16 May 2014

History of the Ashram School (6) – Kittu Reddy

 We shall now go into the details of the points mentioned at the end of the previous article.

1. The first point was Mother’s keenness to introduce the free system from the Primary section to those children who were ready; this was to be done in a graduated manner starting at the age of 7-9 in the section known as Avenir. Almost from the very beginning of December when the interviews began, Mother wanted us to explore the possibility of finding out the children in the Primary section who were ready to use their freedom in the right way. As expected there was some resistance from some teachers and a lot more from parents; there were also some minor misunderstandings among the teachers. Some of them wrote to Mother to explain their position; while Mother appreciated their goodwill, She was firm that this should be started and tried out on however small a scale. Consequently She sent Tanmaya to identify these children and two or three were chosen with Mother’s approval. Here is an extract from the Mother’s talk:

Mère : En principe c’est les enfants qui devraient choisir ... parce  que vous n’êtes pas sûrs de ne pas vous tromper. En principe c’est les enfants qui ... en tout cas, d’abord, on devrait dire aux enfants: “Voila il y a maintenant deux classes. Dans laquelle voulez-vous  être? S’ils disent: “Ah! Nous ne savons pas“... alors, ceux la, ça ne fait rien. Il peut y en avoir qui diront : “Oh! Nous voulons aller là.”

Tanmaya: C’est ça.

Mère : Et alors, il faudrait que toi - toi, je veux dire Tanmaya – que tu voix ces enfants et que tu tâches de faire sortir d’eux ce qu’il y a. Et alors après ça on décidera.

10 Mars, 1973

Here is the English translation.

Mother:    In principle, it should  be  up to the children to choose… because you can’t be sure you are not mistaken.. In principle it’s up to the children who... Anyway, first of all, one should tell them:” There are now 2 classes. Which one do you want to attend?”  If they say :” Ah! We don’t know....” Then for those, it doesn’t matter. There may be some who will say:” Oh! We want to go there!”

Tanmaya: That’s it.

 Mother: Then you should... you, - I mean Tanmaya - you should see these children and try to bring out what there is deep inside them. And after that we’ll decide.

10 March, 1973
It is obvious that Mother had a lot of confidence in Tanmaya.

2. At the same time, Mother was absolutely clear that for this to be successful the teachers or at least some of them must be in contact with their psychic being or at the least, it must be their chief preoccupation. This point is central to education in the Ashram school; it is the importance of discovering the psychic being particularly by the teachers; only then can they help students who have the possibility and the aspiration. On February 8th, Mother met six teachers, namely Kireet-bhai, Tanmay, Paru, Arati, Jhumur and Kittu. She explained in some detail what She expected from us and also from the students. I am reproducing the conversation in French and the English translation.

Tanmaya: Quelle est la meilleure manière de nous préparer, jusqu'à ce que nous puissions mettre en place de nouvelles structures?

Mère:  Naturellement, c'est d'élargir et d'éclairer votre conscience — mais comment faire? Votre propre conscience... l'élargir et l'éclairer. Et si vous pouviez trouver, chacun de vous, votre psychique et vous unir à lui, tous les problèmes seraient résolus.

L'être psychique, c'est le représentant du Divin dans l'être humain. C'est ça, n'est-ce pas  —  le Divin n'est pas quelque chose de lointain et d'inaccessible. Le Divin est en vous mais vous n'en êtes pas complètement conscients. Vous avez plutôt... ça agit maintenant comme une influence plutôt que comme une Présence. Il faut que ce soit une Présence consciente, que vous puissiez à tout moment vous demander quel est... comment... comment le Divin voit. C'est comme ça : d'abord comment le Divin voit, et puis comment le Divin veut, et puis comment le Divin fait. Et ce n'est pas s'en aller dans des régions inaccessibles, c'est ici même. Seulement, pour le moment, toutes les vieilles habitudes et l'inconscience générale mettent comme une sorte de couverture qui nous empêche de voir et de sentir. Il faut... il faut lever, il faut soulever ça. 

Au fond, il faut devenir des instruments conscients... conscients... conscients du Divin.

