Education and the Significance of Life


Education and the Significance of LifeLondon: Victor Gollancz, 1978

J. Krishnamurti’s book Education and the Significance of Life is one of the most important books on education. I will produce and discuss some quotes here that show that K really had a radical and honest attitude toward child rearing.

His main argument regarding education was that it should not condition the child, but build awareness of our inevitable conditioning by society and social values. Here are some key quotes:

We are turning out, as if through a mould, a type of human being whose chief interest is to find security, to become somebody important, or to have a good time with as little thought as possible./9

Conventional education makes independent thinking extremely difficult. Conformity leads to mediocrity. To be different from the group or to resist environment is not easy and is often risky as long as we worship success./9

This fear of life, this fear of struggle and of new experience, kills in us the spirit of adventure; our whole upbringing and education have made us afraid to be different from our neighbour, afraid to think contrary to the established pattern of society, falsely respectful of authority and tradition./10

It is only when we face experience as it comes and do not avoid disturbance that we keep intelligence highly awakened; and intelligence highly awakened is intuition, which is the only true guide in life./11

Though there is a higher and wider significance to life, of what value is our education if we never discover it? We may be highly educated, but if we are without deep integration of thought and feeling, our lives are incomplete, contradictory and torn with many fears; and as long as education does not cultivate an integrated outlook on life, it has very little significance. /11

The individual is made up of different entities, but to emphasize the differences and to encourage the development of a definite type leads to many complexities and contradictions. Education should bring about the integration of these separate entities—for without integration, life becomes a series of conflicts and sorrows./12

What K next stresses in education is self-knowledge. And rightly so. Without self-knowledge we become automatons and ruthless executioners in lifeless systems.

We cannot understand existence abstractly or theoretically. To understand life is to understand ourselves and that is both the beginning and the end of education./14

When there is no self-knowledge, self-expression becomes self-assertion, with all its aggressive and ambitious conflicts. Education should awaken the capacity to be self-aware and not merely indulge in gratifying self-expression./15

Systems, whether educational or political, are not changed mysteriously; they are transformed when there is a fundamental change in ourselves. The individual is of first importance, not the system; and as long as the individual does not understand the total process of himself, no system, whether of the left or of the right, can bring order and peace to the world./16

One of the main points of critique of current education by alternative educational methods is the fact that modern-day education is mechanical and technology-based, and disregards the soul and soul values.

K writes:

Present-day education is a complete failure because it has over-emphasized technique. In over-emphasizing technique we destroy man. To cultivate capacity and efficiency without understanding life, without having a comprehensive perception of the ways of thought and desire, will only make us increasingly ruthless, which is to engender wars and jeopardize our physical security. The exclusive cultivation of technique has produced scientists, mathematicians, bridge builders, space conquerors; but do they understand the total process of life? Can any specialist experience life as a whole? Only when he ceases to be a specialist./18

The man who knows how to split the atom but has no love in his heart becomes a monster./19

Thus, K stresses the need for an integrated approach to education, which necessarily also would be an approach that wisely is drafted to activate and stimulate both brain hemispheres, and the characteristics associated with them. K points out:

The right kind of education, while encouraging the learning of a technique, should accomplish something which is of far greater importance; it should help man to experience the integrated process of life. It is this experiencing that will put capacity and technique in their right place./21

An important, and often misunderstood problem in education are ideals, heroes, and generally any kind of people worship. The conditioning of children after national or social, or other heroes, and the idealism connected with that quest in traditional patriarchal education cannot be overlooked. Krishnamurti never left a doubt that ideas are highly destructive for building intelligent humans, and he boldly states:

Ideals have no place in education for they prevent the comprehension of the present./22

The right kind of education is not concerned with any ideology, however much it may promise a future Utopia: it is not based on any system, however carefully thought out; nor is it a means of conditioning the individual in some special manner. Education in the true sense is helping the individual to be mature and free, to flower greatly in love and goodness. That is what we should be interested in, and not in shaping the child according to some idealistic pattern./23

