Transforming Education

 Transformation: From training curriculum to observation and the non-programmed program

By Geetha Waters.

'Doors closing; please stand clear!', the recorded message drawled from the railway station across the road from the centre. Then slowly a series of sleek, silver tone, railway carriages slithered out of sight, heading towards Strathfield. A few minutes later, an elderly lady walked in off the street into the reception area. It was hot outside and she looked relieved as she stepped into the cool interior. She glanced at the narrow black shelf full of Krishnamurti tape recordings and smiled in my general direction. The fact that the Krishnamurti Centre in Summer Hill is close to the railway station, has advantages because there is no need to worry about parking. Some people stay for an hour, others for two; to find out how Krishnamurti transformed our education by initiating us to a lifelong inquiry into existence, the nature and function of thought and its influence on our lives. I find it difficult to explain how, through this inquiry, Krishnamurti awakened our interest in our own powers of observation. I am only too aware that I cannot do full justice to the commitment that went into setting up the environment and sustaining the interest of a community to facilitate the process of inquiry which has, informed me throughout my life.

At first, the lady had very little to say, so I picked up a compilatíon of writings on living for teens by Jiddu Krishnamurti called 'What are you doing with your life?' Turning to the book mark on page forty six' I began to read out loud the passage titled 'Escapes are the desire to forget ourselves.' As I finished, I couldn't help enthusing about how much fun we had exploring such feelings at school. I still remember Krishnamurti talking about things like escape, entertainment and pleasure. He did not moralize or reprimand us for indulging in such pursuits. Rather, he was asking us to observe ourselves and find out why we wanted to escape from things at all. More importantly, he was asking us to find out where we would escape to!

By actively sustaining our interest in our thoughts; our feelings and the world around us, he was alerting us to our immense capacity to be acutely sensitive to the fact of existence itself. The only place, I realized, I could escape to is my own imagination. Watching it take shape from the early years, I could not see how I could ever regard it as a safe haven.

By early adolescence, however, we were becoming a little jaded. We had more immediate concerns to contend with and since we held Krishnamurti accountable for founding our school, we said that we wanted to escape the drudgery of repetitive class work and the daily routine of attending classes. He understood our dilemma and was delighted by our forthright honesty. He looked at us quizzically, seemingly at a loss for words, playing along while we held our position with a look of self righteous indignation. Casting his eyes around the room, he blinked his eyes several times while engaging us with a wide smile.

We sat expectantly letting time lapse, while he held a pregnant pause. Then tentatively, he eased into the question of repetition and the monotony of it; exploring the feeling of boredom and the absence of something new. He spoke of the religious seekers called Sanyasis, who retreated into the hills, away from the tedium of daily life and sought peace of mind, through repetition and various extraordinary practices.
'That sounds awfully like home work to me!', one boy said looking perplexed. 'Wouldn't it be great if we could just memorize our periodic-tables and find bliss?'

Some of us sniggered at the prospect of being 'blissed out' by homework, but in hindsight, the prospect had strange connotations. 'What kind of peace of mind are they after?' I wondered, as I sat amongst my friends on a mat on the floor of Krishnamurti's residence where we were holding our dialogue. Pushing both my palms to the floor to flex my shoulders and straighten my back I thought of the apprehension that usually went with memorizing facts for an exam. I couldn't recall my periodic tables. Linking abbreviations to the names of elements filled my mind with a complex mix of feelings like anxiety, desire to succeed accompanied by a fear of getting it all wrong. My memory, I had discovered, was never entirely reliable.

'Perhaps if they promised bliss instead of grades', I thought wistfully, 'we might learn things off by heart real fast!'. I looked at my classmates; squinting sideways through my lashes. I was amused by the thought of us in a blissful frenzy. Would we be jigging around in excitement waving fancy, colourful scarves or having fainting fits and falling about? It seemed so droll I put aside the thought and attended to what was actually going on.

'But that is exactly what people have done around the world for years.' Krishnamurti confided, 'For thousands of years, they have followed the same pattern - repeating and reciting sacred texts to find peace of mind!'. His fingers splayed out wide in his hands as he gestured towards us. He had an exaggerated, incredulous look on his face. 'Put aside all that nonsense! You don't need any of that rubbish.' He added fervently as he sat back to make sure that he had our undivided attention. 'Now are you going to follow in their footsteps, or are you interested to find the truth for yourselves?' His obvious concern for us and the note of urgency, in his voice, struck a chord in my heart.
'What bliss, what peace of mind?' I wondered. 'Why were people always running after such things? What did these words really mean? Were "peace" and "piece" related in some mysterious way? Perhaps I was missing the point... maybe there was a hidden significance in their similarity. What could it possibly be?' I was impressed by his audacity. No one else dismissed the authority of sacred texts with such conviction. Then again, he always dismissed his own authority. Taking great care to point out that if we were really interested, we could learn from life itself. Simply by observing the facts of life we could exercise our own intelligence, rather than lazily relying on abstract information provided by religious texts promoted by men in gowns and loin cloths! For a while, we continued, in class to ponder over the problem of universal discontent with Krishnamurti. 'Why were people so distracted by ideas? Why did their minds go to pieces in pursuit of so called "nirvana?" Why did they fast, recite, or deprive themselves to ascend to the heights of heaven?'

'Rather than spending time talking about others, Krishnamurti cautioned; 'why don't you look at your own discontent?' I drew back, uncomfortably. Suddenly the enquiry was getting too personal. It was fun to speculate about other people's discontent, but my own feelings, were not so easy to ridicule. I could not help feeling that discontent, perhaps felt by Sanyasis, or someone like me, was the same feeling. It was generally understood, that people who were unable to keep up with the demands of society, would often withdraw from the normal course of life; saying they were relinquishing, worldly pleasures, for the sake of peace, and harmony. They claimed they were too pure, to indulge in the grosser pleasures of human existence. Krishnamurti scoffed at such claims. Although we joined in when he chuckled at such transparent self gratification, I could no longer deny, my own, burgeoning sense of discontent. The difference was that I felt justified, in my discontent. The reality of being hemmed in, by a predictable routine of monotonous class work each day; gave me good reason to fume. I was seeking a way out, not for peace and harmony, but to ease the persistent ache of boredom, complicated by a nagging suspicion, that there had to be more to life than simply knowing all about it.

'We are thinking together. We are learning together!' Krishnamurti would emphasize, indicating that no matter what the religious texts and other authorities had to say about life, the capacity to observe and discover truth is present. We did not have to look elsewhere for the learning that was actually going on. We did not have to blindly follow and concur with anothers point of view. We could enquire. The capacity, to discover the source of our discontent, for example, was very much within our grasp! So why rely on someone else to inform us about such things? No one else, I knew, expressed such wholehearted trust in our capacity to discover truth; so it was exciting, even to consider, such a possibility. It gave rise to a sense of privilege, which made me sit upright and take notice as he directed our attention again and again, to our own thoughts; to our own feelings; our response and reactions to the world we lived in.


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