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Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)

Two Reflections on Integral Education – 1

First published in Aspiration, 2008, Vol II, No. 2, pp. 21-26. (Published by Sri Aurobindo Study Centre, Kolkata)

 

Be in Light

I

The other day I was re-reading Sri Aurobindo’s essays on The Renaissance in India and was happy to discover how these essays of the Master may also deepen one’s understanding of the significance of integrating spirituality and life, and the role of such integration in Integral Education where mental and vital education become intricately woven with the education of and for the spirit.

 Sri Aurobindo in these essays writes about spirituality that is not removed from life but one that is the basis of all life including all creative pursuits such as art, literature, philosophy, music etc. A true Integral Education must be grounded in this understanding of spirituality. Spirituality that motivates a growing mind and heart to experience all the joys of life and living and to expand and deepen their seeking for truth through all that life has to offer; spirituality that takes up all the intellectual, creative, vital energies and colours them in its own truth. In order for such a wave for spirituality to take over a people’s consciousness, opulent vitality and opulent intellectuality are essential. As Sri Aurobindo writes –

“It is when the race has lived most richly and thought most profoundly that spirituality finds its heights and its depths and its constant and many-sided fruition”[1].

What this quote tells me is that a truly Integral Education must facilitate a multi-sided and comprehensive physical, vital and intellectual growth in children while at the same time emphasize that

“the physical does not get its full sense until it stands in right relation to the supra-physical; … the complexity of the universe could not be explained in the present terms of man or seen by his superficial sight, that there were other powers behind, other powers within man himself of which he is normally unaware, that he is conscious only of a small part of himself, that the invisible always surrounds the visible, the suprasensible the sensible, even as infinity always surrounds the finite”[2].

The kind of psychic and spiritual education that becomes the basis of Integral Education is one that understands spiritual tendency as one that

“does not shoot upward only to the abstract, the hidden and the intangible; it casts its rays downward and outward to embrace the multiplicities of thought and the richness of life.”[3]

Learners in such a view of education are to be offered as much opportunity and freedom as needed to discover the normal mental possibilities of their intellect, will, ethical, aesthetic and emotional beings, but then these beings are also raised up “towards the greater light and power of their own highest intuitions.” [4]

A view of spirituality that is the basis of Integral Education does not exclude anything from its scope,

“any of the great aims of human life, any of the great problems of our modern world, any form of human activity, any general or inherent impulse or characteristic means of the desire of the soul of man for development, expansion, increasing vigour and joy, light, power, perfection.[5]

Such a view of spiritual education

“must not belittle the mind, life or body or hold them of small account: it will rather hold them of high account, of immense importance, precisely because they are the conditions and instruments of the life of the spirit in man.”[6]

The field of education is heavily influenced by the ongoing debates in a nation’s socio-political discourse. In the current socio-political climate of India where almost on a daily basis we see a conflict between what is ‘secular’ and what is not, a fundamental question facing our schools may be – should schools be secular or not?

If by secular we mean only that which values only material view of existence, then Integral Education can’t be secular in this respect. But if the word secular is broadened to incorporate a spiritual view of existence – spiritual not religious, then schools may have the potential to begin their journey to become more “integral” in their approach to learning, teaching and all that is involved in education.

When all the domains of life and all creative, intellectual, aesthetic, ethical, social pursuits get immersed in the deep ocean of spiritual waters, when a seeking for the invisible guides all visible pursuits, then the distinction between secular and otherwise begins to blur. Sri Aurobindo describes such a spiritual view of existence that takes up all that is ordinarily understood as secular within its fold and raises them to the light and grandeur of spirit. He writes:

 “The spiritual view holds that the mind, life, body are man’s means and not his aims and even that they are not his last and highest means; it sees them as his outer instrumental self and not his whole being. It sees the infinite behind all things finite and it adjudges the value of the finite by higher infinite values of which they are the imperfect translation and towards which, to a truer expression of them, they are always trying to arrive. It sees a greater reality than the apparent not only behind man and the world, but within man and the world, and this soul, self, divine thing in man it holds to be that in him which is of the highest importance, that which everything else in him must try in whatever way to bring out and express, and this soul, self, divine presence in the world it holds to be that which man has ever to try to see and recognize through all appearances, to unite his thought and life with it and in it to find his unity with his fellows. This alters necessarily our whole normal view of things; even in preserving all the aims of human life, it will give them a different sense and direction.”

[….]

“So with all our aims and activities; spirituality takes them all and gives them a greater, diviner, more intimate sense.”

[….]

