Scholarly research into the philosophy of education abounds with accounts of contributions of several educational and social leaders to the understanding and practice of education. They include great men and women who have expressed their views on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of education, some among whom have also established institutions to propagate their ideas. Not all of them, however, pass as philosophers of education. Philosophizing on education is a wider and deeper engagement. It involves seeing education holistically and in its relationship with the totality of life, its goal being enlightenment through sustained reflection on the very fundamentals of education – its meaning, ends and means. From this perspective, Krishnamurti stands out from among the galaxy of educational thinkers chronicled in history.
A Philosopher of Mind
It is essentially as a philosopher of mind that Krishnamurti looks at education. He sees the ultimate basis of all learning in the innermost workings of the human mind. This is not psychoanalysis as it is commonly understood but a deep look, unburdened by any kind of conditioning, into one’s own person, into one’s innermost thoughts, feelings. ‘Mind’, ‘thought’, ‘intelligence’, ‘attention’, ‘perception’, ‘freedom’, ‘love’ and ‘self’ accordingly dominate his teachings. Understanding them for what they really are, says he, holds the key to the transformation of the individual and society.
Truth, says K, is not a matter of logic. It is direct perception. It is seeing without conceptualization, without motive, choice or self-interest. It is ‘pure observation’ and ‘choiceless awareness’ where ‘the observer becomes the observed’. The conscious mind is totally conditioned; it is determined by thought, constant movement and desire. Only when the mind is freed fromthought can the light of truth be seen. Krishnamurti’s ‘choiceless awareness’ and‘observer is the observed’ seem to echo Buddha’s nairatmya - vada (doctrine of no-self): to Buddha there exists no ‘soul’ (pure self). Krishnamurti’s insistence that the ‘word or image’ is not the ‘thing’ also echoes Kant’s das Ding an sich (thing-in-itself): Kant held that we can perceive objects only as they appear to us (phenomena) and never the thing-in-itself (noumena).
Psychologically, the individual human being, says Krishnamurti, is inseparable from the whole of mankind. His central concepts of ‘goodness’, ‘responsibility’, ‘relationship’ and ‘love’ are associated with life and humanity as a whole. “Being a representative of all mankind, you are responsible for the whole of mankind”. This total responsibility, absolute care and concern for the good of all, is love. And education is the cultivation of such responsibility in the student. Goodness, in essence, is the absence of self, the ‘me’.
Goodness and love in all our relationships can transform life. The flowering of goodness is possible only in freedom and in the choiceless awareness of our daily existence and activity. It is the total unfolding and cultivation of our minds, hearts and our physical well-being. It is living in complete harmony in which there is clear, objective, non-personal perception unburdened by any kind of conditioning. It is the release of our total energy and its total freedom.
What comes in the way of such absolute perception and limits the release of total energy is ‘thought’ (in a wider sense that Krishnamurti uses this term). “Where thought is, love is not”. Thought is the root of all our sorrow, ugliness, anxiety, grief, pain, power and violence. It is a destructive factor to the wholeness of mind, its infinite capacity and its total emptiness in which there is immeasurable energy. Education should help one to free oneself from the limiting influence of thought and experience life in its wholeness.
The Centrality of Education
Krishnamurti is truly an educational philosopher in that his thinking is centred on education, on understanding its fundamentals as well as praxis. There is no need for one to ‘draw educational implications’ from his general thinking or search for strands. How could one even entertain such a distinction given K’s severe opposition to fragmentation of all kinds? His educational teachings do not hang loose but are integrally woven into his thinking on life, world and humanity.
Krishnamurti addressed educational problems, even the nitty-gritties of day-to-day classroom teaching, squarely and directly. He dealt with them by probing into their very roots with his penetrating insights. His educational concerns are strikingly contemporaneous and global. They include: freedom and discipline, comparison and competition, learning through the senses, scientific temper, joy and creativity. A primary audience of his has been the educational community–schools, teachers, students and parents. Krishnamurti’s educational teachings also encompass such broad, general concerns of mankind as freedom, fear, god, living and dying, love and loneliness, peace and the future of humanity. It is against this awesome sweep of ideas and his deep love of humanity that one has to understand his educational philosophy.
The Purpose of Education
Education is usually taken to be an organized, purposive activity, with pre-established goals. What sense can one make of Krishnamurti’s “truth is a pathless land…it cannot be organized…” and his ardent espousal of education and his setting up of a number of schools? The reconciliation of the apparent contradiction lies in K’s situating education in the active, existential, living present and consideration of education as a cooperative exploration by the teacher and student.
