APV is a school that takes its cue from, proceeds from, the teachers in terms of establishing a community with the students in which the work of APV is made possible. Maybe you could start by describing the ideal make-up of a teacher for a place like APV.
I think the role of education should be this inner journey, evolution, and that is common to all human beings- teachers as well as students. So a teacher on this journey; only this person is qualified to be a teacher. And that gives the teacher the ideas for what to do with the students, because the teacher’s first job is to help the children evolve, and since the teacher is doing the same with himself or herself, it is a kind of single movement. The teacher is not living two lives; the teacher has no personal life and professional life, because for the teacher to live is to evolve. So I think that is the foundation; that it is not a profession for the teacher. However skilled the teacher may be, however clever the methods of teaching may be, that is not enough. But if the teacher has this inner journey, to begin with- and they need nothing else, no teaching methods, they don’t need to know what to do with the children, if they know what to do with himself of herself, this inner journey, that is how a teacher starts with the children. The teacher starts to help the children on this journey, which the teacher already knows, and then the rest will follow.
But there are many people that go on this inner journey, that are angled in this way towards self-reflection, but without the desire to teach. From where does this impulse to teach originate from?
I would say if this teacher is genuinely interested in children. If they are not interested they will be in an ashram or a cave somewhere else, because you can practice mindfulness in all kinds of places. But if the person has chosen to be here, with the children, it means that this person is interested in children. Now, it may be that person doesn’t know how to teach, and because of that is not interested in teaching, but if the person is interested in the inner journey of himself and that of the children, then the teacher will see how to help the child in every possible way. Just as we help ourselves- we find the right place in a room for meditation, the right kind of cushion, we do not want to indulge in activities that are distracting, and we help each other in facilitating this inner journey- the teacher will do the same with the children. Because the children are compelled by society, by parents, by the present set-up, to go through certain materials and acquire a certain kind of knowledge that is not true knowledge in the sense that it doesn’t help in the inner journey, per se, and so the teacher will have to modify it to make it useful, but the teacher realizes that in order to help the child in the inner journey the teacher will have to help the child in every possible way, including helping the child to go through those books in the syllabus, to make it interesting, to make it meaningful. And when we say meaningful, in the deepest sense we mean meaningful for the inner journey. And the teacher will definitely try to do that.
Do you feel it’s the role of the teacher to not teach in the conventional sense, imparting information, but to equip the child with a new set of eyes, eyes to see the world in this new way, that derives meaning from the phenomena of life?
Definitely. If we have the central goal, all the time, that we are here on this planet for this brief moment to evolve, and we are helping each other to evolve, then everything has to be made useful and meaningful for this inner evolution. Therefore the teacher is not merely interested in getting the child to pass the exam, to get good marks, to please the parents- the teacher is interested in evolution, expansion of the brain. Neurologically speaking, creating new neuron networks connecting remote areas of the brain, connecting the deep brain that is beyond time and space with the temporal brain that breathes with immediate things and immediate memory. So to make all of those connections helps in the inner journey, in meditation and evolution, because from one angle evolution means forming these fresh neuron networks, enlarging this network in the brain. And the teacher can do that in several ways, and for that kind of brain, which is evolving in that way, to master any material will not be difficult. Then it is possible that teachers and children can make material meaningful in many ways, which initially didn’t seem to be meaningful. It is possible because of this innate capacity to connect things. So one bit of knowledge in itself may not appear to be meaningful, but then this brain that deals with connections, that gets energy by connecting, will connect this information with many other things, and then that will make it interesting and more meaningful. I think that is what we are doing at APV. Things like history initially had no meaning to me. Why study things like that, especially about killing- this king killed that king and expanded his territory; in what way is it useful? But then we started making connections, and through those connections we could use those bits of information to convey a deep meaning. For instance, Alexander the Great and other kings; why were they such maniacs? Why were they killing so many people- to expand what? And then we saw it a psart of this urge for the unknown, for becoming more, becoming bigger, and so it can either lead you outside and to a bigger ego, or if you turn your direction inward spur you to want to touch the unknown inside you, which is infinite. The same energy drives both of these journeys. So then history became very interesting, you can relate it to other things, and then we started exploring the history of science. Not just history of war and politics, but the history of science’s evolution and the evolution of human beings’ understanding. It became quite interesting.