Now, we often hesitate to talk about love, and it’s almost a commonplace today, or even has a strange subversive note about it to say that one must love children if one wants to be a good teacher. K had the authority to say what had to be said, and it was received positively because there was no doubt in his integrity:

Only love can bring about the understanding of another. Where there is love there is instantaneous communion with the other, on the same level and at the same time. It is because we ourselves are so dry, empty and without love that we have allowed governments and systems to take over the education of our children and the direction of our lives; but governments want efficient technicians, not human beings, because human beings become dangerous to governments— and to organized religions as well. That is why governments and religious organizations seek to control education./24

And we are again confronted with the notion of conformity that goes through the book like an Ariadne thread; in fact, idealism and conformity go hand in hand, and are sugared up by sentimentality.

Life cannot be made to conform to a system, it cannot be forced into a framework, however nobly conceived and a mind that has merely been trained in factual knowledge is incapable of meeting life with its variety, its subtlety, its depths and great heights. When we train our children according to a system of thought or a particular discipline, when we teach them to think within departmental divisions, we prevent them from growing into integrated men and women, and therefore they are incapable of thinking intelligently, which is to meet life as a whole./24

K saw the difficult and challenging role of the dedicated educator, and he was very outspoken that such an individual cannot reasonably be a conformist, but must be a person who is an independent thinker, and mentally and emotionally sane:

Education is intimately related to the present world crisis, and the educator who sees the causes of this universal chaos should ask himself how to awaken intelligence in the student, thus helping the coming generation not to bring about further conflict and disaster. He must give all his thought, all his care and affection to the creation of right environment and to the development of understanding, so that when the child grows into maturity he will be capable of dealing intelligently with the human problems that confront him. But in order to do this, the educator must understand himself instead of relying on ideologies, systems and beliefs./25

The right kind of education consists in understanding the child as he is without imposing upon him an ideal of what we think he should be. To enclose him in the framework of an ideal is to encourage him to conform, which breeds fear and produces in him a constant conflict between what he is and what he should be; and all inward conflicts have their outward manifestations in society. Ideals are an actual hindrance to our understanding of the child and to the child’s understanding of himself./26

Ideals are a convenient escape, and the teacher who follows them is incapable of understanding his students and dealing with them intelligently; for him, the future ideal, the what should be, is far more important than the present child. The pursuit of an ideal excludes love, and without love no human problem can be solved./27

The right kind of educator, aware of the mind’s tendency to reaction, helps the student to alter present values, not out of reaction against them, but through understanding the total process of life. (…) Without really inquiring into this whole question, we assert than human nature cannot be changed, we accept things as they are and encourage the child to fit into the present society; we condition him to our present ways of life, and hope for the best. But can such conformity to present values, which lead to war and starvation, be considered education?/30

The next important point in the value discussion is discipline. What place should discipline and self-discipline be given in the educational framework of a non-repressive and consciousness-based institution? K is very clear-cut in this respect. He is against discipline, and stresses the need to educate children sensitively by raising their self-respect and respect for one another, and for life as a whole:

For political and industrial reasons, discipline has become an important factor in the present social structure, and it is because of our desire to be psychologically secure that we accept and practise various forms of discipline. (…) Discipline then becomes a substitute for love, and it is because our hearts are empty that we cling to discipline./31

Sensitivity can never be awakened through compulsion. One may compel a child to be outwardly quiet, but one has not come face to face with that child which is making him obstinate, impudent, and so on. Compulsion breeds antagonism and fear. Reward and punishment in any form only make the mind subservient and dull; and if this is what we desire, then education through compulsion is an excellent way to proceed./32

Implicit in right education is the cultivation of freedom and intelligence, which is not possible if there is any form of compulsion, with its fears. After all, the concern of the educator is to help the student to understand the complexities of his whole being. To require him to suppress one part of his nature for the benefit of some other part is to create in him an endless conflict which results in social antagonisms. It is intelligence that brings order, not discipline./33