Krishnamurti sees education not with the eyes of a reformer, as a means to serve this or that end, but as an intrinsic, self-fulfilling experience requiring no further justification. The function of education, he said, is “to bring about a mind that will not only act in the immediate but go beyond…a mind that is extraordinarily alive, not with knowledge, not with experience, but alive”.“More important than making the child technologically proficient is the creation of the right climate in the school for the child to develop fully as a complete human being”. This means giving him “the opportunity to flower in goodness, so that he is rightly related to people, things and ideas, to the whole of life” (On Education).
Insights into teaching and learning
It is not possible to do justice to the richness of the body of K’s insights on teaching, learning and other aspects of education in a brief write-up. I quote a few below that have a significance all their own and leave a lasting impact.
The Point of Education: Education is essentially the art of learning, not only from books, but from the whole movement of life…learning about the nature of the intellect, its dominance, its activities, its vast capacities and its destructive power…learning it not from a book but from the observation of the world about you…without theories, prejudices and values (Letters to the Schools).
Principle of Method: If one really has something to say, the very saying of it creates its own style; but learning a style without inward experiencing can only lead to superficiality…Likewise, people who are experiencing, and therefore teaching, are the only real teachers, and they too will create their own technique. (Education and the Significance of Life, p.21, 48).
Schooling without Competition and Comparison: When A is compared to B, who is clever, bright, assertive, that very comparison destroys A. This destruction takes the form of competition, of imitation and conformity to the patterns set by B. This breeds…antagonism, jealousy, anxiety and even fear; and this becomes the condition in which A lives for the rest of his life, always measuring, always comparing psychologically and physically… Goodness cannot flower where there is any kind of competitiveness. (Letters to the Schools, p.80)
Learning through Observation: Learning is pure observation – observation which is not continuous and which then becomes memory, but observation from moment to moment – not only of the things outside you but also of that which is happening inwardly; to observe without the observer. Look not with your mind but with your eyes… Then you find out that the outside is the inside…that the observer is the observed (On Education).
Freedom and Order…if you want to be free…you have to find out for yourself what it is to be orderly, what it is to be punctual, kind, generous, unafraid. The discovery of all that is discipline… Freedom is not from something or avoidance of constraint. It has no opposite; it is of itself, per se. Clarity of perception is freedom from the self. Flowering of goodness in all our relationship is possible only in freedom (On Education).
Krishnamurti as a Communicator
It is rarely that a great philosopher is an engaging teacher too. Krishnamurti is one such. He employs talk and dialogue with great effect as didactic devices to communicate the most abstruse and complex ideas. His method is to unlock commonly held, pet beliefs through a form of Socratic dialogue – raising a question, assuming the role of a skeptic, testing received wisdom with reference to instances, counter instances, analogies and illustrations, ultimately leading the inquirer to light. It is tempting to see it as a kind of linguistic analysis (a la Wittgenstein) but it is anything but that– the aim is not mechanical, positivist search for conceptual clarity; it is a deeper search for inner meaning. Krishnamurti constantly cautioned against giving primacy to verbal clarity. “The word is never the thing…it prevents the actual perception of the thing…”
Through his talks, speeches and writings Krishnamurti establishes a kind of communication that is at once intimate and personal. When you read Krishnamurti, you feel like you are being talked to personally, so close and direct is his mode of talking to the reader. He takes the reader along with his thinking, step by step, all over the territory covering the issue, negotiating twists and turns, all the while increasing the subject’s anticipation of arriving at the ‘destination’. The unraveling, the denouement, however, does not come in the form of a crisp definition or a cut and dried answer to the question but in the form of a thorough mapping of the contours of the issue, laying bare its complexities. At the end the reader is left alone to put together and make sense of all that the exploration has brought out. At least, that is how I felt when I read ‘A Religious Mind is Like Clear Water’ (KFI Bulletin vol 3, Nov 2005 –Feb 2006).