D'habitude, ça prend toute une vie, ou quelquefois, pour certains, c'est plusieurs vies. Ici, dans les conditions actuelles, vous pouvez le faire en quelques mois. Pour ceux qui sont... qui ont une aspiration ardente, en quelques mois ils peuvent le faire.

8 Février, 1973
(CWM – French, Volume 13, p 360)

Here is the English translation:

Tanmaya: What is the best way of preparing ourselves, until we can establish a new system?

Mother: Naturally, it is to widen and illumine your consciousness—but how to do it? Your own consciousness... to widen and illumine it. And if you could find, each one of you, your psychic and unite with it, all the problems would be solved.

The psychic being is the representative of the Divine in the human being. That’s it, you see—the Divine is not something remote and inaccessible. The Divine is in you but you are not fully conscious of it. Rather you have... it acts now as an influence rather than as a Presence. It should be a conscious Presence, you should be able at each moment to ask yourself what is... how... how the Divine sees. It is like that: first how the Divine sees, and then how the Divine wills, and then how the Divine acts. And it is not to go away into inaccessible regions, it is right here. Only, for the moment, all the old habits and the general unconsciousness put a kind of covering which prevents us from seeing and feeling. You must... you must lift, you must lift that up.

In fact, you must become conscious instruments... conscious... conscious of the Divine.

Usually this takes a whole lifetime, or sometimes, for some people it is several lifetimes. Here, in the present conditions, you can do it in a few months. For those who are... who have an ardent aspiration, in a few months they can do it.

8 February, 1973
(CWM, Volume 12, p 428)

When She was asked whether we could give this as the aim for all the students, She replied:

 Tanmaya:  Et Mère, on peut donner ça comme objectif à tous les enfants?

Mère: Tous... non, ils n'ont pas tous le même âge, même quand ils ont le même âge physiquement. Il y a des enfants qui... qui sont primaires. Il faudrait, n'est-ce pas... Si vous étiez pleinement conscients de votre psychique, vous sauriez les enfants qui ont un psychique développé.
Il y a des enfants où le psychique est seulement embryonnaire. L'âge du psychique n'est pas le même, il s'en faut de beaucoup. Normalement le psychique met plusieurs vies à se former complètement, et c'est lui qui passe d'un corps dans un autre et c'est pour cela que nous ne sommes pas conscients de nos vies passées: c'est parce que nous ne sommes pas conscients de notre psychique. Mais quelquefois, il y a un moment où le psychique a participé à un événement;  il est devenu conscient, et cela fait un souvenir. On a quelquefois... on a quelquefois un souvenir fragmentaire, le souvenir d'une circonstance ou d'un événement, ou d'une pensée ou même d'une action, comme ça: c'est parce que le psychique était conscient.

Qu'est-ce que vous voulez, maintenant je suis près de la centaine, n'est-ce pas, il s'en faut de cinq ans seulement. J'ai commencé l'effort pour devenir consciente à cinq ans, mon petit. Voilà, c'est pour vous dire... Et je continue, et ça continue. Seulement... Naturellement, j'en suis venue à faire le travail pour les cellules du corps, mais il y a longtemps que le travail est commencé.

Ce n'est pas pour vous décourager, mais... c'est pour dire que ça ne se fait pas comme ça !

Le corps... le corps est fait d'une matière qui est encore très lourde, et c'est la matière elle-même qui doit changer pour que le Supramental puisse se manifester.


8 Février 1973
(CWM – French, Volume 13, p 362-63)

Here is the English translation:

Tanmaya: And Mother, can this be given as an aim to all the children?

Mother: All... no. They are not all of the same age, even when they are of the same age physically. There are children who... who are at an elementary stage. You should... If you were fully conscious of your psychic, you would know the children who have a developed psychic. There are children in whom the psychic is only embryonic. The age of the psychic is not the same, far from it. Normally the psychic takes several lives to form itself completely, and it is that which passes from one body to another and that is why we are not conscious of our past lives: it is because we are not conscious of our psychic. But sometimes, there is a moment when the psychic has participated in an event; it has become conscious, and that makes a memory. One sometimes has... one sometimes has a fragmentary recollection, the memory of a circumstance or an event, or of a thought or even an act, like that: this is because the psychic was conscious.

