Consciousness is the primary datum of existence, of human existence, and perhaps of all existence. It is in consciousness that the source of our difficulties lies and it must, therefore, be in consciousness that solutions can be found. This truth, though simple and obvious when seen, is nonetheless rarely the focus of our attention. Is this because of our addiction to knowledge?
Particularly in the Western world, stemming from Greek civilization, there has been an age-old insistence on knowledge as the vehicle of meaning in our culture. The prodigious advances in our understanding of the laws that underlie the workings of nature (physis) have brought us to a point where that very knowledge can either help to liberate or destroy us utterly. When we consider the thing learned as a basis for action, we are engaging in a certain kind of mental process which, by its very nature, is limited and which cannot produce a whole response. This is basic to the nature of knowledge itself, since knowledge is always about something—hence, always at one remove—implying an actor and something acted upon. Such action, therefore, must be partial.
The fact is, knowledge resides in consciousness: consciousness is the generative force. To treat knowledge as if it were independent and then build a civilization on it is to separate the child from the parent and hope it will live a normal healthy life. It simply won’t. Knowledge must find its proper place, rather than usurp the entire kingdom, which is currently the case throughout the world. ‘You are what you know, ’ as a TV advertisement says. It is the common fallacy of humankind.
Knowledge moves outwards towards the world in its necessary grasping of external facts. And, what it builds it also becomes, including the notion of a separate‘self’ that, once established, has a life of its own, contiguous and co-extensive with the world it builds. Reinforced by parents, school, Church and State, it re-engages and perpetuates the ongoing circus of struggle, conflict and pain. That knowledge will not free us from this—that, on the contrary, it helps keep it going—is the starting point for this inquiry.
It should be obvious that no solution from without is ever going to get to the root of the problem. What, then, will? What, then, can? Not more knowledge, certainly. It is important that we realize that the current academic disciplines, with their categories and subdivisions, are themselves the product 8 of particularization. However great, they are fragments in themselves. And there is no move from there to the view of the whole. It requires a different point of departure.
One possibility is a study of world-views, by which we mean not particulars, but the general vision a people maintains and which makes it behave in a particular way. To take a simple, crude example, it will alter people’s behaviour very much whether the flash of lightning in the sky is seen as the wrath of the Gods or as a discharge of electricity: they will not be living in the same world. Thus, at all levels, it is our world-view that shapes our perceptions, and it is the task of education to examine that world-view. In India, for instance, there are the so-called tribals; the USA has its Native Americans. Their world-views are vastly different from those of the average modern man, so much so that the dominance of the latter has severely traumatized and afflicted their existence. This is not to put the clock back, it is to look again, as in general we have been doing since the sixties. And looking again, which is reflection, is the first step towards a movement in wholeness, which requires reason but is not limited by it. This movement in wholeness is that of consciousness itself when it realises its own primordial nature and that separative thinking is one activity within it. This is not to deny the value of thinking—quite the contrary, it gives it its proper place—but it opens up the possibility for there to be many modes of consciousness, not just those I associate with ‘me’. Surely, this is the beginning of self-knowledge.
Of all the paradigm shifts we speak of, surely that which constitutes the basis of education is the one we should address first and foremost. The shift from knowledge to self-knowledge as the basis for education in the twenty-first century is the one seemingly simple, most necessary shift. If we could all turn our minds in that direction, rather than perpetuate the given way of doing things, we would be sounding the death-knell of the dictatorship of knowledge. And this in itself will ignite the revolution, the inward revolution, of which K spoke.
But, to arrest the mind and have it look again is just the beginning: more is required. For reflection is also turning back, as light is turned back from a clear mirror. It is the beginning of a journey to the core of our existence, that existence which is simultaneously present in the whole wide spread of common consciousness. Wherever I look, then, I will see myself, for what is being revealed is one consciousness in action, whatever name or label it bears: history, literature, science or language. This one essential step is the crossing-over, the threshold of a journey that begins and ends in the limitless. It can never be predicated, much less given to another, but we should all be aware of its central importance and work towards making it a living reality.
