The Integral Education proposed by Mirra Alfassa, The Mother

“Essentially, there is one true reason for living:  it is to know yourself.  We are here to learn – to learn who we are, why we are here, and what we need to do.” The Mother

 

I arrived at my next stop:  Auroville Kindergarten.  An early childhood school located in Auroville, India, where I will be a volunteer for the next 3 months.  The school follows a vision of education put forth by Sri Aurobindo (Indian) and Mirra Alfassa (French) and my own interest in getting to know more about this vision brought me here to the other side of the world.  For this reason, I decided to write a slightly more theoretical post sharing a summary of what these two authors present as a proposal for early childhood education.

Aurobindo Akroyd Ghosh (1872-1950), known as Sri Aurobindo, was a philisopher, nationalist, writer, poet and Indian yogi.  After being involved for many years as a leader within the political movement to secure India’s independence, Sri Aurobindo dedicated the rest of his life to the studies of the evolution of the human spirit and to the development of a new yoga philosophy which would later come to be known as Integral Yoga.  Mirra Alfassa (1878-1973), more well-known as The Mother, was a collaborator of Sri Aurobindo’s.  She was born in France and moved to India in 1920 where she came to lead Sri Aurobindo’s projects after he went into seclusion and until his death.cache_3402001604

In 1951 Mirra Alfassa founded the Sri Aurobindo International Education Center to develop a new alternative for education, which would help humanity to open up to a new consciousness.

From the studies and practices proposed at the Center, there is a model for education, called Integral Education, which considers five main aspects corresponding to five main aspects of the human condition: physical, vital, mental, psychic and spiritual. In this philosophy, these aspects develop chronologically according to the development of the child, but one aspect never replaces another. They begin before birth with the education and care of the mother, complementing each other until the end of life.

According to the authors, the first aspect of education – Physical Education – is the aspect most dependent on method, order, discipline, and process. This is where the routines of healthy eating, adequate sleep, physical exercise, relaxation practices, proper development of body parts, self-care and hygiene, and understanding of health and illness cycles will be worked on. According to Alfassa, Physical Education has three main areas: discipline and control of body functions, methodical and harmonious development of all parts and all movements of the body, and correction of deformities.

Vital Education, the second aspect of this integral education proposal, contains the development and proper use of sense organs and knowledge, control, and transformation of character. Regarding the senses, the authors state that if the proper stimulus starts early in the child’s life, the senses can develop beyond what might be typically expected or known. Some traditions claim that Man has not only five senses, but seven senses, and in some cases up to twelve. In this aspect of education, it is very important to allow the adequate blossoming of the sense of beauty and harmony in the child, whether in nature or in human creation.

As for the second aspect, character, the authors first make an important distinction from the common approach in the West. Although the West commonly approaches character as unalterable, Integral Education promotes the potential for self-transformation and its perfection in an individual. Moreover, they point out that Western culture places happiness as the ultimate goal of life, as if fullness were found in pleasure. According to the authors, the plenitude is not only to be found in pleasure and the character will always have antagonistic aspects – both light and shadow, in its expression. Its development demands patience, persistence, and deep self-observation.

For Vital Education and the development of character, two aspects are essential: self-observation and will. It is essential that children learn to be aware of their own actions and movements, what they do and the reasons why they do it. It is the role of education to encourage learners to observe their instincts, their points of light and their shadows. They learn to take on the constant role of self-witness. However, for constant and effective improvement, the development of the will for progress and perfection is also essential. This force of will must be instilled in the child from the moment it begins to manifest its first wants. It is important that the development of character in education is not through coercion, rebuke or abstinence. Although these tactics appear to deliver quick results, the results will not be profound and effective and may suppress the healthy aspects of the child’s vital being.

