Silence Please

The worlds we inhabit are noisy places. The external environment – particularly cities, where over half the global population now live, suffocates under a cacophony of competing sounds, from road and air traffic, to power tools, car alarms and neon lights: and, for most of us, the internal, mental space in which is equally chaotic and cluttered. Contradictory thought patterns rise up one after another, jostling for attention, demanding to be heard and acted upon. Conditioned, and therefore partial thoughts, which move us away from the Now ­–­ where exists peace ­– and into conflict. 
This endless stream of space invaders is fuelled by the reflexes of the senses, by memory and desire; the desire for pleasure in its myriad forms, for security, for status, for freedom from pain, and love – or a version of love at least. A daily escape from this endless bombardment, is, in principle at least, offered by the sanctuary of sleep – a mirror to death perhaps. A still space in which the brain can rest and reorder itself, but even there, in the dark hours, thoughts are ever active. Sleeping not, they agitate, triggering images to tantalise, excite, frighten and confuse. Rest, healing and the comfort of silence, are denied, or broken up. And so, having been unable to sleep deeply, quietly, we wake and stumble un-refreshed, un-replenished and disturbed into another noisy, busy day, which is met, as previous days have been met, with an army of self, or ‘I’ centred thoughts, crashing one upon another.
Noisy escape
In our competitive, loud world, silence is all too often regarded negatively and seen as something uncomfortable to be avoided. If it comes too close, in the train carriage perhaps, on the bus or street on which one walks, a distraction is quickly found to fill the vacant space – inane conversation or a screen of some kind perhaps. Headphones, mobile phone or a ‘tablet’, are for many the contemporary sedatives, the distractions of choice. Switch on, plug in and instant relief – distraction from the inner void is once again maitained; confrontation with oneself, with loneliness and fear is avoided, for the time being at least. And, the golden opportunity – did we but recognise it as such – for silence to emerge out of the fog of uncertainty, and embrace us, is lost.
Public spaces such as hospital waiting rooms, train stations and airports, as well as banks and Post Offices increasingly have television screens in them. From a flat black screen on the wall the BBC News channel, or some such equivalent, is relentlessly pumped into the minds of the unsuspecting as they wait. The lack of choice involved – nobody is ever asked if they want the TV on – is not only discourteous, it is an infringement of free will. A fundamental human right – albeit one not enshrined in law – our free will is constantly violated by those who seek to persuade, manipulate and condition – from politicians to corporations – and they use every means at their disposal to do so.
A populace with a mind agitated by desire in a constant state of discontent, serves the elite (the power groups of government, corporations and money) well. Such a mind is constantly reaching out into the material world seeking sensory satisfaction, so sales of stuff – consumerism, upon which the whole pack of neo-liberal economic cards rests – is maintained.
Peace at the Heart of the Chaos
Beyond our endless thoughts, our fears and desires, beyond all the surface chaos, sit’s silence. A point of peace and contentment veiled by activities of the mind, which Helena Blavatsky (founder of the Theosophical society in 1875) describes in The Voice of The Silence as “the great slayer of the real”. The mind is constantly drawn into ‘the world’ and away from its source, which, the great Indian Sage Ramana Maharshi and other seers maintained, is silence, or The Self. This wrench creates a condition of almost permanent discontent and unease, and, as we identify with the thoughts that consequently flood our minds, a noisy barrier to silence is erected. An unconscious ‘separation wall’, that restricts insight, denies vision and traps us in a state of perpetual disharmony.
From this noisy, dishonest platform, choices are made, opinions formed and decisions reached; decisions that create the physical, emotional and mental world in which we live – individually, and collectively. Endless chaos, division, fragmentation and wars are the inescapable results; for the outer, physical construct is a direct reflection of the inner world of thought – one flows from, and is shaped by, the other. If there is disharmony within, conflict will follow; the means and the end are one and the same – dishonesty at the beginning will inevitably lead to corruption at the end. Mistakes are repeated, again and again; conflict rages, the madness of wars and intolerance, extremism and totalitarianism continues, and unity, peace and harmony remain unrealized ideals, for as J. Krishnamurti made clear, “goodness does not flower in the field of time”. The ‘field of time’ is thought.
