The Earth, with its bounty of nature, has its own beauty. Human beings, having evolved relatively recently on this planet, have spread across the earth and bring in their wake great conflict and strife, amongst themselves and with nature. In 2017 every continent has been affected by a series of climate and weather disasters. There have been hurricanes and major earthquakes and a devastating fire in North America, severe rains, landslides and famine in Africa, floods in South America, tsunamis in Central America, avalanches and floods in Asia, and in South Asia, especially, floods and monsoon rains.
At a recent Teachers’ Conference, where the theme was ‘Nature’, a comment was made that nature is hardly benign and beautiful, her ways can be insidious. Further, the speaker wondered whether she was now “exacting revenge”, presumably, on humans.
How do we reconcile the fact that human beings have emerged from nature, and yet are at such odds with nature? Is it the thought-created ‘self ’ which human beings tend to inhabit and live by, that generates this rift? For the encrusted self, imprisoned by thought and directed by thought, everything is the ‘other’. Nature is also the other. This separate self, which thought must protect, is required to act. And by the fact of being alive (often when we’re dead too!), we act upon the other. We function in a pushpull world where our experiences become dysfunctional and everlastingly divisive. We often call this choice and individuality. Our conditioning directs us to binary projections: right-wrong, accept-reject, benevolentdestructive. Thus action is always divided, always partial. The inevitable outcome of divided action, no matter how magnanimous and unselfish it might seem to us, is a deviation from what needs to be done. Even when we think there is a vastness to our liberality, there is a boundary we are unable to penetrate. Otherwise why would conflict be such a burning presence in our daily lives? This response of divisive thought acting on a fragmented view of the world, Krishnamurti suggests, is destructive, because:
…the tree is not just the leaf, the branch, the flower, the fruit, the trunk, or the root, it is a total thing... (it is) the dead leaf, the withered leaf and the green leaf, the leaf that is eaten, the leaf that is ugly, the leaf that is dropping....
To feel the beauty of a tree is to be aware of its wholeness... the extraordinary shape of it, the depth of its shadow, the flutter of its leaves in the wind. Unless we have the feeling of the whole tree, merely looking at a single leaf will mean very little.
When we think of nature as destructive, are we not seeing in it the image of ourselves? What we don’t see is that we are reaping the results of our collective human karma.
What is action that is total and complete? When we explore this question simply and directly, as we might do with younger students, certain pointers emerge: looking, listening, observation, choiceless awareness—the very essence of ‘attention’. We are invited to suspend what we ‘know’ (including about these words) and open up the senses. We may stay there as long as we can. And every time we gather ourselves, it is a new beginning and not an accumulation. That is the regenerative quality of attentive exploration.
Although it is the work of each individual, does one explore in isolation? Not if you are with others in a school! There is the possibility of learning together in affection, where there is a common challenge, a development in the words of David Bohm, “of a common meaning that is constantly transforming in the process of dialogue.”
If we would just ‘look’ in the beautiful spaces we are privileged to stay in, there is nature with a healing quality. Perhaps because it is not reacting with thought as humans do, thought is not activated in contact with nature. This non-activation of thought brings about a silence, where there might be the possibility of insight, of a seeing and feeling that is whole.
Many of these core concerns, which inform the intent of the Krishnamurti schools, are reflected in the articles of this issue of the Journal. You will find three interweaving themes running through many articles within these pages are the ‘quality of attention’, ‘learning from nature’ and varied personal journeys that unfold an ‘inward dimension’ to life.
The opening article, ‘Attention and the Traffic of Thought’ explores the need to make attention the foundation of our daily lives, with thought as a necessary tool. The word ‘traffic’ is suggestive of the ceaseless activity of noise, petrol fumes and pollution, accompanied by inattention, mechanical responses, competition, and road rage. There is a sense of gridlock and congestion. Push the meaning further and you would get smuggling, bootlegging and the black market! For one to step out of this chaos, the quality of attention is always there, available and renewable. It is ‘free of time’. Could there be anything more important to be learnt for the young, indeed for all of us?
The great challenge for all our schools is how to have order in the community, without resorting to rules and confining structures, how to relate to each other with care and affection. A group of articles examines the notion of individual freedom, the importance of dialogue, and a deep concern for adults and children in becoming more caring.
‘Democracy in School’ charts the journey of a small school to create a democratic space, where freedom is not viewed simply as individual choice or personal preference, but where the patterns of thought that hinder inner freedom are examined.
From the same school we have another article with a quirky title, ‘Your Kind Attention Please’. The question asked here is why adults and children become uncaring of the communities they live in and whether we need to be ‘taught’ to be kind. In examining this issue, the author speaks of the struggles of a community in living together mindfully, and the importance of on-going dialogue.