Mental Education is the third aspect. Although this is the area where the energies of the contemporary educational system are most concentrated, Integral Education presents a broader conception of mental development than is often considered. Mental education should go through five distinct and complementary phases: the development of concentration power and attention span; the development of capacities of expansion, enlargement, complexity and mental wealth; the organization of ideas around a central goal, a higher ideal or a luminous idea that serves as a guide in the course of life; the control of thought and the rejection of unwanted thoughts, being able to think only what and when one wants; and the development of mental silence, the perfect calm that allows greater openness and receptivity to inspiration from higher parts of being.

The authors present the fourth and fifth aspects of Integral Education, Psychic Education and Spiritual Education, together. According to them, the three aspects described above focus on human faculties, but the potential development does not stop there. Psychic and spiritual education focus on the development of listening to a broad conscience and absolute truth that resides in each being, and must be at the center of the educational process.

The Mother (2015) posits that the potential for ample consciousness is inside every human being, that transcends it and inhabits itself, manifesting itself as a child. Often, parents and educators do not know how to deal with this consciousness and children are conditioned to repress these manifestations by giving value and credibility only to things outside themselves. It is also common for the educational process to be conducted in such a way that the child becomes as unconscious as possible of this higher psychic presence.

According to the author, this field of development is usually associated with religion or mysticism, merely because religion gives room for the development of this aspect, but it does not have to be so.  For example, it could manifest by philosophical questioning of truth.  According to The Mother, experience is a central question in psychic education, much more important than rational explanation or classification within a field of knowledge (be it religion or philosophy). The rational construction of psychic knowledge only feeds the illusion of wisdom and removes the experience of truth.

Psychic and spiritual education bring the problem of reason for existence and the meaning of life to the surface. Therein lies the consecration of the individual to his or her eternal principle. It is by psychic presence that the true nature of the individual manifests and comes into contact with his or herself and his or her life. What differs psychic education from spiritual education is that the former represents a higher realization on the earth plane, while the second represents a transcendence of material manifestation and contact with immaterial and invisible truth. While in the development of psychic education the incentive is in the deconstruction of selfishness, spiritual education deals with transcendence of the ego. The first is the movement of the descent of the divine into matter, and the second is the movement upward from matter to the divine. It is noteworthy that the divine here does not refer to something necessarily religious, it may be the manifestation of God for some, for others it may be nature, the cosmos, absolute truth, unity. 

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As illustrated in the table above, according to the proposal of Integral Education developed by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, education must contain four aspects of absolute truth: beauty, power, wisdom and love. The authors propose a deep reflection on these four manifestations of the truth and on the austerities related to them, which will not be detailed here. These four manifestations must be known and developed by the child throughout his life, in order to promote liberation from human standards that distance the being from its full realization. Love is the supreme aspect that must be worked out in Psychic education, providing the liberation of human suffering. Wisdom is the aspect worked in mental Education, allowing the liberation of ignorance and illusion. Power is worked on in Vital Education, leading to the liberation of desire and control of the senses. And beauty and harmony are aspects of truth worked on in the area of Physical Education, allowing the freeing of the material laws of cause and effect and the full manifestation of the will.

Observation: this text was taken from an academic paper that I developed about Psychology and Education, and if used I ask that you include this citation:

CAPITANIO, T. S. Pedagogia da Inteireza: uma concepção Transpessoal de Educação – A importância da integração dos elementos do desenvolvimento psíquico na educação de crianças e jovens. Monografia (Especialização em Psicologia Transpessoal) – Faculdade Vicentina, Alubrat, São Paulo, 2017, 82f.


Even if you felt some discomfort with the words used by the authors, or something was inconsistent with your own spiritual beliefs, be sure to observe the richness and completeness of the Integral Education proposal.   Ignore specific words and beliefs and allow yourself to reflect on the importance of considering different aspects in the full development of the child.

For those who are curious to know more about Sri Aurobindo and Mirra Alfassa’s vision, it is worth reading the content of this link or picking up their books on education.

Over the next months I will share a little of what this philosophy looks like in practice at Auroville Kindergarten, a kindergarten where I will volunteer for the next three months.

 

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