earth and an immortal sense in mortal existence can have no base unless we recognise not only eternal Spirit as the inhabitant of this bodily mansion, the wearer of this mutable robe, but accept Matter of which it is made, as a fit and noble material out of which He weaves constantly His garbs, builds recurrently the unending series of His mansions."
The Life Divine
A spiritual education, in the light of Sri Aurobindo, would naturally help the seeker to view both Spirit and Matter in a new light. For him Spirituality is an adventure with matter for its basis. For him the material or the so-called mundane world is neither false, nor illusory, but a truth, a reality though shrouded in falsehood and illusion. One seeking for Truth must change ones attitude to matter, "For this is the monstrous thing, the terrible and pitiless miracle of the material universe that out of this no-Mind a mind or, at least, minds emerge and find themselves struggling feebly for light, helpless individually, only less helpless when in self-defence they associate their individual feeblenesses in the midst of the giant Ignorance which is the law of the universe. Out of this heartless Inconscience and within its rigorous jurisdiction hearts have been born and aspire and are tortured and bleed under the weight of the blind and insentient cruelty of this iron existence, a cruelty which lays its law upon them and becomes sentient in their sentience, brutal, ferocious, horrible. But what after all, behind appearances, is this seeming mystery? We can see that it is the Consciousness which had lost itself returning again to itself, emerging out of its giant self-forgetfulness, slowly, painfully, as a Life that is would be sentient, half sentient, dimly sentient, wholly sentient and finally struggles to be more than sentient, to be again divinely self-conscious, free, infinite, immortal. But it works towards this under a law that is the opposite of all these things. Under the conditions of Matter, that is to say, against the grasp of the Ignorance. The movements it has to follow, the instruments it has to use are set and made for it by this brute and divided Matter and impose on it at every step ignorance and limitation."
"The Knot of Matter", The Life Divine
A true spiritual education has to teach the students to recognise this relationship between Spirit and Matter, so that one neither looks down upon Matter and all the problems the material life presents, nor shuns Spirituality as a lesson in escapism. A spiritual education would prepare the student to face life armed with a greater faith and face with an outlook which is integral. His recognition of the problems of life will not depend entirely on their appearances; he will be able to delve deep into them and see the play of hidden forces behind them. He will be able to grow spiritually through tackling the hurdles, presented by life.
"All life is Yoga", says Sri Aurobindo, giving a radically expansive definition to the concept of Yoga. The same can be said of education; all life is education. So far as the body is concerned, at least the present human body, it grows mechanically and grows old; so far as the growth of consciousness is concerned, it waits for mans conscious aspiration and it never grows old!
In reply to a seekers query, the Mother said, "India has or rather had the knowledge of the Spirit, but she neglected matter and suffered for it. "
"The West has the knowledge of matter but rejected the Spirit and suffered badly for it.
"An integral education which could, with some variations, be adapted to all the nations of the world, must bring back the legitimate authority of the Spirit over a matter fully developed and utilised." (Collected Works, Vol. 13)
Spirit, in a positive form, remained in man as the soul.
"........each human being is a self-developing soul and ....... the business of both parent and teacher is to enable and to help the child to educate himself, to develop his own intellectual, moral, aesthetic and practical capacities and to grow freely as an organic being, not to be kneaded and pressured into form like an inert plastic material. It is not yet realised what this soul is or that the true secret, whether with child or man, is to help him to find his deeper self, the real psychic entity within. That, if we ever give it a chance to come forward, and still more if we call it into the foreground as the leader of the march set in our front, will itself take up most of the business of education out of our hands and develop the capacity of the psychological being towards a realisation of its potentialities of what our present mechanical view of life and man and external routine methods of dealing with them prevent us from having any experience or forming any conception."
Sri Aurobindo : The Human Cycle
Commenting on this passage, Dr. K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar says in his Re-thinking on Ends and Means in Education (A lecture delivered on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of the British Council Library, Chennai) : "In education, therefore, it is of the utmost importance to awaken this veiled and withdrawn soul withinas Ramakrishna awakened the inner self of Vivekanandaand make it the leader of the march. Population explosion, knowledge explosion, and the threat of nuclear explosion, all seem to indicate a crisis in human civilisation. Life, knowledge, powerall threaten to destroy by their very surfeit. For what is lacking is Love, and Love fails us because our understanding is partial and defective. But for such a fuller understanding a new education centered in the soul or the psychic entity can alone have the key."
No wonder that at a certain phase in Indian history, the greatest emphasis the educational system laid was on making the student conscious of his soul. The process of learning, from this point of view, began from within.
What the teacherwho was often a Rishi or a seerwished to see was, all the faculties, all the parts of the pupils personality, must be governed by his soul, instead of by his crude physical desires, mental preferences or impulses. A great doctrine to which they subscribed was the doctrine of Swadharma. In the phenomenal world marked by multiplicity, each human being had a specific inner nature, apart from his share of the common stock of desires, emotions and passions, constituting his superficial personality, his ego-self. To transcend the ego-self and to illumine the consciousness in the splendour of the soul was looked upon as the true goal of education.