You see how it is, now I am nearing a hundred, it’s only five years away now. I started making an effort to become conscious at five years old, my child. This is to let you know.... And I go on, and it goes on. Only... Of course, I have come to the point where I am doing the work for the cells of the body, but still, the work began a long time ago.

This is not to discourage you, but... it is to let you know that it does not happen just like that!

The body... the body is made of a substance which is still very heavy, and it is the substance itself which has to change for the Supermind to be able to manifest.

There you are.

8 February, 1973
(CWM, Volume 12, pp 430-431)

We are reproducing a note from the Mother on the qualities that a teacher must possess:


1. Complete self-control not only to the extent of not showing any anger, but remaining absolutely quiet and undisturbed under all circumstances.

2. In the matter of self-confidence, must also have a sense of the relativity of his importance.
Above all, must have the knowledge that the teacher himself must always progress if he wants his students to progress, must not remain satisfied either with what he is or with what he knows.

3. Must not have any sense of essential superiority over his students nor preference or attachment whatsoever for one or another.

4. Must know that all are equal spiritually and instead of mere tolerance must have a global comprehension or understanding.

5. “The business of both parent and teacher is to enable and to help the child to educate himself, to develop his own intellectual, moral, aesthetic and practical capacities and to grow freely as an organic being, not to be kneaded and pressured into form like an inert plastic material.” (Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle)

Never forget that to be a good teacher one has to abolish in oneself all egoism.

10 December 1959
(CWM, Vol. 12 p 167)

3.  She also identified the obstacles that were blocking the progress of the school. The first one was the attitude and the expectations of most parents and the second one was the giving of certificates after the students  finished their studies; she felt that it was one of the main reasons for diluting the motives of the students.

Mother then asked Kireet-bhai to write a note for the parents; Kireet-bhai wrote that note which Mother appreciated and then it was sent to the parents. This note explained the work that was being done here and what was expected from the parents. It was an appeal to them to cooperate with the aims of the school.

Regarding the motivation of the students; Mother was keenly aware that the orientation of many students was towards getting jobs and success in the world. She felt after a few discussions that one of the main causes for this was the issuing of certificates after they completed the Higher course. She therefore decided to stop giving certificates. She asked Kireet-bhai to write a note announcing once more the statement that had been made earlier by the Mother herself as to why we do not give certificates and diplomas ; and that in pursuance of that objective, the certificates would be stopped in a gradual fashion. Students who were already in the Higher course would be given their certificates; but students who would be entering the Higher course would be told clearly that they would not be given certificates. These students would have to decide whether they would like to continue studying here or whether they would leave and study outside in any other college or institution.

A meeting was called of all the students of the Higher Course and the students who were in the last year of the Secondary course; Kireet-bhai addressed them and they were informed of this decision and were asked to make their choice and inform the authorities well in time. It was absolutely clear that Mother wanted to encourage students to study for the sake of knowledge and not primarily for jobs or any other mundane reasons. We are reproducing below a letter of the Mother which illustrates this.

Q. Why are no diplomas and certificates given to the students of the Centre of Education?

Mother: For the last hundred years or so mankind has been suffering from a disease which seems to be spreading more and more and which has reached a climax in our times; it is what we may call “utilitarianism”. People and things, circumstances and activities seem to be viewed and appreciated exclusively from this angle. Nothing has any value unless it is useful. Certainly something that is useful is better than something that is not. But first we must agree on what we describe as useful—useful to whom, to what, for what? For, more and more, the races who consider themselves civilised describe as useful whatever can attract, procure or produce money. Everything is judged and evaluated from a monetary angle. That is what I call utilitarianism. And this disease is highly contagious, for even children are not immune to it. At an age when they should be dreaming of beauty, greatness and perfection, dreams that may be too sublime for ordinary common sense, but which are nevertheless far superior to this dull good sense, children now dream of money and worry about how to earn it. So when they think of their studies, they think above all about what can be useful to them, so that later on when they grow up they can earn a lot of money. And the thing that becomes most important for them is to prepare themselves to pass examinations with success, for with diplomas, certificates and titles they will be able to find good positions and earn a lot of money. For them study has no other purpose, no other interest.

