A s I sit here on the back porch of Pine Cottage on a lovely late-summer afternoon, I feel a deep sense of tranquillity because I’m alone and yet enveloped in nature’s womb, soothed by the swooshing sounds of the leaves as they tremble and shake in the soft, warm breeze. My mind jumps from the peace and beauty I experience now in the present to thoughts of excitement and some anxiety aroused by the impending approach of a new school-year at Oak Grove on the other side of the valley, my sacred place of learning and discovery. I can hear someone listening to an audio recording of a Krishnamurti talk inside the Study Centre, and subtly, the familiar cadence of the muted voices reminds me that I am in a truly sacred place, dedicated to those serious enough to boldly explore truth and bravely enquire into the meaning of life. This is why learning for me is of the utmost importance, because I’ve realized that it is what gives significance to my whole existence. I therefore feel that teaching can only be a sharing of such learning with others, my younger companions, which makes it not only a matter of affection rather than intellectuality, but also something profoundly simple and human.

Awareness of this essential qualification leads me to reflect on what is— for me, at least—the relative unimportance of teaching methodologies and techniques. Far more important than any particular way in which a teacher may seek to fulfil her function is the state of her heart—whether it is full of love, or empty and given over to abstract ideas and ideals instead. If one were to suggest that there are five degrees of general teaching-methodology with one being utterly unstructured, free play and five being rigorously regimented and rote-memorization, would a teacher necessarily fail to evoke a genuine interest in learning in her students if she were to make use of one extreme method or the other? If she really loved her students and cared for their well-being, would it make a great deal of difference whether she taught them using rote-memory exercises (such as memorizing poems or speeches) or just laughed and played games with them for part of an afternoon? Or would there really be much of a difference if she stuck to the middle course and balanced both approaches?

I think that our success in teaching relies almost entirely on the relationship the teacher has, not only to the students, but to herself, to life as a whole, and to nature. Krishnamurti said somewhere that the teacher is the centre of the classroom, and I take this powerful observation to be very important as it indicates that, if I am to call myself an educator, I need to learn about myself —daily, hourly, from moment to moment. In order to do that I must be able to look honestly at my thoughts, my ideals, my judgments and assumptions, and then, having learned of them fully, to put all of that aside, naturally and easily, in order to learn. This requires me to understand that I am, in point of fact, ‘nobody’, that I do not know what it means to be a ‘good’ teacher at a Krishnamurti school, nor do I know how I can ‘awaken intelligence’ in others. I am only in a position to learn, but not in order to ‘know’ anything necessarily. This not knowing doesn’t exempt me from the urgency I feel burning within me to hold a special space for these questions to blossom, both for myself and for my students. I feel that, being in such a state of nothingness, I can hold questions open without the need for any concrete answer, prescription, or how-to method that might otherwise strengthen the images I may have of myself and my assumed role.

For instance, there is a very persistent question I continue to ask myself: “What does Krishnamurti mean by stating somewhere that ‘religion is at the core of education’?” I know that this, of course, does not refer to organized religion with all of its rituals, beliefs and superstitious practices. So if not that, then what is this ‘religious essence’ he speaks of?

After recently reading Mark Lee’s new book, Knocking at the Open Door (2014), and discussing it with others, I was quite surprised to learn that Krishnamurti repeatedly and explicitly qualified his understanding of education as ‘religious’ (op. cit. pp. 137 and 146–48). To the casual reader of Krishnamurti’s books that might appear somewhat perplexing at first, but I suddenly realized that it made perfect sense. That’s why it’s so hard to describe to a stranger his teaching on education—because it’s ultimately quite as non-intellectual (non-verbal), as utterly inexplicable, as the Buddhist notion of ‘enlightenment’ or the Christian ‘salvation by grace’. All those who talk and write on such things don’t necessarily know anything about it!We each have to experience it for ourselves, but how? Krishnamurti would say, firstly, by not asking “how”; just do it. Okay, so let’s try that!

What is religion, or ‘religious education’? In the first place, it must not be what people say it is or what we think it is. What did Krishnamurti himself say (not that he’s an authority!)? In Education and the Significance of Life (1953) he wrote:

Religious education in the true sense is to encourage the child to understand his own relationship to people, to things and to nature. There is no existence without relationship; and without self-knowledge, all relationship, with the one and with the many, brings conflict and sorrow. Of course, to explain this fully to a child is impossible; but if the educator and the parents deeply grasp the full significance of relationship, then by their attitude, conduct and speech they will surely be able to convey to the child, without too many words and explanations, the meaning of a spiritual life (pp. 37–38).

