First published in Aspiration, 2008, Vol II, No. 2, pp. 21-26. (Published by Sri Aurobindo Study Centre, Kolkata)
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”.
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”.
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.”
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.” 
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.”
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.”
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.” 
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.”
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.”
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
 Sri Aurobindo (1997/2002). The Renaissance in India and other essays on Indian culture. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, p. 10
 ibid, pp. 6-7
 ibid, p. 13
 ibid, p. 16
 ibid, p. 34
 ibid, p. 35
 ibid, pp. 34-39
 ibid, p. 35
 ibid, p. 35