Sridhar (S): Rajesh, many people feel that Krishnamurti’s teaching is abstract and impractical for today’s world and especially so in the organizational context of a school. Even in Krishnamurti schools some teachers think so. How do you respond to that?
Rajesh Dalal (RD): This issue is complex and requires careful exploration. For me, K’s teaching is independent of all organizations or groups interested in it. It belongs to no one and its relevance is not circumscribed by any historical time frame. It is for each individual to establish his or her relationship with it and to see its significance in one’s life. Journeying with K, for me, has been a mountain climb, both arduous and delightful. There have been periods of fear and anxiety and also of insight, elation and swift movement. Often one was simply stuck and did not know what to do. When one honestly faced inner blocks and examined them with care, by oneself or with another, they often melted and threw clear light on the nature of the self. Energy would then be released, and also joy and with it a deepening of the urge to penetrate the essence of the self. This has generated a degree of strength, pliability and resilience that help me immensely in meeting uncertainties and challenges of daily life and also in probing into eternal questions of human existence. Without doubt I would say that the teaching, far from being abstract and impractical, has great personal relevance and practical significance. At the same time there is something in all this that is subtle and difficult to put into words. I keep discovering newer dimensions to the teaching and to oneself. I find this both significant and fascinating.
Of course, creating a school or a foundation centered on such a subtle teaching is extremely difficult, and at certain periods in my life I felt, like others, exasperated by the extraordinary demands it placed upon me. Even now it is not easy. We come to these places from so many different backgrounds, with different temperaments, motivations and expectations. This is natural. One may come expecting, as I did, a common ground of interest in at least two factors— engagement with K’s vision and the wholesome growth of children. However, one is forced to face the fact that this too is often not so commonly the case. How does one respond to this?
Even K was grappling with these issues. When he was alive, each year he came and shared with all, his concern for freedom and order, love and beauty. These were not just words. His presence had an electrifying quality and strengthened one’s commitment to the challenge. However, rarely was it possible for people to respond to his passion and inquiry with equal urgency; we were too conditioned to respond fully. Most formed convenient interpretations and conclusions, which would be challenged by him with relentless energy. There were apparent and real contradictions at all levels, within oneself, in the school and in the foundation. The situation had something ‘absurd’ and‘impossible’ about it. People felt confused and at times responded very negatively. Krishnamurti was well aware of all this but was undeterred by it. He felt that it was a creative chaos that held within it the seeds of inner growth and dynamic change. If one knew how to stay with it and look at it, insight and release of new energy wereinevitable.
I vouch for this and many others have experienced this; and even those who left these places felt that they learnt a lot about themselves, about human nature. I think this is significant. These places are meant to nurture the flame of discontent in oneself and to burn away the mediocrity of the self and its search for security. They are not meant for superficial contentment or comfort. There must be freedom and ferment, a questioning of all tendency to settle down to a convenient explanation of life. This is arduous work and I find that the more I study, question, observe and listen, the more the discontent grows. Discontent is an important factor for loosening of conditioning and must not be confused with dissatisfaction or frustration. Then, wherever one is, in the classroom, house, or school, one is aware of the immense scope of learning. Of course, this may or may not be visible to an outside observer, but inwardly something alters significantly in your responses to life. And one sees how vast the field is and the fact that one is justa beginner.
S: And yet there may be many who do not feel that way and hold that the teaching is too‘abstract and impractical’. What do you think makes for such a situation?
RD: Yes, many may view the teaching as ‘abstract and impractical’ especially in a school context. There could be many reasons for this and we should examine them carefully. Firstly, no person or his words can affect all people in the same way and it is therefore natural for some to be attracted to and some to be put off by the teaching. Moreover, relationship with any living thing goes through its own phases andso it is with the teaching.
But more importantly, one must first ask whether one really has a good intellectual grasp of the teaching and its implications for humanity, whether one has grappled with sufficient honesty with the issues it raises in our daily life? Moreover, when different facets of the teaching are seen in their relationship with one another, only then does a more wholesome educational vision become evident. I feel that responsibility demands that each of us takes the trouble to go to the source of the teachings and study diligently our relationship to it—not just accept things based on hearsay, individual preferences or convenience. We do not have to agree with it, quite the contrary! But we need to engage with it, look at it, listen to it, experiment with it, question its relevance in our life and work, and discuss our views freely. Intense and open dialogue between us, where we listen to one another is crucial if the teaching is to deepen in us and affectthe schools and the world.
Perhaps the teaching is ill-understood or misunderstood because of lack of sufficient interest. Is it that we are interested in something only if it promises a reward? Or do we resist something unfamiliar and approve of only that which confirms our beliefs and traditions? Must we not find our own ways of approaching the essentials of the teaching? The teaching is not a set of dos and don’ts that can be practised. It does not lend itself to systematic compliance but rather demands reading between the lines, careful observation and diligently staying with truths about oneself, however unpleasant they may be. It ruthlessly questions the indolence in our thinking. Is that why wetend to label it as ‘impractical’?