A third article in this section, from another small school, is ‘Meeting the Challenge’, of bringing Krishnamurti’s teachings into the junior school. The author draws on her experience of working with young children to suggest ways in which we may get past habitual responses to children’s concerns, questions and curiosity, and approach our interactions with a learning mind.
We have several ‘personal journeys’ in this issue. This is such a vast canvas, impossible to define. “When setting out on a journey”, says Rumi, “do not seek advice from those who have never left home!” And in case we felt the need to post photographs of that journey on Facebook he adds, “And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?” Each of the writers in this section shares in a unique manner a sense of an outer as well as inner journey, which others too could profit by.
In ‘Attention is the Culmination of Intelligence’, the author indicates that she began her journey of discovery in childhood, as she watched Krishnamurti exploring and inquiring with students in the school she grew up in. Emerging as an adult into a world where there is discontent everywhere, she began to understand with Krishnamurti that in a world in crisis everyone is part of the solution. She suggests that “the quality of attention is the vital component of intelligence”, and that it “opens the door to a life-time of learning”, well beyond one’s school years.
In ‘The Flow of Learning and Teaching’ the author looks back ruminatively at a forty-year period of being a teacher. She begins with the question: What sustains and gives a teacher energy? In sharing the stages of her own on-going journey of teaching and learning, she evokes a sense of what it might mean to live vulnerably and creatively, meeting the complexities and contradictions of life, open to uncertainty and the unexpected.
In ‘Learning Empathy’, the writer shares with us her experience of growing up with an evaluation of ‘needs to improve’ in ‘empathy from her sixth grade teacher. There is the troubled feeling of an insensitive self. Later, when she joins her own former school as a young teacher, the meaning of ‘empathy’ begins to unfold in the deepest sense.
‘Reflection, Empathy, and Action’ is the account of the writer’s three “encounters with education”. First as a project coordinator in a school where the children of daily wage earners studied, the second while teaching an undergraduate course where the question of corporal punishment came up for discussion, and finally a discussion on social change and relevant education. She shares the challenges thrown up by each encounter, and the common thread that binds her learning from these.
The final one in this group ‘A Woman, A Horse and A Degraded Stretch of Land’ is about the creation of a farm called Beejom. The writer takes us on an energetic, infectious roller coaster ride—learning about seeds and soil regeneration, sheltering not just cats and dogs but horses, cows and goats, making her own fertilizers, electricity and bio-gas, and growing food in a sustainable manner. It is a journey of breaking barriers along with nature, the greatest teacher, and learning to live responsibly.
Having our schools in natural surroundings is not sufficient if all the time they are locked in structured, academic activities. There has to be an active engagement with nature: working on the land, being alone and quiet, going for frequent and long walks.
‘Nature Education in Marudam’ details students’ interactions in this rural school in Tamil Nadu. Daily observation, exploration of hidden fears, undirected free time with nature, importance of silence in the day, recording and learning from nature, and the role of passionate adults in the learning space helps nurture a culture of respect for nature. A point that comes up is, whether a rural background and fewer possessions have a role to play in the affinity with nature.
‘How Children See’ is an account of several video workshops for Indian children aged between ten and thirteen held over a period of five years. The settings were urban and rural, involving children of different backgrounds; the aim was to understand how children ‘perceived and interpreted their surroundings’ and what that revealed about our society and ourselves. We learn how children performed unfamiliar tasks, how adult approval was sought in spaces where independent thinking was not the norm and how younger children were creative while the older ones careful and inhibited about what they wanted adults to see.
It may not have caught the world’s attention as the discovery of Xanadu (Changdu) made famous by Marco Polo and Coleridge or the nineteenth century discovery of Troy where an epic battle was fought for a woman whose face ‘launched a thousand ships’, or closer geographically the momentous discovery of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. For the history buff, however, is the possibility that the sleepy village Pattanam in Kerala may—just may—turn out to be Muziris, a 2,000 year old trading port, from where black pepper was exported in huge quantities to the Roman world. ‘A Lost Port City and Our Quest’ takes us on a journey of discovery with class 8 students. With their questions and explorations several themes emerge: the plurality and diversity of people living and working together—Jews, Christians and Hindus, a rare archaeological space welcoming children, and the story of the extraordinary ‘black gold’ which left even the mighty Roman empire in debt!
Finally we have a review of Neeraja Raghavan’s book The Reflective Teacher. The phrase is placed in the context of how creative individuals think through and resolve problems and its special relevance in the teaching profession which is a ‘multi layered engagement’. The review also brings the focus back on the first article of this Journal, as it explores the complementary nature of awareness, attention, observation and reflection,
Krishnamurti talked of the three concerns of education as care for man and environment, a global outlook and a religious mind. Perhaps the first could be done with activities and exposure, the second in the way subjects (history, geography, sociology, economics) are taught and the third, contact with nature, the nurturing of attention, silence and aloneness. Readers will find that, taken together, in one way or the other the articles in this issue touch upon all of these concerns.