From that I gather that religious education means learning to know oneself in relation to the whole environment (see ibid. pp. 53 and 55–56)—that is, holistically and unitively, in terms of both the One and the Many, or ‘God’ and ‘Nature’. Now this is a really heady notion, so, “Of course”, to explain it “fully to a child is impossible”. But earlier, on page 29, Krishnamurti had written, more positively, that “surely, it is possible to help the individual to perceive the enduring values of life, without conditioning”. In other words, “surely”, it is, or must be, somehow possible to do what we thought to be impossible, to teach what we don’t even know. But how do we do this? By deeply comprehending “the full significance” of religious education—that is, by learning, ourselves, who we are —and then, by our own attitude, conduct, and speech, we teachers “will surely be able to convey to the child, without too many words and explanations, the meaning of a spiritual life”.

I stress the words in the last clause to point out that Krishnamurti is more intent on assuring us that this can be done, that we can teach our children the real meaning of religion, than on explaining to us in so many words how we are to do it, according to what pattern of ideas or standards. Because we must find that out for ourselves; we must grow into it naturally, with creativity, not by imitation or conformity. Religious education, then, is teaching by learning together, not by giving explanations or formulations of some goal and then devising methods and procedures to reach it. This involves a kind of deep, spiritual communion between the teacher and her students and that, I think, is what Krishnamurti means by describing it as ‘religious’.

It seems to me that sitting with a question like ‘What does Krishnamurti mean by stating somewhere that religion is at the core of education?’, is of the utmost importance to a teacher at any Krishnamurti school, since these schools were founded for the purpose of awakening intelligence not only in the students attending the school but, perhaps even more crucially, in its staff members. So what is ‘religion’ to me? Does it play a role in why I am at this school, why I travelled across the country to be here? Surely, it has everything to do with it and yet I suppose I would prefer to give it another name, such as love.

As I reflect on my first year at Oak Grove, love is the only word that comes to my mind that expresses what I experienced with my new school family, and it is what I would credit all of my learning to, as well. I am in a place where I’m allowed to love my fellow-learners, and that is precisely what is happening! Beyond that, do I really know what love is? Or, for that matter, what it looks like in practice? The moment I try to describe an experience in which love is present, I somehow seem to spoil it or turn it into something on a pedestal. As Krishnamurti would put it, “we’ve made love into such a shoddy affair”. And yet, surely, love is the essence of what we mean by religion, and the very condition of education. At Oak Grove School we call it ‘the Art of Caring and Relationship’, and this is at the heart of what makes the school so special and unique. But are we really living in this way with each other as colleagues as wholeheartedly as we might? I wonder if more care needs to be put into approaching our relationships with each other as fellow teachers with the same learning mind that the student has with the teacher and vice-versa. Can we hope to ‘awaken intelligence’ in our children without doing so ourselves in our relationships with each other?

Another thought I had was that if something is truly religious, then one would be willing to give one’s whole life and self to it. I feel that way about learning, especially in a place like Oak Grove, which is why I find it so easy to put the ego, myself, aside and probe deeply into my relationships with those whom I work with. I ask myself, as well as others, do we really care about this? Are we ready to give our whole lives to it? Are we willing to question all that we do, think and feel? Can dialogue occur without the motive of persuading others of one’s own way of thinking, and would that not be a religious activity? And would that not be education in the highest sense?

The way to enter the religious in education with my students often takes the form of a dialogue. Following is a list of some of the questions that most inspired lively dialogue in my classroom last year:

  • What are my fears and how do they keep me from seeing the truth?

  • How am I violent in my daily life?

  • What is it to care about someone or something?

  • What does it mean to listen with one’s whole body?

  • What happens when I compare myself to someone else?

  • What is the difference between learning and collecting information?

  • Why does the mind constantly seek entertainment?

  • What is intelligence and can it be learned from a book?

  • Does competition cloud my ability to see what is? How does it do or not do so?
  • What is the difference between pure observation and judgement?

  • Do I know what it means to love?

  • What quality of attention does silence bring?

  • What is mindfulness?

  • What is my relationship to nature?

  • Can there be freedom without order?

  • Does school prepare one for life?

  • Can I watch my thoughts as I watch a cloud pass by in the sky?

  • Why does one so often resort to violence before peace?

  • What is meditation and does it really have any place in my life?

  • Does every question need an answer or can I just sit with the question?

I imagine I’ll be discovering similar or entirely different questions with my upcoming class this year. But, unlike planning a math or science lesson, to look into the future and determine such activities for a group of students I haven’t even met yet would be pointless. It would show that I was putting the means before the end without even knowing the end. All one can do is to be aware of those opportunities for real learning to blossom on their own and to allow space and time for them as they present themselves.

What I do feel is important to consider are ways to make opportunities for my students to sit quietly—or, as some may call it, to meditate. I also would like to bring in some of my recent experiences with chanting and yoga asanas, since I’ve lately had the privilege of learning how such rhythmic sound and movement, combined with deep breathing, can bring about further awareness of and learning about oneself. But what I insist upon is that I’ll only be sharing with my students what I am myself learning, because I recognize that my role and responsibility, as the ‘centre’ of our classroom, is to offer to my young fellow-learners the opportunity to discover their own sense of the religious essence of life.