The following piece was used over two successive year in a ‘club’, a learning-space with just a few people: one enthusiastic adult, two patient and polite children, in one instance, two boys, and in the other, two girls, between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. The ‘Sun’ was the centre around which our interactions in the club revolved. Many themes were introduced, and some questions raised.
The Sun lets me see
And almost every night, too, I
t helps me see
Through its mirror
Which never leaves my side.
But the message that the Sun sent –
Again and again,
Through every Sunbeam
And Moonbeam –
I never received.
Perhaps because I did not want to accept
A dangerous Truth.
But an Eclipse, Totally
Of the Sun’s light
By the Earth’s faithful companion
Drove my Darkness,
My careless acceptance
My careful rejection of Truth
And revealed the message that
Every ray of Light
Coming to me across vast space
Brings Not just to me
But to countless others,
And not just today but
Throughout the ages.
That message now haunts me.
It makes me wonder.
It makes me wonder:
If the hearts of two hydrogen atoms,
Each positively repellent to the other
Inimicable to the extreme,
Can surmount a formidable barrier
(In the presence of a multitude of others just like them)
To make –
After a two- or three-step dance –
And make possible all Life
Here on Earth,
Why can’t I walk across a crowded room
To say, ‘Hello’,
To an obnoxious other
Refused to eat pretend-cake at my greataunt’s tea-party
Under a beautiful tree
On a sunny Tuesday afternoon
When they were,
Why can’t I get together with those billion ‘others’
To make something beautiful:
If the heart of a Hydrogen atom –
The lightest of things –
Can do the (seemingly) impossible,
Why can’t my heart
Which tells me that
‘Not different from Any-other’
Allow me to simply smile at another human
Who is …
The discussion started with what the children already knew from their science classes and, then, went on to relating it to our lives. I briefly describe here snippets from the themes and topics that were taken up, and multiple resources that we drew upon.
Two alike, similar, things repel. Two positives or two negatives repel each other because of the strong electro-magnetic force. The hydrogen atom is electrically neutral: the nucleus (the heart) of the hydrogen atom has a proton which is positive (+) and an electron which is negative (-). The hydrogen atom is ‘stable’ when relatively few hydrogen atoms around, that is, they remain ‘stable’ in low-density areas of the universe. But when the pressure mounts, when there are many, many, many hydrogen atoms together, all in the same space, then there is a strong repulsion: all atoms trying to keep some ‘space’ from each other. The heart of each hydrogen atom repels the other hydrogen nuclei. That is, the hydrogen atom becomes highly re-active in high-density states.
This scenario is similar to ours. When there is just me, or just me and you, or me and just a few yous, everything is civil, ‘stable’—we exist together rather well. But when there is me with a large number of yous, the situation, or relationships become unstable, volatile, even explosive. We humans can be very cordial, on the surface, when we and our resources are not threatened. Each of us tries to preserve our self or ego when things get difficult. We try to preserve our identities, our status as individuals.
An experiment done in the 1960s with rats in two cages was considered. The cages were identical: with space in which the rats could move around, and water and food in containers on the ground. There was also a pole erected vertically in the middle of each cage to which sizable platforms at regular intervals were attached, and which had containers of food and water on each of the platforms. The difference was that in one cage the rat population was controlled, and in the other the population was not. In the cage with population-controlled rats, life was smooth. Rats rarely ventured up the pole; if they did, they came down to the ground, and did not drink the water or eat the food which were kept in containers on the platforms. In the other cage, where the population was not controlled, life was entirely different. The numbers were so large that the rats moved up the pole and settled on the platforms, and ate and drank and fought to stay on and to keep others away. The rats either killed each other; or began to indulge in self-mutilating activity; or showed signs of depression and withdrawal and just sat huddled; or went to sleep; or just groomed themselves. There was a noticeable failure to nurture their young, even infant cannibalism, or else a failure to breed at all. The rats displayed abnormal sexual patterns; increased illnesses and increased mortality.
In our society today, ‘society’ being nothing more than many people living in a place, we need many rules and regulations to make our lives livable. ‘Some things have to happen’, so to speak, if not out of intelligence and understanding, at least out of necessity.
So also does something happen out of necessity when there are many hydrogen atoms together in a certain very small space, under extreme pressure and temperature, The stronger nuclear force, as different from the strong electro-magnetic force, kicks in. The ‘heart’ changes, enabling the atoms to come together, fuse, to merge, to become one. And this act of coming together through change is creative. It gives us helium, along with heat, energy and light. And this, of course, makes life here on earth possible.
So, some of the questions we asked were—Why can’t we change? Why can’t our hearts change, so that we can come together to create things that are wonderful, life-giving and life-supporting? Is it our brains, that are so evolved, which have given us all our philosophies, our scriptures, that prevent us from simple acts, such as acts of actual inclusion? What is necessary for us to change, to see the necessity and come together?
But there is the further extraordinary thing: after merging to become ‘one’ (two hydrogen atoms becoming helium), that is on changing their hearts, or giving up their ‘egos’, so to say, the new atom gets another one! The helium atom gets a nucleus.
