What is your process in the morning?
I meditate. I wake up around two, make tea for myself, freshen up, and from then I meditate. At four other people join me, so until five I meditate. And then I meditate in a different way, in a lying down posture. Sometimes I go to sleep for half an hour. By 5:30 people start coming, they need help in their studies, and that’s it from then until school-time. There is breakfast in between. Before breakfast, after breakfast, I am with the teachers.
But it’s all on a continuum of meditation.
Is the school-day an extension of that process?
Yes. In the beginning I thought school was a distraction, and also that helping the teachers was a distraction. But now I see it as an opportunity. It requires heightened awareness, maybe multiple awareness, because the part of the brain that is involved in helping people with their studies, and the rest of the brain that is trying to go deeper are working together. So I’m learning that.
How do you feel, generally, that APV has changed from what it was when it began?
There has been a sea change. In the very beginning my idea was to introduce all the good things that I knew, and meditation was the foundation. I was not sure whether children would like meditation, and then I was worried about the parents- there are Hindus and Muslims here. So I didn’t know whether they would agree to this idea of children sitting down and meditating, because they had never seen it happen anywhere. And I had never seen it happen until that time, or heard about it. But the children, you could see the change in their faces after five minutes of meditation. They accepted it immediately. But I would say the worldly mind made fun of it- not directly, but they would giggle a lot after. But I could see from day one that they like it and that it’s good for them. So it continued, and parents never said anything against it. Maybe the parents were not concerned about the idea of children sitting in meditation- for them it didn’t matter as long as we were also doing regular things, regular studies, especially English, because here parents think that if children learn English it will be good for them. So we were doing that from the very beginning. And gradually the school attracted the attention of people from abroad, mainly from America, and I think it’s also because the very first person from abroad was Marc [Alongi], and Marc told his friends. I think that was the beginning; then more and more people started getting interested.
How do you find that people from America and the West react to the school?
School, I think everybody liked, especially people coming from the West. They definitely liked the assembly. Some of them who were academicians were going into the nitty-gritty of what happens in the classroom, and they found our methods very innovative, and as the years progressed we did have more and more innovative methods that we were applying. In the very beginning, when Marc was there, there was hardly any lesson plan. He was worried about lesson plans. And my idea was not lesson plans, but preparedness. Teachers should be people who are ready for the unknown, who are ready for anything. So this means that they are learning, not just what needs to be taught in that class, but learning for their own lives. They are curious people. Their minds are going into all directions, and some it may become useful in the class. They shouldn’t be worried if they can’t cover a particular concept, since it is an open process. And since children can ask any question in class, there are bound to be many questions that no teacher, from anywhere on this planet or another planet can answer. Mysterious questions. So then teachers have to say ‘I will try to find out the answer to this question. I don’t know.’ It’s a preparedness also to say ‘I don’t know, and I’ll find out.’ So, generally, people from the West, people from America liked the school. Some of them had difficulty understanding the community. So there were some who had already been to India or had been exposed to meditation, like Marc was, and they had been in monasteries or ashrams. For them it was easier to understand what we were doing. But we also got people who came from America directly to Ganesh Bhwean, where the teachers live, with nothing in between, with no experience of this part of the world. And some became very very friendly, and they liked certain things, and they weren’t bothered. But there were others who came into conflict with many things, and so there were problems. Some got resolved, some we weren’t given the chance to resolve. They left and they were full of complaint. And then we learned that whenever a new person comes, the first thing we should do if the person is brand new, has never been to India or seen a community like this, is to educate the person, to take the person to the village, to talk about the community, talk about how things work. And all of us here, all of the teachers, are from local communities, local villages. So we have already internalized many values; values that are very useful.
What are the local values that you feel are present in this community?
