Krishnamurti felt quite strongly that one of the major functions of education is to nurture the capacity to look inward. This was based on the insight that the whole outward structure of society emerges from the collective thought of humanity, the foundation for which is each individual’s beliefs, traditions, values, world views, experiences, desires, fears, envy, ambitions and so on. The ability to look at this complex movement within one’s self without escaping from it in any form, he suggested, would lead to right action in one’s life.
How do the Krishnamurti schools go about doing this?
To be able to look inward, a quiet mind—a mind that has slowed down sufficiently for its movements to be observed—is necessary. Nature provides an environment conducive to such a slowing down, and these schools are set in the midst of great natural beauty. Nature has a soothing and calming effect on the mind. People have also felt that a certain healing takes place when we are surrounded by nature—it doesn’t add to the confusions of the mind and also creates space for our thoughts to slow down.
The Krishnamurti schools consciously structure times during the day when students can sit quietly. Efforts are made to provide students with sufficient leisure time in their schedules. A lot of time is also given to activities that provide avenues for self-expression, such as arts and crafts, music, dance and poetry. These, too, may result in slowing the mind down. All this contributes to creating an environment conducive to looking inward.
Looking inward is not easy. It raises disturbing questions and causes discomfort. Therefore, the ambience of the school is important. It is only when there is a quality of care and affection in a non-judgemental atmosphere that looking inward can take root. In the Krishnamurti schools student-teacher interactions are vibrant. Students frequently approach teachers with their personal issues, such as falling out with a friend or feeling low after losing a match. This becomes an opportunity for the teacher and the student to delve deeper into the matter together and touch the core of the child’s unhappiness without passing any judgement. This may also happen when a child has infringed some school norms. There is great receptivity to looking inward at such a moment, and a sensitive teacher can help a child face her fear and discover its cause. All this is possible when a teacher’s authority is absent in these interactions. In fact, what a student may sense is that the teacher is also looking at her own inward movement. Students, too, contribute to the ambience of the school. Sometimes, the peer group can create an unsettled atmosphere through teasing, bullying and groupism. Teachers have to be alert to such possibilities and take appropriate steps to counter them.
Care is taken in designing the curriculum, and developmentally appropriate content is chosen to ensure that it does not become burdensome for the child (especially in the junior and middle school). Assessment and evaluation are designed to encourage self-reflection. The subject disciplines not only examine the outer aspects of knowledge, but also try and link up with the movement of the inner. Nationalism, for example, is studied by examining how self-identity is formed. While studying the theme of diversity, students meet a range of people with different backgrounds from theirs and find themselves watching their responses in these situations. Similarly, themes such as prejudice and discrimination are taken up in social studies classes and approached from both the inner and the outer perspective. Environmental issues invariably look at the role of the individual from the standpoint of using resources responsibly as well as of the inner movement that creates the need for excessive consumption. The need for an orderly, logical approach is stressed in the curriculum—for outward order facilitates inward looking.
Culture classes are another area in which the capacity for looking inward is nurtured carefully. One class a week is set aside for this. A range of issues and themes are examined in detail and opportunities created for the students to follow their own inner movement and respond from there. One key theme taken up in the junior and middle years focuses on the many influences on one’s life—parents, peers, media, books and experiences. These are examined carefully to help students become conscious of the way in which they form world views. Sometimes a student may make a controversial statement, such as ‘People who don’t want to work resort to begging.’ This becomes an opportunity to examine how this view was formed, without condemning the statement.
The role of experience in moulding people’s behaviour is also examined, especially the way they hold their hurts and its impact on their relationships and outlook on life. The role of pleasurable experiences—and the craving for repeated experiences of this kind as a driving force for one’s actions—is also looked at. Themes of envy and jealousy crop up frequently in the context of relationships and, wherever possible, are examined as live issues. In these classes, morals and values are never handed down but instead examined. The primary mode for conducting the classes is inquiry through discussion.
The growing years between twelve and fifteen can be difficult for students, and the way they are helped to negotiate this tricky passage can have a bearing on their openness to looking inward in later years. Multiple approaches are required to deal with the physical, emotional and social needs of this age group. Some of these issues are taken up by adults more conversant in this area, while other aspects are embedded within the curriculum. Attempts at broadening students’ horizons are made consciously: more responsibilities are given to them and clear boundaries drawn to create a safe environment for everyone. All this is done in an environment where students have access to understanding and affectionate adults.
There are inherent difficulties associated with looking inward. The flow of thoughts is constant; in fact, one can get overwhelmed with myriad thoughts. Thoughts are also super-fast, and it is not easy to catch one’s self in the moment. There is also a tendency to separate the thoughts from one’s self and start analysing them as if objectively. In Krishnamurti’s words, the observer is the observed, and any attempt to separate the two results in the postponement of right action. Then there are the modern influences of computer games, online chatting and mobile phones, which do not give space for one’s thoughts to slow down. All this makes it even more critical for schools to create opportunities for a pause in the mechanical operation of thought and awaken it to the possibilities of a different way of being —operating from a mind that can put thought in its right place, and from which flows right action.
There are also dangers associated with looking inward. One can easily become self-absorbed, shrinking away from the world and becoming woolly in one’s thinking. In the process one can develop a holier-than-thou attitude, a feeling that one is advanced on the spiritual plane! To counter this, it is important that students be well grounded in the outer, which has to be used as a mirror for the inner. For example, they should be involved in a lot of physical activity, where the body becomes a mirror for the thoughts. One’s relationship with others is an area fraught with difficulties and thus provides a good context for looking inward. Raising one’s sensibilities towards beauty, whether in good literature or the fine arts, is another antidote to these dangers, as is developing a rigorous, logical approach in one’s thinking.
However carefully considered, no set of thoughtful practices in a school can guarantee that a given student will accept the invitation to look inward. The hope is that at some point in their lives, these young people will realize the beauty and power of inquiry as a vital, relevant response to the challenges the world is facing. This message is more valuable than any other they will have learned at school.