One of my recent projects is to transcribe some very old talks that Swami Kriyananda (founder of Ananda Village) gave when he was launching the Education for Life educational system. It is an amazing experience for me. Not only am I learning about the English language, but I am tackling the use of commas. Enjoy!
(Talk 4: This article was transcribed from an informal presentation by Swami Kriyananda to parents and teachers. This version was created as an act of love for the sole purpose of sharing the original process that went into creating the Education for Life philosophy. Editing was done for ease of reading and to minimize repetition.)
What I’ve wanted to do in these classes is not teach you everything but involve you in everything, so that you really make it a point to think about either being teachers, or helping our children, or encouraging other people to become teachers. Even if you’re not personally involved, your inner mental attunement with the idea and energy and enthusiasm behind it will help it to become manifested in the ways that we’re wanting.
[Stages of Maturity]
The Stages of Maturity include body, feeling, will, and intellect; and they happen in six-year cycles. What we’re doing is not going from one tool (body, feeling, will and intellect) to the next but adding one to the other. By adding a new phase to the other, it’s a continuous process—an unfoldment. When we expand, we don’t lose our core. We move outward from our core and become a fuller person.
[Ages 0-6: The Body Years]
During the first six years of life, the children’s concentration and energy have to be directed toward their bodies.
They aren’t coordinated. They run down the hallway and fall over their feet. They try to put food in their mouths and drop food all over their plates and laps. It’s a major triumph for a little baby to be able to walk—a great victory, a natural basis of self-confidence, as Master said in the Autobiography of a Yogi.
What we see is they will learn their lessons much better if we teach them primarily through the body. If everything we teach has some has some kind of physical movement, this will reinforce the lesson. Although they have an intellect, will, and feeling, they haven’t reached the point when they are ready to refine and develop those qualities.
The first six years of life are the most important. They are the years in which you make this incarnation your reality. What a child learns in those first six years will never be lost. I feel that pre-school is extremely important, perhaps in some ways the most important time. The pre-school needs to be done in coordination with the parents, like the Suzuki method. Parents and teachers need to work even more closely here than later on in schooling. When parents learn what the teachers are teaching, and they become familiar with the Education for Life principles, then they can really be functional in the schools and reinforce it at home.
It is important to always develop a sense of family in the classroom, especially for this age. The teachers are in a way an alternate parent. They function not just as a teacher but as somebody who is trying to bring these children up in coordination with each other, like brothers and sisters, to the ultimate goal of education—which is maturity.
Teach through the body, teach through the senses, and teach them to refine their senses by using them in good ways. Help them to see that they feel better themselves when they talk with each other and when they work cooperatively.
[Ages 6-12: The Feeling Years]
After the first six years, you find that children enter another phase where the feelings, which have always been there, are ready to unfold. Every plant and every flower has to unfold in its own natural stages. Once the body becomes somewhat coordinated and under control, the next thing is naturally the heart. This is the time to inspire and to help them get in touch with our society’s roots: tell old stories from the bible, tell stories such as mythology, the Mahabharata, the Greek heroes, the great episodes in history.
There was once a general who was dying in battle and he was offered some water. He noticed a soldier who was crying for water and said, “Give this water to him; his need is greater than mine.”
That kind of nobility is something that children never forget, and it inspires their future actions. Don’t just give them silly little stories with no point. Don’t think that they are only capable of fun and games. This is a great disservice to them. This is the time to give them heroes. This is the time to give them models. Appeal to their feelings not only through story but through acting out things, through music, playing, singing, art, and appreciating the arts.
I know when I was six my teacher in Romania was showing me pictures of great paintings that depicted mythological episodes. The printing in those days wasn’t nearly what it is today. These great paintings were in black and white. You’d wonder how I could enjoy them, but they were beautiful in their own way and the various gradations of black and white gave a sense of color. Learning art became so real and so wonderful. When I was seven years old, I was brought from Romania to America. We stopped in Athens where Phidipides came with news of the victory at Marathon, then died in the process of telling it. I was so thrilled to think that I was really there where this happened.