The threshold of that journey is perception. That is why the new focus needs to be on how one sees, rather than what one accumulates as knowledge. This shifting of the emphasis from accumulation/ application to perspective/ perception, while seemingly minor, is actually quite vast. Not only does it produce accelerated learning because, instead of atomized knowledge, there is a thematic matrix for the ‘facts of the case’; by placing the emphasis on how one sees, rather than on the knowledge itself, one leads the student away from the preconception that, in the end, it is really what he knows that counts. At the same time, without telling him so, one is conveying the message that how he sees is paramount. Though perspective and perception are not the same thing, it is clearly a step in the right direction, since it places the student, the learner, the subject, closer to the heart of things and consequently to his own ‘proper study, ’ himself. Courses of this kind have a prominent place in our schools but more— much more—needs to be done.
Consciousness is not only common, it is central. To move from that centrality outwards into knowledge, while not denying the importance of knowledge, is the proper task of education in this age. It is the terms and values that need to be changed: the centre, not the periphery. It is urgent to create a ‘middle ground, ’ one where the daily, immediate learning is conducive to the deeper quest.
By focusing on the matrix of consciousness (or by merely positing its centrality and moving from there to the absorption of knowledge, rather than holding knowledge as an absolute) we are making a monumental shift: we are placing the observer at the centre of our investigation; we are saying, ‘Yes, we are here, we are real, ’ not reducing ourselves to objects in an object-world. By simply doing this, we will see for ourselves not only the marvels of modern science, but also its disastrous consequences: alienation, exploitation, angst. We shall then move towards tackling the real problem, ourselves.
One approach which has been used with some success is to isolate a period in history—say, Shakespeare’sEngland— and to study everything that was current at the time: not only art and literature, but science (most revealing), sanitation, transportation, diseases and their treatments.‘To see the world in a blade of grass’: it’s allthere, if we know how to look. It doesn’t require the firmament and a telescope, though the firmament through a telescope is a good place to look. To break the mould and stimulate the imagination is the first essential step in this endeavour. Once the floodgates are open, the water will flow, and it will quickly become apparent that there is an alternative—living truth—to the mechanical, techno-computer-driven model of the mind and culture as we know them today. There is Life in its plenitude waiting to be lived.
We are not advocating a Luddite approach, since ‘the writing on the wall’ is in our own hand. What we are advocating is a turning-back—not in terms of time or nostalgia—but a movement in not-knowing, back to the source. Whether we look upon this as the dawn of consciousness, the origin of species, or where ‘we’ ourselves begin, it is generative of that inward turn without which no journey of discovery is possible. For, what Krishnamurti called the ‘new mind’ is obviously not new in terms of time; it isn’t something we can bring about. The fact is, however, it will never happen—and for others much less than for ourselves— if our focus is blurred and our premises unexamined. So long as we accept the current parameters, with their insistence on knowledge and the thought-ego-drive, we are betraying the mission K left us with. Inevitably, in this scenario, the schools become bourgeois.
We seem to feel and fear that the revolution may be dangerous; in fact, it may be the gentlest thing. It is just that all revolutions that have taken place hitherto have been conceived of and fought out on the field of separation. Once the unitive approach has been established and—more importantly—the unitive action has occurred, then the field is wide open for a different kind of living, a life in truth previously inconceivable. It is the wake-up call of the schools and foundations to enter this field and to champion its cause. Consciousness itself is its own live challenge.
Helen Keller remembered talking to a friend who had just returned from a long walk in the woods. When she asked her friend what she had observed, her friend replied, “Nothing in particular.”
“I wondered how it was possible, ” Helen said, “to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing of note. I who cannot see find hundreds of things: the delicate symmetry of a leaf, the smooth skin of a silver birch, the rough, shaggy bark of a pine.”