The Neohumanist Challenge to Educational Futures

The Neohumanist Challenge to Educational Futures: Educating for Sadviprahood!

By Dr. Marcus Bussey

The challenge that Shrii Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar has laid before educators is simple yet profound: How to educate for sadviprahood? To educate for the sadvipra greatly changes the goals and purposes of learning. A Sadvipra is an individual as well as a social ideal. As an individual she or he is someone who manifests benevolent will in their social activity. Benevolence brings with it a way of knowing and being in the world that is profoundly relational in nature.[1] As a social ideal the Sadvipra represents our collective aspirations for the best. Thus the Sadvipra, as enlightened leader, is part of a social utopic that moves the collective towards a spiritually oriented society in which the best is measured by the quality of our relationships – both with others but also with the entire planetary system. Today the best is framed via a measure of radical individual freedom and calculated through a narrow understanding of ‘growth’ as GDP. In a future in which the Sadvipra is central the best is reframed as a qualitative assessment of human possibility in which identity and freedom are embedded in our relations and made meaningful through these.

Relational consciousness lies at the heart of Sarkar’s universalism. In Sarkar’s framework this invites a new way of being human which he came to call Neohumanism (1982). Neohumanism, as a philosophical position, takes the logic of relational being and builds an entire system that incorporates spiritual universalism with ethical action and personal transformation. At its heart lies relational consciousness anchored in a critical spirituality (Bussey, 2006). Thus neohumanism critiques the architecture of social being according to the quality of our relationships. In this approach reason is aligned with benevolence and the value of any concept, ideology or system is assessed by it effects. In short, effects that undermine relational consciousness, the chances of a being to fully realise their potential or (to put this another way) the capacity to grow spiritually, intellectually, emotionally and physically are deemed irrational.

The practice of Neohumanism therefore has clear social effects. Philosophically it is a form of pragmatism which has a clear focus on the interface between ideas and the world around us. Neohumanism has this focus as it balances the existential development of each individual with a clear engagement with the social objective world.  In fact one cannot occur without the other. In this focus on the nexus of expanding consciousness with social action Neohumanism offers a way forward to a new social paradigm which is expressed via the socio-spiritual philosophy of Prout.  Prout advocates for a relational economics that is an expression of the relational consciousness of Neohumanism.  It fosters local economic integrity, gender partnership, a layered vision of governance which works across scale from the global to the local and an expansion of epistemology to include spirituality as a valid form of knowledge creation, i.e. science, technology and spirituality are part of an integrated system. [2]

Together Neohumanism and Prout offer us a pedagogy of possibility that develops the inner resources for a relational Neohumanist identity along with the skills needed to manifest benevolence and distributive justice in the world. The focus of such a pedagogy is the Sadvipra in whom this relational consciousness and skill-set come together to realise the transformative changes needed to move society towards deeper and richer futures for all.  For Sarkar the Sadvipra is the enabler who combines moral and intellectual integrity, courage, entrepreneurial savvy and service mentality to move society away from fragmented and partial realities and the paradigms that sustain these. This is necessarily a political activity as it involves challenging dominant elites who benefit from the current system.  Such elites do not exist in a vacuum, they are sustained by ideological and structural processes which resist change and produce logical forms that frame possibility. Categories embody logical structures (Deleuze & Guattari, 1994). When new categories like the Sadvipra emerge they challenge dominant logical forms and seed alternatives. So new categories sew new pedagogical possibilities. Thus there is a clear link between a pedagogy of possibility and a politics of possibility. When thinking about the implications of the concept of the sadvipra for education we are engaging both.