This is a time when children can be thrilled with such stories— stories of King Arthur and his knights, and people going out and saving others. All of this remains in the mind, and if we can depict it through music, through art, through acting and drama, through dance movements, then it is even better. Children at grade-school level are not ready to grapple with things in a realistic way. They are at that stage where they need to be inspired by beauty.
[Ages 12-18: The Will Years]
After the feelings develop, then the will power becomes activated. There can be no will power without feeling, so feeling has to come in first. Master talked about will power as being desire plus energy, directed toward fulfillment. Desire is feeling. Feeling without will power is vaguely sentimental and idealistic.
In many societies the teenage years are not a problem. In our society today, teenagers are a problem. Why? Well, because they are not brought into life properly. They’re neither fish nor fowl. People no longer see them as cuddly little creatures, and they are not ready to relate to them as equals. The children feel rejection, and they rebel. Their rebellion is rooted in the fact that they’re already feeling their oats, so to speak. With the awakening of sexual energy, there comes more energy for will power. Misdirected will power turns toward violence, rebellion, and rejection. That same will power, if we can keep them in touch with their idealism, can help them to realize that they’re working toward something.
To develop their will power, appeal to it from the standpoint of the body because they are familiar with the body. Teenagers need to use their bodies very vigorously. Challenge their will power instead of being so afraid of teenage rebelliousness. Don’t try to placate it. Set challenges in the right way—not so high that they get discouraged. Work alongside of them, and you find that they get much more involved.
If they can direct their energyto some sort of altruistic or idealistic goal, then their will power will be used in a growing way. If you can give them some sort of cause to work for, they will put more energy out than five adults. This is what they need. Otherwise, their energy collapses inward upon themselves. It rots. It creates addiction to drugs, thoughts of suicide, moodiness, depression, mere rejection, a sense of cynicism and hopelessness—problems that we see widespread throughout the school system that need not exist.
Apprenticeship with an adult is so very vital during the teenage years. When teenagers feel they are learning how to be a part of the adult world, they maintain the humility necessary to learn. They can look forward to that time when what they learned may stand them in vital stead for employment.
[Ages 18-24-The Intellect Years]
The next thing is that what you find when children reach the college level. It isn’t that they’re being taught all that many new things that make them different; it’s that they’ve reached the final stage. They’re ready. Now that the will power is developed, they’re ready to use their will power in an intelligent way, which is to say they are willing to start unfolding their intellect. It doesn’t mean that they don’t use their intellect earlier. Again, I need to emphasize that because certain lessons in intellect, in will power, in feeling, need to be brought in even at the youngest age. We have to appeal even to a little child’s reason sometimes. But the time to refine that reason, the time to really work with it as a tool of maturity, is at the age of 18 to 24. When a child is at that age, we find young people sitting in the coffee shop of the university, for example, talking about the latest political ideas, the latest scientific discoveries, or their new philosophy of life. That’s when they should be challenged on an intellectual level to always to use the intellect in a good way. I’ve described this in great depth in the Education for Life book, which I encourage you to read.
Once people have completed the stages of maturity, then they can really work to become mature. These are the stages, and once you’ve got that, then maturity is a matter of a whole life undertaking. Nobody’s mature at the age of 24, and very few people are mature even at death. But if we work on it, we will have gone a long way toward that in this lifetime.
The Curriculum (A new definition)
I said that we want to make the curriculum a manifestation of the Education for Life principles. It’s not that here we’re teaching them skills for living and here we’re teaching them geography. We need to bring the two together so we’re teaching in a total context of how to help them as individuals and not just give them information on a mental level.
In my book, I suggested that we redefine the curriculum. Otherwise, the old habit structure will be so strong that it will absorb these principles and dilute them to the point of non-existence. If we don’t give our curriculum new definition, then it’s very difficult to bring a new reality into outward manifestation.
In the beginning our country was just one of the colonies, and as long as we were only one of the colonies we were never able to do anything new as a country. When we took the stand of becoming a country, we made a constitution that defined our principles. We were no longer an English colony but had become the United States of America. From that moment, this country has had a tremendous impact on the whole world. Anytime you want to do a new thing, you have to give it new definitions and new labels. You have to somehow break away from old contexts.
