When you look around you, not so much in the human world as in nature, in the heavens, you see an extraordinary sense of order, balance and harmony. Every tree and flower has its own order, its own beauty; every hilltop and every valley has a sense of its own rhythm and stability. Though man tries to control the rivers and pollutes their waters, they have their own flow, their own farreaching movement. Apart from man, in the seas, in the air and the vast expanse of the heavens, there is an extraordinary sense of purity and orderly existence. Though the fox kills the chicken, and the bigger animals live on the little animals, what appears to be cruelty is a design of order in this universe, except for man. When man doesn’t interfere, there is great beauty of balance and harmony. This harmony can exist only in freedom, not in restriction and not in conflict.

Everything in nature has its season, its dying and rebirth. It is only man that lives in confusion, in conflict, in disorder. If you have watched in a wood, all the living things have their instinctual ways, their own pattern of life which is immemorial and endless. But man is shaped by his selfishness, and his so-called spontaneity is within the field of his self-interest. He is shaped and controlled by the culture, the environment in which he lives. Society tells him what to do; the elders try to shape the minds of the young to conform, to obey and to live in a very small space both outwardly and inwardly. Reform is the breaking of one pattern only to conform to another. We live a very short life, in conflict, in fear and sorrow. Only when we are very young do we seem to be utterly happy and unconcerned. All this soon fades, and then begins the weary conflict of existence.

In all this turmoil there is neither freedom nor the order of spontaneity, for freedom is a great sense of spontaneity. In society, in the family, in a school, if there is no order, there is no relationship. And yet we want a relationship which is really an attachment to another without an inward sense of harmony, wholeness, integrity. If you walk past a parade ground you see the poor soldier being drilled day after day by the beat of the drum and the voice of the sergeant to obey, to conform and to follow. He is made into a machine to kill and to protect himself. In similar ways, from childhood we are drilled to protect ourselves by conforming to the old or to the new. This drilling goes on in the office, in the workshop, in the church, in the school. This is called order, and this is what concerns most parents. This has been going on for generation after generation, and the gap between two generations is only an interval in which a new pattern takes shape.

Is it not possible to have order without effort, without the strife between those who see that order is necessary and those who rebel against any form of compulsion? Is there an order without conformity? Is there an action that does not lead to routine and boredom? This is one of the problems in our world of relationship. Every intelligent person, whether old or young, sees that order is necessary—getting up, learning, playing, and so on. If you want to be a good golfer, you must swing the club in a certain way; if you want to be a good swimmer you must learn the strokes. Learning to be a good golfer or tennis player brings its own natural movement of control. This control is not imposed by anyone but the very movement of the hand and arm, of the body, is infinitely orderly and subtle. Each trade has its own discipline and learning is the discipline.

Discipline is an unfortunate word. In it are implied drill, practice, conformity, subjugation, restraint, and the conflict of indolence. The dictionary meaning of the word discipline is to learn—only to learn and nothing else. If you do not want to learn, then parents, the school, society force you to conform whether you like it or not. However new the society may be, it forces you to fit in. The religious have thrived on this through fear and reward. Either you learn through spontaneous interest or you are driven, compelled to learn. When you are compelled to learn, then your knowledge is mechanical and you use that knowledge mechanically. Then you complain that life has no meaning, and you try to escape through various illusions, through daydreaming or fanciful words. Night-clubs, the weekend recreation, the holidays, are the trivia of escape. You have narrowed down your life to the family and the responsibility it brings, to endless work and to the inevitable. Learning without reward or punishment is quite another matter. If you understand and see this very clearly, when you play football, cricket, or when you are studying a subject, you will find that learning frees the mind rather than shapes it. Knowledge by itself shapes the mind, and so the mind becomes old. The schools and universities are making minds old. They condition conformity, for knowledge has become all-important—not learning but acquiring knowledge. It is an old mind that conforms, not the mind that is always learning. In this learning there is freedom in which knowledge can be used when it is needed. There are encyclopaedias, there are computers, so do not make your mind merely the storehouse of the past. This is order.

From The Whole Movement of Life is Learning, Chapter 70