Learning to Unlearn|Jul 15, 2009 4:43 AM| by:

The Spirit of Education

The spirit of education is inherent in the word `education’ itself. Education is that which brings out the best in the individual. It is assumed that everyone is born with certain inherent potentials and virtues as Plato would say. It is the task of the teacher to help the taught in self-discovery and thus make him realise his hidden potentials.

As one thinks, so he becomes is the old saying. As a matter of fact the spirit of education lies in developing self-awareness and such a consciousness as removes the barrier between the body and the soul. It is really amazing that with so much of potential knowledge within, the individual remains the victim of triple ignorance. While the individual is essentially a soul in a body, due to ignorance he forgets this fact and develops such a consciousness that he begins to identify himself with his physical body only.

The spirit of education lies in the fact that the individual must have a correct consciousness in regard to his physical body and the soul or the spirit which he has within himself. Recent researches in human physiology and psychology have provided sufficient evidence in support of the view that human thoughts play a very significant role in maintenance of health, both physical and mental.

Maya Pines(1) has summed up the present position in regard to the contemporary state of mind and matter and pointed out that brain scientists are studying the workings of the brain with a new technique known as biofeedback. The biofeedback technique employs electronic gadgets which measure and amplify the minutest physiological changes. According to Maya Pines, “The research confirms what Indian Yogis and Buddhist meditators have known for thousands of years – that it is possible, with training, for the mind to control the body.”(2)

In the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo the main emphasis is on changing the consciousness. The individual must develop through meditation and yoga the divine consciousness. Hence it is rather satisfying for us to note that what has been known to the ancient Indian yogic tradition is now being discovered through the technique of biofeedback.

It has been further pointed out by Maya Pines that in Sanskrit there are twenty different names for varying states of `consciousness’ or `mind’. Yet we are limited to these two words.(3) In other words, at present we have confined ourselves in regard to the powers of brain to two words, viz. consciousness and mind. But Sri Aurobindo has gone deep into the nature of consciousness as well as the different levels of mind in the context of Integral Yoga.

The future evolution of man will be in terms of cosmic consciousness and supermind. From mind to supermind is the real spirit of education. The present system of education is bookish and lays heavy emphasis on memory work. Children develop rote memory but little understanding and insight. There is little of creativity and more of mechanisation in the present educational theory and practice. The truth of the matter is that by and large educators are not aware of the true nature of man and hence all attention is paid to the outer self of the individual. The inner self or the soul is totally neglected. That is why there is a deep crisis in the present system of education all over the world.

Lecomte du Nouy,(4) while discussing the present scientific knowledge and its uses in the context of human destiny, has stated, “What characterises man, as man, is precisely the presence in him of abstract ideas, of moral ideas, or spiritual ideas, and it is only of these that he can be proud. They are as real as his body and confer to this body a value and importance which it would be far from possessing without them.”(5) In other words, the importance and significance of the human body is to the extent the individual has in him correct notions of his spirit and soul.

The task today is to provide a correct view of man and the instrument of brain of which he is so proud. Our knowledge of brain and its functioning which we call mind is very much limited. On account of this limited knowledge we suffer from such ignorance as is extremely harmful. It is due to this ignorance that we are unable to discriminate between the real and the unreal.

Education as Light

The present system of education is so superficial that it fails in its main purpose which is to enable the individual to have a correct view of things. It is no wonder that in the ancient tradition, education has been described as light. Education is that light which removes darkness of ignorance and separateness. In the Vedic and Upanishadic literature utmost importance has been given on attaining the Light. Take for example the following prayers which were popular in ancient India:

(a) Let our meditation be on the glorious light of Savitri. May this light illumine our minds. (Rig Veda)
(b) The face of truth remains hidden behind a circle of gold. Unveil it, O God of Light, that I who love the true may see. (Brih. Upanishad)

The human aspiration for light is spiritual in nature for it enables the individual to go beyond the limitations of mind and perceive the real Truth, which is the spirit of education.
It is interesting to note that in the Upanishadic literature the Spirit and the Light go very much together. A typical example is given below from the Chandogya Upanishad:

“There is a light that shines beyond all things on earth, beyond us all, beyond the heavens, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the Light that shines in our heart.” (3.13.7)
Here we find a reference being made to Light as Spirit. The real purpose of education is to discover this Light which shines in our heart. But the main difficulty is the barrier between the light within and the physical mind which is regarded today as the main instrument of knowledge. In order to remove this barrier one must try to be free from the mechanisations of human mind. In this context the following statement of Sri Aurobindo has significant relevance:

“The mere idea or intellectual seeking of something higher beyond, however strongly grasped by the mind’s interest, is ineffective unless it is seized on by the heart as the one thing desirable and by the will as the one thing to be done. For truth of the Spirit has not to be merely thought but to be lived, and to live it demands a unified single-mindedness of the being…”(6)