Master gave me work to do in this life. If I had not come out on my own, I could never have done it. I would always have been defined in terms of a person who was under the president, who had to do what the president said. It would never have worked. For this work to come into existence, it was absolutely necessary to give myself and my relation to Master a totally new definition. These are the realities of life, and this is an important thing even if only psychologically.
We need a new definition for the curriculum with the understanding that we have to teach the same basic teachings, because we still have this society to relate to. But unless we give them a new definition, they won’t take root. I’m convinced of it. We’ll find this whole thing being dragged down by the very force of gravity back into the way it’s always been taught forever. That’s why I say, “Don’t go at this by doing a lot of research into the way other people do it.” What they have is valid, and unless we get it in a new context and do our thing, we won’t be able to give it the power to launch. We’ve got to redefine it and live by that new definition. Only after we’re really strong in it can we see what others are doing.
I don’t know what other people teach. It’s not that I’m not interested or that I don’t have respect, but I find I have all I can do to do what I’m doing. I don’t know how many other communities there are in the world—I haven’t really studied them. We are too busy doing what we’re doing. Therefore, I think what we’re doing is good. When Master wrote his interpretations of the Bhagavad Gita, he began to understand why his guru would never let him read anybody else’s commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita. It was because his concentration and energy would have been diluted by what other people said.
Our Curriculum Categories
I have given an entirely new set of categories, and within these broader categories I have suggested where we can place all the standard subjects. We need to make the subjects more human—to bring them into relationship with the skills for living principles. The typical curriculum is defined as the sciences, mathematics, social science, languages, and humanities. Each one of these by its definition is not related to immediate human realities. It’s not related to you, where you are today.
We should always seek unity between the different fields. Try to teach each subject as a part of a greater whole. Don’t compartmentalize. Have that higher view from the balloon that sees it all as one, so that if here there’s a city, a field, and a forest, you see that they’re all a part of the countryside.
[Our Earth, Our Universe]
Here’s what I suggest for the sciences. Instead of this abstract word “science,” we can call that category “Our Earth, Our Universe.” That forces the physics teacher to always relate it back to you. For example, the scientific method requires you have a hypothesis which you test, and then you prove whether it’s a true hypothesis or not. We can bring the scientific principle down to a human level by saying belief can be tested by experience. We can use scientific principles on all levels of life. Anything we learn in physics can be brought down to reality. The law of action and reaction is karma. The law of gravity is love. The law of magnetism is attraction. The energy that you learn about in physics is energy used in these ways. We need to relate all these subjects back to man and to one another. Compartmentalizing happens when our consciousness is dense.
In chemistry there is also very much that you could apply also to a human level. The chemistry of feelings is a term that Yogananda used—how to use a mixture of two feelings to produce a third. For example, salt is sodium chloride. Chloride and sodium are both poisons, yet table salt is not bad for you. We can look at how to take two negative qualities and produce a good quality. There’s another interesting principle with poison— a little bit of poison can stimulate, and a lot of poison will kill. So, a little bit of something negative, a little bit of conflict, a little bit of tension, actually stimulates you. It’s not bad. It’s when it’s too much that it becomes bad.
You find that there is a catalyst principle in chemistry where you introduce something that doesn’t do anything itself but it causes an action in other elements. Similarly, you find that some people have that ability. When they radiate love and magnetism toward others, they can inspire action in them, and they themselves do not do have to do anything on the physical level.
These are wonderful examples of principles that you can bring to the human level for your students while talking about abstract subjects. The chemistry teachers can learn to think in this way. They can work together with other teachers who are talking more in human values. It makes a very interesting study and magnetizes the subject instead of just being there in a white smock and glasses.
The law of pendulum motion ties in with the whole principle of duality. When we are at rest in between the poles of the pendulum, we can always be happy. If we try to find happiness by pushing the pendulum toward outward happiness, it will always swing back to pain; the further you push it, the further it will swing back.
The importance of man to scientific discovery is a very vital aspect of teaching science. Scientific discovery depends on the clarity of consciousness, the clarity of reason, the clarity of feeling, and the clarity of intuition. All great scientists are intuitive.
