This article is the result of a study, by teachers and parents at Shibumi, of a letter from the book The Whole Movement of Life is Learning. I have taken long excerpts from the letter and interspersed them with my own reflections as a teacher.
The letter is the thirty-third in the book and is titled Communication. It is one of the relatively few letters addressed to students, although it is really equally interesting to adults in its examination of the nature of learning anddiscipline, and the place of rules in a community of people living together.
You come to these schools with your own background, traditional or free, with discipline or without discipline, obeying or reluctant and disobeying, in revolt or conforming. Your parents are either negligent or very diligent about you. You come with all this trouble, with broken families, uncertain or assertive, wanting your way or shyly acquiescing but inwardly rebelling.
This one paragraph covers the vast variety of backgrounds that students (and indeed teachers) might have come from and how, whatever the background, they sustain their own form of conditioning. It is interesting to note the very different behaviour patterns that students bring with them, from the assertive to the uncertain and the outwardly acquiescing but inwardly rebelling. One sees all these patterns and their variations among the students.
In these schools you are free, and all the disturbances of your young lives come into play. You want your own way and no one in the world can have his or her own way. Either you learn to adjust with understanding, with reason, or you are broken by the new environment you have entered.
One can easily see how these patterns play out in the relatively free space that the school provides. This is particularly true of the present times when individualism is emphasized at home and in society. No one in the world can have his or her own way. This is not an assertion of the superior forces ranged against the individual but merely a statement of fact. Either you learn to adjust with understanding or you are broken by the new environment. Again, this is not a threat about a particular environment but a factual statement. Adjusting with understanding is neither conformity nor resistance and therefore there is constant learning involved in it.
In these schools the educators explain things carefully, and you can discuss with them, and see why certain things have to be done. When one lives in a small community of teachers and students, it is necessary that they have a good relationship with each other that is friendly, affectionate, and has a certain quality of attentive comprehension.
'Attentive comprehension' obviously applies to both the teacher and the student. The teacher may be impatient or indulgent but neither is the act of attentive comprehension in which alone communication occurs, whether it is about learning a subject or learning right behaviour. We often feel we do not have the time to nurture this quality of listening, but surely only such a communication engenders the movement of learning, and therefore order, which is freedom. Is it a matter of time, or is it impatience, which is focused on the result and therefore not attentive to what is actually taking place in the relationship? It is then that there is a movement of cooperation, and rules become unnecessary. Perhaps this is seen as impractical when one has to deal with larger numbers, but that is a strange criticism indeed. The problem is not in what is being pointed to but the environment one insists on retaining.
No one, especially nowadays living in a free society, likes rules, but rules become totally unnecessary when you and the grown-up educator understand, not only verbally and intellectually, but with your heart, that certain disciplines are necessary. The word discipline has been ruined by the authoritarians. Each craft has its own discipline. The word discipline means … to learn, not conform, not to rebel, but to learn about your own reactions, and background, and how those limit you and to go beyond them.
Rules are unnecessary when there is attentive comprehension. If this is understood, we do not need to agonize over freedom and the need for order or with converting rules into contracts and agreements, but enquire into whether there has been attentive comprehension of what had been talked about and if not, why not. It immediately demands on the part of the adult as well as the student a quality of integrity, which can only deepen communication and relationship.
The essence of learning is constant movement without a fixed point … The mind that is constantly learning is beyond all knowledge. So you are here to learn as well as to communicate. Communication is not only the exchange of words, however articulate and clear they may be; it is much deeper than that. Communication is learning from each other, understanding each other; and this comes to an end when you have taken a definite stand about some trivial or not fully thought out act.
Communication is learning from each other, understanding each other. It is not just the exchange of information, ideas or opinion. Thus, each act of relating is fresh and independent of the previous one. It is renewing itself and so can never be destroyed. Can this quality of communication be there even in the learning of skills and academic subjects? How is this to happen when it is indisputable that the teacher knows and the student does not?
