The Renaissance in India: Sri Aurobindo

The following are three excerpts from the long essay ‘Renaissance in India’ by Sri Aurobindo. I hope that these excerpts add to your understanding of education and modernity in the Indian context.

Excerpt 1:

An ingrained and dominant spirituality, an inexhaustible vital creativeness and gust of life and, mediating between them, a powerful, penetrating and scrupulous intelligence combined of the rational, ethical and aesthetic mind each at a high intensity of action, created the harmony of the ancient Indian culture.

Excerpt 2:

When we look at the past of India, what strikes us is her stupendous vitality, her inexhaustible power of life and joy of life, her almost unimaginably prolific creativeness. For three thousand years at least, — it is indeed much longer, — she has been creating abundantly and incessantly, lavishly, with an inexhaustible many-sidedness, republics and kingdoms and empires, philosophies and cosmogonies and sciences and creeds and arts and poems and all kinds of monuments, palaces and temples and public works, communities and societies and religious orders, laws and codes and rituals, physical sciences, psychic sciences, systems of Yoga, systems of politics and administration, arts spiritual, arts worldly, trades, industries, fine crafts, — the list is endless and in each item there is almost a plethora of activity. She creates and creates and is not satisfied and is not tired; she will not have an end of it, seems hardly to need a space for rest, a time for inertia and lying fallow. She expands too outside her borders; her ships cross the ocean and the fine superfluity of her wealth brims over to Judaea and Egypt and Rome; her colonies spread her arts and epics and creeds in the Archipelago; her traces are found in the sands of Mesopotamia; her religions conquer China and Japan and spread westward as far as Palestine and Alexandria, and the figures of the Upanishads and the sayings of the Buddhists are reechoed on the lips of Christ. Everywhere, as on her soil, so in her works there is the teeming of a superabundant energy of life.

Excerpt 3: (This is how the long essay ends)

India can best develop herself and serve humanity by being herself and following the law of her own nature. This does not mean, as some narrowly and blindly suppose, the rejection of everything new that comes to us in the stream of Time or happens to have been first developed or powerfully expressed by the West. Such an attitude would be intellectually absurd, physically impossible,and above all unspiritual; true spirituality rejects no new light, no added means or materials of our human self-development. It means simply to keep our centre, our essential way of being, our inborn nature and assimilate to it all we receive, and evolve out of it all we do and create. Religion has been a central preoccupation of the Indian mind; some have told us that too much religion ruined India, precisely because we made the whole of life religion or religion the whole of life, we have failed in life and gone under. I will not answer, adopting the language used by the poet in a slightly different connection, that our fall does not matter and that the dust in which India lies is sacred. The fall, the failure does matter, and to lie in the dust is no sound position for man or nation. But the reason assigned is not the true one. If the majority of Indians had indeed made the whole of their lives religion in the true sense of the word, we should not be where we are now; it was because their public life became most irreligious, egoistic, self-seeking, materialistic that they fell. It is possible, that on one side we deviated too much into an excessive religiosity, that is to say, an excessive externalism of ceremony, rule, routine, mechanical worship, on the other into a too world-shunning asceticism which drew away the best minds who were thus lost to society instead of standing like the ancient Rishis as its spiritual support and its illuminating life-givers. But the root of the matter was the dwindling of the spiritual impulse in its generality and broadness, the decline of intellectual activity and freedom, the waning of great ideals, the loss of the gust of life.

Perhaps there was too much of religion in one sense; the word is English, smacks too much of things external such as creeds, rites, an external piety; there is no one Indian equivalent. But if we give rather to religion the sense of the following of the spiritual impulse in its fullness and define spirituality as the attempt to know and live in the highest self, the divine, the all embracing unity and to raise life in all its parts to the divinest possible values, then it is evident that there was not too much of religion, but rather too little of it—and in what there was, a too one-sided and therefore an insufficiently ample tendency. The right remedy is, not to belittle still farther the age long ideal of India, but to return to its old amplitude and give it a still wider scope, to make in very truth all the life of the nation a religion in this high spiritual sense. This is the direction in which the philosophy, poetry, art of the West is, still more or less obscurely, but with an increasing light, beginning to turn, and even some faint glints of the truth are beginning now to fall across political and sociological ideals. India has the key to the knowledge and conscious application of the ideal; what was dark to her before in its application, she can now, with a new light, illumine; what was wrong and wry in her old methods she can now rectify; the fences which she created to protect the outer growth of the spiritual ideal and which afterwards became barriers to its expansion and farther application, she can now break down and give her spirit a freer field and an ampler flight: she can, if she will, give a new and decisive turn to the problems over which all mankind is labouring and stumbling, for the clue to their solutions is there in her ancient knowledge. Whether she will rise or not to the height of her opportunity in the renaissance which is coming upon her, is the question of her destiny.

(‘The Renaissance in India and Other essays on Indian Culture’ is available for download as volume 20 of the collected works of Sri Aurobindo here)

The history of Bharatvarsha: Rabindranath Tagore

“The kind of unity that the European Civilization has opted for is discord-centered; the kind of unity that Bharatavarshiya Civilization has opted for is concord-centered.”
From ‘The history of Bharatvarsha’ by Rabindranath Tagore

The article from which the above quote is taken reminds us to stay grounded in an Indian perspective when we try to make sense of our Indian history. I hope the extracts given below encourage you to read the full article.

Extract 1: The history of India that we read and memorize for our examinations is really a nightmarish account of India. Some people arrive from somewhere and the pandemonium is let loose. And then it is a free-for-all: assault and counter-assault, blows and bloodletting. Father and son, brother and brother vie with each other for the throne. If one group condescends to leave, another group appears, as if, out of the blue; Pathans and Mughals, Portuguese and French and English together have made this nightmare ever more and more complex.