The problem of discipline, K analyzes very succinctly, is that it creates fear. And fear is not conducive to intelligence, and renders people emotionally highly unstable. K observes:

Fear perverts intelligence and is one of the causes of self-centered action./34-35

The right kind of education must take into consideration this question of fear, because fear warps our whole outlook on life. To be without fear is the beginning of wisdom, and only the right kind of education can bring about the freedom from fear in which alone there is deep and creative intelligence./35

Jiddu Krishnamurti
Jiddu Krishnamurti

And what place should religion have in education? Some find it necessary that children receive a religious education, others find that in a modern state the school system should refrain from conditioning children spiritually. France has a special position here because of the French Revolution and the fact that in the French Constitution, an explicit secularism is anchored that all schools must respect. The most recent debate has been over whether any religious apparel, such as the Hijab, the Sikh turban, large Crosses or Stars of David should be banned from public schools? After much political debate a law has been voted in France to ban all those personal religious symbols in schools. K expresses himself against any form of organized religion or ritual:

What we call religion is merely organized belief, with its dogmas, rituals, mysteries and superstitions. Each religion has its own sacred book, its mediator, its priests and its ways of threatening and holding people. Most of us have been conditioned to all this, which is considered religious education; but this conditioning sets man against man, it creates antagonism, not only among the believers, but also against those of other beliefs. Though all religions assert that they worship God and say that we must love one another, they instill fear through their doctrines of reward and punishment, and through their competitive dogmas they perpetuate suspicion and antagonism./38

Organized religion is the frozen thought of man, out of which he builds temples and churches; it has become a solace for the fearful, and opiate for those who are in sorrow. /40

The next important point in a sensitive education is how to handle the child as an individual, while participating in a group? How should the educator relate to the single child, and how to react to children’s curiosity, and their often disturbing inquisitiveness? How to handle their discontent in phases of adaptation they invariable go through, and that leave traces of hurt through the inevitable restriction of freedom? Krishnamurti gives very clear answers here.

Most children are curious, they want to know; but their eager inquiry is dulled by our pontifical assertions, our superior impatience and our casual brushing aside of their curiosity. We do not encourage their inquiry, for we are rather apprehensive of what may be asked of us; we do not foster their discontent, for we ourselves have ceased to question./41

The young, if they are at all alive, are full of hope and discontent; they must be, otherwise they are already old and dead./42

Discontent is the means to freedom: but in order to inquire without bias, there must be none of the emotional dissipation which often takes the form of political gatherings, the shouting of slogans, the search for a guru or spiritual teacher, and religious orgies of different kinds./43

A very intriguing point is K’s position on success. While striving for success is something really natural for human beings, Krishnamurti teaches that the very striving for success per se creates fear and is therefore not an ideal motivational factor:

As long as success is our goal we cannot be rid of fear, for the desire to succeed inevitably breeds the fear of failure./44

To apply this approach means to let children see that the striving for success, without being based on other values can be poisoned by greed and selfish gain. The art is not to suffocate the child’s energy for progress, which requires from the teacher a balanced attitude, sensitivity and tact. K says it in more general terms that can be interpreted in many ways:

The school should help its young people to discover their vocations and responsibilities, and not merely cram their minds with facts and technical knowledge; it should be the soil in which they can grow without fear, happily and integrally./45

J. Krishnamurti
J. Krishnamurti

Another important value in any spiritual educational concept is simplicity. K was a simple man all through his life. He was direct and simple in his approach to people, and to children. He was not afraid of direct exchanges, and he did not foster hierarchy thinking. He was relating to a beggar and a king in basically the same way, empathically and fearlessly. This is not the way of our modern society, so how can we help children to develop simplicity without however neglecting our duty to help them understand the complexity of life? This obvious paradox requires to get deep inside and see the metarational relationship between complexity and simplicity. Only a spiritually developed teacher can appear as a simple human while fully understanding the complexity of life, and of relationships. K. explains:

From innumerable complexities we must grow to simplicity; we must become simple in our inward life and in our outward needs./45

J. Krishnamurti
J. Krishnamurti

Krishnamurti schools had from the start a rather peculiar approach to teaching skills.

