If mediocrity and worldliness are the twin foes of J Krishnamurti’s teaching, education and enquiry are its pillars of strength. Indeed, they are not two separate activities—the search for wholeness which is the goal of enquiry is, at the same time, the backbone of right education. Krishnamurti puts the challenge thus, ‘Is it possible through education to bring about this integrated human being, that is, a human being who is thinking in terms of the whole … who is thinking as a total entity, a total process, and not indulging in divided, broken-up, fractional thinking?’ Is it possible? That is the question. It is a question we cannot afford to ignore.

Traditionally, education has been seen as a lengthy process of building knowledge. It is anchored in the notion of transmission. I go to a teacher because he knows and I don’t and, if I am lucky, he tells me what he knows. I build on what I’ve learnt, adding more, contributing to the general storehouse of knowledge which then becomes greater and more highly specialised. This, grosso modo, is what has happened. There has been a prodigious expansion in the volume of knowledge, particularly over the last 150 years, and it is now impossible for a single human being to have anything more than a general overview.

So, in terms of knowledge, homo sapiens (= knowing human being) has advanced dramatically, and perhaps this is why he lays such store by it. After all, he has built castles and cities, monuments and missiles, skyscrapers and cars. What he has significantly failed to do, however, is procure any lasting peace for human beings. The fruits of our actions lie all around us: the decimation of plant and animal species, social disintegration, domestic violence and so on. Homo sapiens may know—but what about what he has done to the planet, and what about the way he lives?

And yet, his faith in knowledge continues. There are tighter controls, increased testing and a pervasive sense that measurement is all. Schools’ exam results are published in the media so that readers can assess which schools are doing ‘best’. Schools themselves are ranked by undisclosed criteria and the results of that ranking similarly published. But, what exactly are we trying to prove? If the consequence of competition is nervous breakdown and depression, if the ultimate outcome of conflict is war, where is the benefit in human terms? If the way we are living makes no sense, what will make it make sense, what will turn it around? Right education is one place, and a good place, to start.

Most people in today’s world receive an education of some sort, but with the increasing impact of government control it does not empower them to become free human beings. Indeed, one could argue the contrary that it is doubly difficult in contemporary society not to conform and, hence, become mediocre. Against such a backdrop, Krishnamurti’s teachings stand like a beacon in a dark world. In the first place, education is not for something— to gain money, power, position—it has intrinsic value, it is good in itself. We are so accustomed to doing something for something else that we ignore the present-tense situation we are in, in order to ‘advance’ to some imagined good. But even if we get or gain what we want, the ‘I’ that wants it is still in operation: it wants something better, something more.

In other words, we think in terms of time: time is the medium, the carrier, of our lives. Learning-as-knowledge is also part of time—it is built through time, in time, by time. When we call someone learned, this is what we mean. At present, the entire educational system—whether the school is run by the government or by a well-established body of governors—subscribes to this timeworn view of things. It is part of the structure of consciousness, which every individual absorbs at birth and which he replicates in his own particular way. It behoves us, then, as educators and enquirers, to consider together the nature of consciousness. For, if consciousness is common—and it is—that is the ground on which we all stand. At the same time, it is our port of entry, what distinguishes dialogical enquiry from psychoanalysis and personal therapy. We are together in our common search.

This is not some far-flung exercise: it is as practical as baking bread. But it does require, and at the same time invoke, a different quality of understanding, what Krishnamurti calls intelligence. “Intelligence,” he says, “is neither yours nor mine”. It is something that flows between human beings when their minds are in focus and they are truly listening. It cannot be established a priori, nor is there any preparation for it other than the ordering of one’s own mind-heart. It is not part of time and has no continuity; nonetheless, it is palpable and real. It is waiting, so to speak, to be activated. As Krishnamurti put it, ‘Intelligence wants to manifest’. It is there when we are aligned, when we are thinking together ‘at the same time, at the same level, with the same intensity’.

That this happen much more in our schools is imperative—name and fame are not enough. For it is only by building this fluid intelligence, this subtle spirit, this quick understanding that we can hope to meet, and adequately deal with, the mounting crisis, the tsunami of our times. It requires, since consciousness is common and intelligence flows between human beings, that we develop a sense of impersonal friendship. We have divided existence as ‘consciousness within’, the mind, and so-called objective reality, the world. That this division is false has been amply demonstrated, not least by the discovery of the quantum world which makes no sense without subjectivity. We are here, whether we like it or not. We cannot continue in ignorance of ourselves, leaving the vast reaches of the psyche unattended.

In other words, in our investigation we need both the impersonal spirit of scientific enquiry and the personal sense of something shared. Both factors are equally important. What we have today is a disconnect—in education, the pursuit of knowledge as facts; in life, the pursuit of goods as promise. Neither can lead to harmony or happiness. It is only by drawing together as one, without mutual dependence or attachment, that we can establish a wavelength propitious to enquiry and so lay the basis in relationship for the coming, and much needed, next phase of our development. And, paradoxically, though one may speak of development, it is essentially a movement of the timeless, not of time. It involves a different kind of learning.

We are identified with our ‘mortal coil’, which is obviously why the pursuit of knowledge has become of such importance to us. More knowledge, more security, greater progress—or so we think. Actually, however, knowledge is neutral. The vast advances in computer technology have enormously facilitated instant communication; this has also led to hacking, shaming, online theft and narcissism. Inwardly, as human beings, we are exactly where we were—unless, as many think, we are degenerating fast. With the overall decline in religious beliefs, the moral tenets they supported have also declined and nothing has yet emerged to take their place. One is left with a sense of void, of no meaning, a sapped and pervasive feeling of futility. It is almost as if the ‘motor of man’, his driving force, had run down, become entropic.

What conventional education is trying to do is repair the motor with old, worn tools. This is patchwork repair, at best. What we need is a learning that is instantaneous, perceptive and, by its very nature, non-accumulative. It does not go from A to B because it exists ‘in the middle’, between A and B. In fact, it is what makes A and B possible. Without the perceiver nothing is perceived, and it is our perennial obsession with the thing perceived, to the exclusion of the perceiver and the act of perception, that has led to our lopsided view of things, with its inevitable consequences of chaos and destruction. In these schools, if at present in no others, this basic imbalance needs to be addressed.

It is necessary to shift the emphasis from the thing being learnt (the subject matter) to the world of the learner and the process of learning—not artificially or arbitrarily, but because they are part and parcel of a unitary movement. If, for instance, I am studying biology, I become aware of the growth processes within myself; I also watch my own way of learning, the how of learning as well as the what. In this way, my learning is vastly enriched; it is no longer about name and form, about facts and figures in a disembodied world—a world from which my consciousness is absent—but what I call ‘me’ is part of the process. In studying the world, I am studying myself since the world process is going on in me and I am a node or focus of it.

This new dimensionality of learning explodes the timeworn categories of the learner and the thing-to-be-learnt and gathers both up in a two-way process where ‘unitive perception’ is the key feature and the ‘bridge’. Released from the trap of Cartesian consciousness, from a mind abstracted from the world of ‘things’, we are free to wander, to question, to enquire.