All education reflects the values and ideals of the society that it serves. By its nature, and as a result of its role in society, it tends to be profoundly conservative. Only official knowledge, that body of knowledge that is sanctioned by, and is integral to the maintenance of the dominant powers of the day is found at the centre of educational discourse.
Dissent sends remarkably few ripples through our schools and institutions of higher learning. Yet our culture is at a turning point, and what is considered official knowledge is under going scrutiny and censure from many corners of society. This ferment is underway precisely because the centre is so powerful, so hegemonic. Such is the enormity of the silence emmanating from the centre that the margins seem to be making a great racket.
Futurist Sohail Inayatullah regularly asks the question, Who is outside the walls of official knowledge? The implication is that change never comes from the centre but from forces as yet unaccounted for. The burgers of medieval Europe eventually swept away the Ancien Regime and inaugurated the Capitalist era; the desert peoples of the Middle East swept away corrupt states and the Mongols rejuvinated a stagnating China. His message is look to the margins in order to see the future.
In the margins today we find an increasingly articulate and reflective Indigenous awareness coupled with a growing sense on the part of Third World countries that their cultures and values are essential to their reclaiming of the future. Tantric epistemology is certainly a vigorous element of this revival having deep roots in the indigenous culture of India while having been substantially reinvigorated by one of the giants of twentieth century thought, Indian philosopher Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar.
The implications of Tantra for education are immense. Before his death Sarkar established a broad based education system which houses a Tantra University. From the perspective of the modern western university such an institution may seem strange but an examination of the subsatnace of Tantra reveals that it is a rich and dynamic episteme with the potential to reinvigorate an education system which has become externalised and preoccupied with status and wealth.
Tantra is the central plank of Sarkar’s civilizational discourse. In reimagining the future he weaves stories of continuity and discontinuity, infusing the ancient Indic philosophy of Tantra with new insights in social theory and the individual’s role as spiritual and political beings.
Being deeply rooted in the indigenous experience of reality Tantra has a broad metaphysical base which allows for ways of knowing, feeling and processing that go far beyond the limited rationality that informs the Western Enlightenment project. Priorities are different as Sarkar notes because , “spiritual life controls all other arenas of human life.”
Most indigenous cultures have found their purpose to be in maintaining cosmic balance and working in harmony with others and their environment . The Australian Aboriginal elder Bill Neidjie summed this up when he commented that the story of the world, the ‘dreaming’ as the Aborigines call it never changes. It is held together by immutable laws.
In many ways traditional Tantra also followed this pattern. Modern Tantra, as Sarkar has defined it, has a more dynamic agenda. It is specifically liberatory and therefore political. Tan in Samskrit means ‘bondage’, and tra means ‘to liberate from’ . Traditionally this was interpreted to mean the individual transcending the limitations of their own ego. Sarkar radically shifted the emphasis from the individual to the collective by linking the two so that neither could progress without the other. Spirituality ceases to be selfish and becomes a collective act.
Within this construction of Tantra the individual works for their own liberation by following specific physical, social and spiritual practices, while at the same time struggling to free others from physical, social and spiritual bondage. This brings to spirituality an ironic tension in which the individual must engage with the world in many ordinary and extraordinary ways. Thus “spirituality is both a grand project and an everyday task” , as bioethicist Jennifer Fitzgerald points out. The poet David Rowbotham summed the situation up nicely when he wrote, “Pray speek beauty. But dust first spoke.” Much of the energy and dynamism of Tantra lies in this ironic tension.
It is on this expanded definition of Tantra that Sarkar has based his educational philosophy. Sarkar is offering a meta-narrative of power which is deeply attuned to the yearnings of the human soul, what Fitzgerld calls the “innate desire to expand one’s potential.” Social commentator Neil Postman, states that the deeper ‘gods’ are dead and that education has died because we now only educate in self interest. He argues strongly the the human “genius lies in our capacity to make meaning through the creation of narratives that give point to our labours, exalt our history, elucidate the present, and give direction to the future.” Sarkar shares this opinion and offers deep spiritual tantric narrative as the way to establish education and culture in a future that weds material reality with deeper readings of life.