For example in a painting class, the teacher would only introduce in the subject and then the main educational work would be done by participation. There would simply be a painter around, who would paint, around the children, for them to grow into it by seeing it every day.

This philosophy is based upon the insight that no child can be trained in anything that their soul is not ready to receive. So if you ‘teach’ art or music to a child whose soul has no affinity with art or music, you not only confuse the child, but you also waste time, and in some cases you even create a lifelong rebellion in the child against what they felt was ‘imposed’ on them. This is why participatory education solves many problems in that children who are naturally gifted for art or music or literature or anything else will pick that up when it’s around. That means, of course, that the school really must be a cultural place, and not just an academy for indoctrination. K explains:

Teaching should not become a specialist’s profession. When it does, as is so often the case, love fades away; and love is essential to the process of integration. To be integrated there must be freedom from fear. Fearlessness brings independence without ruthlessness, without contempt for another, and this is the most essential factor in life./47

The integrated human being will come to technique through experiencing, for the creative impulse makes its own technique – and that is the greatest art. When a / child has the creative impulse to paint, he paints, he does not bother about technique. Likewise people who are experiencing, and therefore teaching, are the only real teachers, and they too will create their own technique./48

Many of us seem to think that by teaching every human being to read and write, he shall solve our human problems; but this idea has proved to be false. The so-called educated are not peace-loving, integrated people, and they too are responsible for the confusion and misery in the world./52

As I have pointed out above, the relationship between the individual and authority is not a standard scheme in Krishnamurti schools and depends largely on the director of the school. Generally speaking the attitude in Krishnamurti schools is respectful toward authority:

The following of authority is the denial of intelligence. To accept authority is to submit to domination, to subjugate oneself to an individual, to a group, or to an ideology, whether religious or political; and this subjugation of oneself to authority is the denial, not only of intelligence, but also of individual freedom./60

As long as the mind allows itself to be dominated and controlled by the desire for its own security, there can be no release from the self and its problems; and that is why there is no release from the self through dogma and organized belief, which we call religion./62

The integration of intelligence and love, the subtle distinction between intellect and intelligence as well as the awareness about the pitfalls of both idealism and materialism is what makes this educational concept so interesting. It seems to me that while not all ingredients of K’s educational approach are new and original, there is an edge to it that has no equal in any other educational approach over the last four hundred years. K points out:

Idealism is an escape from what is, and materialism is another way of denying the measureless depths of the present. Both the idealist and the materialist have their own ways of avoiding the complex problem of suffering; both are consumed by their own cravings, ambitions and conflicts, and their ways of life are not conducive to tranquillity. They are both responsible for the confusion and misery of the world./63

Intelligence is not separate from love./64

There is a distinction between intellect and intelligence. Intellect is thought functioning independently of emotion, whereas intelligence is the capacity to feel as well as reason; and until we approach life with intelligence, instead of intellect alone, or with emotion alone, no political or educational system in the world can save us from the toils of chaos and destruction./65

Wisdom comes with the abnegation of the self. To have an open mind is more important than learning; and we can have an open mind, not by cramming it full of information but by being aware of our own thoughts and feelings, by carefully observing ourselves and the influences about us, by listening to others, by watching the rich and the poor, and powerful and the lowly./65

Intelligence is much greater than intellect, for it is the integration of reason and love; but there can be intelligence only when there is self-knowledge, the deep understanding of the total process of oneself. /67