Some of the values- I think they also exist in other, mainly tribal, communities- like women are good at taking care of the house and household things, like cooking and taking care of things inside the house. It works here excellently, because most of the teachers are girls. There are very few men, though they also participate in it. But even if they don’t, the girls don’t complain. They see it as an additional quality in them, cooking and washing. That doesn’t mean that men do nothing, they do other things, many things that women wouldn’t like to do, like going to the gas agency and getting the gas cylinder filled, or going to government offices, and so on. So there is this division of labor that comes from our culture, and a lot of that happens here. But here we are learning new rules also. So from a Western perspective this may not look right; they talk about equal things. But in nature, actually, it is not equality, it is something else. It is not equality of superficial things, it is equality at a deeper level. And on the surface there are different rules. So that is one thing. Another value is that you respect a person who is older than you. And the person may be good for nothing, the person may be stupid, but it doesn’t matter; as long as the person is living with you and is older in years, you respect that person. And the person may not be literate, the person may have no quality; it doesn’t matter. So I think that is another thing that is difficult for many Westerners. Here I am the oldest person in years, but luckily I still have some skills that might be useful for the community, and that adds to the respect that they pay to me. But culturally they would take care of me and respect me even if I was good for nothing. If they let me live with them, it is their responsibility to take care of me. But they also see it as beneficial, because I can help them with what they do in the classes, and so on. So I think these are the values that have helped us a lot. Also this kind of freedom, boyfriend-girlfriend, does not exist in our culture. You are seen with a man in a close way only when you are married. It is still there, that you retain Brahmacharya until marriage. So that is the value- how many people can live up to that is another thing, but on the surface actually they try to look that way at least. So because of that we haven’t had many problems with girls and boys living here together.
You talked before about meditation flowing into the school, meditation being one of the core values of the school, teachers learning outside of school- it seems there’s not a hard separation between free time and school time, between the external environment and school. Do you see these local values flowing into the school in a similar way?
In the very beginning I had been in Vippassana centers, meditation centers, for a long time, and I had that in mind. That it is very helpful if we have the same moral values, like not being violent, not stealing, not lying, maintaining celibacy. And all of these values are also in the local culture. Locally, a person who obeys these things will be respected, and they are also good for meditation. It is all woven into each other. These activities are guided by this inner journey, this spiritual journey. So from that point of view, we are not divided. When I go to the class it is the same Anand Dwivedi, who has the same mind. We are not schizophrenic. I think people deliberately create that split personality, and then there is conflict. Here it is a continuum- materially, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, things flow into each other. Suppose the school needs some furniture, and we have it here; we take it there. Books get transferred a lot. We bring books from school, we put books back in the library, and many times I have classes up here in the meditation room. Children love walking these 200 meters up. The meditation room then becomes a classroom. We don’t have this concept of free time and work time. I think this came from industrial settings, where work is miserable, and therefore you need free time otherwise you will die. So you are slogging through work, and then you are stressed, then you need free time. But if your work is a dance, if your work is enjoyable, then you don’t need free time, you don’t even have the concept of free time. So here it is the other way around; I want free time for myself, I want to do walking meditation, but then teachers are there with their books- ‘Sirji what does it mean? What should I do in the class?’- so I like that, but sometimes I don’t have enough energy so I excuse myself and I say things that they can’t say anything about, like ‘I’m going to the bathroom. I need to go to the bathroom.’ And so on. So yes, here everything is integrated. And there are some teachers who miss something on a Sunday, they say ‘I miss my children.’ It is all one. I think this concept of free time and work time is a disease of the modern world. As long as it is there, your quality of life and quality of work probably are suffering. But if we can change our settings, our style of work, the nature of work in such a way that it is enriching for your life, then we don’t need that.
Free time implies some other unfree time, that there’s a time when you give yourself away, when you are not conscious, but merely the instrument of somebody else. To switch to another topic: There are many schools in the West that express as their mission statements, what their self-imposed obligation to the student is, as something like ‘to prepare children for the world,’ ‘to prepare them for careers,’ ‘to inform’. What do you believe are the obligations of APV towards its students?
