Total Education

Any educational methodology must necessarily be based on a philosophy of education. And, since every philosophy has got a particular psychology behind it, if we wish to understand the present system of education we must first understand the psychology of Western thinkers. Without an understanding of this psychology, no conclusion can be reached as to what must be changed in the present system of education in order to achieve results that will totally develop man.

Three aspects of Western psychology are fundamental to this issue. Firstly, the distinction between the things that we are aware of and things that we are not aware of, which they have clarified as the conscious and the unconscious. Secondly, the division of the mind into id, ego and superego — the id being considered to be the source of our needs or instincts, the superego our conscience and the ego between the two. The ego is supposed to be our “reality tester”; it decides what we ultimately do or don’t do. This is a limitation which Western psychologists have imposed on themselves: they cannot go beyond the need of the ego and egocentric mind. Finally, we also find that, at no stage have these psychologists in any way defined consciousness, excepting to maintain that there is such a thing. This, of course, does not allow us to comprehend the capabilities of the conscious mind, the faculties that go to make up the whole mind and faculties that need to be developed so that, if there is anything beyond the conscious mind buried in the subconscious, if there is any inhibitory factor or other factor developing desires and complexes, we could eliminate them and change the subconscious. That there is no understanding beyond the conscious, is another obvious limitation. Even the conscious has not been defined adequately excepting to say that it is like a “reality tester”.

Being totally mechanistic in their approach, the behaviourist psychologists completely overlook subjective experiences so as to be able to objectively analyse things which are happening to an individual without knowing his subjective states of awareness or consciousness. This objective understanding, arrived at by a process of casual validation, is not enough. It is not real. Reality has to be experienced at a much deeper level of perception. The behaviourist’s view of perception and sensation as being totally objective negates the individual’s whole faculty for deeper awareness of reality.

The view of reality recognised in the West is very much a materialistic one, based on a multitude of concepts of reality. In the Western systems of thought there is no reality higher that the world of the senses. This limits man to his desires and involves him with sensualism which becomes the basis for the understanding of the human mind. Western psychology, philosophy and education are governed by the needs of the senses and desires. Creativity and all other things, therefore, have to fall in line with the requirements of the sensual, the sensate or the world of the senses.

We see in psychology the theory by which psychologists differentiate between proper functioning and improper functioning, believing that the healthy person is one who is able to satisfy his needs in a correct way, and the unhealthy one who satisfies his needs in an incorrect way. Though both the behaviourist and analytical schools of thought agree on this assumption of a correct way of living and feel that mental illness is just learning of impaired behaviour, though they both believe we can restrain ourselves at times and wait for the proper moment — that we should lead a type of moral life — there is no provision in modern psychology or educational philosophy that morality should be the backbone of any philosophy of education.

The motivation which seems to dominate modern thinking on education is based on selfishness. This naturally restricts the quality of education. One should not say that selfishness is in itself bad, but when it is not defined or improperly understood and the self in selfishness is not properly developed, then naturally it becomes a very demanding situation. Recent thought in the West suggests that everything we do is based on self-satisfaction and this satisfaction is a materialistic and mundane thing. We are now realising the transient quality of this materialistic satisfaction. This is, of course, a change for the good. However, no one has yet gone on to understand how we can separate the transient and unreal from the more permanent and the more real self-satisfaction. Likewise no one has gone on to understand whether the individual should be educated to relate to, or communicate with, the real as against the transient and the unreal.

It is also necessary when trying to understand any educational philosophy to understand the mind. What is a healthy mind? What constitutes a healthy personality? Unless the mind is understood and the standards and values for its health are also understood, any education given will remain superficial. An unhealthy mind cannot be educated. If it assimilates anything at all, it can only convert the knowledge gained to selfish ends — which is virtually what we see happening today.

Western psychology and philosophy of education suffer from the rationalistic and materialistic limitations they have imposed on themselves due to their narrow approach to understanding the individual: his limitations, his perception of the reality surrounding him and his particular sensate needs. So, Western education teaches man how to survive temporarily in his materialistic world. It provides temporary cures and releases, but does not and cannot lead to complete freedom or liberation. A total education enters into the depths of the human personality to actualise the highest potentials of his mind by removing the impurities coming in the way of such actualization and leads to the complete liberation of the individual.

In understanding the principles of total education, one has to understand that fundamentally for man there are no geographical distinctions; there are only universal principles and characteristics. The faculty of understanding, for example, is the same in all parts of the world, just as intelligence and the emotions of happiness and sorrow are also universal. These characteristics are independent of national traits or geographical separation. There are, however, various methods of education which draw out the dormant faculties of understanding suited to different peoples of the world. This is where national education steps in. A nation’s educational ideals are what distinguish a nation’s system of education from that of others and when great ideals are incorporated into its educational philosophy it becomes an immortal philosophy.

The basis of proper education is refinement, without which no civilization is ever possible. In some of the older civilizations an educated man lived a refined life, even if he did not carry his credentials and qualifications with him recorded on a piece of paper. What existed in education then was character development and refinement, whereas what obtains today is merely knowledge of curricula and an efficiency through specific branches of knowledge. Today, someone who proves himself proficient in one or more subjects is deemed learned, the number of degrees or titles conferred on him going a long way towards making him a savant. In the older system of education throughout the world, the disposition and state of mind of the disciples and students were taken notice of and considered the important factors. The purity of the student’s motive towards learning was the first thing a teacher looked for and no pain was spared in setting right unwholesome approaches in the mind of the student. Right disposition was the mark of the educated man.