For the destructive patterns of old to be overcome and for ‘goodness to flower’, fundamental change is required. Not just systemic external change ­– a little tinkering here and there – but a true revolt, a change in thinking: what we might call a silent ‘revolution in consciousness’. When the mind is quiet, free from torment and desire, the decisions and actions undertaken will result in harmony, for that is their nature.
November 2015

Whats the Point in Any of It?

Does the purpose of our lives change with age; does the life of a thirty-something have more point to it, than say a fifty-year-old, a sixty-year-old; indeed is there any real ‘point’ to either, and how would we discover what it is?
To many of us ‘The Cow’ is the best pub in London. On a quiet balmy Wednesday in June, I met a fellow middle-aged man for a beer, a bite, and, much to my surprise, what turned out to be some searching existential chatter. What, my friend asked – after a beer or two – is the point to me: the purpose of my life, and by extension of others like me?
It is a great and fundamental question, perhaps the great and fundamental question, and ought to be widely discussed and seriously investigated. It flows naturally into and out of the question ‘Who Am I’, but in a world where simply surviving consumes every moment and ounce of energy for the majority, well, who has the inclination, intellectual space and mental resources for such essential enquiries?
Our lives and the prism through which we see life are largely defined by our psychological and sociological conditioning. By adopted ideas of self, inherited ideals and prejudices; by circumstance and position, by nationalism and through the adoption of a belief system – Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Socialist, Capitalist, etc. etc.
Unconsciously absorbed, these constructs – many and varied – all similarly inhibiting, form the foundations of what we take to be ‘us’. We become ‘that’, usually ‘that’ which we are told, directly or indirectly, to be. And whilst such narrow images are artificial and deny freedom, and with it love (not emotional, romantic ‘love’, but love free from all desire), there appears to be comfort in such social conformity, and we quickly become attached to our particular self-image and world-view. We wrap this psychological blanket tightly around us: a cosy comforter which is in fact a suffocating prison, and wander through life, maintaining and defending, to the death if necessary, our cherished, fragile viewpoint.
The ‘point of our lives’ is thus defined by the various ideologies held dear, conditioned ideals unconsciously absorbed. We are drawn to people who hold similar ideals and beliefs and exclude those who don’t. To these ‘others’ we are intolerant and critical, ‘they’, and their contrary image – also narrow and built by thought – constitute a threat to our noble views and so ‘they’ are excluded, sometimes violently attacked, often ridiculed.
We believe that our choices and views are reached through the operation of intelligent examination, that the thoughts crowding our minds take place consciously and through the exercise of ‘free-will’. But it is our unconscious conditioning that largely informs such thinking, controls our reactions, our choices, and crucially determines who and what we believe we are.
This process is well understood by those who seek to influence our behaviour, and strategies of persuasion are designed and executed to do so. The ‘manufacturing of consent’ as Noam Chomsky and Edward Hermann described it in their landmark bookof the same name. The mass media, one of the major weapons of coercion they make clear, acts to “inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society.” This of course is psychological conditioning, with the media acting on behalf of their corporate interests, which feed into and serve a larger socio-economic ideology. A cynical ideology, which espouses a deeply materialistic view of life, maintaining that ‘the point of life’ is to maximise pleasure, avoid all forms of pain and fulfil personal desires, which as the Buddha pointed out in the ‘Second Noble Truth’, are in fact the source of all suffering, as well as being insatiable and endless (if repetitive and unimaginative).
Creating the conditions for dissatisfaction and agitation however is one of the aims of the Neo-Liberal project, dependent as it is on consumerism, which is fuelled by desire. This unwholesome materialistic purpose, or ‘point of life’ is a construct that the socio-economic shadow under which we live relentlessly promotes and encourages. ‘Desire is good’, the deluded, dishonest disciples of Neo-Liberalism say, ‘buy, buy’, ‘consume, consume’ – ‘because you’re worth it’! Pleasure is your right, excess and greed is natural, and therefore healthy; competition is part of the human condition, and is sewn into our DNA.
Such messages of mischief are poured into the minds of men, women and children every minute, of every day. Our cities and towns are flooded with faceless, ubiquitous shopping streets and huge consumer islands – shopping malls, ugly, bland, populated by corporate bodies that control so much, but care so little. These Cathedrals of Neo-Liberalism offer to satisfy the longings created in a congregation conditioned into consumerism, discontent and desire.