Do you feel that the teachers, in their inner journey, are themselves benefitted by the students, not merely that they help the students along their path?
It is an exchange of energy, and also of knowledge and skills. In some ways, children are far more advanced than teachers. For instance, music- a KG child can play a drum rhythmically when a 25 year old may not be able to do so. And many times these children sing so beautifully, in perfect tune, perfect rhythm, and some of the teachers can’t do that. And we treat music as probably the richest, most complex of all subjects. We don’t take it lightly, we don’t say automatically that math is more important than music. Neurologists say that music involves at least twelve areas of the brain simultaneously. That is probably what makes it so mysterious. And we learn music innately, instinctively. Similarly, areas related to the senses; a child sees more. ‘Madamji, look at that bird!’ And Madamji was looking that way, but didn’t notice that bird, and that gives the adult teachers this insight that children probably see more, they use their senses more deeply than adults. Also in meditation. Children take meditation very seriously. Some of the new teachers need time, and if children were not there they would take much longer, but they see that very small children, so innocent, who have never met anybody who meditated before, but they accept it so totally. And you can see change in their behavior, that it solves many of the problems of discipline. Here we hardly have any of those problems. Over the years they have disappeared, and I think it is because of the discipline that meditation gives you. So yes, it is a two-way street. The teachers learn a great deal from the children- they get inspiration from them, they get energy and inspiration from them, and that enriches their teaching as well.
It seems like you’re saying that much of education is, paradoxically, a process of forgetting.
These two things must happen together: enabling the brain to deal with memory, to deal with the present situation, to meet intellectual challenges expertly, and at the same time the ability to transcend knowledge, to transcend this memory of information. I think both of these things are important. The deep brain does not need memory; memory probably interferes with our contact with the deep brain, because the deep brain is beyond space and time. So you need a mechanism to help children into that area beyond space and time, where there are no words. But at the same time the child should be able to use words very effectively, when needed, because in the outside world we need language and knowledge.
APV’s emphasis on linkages, of networks of knowledge seems itself to be a sort of transcendence of information. The idea that knowledge and meaning do not reside in one place, is not so simple as that. That knowledge is not something that can be recited but is rather something you move through, live in.
And connections change the thing immediately. I think it applies to anything- you look at a tree from one angle, at one time, and then you look at the tree from a different angle at a different time and they seem to be two different things. So this can apply even to things that seem to be more or less static when it comes to knowledge and its linkage to other bits of other knowledge. Any new connection will make it new. Any bit of information will reveal a different facet once you connect it to the new area. And if there are many areas that you are connecting it with then it is going to be a totally different thing. And each time you do it, the same bit of information will become a totally different thing.
Like the story of the blind men feeling the elephant.
Yes, because they are working in isolation. If they were able to connect information, even being blind, they would probably arrive at a more holistic picture of the elephant. If it is the same creature, but it has so many characteristics, then what is it? And they would probably arrive at a much better definition than they arrived at in isolation.
You mentioned before the full commitment that is required of a teacher at APV, the dissolution between the boundaries of personal and professional life. It seems to me that this sort of commitment requires an immense type of strength and determination, to sort of go into isolation by joining this community. Where do you think this determination comes from in the teachers? Do you feel it is innate, or can it emerge through practice?
I think it emerges. As a possibility, all human beings have a lot of strength, but then we don’t know until we get an opportunity. Actually, the people who come here most of the time know nothing about APV beforehand. Some of them have heard from other teachers, old teachers, that it’s an interesting place. And I don’t think they get attracted initially by the idea of meditation. They may get attracted because of music, and people living together, but I don’t think they know anything about meditation. Most of them don’t know how hard the life is here, in terms of being busy from 4 in the morning until bedtime, and the whole day is so busy. Some of them later confess that that first week they kept thinking ‘Will I be able to make it here?’ But by the second week it became slightly easier, and by one month they forgot their initial difficulties. It is difficult when you analyze it in terms of what you do throughout the day, when you wake up and then and then- that makes it sound very tough. But if you measure every day in terms of experience, how you feel at the end of the day, there doesn’t seem to be any problem, there is energy. Some days may be tiring, a little bit, but then it is refreshing also. One good sitting and you get refreshed. So yes, I think this evolution starts happening after teachers have lived here for some time. Then there are some special cases where a teacher may come with some other agenda- this doesn’t happen very often, but once in a while it may happen that the teacher is not very interested in teaching but wants a space for a few months and then wants to go somewhere else, and they stumble into APV. That person will find it very tough, unless the person falls in love with meditation and then forgets this idea that I’m here for only two or three months. But there have been people, and they found it tough.