Or perhaps people judge the teaching by watching us, those who have supposedly been long interested in Krishnamurti. Have we made K into an authority and translated the teaching into certain conclusions or an ideology to be preached or practised or, worse, imposed on another? Unless the vision is communicated with care, and a ground for listening created, it will surely get distorted. A garbled set of ideas and a distorted and fragmented picture will pass off as the intention of the school. Can we therefore assiduously question one another so that we can clarify sense from nonsense and the more significant issues from the less significant ones? Can there be a quality of sensitive listening born of affection for one another and a love of learning? Can we share our actual ignorance and examine it freely? Unless we are ourselves able to communicate simply and without pretence, it will breed contradiction and hypocrisy. This would rob the teaching of its creative power, which comes into operation only when its relationship with oneself is continually examined with interest, pliability, and openness. If we are not simple and honest about our difficulties, or are unduly modest and silent about our genuine insights out of fear of being judged, I fear we will do the teaching a great disservice.
And lastly, some people go through disillusionment due to a tendency to make the functional heads and trustees into father figures or role models and expect them to create the ground of freedom and love. Depending on them and criticizing people in authority can become a convenient habit that degenerates into gossip. We do not sufficiently realize that no one can be expected to provide freedom, order and love to us. As we are all human, full of our difficulties and limitations, can we be aware of these and work at them rather than continually blame one another? Implicit in creating a place of learning is the act of engaging with diverse people who have different ideas and expectations, strengths and limitations. This means not expecting a Shangrila, but being ready to face complex challenges in order to create something true, something really new. My experience is that when one undertakes this task, knowing fully well the difficulties involved, one grows inwardly and discovers a great truth—the school is where you are, what youare the school is.
Perhaps, some may find even after careful independent study that the teaching is still too abstruse, contradictory and unapproachable. I would not take issue with them. I would advise them to forget the teaching and to go by their inner conviction. In such important matters, one cannot blindly agree with another or pretend for social convenience and act falsely. I believe that when one lives by one’s honest perception and willingly stakes everything for it, life becomes the teacher andillumines one’s path.
S: Let us say, a teacher sees the relevance of the teaching. Now, how does he communicate it to another and what does he actually do in theschool context?
RD: This again is a difficult question. First of all, the teaching has several dimensions and depths, so how can there be any one expression? Each person will express it according to his or her understanding and in doing so experience a certain creative tension. This in turn will bring new questions, new perceptions. Surely, one can’t create a standard or a norm. Also I feel that every perception has a way of expressing itself, and the expression itself is a communication. I don’t think any genuine insight will rest content until it has expressed itself and brought about a change in the outer. I look upon the outer as a testing ground of the inner. The encounter between the inner and the outer transforms both and so they are notunrelated processes.
S: Could you illustrate what you are saying through some concrete situations?
RD: Let us explore some important dimensions of K’s teaching and see how they relate to the learning process and howthey may affect the teacher and the student.
I feel that for true education to come into being, nature, a sense of space, and silence are crucial factors. It is not accidental that K schools are all located in beautiful natural spots, away from the din of civilization. Nature has the deep patience of time and through space and silence it affects the mind in unknown ways and brings about a certain resilience and strength. Krishnamurti was concerned that our contact with this quality of nature be heightened. Outwardly, one can see that this would imply allocating time during the day and the week for nurturing this relationship with the earth and all life on it. In a school context ‘astachal’, gardening, nature walks, bird watching, quiet assemblies and so on could be expressions of this concern. One must also become aware of the complexity of human nature and not condemn its limitations. One must learn about fear and thought and how they limit spontaneity and naturalness. Space itself can create a sense of order and so the design of the campus, houses, classrooms etc. must reflect this; overcrowding must be avoided. Also in our relationships we need to look and ask if we have the right space, which means not to be too identified with another or hypercritical of one another. Do we have time to look at each other or are we too preoccupied with agendas and activities? Can we somehow make it possible to have a sense of leisure and space and can this actually be communicated in the way we speak, walk, teach, work and so on? Also, what is the quality of silence and attention in our life? This is not easy to make room for, even outwardly, for the whole of society (which paradoxically includes our schools too) is moving so rapidly, and demanding some kind of conformity to its accelerated pace of living! So what is one to do?