The central thing is what we write in our logo: ‘knowledge is that which liberates.’ It uncovers, or it unleashes, it releases this infinite energy and harmony and love within you. This concept comes from mystics also. And I think now a lot of this may come from modern science. If you have this quality of mind where there is harmony, there is no stress, no conflict, no schizophrenia and so on, then it is bound to have immense energy and creativity. That is the main thing. But the people say: ‘Okay, suppose a child has this, but parents want them to pass exams, to get a job, so what are you doing for that?’ Strangely, we never thought that once we are doing this first thing correctly, through meditation, through creativity, through inspiring music, helping the child to have a mind that is unfragmented, that is whole, then that mind should be able to meet any challenge. So until our children had graduated and gone onto the higher classes, we could not give examples. But now, surprisingly, our children are very good. They are among the best at any exam they have taken so far. Some of them have been selected by the government for professional courses, like hotel management, computer studies, many things. They are doing exceptionally well; it was a very pleasant surprise to see that our children are good at all of those things. And we say to them, ‘We didn’t prepare you for this,’ and they say ‘Probably you did, in a deep way. Then we took care of the surface things, the surface knowledge.’ Once you have the potential to learn, you can learn anything. After all, what is an exam? It means you have to learn something; for that learning you need energy. Now if you are building up energy, if you are opening doors into infinite energy, then that energy will become useful there. And I think that is what happens.
The school shapes the students into a bowl, and a bowl can hold anything. But if you’re not a bowl, then you can’t hold anything.
A pillar of the APV curriculum seems to be music. How do you feel that music fits with meditation and creativity?
In the beginning I was not sure about that. I loved music, but in the meditation centers there is no music, and so I was slightly confused before the school started. There were some years when I was just doing meditation, and I had given up music and art totally, because in those centers they never talked about it. And I found there was something missing from my life in a way that was also affecting meditation. In order to meditate deeply I needed some other things that I was craving. And it was creativity. It was music and art. I also loved to find new ways of doing math. So the school gave me a chance, and I discovered that I liked all of those things that were needed. I liked to find new ways of presenting material- math or science or anything. I mostly worked with math in the beginning because math is a very clear thing. You can’t add an extra line anywhere. Very close to science, but even science comes later- you have to explain things, your language may go this way or that way. But if you are doing multiplication the answer is exact. So I started working with math, and I saw that I was enjoying it. It gave me a lot of energy. Now, it took me some time to see the link between meditation and creativity, including music. But there is a link. I don’t know what a neurologist would say, but I think creativity involves connecting different parts of the brain in new ways, which means that you are expanding the brain, expanding your awareness. And this expanded awareness has to be more alert. And that’s what meditation needs as well: alertness. So I think it is all contributing to each other, music and innovative ways of teaching and meditation. It is all together. Then I also discovered that you can carry the quality of mindfulness into classes. That was difficult for me in the beginning. I needed more energy for that, and in time I got more energy. And I was very impassioned, and I used to get angry and shout, and was then very disappointed with myself. And then slowly, slowly I had the energy to deal with this negative energy. But yes, it is all one flow.
There was a famous psychologist who did a study of artists, especially jazz musicians, and he observed them while they were improvising and then had them describe their thought process during the improvisation, and almost all of them touched on this feeling they termed ‘flow’; when they felt that they entered fully into the music, were thinking in music. In the Zen arts they talk about creativity emerging from the performance of an action with the whole self. It seems connected with this idea that APV has of creativity being linked with unity. And it seems opposed in a sense to the conventional view of creativity, which is that one is able to isolate things, and to juggle a multitude of things; that creativity is like a carnival, rather than a single thing performed with full consciousness.