Einstein came down one day from his meditations and told his wife he had the most wonderful idea. The first insight was intuitive. It wasn’t reason that did it. If it had been only reason, he would have been able to explain it instantly. It took him another ten years to bring that clear intuition down to a rational level and to be able to present the theory of relativity in such a way that other people would understand it.
You need to develop yourself if you want to be a good scientist. Most physics teachers or the chemistry teachers will say you just need to work on your experiments and get the same results.
One of the objections that many botanists had to Luther Burbank was that they couldn’t repeat his experiments, and that scientific experiment should be something that everybody can repeat. There was something in his consciousness that made the plants want to respond to him. They responded, in fact, to his love—an element that isn’t taught and perhaps isn’t teachable nowadays in physics or chemistry, and yet the observer is a part of what he observes.
This has been the ultimate frustration in physics—that you can’t really see the electrons doing their thing because the very use of the electron microscope influences the movements of the electrons. The very act of observing affects the thing observed. That’s true with electrons, and it’s true on many other levels. It’s certainly almost comically true when you try to bring it down to the so-called science of anthropology. You go in to observe a native tribe with your little notebook and they see you observing them, and they start reacting accordingly. It’s ridiculous to even call such a thing science.
It’s very important to teach students that their ability to understand is a great part of what they understand. Their ability to discover is a great part of what it is that they discover. You can’t keep that out of teaching science unless you are going to teach a dogma—the dogma being that anybody will make the same discoveries. Why aren’t all science teachers great scientists? The fact is that the greatest people in any field usually dropped out of school, because they knew that school didn’t know how to teach them how to apply themselves in these ways.
We should humanize the sciences because children get much more interested in the findings of Galileo, for example, if they read his life story. He becomes a human being to them who was in conflict with the hierarchy of the Church at his time. We’re human beings after all; we don’t relate only to abstractions. If you could bring those abstractions down to a more human level, then they become real.
If you are teaching biology, read my book—Crisis in Modern Thought. I’ve gone to great lengths to talk about meaning in evolution. It’s a very interesting sequence of chapters that deal with some of the greatest challenges to meaning in our times. If that aspect could be taught in biology, it would be wonderful.
The second field of study would be “Personal Development.” This would include physical development, such as hygiene, sports, physical education, sex education, and diet, etc. It would also include mental development, such as how to concentrate, how to solve problems, and how to develop the memory. There’s a lot to learn on these
In developing the art of memory, help students build relationships between what you are teaching and what they already know. If ideas remain suspended in time and space, then they are very hard to remember. Frank Laubach used this method in teaching languages to people in different parts of the world. He would draw the word he was trying to teach in such a way that it would look like a representative of that word. For example, an elephant in Bengal has an H, and he would draw the symbol of the H to look a little bit like the elephant with its trunk. He had great success in teaching languages. He taught thousands of people who until then hadn’t been able to learn.
Personal development would partly have the secrets of balanced living, centeredness, spiritual development, attitudes, superconscious living, and how to heighten one’s awareness. Self-discipline can be called “joyful self-discipline.” In that way, it will be taken out of a negative context and given more of an aura of challenge and opportunity. Also, meditation can be taught to those who are ready for it.
In physical education, we can teach the “I can do it” principles. When they can learn to overcome some little physical obstacle, then it’s easier for them to get confidence in their will power. Physical education teaches cooperation if it’s taught rightly. They can concentrate on winning but not on beating. This develops a very good attitude. A certain amount of competition is necessary in order to develop your own ability.
One of our children was running in a track meet here a few years ago. It was a competition with other students from other schools. Somebody later asked him, “Did you win?” He said, “No, but I won against myself, ” meaning, “I did better than I did last year.”
That’s a good attitude. Competition should focus on developing our skills and seeing in the better skills of another, the challenge to become even better. The pros and cons of competition can be understood in that context.
[Self-Expression and Communication]
The third broad category of the curriculum is “Self-Expression and Communication.” This gives reality to subjects that otherwise can be very boring for children—grammar, for example. If children can understand that if you know grammar, you can say what you mean and you can communicate what you mean. Show them how much more logical the right use of grammar is than the wrong use. If they try to say something and don’t know how to say it, very often it’s because they don’t know the laws of grammar. Once they can understand them, you will see that their own thinking becomes much clearer.
