Report by Dr Marcus Bussey, University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia
The Taiwan AMGK team did a wonderful job of hosting the first 25th Anniversary Seminar celebrating Sarkar’s establishment of the Gurukula movement. The theme for the seminar was ‘Challenges for the Future of Education’. It ran from the 25 to the 26th of January and featured Dr. Dada Shambhushivananda, Rutger Tamminga and myself and was chaired by Dr. Diinesh of the Taiwan National Normal University. This was a creative series of talks and walks in which we moved from venue to venue and explored different elements of Gurukula’s educational richness. The seminar was attended by a range of local and regional teachers and students interested in facilitating change in schools and communities.
The first session was held at the Taiwan National Normal University and was opened by Dr. Shambhushivananda who spoke of the breadth of the Gurukula movement and what a Gurukula University might look like. He outlined Sarkar’s vision for Gurukula and emphasised that although it was clearly an educational call to arms it was not only about Education as a subject – instead it was about creating a forum for all elements of human knowledge and for its possibilities in revitalising human culture.
His talk was followed by myself who expanded on elements of Dr. Shambhushivananda’s talk – focusing on the educational challenges for Taiwan and putting them into the context of a global market that focused on the utilitarian goals of education and conformity. I suggested we needed to move from such limited outcomes to a broader sense of education as process and as a re-awakening to relationship. This means that education must be rooted in an appreciation of spiritual culture. This base would make it collaborative, compassionate and meaningful.
Rutger Tamminga then spoke of his work with early childhood education. He emphasised that we need to embrace play at the heart of early childhood teaching. The examples he gave, based on his 25 years of running schools in Taiwan, were of the power of story and song. His presentation had a powerful effect on the audience as he gave examples of this approach singing songs and telling stories to make his points. Key to his approach is enabling children to see their world with four eyes: two that look out and two that look inwards.
The afternoon session relocated to the Prout offices in Taipei where there Dr. Shambhushivananda and I both gave talks on the relationship of Prout to the Neohumanist movement. The focus of the afternoon was on the logic of Prout. The starting point for Prout is Sarkar’s concept of universal humanism – or Neohumanism. This logic is based on a growing awareness of relationship with the Cosmos. When one feels a growing connection one behaves differently as connection feeds the desire to serve the people and beings of this planet. Such service in Prout takes many forms:
Service to the Past.
Service to the Present.
Service to the Future.
Service to the Collective.
Service to the Whole.
Service to the Cosmic Principle.
I suggested that such a sense of service underpins curriculum thinking and provides a sense of areas to focus on for the all-round development of society.
The following day the seminar reconvened at the SDM offices of Ananda Marga in Taipei. The morning session consisted of a demonstration of the Touch Yoga program developed by Rutger Tamminga. This is a beautiful approach to yoga asana that involved parents and children in developing the habit and love for yoga postures. The activities are energetic and fun and really grab the attention of young children.
The Touch Yoga approach is outlined beautifully in Tamminga’s book of the same name. Here he captures through beautiful and clear illustrations the postures and how the parent/guardian of the child can support the asana. He also very carefully includes directions on which Chakra is benefitted by the posture.
The afternoon session involved Dr. Shambhushivananda talking about the role of the glands in shaping human consciousness and on the importance of inner and outer ecology. Balance and a sense of social mission are key to this with the ideal of the Sadvipra (the just person who helps society evolve beyond group sentiments) acting as a lens for thinking about education as a social and spiritual practice.
I concluded by asking the important question: What does Spirituality Bring to Education? For me the answer lies in opening us to the possibility of many futures. This is a rich approach to rethinking the present and how education can fulfil its promise. I argued that Neohumanism as a spiritual philosophy explores what it means to be connected and also what we need to do to be established in relationship. Spirituality in Education does not mean changing the curriculum – it means changing how we think about teaching-learning-being. The basic assumption is that we are all related and if so then we need to start with the big picture first. This Big Picture is in the heart-head and is expressed in what we do in the world.
This means that learning itself becomes an act of love because when we love someone or something we want to merge with the object of our love. We do this by knowing this Object, so the logic follows we love the world by learning into the world. This thought brings us, quite appropriately, to the quotation from Sarkar at the opening of this report. The seminar was a great success as an activity of a regional Gurukula team – hopefully it will inspire other local groups to follow suit.