Also group music is something very special, and I have not found any supporting material from neurology- probably they don’t know about this kind of music. When they talk about the effect of music on the brain, they are talking about a single person, they are not talking about group music, and how this group music helps the awareness of an individual who is participating in it. If I am a new child and I want to play cymbals, and I am out of beat, and then the people who are leading the assembly ask an older child to help this child. And so in order to be able to enjoy this music and to be a part of it, you have to be in tune with the community, you have to be in the right rhythm. So you become one with the rest. I think in a deep way you are learning to dance with the larger group. You are one with the whole. It creates a kind of oneness, where all the children and teachers feel as one. Part of something that is immense, that is larger than all of them. They have to dive into it and disappear in order to feel it.
It seems like two simultaneous things that one has to do. One has to be in tune, in rhythm, one has to monitor one’s self, but one also has to forget one’s self. You have to do both in order to enjoy the music. Is there anything else you wish to speak about?
Yes. From the perspective of replicating this process, probably the trickiest thing is this relationship between men and women. We don’t have any problems in the school because it is only up to 8th grade, so by the time the children hit puberty they are gone to higher classes. But then people who are replicating it need to know that when they talk about celibacy as one of the moral precepts that it is essential for this inner journey. They need to experiment with it, and learn from their own experiences because science, I think, has been quiet about it so far. I don’t know, there may be some literature on it. But this Indian mystical concept, this yogic concept of the sexual energy being the same energy as the energy for meditation, if you let it go up. Going up not physically, but going up means that you are not spending it in reckless thoughts or actual physical acts of sex. So you are saving that energy and taking it up through meditation.
The Shiva lingam.
Like the Shiva lingam; and it is 100% correct. People who have experienced it, even a little bit, know it already. But young people, who are just very young, between like 20 and 30, even 20 and 40, for them there has to be a guide, and a guide who is fairly free from this. Free from indulging in sexuality. And then it will be easier. There will be attraction, but they will not feel the need to express it sexually. Attraction has many forms, and I think it is possible through meditation not to have this very strong urge to express yourself in a sexual way. That has become possible here, and people don’t believe it. They say ‘How is it possible with young people?’ Or if it is then they are suppressed, and there must be a lot of tension in their minds. But that is not true. There will be desire; desires come all the time, but we talk about that. And we are not saying that you should never have any relationship with anybody, but then for that you need a different space. So you learn first to go deep into meditation, and learn whatever else there is to learn, and then you decide. And then you will be more ready for that kind of life. So this is not easy to handle.
There’s a part at the beginning of The Republic, by Plato, in which Socrates is talking to an old man about aging, and he asks him if he misses his sexual urges, or laments their extinguishing, and the old man says that it is like “being free of a cruel and arbitrary master.”
That is my experience also. It took me years to actually go deep enough in meditation to clearly experience it, that it is true. But I had no guide, so it took me much longer. I tell these people: ‘I am telling you from my experience that you can experience more beauty, a greater aesthetic sense if you express your love for anybody in other forms, and in a sexual way only if you want to settle down and have a family.’
How do you think the work of APV is different from that of a traditional NGO?
NGOs, when you ask them what they are doing, and when you see their work, they want to ensure that people have enough food, so enough income, so they may do income-generating activities. If they are doing agriculture they want to improve that. They want the children to go to school. They want them to have a good education and good health and good drinking water and good living conditions and so on. But that is all any animal needs. Food, protection, shelter. Animals also need all of that. So what is it that makes us human? What is our potential as human beings? There have been human beings like Einstein and Buddha. So APV’s mission, and before that my mission was to know, before I die, who I am. Is it just eat, drink, and be merry, or is it something else? What is that something else? What are the mystics talking about? Can I catch a glimpse of that in this lifetime? That was my mission. So when APV became a reality it became APV’s mission also. I decided I will continue doing all of this because it is an extension of what I am doing myself. I will do it with the teachers, with the children, with everybody. This is the philosophy. We want to explore ourselves, and we want to go deeper and deeper into that infinite. We have a feeling that by trying all of these things we are feeling enriched already. In this way it is very different from the NGOs.
