I have been asked to contribute to the Journal which is now marking the first decade of its existence, and I am happy to do so because of my involvement in the work of the Foundations, which, of course, can be seen at so many levels as part of the world of education. It was suggested to me that I might provide ‘a peep from the wings’ about ‘what K wanted for Brockwood as a school community’, or on ‘K’s vision of education’, and I hope that I may provide some focus on all this.
I should mention here that a conversation between Mary Zimbalist and myself about Krishnaji’s approach to education was published under the heading of Shattering All Conditioning in the 1999 book Understanding Ourselves, which celebrated the first thirty years of Brockwood Park School. It will be difficult for me to avoid some repetition of what I said then. Although that conversation related especially to Brockwood, it also touched on Krishnaji’s passion for the work of all the schools. K was the supreme educator, in the broadest and deepest sense of that word. I recall that way back in the early 1960s when we wanted to issue a press release about his forthcoming public talks in London, we didn’t know how best to describe him in just one or two words. ‘Philosopher’ did not fit, and he wouldn’t allow ‘mystic’ or ‘religious teacher’. He suggested ‘Educator’- but eventually decided on ‘Teacher’, with capital T. (In the event, the press release was never sent out because Krishnaji always had some reluctance for what he considered to be any kind of personal advertisement!)
Working with K involved many discussions about Brockwood, but it is sometimes difficult to unravel what he said that specifically concerned the school. This is because he often used the word ‘Brockwood’ to mean the whole of the work—the Foundation, the schools and the International Committees; also, towards the end of his life he included the Centres which he was vigorously planning, and about which he spoke with great feeling. His wish that Brockwood would last for a thousand years was much quoted. I told him I felt uneasy about this because Hitler’s frequent declarations that the Third Reich would continue for a thousand years still rang loudly, if hollowly, in many ears.
When Krishnaji talked about Brockwood, the physical beauty of the place – the elegant house, the great old trees, the lawns, meadows and wild flowers – seemed to merge with the psychological atmosphere which his presence there generated. As well as the teachings, respect for the earth and the environment has always been at the heart of Brockwood activities. K’s vision of the right atmosphere for the school was both sweepingly wide and meticulously detailed, as can be sensed in his many discussions with the staff and students there. He saw it as a place without fear and a place of excellence brought about by the passion and endeavour of all the people living there – teachers, staff and students – and also by visitors. He often said that‘Brockwood is more than a school’. As well as creating an atmosphere in which young minds could open and flower, that special quality of life should embrace people seriously interested in the teachings who would visit Brockwood.
There would be a two-way influence: these visitors would bring an input from their own creativity, and the school would have an effect upon them. I think that this feeling for an ‘osmosis’ between Brockwood and visitors eventually led Krishnaji to suggest the establishment of a Centre there. (It was mooted some years earlier but, although favouring aspects of what he called ‘an ashrama’, K then had some doubts about it. Perhaps he felt that the school had first to establish its own enquiry and integrity.)
We will come back later to some of Krishnaji’s reflections on Brockwood’s atmosphere, but I would like first to mention two moments with him that particularly stand out for me in connection with the school. The first was when Brockwood had been in existence for some time and we wanted to write something about it for the Bulletin. Krishnaji asked the trustees and some of the staff what we were actually doing at Brockwood. He expected us to answer this individually, and no one’s replies satisfied him. He winced at them, and turned away. Eventually, we all sat together quietly. K had that extraordinary inward look, with his eyelids down. We seemed to be in the presence of something remarkable, a power-house of energy, and we hardly dared to speak. However, I eventually said, ‘Krishnaji, can we ask you this question, what are we doing at Brockwood?’ His reply was, ‘Oh, it’s quite simple. We are making new human beings’. I asked if we could put this into the article we were preparing for the Bulletin, and he said, ‘Yes, of course’. However, two days later I had a telephone call from him and he said, “I think perhaps we should not put that in”. Nevertheless, I’m sure that, in his heart, that was what we were doing at Brockwood – making new human beings. What a tremendous challenge this was – and is – to everyone who is part of it.
The other deeply revealing moment also came when Krishnaji was talking with some of the trustees and Brockwood teachers, and by a single sentence lifted a stagnant discussion into new dimensions. He had asked what happened when the bright, questioning child grew into the bored teenager and, as we probed, he said very factually, “After all, goodness is there, wanting to manifest”. I asked him whether ‘there’ meant all around or inside us, and he indicated, by repetition of the word there and by gesture, that it was both inner and outer.
One of Krishnaji’s greatest gifts to us was the ease and naturalness which so often flowed between him and the groups with whom he worked. We couldn’t always take full advantage of this at Brockwood and, sadly, frequently failed to ask ‘the right questions’. However, at Brockwood and his other schools, K’s long and intense discussions with staff and students are invaluable. So too are what sometimes appeared to be his ‘throw-away’ remarks.
We know that from his early years he was drawn to the establishing of schools. Sometimes people have asked: “Why schools? Why not adult groups, communities, workshops, etc?” My feeling is that, as well as recognizing the vital need for young people to grow up without psychological conditioning, Krishnaji sensed that caring for them would enhance sensitivity and openness in the adults who chose to work in the schools.
One of the key points made in the book, Understanding Ourselves, mentioned earlier was Mary Zimbalist’s note of something said by Krishnaji in Saanen in 1975 to a group of people with a special interest in schools. Discussing responsibility he commented, ‘Responsibility is not to the students but to ‘the other’. He asked if there were a catalyst that would shatter all the child’s conditioning: “By bringing about an atmosphere, a seriousness, real affection in the air, disturbing but interesting, a sense of stability, abiding reverence in that immutable truth, unchangeable reality”.
This, surely, describes Krishnaji’s vision of education. He died twenty years ago but the vitality and immediacy of his teachings, and his work in the schools, can be accessed through his talks and writings. What he once said to some of the Trustees about the teachings we can echo in the context of the schools:
“This is a sacred treasure. This is a mine where there is immense gold and it is sacred. I will leave it with you.”
Mary Cadogan has been broadcasting, lecturing and writing about children’s books and popular culture since the mid-1970s. She has written articles and book reviews for many major British national newspapers and journals. Her fifteen published books include biographies of two prominent children’s authors and two studies of girl’s fiction. She is also president of literary societies in London, Cambridge, Yorkshire and the Midlands. A close associate of Krishnamurti for many years, Mary Cadogan is a senior trustee of the Krishnamurti Foundation Trust Ltd, UK and has been involved in the development of the Brockwood Park School and Centre.