Krishnamurti’s teachings are also characterized by cryptic aphorisms and maxims: The first step in freedom is the last step; The ending of the continuity– which is time – is the flowering of the timeless; To discover anything…your look must be silent; We learn to earn a living but we never live. Moreover, he packs so much into certain commonly used concepts that they need unpacking before their hidden meaning is understood. ‘Thought’, to Krishnamurti, for example, does not just mean logical, abstract, ideational thinking but refers to the entire content of consciousness — memories, emotions, impulses, fears, hopes, desires. When he says that thought is responsible ‘for all the cruelty and the wars as well as the beautiful things created by man, cathedrals and poems’, he is using thought in the above sense. ‘Mind’ implies the senses, the capacity to think and the brain that stores all memories and experiences as knowledge, the total movement (Letters to the Schools). Similarly, ‘insight’ is not just instantaneous perception of truth but also associated with love, intelligence, action and a host of other attributes like – believe it or not – it’s being absolute, accurate, final and true! (Letters to the Schools).
Krishnamurti as an Educational Philosopher
As a philosopher, Krishnamurti, it appears, has not engaged the attention of academia, in India or in the West. Possible reasons for the apathy of universities towards Krishnamurti’s teachings could be their basically theoretical and intellectual orientation, or the uncritical celebration of thought that is characteristic of our times (Javier Gomez Rodriguez in his review of‘On Krishnamurti’ by Raymond Martin, The Link, No 25, 2005-06, p.64). It may also be due, as some say, to the ‘limited’ nature of his message.
But it can hardly be denied that Krishnamurti is essentially a philosopher of education. It needs no deconstruction to say this. His teachings with their core concern of education make him that. As a philosopher of education, Krishnamurti has been a favourite ‘subject’ for scholarly study leading to a few doctoral dissertations. This is significant considering that philosophy of education (like philosophy and, generally, most humanistic studies) is far from being a vibrant field of academic activity in our country. Krishnamurti also finds a place as an important educational thinker in courses on educational theory and philosophy. But these are just commonplaces. If one were to appreciate the true significance of K’s teachings to the body of knowledge and insights that we call philosophy of education, one needs to look far beyond and far deeper.
First, the educational issues raised by Krishnamurti—place of knowledge in education, freedom and discipline, learning from nature, role of sensory experience and observation, comparison and competition—are of such abiding concern that they have been discussed by several educational thinkers in the past. The greatness of Krishnamurti lies in the fact that he dealt with them not as educational problems per se but in relation to their deeper philosophical ramifications. Also, he did not consider them as so many disparate issues but as comprising an integrated whole connected with the attainment of the summum bonum: absolute, pure perception of truth and goodness. This gives his educational teachings a firm philosophical anchor.
Secondly, the educational concerns of Krsihnamurti being at once topical and contemporaneous are capable of supplying the needed grist to the philosopher’s mill. This intellectual activity, it appears, is presently confined to a rather limited circle. But the issues raised are anything but sectarian; they are the general concerns of each and every person with a stake in the education of their children and the well-being of society. For example, the distortion of ‘knowledge aim’ in schools, the danger of virtual reality replacing learning from nature under the euphoria of IT, the neglect of childhood as an intrinsically desirable stage, to mention a few, are plain, universal concerns. It is to the credit of those engaged with Krishmamurti’s educational work that attention has been drawn to these concerns and the initial momentum has been imparted for their wider discussion.
Apart from Krishnamurti’s own writings, his teachings have begun to spawn publication of a variety of educational writings of a philosophical kind. These are in the form of reflections based on field experience and scholarly analyses of issues on various aspects of education, schooling, teaching and learning, emerging thus far mostly from the educational centres established by Krishnamurti himself*.
In the final analysis, Krishnamurti stands out as an educational philosopher not so much for his ‘pure’ metaphysical beliefs, as for the veritable mine of precious insights he has left behind on schooling, teaching and learning. At a time when genuine educational values are being overrun by concerns of the market place, Krishnamurti’s teachings today acquire an added relevance and urgency.
Prof C. Seshadri, a scholar in philosophy of education, was formerly Professor of Education and Principal at the Regional Institute of Education, Mysore, a constituent unit of the National Council of Educational Research and Training. He is presently associated as a consultant in teacher training with the British Government – All China Women’s Federation project on integrated skills training of poor, adolescent girls in the backward provinces of China.
*The Journal of the Krishnamurti Schools which publishes these is a valuable contribution to the ‘ philosophy in practice’ genre from the Krishnamurti perspective.
†Concerning Education (the Report of the Krishnamurti Birth Centenary Educational Conference, 1995) has also enriched the philosophy of education literature.