To learn for the sake of knowledge, to study in order to know the secrets of Nature and life, to educate oneself in order to grow in consciousness, to discipline oneself in order to become master of oneself, to overcome one’s weaknesses, incapacities and ignorance, to prepare oneself to advance in life towards a goal that is nobler and vaster, more generous and more true... they hardly give it a thought and consider it all very utopian. The only thing that matters is to be practical, to prepare themselves and learn how to earn money.

Children who are infected with this disease are out of place at the Centre of Education of the Ashram. And it is to make this quite clear to them that we do not prepare them for any official examination or competition and do not give them any diplomas or titles which they can use in the outside world. We want here only those who aspire for a higher and better life, who thirst for knowledge and perfection, who look forward eagerly to a future that will be more totally true. There is plenty of room in the world for all the others.

17 July 1960
(CWM, Vol. 12 pp 351-52)

4. She also stressed that some of the text books in the field of Humanities (not of Science and Maths) should be written here by our own teachers or by the followers of Sri Aurobindo in that light. This conversation took place of 20th February 1973. She even suggested to me that I should write a book on Indian History in the light of Sri Aurobindo. She also emphasised that Her work depended to a certain extent on the success of this project. When she asked me to write the book, I was very diffident about it, but since She asked me to do it, I decided to go ahead with it. I do not know why Mother chose me to write that book; probably it was because a few years earlier in early 1968, I had prepared a syllabus for the two highest classes of the secondary section.  It was shown to Mother who appreciated it. Here is the purpose of the syllabus:

Syllabus for EAVP 5 & 6

The purpose of this syllabus is to give to the students the necessary background information which will help them to understand the books of Sri Aurobindo - The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity, and the Foundations of Indian Culture - when they go to the Higher Course. Ten topics have been selected for study in the Classes 5 & 6. All these topics have been extensively covered by Sri Aurobindo in these books. Each topic will be covered in a period of two months. I shall not go into the details of the syllabus, but it is sufficient to note that Mother was happy that these studies should be centred around Sri Aurobindo’s vision.

5. One day She spoke about the mantra She uses regularly. Here is the conversation:

Mère: Oui, oui, mais notre langage... J'allais te dire : "C'est une bonne idée", mais je me suis attrapée par l'oreille au moment où je me le disais. Ce n'est pas une idée, tu comprends, c'est notre langage qui a le... c'est comme une cloche qui est sur lui, une cloche mentale dont il ne veut pas se débarrasser. Vraiment, c'est un moment difficile. Je crois qu'il faudrait être très tranquille, très tranquille, très tranquille. Je vais te dire mon ancien mantra ; celui-là tient l'être extérieur très tranquille :
Om namo bhagavaté
Ces trois mots. Pour moi, ils voulaient dire :
Om  —  J'implore le Seigneur Suprême.
Namo  —  Obéissance à Lui.
Bhagavaté  —  Rends-moi divin.
C'est une traduction de ça. Je veux dire... Tu as entendu ?
Tanmaya:  Oui, Mère.
Mère:  Ça, pour moi, ça a le pouvoir de calmer tout.

14 Mars, 1973
(CWM – French, Volume 13, p 379)

Below is the English translation:

Mother: Yes, yes, but our language... I was about to tell you, “It’s a good idea,” but I caught hold of myself by the ear just as I was saying it to myself. It is not an idea, you understand, it is our language which has the... it is like a bell-jar covering it up, a mental belljar which it does not want to get rid of. Really, it is a difficult time. I think that we ought to be very quiet, very quiet, very quiet. I am going to tell you my old mantra; it keeps the outer being very quiet:

These three words. For me they meant:
OM—I implore the Supreme Lord.
NAMO—Obeisance to Him.
BHAGAVATE—Make me divine.
This is a translation of it, I mean... Did you hear?

Tanmaya: Yes, Mother.

Mother: For me that has the power to calm everything.

14 March, 1973
(CWM, Volume 12, pp 446-47)

I am adding a note on a side issue that took place during our talks. This is to dispel the impression that is currently widespread in some circles that Mother was against taking help from the Government of India.

