The history of intellectual and religious inquiry is replete with great minds and great schools. For the most part dialogue traditions have remained in the academic world or are used as stratagem in workshops or classrooms to teach specific skills. The dialogue that I would like to suggest in this exposition is an approach that, in an educational setting, has deeper implications for everyday life.
It is most notably exemplified by the dialogues in the Upanishads, of the Buddha, and Socrates. Native Americans gathered in a kind of dialogue to address all the issues of their tribal life - only stopping after there was a silence of commonly understood truth. Recently we saw in Russia that Gorbachev initiated a political dialogue with his own people that revealed the vast potential of dialogue in a large social context. But in contemporary times, only J. Krishnamurti has given to the dialogue a penetrating, non-dogmatic, self-revealing intent.
As a teacher, Krishnamurti used the approach of questioning and inquiry to aIIow truth to reveal itself. He said that no one can give truth to another - truth cannot be taught. So the dialogue associated with this is a process of 'being and seeing together' where the potency of a question is allowed to act in the group. The word dialogue comes from the Greek root, dia plus logs. Logos means 'the word' and dia means 'through', not two. This suggests that the meaning is passing through or flowing between the participants. This distinguishes dialogue from conversation or discussion where listening and understanding are not as important as expressing opinions and winning intellectual points. While finding meaning is what is significant, and the case for that is so well articulated by Prof. David Bohm, the pursuit of meaning is not the reason for dialogue.
Listening to each other, to oneself and watching consciousness yields to silence...and insight.
In a dialogue participants are encourciged to let facts reveal themselves and to face them without seeking resolution, 'closure' or meaning. This is done by moving tentatively through thought, allowing logic to propel the interchange beyond logic to a silent understanding. Listening to each other, to oneself speaking and most importantly, watching the content of consciousness, yields to silence. That silence allows understanding. In fact silence is insight.
Insight is pure learning, and a learner who has experienced the process of insight learns through questioning for the rest of life. That individual learns a questioning that is self revealing - that allows the facts of life to reveal themselves. The exposure of the workings of the brain then puts the problems of life- conflict, duality, prejudice, and sorrow - into the field of conditioning. That field in turn is a common ground, a common denominator of all human beings; it crosses environments, cultures and people. Understanding through insight fundamentally changes one's conditioned relationships because there is a different level of understanding; insights are not just 'better ideas' - rather, they are life changing realisations that can permanently alter the way we live (Pransky and Mills, 1994). There can be a state of mind where the dialogue never ends; insight becomes a way of life.
Talk is easy and random. We describe, explain and interpret involuntarily. Conversation and discussion are often mistaken for something serious. But Krishnamurti made it clear that the difference lay in the quality of listening, the intent of the participants, and the quality of their self-revealing interchange. About discussion he said, 'It is very difficult to discuss in the sense of exposing oneself. We may intellectually, verbally exchange a few ideas. But it is quite another matter to really expose ourselves, to be aware of the fact that we have committed ourselves to something, to a particular course of action, to see the limitations of that pattern, and to find out by discussing, thinking it out together, how to break it up.'
Listening is the particular distinguishing factor that separates the dialogue from other forms of group exploration and interchange. Listening, in this context, is more than hearing. Hearing becomes listening when there is no effort and no judgement. Krishnamurti says, 'One listens and therefore learns, only in a state of attention, a state of silence in which this whole background is in abeyance'. Doubtless this is easier said than done, but actually the surpassing missing element that distinguishes real listening from casual listening, is the awareness of the listener. When the listener is aware that he is not listening then listening happens.
Dialogue is a learning experience, one is learning about thought and how one's life experience results from the way we hold and use thought.
The learning environment where this is possible needs to be de-institutionalized. Parents and teachers can engage children in the kind of interchange where ideas and beliefs have no value; where the inquiry, looking and listening are more important and implicitly valued.