In an NGO there’s no new conception of the world. It’s merely how can we increase the world as it is now?
Yes. They are not challenging any of the systems. The NGOs, when they want to do good everywhere, they, say, back the government because the government is everywhere in a country, the government has infrastructures. They don’t challenge those infrastructures. And there is something wrong with all of the systems. I think all of the systems today- economic, political, technological- are there to keep human beings sane enough so that there is some semblance of order on the surface. They are not talking about a new humanity. They are not talking about this flowering of what is hidden inside us. They can’t afford to do that.
They operate from top-down: just give. APV wants to start from bottom-up, to change the foundation of being.
And you can’t replicate a school like APV everywhere. Conceptually you can, if you have those kinds of people. But then to prepare those kinds of people, you need different structures. You cannot do that through your machines, the way you produce a teacher today, through this Bachelor’s of Education or Master’s of Education degrees. You read this stuff and then you become a good teacher, and there is no spiritual journey there at all. So without that it is not going to be possible. But then the people ask: ‘Isn’t it only very few children?’ And we say: ‘Even if it is only ten children, it doesn’t matter.’ They have quality. At least you are helping those ten children to go within. And if you are working with ten million children, but not helping them in that way, then in what way are you helping them? They would survive even otherwise. I mean, from a spiritual perspective there is no difference between a businessman earning millions of rupees and someone who is breaking stones on the roadside but earning enough money to eat. Your body is functioning in a different way, the surface of your mind is functioning in a different way; that’s all. The deeper question has nothing to do with this surface reality.
What qualities do you think need to be present in order to replicate an APV in another place?
There has to be one person who is taking the main initiative, who is responsible for all this. And they must have this as the mission: that I want to know who I am at the very core, at the very center, and I want to help others in this journey. Then if resource persons are needed, this person will have the intelligence to find those kinds of people, and all of them will have that spark, to some degree. We were offered help from many sources. From some filmmaker, some artist, some this, some that, and each time we asked this question: is this person interested in the inner journey? And if they said no, we said ‘sorry, we don’t need your art or your whatever.’ Because that we can do without. Children cannot mix colors as well as an artist; doesn’t matter. But to not have that quality and then to walk into classes and to interact with the children, you are going to spread a very low-density kind of consciousness, which is going to be very harmful in a subtle way. So we didn’t want that. Many times these big officers come; one time there were fourteen, I think. IES, top-level officers. So they didn’t want to sit on the floor, and they told one of the teachers: ‘We need at least two chairs.’ There were two very senior people. And this teacher was a bit nervous, and she came to me- I saw her holding a chair. I said: ‘Is there something wrong with their backs?’ And she said she didn’t know, and I told her not to bring any chairs, that I would ask them. Maybe they sensed it, and I saw everybody sitting down. Then they were using their mobiles, so I shouted, I said no mobiles, please, until the assembly’s over. One of them maybe, he didn’t say it, but inside he became very furious, because he was this top person. But later somebody told me that he was saying we were communists; there is no sense of respecting the superior people. I said that, no, it is not a disrespect to sit on the ground. Teachers are sitting on the ground, and in my eyes they are the most superior people. You are superior because the government chose you to be there; you are not superior for us. I don’t know why I’m saying this; what were we originally talking about?
The qualities needed to replicate APV.
Right. So this inner journey, if a person has a sense of that. The person may not be skilled, may know nothing about education; doesn’t matter. But he has this quality. Then he will find other people, those who are interested in that quality. And somebody will be good at math, somebody will be good at music, and so on. All of the skills can be taken care of.
Do you feel that being so close to nature helps in the school?
It does help, in a big way. But if one doesn’t have this, like in a city, then we will have to make some extra effort to create nature around us. If it is an extremely congested place then it is going to be tough. But I would say it will still be better, to have a school with this approach, an inner journey approach, than a traditional school, even in a harsh place. They will transform it. But ideally there will be nature around us, nice sunshine, a breeze.