Education to be complete must have five principal aspects relating to the five principal activities of the human being: the physical, the vital, the mental, the psychic and the spiritual.
It is widely accepted, at least in principle, that education should address not just the mind but also the body. In practice, however, the body is generally neglected because ‘time is not enough to cover the syllabus’, and we do a rather poor job of educating even the mind. But even the best education of the body and the mind is still incomplete education. Complete education, or integral education, should address all parts of the being – not just the body and the mind, but also the spirit. This raises at least three questions: why that is necessary, how it can be done, and whether it can be done.
Why is it necessary?
Perfect education of the child’s body and the mind, if successful, will give us an adult who is physically fit, emotionally stable, and intellectually agile. Such an individual has the basic equipment necessary for becoming a good teacher, a good doctor, a good engineer, a good scientist, a good farmer, or a good manager. But it is exactly the same attributes that are necessary also for becoming a ‘good’ terrorist. Unless the terrorist is physically fit, emotionally stable, and intellectually agile, he will not be able to plan or execute a successful attack. After all, the body and the mind are mere instruments. Perfecting an instrument is never enough. A sharp knife can cut a fruit as well as the finger better than a blunt knife. Therefore our system of education should be designed not only to sharpen the body and the mind, but also to help the child learn how to put these sharpened instruments to good use. That is why education is incomplete if it addresses only the body and the mind; what completes it is the spiritual element.
How can it be done?
One way in which schools sometimes try to address the spiritual element is by including moral education as a subject. This is not the best approach for a variety of reasons. First, nobody, not even a child, likes to be told what to do, or what not to do. Secondly, any set of dos and don’ts is somewhat arbitrary – it cannot be valid for all times and at all places. Thirdly, even a comprehensive set of dos and don’ts is always incomplete because it cannot anticipate all the situations in which a person might have to take moral decisions. Finally, once moral education becomes a subject in the curriculum, the focus shifts from morality to clearing an examination. One of the best approaches is not to treat this aspect of education as an add-on, but as something that is woven into the system. Using the body-mind complex appropriately involves making choices. The best choice is based on the guidance that emanates from the deepest part of the being, which we may call the spiritual part of the being: Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have called it the psychic being. Making a choice based on the voice of the psychic being gives a sense of joy, and leads to lasting mental peace. Making a choice that is in conflict with this voice leads to a sense of guilt, a sense of uneasiness. Thus the psychic being is an in-built reward and punishment system. Making the child conscious of this in-built system is the crux of addressing ‘the spirit’ in school education. This is in marked contrast to the prevalent tendency to reward the child for doing the right thing, and even more commonly, to punish the child for doing the wrong thing. The message that this tendency sends is that the purpose of not doing what is wrong is to escape getting punished by the teacher or the parent, and in later life, by the law-enforcing agencies. In other words, one may do anything so long as nobody is watching. Even when nobody is watching, God is. The all-seeing God is within us, and that is why the person feels uneasy after doing something wrong. This is what the child has to learn to appreciate. And it is easy for the child to appreciate it because the psychic being is wide open in children. All it needs is the right environment. The right environment has a few components. First, everything good that the child does should be encouraged, be it lifting up a friend who has fallen in the playground, or sharing food with a classmate who has forgotten her lunchbox at home, or putting the right way up a struggling upside-down insect. Secondly, when a child has done something wrong – be it unintentional, accidental or deliberate – the child should be able to summon the courage to confess the mistake. This will happen only if the child is sure that confession will not invite punishment. An environment in which a fault confessed is not punished builds up the habit of speaking the truth. The aim in such a situation should be to lead the child towards appreciating the burden that the child felt till she had confessed, and the relief and joy that the confession brought. Last, but most important, the children should also see the teacher doing what she expects from them. What the teacher does has a much greater influence on the children than what she says.
Can it be done?
Doing what has been outlined above is an ideal that has been translated into reality. The Mother took charge of running Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry in 1926, but at that time there were hardly any children in the Ashram. But in the early 1940s, enough children had entered to prompt the Mother to open a school for children in 1943. The school brought out the educationist in the Mother, and the above discussion gives a mere glimpse of the system of integral education that she established there. The school has grown into an institution that provides education from kindergarten to college level, and was named ‘Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education’ by the Mother in 1959. The Centre has not only given a practical shape to the concept of integral education visualized by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, but has also inspired a very large number of institutions all over the world, including The Mother’s International School and Mirambika in New Delhi. Integral education not only addresses all aspects of the being, but also facilitates the flowering of the full potential of the child.
The Mother arrived in Pondicherry for the second time on 24 April 1920, and stayed there till she left her body in 1973.