How do you feel that a place like APV would function without this close community? Say if it was in a city or some place where the teachers weren’t living together. Would that take away a large part of what makes APV work here?
Definitely. The community element is vital. Without that, I don’t think APV can happen the way it is happening here. If not living together 24 hours a day, then we may have to create this community aspect in a different way, in a city. Suppose we had different living spaces, and people came by bus or car, but then they can stay longer than the school time in the school. After school is over they can decide to stay two or three more hours, and they meditate and probably they can cook there together so they don’t have to rush home to eat. They can stay even up to supper time, and they eat there, and they discuss things. So those three or four hours can give them a lot of energy. Something like that will have to be done in that case. As long as we have water-tight areas of life, divided, that for these many hours I am a husband in this house, and being a husband in this house has no connection at all with mindfulness or with any of the things at school, the school at that time is outside, and then I move to school which is an entirely different space- it won’t work.
The linkage that is central to the educational philosophy at APV begins internally.
Yes. So if a person has this inner journey, and is married and living with children somewhere, even then this person’s lifestyle at home will be very connected with what is happening in school- mindfulness and music and discussion. And his wife may also be a teacher, ideally in the same school, but even if she’s not she’s interested and she asks him questions. And their children will ideally be in the same school. So through those things we can minimize friction between the school and the rest of the life, and we can create a kind of harmony, a flow, that where you live is not different from the school. Something like this.
Do you feel that it’s even possible to teach this idea of linkages, of networks of information, if one is not living that internally?
Yes, but only in a superficial way, and the person will have to work very hard to create those linkages, and the person will not be able to feel instinctively, naturally, those connections. Those connections will be more intellectual, and there will be less emotion and certainty, or meaning, or power. But I would say if those linkages are coming spontaneously, then they seem so natural, and then there is energy in that, and you are not spending any extra energy in creating those linkages- it happens automatically. So there is a huge difference between intellectually trying to create those links and naturally creating them. I have seen in some supposedly good schools teachers working very hard, genuine teachers, spending hours and hours on creating a good lesson plan. And in the end they get so frustrated- it didn’t work! I was at a very prestigious school in South India, and I knew two teachers who were working so hard, and whenever I met them after class they were pulling their hair out. ‘These brats are not interested at all! I spent so much time!’ A math teacher told me one day: ‘I started with interior decoration; I brought in ideas from all areas to introduce this concept, and they were not interested.’ And then I thought, why not? And it is because the person is making an effort to create those linkages, to make it interesting- it is not happening spontaneously.
And children are gifted at seeing through insincerity.
Yes. It is the same with behavior. I read in a book that if you are a KG teacher then you should enter the room before the children, you should stand at the doorway smiling, receiving every child. We never do that here- our children are already there before us, opening the rooms and arranging things. And many times the teacher is not found smiling at all, but then the children know whether it is just a smile on the face, or whether you’re being is smiling, even if your face stays the same. So it is all pretense then, acting. A lot of a teacher’s training is how to act as a teacher, not how to be a teacher. And if you are talking about how to be a teacher, drop all acting. Then it is the other way around- you don’t need to learn anything from anywhere else. You are with the children, and you are evolving, and evolution is what education is all about, which you already know because you are practicing it all the time. So then you are helping the children to evolve. Then from that angle you will re-evaluate everything, the syllabus and the time-table and the teaching activities. We had teachers who had hardly any knowledge in terms of bookish knowledge, they had hardly read anything. Even their Hindi was shaky. English of course they didn’t know, and they knew nothing else in addition. But they became, slowly, very successful teachers. Their children were so interested in learning. Then you discover that you are not giving the children anything in terms of knowledge- you don’t need to do that. You are helping the child to learn. The child opens up and starts exploring and is interested in learning this and this and this, and then the teacher follows. Many times, the teacher may be behind; the children may have more information and may be more skilled in many academic ways than the teacher. But that’s okay. The teacher is helping them, and it works.
