Educational Philosophy of
Sri Aurobindo wrote a series of articles on education in the Karma Yogin during 1909-10 under the title A System of National Education and The National Value of Art. He also wrote A Preface to National Education which appeared in the Arya in 1920 in two parts. His book, The Synthesis of Yoga in which we find extraordinary insights in regard to education, appeared serially in the Arya from August 1914 to January 1921 in four parts.
In “A National System of Education”, Sri Aurobindo points out that the question is not between modernism and antiquity, but between an imported civilisation and the greater possibilities of the Indian mind and nature, not between the present and the past, but between the present and the future. He pointed out that “the living spirit of the
demand for national education no more requires a return to the astronomy and mathematics of Bhaskara or the forms of the system of Nalanda than the living spirit of Swadheshi, a return from railway and motor traction to the ancient chariot and the bullockcart.” He, therefore, spoke not of a return to the 5th century but an initiation of the centuries to come, not a reversion but a break forward away from a present artificial falsity to India’s own greater innate potentialities, which are demanded by the soul of India.
The major question, he pointed out, is not merely what science we learn, but what we shall do with our science and how too, acquiring the scientific mind and recovering the habit of scientific discovery, we shall relate it to other powers of the human mind and scientific knowledge to other knowledge more intimate to other and not less light-giving and power-giving parts of our intelligence and nature. Again, he pointed out the question is not what language, Sanskrit or another, should be acquired by whatever method is most natural, efficient and stimulating to the mind, but the vital question is how we are to learn and make use of Sanskrit and the indigenous
languages so as to get the heart and intimate sense of our own culture and establish a vivid continuity between the still living power of our past and the yet uncreated power of our future, and how we are to learn and use English or any other foreign tongue so as to know helpfully the life, ideas and culture of other countries and establish our right relations with the world around us. He argued that the aim and principle of a true national education is not to ignore modern truth and knowledge, but to take our foundation on India’s own being, own mind, and own spirit.
As against the idea that the modern European civilisation is a thing that we have to acquire and fit ourselves for, and so only can we live and prosper, and it is this that our education must do for us, he argued that the idea of national education challenges the sufficiency of that assumption. He pointed out that India would do better, taking over whatever new knowledge or just ideas Europe has to offer, to assimilate them to its own knowledge and culture, its own native temperament and spirit, mind and social genius and create therefrom the civilisation of the future.
According to Sri Aurobindo, there is within the universal mind and soul of humanity the mind and soul of the individual with its infinite variation, its commonness and its uniqueness and between them there stands an intermediate power, the mind of a nation, the soul of the people. In his concept of a national system of education, Sri Aurobindo aimed at taking account of all these three elements so that national education would not be a machinemade fabric, but a true building or a living evocation of the powers of the mind and spirit of the human being.
Considering that India has seen always in the human being a soul, a portion of the divinity enwrapped in the mind and body, a conscious manifestation in Nature of the universal self and spirit, he concluded that the one central object of the national system of education should be the growth of the soul and its powers and possibilities as also the preservation, strengthening and enrichment of the nationsoul and the normative needs of its ascending movements. Not limited to these two, Sri Aurobindo put forth in its aim also the raising of both the individual soul and the national soul into the powers of the life and the ascending
mind and the soul of humanity. He added “at no time will it lose sight of man’s highest object, the awakening and development of his spiritual being.”
Sri Aurobindo speaks of three principles of teaching, and when implemented, they provide a sound basis of a system of natural organisation of the highest processes and the movements of which the human nature is capable. They also form the basis of the theory and practice of integral education, which has been propounded in detail in Sri Aurobindo’s book, The Synthesis of Yoga and the Mother’s book, On Education.