The mind that is constantly learning is beyond all knowledge. This is true for the teacher as well as the student. The knowledge does not have to be forgotten, nor does there have to be pretence of not knowing in order to be at the same level as the student. In the state of learning there is neither the teacher nor the taught and the subtle movement of authority as one who knows and the other who does not is not there.
When one is young there is an urge to conform, not to feel out of things. To learn the nature and implications of conformity brings its own peculiar discipline. Please bear in mind that when we use the word discipline that both the student and the educator are in a relationship of learning, not assertion and acceptance. W hen this is clearly understood rules become unnecessary.
There is the natural conformity of the very young, in learning a language, in doing things. Perhaps this is not conformity at all but the movement of learning. Only later, when experiences begin to leave a residue does conformity, born out of the need for psychological security, begin. And the rebellion to those is merely the other side of the coin. To be in a state of learning about conformity is discipline. Can this begin to happen when one is still a child? Perhaps not. But surely, when one is a little older, the teacher and the student can learn together to be aware of the movement of thought and reaction. And this discipline can continue with increasing sophistication and depth throughout one's school life. This implies that the adult has this quality of learning about his own reactions so that the conversation is a genuine act of observation and not pontification.
You learn about the universe not out of pleasure or curiosity but out of your relationship to the world … We are not talking of learning about something, but the quality of mind that is willing to learn. You can learn how to become a good carpenter or a gardener or an engineer. When you have acquired skill in these, you have narrowed down your mind into a tool that can perhaps function skillfully in a certain pattern. This gives a certain security financially, and perhaps that is all one wants.
It is this relating, which is respect, which sustains order because knowledge is kept in its right place. In this there is no need for knowledge to be contained lest it overstep its boundaries. Learning, order and freedom become the one movement of discipline. So communication is learning from each other and learning is from relationship with the world and each other. It is this relationship that is order, and relationship is not merely a movement of thought. One's whole being is involved in it. There is respect, care, affection and sensitivity. This is the stuff of deep ecology and goes beyond stewardship and accounting. It is this sensitivity that will refrain from destruction of the environment and one's fellow creatures.
Discipline is not control or subjugation. Learning implies attention; that is, to be diligent. It is only the negligent mind that is never learning. It is forcing itself to accept when it is shallow, careless, indifferent. A diligent mind is actively watching, observing, never sinking into second-hand values and beliefs. A mind that is learning is a free mind, and freedom demands the responsibility of learning.
Freedom cannot be divided from learning. To ask which comes first is to not understand this fact. So the laying of the right foundation springs from the movement of learning itself. Freedom is therefore at the very beginning, as Krishnamurti has pointed out so very often. It is not the reward for following a particular pattern in the name of discipline but is inherent in the act of learning about oneself and one's reactions and background, and going beyond them in the swift action of insight.
This piece was initially read together by a small group of parents and teachers of Shibumi. I have found it a very effective way of creating a dialogue where there is space for free-ranging discussions as well as coming back to the original theme and examining it at greater and greater depth. Krishnamurti's voice becomes one of the several voices in the dialogue, and there is no feelingof learning from an authority.
I then felt like reading it out to our older students, ages thirteen and above. It was interesting to observe how deeply it spoke to them—as if addressed to each individual and not merely a general letter. This is not surprising considering how his public talks had the same quality of addressing each individual through the pointing out of facts which are true of each one of us. This is of course one of the several ways in which there can be discussions about fundamental issues and relating them to one's own life. There are other situations where such issues are discussed in a group or individually and the teacher and the student are learning together to look at the many complex issues of life. Learning about oneself need never be an abstraction.
Elsewhere, Krishnamurti has said that we are trained not to observe purely. It is interesting to note that pure observation is not a matter of training but occurs naturally when knowledge does not interfere in the act of observation. As always, the approach is simple and the depths unfathomable.