But what was most significant, this process of discovering ones Swadharma or inner nature and probing the soul did not mean a breaking away from the world, the trial and tribulations, challenges and risks offered by the normal life. In fact, the art of developing ones consciousness lay in ones ability to decipher numerous secret lessons which even apparently most ordinary situations in life could offer. The Upanishads and the Epics present several illustrations of this truth. The most astounding of them is the use of the battlefield by Lord Krishna to reveal the supreme spiritual secret to his dear disciple, Arjuna, on the eve of a terrible war. Another significant incident concerns the childhood of Aruni, an illustrious sage. Aruni had satisfied his guru with his mastery over the scriptures and the different lores he was required to study. Yet the master did not tell him that he had completed his course.
Then came a rainy night. The Gurukul or the Ashram school owned a plot of paddy field. The guru feared that the nearby tank might overflow into the field, submerging the tender crop to its detriment. He asked Aruni to go and ensure that the embankment between the field and the tank stood intact. Reaching the site, Aruni saw a breach in the embankment, already causing a steady flow of water into the paddy field. He tried to fill up the breach with handfuls of earth, but in vain. Without a moments hesitation he lay down against the breach, stopping the flow. He fainted and was found by his guru and his fellow-students when the weather improved at dawn. That day, when he had fully recovered from his exhaustion, the guru told him, "Today I am satisfied that your education has been completed."
The incident illustrates how theoretical knowledge alone was not enough for one to be deemed educated. We see some distinct undercurrents beneath Arunis action: his was an enlightened pragmatism. That is to say, not that he did not know that it was not proper to risk ones life for a temporary material gain. But he took the risk because his zeal belonged to another plane where to defy the odds and to stand up to a commitment was an ideal worth achieving, its utilitarian worth or worthlessness notwithstanding. He had conquered his ego; even though he was a scholar, he did not look upon the action he took as something inferior to his status. Education had taught him humility.
But how far is this spirit of education relevant to our time? "Education must have an end in view, for it is not an end in itself," said Sybil Marshall in An Experiment in Education. And if we recognise that goal to be at least helping to student to become a better human being, then the spirit in question is absolutely relevant.
The spiritual education is not a specific subject like history, geography or mathematics. It begins with the very formation of an individuals consciousness. Today the proliferation of educational institutions and the phenomenal growth in student-population have made a personal relationship between the teacher and the pupil very difficult. The students feel harassed and they dont mind harassing their educators in return.
"When the expanding youth generation comes to the academy, we expect it to master in a few years what the entire evolutionary adventure has accomplished so laboriously over all past ages. If the tasks of education were never easy, today they are bewilderingly more difficult than ever before. Too many students, alas: and too many loads of knowledge: and too meagre resources: and too little time at our disposal: and too much distraction to permit us to make really profitable use of even the available time! The aggregating situation is plainly impossible. Expansion seems already to have gone past the stage of profitable returns, and yet we feel helpless to arrest this growth, this madness, this headlong run towards racial suicide."
Dr. K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar
Added to this situation are a hundred other factors, politics (by no means in a theoretical sense) making inroads into the campus, the influence of the irresponsible and anarchic explosion of vulgar entertainments through electronic and other media, etc. Where is the opportunity for spiritual education to claim their attention?
But, luckily, the key to ignite in the children a spiritual outlook is in the hands of those who have the sole monopoly of the childs attention and the sole hold on the childs time at the most important stage of the childs growth. Needless to say, they are the parents.
Next in importance, no doubt, is the teacher. Discussing with the teachers of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education the issue of teacher-student relationship and how a teacher can really exercise his or her influence on the students, the Mother said, "Teachers who are not perfectly calm, who do not have an endurance that never fails and a quietude which nothing can disturb, who have no self-respect... will get nowhere. One must be a saint and a hero to be a good teacher. One must have a perfect attitude to demand a perfect attitude from the students. You cannot ask anyone to do what you dont do yourself. That is a rule....
"... I have never asked anyone educated here to give lessons without seeing that this would be for him the best way of disciplining himself, of learning better what he is to teach and of reaching an inner perfection he would never have if he were not a teacher and had not this opportunity of disciplining himself, which is exceptionally severe. Those who succeed as teachers hereI dont mean an outer, artificial and superficial success, but becoming truly good teachersthis means that they are capable of making an inner progress of impersonalisation, of eliminating their egoism, controlling their movement, capable of a clear-sightedness, an understanding of others and a never-failing patience".
(Collected Works of the Mother, Vol. 8)
In a true system of education it is not the student alone who makes progress, but the teacher too does the same.