By Sajeeva Samaranayake –
Since the dawn of thinking mankind knowledge has been a source of power, and a means of control. (We are less familiar today, with knowledge as virtue and a resource for caring and understanding.) Ideas from God down to human rights have become subject to the corrupting influence of human thought. This corruption takes place through a deliberate or unconscious tendency to possess and objectify ideas. They are turned into ‘things,’ weapons and grand symbols which can then be used to bolster your identity and dominate others. All this is the work of the thinking ego – our monkey within.
All philosophies and religions recognize this possibility – of the devil appropriating the scriptures and using them for its own worldly ends. Yet this appreciation can become progressively dim in some religious traditions. We can now see, very clearly, the consequences of the failure to guard against this within the Buddhist tradition of Sri Lanka. Taoism is rather unique in its insistence on invisibility and on the ultimate powerlessness of thoughts and words. As Ron Hogan puts it delightfully in his ‘off beat’ version of the Tao Te Ching:
Tao doesn’t have a name
Names are for ordinary things
Because the ego stands for a sharp separation and division of this from that; of the right from wrong and good from bad these ideas (from God to human rights) have helped to disconnect man from man instead of helping to unite them. Great ideas and ideologies have thus become great dividers – thus defeating their basic purpose of functioning as great connectors.
How do we avoid this elephant trap?
Our education is driven on abstractions, and fixed sacrosanct concepts. We need to ‘unpack’ them or de-conceptualize them and walk them back to real life. This means that we must observe their working within the laboratory of our personal or inner life. How much do these principles and ideas matter to us in our daily thoughts and actions; in our closest relations with our family, servants and friends? What kind of democracy and freedom of speech do we practice outside the glare of the media when we are no longer play acting?
This is the process of observation and awareness that we in the East once knew as “yoga.” It is yoga which unites mind and body to connect it as a whole with an ever expanding world of ideas which we know as education. So long as we are separated and disconnected within these new ideas fail to take root in our lives. Having failed there, they cannot succeed in society. They cease to be “pra-yogika” or practical.
Every branch of knowledge or discipline has been disciplined by a set of human values which provide the raison d’etre or justification for its existence in human society. When teachers lose sight of these values and impart dry bones of knowledge without the living flesh and blood that holds them together our poor children are led astray en masse. Of these values the most fundamental value is that of human agency and relationships which enables concerted action, and human happiness which is surely the goal of all human endeavour.
This takes us to a fundamental shift in the methodology of our education. Instead of passively imbibing what solid and fixed concepts and definitions mean we must experience their truth within us, personally, subjectively, emotionally and deeply as human beings. Ajahn Brahmawanso is a great story teller and teacher who rises above his denomination to share his insights from a life lived deeply. Introducing his collection of stories from ‘Opening the door of your heart’ he states:
Life is a series of interwoven stories, not a set of concepts. Ideas are generalizations, always some distance from the truth. A story with all its array of meanings and richness of detail, is recognizably much closer to real life. That is why we relate more easily to stories than to abstract theories. We love a good yarn.
We know this as ‘internalizing’ or ‘experiential learning’. But in this country we have succeeded in turning all this into mere words. We have become irreverent players in the game of words and as we cross swords rather shamelessly with the Indians and the English we tend to forget the debt we owe them for teaching us their cultures and languages in the first place. To lose the virtues of respect and gratitude for your teachers is to lose everything. Having mastered words sans their meaning we have grabbed, appropriated and ‘developed’ everything from ayurveda to vipassana meditation. We speak on every topic under the sun except the truth in our hearts which our repressed self would dearly love to say. It must also be added that we refrain from telling the truth because the social environment we have co-produced is highly toxic, critical and lacking in human warmth. We are no longer confident of disclosing to ourselves or to each other – far less to the world, who we really are. If we wish to regain ourselves we must find good teachers with whom we can be ourselves and stop pretending.
The shift from unknown or half baked concepts to reality must take us to the most logical and direct starting block of our education. This is our own experience and honest reflection in the company of people we can love and trust.
The time has come to realize the miracle of close, personal relationships without which learning becomes a sterile, meaningless exercise. And on that meaningless foundation – no society of human beings can be raised. We may raise perpetually dependent children, unthinking media programmed mobs and robots; but not human beings who possess the unity or yoga and inner power which is the hallmark of an educated human being.