(part one was printed in the May 2008 issue of Gurukula Network)
By John Crowe
In my conclusion to the first part of this article, I suggested that the key to developing a Neohumanist approach to behaviour management was to recognize that what we really want for our children is for them to become Neohumanists and behave accordingly.
I also suggested that a Neohumanist is one who:
Recognizes that devotion is the highest treasure of humanity.
Recognises and acts on the realisation that devotion needs to be protected from the onslaughts of materialism.
Bases his or her life on the principle of Sama Samaja Tattva, the principle of social equality.
Acts with ‘awakened conscience’ or what PR Sarkar calls rationalistic mentality.
Is guided by proto-psycho spirituality.
Realizes that “Just as one’s own life is dear to one’s own self, so the lives of other creatures are equally dear to them. Those who realize this truth are the real sa’dhus.” In this phase of sa’dhana’, such sa’dhakas feel that all living beings are their own. In sympathy with the joys and sorrows of all living beings, they help all creatures.’(P.R. Sarkar: Perfect Spirituality and Neo-Humanism)
What I would like to do in this second part of my article is to firstly, place these indicators of what a Neohumanist is in context with what PR Sarkar has said and written about Neohumanism. Secondly, I would like to begin to explore the educational implications of these indicators and how this impacts on a Neohumanist approach to education.
When he first propounded Neohumanism, PR Sarkar did so in response to what he saw was a need for “a proper philosophy, which will establish the correct harmony between the spiritual and material worlds, and be a perennial source of inspiration to the onward movement of society.” (The Liberation of Intellect p 4) From his perspective, it is humanity’s devotional wealth that is under threat from the onslaughts of materialism, nor can there be any doubt that it is devotion which lies at the heart of Neohumanism:
“When this devotional practise does not remain confined to a mere practice but instead is elevated to a devotional sentiment, a devotional mission, to the realm of devotional ideation – when the underlying spirit of humanism is extended to everything, animate and inanimate, in this universe – I have designated this as Neohumanism.” (The Liberation of Intellect, p 6-7)
Of devotion he writes:
“All molecules, atoms, electrons, protons, positrons and neutrons are the veritable expressions of the same Supreme Consciousness. Those who remember this reality, who keep this realisation ever alive in their hearts, are said to have attained perfection in life. They are the real devotees” (The Liberation of Intellect, p 6)
Neohumanism as a philosophy, then, is not simply a passive statement about the nature of ultimate reality, but rather a dynamic process for creating a better world. In fact PR Sarkar describes three stages on this path of Neohumanism.
The first of these he describes as ‘spiritual practise’, a “physico-psycho-spiritual process”, which “will show you how to remove the defects of the psychic world and also the external world, and enable you to move towards the spiritual world without any delay.” (Liberation of Intellect p99-100).
In the second stage, which PR Sarkar calls ‘spiritual essence’, a new wave of thought needs to be created in the collective mind of humanity:
“Then the global thought processes of humanity will take an entirely new turn, and that will also strengthen humanity’s collective spirit. Humanity as a whole will become converted into a powerful spiritual force ……” (Liberation of Intellect p100-101)
The final stage he calls ‘spirituality as a mission’. Of this stage he writes:
“And when this surging Neohumanism overflows in all directions, making all things sweet and blissful, unifying individual life with collective life, and transforming this earth into a blissful heaven – that very state of supreme fulfilment is the state of spirituality as a mission.” (Liberation of Intellect p13-14)
Yet there are obstacles to this process, and in his discourses, PR Sarkar is quite specific in describing and proposing solutions for them. Fundamentally, the Neohumanist process is an expansive one. It is a process whereby one’s love for self expands, through devotion and spiritual practise, to a love for the entire universe. It is not surprising then, that the obstacles the budding Neohumanist will encounter are those sentiments that tend to limit this expansion. There are many of these limiting sentiments and all are expressions of the widespread tendency of human beings to exploit the world around them and each other for their own selfish purposes. From the Neohumanist perspective, however, all of these can be classified under any one of three core sentiments. These are geo-sentiment, socio-sentiment and humanistic sentiment. It should also be noted that any single, effective expression of one of these sentiments will be accompanied by its own pseudo-culture and set of dogmas.
The solutions that PR Sarkar provides are also quite specific and are outlined in the table below:
Promoting the interest of one’s own locality at the expense of other localities
Develop proto-spiritual mentality based on sama-samaja-tattva, the principle of social equality; the development of ‘devotion as a principle’
Humanistic sentiment or pseudo-humanism
Promoting the interests of human beings, above the interests welfare of other beings: PR Sarkar calls pseudo-humanism ‘socio-sentiment maximitis’
Transmute to Neohumanism through spiritual practise and the development of proto-psycho-spirituality
In summation, what needs to be said is that Neohumanism is more than simply a philosophical backdrop to an enlightened education system. It is a systematic approach to cosmic welfare and if we are to provide a truly Neohumanist education, we will have to provide students not only with the spiritual culture to form a devotional basis for their life, but also with the knowledge, tools and sense of mission to establish Neohumanism in the face of geo-sentiment, socio-sentiment and humanistic sentiment.
