Letters to The Schools 2
Letters to The Schools Volume 2 15th November 1983
By watching perhaps you learn more than from books. Books are necessary to learn a subject whether it be mathematics, geography, history, physics or chemistry. The books have printed on a page the accumulated knowledge of scientists, of philosophers, of archaeologists and so on. This accumulated knowledge, which one learns in school and then through college or university, if one is lucky enough to go to university, has been gathered through the ages, from the very ancient of days. There is great accumulated knowledge from India, from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Greeks, the Romans and of course the Persians. In the Western world as well as in the Eastern world this knowledge is necessary to have a career, to do any job, whether mechanical or theoretical, practical or something that you have to think out, invent. This knowledge has brought about a great deal of technology, especially within this century. There is the knowledge of the so-called sacred books, the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bible, the Koran and the Hebrew Scriptures. So there are the religious books and pragmatic books, books that will help you to have knowledge, to act skilfully, whether you are an engineer, a biologist or a carpenter.
Most of us in any school, and particularly in these schools, gather knowledge, information, and that is what schools have existed for so far: to gather a great deal of information about the world outside, about the heavens, why the sea is salty, why the trees grow, about human beings, their anatomy, the structure of the brain and so on. And also about the world around you, nature, the social environment, economics and so much else. Such knowledge is absolutely necessary but knowledge is always limited. However much it may evolve, the gathering of knowledge is always limited. Learning is part of acquiring this knowledge of various subjects so that you can have a career, a job that might please you, or one that circumstances, social demands may have forced you to accept though you may not like very much to do that kind of work.
But as we said, you learn a great deal by watching, watching the things about you, watching the birds, the tree, watching the heavens, the stars, the constellation of Orion, the Dipper, the Evening star. You learn just by watching not only the things around you but also by watching people, how they walk, their gestures, the words they use, how they are dressed. You not only watch that which is outside but also you watch yourself, why you think this or that, your behaviour, the conduct of your daily life, why parents want you to do this or that. You are watching, not resisting. If you resist you don't learn. Or if you come to some kind of conclusion, some opinion you think is right and hold on to that, then naturally you will never learn. Freedom is necessary to learn, and curiosity, a sense of wanting to know why you or others behave in a certain way, why people are angry, why you get annoyed.
Learning is extraordinarily important because learning is endless. Learning why human beings kill each other for instance. Of course there are explanations in books, all the psychological reasons why human beings behave in their own particular manner, why human beings are violent. All this has been explained in books of various kinds by eminent authors, psychologists and so on. But what you read is not what you are. What you are, how you behave, why you get angry, envious, why you get depressed, if you watch yourself you learn much more than from a book that tells you what you are. But you see it is easier to read a book about yourself than to watch yourself. The brain is accustomed to gather information from all external actions and reactions. Don't you find it much more comforting to be directed, for others to tell you what you should do? Your parents, especially in the East, tell you whom you should marry and arrange the marriage, tell you what your career should be. So the brain accepts the easy way and the easy way is not always the right way. I wonder if you have noticed that nobody loves their work any more, except perhaps a few scientists, artists, archaeologists. But the ordinary, average man seldom loves what he is doing. He is compelled by society, by his parents or by the urge to have more money. So learn by watching very, very carefully the external world, the world outside you, and the inner world; that is, the world of yourself.
There appear to be two ways of learning: one is acquiring a great deal of knowledge, first through study and then by acting from that knowledge. That is what most of us do. The second is to act, to do something and learn through doing, and that also becomes the accumulation of knowledge. Really both are the same: learning from a book or acquiring knowledge through action. Both are based upon knowledge, experience, and as we have said, experience and knowledge are always limited.
So both the educator and the student should find out what actually learning is. For example you learn from a guru if he is at all the right kind, a sane guru, not the moneymaking guru, not one of those who want to be famous and trot off to different countries to gather a fortune through their rather unbalanced theories. Find out what it is to learn. Today learning is becoming more and more a form of entertainment. In some Western schools when they have passed high school, secondary school, the students do not even know how to read and write. And when you do know how to read and write and learn various subjects you are all such mediocre people. Do you know what the word mediocrity means? The root meaning is to go half way up the hill, never reaching the top. That is mediocrity: never demanding the excellent, the very highest thing of yourself. And learning is infinite, it really has no end. So from whom are you learning? From the books? From the educator? And perhaps, if your mind is bright, by watching? So far it appears you are learning from the outside: learning, accumulating knowledge and from that knowledge acting, establishing your career and so on. If you are learning from yourself or rather if you are learning by watching yourself, your prejudices, your definite conclusions, your beliefs, if you are watching the subtleties of your thought, your vulgarity, your sensitivity, then you become yourself the teacher and the taught. Then you do not depend inwardly on anybody, not on any book, not on the specialist though of course if you are ill and have some sort of disease you have to go to a specialist, that is natural, that is necessary. But to depend on somebody, however excellent he may be, prevents you from learning about yourself and what you are. And it is very, very important to learn what you are because what you are brings about this society which is so corrupt, immoral, where there is such enormous spreading of violence, this society which is so aggressive, each one seeking his own particular success, his own form of fulfilment. Learn what you are not through another but by watching yourself, not condemning, not saying `This is all right, I am that, I can't change' and carrying on. When you watch yourself without any form of reaction, resistance, then that very watching acts; like a flame it burns away the stupidities, the illusions that one has.
So learning becomes important. A brain that ceases to learn becomes mechanical. It is like an animal tied to a stick; it can move only according to the length of the rope, the tether that is tied to the stick. Most of us are tied to a peculiar stake of our own, an invisible stake and rope. You keep wandering within the dimensions of that rope and it is very limited. It is like a man who is thinking about himself all day, about his problems, his desires, his pleasures and what he would like to do. You know this constant occupation with oneself. It is very, very limited. And that very limitation breeds various forms of conflict and unhappiness.
The great poets, painters, composers are never satisfied with what they have done. They are always learning. It isn't after you have passed your exams and gone to work that you stop learning. There is a great strength and vitality in learning, especially about yourself. Learn, watch so that there is no spot that is not uncovered, looked at in yourself. This really is to be free from your own particular conditioning. The world is divided through its conditioning: you as an Indian, you as an American, you as a British, Russian, Chinese and so on. Out of this conditioning there are wars, the killing of thousands of people, the unhappiness and the brutality.
So both the educator and the educated are learning in the deeper sense of that word. When both are learning there is no educator or one to be educated. There is only learning. Learning frees the brain and thought of prestige, position, status. Learning brings about equality among human beings.
Letters to The Schools 2
Letters to The Schools Volume 2 15th November 1983
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