In brief, the three principles of teaching are as follows in Sri Aurobindo’s own words: “The first principle of true teaching 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. …The second principle is that the mind has to be consulted in its own 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. … The chief aim of education should be to help the growing soul to draw out that in itself which is best and make it perfect for a noble use. … The third principle of education is to work from the near to the far, from that which is to that which shall be. … A free and natural growth is the condition of genuine development. …”
There are, according to Sri Aurobindo, three instruments of the teacher: instruction, example, and influence. The good teacher will seek to awaken much more than to instruct; he will aim at the growth of the faculties and the experiences by a natural process and free expansion. He will not impose his opinions on the passive acceptance of the receptive mind; he will throw in only what is productive and sure as a seed, which will grow under the benign fostering within. He will know that the example is more powerful than instruction. Actually, the example is not that of the outward acts but of the inner motivation of life and the inner states and inner activities. Finally, he will also acknowledge that influence is more important than example. For influence proceeds
from the power or contact of the teacher with his pupil, from the nearness of his soul to the soul of another, infusing into the pupil, even though in silence, all that which the teacher himself is or possesses. The good teacher is himself a constant student. He is a child leading children, and a light kindling other lights, a vessel and a channel.
Sri Aurobindo’s concept of integral education finds its full relevance in the context of what Sri Aurobindo has called the Evolutionary Crisis, a crisis that occurs in a species at a time when some kind of mutation is imminent.
According to Sri Aurobindo, one favourable factor, which is likely to help contemporary humanity, is the contemporary dissatisfaction that has arisen with materialism, on the one hand, and on the other hand, with asceticism, which has been negating the meaning and purposefulness of the material world. After centuries of experiments, materialism is gradually giving way to the pressures of new discoveries, which require exploration of the psychical and spiritual domains. Similarly, centuries of experiments in the spiritual fields have shown that the neglect of material life and
neglect of collective welfare result in poverty or bankruptcy and even in economic and political slavery. As Sri Aurobindo pointed out:
“It is therefore of good augury that after many experiments and verbal solutions we should now find ourselves standing today in the presence of the two that have alone borne for long the most rigorous tests of experience, the two extremes. ... In Europe and in India, respectively, the negation of the materialist and the refusal of the ascetic have sought to assert themselves as the sole truth and to dominate the conception of Life. In India, if the result has been a great heaping up of the treasures of the Spirit, – or of some of them, – it has also been a great bankruptcy of Life; in Europe, the fullness of riches and the triumphant mastery of this world’s powers and possessions have progressed towards an equal bankruptcy in the things of the Spirit. … Therefore the time grows ripe and the tendency of the world moves towards a new and comprehensive affirmation in thought and in inner and outer experience and to its corollary, a new and rich selffulfilment in an integral human existence for the individual and for the race.”
The knowledge of the secrets of the process of integral education is largely contained in the Veda and Upanishads, and what we find missing there has been the special subject of study and experimentation in Sri Aurobindo. It is in the light of all this that we can speak today with great assurance of the concept and practice of integral education and of the synthesis of the ancient secrets of the reign of Spirit over mind,
life and the body and the modern secrets of utilisation of the life in perfecting the instrumentality of the body, life and mind. Integral education would not only aim at the integral development of personality, but it would also embrace all knowledge in its scope. It would pursue physical and psychical sciences, not merely to know the world and Nature in her processes and to use them for material human needs, but to know through them the Spirit in the world and the ways of the Spirit in its appearances. It would study ethics in order, not only to search for the good as the mind sees it, but also to perceive the supra-ethical Good. Similarly, it would pursue Art not merely to present images of the subjective and the objective world, but to see them with significant and creative vision that
goes behind their appearances and to reveal the supra-rational Truth and Beauty. It would encourage the study of humanities, not in order to foster a society as a background for a few luminous spiritual figures so that the many necessarily remain forever on the lower ranges of life, but to inspire the regeneration of the total life of the earth and to encourage voluntary optimism for that regeneration in spite of all previous failures. Finally, it would encourage unity of knowledge and harmony of knowledge, and it would strive to foster the spirit of universality and oneness.
