THEOSOPHY, Vol. 86, No. 3, January 1998
(Pages 74-79; Size: 13K)
The following essay on education is a shortened reproduction of the original text prepared for a talk H.P.B. published in Lucifer August 15, 1890. The salient point is that true education ever remains the same (education from the Latin: e, ex, out plus ducere, to lead; to lead potential out).
NOTES ON THEOSOPHY AND EDUCATION*(1)
(The opening speech of a discussion at the Blavatsky Lodge, on July 17th.)
THEOSOPHY claims to be the Science of Life, and must therefore have a direct bearing upon all those great problems which are agitating men's minds in these closing years of the 19th century. Among such problems, one of the most important, its bearing upon the future of our race, as well as the next generation is certainly that of Education. Hence, it may not be amiss to call the attention of the readers of Lucifer, to the Theosophical teaching upon this question. One fact alone need be pointed to in order to show how intimate and vital is the connection between Theosophy as embodied in the present Theosophical movement and the whole subject of Education. In every phase of human history, it is the ideal current among the people of any race as to the purpose and meaning of life, which is the most potent factor in determining the character and guiding spirit of the education given to the young of any nation. The education received by the young exercises an influence upon their conceptions of life and duty, thus molding their ideals into adulthood, which they will pass on to future generations.
A passing glance along the galleries of human history may serve to illustrate this statement. The earliest education system of which we have any record is that of ancient India, embodied in the caste system. Under this Régime the nation was divided into four main classes engaged, respectively: the Brahmans, in spiritual, religious, and scientific studies and pursuits; the Kshatriya, or warrior caste, in the pursuit of arms, politics, administration, in short the conduct and management of the outer national life generally; the Vaisya, or merchant caste, in commercial pursuits; while the Sudra, or "out caste" class, embraced all not included in one or other of these three.
This system, in one aspect, was an educational one, based upon knowledge of the laws of Karma. It provided the Ego a sphere of duties in accord with its Karmic affinities. In each caste, children were educated in accordance with the duties they would perform in adult life; the ideal expressing itself through the entire system. The supreme ideal was that of duty, of national welfare on all planes, spiritual and intellectual as well as material. This, of course applies strictly to India in the days when still ruled by the occult hierarchy.*(2)
Leaving India for Egypt, we know only that its educational system was very complete and played a most important part in the national life.
In Greece, the division of education under the two heads of Music and Gymnastics, corresponded to, and expressed the nation's ideal of human life when that ideal existed in its purity. Perfect harmony and balance resulting in grace, beauty and truth, physical, intellectual and moral, was the goal.
For the Roman, Rome, her power and greatness, was the ideal to which life was to be devoted. Roman history show us a series of heroic figures expressing the national ideal in the life of the camp, the conduct of the state, and the sterner virtues of private life. Carried away by the torrent of reaction against the corruption and materialism of the decaying Roman Empire, Christianity stamped upon the early centuries of our era the ideal of a selfish otherworldliness. A narrow, individualistic, unhuman ideal, exhibiting itself in the utter want of any true education. But even such an ideal, purely individual and tainted by selfishness as it was, is preferable to the Mammon-worship, the making of Gold-getting the end, aim and object of life, which is becoming the ruling spirit of our own age. This utterly material conception of the purpose of life, the regarding of our existence as having for its sole object pleasure and self-gratification, for the attainment of which money is the means is the spirit permeating the educational system of Europe, and especially of England.
Theosophy, however, holds before the men and women of this generation a new ideal to impress. This is the real task, the true object for which the Theosophical Movement was set in motion -- the ideal of Universal Brotherhood, conceived not as an arbitrary assertion, not on any one plane of nature, on each and every plane. And this to be realized as implying the actual, real, solidarity of each human being with all others, the inextricable interweaving of the pain and pleasure, success and failure, happiness and misery of each with all. It is to stamp this ideal in lines of radiant light upon the consciousness of men that the Theosophical movement was called into existence.