All of the best teachers I’ve had in my life, I can remember virtually nothing of the information they taught me; what has stuck with me is their attitude, their approach to learning.
I think that is what ultimately matters. As human beings, we are all so immense- all we need is somebody who can make me feel that, that I can do many things. With humility and not with ego, because ego is when you see these bits of information as power- you will see it as power when you don’t have real power. Real power has nothing to do with bits of knowledge. But bits of knowledge become very useful when you have this other thing, and from that inner energy you look at whatever you acquire from outside and can give them all kinds of shapes and apply these things in many different areas.
Currently the problem is that the very first thing is missing from educational practices and institutions, the idea that knowledge is for evolution. If that is missing, then knowledge is for the acquisition of information. Fifty years ago it may have been relevant to some extent, but today, in the age of the internet, it is not. All you need is a small mobile phone and you can know almost anything from there. Why do you need to spend so much time stuffing things in your head? That I think has no meaning today, the idea that education is for the acquisition of information. For acquisition you don’t need a teacher or a school or a college; it can be acquired directly from the internet. But if you say that knowledge is for evolution, no amount of technology can give you evolution. For that you will really have to do something, and for that children need help. They need help in evolution, and then you can look at other things, syllabus and exam- those things become so easy.
It begins with the idea that education is change.
Right. Change in an evolutionary sense which will need to be explained. We are not talking about a richer brain; we are talking about a different species of brain. Which is what mystics say, that you are not the same kind of person afterwards. Through this inner journey you create an entirely different kind of brain. In the decades to come there may be machines to measure the progress of changes in the brain. And we may see that the difference is like between a fish and a tree- so huge that you become a totally different creature. That is what I mean by evolution; I don’t mean being more efficient in the same old way, but this ability to drop knowledge when you don’t need it. If we were to put it briefly and precisely; this quality of having a brain utterly quiet when it is not needed. And then when I want to use knowledge I have the skill and efficiency to use it in the most effective way. These two qualities.
It seems the change you’re talking about is an increased responsiveness to the world. You become a more sensitive instrument.
Many people who don’t know what we’re talking about will say: ‘How will this person be able to be successful in the outside world, where there is a lot of competition and negativity?’ The idea is that this person will be much more intelligent in any situation. In any situation, if anybody can survive it will be this person, because this person is very intelligent- he will see everything in one instant. ‘Okay, this is what is happening here- so what needs to be done?’ And this person’s decision will be much more intelligent a decision than anybody else’s. Because of the way the world is today, we need more people who are able to go through this maze, these many pathways, amidst all the negativity, and stay uncorrupted, stay innocent, and hopefully change the world a little bit wherever they go.
Most educational philosophies speak of preparing people for the world by giving them all this information, and sending them out into the world with this knowledge, when in fact carrying that information can make them less prepared, less able to respond to the world as it is- they become rigid.
Yes, and even the simplest things demonstrate that. Suppose I study all the computers that exist today- I know everything- and then next year there may be a totally different kind of computer, and this knowledge may be of no use, in fact an impediment to understanding this new computer. Fresh eyes may be better at understanding the new rules, while I am cluttered with old rules. Another analogy: you don’t start feeding rice and dal and chapatti to a one-day old child, with the logic that after six months, after all, the child has to eat all those things, so why not start training them from day one? For the first six-months it is mother’s milk, ideally, and nothing else. After that, the same thing happens with giving birth. A girl has to worry about that after puberty, and not before that; you don’t start training her from day one. The time has not come yet.
I once read about a study done by some psychologists that compared the performances of two stock portfolios, one picked by a very complicated algorithm that took into account reams and reams of past performance, and the other picked by a person based on some extremely simple guiding principle, something like pick stocks that have gone up in the last six months, or something like that. And they found that the simple rule stock portfolios consistently outperformed the algorithm’s. Being overloaded with past information seemed to make it sluggish towards current information. One contrary piece of information and this whole edifice has to shift, whereas the simple thing is flexible.
And I think meditation helps in that a great deal, because every time we do a sitting, if it is a successful sitting, you have transcended all your past knowledge. Whatever you accumulated, in those moments it is gone, you are empty.