'We teach what we know, but educate what we are'
- Dorothy Simmons, First Principal of Brockwood Park School
Everyone who has listened to J Krishnamurti knows about the twofold aspect of education in his vision, which has been described so succinctly in these words of Dorothy Simmons. Education, in K's vision, is learning not only in the field of conceptual rationality but, in a much more vital sense, it is learning in the field of Being - the field of 'what we are'. The first is the field of conceptual knowledge 'which we teach'; the second, the field of what we may call Existential knowledge of what we are, 'which we educate'. The first field involves the expansion of conceptual knowledge, and the second, deepening in our knowledge of ourselves.
What I take Mrs. Simmons to be saying is that while it is one of the educator's tasks to impart a good intellectual training to the student, this task is contained within the wider responsibility of educating'to be what one is'. And this can be done only to the extent to which the educator herself has applied herself to the task of deepening in self-awareness, of 'being what one is'.
In seeking to educate ourselves, to expand and deepen our understanding of the world and ourselves, we seek order, harmony and coherence not only in the field of abstract conceptual rationality (the logical consistency of our thinking, and correspondence between our thinking and that which we think about), but also in the field of our personal lives as we actually live them - we seek coherence between our work and our interests (the work should be interesting), emotion and reason (impulse and reasoning should go together), body and mind (we should have health). We desire coherence in our relationships in our immediate circle, and also in Society as a whole. We seek to contemplate beauty and order in Nature. True education should mean growth and creativity both in rationality and in personal life, and it seems that it would be interesting and instructive to unfold the similarities and the differences in the learning process in both these areas.
The characteristics of the field of conceptual knowledge, its 'distinguishing marks', so to say, are well known. These are the detachment of the observer or thinker from what is observed, 'objectivity' in observation, abstraction of the 'essential features' of the phenomena observedfor study, formulation of explanatory hypotheses in terms of these abstractions, and correlation ofthe phenomena studied, in terms of cause and effect.
This is the field of instrumental rationality in which the validity of theories is tested by their ability to make correct predictions that are deducible from the theoretical principles, and of which the ultimate aim is manipulative power over natural phenomena.
The examples par excellence of such instrumental rationality are of course the 'hard sciences' of physics, chemistry, bio-chemistry, molecular biology etc. The spirit of Science demands'that the observed fact be respected (and not tailored 'to save the appearances') even though it contradicts currently accepted theories, axioms and assumptions. This spirit also demands that for there to be creativity and advance in Science, there should be a willingness to question and even give up strongly held theoretical principles when they are in contradiction with observed facts. It was such respect for observed facts (for the 'what is') and such a questioning attitude towards strongly entrenched assumptions and principles that enabled the pioneers of modern Science, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton to face the intractable facts of planetary and terrestrial motion, and to question and give up long accepted Ptolemaic and Aristotelian principles such as that the Universe was necessarily earth-centred, that 'heavenly' and 'earthly' motions were intrinsically different, that the circle was the 'perfect' figure and that motion was necessarily teleological, and to propose the new heliocentric Universe governed by inertial motion and universal gravitation.
The history of Science shows that for growth, it needs the creative passion and courage of the scientist to face the facts, stay with uncertainties, and abandon incoherent assumptions.
Before we leave this brief account of the nature of Scientific rationality, it would be salutory to note some chinks in the rationalistic armour. Science, in spite of its claims to pure objectivity has strong solipsistic elements in it. Hannah Arendt has pointed out that Science has fallen into a vicious circle which can be stated as follows:'Scientists formulate their hypothesesto arrange their experiments and then usethese experiments to verify their hypotheses. During this whole enterprise, they obviouslydeal with a hypothetical Nature'. Thetechnological successes of Scientific theoriesblind us to the self-confirming nature of thetheories.
When we move to the inward sphere of consciousness, which we have called Being or Existence, we see that the Concept has very little relevance. The Concept is abstract, fixed in meaning, whereas our inner life is vital, dynamic and throbbing with energy. To illustrate: the doctor has a great deal of conceptual knowledge about my illnessits causes, cure and so on; but I 'know' my illness in a totally inward way in which no other person can. I know the specific nuances of every internal bodily sensation and mental feeling it gives me. I know what exactly it'means' to be ill in that particular way. In a very significant way, I can say that I am that illness, that my knowledge of the illness and my being are one, there is no gap between them.
In other words, we can say that our primary existential knowledge of our inner life is characterised not by conceptual cognition, but by the way in which we sense ourselves in body, thought and feeling. This primary knowledge includes the pervasive, unique and ever-present way in which we sense ourselves to be ourselves - in our kinaesthetic sense of movement in'outvvard' space, and in our sensing of the 'inward' space occupied by the body's organs. It includes our orientation to time, the sense oflife as a journey from the past through the present towards the future, ending in death.