Kireet went to Delhi twice during the period January- March 1973 for finalising grants given by the Government of India. On both occasions when he returned and met Mother, She was very happy to get the grants. Kireet also recounted how some of the senior officers were open to the educational philosophy of Sri Aurobindo. On one such occasion, She told Kireet that if Indira Gandhi asked for help, he should respond positively.

In this series of articles, I have presented my interaction with the Mother both as a teacher and as one working in the administration of the school. Naturally it does not give a total view of the Mother’s educational philosophy. Still it does reveal certain very important components of the Mother’s vision. For Mother was just giving a body to the educational concepts of Sri Aurobindo. In a way, one might say that Mother tried to concretize and implement the educational philosophy of Sri Aurobindo on a small scale. We are quoting below an extract of the educational principles as laid down by Sri Aurobindo.

Sri Aurobindo on the Three Principles of Education

In teaching the first principle is that nothing can be taught. The teacher is not an instructor or taskmaster, he is a helper and a guide. His business is to suggest and not to impose.  He does not actually train the pupil's mind; he only shows him how to perfect his instruments of knowledge and helps and encourages him in the process. He does not impose knowledge to him; he only shows him how to acquire knowledge for himself. He does not call forth the knowledge that is within; he only shows him where it lies and how it can be habituated to rise to the surface.

The second principle is that the mind has to be consulted in his growth. The idea of hammering the child into the shape desired by the parent or teacher is a barbarous and ignorant superstition. It is he himself who must be induced to expand   in accordance with his own nature. There can be no greater error than for the parent to arrange beforehand that his son shall develop particular qualities, capacities, ideas, virtues, or be prepared for a prearranged career. To force the nature to abandon its own dharma is to do it permanent harm, mutilate its growth and deface its perfection. It is a selfish tyranny over a human soul and a wound to the nation, which loses the benefit of the best that a man could have given it and is forced to accept instead something imperfect and artificial, second-rate, perfunctory and common. Everyone has in him something divine, something his own, a chance of perfection and strength in however small a sphere, which God offers him to take or refuse. The task is to find it, develop and use it.

 The third principle of education is to work from the near to the far, from that which is to that which shall be. The basis of a man’s nature is almost always, in addition to his soul’s past, his heredity, his surroundings, his nationality, his country, the soil from which he draws sustenance, the air which he breathes, the sights, sounds, habits to which he is accustomed. They mould him not the less powerfully because insensibly, and from that then we must begin. We must not take up the nature by the roots from the earth in which it must grow or surround the mind with images and ideas of a life, which is alien to that in which it must physically move. If anything has to be brought in from outside, it must be offered, not forced on the mind. A free and natural growth is the condition of genuine development.

(CWSA, Vol. 1, pp 384-85)

The question that arises is whether we – the followers of Sri Aurobindo, the government of India and humanity - are ready both physically and psychologically to implement this; for this demands a radical shift in the aims, goals and policy of education. But whether we are ready or not, it is always desirable to keep the ideal in front of our consciousness so that sooner or later the attempt to change will begin in real earnest.

It will be a great step forward if the governments started at least considering these ideas and then initiate the changes in a gradual manner.

To conclude, the points that Mother stressed for our education were:

1. Introduce the free system as early as possible to prepare the children for a free growth and flowering

2. Take the parents into confidence and make them understand the goals and methods of the new educational system. Their co-operation  is indispensable.

3. Replace the utilitarian motivation by a higher motivation of seeking for knowledge and fulfilling one’ swadharma. This does not mean that education must not be useful; on the contrary it is most useful when one is true to oneself.

4. Rewrite the text books in the light of the true and deeper Indianness and in the light of Sri Aurobindo. This is applicable for India. For other nations, the text books must reflect their deepest inner being.

5.  The evaluation system prevailing now, based on exams does not give a complete picture of the student; it must be much more broad-based and take the whole personality into account.

6.  Teachers must try to develop the personality traits already mentioned in this article. Ultimately they must try to come in contact with their psychic being. A teacher must be a living example.

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