With such a mission before it, Theosophy must obviously have a direct bearing on education, and offer some thoughts regarding the lines of effort and practical work for the earnest student, who desires to put Theosophy into practice.
The basic idea of Theosophy itself -- the solidarity of the human race -- demands universal education for all men and women, rich and poor, alike. It requires that every human being shall have the fullest opportunity, the largest measure of assistance in developing himself and actualizing the potentialities latent in him as completely and harmoniously as possible. To secure such help and opportunity for all, should be the task of the nation. Theosophy intensely impresses the vastly greater importance of the Mind over the Body. Therefore, there can be no doubt of our need to work toward bringing about a world wherein every human being shall have the fullest opportunity for a harmonious mental unfoldment -- harmonious, not only in and with himself, but with that of the Humanity of which he forms a part.
Here we find at once a most vital practical lesson with regard to our present-day mode of education. The ideals stamped on the minds of the young, are not merely by the words of their teachers, but far more by the methods of education and the living influence of their life at school. From story-books, fiction, and even more from the biographies of those revered as great and noble men and women, our minds receive the impressions, which will later color our thoughts and actions. But the whole spirit of modern education, of modern life, is deep dyed, through and through, with individualistic ideals. The principle of competition, the "struggle for existence," pervades every branch of education. Competitive examinations become more and more the dominant idea in our educational institutions. The plan of "taking places" in class brings the same principle into the daily and hourly life of every boy and girl. Successful above one's fellows, to hold first place, to conquer, out-do others in every department of human activity, is the goal each is urged to develop. This is not true emulation, for the false object set before us is not to do one's uttermost that all may be benefited; but on the contrary that all others may stand on a lower step, beaten and conquered. Selfishness and individualism are thus inculcated by the strongest of all means, constant object lessons, from our earliest days, till we learn to forget about our brethren, and work only for ourselves and those are a part of our personal interests. If we believe in Universal Brotherhood, then we should encourage those with whose education we have concern, to work their best, to strive unceasingly after attainment, in order that not only themselves but ALL may be benefited.
It would be easy to bring this home to children, to make human solidarity a living fact in their consciousness. One example would be to respond to all individual achievements by affording some pleasure to the entire class. A child would thus feel and experience the fact that the real reward of his efforts comes to him through his fellows -- not apart from them, as is now the case with our system of prize-giving. The Theosophical idea of education, then, is to encourage the development of each one's personal potential for the benefit of all.
The general character of the methods adopted in our schools and colleges at present is the tendency to overload the memory with facts and details. Education is understood to be the cramming of the mind with facts, with other people's thoughts and theories -- cultivating the memory rather than the mind proper. Such a method is contrary to the plainest common sense, let alone to Theosophical teaching, holding, as the latter does, that you cannot teach anything the germ of which does not already exist in the pupil's mind. A true educator would seek rather to draw out, than to put in; to foster and develop such germs of aptitudes and abilities as were present, and above all to strengthen and assist him in learning to think for himself. The machine-made knowledge of our present schools, the endless and meaningless array of facts, historical, political, scientific, which our children have to commit to memory, are not only useless, but injurious. Overtaxing the memory with details and facts lacks an organic connection and stunts mental growth, wasting the mental power itself. A harmonious, well-balanced development of the mental faculties, strengthening the power of original thought, and above all, the realization of the actual, living, organic unity of the human race is the true ideal of education. An acquaintance with facts is necessary but should be subordinated strictly to the power of assimilating those facts and understanding them.
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TWO (2) FOOTNOTES LISTED BELOW:
*(1) Footnotes in this article are from the Editor of Lucifer, H.P.B.
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*(2) The above statements and remarks must be understood to apply only to the India of the earliest times, when ... the caste system, instead of being a burden and an evil, as it is at present, was a sound and useful institution. To-day, it is needless to say, the caste system is an almost unmixed evil, having degenerated into a matter of pure superstition and lost all its real, inner significance....
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