Living in this collective amnesia, the human being is lost, depressed and suffering, on a planet that is slowly choking to death. And, glimpsing the madness, but not seeing the alternative, many ask, as my friend did, ‘what is the point’? There must be more to life, we must be more than this, surely?
Who Am I
We might not know who we are, but we know what we ‘do’ and what we ‘believe’ – even though we may not be clear why we believe it. We have a sense of how we fit into the world around us, and desperate for some sense of security we cling to this paradigm, and are traumatised when it is threatened, or shattered. Identifying the self with the physical body and the constructs of the mind, we believe, as the French philosopher Descartes proclaimed, that we are ‘what we think’: ‘I think therefore I am’, he famously decreed. Never questioning ‘who’ the thinker is. ‘I think therefore I suffer’, I would say, is closer to the truth.
In a baffling world, within a Universe without beginning or end, this identification with thought and the time-based process of becoming, appears natural and seems to provides a certain structure and order – a point to life if you will. It is an illusory security though, rooted in thought and time. Inevitably the brittle self-constructed image cracks, causing a crisis of identity, and, as time passes, having never truly lived, the mystery of death cries out in the shadows triggering fear and regret.
The Self
Within the deep history of Indian society, life and the point of life, is understood in various stages from childhood to old age. And although the primary ‘point’ remains consistent, responsibilities change with time. Once the role of ‘householder’ is fulfilled and all family duties have been met, the man – and it is usually a man (although his wife sometimes follows) – may choose to withdraw, and renouncing all personal attachments, enter into an intense period of self-enquiry, to live the life of the Sannyasin. All that pertains to the personality life is given up – all constructs of purpose and position, all desires, relationships and attachments are allowed to fall away. So too the sense of ‘ownership or doer-ship’, that is, the identification with oneself as the doer, the one who acts.
Total freedom is the goal: freedom from time, from thought, from all mental constructs and ideals, from all ‘isms; and through intense observation, union with the Self, or Atman. It is the Self, which the Upanishads and teachers of the East, such as Shankaracharya and Ramakrishna, repeatedly assert to be our Real nature, the realisation of
which, they make clear, is the true and fundamental ‘point of our lives’, no matter what else we may do – however worthwhile. The experience of the Self will, they teach, come about effortlessly, naturally when the obstacle to the Self, namely the ego, is laid aside.
The Great 19th Century India Sage Ramana Maharshi (whom Carl Jung described as “the whitest spot in a white space [India]”) said in various ways on numerous occasions, “what exists in truth is the Self alone”. The Self “is that where there is absolutely no “I” thought. That is called “Silence”. He taught that the way to shatter the thought-constructed image of self – the ego – is through self-enquiry. Ask yourself ‘who am I’, he would counsel. You will find you identify yourself either with the physical body, the emotional life, or the activities of the mind. But Ramana, and many others have made clear that we are none of these; we are in fact the Self, a divine being – beyond description or limitations. The awareness and realisation of which is the fundamental point of life.
And one day, in one life, when the attractions of the sensory world have lost their charm, when we begin to see the truth of the Buddha’s words – that desire is the cause of all suffering; when television, video games, sex, drugs and alcohol fail to fill the inner emptiness; when we sit in a pub with a friend and ask aloud, what the point of it all is. Then is the opportunity to turn away from transient sensory things, to be still, to enquire ‘who am I’, and to ‘draw the mind back to its source’, which, as Ramana Maharshi explained, is the Self itself.
September 2015

Education: Time to Redefine its Purpose

Given the catalogue of calamities raging round the world, one could be forgiven for concluding that we are a civilisation in terminal decline. The socio-economic system, which promotes negative divisive ideals, dominates all areas of life and is the cause of much of our difficulties. It is an outworn, unjust way of organising society; does not serve the majority of people – the 99.9%; and is causing far-reaching damage to the planet that, unless radical action is taken, may well prove irreparable. 
The environmental crisis is the greatest of a range of interconnected problems facing humanity, the answers to which are not to be found within the existing inflexible, unimaginative paradigm, based as it is on false values and misguided conclusions. And as they repeatedly prove, the current batch of politicians lacks the intellectual imagination, vision and wisdom to meet the worldwide challenges.