“…true spirituality rejects no new light, no added means or materials of our human self-development.” [7]

Integral Education doesn’t reject any aim of life, doesn’t exclude any activity, but takes them all and steers them toward a greater purpose to facilitate in the learner discovery of the highest self. Integral Education doesn’t reject matter or learning and mastery of the matter, but directs learner to view matter as only a limited manifestation of the spirit which is involved in it.

Integral Education aims to develop the physical, the mental, the emotional, the aesthetic parts of learners not only because they may have a greater satisfaction or because

“that is man’s finer nature, because so he feels himself more alive and fulfilled. This, but not this only; rather because these things too are the expressions of the spirit, things which are seeking in him for their divine value and by their growth, subtlety, flexibility, power, intensity he is able to come nearer to the divine Reality in the world, to lay hold on it variously, to tune eventually his whole life into unity and conformity with it.”[8]

In the light of Integral Education learners’ moral and ethical development is much more than a means to develop well-regulated individuals and social conduct which keeps society going and leads towards a better, a more rational, temperate, sympathetic, self-restrained dealing with fellow-beings. Such moral and ethical development – both for the learner and teacher – becomes “a means of developing in [their] action and still more necessarily in the character of [their] being the diviner self in them, a step of their growing into the nature of the Godhead.”[9]

As I read and reflect on what I have just written I am tempted to bring up the most fundamental question, the origin perhaps of all other questions concerning Integral Education. Will it be too far-fetched to say that the larger, nay, the largest aim, the most true, fundamental or guiding aim of Integral Education is to help learner become the Divine that is hidden within him or her through his or her own unique path of evolution and development? Such an Integral Education is not confined to a school building, playground, laboratory, theater, music hall – though all these are essential to it; it happens all the time, everywhere in the multi-sided field of life in the world – life that is not confined to yet delights in the experience of the visible, audible world, life that aspires to see the invisible, touch the formless, hear the silent, and live in the mystery.

….TO BE CONCLUDED IN PART 2

Notes

[1] Sri Aurobindo (1997/2002). The Renaissance in India and other essays on Indian culture. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, p. 10

[2] ibid, pp. 6-7

[3] ibid, p. 13

[4] ibid, p. 16

[5] ibid, p. 34

[6] ibid, p. 35

[7] ibid, pp. 34-39

[8] ibid, p. 35

[9] ibid, p. 35

 

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About Beloo Mehra

Beloo is the author of two books, one on Indian Education, titled "ABC’s of Indian National Education" and an ebook featuring a selection of her essays, titled "The Thinking Indian." She holds several degrees in Education and Economics, has extensive teaching experience at school and university level in India and the US, and has a keen interest in the educational, social and cultural thought of Sri Aurobindo. She currently lives in Pondicherry, spends her time doing some reading, some writing, some teaching, some gardening and a whole lot of reflecting on life, living, society, politics, religion, art, literature, India, the World, and everything else under the Sun and the Moon.

4 comments on “Two Reflections on Integral Education – 1

  1. nabanita
    June 13, 2016

    I must have said this hundreds of times, everytime I read a post from you I’m forced to reflect and question myself..These days education has become so unidimensional that nobody thinks beyond percentages, which is sad because learning and hence education is much more..we have to something about our myopic view of these subjects..your posts help in this, Beloo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beloo Mehra
      June 14, 2016

      Thanks, Nabanita for such kind and generous words of appreciation. We seem to have confused the meaning of words schooling and education, that may also explain why we get stuck with ‘reforming’ things in the ‘school’ system rather than rethinking the role of education itself.
      I hope you will return to read the second and final part of this paper.

      Like

  2. Dagny
    June 15, 2016

    Beloo, your post has soothed me in a way I did not think possible. Nor was I aware of the need for this soothing. Now that it has happened, I realize how keyed up I was… for no reason at all!

    While reading this, I got a very strong feeling (more like a certainty) that someday you both will create a haven of learning which will integrate education exactly as you have outlined here and in all your essays on education. Maybe it is wishful thinking on my part… but I doubt it. I do see you creating such a haven.

    Please, when you do, let me be a part of it too. In any capacity you think fit. Nothing would give me more joy than to see it come to vibrant life. Oh, what a thought! I shall walk on air all day now!

    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beloo Mehra
      June 16, 2016

      Dear Dagny, you leave me speechless. Once again.

      Let me just say that you are already an important part of the haven of learning – it doesn’t matter that this haven doesn’t exist in any material form, it is somewhere there in the subtle physical realms of existence I suppose. Maybe in the deepest of our hearts where we are already deeply connected via this quest of self-discovery and self-flowering.

      Thank you so much for this deeply touching comment. And I am now walking on air, like you 🙂

      Like

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This entry was posted on June 13, 2016 by in Education, Research, Spirituality and tagged , .

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