In mathematics, you can’t get away with wishful thinking. Its logic is a wonderful aspect of the clarity that mathematics forces upon you. Two and two equals four. It doesn’t equal five or three, and you can’t make it equal that no matter how much you want it to. The inexorable logic of mathematics is the inexorable logic of reality, which a child has to learn to accept as he develops toward maturity. He can’t just be beating his head against the wall hoping it will disappear. He has to learn how to adjust to what is, instead of trying to impose on reality what he wishes it were.
Creativity is a part of both Self-Expression and Communication. The arts (music, painting, writing, dance, acting) are very important. We develop these skills not only to show off, but as a way of helping us to understand that they are tools of Self-Expression and also of Communication. Much of modern poetry has no intention of letting you know what the author really thinks. Well, what good is that kind of poetry? Poetry should be a means of helping to make clear, perhaps on other than intellectual levels, feelings which you have inside.
Other aspects of Communication which are very important in this day and age should also be taught. Computer technology is a very new thing, and not necessarily thought of as a part of a normal curriculum. I’ve found that I can write ten times faster and better with a word processor than a typewriter. Because I can write it so much faster and correct it quickly, I don’t lose the essential inspiration while trying to get it down on paper, and I can hang onto a long succession of thoughts and not lose it while working on the first of them.
Salesmanship seems like an odd subject for school, but it’s not. If you can learn how to sell people on something because you believe in it, you have learned one of the greatest skills of Communication. So many people believe in something but don’t know how to get their belief out. Through salesmanship you learn how to convince other people of what it is you’re believing; you learn that you have to let them convince themselves instead of imposing the way you think on them; you learn to approach them from where they are, what they can understand, and what they want. This is all a part of good salesmanship and very essential to being a complete, fulfilled, and mature human being.
Public speaking is also a good thing to learn in the same context. You learn the laws of success. Self-expression should be taught as a means of communication and not just as a means of spilling out whatever you’ve got to say. It should always communicate.
There was a very educated writer who would explain to his father what it was he had written. He’d read it to him, and the father would say, “Well, what do you mean by that?” And he’d say, “Well . . .” and he’d explain it to him in more obvious ways. Then the father said, “Why didn’t you say that?” He found it very helpful. If you don’t know how to express a thought clearly, it means that you haven’t understood it perfectly yourself.
The fourth category, instead of calling it history, geography, let’s call it “Understanding People.” When you teach history in that context, it becomes a much more real approach than just talking of dates, figures, and famous kings. You are understanding people in relation to geography, to psychology, to customs and beliefs. You can evaluate the mores of different peoples and what they’re gaining in terms of what they themselves want.
For example, the average anthropology class would tell you that there are tribes in Africa who consider kindness merely a sign of cowardice, of weakness. Well, the average anthropology class would leave it there as if they have as much right to say that as we have to say the opposite. But if you study it carefully, you will see that that’s not true. It shows that they are at a lower level of human evolution, and that they’re not able to get everything they want in human terms from one another.
If you study these things, you can evaluate mores without projecting your values on to them and achieve a much higher level of self-understanding. Humanize history by teaching about individuals and about the era in which they lived, and then it will become more real.
A fifth category is “Cooperation,” so named to give a positive emphasis to subjects that are normally studied with insufficient reference to their human realities: foreign languages, political science, economics, and business. I don’t have time to go into these things. If you read what I’ve written and meditate on it, I think you’ll come up with the same understanding.
And finally a sixth category, to tie it altogether and to give it a totality of relationship, is “Wholeness.” Here you see how art and music appreciation are brought together by literature. Philosophy and religion are two other obvious subjects which could be taught under the category of Wholeness.
Here you have the new principles started by Master, in 1916, of Education for Life. If we take these and refine them, work on them, and develop them through practice, I think we have something so revolutionary that it can make this a Dwapara Yuga country. We can tune into the divine energy that is trying to flow down to mankind at this time. We can be, in other words, forerunners of this new age.