A new awareness is needed, systems re-designed based on altogether different values to the existing ones; and a fair and just economic model inculcated. Values that unite people, cultivate cooperation, tolerance and understanding, in place of competition, prejudice and ignorance. Values that will allow a sense of unity and social responsibility to naturally flower. New systems, imbued with perennially accepted values of goodness – sharing, freedom and social justice – would take much of the stress and fear out of life, allowing people to trust one another. Under such circumstances peace may even be possible.
At the heart of the required changes – which need to be both gradual and radical – must be education – formal and non-formal.
Like all our current structures, education throughout the world is in crisis, and fundamental change is badly needed. Reform is under discussion in many countries and governments are debating how to alter the existing, inadequate methods. All to often, however, these discussions are limited by the existing ideologies: restructurings are motivated by the obsessive desire for economic growth, a narrow nationalistic approach to life and a simplistic view of the needs of the individual.
Despite the negative umbrella within which formal education is taking place, there are of course many good schools with great teachers, but their work is made infinitely more difficult by ideologically driven policies issued by government education departments.
New methodologies are needed that inculcate true individuality and creative independent thinking. That is to say, thinking freed from sociological and psychological conditioning, which is essential if the children of today are to find within themselves the resources needed to save our planet (S.O.P.) and re-shape society in a harmonious way that meets the needs of the people.
Education and purpose
Maria Montessori, who devised a groundbreaking way of teaching ‘uneducable’ children in the early 20th century (children we might now describe as having ‘special educational needs’), felt that traditional education neglects the child’s most basic needs, – what she described in The Child, as “the exigencies of his spirit and his soul. The human being that lives within the child remains stifled therein.” Perhaps we could think of the ‘human being’ within the child – within us all – as a flower; a beautiful flower at the center of a garden. The flower contains within itself all that is good, all that is innate – the persons ‘potential’ as John Dewey called it; the flower is freedom and joy, intelligence and peace. However all around the flower is rubbish, psychological detritus that accumulates with time (starting pretty much from birth) and forms a virtually impenetrable barrier to its realisation and expression. This suffocating waste is made up of various inter-twinned forms; sociological/psychological conditioning, fear, competition and selfish desire are some of the more noxious restrictive elements.
The work to be done then is two fold; identify and remove the obstacles that block the free expression of the “‘human being’ that lives within the child”, as Montessori puts it, and furthermore, stop polluting the garden. This is a pragmatic deconstructive work rooted in certain clearly defined philosophical ideas.
Currently, institutionalised education emphasizes, what the great Indian teacher J. Krshnamurti in Education and the Significance of Life (ESL), called “secondary values, merely making us proficient in some branch of knowledge.” Education though “is not merely acquiring knowledge, gathering and correlating facts; it is to see the significance of life as a whole.” Dominated as it is by conformity and competition, and seen by governments everywhere as little more than a supply chain for employers, such an integrated viewpoint within education is made extremely difficult. Schools and Universities have been tailored, Noam Chomsky makes clear, to “meet the requirement of the market,” with students, being “trained to be compliant workers”. This distortion of function, into a system of conditioning and indoctrination is far from the purpose of education, which Krishnamurti says, “is not to produce mere scholars, technicians and job hunters, but integrated men and women free from fear.’ 
Fear inhibits, physically, emotionally and mentally; it suffocates the ‘human being within the child’, the flower within the garden the life within the form. It is the antithesis of human freedom, which together with the consciousness of this freedom, Jacques Rouseau maintained is nothing less than, “the essence of human nature”. The removal of those elements that create fear, that deny and inhibit – that poison the garden ­– would allow freedom – ‘the essence of human nature’, to naturally flow, and with it independent thinking, creativity and initiative.
 The human right to think and act freely (providing it is responsible and harmless) is made virtually unattainable in the current environment, where conditioning, together with competition and reward and punishment are employed to stifle independent thought, curtail creativity, and motivate and distort action.
It is time the existing inhibiting practices were abandoned in favour of a new, creative approach that facilitates independent thinking, fosters cooperation and tolerance and encourages freedom and broad social participation. It is not necessarily the subjects taught that present the obstacles to freedom (although the arts and humanities need to be given more time), it is the methods employed to teach them and the ideology that underlies them that need reforming. Methods, – like competition, reward and punishment, the corrosive examination system – that sit within a socio-economic framework built on a particular ‘ism, which promotes false, destructive values.