This link itself represents a relational logic in which pedagogy establishes a form or template for thinking about learning while education indicates a system that implements the template. So a pedagogy of possibility suggests a template that liberates individuals from limits. This is a very different thing from an education which prepares people for roles. Such an education, as Foucault (1995) argued, is disciplinary by nature rather than libratory. Ultimately of course all pedagogy and all education are designed to produce sets of values, skills and aspirations which maintain social cohesion whilst preparing for the future. Yet if the goal is limited at the outset the effect is less dynamic and much more inclined to maintain inequity and conditions that favour a continuation of dominant economic and social practices. As Sohail Inayatullah (2010) reminds us, in this way the future is discounted as it is much easier to focus on what is rather than what we would wish our world to be like. The measure of ‘real world’ rhetoric in the news and educational policy documents is an indicator of how well or poorly the future is fairing. At the moment, in our world where social conservatism – aka fear, fundamentalism, anxiety, confusion and stasis – is on the rise, discounted futures are providing the dominant logical forms we live and teach by. Thus one way to assess the deepest priorities and values of a society is to look at their education system and the discourses surrounding it.

All systems however also have the potential to rethink themselves and reframe social possibilities (Bussey, 2009). That is what futures thinking is designed to facilitate and it is what Sarkar was engaging in when he created the category of the sadvipra. In ‘imagining’ the possibility of such an individual Sarkar was also creating the possibility and logic of the sadvipra. In fact, the critique that spiritual universalism brings to bear on social institutions makes such a category essential. This is because critical spirituality is an expression of human evolutionary potential. The sadvipra embodies a way out of a social evolutionary cycle that is implicitly materialist not by going back to pre-modern otherworldliness but by incorporating spirituality into current social forms. Thus the sadvipra, and any education that develops such consciousness, combines the possibilities of a Neohumanist critical spirituality while simultaneously enacting the relational dynamics inherent to Prout. Sarkar intended the sadvipra to puncture the social evolutionary cycle which he argued moved from elite to elite (Inayatullah, 2002). So to educate for such a being is the necessity of our current age where much of the planet is being held to ransom by an economic elite who confound the human desire for limitlessness with capitalist economics.

Educational Futures in the Light of Sadviprahood

In 2010 Sohail Inayatullah wrote a challenging article in which he explored the plausibility of Neohumanist Education within the modernist paradigm (2010). His was an honest and realistic appraisal of the current capacity of Neohumanism to transform the dominant logic framing our thinking about and practice of education. In his assessment he identified four key areas where resistance to Neohumanist educational and other transformative futures was the strongest. These were:

1. Educators are resistant to change they do not lead

2. The future is discounted and educators are overwhelmed by complexity and uncertainty

3. Educational infrastructure, both real and conceptual, is still rooted in the nineteenth century

4. The digital era heralds many things but the organising principles are still profoundly modernist

We could add to this list that with the emergence of a post materialist world there is a growing gap between how people are thinking and feeling the world and how it is still being enacted. This gap means that those working for transformative change do not necessarily understand how to create it for a world that does not yet exist. This is the gap between imagined and real that so often undermines the work of idealists.

Neohumanism offers a way across this gap by linking social action with personal spiritual growth. It helps us to understand that form and function are locked in a dance that hinges on consciousness. Furthermore consciousness is not just what happens in the head: Consciousness is enacted. Yet the resistance of the present is real enough and this resistance led Inayatullah to posit three plausible future scenarios for Neohumanist Education.

1. Profound Change – In this there is a deep and transformative shift in which Neohumanist education becomes a central model in a post-materialist global society

2. Niche School – here Neohumanist education joins other systems such as Montessori and Steiner in offering a niche product for those dissatisfied with mainstream schooling

3. Backlash – in this scenario Neohumanist and other alternative schools are labeled harmful by conservative forces and forced to close or withdraw from overt social action

Inayatullah ends his assessment by pointing to the signs that profound change is coming and that the new consciousness that will sustain it is already with us. He draws on Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson’s (2000) research into the phenomenon in the United States they call “cultural creatives”. Such people are doing the work on the ground to create a context in which Neohumanist education will move from marginal phenomenon to a driver for future transformation. Such work often goes without notice as it is not on the maps of the forms of logic that validate social action. Thus Paul Hawken (2007) argues that the largest social movement in history, a movement of global proportions, has gone unnoticed for decades. His book Blessed Unrest lists over three thousand grass root movements of global significance, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