So also do we. We come together to do something, giving up our little egos or identities and develop another ego: the family-ego or identity, the national-ego or identity, the NGO-ego or identity. And it goes on and on…
In ‘The Message’, “The Sun’s mirror” stands for our Moon. It is, also, the Earth’s faithful companion, and every moonbeam is, actually, a reflected sunbeam. This too is something the students know; but they need to ‘see’ again in order to see the extraordinary thing Nature is. It is an “Eclipse, totally of the Sun’s light”, that is necessary to, in a manner of speaking, “see”. The absence of light, paradoxically, drives away the person’s personal “darkness”, a “careless acceptance of miracles … the careful rejection of Truth” and reveals “the message”. We often realize the value of people, or things or situations, when they are no longer there.
In the poem, the message that was never received, perhaps out of the fear of accepting, “a dangerous Truth”, stands for Truth, which can change the way we perceive and so live in the world. We are used to the mess, the turmoil, the unease of our existence, and fear change. So, Truth is ‘dangerous’ because it changes us and changes the situation in which we have become comfortable. Moreover, if we heard the Truth but did not act, it lies in the soil of the mind, our sub-conscious, and troubles us. It festers. Truth, according to Krishnamurti, is “a dangerous thing” because if we do not change after hearing or seeing the Truth, it acts as a poison.
The fact is the truth. Our minds are generally incapable of looking at facts without distorting them, but the mind that can look at a fact without opinion, without judgment, without a conclusion, such a mind is free, and a free mind brings its own authority…. And if you listen to the truth but do not let it operate, it poisons you. Please follow this. If you listen and see the truth for yourself, yet do not give it freedom to operate, then that very perception breeds the poison of conflict which is going to destroy you. That is, if you see what is true and do something else, the contradiction is a poison which destroys all your energy. That is why it is much better not to come to these meetings, sirs, if you want to remain as you are. It is good to be without the affliction of conflict, contradiction, pain, suffering; but to have that goodness, that tranquility in which there is no conflict, you must allow the truth to operate, it must not be you who operate on the truth.1
‘The Message’ ends with the words, “a human who is me” because many philosophies (Advaita, in particular) speak of ‘Non-difference’. There is, according to them, not ‘one’—because ‘one’ implies ‘two’—but ‘not-two’, which is an explanation that is negative, the negative being the closest that language will allow us to approach the Truth. So, it is not just all humans who are Me but it is actually the whole Universe itself that is Me—Nondifference being the Truth. In science, too, we now know that, “We are the representatives of the cosmos; we are an example of what hydrogen atoms can do, given 15 billion years of cosmic evolution.”2
Also, all “humans are me”, Krishnamurti points out. Theistic thought too speaks of all in the Universe standing on a common platform: creatures, or the created, as distinct from the Creator-Intelligence. For J Krishnamurti, all consciousness is shared consciousness; physical differences exist, but at the bed-rock we are the same.
We had a discussion on:
Is it memory—individual and collective (of family, nation, religion)— and tradition (one’s own or that of one’s family, society, nation, class), and conditioning that prevent me from doing a simple act—like, of walking ‘across a crowded room to say, “Hello”,’ to someone whose ancestor did the ‘unforgivable’ to an ancestor of mine? It was also argued that the ‘obnoxious other’s great-grandfather’ might just have been using common sense or prudence in refusing to eat ‘pretend-cake’ that might have been made up of mud, play-dough or plasticine!
On the side, we learned that:
- The element ‘Hydrogen’ was named in 1787 by G. de Morveau, Antoine Lavoisier, Berthollet, and Fourcroy. In French the word is hydrogèn and means ‘Water-maker’. It comes from the Greek word, hydr, ‘water’, and the French gène, for ‘generating’ or ‘producing’. It was first recognized as a distinct substance in 1776 by Henry Cavendish and called ‘inflammable air’.
- The word for the element ‘Helium’ was coined in 1868 from the Greek word helios (sun), and because it was assumed, before 1895—when it was actually obtained—to be an alkali metal, the ending ‘–ium’ was given.
We listened to:
- ‘Here Comes the Sun’, by George Harrison and The Beatles. This piece is a modern-day celebration of the Sun’s ‘reappearance’ after a cold winter, making things ‘alright’ once again. Rites leading up to the Winter solstice—when the sun seems to be appeased and halt its retreat—were also looked at.
- ‘That Lucky Old Sun’, music, Beasley Smith, lyrics, Haven Gillespie. This is an anthropomorphic look at the Heavens; its lyrics contrast the intense hardship of a normal human-life with the ‘apparent’ ease of the natural world. Similar to the African-American spirituals, the task master is no longer the white man but one’s own responsibility to earn a living, to put bread on the table; its ‘a job’, ‘my woman’, ‘my kids’ that keeps a human being in chains. As in the spirituals, the singer longs for release or death and addresses the “Good Lord up above”. It says, “Can’t you know I’m pining/Tears all in my eyes/ Send down that cloud with a silver lining/Lift me to Paradise/Show me that river/Take me across/And wash all my troubles away/Like that lucky old sun, give me nothing to do/But roll around Heaven all day.”