Since the spirit of education is solely concerned with the inner awakening and realisation of the Self, the human mind with its faulty perceptions, prejudices, defective reasonings cannot be of any help. The human mind must be prepared for transformation through such education as lays emphasis on the Spirit and not on form. From mind to supermind is the evolutionary path which the spirit of education has to cover. Sri Aurobindo writes:

“A progressive evolution of the visible and invisible instruments of the Spirit is the whole law of the earth nature. Spirit has concealed itself in inconscient matter. It evolves into forms of matter by the working of matter forces. It is only when this has been sufficiently done, that it thinks of life. A subconscient life and its imprisoned forces were there all the time in matter and its forces. Afterwards came an evolution of mind in many forms by the working of liberated mind-forces. In those life-forces in matter and in the very substance of matter mind was latent. An evolution of mind in the living form by a working of liberated mind-force was the third chapter of the story. The third chapter is not completed, neither will it be the end of the narrative.”(7)

Thus human mind in its present form and functioning cannot really understand the spirit of education. In order to do so it must become an instrument of Truth by fulfilling one of the following three conditions:

1. “Either it must fall silent in the Self and give room for a wider and greater consciousness;
2. “Or it must make itself passive to an Inner Light and allow that light to use it as a means of expression;
3. “Or else it must itself change from the questioning intellectual superficial mind it now is to an intuitive intelligence, a mind of vision for the direct expression of the divine Truth.”(8)

The present system of education is devoted to intellectual questionings and does not try to develop a true vision and an intuitive intelligence for it is oblivious of the Spirit of education.
In order to make education an instrument of attaining higher consciousness and ultimately the divine consciousness we have to go deep into the inner world of the psychic and the Spirit. No amount of religious or moral education can really awaken the dormant Spirit and the Light surrounded by darkness of superficial knowledge.

The Goal

The spirit of education has an inherent goal which requires every individual to make integral effort for inner growth and development so that his consciousness becomes cosmic. In 1912 the Mother wrote down some of the general aims which should guide humanity on its path to the Divine. These aims are meant for the individual as well as for the collectivity. But the general goal in terms of the spirit of education is to establish a “progressing universal harmony”. This can be possible only if through education it is realised that human unity is necessary and it can be achieved not by emphasising the external conditions but through “the awakening in all and the manifestation by all of the inner Divinity which is One.”(9)

To perceive One in all and all in One is an essential condition for realising the spirit of education. Each individual must make efforts for being “conscious in himself of the Divine Presence and to identify himself with it.”(10) The real spirit of education demands this consciousness to be developed in the individual so that he may become aware of the Divine Presence in himself. Such a goal is not idealistic but concretely related to the requirements of “individual transformation, and inner development leading to the union with the Divine Presence.”(11)

But such an individual transformation and inner development leading to the union with the Divine Presence cannot be possible without the corresponding social transformation which will create such an environment for the individual as will enable the growth and flowering of his total personality. The goal is action-oriented and, according to the Mother, threefold:

“1. To realise in oneself the ideal to be attained: to become a perfect earthly representative of the first manifestation of the Unthinkable in all its modes, attributes and qualities.
2. To preach this ideal by word, but, above all, by example, so as to find out all those who are ready to realise it in their turn and to become also announcers of liberation.
3. To found a typic society or reorganise those that already exist.”(12)

Thus the spirit of education is concerned with the individual as well as with the society in which he lives. The individual and social transformations are complementary. They support each other. One is not possible without the other. But the main burden lies on the individual. He must do his duty, that is, he must develop first a genuine aspiration for his inner development and for a progressive union with the Divine Light. Without this aspiration the spirit of education cannot be realised.

But all individuals have to work and labour in terms of their uniqueness and the special potentials with which they are born and also must choose, according to the Mother, an external action in terms of their capacities and personal preferences.

The relation between the individual and the society can be harmonious if the spirit governing this relationship is kept active. Each individual “must find his own place, the place which he can alone occupy in the general concert, and he must give himself entirely to it, not forgetting that he is playing only one note in the terrestrial symphony and yet his note is indispensable to the harmony of the whole….”(13)

The value of this relationship between the individual and the collectivity is the same as that of a note to a symphony, the sole condition being the creation of harmony. Such is the spirit of education as must be realised if we want to go beyond bookish and mental education.

Sitaram Jayaswal


1. Maya Pines, The Brain Changers: Scientists and the New Mind Control, New York: Harcourt Jovanovich Press, Inc., 1973, quoted in The Span, February, 1975.
2. Ibid., p. 31.
3. Ibid., p. 31.
4. Lecomte du Nouy, Human Destiny, New York: The New American Library of World Literature, 1949.
5. Ibid., p. 13.
6. A Practical Guide to Integral Yoga, Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1971, p. 321.
7. Ibid., p. 193.
8. M.P. Pandit, Dictionary of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga, Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1966, p. 159.
9. The Mother, Conversations, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 1971, p. 1.
10. The Mother, Conversations, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 1971, p. 1.
11. Ibid., p. 2.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid., p. 3.