The presence of the teacher could imply hierarchy - the one who knows and the one who does not know - or it could imply someone who is able to ask questions, pose the question that pushes the exploration deeper and further, but without the authority of someone who knows. A teacher / facilitator is present to help keep the dialogue moving, and to help prevent anyone from taking over or turning the exchange into group therapy. Truly we have no control over what happens to a student in later life, but by helping him learn to question present reality and the thoughts he has, we can help them meet life intelligently. Students also then begin to move into a reflective and insightful state of being, rather than the automatic reactionary living by beliefs and concepts.
Schools encourage information-based argumentation, discussion, and debate. This creates the content of consciousness. Dialogue exposes that content and creates immense space within. It facilitates the awakening of intelligence; a way for truth to reveal itself in action; free of idea, and the compulsion of belief. Schools traditionally emphasise positive self esteem to help a child cope with life. But the awakening of intelligence allows for a higher level of mental health.
New paradigms emerge when society reaches the limit of old patterns and concepts. In the development of educational paradigms, in each decade or less, the pedagogical community and school systems refocus their priorities and identify the weaknesses in education that produce chronic social ills and problems. Most solutions to chronic problems are short term and palliative at best.
When have we ever heard that the very definition of education is inadequate? When have we heard that the focus of education is misdirected? When have we heard that the structure of the student-teacher relationship is false? Will schools always be perceived as having a monopoly on learning? Because these elements of education have been too long established they are not challenged.
The larger issues may not be challenged but there has emerged in twh past few years an awareness that may constitute a significant shift in education consciousness; one that deals with the awakening of intelligence. Some educators have introduced dialogue in learning environments and have seen the qualitative leap in intelligence it creates. Dialogue awakens and broadens the mind. It allows thought to see its place and its tendency to dominate perception. It shows that 'knowing' is limited and fragmentary. That new consciousness may effect a paradigm shift that will bypass the usual long process of official change. In this new perspective, the accumulation of facts and the enhancement of knowing is only one aspect of the educational process rather than its locus. The awakening of intelligence is facilitated by a more holistic view of child development, the emerging world consciousness and culture, and by dialogue - all of which focus on insight.
Children are quick to value truths they discover for themselves...a young mind is always deciding anew.
Individuals that are integrated, intelligent, non-violent, and capable of intimacy, affection, and love seem to be those who are raised by adults who talk with them; touch them; explore the secrets of life with them in ways that clearly demonstrate their value of the unfolding of reality and truth. Teachers encourage children to investigate reality, to accumulate knowledge and expand their intellect. This is done through books, electronic media, experimentation, discovery through projects, and research. But the realities of the self, the workings of the mind, the assertion of ego, the origins of conflict in relationship, the chattering brain, and the secrets of life are also legitimate subjects of learning. An intelligent young mind is not full of the past, full of confusion and the unresolved experiences of life, but is empty and free to learn. Children know when they are being told someone else's truth and are quick to value truths they discover for themselves. Dialogue offers a way for children to learn to relate to life and people - the young mind remains new. The old mind is that which is weighed down by beliefs, experience, pressure, sorrow, influence, and crowded with knowledge.
The new mind is not just for the young. Krishnamurti describes it thus,
'Surely it is necessary to have a young mind because the old mind is so full of the scars of memories that it cannot live, it cannot be earnest; it is a dead mind, a decided mind. A mind that has decided and lives according to its decisions is dead. But a young mind is always deciding anew, and a fresh mind does not burden itself with innumerable memories. A mind that carries no shadow of suffering, though it may pass through the valley of sorrow, remains unscratched.'
[The Collected Works of J. K. Vol XI pp 74-75]
In conclusion, the awakening of intelligence concomitant with dialogue suggests there could be a different role for the teacher as facilitator. A new generation of learning minds, questioning minds, could change the psychology of the world. Raising the level of understanding of a few can have a global effect. The new paradigms suggest global effects created by a few. Let us begin.
Excerpt from a talk delivered at an International Conference at the University if Guadalajara, Mexico in November 1995.