The universal aspirations of our Neohumanist Education movement offer a deeply shared sense of purpose and meaning to all of us working in schools and communities around the world. The overarching goal of this work is Liberation of Self and Service to Humanity. Neohumanist educators appreciate that education is that which enables this liberation of self. This is why the motto of Neohumanist education is: Sa’ Vidya’ ya’ vimuktaye: Education is that Which Liberates! We take this directive from the work of Shrii Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar. Sarkar has argued that humanity is moving from a sense (albeit imperfect) of being one collective human family to being one universal family. The pressures for this shift are all around us today and include climate change, socio-economic inequity, movements for gender equity, and a growing awareness that to be sustainable we need to broaden our minds and hearts to include all participants in the cosmological system. This shift is relational in nature and marks a new phase in the evolution of consciousness on this planet.
This expansion in relational awareness challenges the local expressions of culture to let go of the limitations of mind that hinge on sentiment for one’s local context, or one’s species, nation, tribe or social affiliation. Relational consciousness acknowledges that the human tendency is to think small and act to preserve local lifeways at the expense of a more expansive logic. However, such are the current challenges of environmental and social conditions that the limitations to this approach are becoming increasingly obvious.
Localities are not immune to social, economic or biophysical global processes. In such globalised contexts liberation can be understood as a collective good, but will always be experienced individually on a case by case basis. Because self realisation is an individual matter with collective implications the local becomes vitally important to the process of liberation. One cannot ignore one’s roots and culture when seeking to expand our horizons. The universalism at the heart of Neohumanism is born not from a negation of one’s locality but through a celebration of its uniqueness within nested systems that are ultimately Cosmic.
I argue that from a neohumanist perspective universal and local are not simply opposites as they are often caricatured to be. They are dynamic processes within a living system. In the intellectual history of the West there is a tendency in to think dualistically in either-or terms. Thus universalism is often thought of as the negation of localism. Localism is seen as parochial, small, disconnected and limited. Universalism is seen as noble and better. Such thinking is unhelpful and actually undermines the neohumanist project which strives to bring dignity and value to human life everywhere and to link it with a vision of our relationships with the world that is layered and in which all expressions are understood as manifestations of the Divine.
This nested systems vision is premised not on the logic of win-lose and its zero sum calculations but on the win-win of relational consciousness in which a good in one place has universal implications for all other places. In this the implications of complexity theory align with the wisdom of spiritual traditions to generate a vision of spiritual-complexity in which the unique and the cosmic come together in a dynamic, vital yet unstable process of emergence. Such a confluence is described as Chaosmos in Deleuzian theory and the constant unfolding of the Brahma Chakra cycle in Sarkar’s re-interpretation of Tantra.
Either way for Neohumanist Education the focus shifts from ungrounded universalism, if there ever was such a thing in this essentially pragmatic movement, to grounded Cosmolocal explorations in liberation. The French philosopher Michel Serres once described knowledge as a movement against the current of the ‘entropic stream, toward the solar origin, itself adrift’. As with many things European Sarkar’s reading would be the reverse, knowledge – as in vidya – is that which calls us towards the ‘solar origin’, the Cosmic hub which is similarly adrift as we are all ontologically linked to that same origin and the process of ‘drift’ can be either towards or away from the hub.
The map for such drifting lies within us and is tethered to our local identities which are in turn Cosmically reoriented through an education which promotes deeper knowing of our place in the world, a deeper grasp of our potential, which is from a spiritual perspective potentially unlimited yet always contextually limited through history, culture and the editing of imagination which power imposes upon all stakeholders in society. The liberative power of our Cosmically oriented education system is to affirm locality by opening up history to deeper and less tribal ‘stories’, nurturing universalist culture over the pseudocultural accretions of millennia, and freeing the human imagination to explore realities and possibilities beyond those imposed by authority and custom.
In our educational project the local fosters healthy identity when it is linked to spiritual principles which reframe identity as always provisionally local. Thus the home grown is always a global proposition. The school becomes a garden in which the soul of each child is nurtured into fullness and in which practical skills inform this growth. The logic of liberation in such a context is linked to the learning of such skills. To be skilful means also to be useful and this usefulness is such an important element in building a strong sense of self. Then to link utility, as Neohumanism does, with service expands the heart by making one’s usefulness socially relevant. In this process the deeper skills of unconditional loving and relational reasoning enable the utility of a skill owned by one’s hands to become a skill that empowers a community.
Neohumanist educational projects are cosmolocal initiatives which foster global consciousness whilst attending to the immediate needs of students, their families and the broader community. How this work of learning occurs depends on the local context but should never be defined by that context. Education systems vary widely from place to place as do the resources available to schools and communities. What is a constant is the human spirit and its desire for liberation from the narrow bondages imposed by sectarian and fragmented consciousness and the vested interests that benefit from disarray and confusion. Today we are at the growing edge of consciousness and the pressure is on us all to grow our neohumanist education story, to nurture a vision of a healthy and diverse society which holds universal values whilst honouring the unique expression we all bring to that story. There is no one future before us – there are many futures and each one is rich with promise.