What is Krishnamurti Education ?



by Prof. P. Krishna

Rector, Rajghat Education Centre, Krishnamurti Foundation India, Varanasi 221001, India


Several persons, both in India and abroad, have expressed an interest in starting a `Krishnamurti School ' in their town. Since Krishnaji did not specify any particular technique of education, the question arises, " What are the essentials of a Krishnamurti School ?" It is not easy to answer that question and one needs to inquire deeply into this. Through this article I wish to share a few thoughts with those who feel interested in education. To me, a Krishnamurti school represents an experiment in right living, without anyone dictating to anyone else what that means and without accepting any formula, any prescription, any authority that must be followed unquestioningly. It means to live rightly, not just accept the answer from someone else and try to practise it or repeat it. Unless we learn to live rightly, we can not teach the children to live rightly; therefore it is our first and highest responsibility to find out what it means to live rightly. One can learn if one begins with saying, "I do not know but I am going to find out." Then one can learn along with the student - not merely hand down words by way of teaching. So that is the first thing - not to have one's mind filled with conclusions, with answers, with certainties and not to attach too great an importance to one's own opinion, one's own view-point. To doubt it, question it and be willing to learn at all times; never to be so sure that one cannot even listen to another or consider a different point of view. That is being receptive and not just tolerant.

Our life has four broad aspects to it - the physical, intellectual emotional and spiritual. Right living demands excellence in all aspects, and a healthy development of all of them. We must therefore create an environment in the school which makes this possible for the child without over emphasising any one aspect. Since such education is intended to cover all aspects of life and not only the intellectual, it is desirable to have a residential school, in which the teachers and students live and work together and have a wider interaction with each other.

Right physical development requires care of the body cleanliness, exercise, right kind of food, adequate sleep and occasionally medicine. We must teach the children to bathe everyday, put on neat and clean clothes, keep their hair and nails clean, take regular exercise and not overeat. The body must be kept agile and alert like a race-horse so that there is no dearth of physical energy. Games and sports must be an integral part of school life. Highly spiced food, tobacco, alcohol and other things injurious to both physical and mental health must therefore be avoided. We must live in our body like a guest, carefully look after it, not ignore or ill treat it and at the same time not be too attached to it.

Intellectual excellence requires cultivating right reading habits, creating an interest in the academic subjects, insisting on high language ability, good expression, a knowledge of current affairs, a love of Science, Mathematics Literature, Art and Poetry. Doing well at the examinations must be a by-product of the intellectual development of the child and not an end in itself. We must expose the child to all types of intellectual scientific and literary pursuits and help him to discover where his own interests and talents lie. A good library and the desire to use it are essential for intellectual development. Debates, discussions, essay writing, extension lectures should be regular features of school life.

The emotional development of the child requires the greatest attention. The child must live in an atmosphere of care and affection so that he feels secure and is free from fear. Fear is the greatest enemy of all intelligence and creativity. The child must feel free to tell us his problems and anxieties without fear of being scolded or punished, like he would in a good home. Right conduct and order must be enforced without the use of fear or punishment and this is the greatest challenge for the educators and the parents. If we do have to take recourse to fear and punishment, it represents our failure, not an achievement. The child must be helped to understand his feelings of fear, envy, greed, jealousy, anger, insult and violence as and when they are noticed, without looking down on him or making him feel humiliated. For this it is necessary that we, the teachers, understand the cause of these emotions in ourselves. It is a lack of proper understanding of this aspect of our development that causes innumerable problems of indiscipline, rivalry, inferiority and hatred throughout our life.

The spiritual and cultural development of the child include love of nature, of music, art, dance and drama. We must help the child to realize that we are a part of nature, that trees and animals are our friends, not just to be utilized for our pleasure. The feeling of respect for all life is an integral part of a Krishnamurti school and needs to be tenderly nurtured and cultivated in the child. Sensitivity to the beauty of nature, to the beauty of rivers, mountains, the sky and the sunset are as essential as sensitivity to fellow human beings. The child picks these up from us naturally, without being taught formally, if we have it in ourselves. We must have in the school Nature Clubs, Drama clubs and Hobby classes for all kinds of music, dance and art, where the child can cultivate these interests.

Science and religion have unfortunately been divorced from each other in our everyday life in society. They need to be integrated. The quest for truth is the highest religion and the quest for the happiness of the spirit in man is the highest spirituality. These are not to be found in worship or in temples, they are the by-products of self-knowledge, as are love and compassion. The scientific temper must be a part of our everyday life and of the spiritual quest. There must be time to be with oneself, to experience silence, to reflect upon the meaning and purpose of life. Too much activity is unhealthy for our spiritual development and one must not get lost only in activity. There is no prescription, no formula for striking the right balance between the different aspects of our life. It is our task to find that balance for ourselves and thereby discover what is right living. In fact this division of life into different aspects is artificial, made for the convenience of discussion. In reality the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual aspects are so interconnected and interwoven in our life that they constitute one integrated inseparable whole. It is not possible to live rightly in one aspect without living rightly in all the others.