The question then becomes: how do we transpose this into the practical reality of the school and the classroom? Can we teach devotion? How does a student develop awakened conscience? Can the development of proto-spiritual mentality form part of the curriculum? These are but a few of the questions and implications for us as Neohumanist teachers.
As we have established, devotional sentiment lies at the heart of Neohumanism. So let us start by considering the question: how do we develop devotional sentiment in our students?
Firstly, I believe we need to start with the adults in the students’ world, especially the teachers. As the teacher is, so the student becomes. In primary schools, students spend up to six hours a day with their teachers and for some students, this is more time than they spend with their parents. Even outside the actual process of teaching and learning, the influence of the teacher’s psyche on that of the student is going to be profound. According to his or her mentality, the teacher will also attract certain kinds of microvita into the classroom. The teacher’s attitudes, ways of solving problems, moral standards and ideational flow will soak into the student as though he or she were immersed in a cup of water. How important it is then, for the teacher to be established in devotional sentiment!
Similar circumstances apply to other staff in the school and to the students’ parents. In fact, the more adults the student knows who are established in devotional sentiment and spiritual practise, the better.
Given though, that the number of teachers in our current world, who are already established in Neohumanism is relatively small, our schools often have to employ teachers who are newcomers to the devotional path. One of the emphases in our schools then becomes to provide training and support so that those teachers can rapidly become established in spiritual practise and develop devotional sentiment. Similar support can be provided to parents and other school staff as needed. The important thing is for our schools to realise that the provision of this level of training and support is of the highest priority. Our schools cannot be truly Neohumanist until our teachers are.
However, providing our students with teachers, who model what we want them to become, while of great importance, will not be enough. Practical programs will need to be provided. Currently in Neohumanist schools, the Morning Circle programme provides the structured time for spiritual practice and culture and can be balanced by a Closing Circle the end of the day. In addition to this uplifting plays and stories about spiritual personalities, visits and talks on spiritual topics from acaryas, as well as regular discussions and classes on Brahmacakra (the Circle of Love) and Yama and Niyama can all contribute to creating a nurturing environment for the awakening spiritual mind.
Scrutiny of the regular curriculum too, especially in the key learning areas of social science, science and the language arts will also be essential. Any resources and teaching materials that propagate or reinforce dogmas or pseudo-culture associated with geo-sentiment, socio-sentiment and pseudo-humanistic sentiment will have to be weeded out.
However, the establishment in spiritual culture and nurturing of devotional sentiment needs to have expression if it is to be meaningful to students. Devotional sentiment reveals itself through an increasing radius of love and we need to give students the practical opportunity to develop and express this love through real-life experiences of the world around them.
PR Sarkar gave a wonderful and profound example of this in his personal life. He created a garden, a botanical sanctuary for plants from all over the world. This garden was developed and nurtured with the most meticulous care and members of Ananda Marga in every country became involved either directly or indirectly in helping to nurture it. Through his garden, P.R. Sarkar exemplified and demonstrated in a very practical way the spirit of Neohumanism. Every school needs a food forest and garden, and every classroom needs to have their own little patch within it. Pot plants can also be nurtured and cared for in the classroom itself. Through these kinds of projects, students not only learn to care for, nurture and benefit from the plant world, they also gain countless opportunities to problem solve, share and learn respect for the rights and responsibilities of others. In my school’s food forest last term, the Mulberry tree was damaged by overly enthusiastic students leaping to get Mulberries. The Strawberry patch was also raided by students who had not planted them – an incident which greatly upset the students who had. Both of these episodes provided tremendous opportunities for learning on many levels!
A school PCAP project also provides similar opportunities for students to begin to express unconditional love. One principal I knew in a small country school had a licence that enabled her to care for animals injured in road accidents. It became commonplace for the students at her school to watch her writing on the blackboard with a joey (baby kangaroo) in its special harness peeking out from under her arm or to have her feeding a baby Quoll while conducting a student meeting. She could always be distinguished too, at district teachers’ meetings by the bulge under her coat and the small head peeking out. Her school had the reputation of being a warm and loving place and every person I know who visited it came away inspired.