An important characteristic of integral education is its insistence on simultaneous development of Knowledge, Will, Harmony, and Skill as also various parts of the being to the extent possible from the earliest stages of education. And since each individual child is unique in the composition of its qualities and characteristics, its capacities and propensities, integral education in its practice tends to become increasingly individualised. Again, for this very reason, the methods of education become increasingly dynamic, involving active participation of the child in its own growth.
An unprecedented kind of experiment in education was launched by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, when in 1943, a school came to be established at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram at Pondicherry in South India. It was expanded into Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education in due course, and the writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on education have influenced greatly the innovative processes of education in the country, and they have also received wide attention from the world at large. Mention may be made of the Mother’s small but great book on education as also to a series of ‘Conversations’ and ‘Questions and Answers’ which have been published by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
In 1968, she founded Auroville a few miles from Pondicherry, as a ‘Laboratory of the New Evolution’. Auroville has conducted various experiments in education, inspired and initiated by the Mother and published two important volumes of Educational research under the titles The Aim of Life and The Good Teacher and The Good Pupil which have received countrywide attention in India.
Principles and methods of education advocated by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have a profound bearing on psychic and spiritual education. These two domains bring into the picture all that is central to valueoriented
education, and to higher and profounder elements of human psychology. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have advocated new methods that are free from those of dogmas, rituals, ceremonies, prescribed acts. Spirituality, according to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, is a vast domain of the inmost soul, of the immobile silence, of the higher objects of the higher psychological exploration. The justification for psychic and spiritual education rests upon three important considerations:
(a) Education should provide to the individual a steady exploration of something that is inmost in the psychological complexity of human consciousness;
(b) The most important human question of human life is to consider the aim of human life and the aim of one’s own life and one’s own position and role in the society; and
this question can best be answered only when the psychic and spiritual domains are explored and when one is enabled to develop psychic and spiritual faculties of knowledge;
(c) The contemporary crisis of humanity has arisen because of the disbalancement between the material advancement on the one hand and inadequate spiritual progression, on the other. If, therefore, this crisis has to be met, development of psychic and spiritual consciousness should be fostered. Unfortunately, spiritual consciousness is often conceived as a denial of material life and concerns of collective life. In Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s view, however, there is no fundamental opposition between Matter and Spirit. True integrality, according to them, implies rejection of no element in human personality and no denial of anything that can contribute to the full flowering of faculties of personality.
Again, according to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, psychic and spiritual development cannot be effected without effecting high level development of the body, life and mind, and
that the perfection of the body, life and mind can be attained only when the powers of psychic and spiritual consciousness are bestowed upon the instruments of the body, life and mind.
At an important stage of experimentation, the Mother gave the message that while India has or rather had spiritual knowledge but neglected Matter, the West has knowledge of Matter but has neglected the Spirit, – as a consequence of which both India and the West are suffering, and the solution would be to develop integral education, which would restore the development of matter under the guidance and authority of the Spirit.
There is a distinction between psychic consciousness and spiritual consciousness, as there is a distinction between spiritual consciousness and supramental consciousness. As the Mother pointed out:
“…the psychic life is immortal life, endless time, limitless space, ever-progressive change, unbroken continuity in the universe of forms.
The spiritual consciousness, on the other hand, means to live the infinite and the eternal; to be projected beyond all creation, beyond time and space. To become conscious of your psychic being and to live a psychic life you must abolish all egoism; but to live a spiritual life, you must no longer have an ego.”
As far as the supramental education is concerned, the Mother pointed out that:
“…the supramental education will result no longer in a progressive formation of human nature and an increasing development of its latent faculties, but in a transformation of the nature itself, a transfiguration of the being in its entirety, a new ascent of the species above and beyond man towards superman, leading in the end to the appearance of a divine race upon earth.”
If these three aspects of higher education are to be conducted properly, one must take great care to ensure that methods of religion are not introduced. Religion implies normally the methods of belief or dogma, performance of rituals and ceremonies, and prescriptions of certain specific acts, which are considered to be religious as distinguished from profane.