Not that I have the answers, but in my view, to begin this work, one cannot wait for the right circumstances. One must begin with whatever there is and change it as one goes along. Also, blaming the presence or absence of certain elements in one’s environment or in oneself does not help. Have we not ourselves created this lifestyle, individually and collectively? And is it because we are uneasy and afraid to face our inner contradictions and cover-ups that we fill our inner emptiness with amusements or activities, crowding our minds with thoughts, desires and projects? The absence of space in our mind then affects the student and the teaching-learning process in myriad ways. Also there is all the noise of our opinions, fears, conflicts and guilt. Watching, understanding and ending the operation of these factors is then our primary challenge. If we dodge it, the quality of space, time and silence in our minds and in the classroom will inevitably be limited. Without a meditative quality, our educational work may not be of very great significance. This work requires continual inquiry and not some quick agreement or disagreement with the teaching. I see that one must persistently and critically examine it from different directions and actually test it in one’s daily life. Also one must not be too impatient with something so profound. If there is difficulty in understanding, or some fear in putting it to test in the fire of action, can one be gentle with oneself and the other person and not become cynical or judgmental?
If one actually applies oneself to this task, one’s ways of functioning do change. Difficulties do not easily put you off. Your strength and maturity increase. You don’t form quick judgements of others. You admit your mistakes more readily. You don’t rush through life or the curriculum. You look at the student and help him pay close attention to you, the world around, the subject and himself. In such an environment the student absorbs much more than the content of the curriculum. When there is a slowing down of the brain, the quality of attention is different and relationships acquire a new flavour. In my view, concern for a meditative approach can bring greater attention, gravity and quality. Of course affection is implied in it.
And as a lump of sugar attracts ants, favourable factors begin to gather slowly and the outer eventually follows the direction set by the inner. Without nurturing the inner, through self-knowledge, we cannot expect to bring about a different quality of education, however beautiful and spacious our environment, however conducive the structures and intelligently organized our activities and programmes. I see much more clearly now the importance of outer leisure and inner silence. The tendency to be always occupied in some activity or other has to be challenged and so also inertial absorption in thought and inaction.
S: Did K sometimes give any specific suggestions or steps as to what a teacher can actually do in the class or in the house?
RD: Yes, he did offer valuable pointers and suggestions. I have seen that when you act on them, not mechanically as formulae, but out of perception, you break a certain pattern of the mind and the children’s relationship with you and the subject then is different. They become alive and interested. While teaching subjects he asked us to find ways and means of relating the subject to the ‘me’. He said, “Don’t start teaching your subject as soon as you go to the class. Look at the students, make some conversation, talk about some larger issue before you begin teaching the subject.” The other suggestion was to start with silence for a few minutes. Or one could encourage the whole class to carefully listen to sounds or observe closely some form. This would help gather a certain quality of attention, which could then be directed to the subject. “Attempt to relate the subject to the child as far as possible, ” he said. Imagine how the child’s interest in social studies can be affected if she realizes that she is a product of geography and history and that she has a hand in shaping them! Art and Mathematics, he suggested, have to do with order and relationships, between the parts and the whole. Could this principle be incorporated in the teaching process? Could science be taught so that the spirit of questioning and observing isnurtured?
The house master, he suggested, could invite small groups of children for tea to his room. He could then explore with them what was happening to them—their bodies, minds, their friends, interests and so on. This would help him know them more intimately, sensitise them to his concerns and also give an opportunity to discuss basic human issues. If he were a house-master, he said, he would establish an intimate relationship with each child and be concerned with everything—how she walked, talked, behaved and so on. He would insist in a friendly way that she kept her body and her room scrupulously clean. That kind of responsibility wakes you upto your own lifestyle.
In the junior school, he felt children’s love for nature must be a primary concern.‘Looking after pets, caring for plants, goingfor nature walks, learning about birds andinsects, bird feeds and bird baths, astronomy clubs’ were some of the ideashe offered. Perhaps one could compile thecountless practical suggestions he has givenat various times, but we will have to act onthem to enrich the educational work in theschools.
And it is also important to remember that he was not just concerned with developing a harmonious, happy and intelligent personality. One can get lost in that too and neglect the revolutionary possibility of a mind that is immeasurable and timeless. He asked us to inquire deeply into the nature of thought, time and fear and bring about a mutation in the mind, for only then can one be free of suffering and offer true lasting help to mankind. He has even suggested that we set aside two to four hours a day for intensifying self-knowledge
S: One last question. What do you see as the future of K schools?
RD: Tremendous, if we don’t get caught in capacity, money and recognition but continue to delve into the core of the teaching.
It is easy to get identified with creative work or achievements valued by society. Then we feed our vanity, our divisive ego and forget the original impetus of radical change for which K founded these places and without which life has no deep or profound meaning. In my view, the future lies in the religious mind that can inquire into the complexity of the self to its very end without losing the capacity to laugh at itself and to commune with the beauty of nature.
(The first part of this Interview was published in the third issue of the Journal in March, 1999.)