However, once again, PR Sarkar has provided us through his writings on education, with the ideal program that can provide an umbrella for all of the ideas above. I am of course, talking about the Student Volunteers programme or Stu-Vol for short. The Ananda Palli School operated a successful Stu-Vol program for a number of years. The curriculum outline for that program is summarised in the table below:
Content and Skills
To foster love for God and devotional sentiment through:
the learning of the spiritual practices Astaunga Yoga
the development of a basic understanding of the science behind spiritual culture
the development of a Neohumanist attitude towards the Cosmos
Yama and Niyama
Collective Meditation (Dharma Cakra)
Kaoshikii (Yogic dance)
Asanas (Yogic postures)
Spiritual songs (Prabhat Samgiita)
Knowledge: including the study of:
Brahmacakra (the Circle of Love)
Rasa, the Divine flow
D. E. S. M. E. P.Discipline
To develop courteous and benevolent interaction with others and to use the appropriate etiquette for everyday situations
To develop a positive self attitude that is reflected through dress, grooming, behaviour and speech
To develop self-discipline and discrimination
To foster conduct based on Yama and Niyama in all aspects of life
To foster good habits of health and hygiene in both personal and social life
To learn to speak nicely
Yama and Niyama
Borrowing, offering and receiving
Etiquette skills for different social situations
Dress, grooming and pseudo-culture
Health and hygiene rules
Parade Procedures and Discipline
To foster unity, a sense of identity, coordination, parade skills, ability to follow directions and move in coordination with others, ability to lead, take decisions and give directions.
Falling in on request; standing at ease and at attention; marching in time and in coordination with others; turns while marching; salute; raising and lowering the flag with appropriate songs and procedures; leading different aspects of parade.
The Study of Great Personalities
To gain an appreciation of the human spirit of service and sacrifice through the study of great personalities commencing with pioneers and explorers and finishing with a study of three supreme personalities: Shiva, Krsna and Shrii Shrii, Anandamurtii
The following list is not definitive, but can be altered appropriately according to time, place and person cultural preference:
Great Pioneers: Hippocrates, Louis Braille, Carolyn Chisholm, Valentina Tereshkova
Great Explorers: Magellan, Marco Polo, Mary Kingsley and Charles Sturt.
Great Leaders: Boadicea, Alfred the Great, King Ashoka and Geronimo;
Great Inventors: Hero of Alexandria, William Caxton, Robert Bowyer Smith and the Wright Brothers
Great Scientists: Marie Curie, Galileo, Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein
Great Writers: Charles Dickens, Dante Alighieri, Jaluddin Rumi and Rabindranath Tagore
Great Artists: Phideas, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Monet
Great Musicians: Vivaldi, Brahms, Handel and Bach
People of Great Courage: Grace Darling, John Simpson Kirkpatrick, Gladys Aylward and Grace Bussell.
Great Revolutionaries: Subhas Chandra Bose, Emeline Pankhurst, Harriet Tubman and Che Guevara
Great Benefactors: Florence Nightingale, Vincent De Paul, Albert Schweitzer and Elizabeth Fry.
Great Saints: Francis of Assisi, Mahadeviyakka, Therese D’Avila, and Vivekananda.
Great Religious Leaders: Buddha, Moses, Jesus and Muhammed
Supreme Personalities: Lord Shiva, Lord Krsna and Shrii Shrii Anandamurtii
Knowledge for Citizenship
The expansion of the students mental horizons through the study of the universe, the world and the society in which they live:
This can be integrated with the school science and social studies programmes, but with an emphasis on sustainability, and how to live eco-sensitively in our current world. Knowledge of government processes and effective and appropriate ways and means of protest should also be explored.
Skills for Independent Living
The development of those skills and qualities which will enable the student to act with initiative and confidence in everyday life.
Home self-care skills
Safety: home, water, fire, road, bike, tools, drugs and poisons, rural and bush
Purchasing Skills, including budgeting, discriminated shopping, advertising, and how to read labels
Using references and guides: calendars, timetables, directories, atlas, encyclopaedias and Internet search engines
using public facilities such as libraries, civil services and clubs
Basic how to do skills including writing letters, advertising and the newspaper, making complaints, drawing up petitions and the like.
Emergency Service Training
To develop the schools and qualities necessary for acting with speed, knowledge and initiative in times of crisis.
First aid, navigation, bush craft and camping, emergency communications, self-defence, not some lashings, making shelters, making a bush stretcher, making a raft, finding and conserving water, do’s and don’ts of emergency situations, initiative training through simulations, how government emergency systems work, emergency situation studies: flood, fire, assault and accident.
Service Skills and Projects
To develop attitudes and skills that will help students be vigilant for the welfare of others in a practical way.
The skills include: care of the sick and elderly, care of animals, care of plants, care of the environment, helping others in crisis, how to raise money, setting up a relief store and general tips for helping others: knowing when and what to offer projects include: making a nature trail, making a StuVol relief store and fund, seeing for the elderly, building an animal shelter and making a food forest and garden.
I have presented this curriculum in such a comprehensive form to give an idea of the scope of Stu-Vol. It should be noted that this curriculum was designed to cover grades one to seven. One day every week, the entire school had a Stu-Vol day and students wore their Stu-Vol uniforms instead of their school ones.
Stu-Vol offers a direct experiential opportunity to cultivate Neohumanist qualities and express them through service skills and projects.