Also, unlike today, when the preceptor comes second to the institution, in olden times more importance was given to the teacher than to the institutional set-up. Today, imposing university buildings, great auditoriums, elegantly got-up lecture halls, expensive classrooms, elaborate laboratories, gigantic stadiums, well laid-out playground, expensive workshops and other paraphernalia engage the attention of the entire education structure. In the ancient systems of education throughout various parts of the world, education presented a different spectacle. The universities and teaching organisations were situated in the natural environment. There was less equipment than there is today. Reading and writing had a place in the plans of teachers, but not as much as memorising and understanding, or gaining understanding through conviction or a conviction through understanding. Discussions and discourses were systematically engaged in and, more than anything else, disciplined life was the order of the day. Austerity was the sheet-anchor, nature the library, the laboratory, the encyclopaedia, the reference room and the research institute. Hence a minimum of material equipment and a maximum personality culture was obtained. As greater than average attention was paid to the way of life rather than to the paraphernalia surrounding life, the teachers succeeded in evolving sterling characters, living libraries, walking encyclopaedias and men of calibre and resourcefulness.

There was no period in ancient times that did not produce saints, seers, philosophers, savants, poets, statesmen, warriors, scientists, doctors, architects and engineers. It cannot be said, therefore, that they had nothing in those times that we have today, or that they did not have knowledge or understanding. Most of their knowledge, however, was obtained through intuitive methods, through the development of psychic faculties, rather than through the superficial development of the mind and imaginary processes related to the senses and sensual needs. The modern educated man is so sprawled out and his mind is interested in so many distractions that he can hardly withdraw within himself in the manner of a tortoise which withdraws its limbs and rests at ease within itself. This method of withdrawal could be cultivated if the present method of education accepted that a person should be introvert — not introvert in the ordinary sense of the word, but introvert in terms of being relaxed within himself, rather than having to find gadgets, tools and instruments for relaxation. Through this process of introversion the mind can be made more composed and this composed mind can then be directed to concentration and efforts requiring concentration.

One facet of modern scientific thinking is that it does not accept the unknown, nor that there is a greater source of knowledge within us, an unlimited amount of understanding buried in all human beings, a spiritual part which has more knowledge than the intellectual part of us. This factor is not recognized today, either in psychology, the humanities or the other sciences.

In ancient India they had a very definite idea of the mind and its relationship to the soul. They defined mind as the power of cognition, as distinct from pure consciousness which was said to be the nature of the soul. The brain was said to be the organ which manifests and utilises this power of consciousness with the help of the central nervous system. The power itself, however, cannot be identified with the brain. The external power functions through different brains. Brains may be born and brains may die, but the power of consciousness is eternal and deathless. Where Western thinkers have disassociated themselves from the soul is in identifying mind and soul as the same thing. In the ancient system of Yoga the mind is not looked upon as the source of consciousness, it derives consciousness from another source, and that is the soul.

A methodology of education, in order to be total, must be able to bring out the perfection of man which is latent in the soul. Education does not mean that a lot of information or ideas should be poured into the brain of the individual, and then be allowed to run riot. It means bringing about the gradual development and growth of the soul from infancy to maturity. Education should be based on the spiritual ideal that each individual soul is potentially divine, that it possesses infinite potential and possibilities, and that knowledge cannot be transferred from outside within, but must evolve from within outwards. No one can teach you this. You teach yourself. The teachers only give suggestions on techniques and methods. This should be the basic principle of education.

In our universities today we find just the opposite principle. The student is allowed to memorise his lecturer’s notes and “cram” to pass his examinations. He graduates a learned fool with a diploma for his ignorance, but does not know how to run his emotional life. This is not an ideal of education. Education does not mean intellectual culture, but the development and spiritual unfolding of the soul through all the branches of learning.

The education of a nation depends on its ideals. The ancient Indian educational principles were based on a pure moral and spiritual need. Consequently, the civilisation of ancient india was based, not on the commercial principles of modern times nor on the selfish ideals of political gain and power over other nations, but on the eternal spiritual law which governs our soul. Intellectual culture was not regarded as the highest ideal of education, but spiritual realisation of the relationship which exists between the individual soul and the universal spirit.

Herbert Spencer said: “In training for completeness of life, education should bring out the perfection of man which is latent in his soul.” Education should be in accordance with the natural inclination of the individual soul given that wisdom cannot be drilled into the individual’s brain. For example, all books give are mere suggestions. We get their knowledge in reaction to them. In order to understand a book, our mind must vibrate in rapport with the mind of the author — then only do we get its knowledge by the process of transmission. Knowledge does not come from outside; we have to raise the level of vibration of our mind to the level of vibration of the mind of the author. Then, like the telegraph, the wisdom of the author’s mind will be communicated to the students. That is a natural principle of proper education.

The aim of education should not be mere intellectual culture with commercial ideals in order to gain a livelihood in the competitive struggle of life. The ideal of education should be such as will elevate man from his ordinary selfish state to the unselfish universal ideal of brotherhood.

About the Author

Vijayadev Yogendra (1930–2005) was a yoga teacher, educationalist, philosopher, author and poet. He founded The School of Total Education in Melbourne in 1977.

This article originally appeared in the Journal of the Helen Vale Foundation, Volume 1 Number 1, 1977. (Published on web site: August 2011).