In a sense we are currently between paradigms as the old modernist vision of growth and grandeur falters before the uncertainty that springs from a declining resource base combined with a growing awareness that if growth is only materialist and restricted to a monocultural lens then we are left feeling empty. There is a desire for deeper identities of place and lineage not tied to old identity markers that shut the door on self development. This trend lies at the heart of the cultural creative phenomenon and is the motivation for the blessed unrest that Hawken is charting. In it consciousness is folded around a series of identities that move from local to global and finally to universal. This movement across scales is part of the relational logic of neohumanism. A key identity marker in this folded and expanding self is the sadvipra. The question at the heart of this new self-scape is “Are we all sadvipra’s in potential?” Sarkar would have us believe so. If this is so then Neohumanist education has a significant role in bringing this new expanded sense of self into being.

Towards a Curriculum for Sadvipraship

When thinking about curriculum futures for education Inayatullah’s scenario model holds true. There is the possibility for a transformative curricula experience for humanity but there is also the very real possibility that Neohumanist education is marginalized as a specialized currricula pathway or suppressed as a threat to national group identity. Yet if we give energy to the transformative possibilities of our time and start thinking about a curriculum that enables the emergent aspirations of people, then we must engage in both a pedagogy and politics of possibility. This pedagogy is neohumanist in form whilst the politics is proutistic in expression.

Neohumanist pedagogy is deep as it builds a relational consciousness from the roots of Tantric spiritual experience. Proutistic pedagogy is broad in that it is contextual and implements relational consciousness through a politics of engagement with local issues within the frame work of a globally dynamic system. The sadvipra integrates both spaces by bringing them into a dynamic balance which is always responding to a unique set of historical and geographical circumstances whilst retaining a universal orientation to any local issue. Thus the sadvipra embodies a practical spirituality of Prout which draws on the relational logic inherent to spiritual consciousness of Neohumanism to critically engage with the problems of their day.

This describes a spiritually dynamic and socially relevant learning cycle as shown in Figure 1. Such a cycle has both an individual and collective dimension as the sadvipra works in harmony with their context. Such is the relationship of the individual consciousness to the collective that there is always a degree of parallelism in which the field of consciousness resonates beyond the individual (Bussey, 2010).

To map a pedagogy that facilitates this state of Sadviprahood requires the deployment of both the vertical gaze which Neohumanist critical spirituality brings to social issues and the horizontal gaze Proutistic critical engagement brings to the contemporary dynamics of any given situation. Such a pedagogy is imminent to the cultural domain we inhabit today yet it is fragmented and partial (Bussey, 2009).

The Neohumanist logic inherent to the sadvipra requires a new relationship with knowledge, values and identity. This implies a new cultural field of meaning making in which spiritual practice generates the relational being that makes sense of our world. Some elements of this new relationship are emerging in areas such as post-normal science (Ravetz, 2011), postmetaphysical philosophy (Habermas, 2009), sustainability studies (Berkes, 2003), integral sociology (Wexler, 2000), and cosmology (Chaisson, 2006; Kaku, 2005). Yet they need to be held together via a new approach to living both collectively and individually. The cultivation of spiritual science through personal and collective practices would contribute to this evolutionary shift. The inclusion of ethics (yama and niyama), meditation, asana, pranayama, dharana and even dhyana in a pedagogy of relational being would enable such possibilities.

Sarkar has argued that the eightfold path of yoga specifically enables the development of the kosas (layers of the mind) (2010, pp. p. 44-45). Such development is an ongoing process yet it is a significant insight into how personal and collective evolution can occur through the cultivation of spiritual practice in life. Similar insights are being expressed in the western frame work via the work of new age thinkers such as Esther and Jerry Hicks (Hicks, 2006), Eckhart Tolle (Tolle, 2005), Byron Katie and Hall and Sidra Stone (Stone, 1989) and many others who all point to the connection between inner states of awareness and the realities we generate. Whilst some of these insights are less grounded than others there is an emerging body of knowledge and an expressive conceptual framework in the west which has parallels with the yogic vision Sarkar is offering. The co-creative possibilities in working across civilisational boundaries (Dallmayr, 2002) are therefore another aspect of a pedagogy of possibility.