But if Bharatavarsha is viewed with these passing frames of dreamlike scenes, smeared in red, overlaid on it, the real Bharatavarsha can not be glimpsed. These histories do not answer the question, where were the people of India? As if, the people of India did not exist, only those who maimed and killed alone existed.

Extract 2: However, while the lands of the aliens existed, there also existed the indigenous country. Otherwise, in the midst of all the turbulence, who gave birth to the likes of Kabir, Nanak, Chaitanya, and Tukaram? It was not that only Delhi and Agra existed then, there were also Kasi and Navadvipa. The current of life that was flowing then in the real Bharatavarsha, the ripples of efforts rising there and the social changes that were taking place, the accounts of these are not found in our history textbooks.

Extract 3: What is the chief significance of Bharatavarsha? If a precise answer to this question is sought, the answer is available. And the history of Bharatavarsha upholds that answer. We find that a single objective has always been motivating Bharatavarsha. This objective has been to establish unity among diversity, to make various paths move towards one goal, to experience the One-in-many as the innermost reality, to pursue with total certitude that supreme principle of inner unity that runs through the differences. It has also been her endeavor to achieve these without destroying the distinctions that appear in the external world.

Extract 4: It needs talent to make outsiders one’s own. The ability to enter others’ beings and the magic power of making the stranger completely one’s own, these are the qualities native to genius. That genius we find in Bharatavarsha. Bharatavarsha has unhesitatingly entered other’s beings, and has effortlessly accepted things from others. Bharatavarsha has not discarded anything and has made everyone her own after accepting him or her.

Extract 5: Amongst the civilizations of the world Bharatavarsha stands as an ideal of the endeavor to unify the diverse. Her history will bear this out. Amidst many travails and obstacles, fortunes and misfortunes, Bharatavarsha has been seeking to experience the One in the universe as well as in one’s own soul and to place that One in the variegated, to discover that One through knowledge, to establish that One through action, to internalize that One through love, to exemplify that One through one’s own life. When through the study of her history we would be able to realize this everlasting spirit of Bharata, then the rupture of our present with the past will disappear.

The full article is available here. Let me know what you think.

Microschools: Networks

The current schools seem to contain the following components:

The area of land on which the school stands
The classrooms, labs, library etc., the academic infrastructure
The playground, swimming pool etc., the sports infrastructure
The office and other administrative infrastructure, the engine that runs the school

Except for sitting in the classrooms for most of their school day, the children get to use this infrastructure only minimally. However, the parents are willing to pay high fees for this real-estate package deal. Strange!

Let us try a thought experiment…

The classrooms inside a school are insular and don’t interact with each other too much. If we took the classrooms and physically moved them far from each other and still managed to run the administrative engine, it may be possible to have a fully functional school.

Many microschools with a common name who identify themselves as part of the same networked school
They function independently but meet at regular intervals in a rented or public space
They are managed by an online administrative engine that allows things like co-ordination, scheduling and monitoring
The children create and manage their own independent time-tables and record/ monitor their academic progress using this online tool
The parents and facilitators have admin access and can see the progress of their children
The children learn on their own and the facilitator understands and encourages this process

The networked microschools can be thought of as a distributed version of the current schools with the focus shifted from infrastructure and regimentation to relaxed learning. The saving in fees and the reduction in travel-time, stress etc. will be substantial. I think it is an exciting vision. What do you think?

Microschools: The future of education?

I wrote a blog post titled ‘The educational institution of the future: A fantasy’ in January 2009. Some days ago I discovered that the idea put forward in this post became what are now being called microschools. And Wikipedia tells me that the name microschools was put forward for the first time in February 2010. A full year after my blogpost! 🙂

The wikipedia article defines microschooling as:
“Micro-schooling is the reinvention of the one-room school house, where class size is typically smaller than that in most schools (15 students or less in a classroom) and there are mixed-age level groupings. Generally, micro-schools do not meet all 5 days of the school week, and their schedules look different than a traditional public or private school.”

My blog post talking about a very similar idea is reproduced below:

—– My 2009 blog post —–

Add another adult facilitator or so and add not more than a couple of children and there you have the prototype for the school of the future.

What fun!

It is foolish from our fast changing perspective today to predict the contours of a future even a few years ahead in time. But we have to begin the discussion somewhere. So listed out below is a random, incomplete look at the practical details of a school of the future.

No school has more than 10 students.
There are no teachers (Only facilitators who speak when they are spoken to 🙂 ).
The facilitators direct the efforts of the students when they can or pass them on to other facilitators who can guide them.
Anybody above the age of 14/15 and who has been a student of this type of school from their first school days is considered qualified to become a facilitator (Till we get the first batch of such facilitators any industrial era trained person who has a high school certificate can become a facilitator).
All schools run in their local communities in a house or community area not more than a ten minute walk for any child.
The minimum infrastructure in a school is an internet ready computer.
The thousands of school buildings and their administrators that mushroomed across the world for the industrial era become sports and other similar educational infrastructure providers.
The education of the future focuses on body, mind and spirit development (Includes things like sports, yoga, CBSE text books, meditation etc).
The education of the future also focuses on social and cultural development (Includes interpersonal growth, music, social service activities etc).

—– End of my 2009 blog post —–

My blog with the above and other education related posts is available here.

I think that after last year’s Covid-impacted school experience, many parents and children will be ready to shift to microschools. What do you think?