A Personal Reflection on what NHE can bring to Taiwan’s Education System
By – Tzu-Ying Wu
I was very happy to attend the ‘Neohumanist Education International Public Welfare Seminar’ held in Taipei January 24-25. This was the first time I joined a Gurukula activity and I, as an elementary school teacher working in Taiwan, was happy to discover there is a group of people who have noticed our education needs to change. In the past years, some graduates’ parents have come to me to complain that they were tired of forcing their children to study but they felt it was necessary to keep doing the same thing. Graduate students have also told me that there is no reason for them to spend all their time on studying, but they could not tell me what they want to be or what they love to learn. Although I could feel their anxiety and helplessness, I couldn’t persuade them to listen to their hearts and find their own way. Education in Taiwan is a series of intensive study sessions which are tightly regulated. This means that people cannot afford to spend much time at school or in life on seeking who they are or what they want. Schools and teachers have to make sure every student is on the track to an ideal university. Under the circumstance, students, parents, and teachers suffer from high pressure.
I was glad to discover at this seminar that Neohumanist Education focuses not only on physical, mental and spiritual training but also cares about the learning process and pleasure. Under the heavy stress of learning in Taiwan, students, parents and teachers focus on quantitative outcomes but forget the most important part of being human beings. Education needs to help students grow consciousness, creativity, feelings, and meanings through a caring and peaceful way instead of a crammed and competitive way. Dr. Marcus Bussey offered specific research about Taiwan’s education, and mentioned Taiwan needed to move education from instrumental to sustainable and compassionate futures. Taking education as a machine for producing elites only increases educational anxiety instead education should develop students’ skills, minds, relationships, happiness, justice and love. Besides intellectual learning, Taiwan’s education needs practical, aesthetic, ecological, ethical and spiritual learning. Those elements of education may help students create sustainable futures.
If education in Taiwan could really provide students this learning students would be able to explore the world and the universe in many ways. Understanding the world and the universe makes students understand themselves and their relationship with the world as well. This process will help students to shape their hobbies and goals and develop a rationale for learning and study. They will keep learning their whole life and make their lives more diverse.
Teacher Tam shared and showed how stories could capture every listener’s attention. Through stories, students can express their emotion, cultivate compassion and enjoy the learning process. To grow consciousness and love is important but hard to teach in the classroom. Teacher Tam also told participators he always tells students that everyone has four eyes, two for watching the outside world and two for seeing one’s own inside world. This is a practical method to help students to listen to their hearts and develop their mind and spirit. In my experience, people used to look with their physical eyes, but seldom to use their “inner eyes”. If we tell students to close their physical eyes and open their mental and spiritual eyes to see the world, it helps them express their true/deep feeling and establish their relationship to the world. When they grow up, they may create a peaceful world by using their sharp spiritual eyes.
Although the seminar focused on education, the philosophy of Neohumanism offers general principles for everyone. Dr. Dada Shambhushivananda talked about the role of bliss and wisdom in learning and life. Everyone is chasing pleasure all his/her life, material pleasure and power are easily noticed, but the true bliss comes from spirituality which is less easy to perceive. The latter is what people need and can make us feel peaceful and joyful. Dada also explained that wisdom includes intelligence, productivity, and emotion, and the three parts come from rationality, aesthetic dynamicity and spiritual equipoise. This explanation of wisdom is wise and clear for us to follow in education or lifelong learning as well. Intelligence may solve problems, but aesthetic productivity and spiritual balance help us face unknown and new problems and enrich our life.
Education should help students/learners to adapt and create better societies in the future. What we need is diverse, peaceful and sustainable futures. Therefore, Neohumanist Education plays an important role in the education system. Rich curriculum and learning environments are essential for students/learners. I believe teachers should be the first learners to discover and develop new trends in education and feel the learning pleasure. Then they will be able to bring new, different, and happy lessons to their classroom. I was grateful that I learned many new things from this Neohumanist Education seminar and I will try to develop my spirituality through meditation. I hope I can meet the bliss of my life and help students fulfill their lives and create compassionate and sustainable futures.