J. Krishnamurti
J. Krishnamurti

As Krishnamurti has pointed out in his his book Beyond Violence (1973), for overcoming violence we do not need to put up ideals of peace, nor do we need tighter laws, but a better education, and better relationships. To get there, we need to understand ourselves and at the same time, we need to learn relating, both to ourselves and others. This helps us to dissolve artificial boundaries between humans that our ideologies, traditions and national pride have created. K explains:

The problem of man’s antagonism to man can be solved, not by pursuing the ideal of peace, but by understanding the causes of war which lie in our attitude towards life, towards our fellow-beings; and this understanding can come about only through the right kind of education./68

If we avoid the responsibility of acting individually and wait for some new system to establish peace, we shall merely become the slaves of that system./70

The constantly repeated assertion that we belong to a certain political or religious group, that we are of this nation or of that, flatters our little egos, puffs them out like sails, until we are ready to kill or be killed for our country, race or ideology. It is all so stupid and unnatural. Surely, human beings are more important than national and ideological boundaries. /71

Nationalism, the patriotic spirit, class and race consciousness, are all ways of the self, and therefore separative. After all, what is a nation but a group of individuals living together for economic and self-protective reasons? Out of fear and acquisitive self-defence arises the idea of my country, with its boundaries and tariff walls, rendering brotherhood and the unity of man impossible./72

Our present social institutions cannot evolve into a world federation, for their very foundations are unsound. Parliaments and systems of education which uphold national sovereignty and emphasize the importance of the group will never bring war to an end./73

An important insight in this respect is that children are not per se thinking in terms of nations, religions, races or any other distinctions that our fragmented and conditioned thinking comes up with. Children are universal thinkers.

The child is neither class nor race conscious; it is the home or school environment, or both, which makes him feel separative. /75

If life is meant to be lived happily, with thought, with care, with affection, then it is very important to understand ourselves; and if we wish to build a truly enlightened society, we must have educators who understand the ways of integration and who are therefore capable of imparting that understanding to the child. Such educators would be a danger to the present structure of society. But we do not really want to build an enlightened society; and any teacher who, perceiving the full implications of peace, began to point out the true significance of nationalism and the stupidity of war, would soon lose his position. Knowing this, most teachers compromise, and thereby help to maintain the present system of exploitation and violence./79

As I pointed out above, a responsible attitude toward education requires us to put the cards on the table, and we do live in a world of violence, chaos, murder, hunger for many, but also incredible abundance, and unrivaled comfort for a few.

What is our relationship with all of this? Do we think that war is outside only, or do we recognize that every war we bring to birth was already there inside of us before we ever lifted our arm to take a gun?

Beyond Violence,by J. Krishnamurti
Beyond Violence,by J. Krishnamurti

I have emphasized in my own writings that every act of violence done in outward life is a reflection of violence we have done to ourselves, on an inward level, long before that particular event. By the same token, every murder committed is preceded by a murder that was committed inside of the murderer long before he murdered. As long as we continue to murder so-called ‘perverse’ desires, longings and fantasies, so long shall we have murder in this world. Once we learn to embrace ourselves, and our selves, and stop disowning parts of our inner whole that we disintegrate because of the schizoid split that all morality brings about, we learn to handle our emotions. K says:

War is the spectacular and bloody projection of our everyday living. We precipitate war out of our daily lives; and without a transformation in ourselves, there are bound to be national and racial antagonisms, the childish quarreling over ideologies, the multiplication of soldiers, the saluting of flags, and all the many brutalities that to go create organized murder./79

Finally, what is this psychological revolution that K. talks about? What does it require? K explains:

True revolution is not the violent sort; it comes about through cultivating the integration and intelligence of human beings who, by their very life, will gradually create changes in society./89

For education to adopt a higher quality, instead of being focused upon quantity in the sense of educating masses of people, it logically needs to focus on every single child rather than seeing children as a quantifiable factor to be addressed:

The right kind of education is not possible en masse. To study each child requires patience, alertness and intelligence. To observe the child’s tendencies, his aptitudes, his temperament, to understand his difficulties, to take into account his heredity and parental influence and not merely regard him as belonging to a certain category—all this calls for a swift and pliable mind, untrammeled by any system or prejudice. It calls for skill, intense interest and, above all, a sense of affection; and to produce educators endowed with these qualities is one of our major problems to-day./94

The following quotes are among the most revolutionary and challenging sentences Krishnamurti produced in this book:

If parents really cared for their children, they would build a new society; but fundamentally most parents do not care, and so they have no time for this most urgent problem. They have time for making money, for amusements, for rituals and worship, but no time to consider what is the right kind of education for their children./97

We say so easily that we love our children; but is there love in our hearts when we accept the existing social conditions, when we do not want to bring about a fundamental transformation in this destructive society? And as long as we look to the specialists to educate our children, this confusion and misery will continue, for the specialists, being concerned with the part and not with the whole, are themselves unintegrated. /98

The suffering of parents for their children is a form of possessive self-pity which exists only when there is no love./103

To be the right kind of educator, a teacher must constantly be freeing himself from books and laboratories; he must ever be watchful to see that the students do not make of him an example, an ideal, an authority./110

For the true teacher, teaching is not a technique, it is a way of life; like a great artist, he would rather starve than give up his creative work./111

Creativity has many forms and expresses itself in many ways. K. has repeatedly said in his talks that modern education suffocates creativity, and I have seen this confirmed in my work in schools and kindergartens in several countries. So what is creativity, and how do we nourish the creative flame inside of us?

Krishnamurti gives a quite original answer:

The intellect, the mind as such, can only repeat, recollect, it is constantly spinning new words and rearranges old ones; and as most of us feel and experience only through the brain, we live exclusively on words and mechanical repetitions. This is obviously not creation; and since we are uncreative, the only means of creativeness left to us is sex. Sex is of the mind, and that which is of the mind must fulfill itself or there is frustration. Our thoughts, our lives are narrow, arid, hollow, empty; emotionally we are starved, religiously and intellectually we are repetitive, dull; socially, politically and economically we are regimented, controlled. We are not happy people, we are not vital, joyous; at home, in business, at church, at school, we never experience a creative state of being, there is no deep release in our daily thought and action. Caught and held from all sides, naturally sex becomes our only outlet, an experience to be sought again and again because it momentarily offers that state of happiness which comes when there is absence of self. It is not sex that constitutes a problem, but the desire to recapture the state of happiness, to gain and maintain pleasure, whether sexual or any other./118

Unless we investigate and understand the hindrances that prevent creative living, which is freedom from self, we shall not understand the problem of sex./119

The Young Krishnamurti
The Young Krishnamurti

I will come to an end now with this extensive review in the hope that this overview over the topics of this book raises your thirst to read it.

Krishnamurti in 1950
Krishnamurti in 1950

It is a difference to read some quotes from a book or to read the integral book. Also, I am very clear about it, I have not hidden my own bias, my own necessarily subjective participation in this book, and in the subjects that go beyond it, such as education, world peace, or spirituality.

I have my own philosophy and solutions to offer in my writings, and I cannot avoid that my way of seeing the world goes into these book reviews. But this must be so, or I would be dishonest. After all, what is of interest for you is your own relationship with this book and its author, and not how it impacted upon my mind, and my emotions! In this sense, I can only reflect it with my mirror, not with yours.

But let me affirm that without any doubt, this book was one of the most important I have read in my entire life. I have read it first about twenty years ago and since then have re-read it several times.

Krishnamurti is a thinker, a sage, a philosopher that you cannot ‘store away’ in a library and forget, like we do it with so many others! He and his teaching is alive, as alive as ever before.

More Information

More about J. Krishnamurti

Buy this Book from Amazon

Buy Review Sampler Paperback

Buy Review eBook from Scribd

See Pierre’s Amazon Reviews

2 thoughts on “Education and the Significance of Life

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close