All such intimations of transformation suggest a deepening of the personal story through spiritual engagement with relational selfhood. With increased depth comes greater resilience and the ability to learn beyond the boundaries that sustain brittle identity so characteristic of the modern individual (Bussey, 2012).

Nuts and Bolts

Education lays the foundation to prepare a context from which the sadvipra might emerge. In thinking about the futures of education we need to take into account the inner qualities that sustain relational consciousness along with the benevolent will that is expressed through worldly activity as social service. In Sarkar’s language this implies educational futures that integrate subjective approach with objective adjustment.

As noted above a curriculum offering depth would include spiritual systems such as the eightfold path to develop the spiritual consciousness to sustain the work for social transformation that characterizes the sadvipra. Yet depth also comes from the rigor that critical spirituality brings to life. So the curriculum also needs to teach people how to think relationally. This involves a transdisiplinary approach which integrates the role feelings and emotions play in thinking and reason. This is identity work.

Vertical Depth
 
Eight Fold Path
Critical Spirituality
Relational thinking
Transdisciplinarity
Futures Thinking
Causal Layered Analysis
Systems thinking
Microvita Theory
Relational mathematics
Quantum Physics
Cosmology
Philosophy
World History
Sustainability
Ethics
Aesthetics
Economics

Such work is further facilitated by conceptual tools such as futures thinking, causal layered analysis and systems thinking, microvita, relational mathematics such as geometry, quantum physics, cosmology, philosophy, world history, sustainability, ethics and economics. In reality it is the quest for a relational head-heart space that sustains this work. The vertical gaze is an attempt to generate such a space in all areas of human inquiry.

A curriculum offering breadth looks at the practical horizontal elements of learning. These of course are not in reality separate from the vertical but they are significant in that they reflect the depth offered by the vertical in action. In essence they are expressions of practical spirituality. Thus engineering, medicine, agriculture, chemistry and science in all their diversity are horizontal expressions of a deepened epistemology and ontology. Beyond these there lies a whole world of expression such as the visual arts, music, dance and theatre. There are also the applied domains of business studies, education, social work, psychology, mechanics and other related disciplines. The important point here is that all practical subjects be tied to deepened consciousness and a recognition of their relevance within a broader Neohumanist social vision.

Conclusion

The Neohumanist challenge to educational futures is to steer society away from the forms of closure that Inayatullah maps and towards transformative possibilities represented by Sarkar’s concept of the Sadvipra. To be prepared for this role requires a new kind of consciousness grounded in real world skills. Both Neohumanism and Prout are expressions of pragmatism which focuses on the relationship between ideas (concepts) and actions (skills). In Sarkar’s terms such a spiritual pragmatics is an expression of his transformative concept: subjective approach and objective adjustment. In this formulation any education that enables this process of becoming-sadvipra would bring a relational lens to:

•           economics with a local and global interface
•           entrepreneurship and cooperatives
•           social systems and structures
•           ethics and equity issues
•           governance and policy studies
•           education for partnership and sustainability
•           science and technology
•           arts for personal and social transformation
•           agricultural and ecological systems

This sketch of the educational challenge that the sadvipra represents argues that a new conceptualization of pedagogy that focuses on possibility is needed to meet the challenge. It is easy to replicates existing social forms in our dreams of the future. To reach beyond the templates our experiences have imprinted on our psyches requires us to follow a relational logic as expressed via both Neohumanist and Proutistic pragmatics. This logic is inherently relational in nature. This implies a new story for humanity, as flagged by the concept of sadvipra, which takes us beyond the present models for education and suggests new possibilities for human social evolution.

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[1]   See http://www.futuresevocative.com/education.html for more on this topic

[2]   I am indebted to Sohail Inayatullah for his thoughts on Prout

“Sá vidyá yá vimuktaye - Education is that which liberates”