Neither these primordial orientations in inward and outward space and in time, nor our' secondary' responses such as our sensing of the quality of our relationships with other selves, or the ways in which the 'positives' in life (the life-enhancing qualities sensed in some persons and in children, friendships, deep relationships in the family, beauty and order in Nature, the 'intellectual pleasures of the senses' art, music) or the 'negatives' (guilt, remorse, bafflement in relationships, obsession with reputation and self- image etc.) - none, in short, of these constituents of that ensemble we call the self, can, it seems, be captured within the sharp pincers of the Concept. The inner landscape of consciousness is not static but filled with Protean, shadowy forms elusive and impossible to pin down. The tools of abstTaction, instrumentality, ability to predict and manipulate, do not apply here, for the primary fears or obsessive drives cannot be explained away; they persist even after the most sophisticated intellectual explanation is given. Here our aim is not to gain manipulative power over our own inner life, but to get closer to it, in order to understand it and to be aware of all its inner secret movements and murmurings. And for this act of 'getting close' the acts of tasting, touching and feeling rather than that of seeing (which suggests distance), seem to be the apt sensory analogues. Thus we can say that we know the unique 'taste' of our particular pleasure, and that we wish'to get in touch' with our real feelings. When we do this, we clearly realise the destructive nature of inner incoherences, and they lose their power over us - at least to some extent.
Great Art and Literature, no doubt, give us inklings of these feelings (they touch, we say, our deeper feelings) but even here there is the danger of making a cult of these activities, of getting addicted to the pleasures of Art and Literature. Their attractive symbols and imagery can beguile and we can be mesmerised into making fetishes of them instead oflearning what we can from them, and moving on, after dropping them. Anthropology and history, well written, put us in touch with the whole gamut of hum an experience. In these experiences we recognise ourselves and thus come closer to self understanding.
The vital act, then, in this field of existential self- knowing is to avoid the traps of rigid conceptualisation and the blandishments of symbols and images, and to really feel, touch and taste, so to say, the entire content of our consciousness - to long, listen and observe, as K said, without the word. In an age of intellectual hypertrophy, when sole reliance is placed on instrumental reason as the tool of understanding, 'looking and listening without the name' or 'touching or tasting experience' may sound obscurantist. However, we may confidently assert that there is nothing obscurantist about the act of getting close to 'what is' in the field of consciousness. We all know what it means to get in touch with our real feelings - it means that we are trying to be ourselves, to be authentic. What is demanded of us, ifwe intend to educate ourselves 'to be what we are' is to intensify and constantly keep alive this sense of being in touch with ourselves. When this is done, we feel a sense of being in touch with reality of which we, others and Nature, are a part.
The act of staying close to the facts, and of dropping incoherences is doubly more difficult in the 'inner' space than in the area of reasoning, since in that area we need to make only' sacrifices' of concepts; but in our personal existence, we need, in some sense, to 'sacrifice ourselves'. Here we have to give up the existential blockages which make up our being - our addictive pleasures and habits (mental and physical), persistent fears, craving for social approval, obsessions about self-image and reputation, and so on. These are incoherences which we try to hide from ourselves by various types of avoidance or theoretical rationalisation. Thus a blocked relationship can be justified ('she is incorrigible, nothing more can be done'); isolation in relationships, or an obsession with ambitious achievement can be given a 'religious' interpretation ('1 am of a rajasic temperament; I need to go through this before evolving to a higher stage'). All kinds of confusion and misery (individual and collective) can be justified by the theoretical concept of Karma. Or, we may simply avoid these questions by drowning ourselves in the addictive pleasures of acquisition (material or intellectual), or in work. Habit, pleasure and concepts thus form the three grand strategies to avoid knowing ourselves and growing in the area of Being.
However, knowing our blockages by getting close to them by no means implies getting trapped in the 'negativities', (in what Yeats called the 'rag and bone shop of the heart'). Neitzsche said that 'he who constantly fights with the devils becomes a devil himself', and hence we need to realise this danger, and go beyond the 'devils', to touch the life -enhancing qualities in Nature and people. Nor do we need to avoid looking at the ideals embodied in great works of Art and Literature, provided we do not get trapped in them.
Returning to the original statement of Mrs. Dorothy Simmons, it seems to be clear that only to the extent that we - parents and teachers - are prepared to work on ourselves in these or similar ways, will we be able to convey a sense of what education means, to the young person. In other words, 'we educate what we are' .