Fundamentals of Integral Education–M.S. Srinivasan

Key perspectives: vision; principles; free progress system;

Educating is the single most important factor in the transformation of the individual and the society.  But most of modern education develops only a small part of the human mind and prepares the individual only for a job or a skill.  For a more transformative education we need a new and a more integral approach, which develops the whole being of the individual and prepares him for the whole of life.  This article presents the basic principles of an integral approach to education, which can bring harmonious integration to human beings, and a healthy wholeness to human life.

 The Vision

In the integral vision of education, a human being is in its essence an eternal and an evolving consciousness, progressively unfolding its powers and moving towards the realisation of its highest and integral potential.  This consciousness in man manifests itself as a four-fold being made of body, life, mind and soul.  The soul is the eternal and evolving divinity in man and the deepest and innermost core of his consciousness.  Body, life or the vital energy and mind are the instruments of the soul, created for self-expression and self-experience of the soul.  The soul grows through the experience of body, life and mind, “drinking experience like a strengthening wine”, not in a single birth but through many births.

The purpose of education is to felicitate and accelerate this evolution of the human soul and its instruments towards their highest potential.  Most of the learning which leads to this evolution comes from the experiences of life outside the classroom and the information given in books.  Classroom and the books are only some of the aids or means for preparing the student for his higher evolution in the School of Life.  The goal of this evolution is threefold: First, and the most important, is to awaken the soul or the spiritual element in the individual, and make it a conscious governor of its physical vital and mental instruments; second, to develop fully all the powers, faculties and qualities of the four-fold being of man to its utmost limits; third to organise and integrate our body, life and mind around the soul or spiritual centre of our being and make our entire being into a harmonious and integrated whole.  In other words, to put it simply, to build our being and make it into a harmonious whole.

 The Principles

The next question is what are the fundamental principles of the path or process of education.  Sri Aurobindo gives three basic principles of education.  First principle is “nothing can be taught.  The teacher is not an instructor or task-master, he is a helper and a guide.  His business is to suggest and not to impose.  He does not actually train the mind, he only shows him how to perfect his instruments of knowledge and help and encourage him in the process.”  Thus the aim of education is to trigger and sustain a process of self-education in the student by which he can by his own effort bring out the knowledge within and around him through study, observation, experimentation, enquiry, play, exploration and other activities of the mind, heart, will or sensations.

The second principle of education 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 himself who must be induced to expand with his own nature”.  The process of education has to be a free growth in harmony with the unique and natural inclinations, capacities and qualities of the soul and mind of the child and nothing should be forced on the child based on the preconceived ideas, ideals or prejudices of the teacher or the parent.  This is because, as Sri Aurobindo points out, “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 it and use it”.

The third principle is “to work from the near to far”, which means to begin from what is nearer and closer, more natural and immediate to the physical and psychological environment of the child, and the present condition of his inner being and nature, and proceed slowly and gradually to include and embrace the far, universal and the global.  The process of growth in education has to begin with and rooted in the physical, social, cultural and the psychological environment in which the child is born.  As Sri Aurobindo explains

“The basis of a man’s nature is almost always, in addition to his soul’s past, his nationality, his country, the soil from which he draws 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 grows or surround the mind with images and ideas of life which is alien to that in which it must physically move.  If anything has to be brought from outside, it must be offered not forced on the mind”

This principle applies to physical instruments of education like toys and also to things which has a direct inner influence on the psychological nature of the child like ideas or stories.  For example in teaching history it is better to begin from local and national history than with world-history.  Similarly while choosing stories and toys it is better to use those which reflect the ecology, society, culture and values of the native soil than that of alien cultures.

The Free Progress System

The other important principle of integral education is “Free Progress” which means, as the Mother explains: “freedom to follow the soul’s will and not that of the mental and vital whims and fancies”.  So free progress means an inner liberty of the soul to grow according its higher law pf the soul and not the freedom of the body, vital or mind to follow its fancies and desire.  This doesn’t mean denial or suppression of the freedom of the body, mind or vital.  They must also be given the freedom to grow in harmony with their intrinsic law and the legitimate needs and aspiration of their being.  There cannot be any genuine and real growth without this freedom.  As Sri Aurobindo points out:

“—the free play of mind and life is essential for the growth of consciousness; for mind and life are the soul’s only instrument until a higher instrumentation develop; they must not be inhibited in their action or rendered rigid, uplastic and unprogressive”.

But free play of mind and life can lead to much errors, deviation and disorder.  Such errors are part of the growth.  For until we realise an assured source of spiritual knowledge we grow through committing and correcting our errors.  However in integral education liberty of the body, mind and life have to be subordinated to the liberty of the soul or spirit.  This means vagabond fancies and desires of the mind and life which are harmful and obstructive to the growth of the soul should not be allowed free indulgence in the name of liberty.  Only the legitimate needs, inclinations and aspirations of the mind and life which lead to the growth of consciousness and the development of the faculties of knowledge, feeling or action have to be given the freedom of expression.

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