Tantra University: The Key Concepts
Universities have been through many changes since their creation being capable, as educational historian Peter Scott reminds us, of “ceaseless adaptation” . They possess a dynamism that ensures their relevance for future generations. Sarkar’s concept of Tantra is certainly dynamic but it shifts the emphasis of the university away from its traditional base. In earlier liberal constructions of the university, knowledge was often an end in itself, the possession of which endowed its owner with significant cultural capital. Later the most priveleged knowledge came to be linked with mastery over technology, either institutional or real. Sarkar appreciates the cultural value of knowledge and its technical importance but he places these discourses, the liberal and managerial, within an expanded metaphysical framework.
Sarkar’s agenda directly involves the university in activities which will take those engaged in them into the community in a facilitative and participatory way. The origin of this shift lies in an episteme rooted in an ethical relocation of purpose from individual agrandizement to social responsibility situated in a spiritual world view.
This Tantric episteme has its philosophic and ethical base in Neo-Humanism, a holistic philosphy which situates all human activity in intimate and reverantial relationship with the universe. It takes its social manifesto from Prout a socio-economic philosophy that provides the understanding of the social processes needed to promote justice and equity while taking into account the forces of capital, human ambition and ecological responsibility. At the same time science and the arts are harnessed for social and individual empowerment, while redefining consciousness and mind as a causally layered experience of reality.
Microvita theory, stemming from the tantric awareness that consciousness is the fundamental fabric of the universe, recognizes subtle energy waves which affect matter and thought, such a recognition changes our foundational assumptions about science and learning. Furthermore, the theory of prama describes all individual and social structures in terms of physical, psychic and spiritual balance, along with Prout ,this makes much of what universities do, start with the practical, such as ecological degredation and economic disparity.
Finally spirituality is introduced into the learning equation with the recognition of meditative practice as a valid way of gaining understanding about life. With the recognition that consciousness needs to be plumbed through systematic meditative investigation research is redefined to include meditation as an intuitional science. The results of meditative reflection make sense of the economic, social, aesthetic and ecological functions of the university
These concepts provide the organizing principles for the Tantra University. Growing out of traditional structures they empower human agency well beyond the limits offered by those structures. Agency vivifies structure, which in turn locates agency within a cosmology that promotes universalism instead of the entrenched individualism of Western culture. In this way Sarkar escapes both the traditional passivity associated with indigenous expression and the dynamic but selfish individualism that typifies the West.
The Key Concepts
* the theory of Proutist economics , provides the understanding of the social process needed to promote justice and equity taking into account the forces of capital, human ambition and ecological responsibility;
* the philosophy of Neo-Humanism , a holistic philosphy which situates all human activity in intimate and reverantial relationship with the universe, spiritualises the educational mission;
* microvita theory , subtle energy waves which affect matter and thought, changes our foundational assumptions about science and learning;
* theory of mind , mind has many layers of which academic discourse acknowledges only one, reframes what constitutes knowledge, intelligence and communication;
* theory of prama , describes all individual and social structures in terms of physical, psychic and spiritual balance, along with Prout makes much of what universities do start with the practical, such as ecological degredation and economic disparity;
* concept of aesthetics as a liberatory (ie, purposeful) activity, the arts are drawn into the center of human learning and experience as an important way to develop intuitional intelligence;
* reconceptualisation of history , history is cyclic and evolutionary, redraws our understanding of human progress and of the function of education;
* linguistics , a science which is spiritualised with introduction of Tantric theory of vibration and form, sound reflects intent and also psychology – this is essential in understanding human mind and cultural expressions;
* sadhana ,meditative practice, research is also redefined as an intuitional science, consciousness needs to be plumbed through systematic meditative investigation, the results of such work make sense of the economic, social, aesthetic and ecological functions of the university;
* concept of ecology situates universities as part of projects designed to heal, protect and nurture the earth as extensions of their community.