Let us consider more deeply this question of living rightly. One cannot live rightly unless one feels rightly. It is not enough to only think "good" thoughts. That only makes for hypocrisy. Thoughts are superficial things that can be acquired from any book, memorized and then repeated. We actually are what we feel deep down inside us, not what we think. Merely changing one's thoughts gives a feeling of having changed without having transformed internally. If one is serious, one needs to watch out and avoid such self-deception. So it is necessary not to be satisfied with verbal answers and explanations. The practice of previously defined " right" actions and "right" thoughts (called virtues) and the suppression of "wrong" actions and "wrong" thoughts (called vices) has been tried by all religions and by several disciplinarians and has repeatedly failed to change man. It produces a conflict between what we are and what we think we should be. This conflict wears us out, makes us feel superior or inferior, gives us a sense of achievement or failure, all of which only go to further strengthen the ego. Our minds are conditioning - constantly judging ourselves and others and passing strictures in terms of our own mental fixations.

If one sees that clearly, then one does not try to define right and wrong in terms of actions and thoughts but in terms of the way one feels. The same action can be right if it is born out of love, out of compassion out of interest and it can be wrong if it is born out of selfishness, pride, fear or other aspects of one's ego. Therefore nobody else can tell you if it is right or wrong. For example, one can devote oneself to a deep study of Physics out of an interest in the subject, to understand the laws of nature or to learn how things work. One can also study it deeply in order to become a well-known scholar, to win appreciation, get power, position, status, in life. The action is the same but the feeling with which it is being done is very different. Whenever the motivation behind any action, any effort that we make is self-centred, it strengthens the ego and is therefore, by definition wrong. Feelings that do not emanate from the ego and therefore do not strengthen it are, by definition, right. To discriminate between the two requires deep awareness of oneself.

Having defined right and wrong in this way, can we now find out how to live rightly? Living rightly then means one is not content with just " practising " some virtues (if there is any such thing at all) but with feeling rightly. Feelings are not voluntary things. They don't go away through explanation, through rationalizations and certainly not through suppression. If you strongly hate someone, you will find you cannot get over it by reasoning, explaining or suppressing the feeling. Unless one perceives the deep-rooted causes that give rise to that feeling of hatred in one's psyche and understands how these causes operate, one cannot be free of that feeling of hatred. If one outwardly tries to convert it into a feeling of love, it leads to hypocrisy and pretence. It is very important to be totally honest and true with oneself and avoid any trace of hypocrisy or pretence if one wants to understand oneself. It is more important to be oneself and to learn about oneself than to try to be like anyone else, however great, be it Gandhi, Krishnamurti or Buddha. It is self-knowledge alone that naturally alters ones values and outlook on life and thereby cleanses our feelings at the source.

We must clearly understand that external order and discipline however necessary and useful they may be, will never bring about order inside. On the other hand, if there is order inside, in our minds, Our feelings, our thoughts, then the outer order and discipline follow as a natural corollary. To give an example, if a man is not greedy or self-centred he has no desire to break the queue at a shop or a bus stop and get in before everybody else. You don't need to discipline him or put a policeman there to keep him in the queue. He will stand in the right place naturally. On the other hand, if you have a whole set of greedy individuals, you need a policeman to impose order through fear and the order is retained only so long as the fear is present.

A Krishnamurti School presents this challenge before us. Can we live in natural order, without fear, without compulsion ? That is right living. Can we co-operate with each other without seeking personal advantage, without requiring agreement of opinion and without forming groups ? Can we be friends without seeking flattery or fearing criticism ? Can we work hard like an ambitious man, but not be ambitious ? Can we put in our best in a game and be equally happy if our friend wins ? Can we live without comparison, without feeling superior or inferior to anyone else ? Can we love each other without psychologically leaning on each other, using each other ? Can we live without illusions, without any crutches and props, seeing facts for what they are and doing what is right without fear or favour ? That is the challenge a Krishnamurti School poses before us. If we cannot live like that within the small protected school community how can we expect our students to live that way in the world outside ? And if we don't educate them to live that way, then of what value is education ? Is education meant only to cultivate certain abilities, use them in the outside world to gain maximum material advantages, accept all the greed, violence and corruption of society and contribute further to it ? Is that all there is to education ? That is the question we all must ask, both individually and also collectively.

The greatest hurdle to creating a Krishnamurti School is not the child, nor the technique, nor society, nor the educational system. It is a lack of understanding of our own little selves, our own egos. In this respect we are not very different from the children and if one observes carefully one would find that their problems are really the same as ours. Unless we the teachers, are acutely aware of this fact, one cannot create a Krishnamurti School however much one might struggle with the problems of discipline, educational techniques, achievements, finances and efficiency.