- ‘On the Nature of Daylight’, Max Richter. Unlike some other compositions which have the word ‘sun’ or ‘ay’ in them, and which seem dramatically affirmative, this piece is different. Like a light reveals all the hidden nooks and corners, this piece reveals all the pain, despair, the seeming futility of existence. Especially in the portion entitled ‘Entropy’, the shadows are there and it conveys daylight’s inseparable connection with darkness. Since this piece was used in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island and in the emotional sci-fi drama, Arrival, the importance of music to film was, also, considered.
- The first movement, ‘Sunrise’, of Richard Strauss’ work, ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’, brilliantly used by Stanley Kubrick in his 2001 Space Odyssey. This was a contrast with Max Richter’s work. In Strauss’ work, the sun gradually rises, but when it does, the shadows disappear: there is only Light. When Truth comes, falsity vanishes.
- Thinkers and scientists who speak about the ‘Living nature of the Universe’ for example, Rupert Sheldrake. He speaks in one of his talks about the, “fields of consciousness” and asks, “What does the Sun think? Does it speak to, communicate with, other Suns?” Is it our human ignorance (or arrogance) that makes us state that many things do not exist? Because we do not or cannot know them?
We looked at examples of depictions of the Sun in the art of various cultures. Some of these were:
- The many and varied pre-historic petroglyphs of the Sun
- Sun symbols and depictions in every-day objects—utensils, clothing, jewellery, wall and floor decorations, games (the ignited, Sun-ball, in Polo played during Akbar’s reign)
- The Sun in Indian, Japanese, Chinese, South American, European Religious and Secular Art
- Woman Before the Rising Sun by Caspar David Friedrich (1818—20)
- Reaper with Wheat Field and Sun by Van Gogh (1889)
- Sunrise by Georgia O’Keefe (1916)
- The Weather Project: Olafur Eliasson (2003)
- Eclipse of the Sun by George Grosz (1926)
- Lover’s Deception by Raphael (1518 or 1519)
- Portrait of Ramón Gómez de la Serna by Diego Rivera (1915)
We searched for and read about:
Sun-myths from various cultures, some which see the Sun as male and some as female; we saw similarities in, and differences between them. The Sun (whether seen as male or female) was a positive force in almost all cultures. It was only in the myths of Africa that there was a sense of ambivalence; this, perhaps, is because while the Sun’s presence is seen as necessary, it is almost always experienced in Africa as unforgiving, harsh, the taker-away of life.
We read poems such as:
- ‘Hymns to Surya’, Rig Veda, trans., TH Griffith, L; CXV
- ‘Great Hymn to the Aten, (the Sun-god)’, Pharaoh Akhenaten, trans., John A Wilson
- ‘I’ll tell you how the Sun Rose’, Emily Dickinson
- ‘The Sunlight on the Garden’, Louis MacNeice
- ‘Solar’, Philip Larkin
- ‘The Sun Underfoot Among the Sundews’, Amy Clampitt
By the end of going through this ‘lesson-unfoldment’ of ‘The Sun in Class’, the reader could perhaps get the impression that the unit was undertaken in order to facilitate the discovery of the Sun in Art, Music, Literature and Myth. In the unfolding of the Unit, however, the children and I saw how different we humans are from much of Nature (of which we are a part). As humans we know the importance of the Sun to and for all life as we know it; so, we worship the Sun in and through hymns, rituals, bodily postures (of dance and yoga), art, architecture, music, literature, stories. But all this remains within the domain of thought. Very few humans take the knowledge in the ‘Message’ and translate it into the realm of behavior or conduct. Knowing that the Sun is the result of a transformative and, so, a giving, act (hydrogen changes into helium) does not transform us. We get the ‘Message’ daily and every night, too, from the Moon and the Stars—which are but countless suns in the Universe. Yet we remain as we are: unable or unwilling to give up ourselves in order to create, together, something glorious.
Nevertheless, many fascinating discoveries were made because I took another ‘road’ (so to speak): the road that took me (and, so, the children) away from the ‘Message’ per se. Travelling down this road revealed the outer realm, the realm of Thought’s expression (Science and Technology and the Arts). It was the easier path, the path made broad by thousands of years of usage by the Human race. The road that the ‘Message’ pointed to was travelled down briefly, perhaps out of a human habit of ‘retaining’ things and the past (one’s story), and out of the innate fear of ‘letting-go’. The journey in the inner realm – the realm of the self, of Thought itself – showed the veracity of J Krishnamurti’s statement (made many times, both to adults and to children) that we spend enormous energy in our exploration and understanding of the ‘outer’, but that we rarely and, if at all, very briefly, look at, listen to and, so, understand the ‘inner’, viz., ourselves.
Teaching this unit did make the children and me pause; unfortunately, silence was fleeting. The children, and especially one boy who is not in school anymore, have subsequently begun looking anew at Art and Dance, listening to Music and Words, and have learned about, and wondered at, Humans-in-relationship-to Nature.
- J Krishnamurti, Bombay, 20 February, 1955
- Carl Sagan