The Emmergence of Universalist Ethics
It is important to realise that Tantra represents an epistemic shift that critiques and expands all practices, both Western and non-Western, in the light of universalist ethics. By asserting that Tantra is rooted in an indigenous Indic episteme is not to assert that such an episteme is accepted uncritically or that Tantra will colonise in the name of this episteme.
Tantra seeks to create universal culture based on generally shared values inherent to the key concepts described above, yet it is sensitive to local and regional variations. Sarkar layed great emphasis on this fact. The nature of epistemic shifts is, as feminist futurist Ivana Milojevic observed, to “help bring about new resolutions, policies and actions.” From such resolutions, policies and actions emerges the new informed by its past. In this sense Tantra is no longer indigenous but trans-digenous as it no longer has regard for traditional boundaries.
It has been very important to delve into the ontological nature of the idea of Tantra University, because without this exploration the nature of what is being proposed, the magnitude of the concept, could be glibbly slid over.
From the perspective of Tantra, things are very different from the way our culture currently operates. A Tantra University functions on the premise that human beings are spiritual beings having a human experience. The metaphor for Tantra is essentially that of the battle field of the Kuruksetra where Krishna recited the Bhagavat Giita and encouraged Arjun to fight the forces that would deny humanity their birthright: to live safely free from hunger, exploitation, desease and ignorance, and to explore their own consciousnesses and their relationship with the divine without being constrained by dogma and biggotry.
Ananda Marga Gurukula
Sarkar established a site in West Bengal where his organisation, Ananda Marga, could begin the work of implementing his vision of a Tantric society. A visitor to the nascent city of Ananda Nagar will find a Tantra University along side a number of other tertiary, secondary and primary institutions.
The university is part of a broader educational movement which works under the unbrella concept of Gurukula, an ancient sanskrit term denoting the residence of a realised teacher, or a place for deep learning.
Courses there include the staple university threads such as the sciences and humanities but stretch far beyond them in an attempt to embrace the deeper mythic and cosmological realities that are part of the Indian consciousness. The Tantra University is one institution amongst many on this campus, its focus is on “the application of Tantric precepts to contemporary problems facing society – political, economic, social, educational, environmental and the rest.” Its stated mission is to “foster social changes based on justice to all beings.”
This institution is very active and offers courses in a wide variety of esoteric subjects such as Tantra Philosophy, Kundalinii, Yantra and Palmistry together with more practically oriented subjects such as Food, Health and Consciousness, Body/Mind System and Models of World Governement. Some interesting developments within this university are its determination to sponsor poor and tribal peoples and the way it breaks down disciplinary boundaries to allow for rich rereadings of old discourses. Thus they bring spiritual philosophy to bear on political theory as part of their Proutist Economics course, also we find homeopathy,ayurveda and other indigenous medical practices being taught alongside, and interacting with, western allopathic medicine.
Tantra and Future Generations
This loosening of the strangle hold of disciplines on the mind allows for a great unleashing of creativity. What this means to us now in a world still dominated by the compartmentalised world view it is hard to say but we can certainly indulge ourselves here with a little educated guess work. Links between the arts and science could become real as scientists and artists discover that what they are both dealing with is microvita, those subtle energy waves that both generate life and influence thought and emotion.
Tantric understanding of the body as a subtle system of energy centres, called chakras, is also fruitful for many disciplines. Doctors may study chakras in conjunction with musicians, whose music influences the function of these centres, in learning new ways to deal with disease. Perhaps people may devise courses like Immunology and Chakras, and Tone and Microvita in the Treatment of Tropical Disease. Similarly the tantric theory of the mind as a many layered system may have great implications for psychology, medicine and the humanities. The introduction of this concept of layers, called koshas, may lead to the birth of courses like Crimonology and Kosha Theory, or Kosha, Chakra and Language Groups – Explorations in Cross Cultural Linguistics.
The possibilities are endless and fascinating to explore,even with our limited consciousnesses. Playing like this fills one with a sense of pathos at the suffering we endure because of our isolation within a rationalist framework. “If only…” We keep whispering to myself. But all the signs are here that change, major change is on the way. The presence of thinkers like Sarkar confirm this. Too much is already giving way for the old boundaries and constructs to last.