Guiding Light of The Month

It is the harmony of boundless Love, Love victorious over all suffering and all obscurity. By this law of Love, Thy law, I want to live more and more integrally; to it unreservedly I give myself. And all my being exults in an inexpressible Peace. - The Mother

The Mother on Education

‘On Education’(by The Mother) is but a series of 6 brief essays, but it is also a vast arc of comprehension: from Matter to Spirit, from the physical, vital and mental to the psychic, spiritual and supramental, from animal to man and from man to God! Education is a movement, an unfolding, a becoming: what is already involved as a result of the holocaust of the Spirit in inconscient Matter awakens and puts out its sticky leaves of bud of promise, and must end at last in the full blossoming of the Divine potentiality.

K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar in ‘On The Mother’

In her series of essays on education, the Mother discourses on its diverse aspects - physical, vital, mental, psychic and spiritual - which together constitute the unified spectrum. Integral education is the inclusive white ray which, when seen through a prism, reveals the rainbow-colours. The Mother's book, 'On Education', thus embodies a complete vision, but it is also a step by step presentation.

The first of the six essays, "The Science of Living: To Know Oneself is to Control Oneself", is rather more than a mere introduction to the series. Surely the science (or art) of living is much more than what passes for education. Nor could this science be anything at all so rigid or stereotyped - a thing of dogma, ritual or fashionable observance - as to be applicable to all people in all contexts. All life is Yoga, all life is Education; but how exactly this Yoga, this Education, is to be pursued will depend upon the aim that one has set before one's life. Hence the Mother's classic opening: "An aimless life is always a miserable life." But, then, there are aims and aims, and the higher the aim, the more noble and disinterested, the more integral and universal, the more will it enhance the quality of one's life. "The first step," says the Mother, "is to become conscious of yourself, of the different parts of your being and their respective activities." This will demand endless sincerity and perseverance. Our faculties are many and varied, and may often pull in different directions; and unless they are firmly linked to the "psychic centre", as the spokes are to the hub of the wheel, the human personality will crack and disintegrate. On the other hand, the discovery of the psychic centre - the soul, the real truth of our being - can defy easy accomplishment. One must first purify the instruments, and one must learn to harmonise and unify them.

While the Mother devotes separate chapters to the different disciplines - psychic, mental, vital, physical - here she sees them really as a single integrated discipline. But it often becomes necessary to stress, now this and now another aspect. With children, and at school generally, physical, mental and vital education may have to take precedence, but psychic discipline is truly the heart of the matter. The journey to the soul may be long and difficult, yet the goal is not impossible of attainment. Once the way is open to the psychic centre, the other disciplines will be easy of mastery. Rightly tempered and sensitized, the mind or the reasoning intellect can be a great helper when subordinated to the soul. The vital, which is "the seat of impulses and desires, of enthusiasm and violence, of dynamic energy and desperate depressions, of passions and revolts," can be a giant power tapped when necessary but also held in leash at other times by the mind and soul. The body too, can become strong and supple and beautiful, when it is scrupulously held in check and not allowed to have things its own way. The mind and the vital - the former with its dogmas, the latter with its passions and aberrations - tend to pull the body in wrong directions damaging or exhausting it or dissipating its energies. The cure lies in everything — body, vital, mind - submitting readily and wholly to the soul's plenary governance. And so the Mother concludes with a peroration matching the great opening:

"When we reach this degree of perfection which is our goal, we shall perceive that the truth we seek is made up of four major aspects: Love, Knowledge, Power and Beauty. These four attributes of the Truth will express themselves spontaneously in our being. The psychic will be the vehicle of true and pure love, the mind will be the vehicle of infallible knowledge, the vital will manifest an invincible power and strength and the body will be the expression of a perfect beauty and a harmony." 

While "The Science of Living" has a general appeal to all and includes far more than formal education, the remaining essays are concerned mainly with the education of children in their homes and the school. Education, a life-long process, begins in fact even before birth. As the Mother had said in her talk to the Women of Japan, a great deal depends on the aspirant mother's own tapasya during the long months of pregnancy. She now reiterates that any aspirant mother should see that "her thoughts are always beautiful and pure, her feelings always noble and fine, her material surroundings as harmonious as possible and full of a great simplicity". Above all, the whole endeavour should be sustained by a will to form a child pure and noble and high-souled.

The responsibility of the parents is great indeed. As in the old adage "Physician, heal thyself!" the Mother would say: "Parents, educate yourselves!" An ounce of example is always better than a ton of preaching. Qualities like "sincerity, honesty, straightforwardness, courage, disinterestedness, unselfishness, patience, endurance, perseverance, peace, calm, self-control" are assimilated with unobtrusive ease if they are pervasive in the home atmosphere. Hence the Mother's exhortation:

"Parents, have a high ideal and always act in accordance with it and you will see that little by little your child will reflect this ideal in himself and spontaneously manifest the qualities you would like to see expressed in his nature."

Since the home is the first school and will never cease to be the residuary school, the parents should always be at their best behaviour, leading their children gently on, never shirking the truth and illustrating precepts by simple tales, fables or parables (as in 'Panchatantra', 'Hitopadesha' or the Mother's own 'Tales of All Times'), - and equally parents should refrain from scolding children, or being despotic, impatient or ill-tempered with them.

Physical education should be methodical because the human body is "the most completely governed by method, order, discipline, procedure," and is strictly subservient to the laws of the universe. The needed categories of movements, the rhythm of waking and sleep, work and relaxation, first imposed in the name of personal or communal discipline, presently become the habits of a lifetime done with unconscious ease and even with a quiet sense of joy.

The Mother differentiates between three aspects of physical education: (1) control and discipline of functions; (2) harmonious development of the several parts of the body and the body itself; and (3) rectification of defects and deformities. A basic knowledge of the human anatomy, of food and exercise, of health and hygiene, is certainly necessary, but there are always individual variations which must also be borne in mind. In the matter of food, tastes could differ, and what is appetising to one may be repulsive to another. It would be unwise therefore to force children to eat the kind of food which they intensely dislike. In all things, an avoidance of extremes and a reliance on Nature are to be preferred to arbitrary parental or pedagogic impositions and tyrannies. Also, the only too common tendency to exploit the child's fear or to dole out frightening Don'ts! is to be shunned in the interests of the normal growth of the child.

The importance of sports, outdoor games and athletics cannot be overstressed. "An hour's moving about in the sun," says the Mother, "does more to cure weakness or even anaemia than a whole arsenal of tonics."The promiscuous dependence on medicines is another serious danger to the child's - or, indeed, the adult's - health, and the child should be made to feel (as in Samuel Butler's, 'Erewhon') that falling ill is no merit, but rather a sign of inferiority and improvidence. It is only the body's strength, suppleness and health that can build the Body Beautiful.
(to be continued)

(K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar in ‘On The Mother’, Chapter 37, “Mother on Education”, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry)

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