Such a system encourages the individual to focus on their own progress, success and material acquisition over the wellbeing of the group; works against social unity and feeds division. In such a world “we all want to be on top,” Krishnamurti says, “and this desire creates constant conflict within ourselves and with our neighbour; it leads to competition, envy, animosity and finally war.” All of which runs contrary to the reality of our true being, to the ‘the exigencies of his [the child’s] spirit and his soul’, as Montessori put it, and one of the underlying goals of education, which, Noam Chomsky explains, is “to produce human beings whose values are not accumulation and domination, but instead are free association on equal terms.” A righteous ideal that seems fantastical in today’s socio-economic world, where inequality of income, wealth, opportunity and influence are greater than they have ever been.
Cooperation and Unity
The inculcation of cooperation in place of competition within education will facilitate sharing, fostering trust. This would help to bring about a sense of the underlying unity of life, and the individuals place within the whole.
 We are part of a collective called humanity, and as the writer Benjamin Crème states, education should “show the child that it is a member of a world family… that we are not living alone in one large or small country, but in a world shared by 5.7 billion people. The child, above all, should be taught that this is the fundamental position of his/her life on Earth: that they are one of a group, a family.” The realisation that each and every one of us is part of a ‘family’, as Crème puts it, would decentralise individuals, encourage social responsibility and selfless actions – service, which John Dewey felt is a natural human quality experienced by all children. He states in Democracy and Education that “the child’s natural desire [is] to give out, to do, and this means to serve.” Something that is clearly less likely to happen when people are conditioned into thinking about their own success and welfare over and above those of others. Such conditioning pervades schools and universities and suits the ruling elite; they do not want a united compassionate society, rich with independent thinkers. For as Dewey made clear “anyone who has begun to think, places some portion of the world in jeopardy.”
If we are to discover the answers to our social, economic and environmental problems, and create a new harmonious way of living; freethinking and self-awareness are crucial. Inhibiting ideological patterns of thought must be completely dismantled in all areas of education in order for these natural qualities to grow.  
The radical thinkers of the enlightenment understood that the role of education was to allow the individual to reveal what, and who, they are, – ‘the flower’, the ‘human being inside’. Education was not, they believed, a process of filling a vessel with water, but rather assisting a flower to grow in its own way. Such natural development and understanding is impossible where there is any form of psychological or sociological conditioning – within education there is no room for ideals or ‘ism’s of any kind.
Education free from conditioning, competition and conformity will revolutionise learning environments – including the home – and take away the most stifling of all psychological conditions: fear. The pressure placed on young people everywhere to succeed, to achieve, to meet expectations and to conform to a stereotypical image is intense. The results for the majority are inhibition and stress, which flow from, and are expressions of, fear. If freedom of thought is to become a central purpose of education, all fear-inducing methods, such as competition, reward and punishment, conformity and conditioning must be completely absent.
Freedom of thought, unpolluted by ideological contamination or selfish motives will purify actions, allow intelligence to naturally blossom (much as the intellectual forces of the Enlightenment envisioned), creativity to flow and make possible the fulfilment of innate potential. The realisation of which must surely be a fundamental purpose of any education system worthy of the name.
 July 2015

The Pain of Modern Life: Loneliness and Isolation

Humanity is a group. As Mohandas Gandhi famously said: “All humanity is one undivided and indivisible family.” This is not a sycophantic religious concept, but the fact of our inherent nature; a nature that the current World socio-economic order systematically works against, forcing us to live in unnatural, unhealthy, un-fulfilling, and unjust ways.
The negative inter-related consequences of living under such a perverse system are many and varied – painful all: disharmony, depression, anxiety, and loneliness are some of the effects of the resulting dis-connect – with ourselves, with others, and with the natural environment.
An Epidemic
Loneliness, particularly in developed countries, has been growing year on year. John Cacioppo, author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connectionrelates that in the 1980s “scholars estimated 20% of people in the US felt lonely at any given time, now it’s thought to be over 40%”. Worldwide, according to Psychology Today, the numbers suffering from loneliness are at epidemic levels, and, with an aging population throughout the west, are expected to continue to rise.
The suffocating condition of loneliness is the consequence of feeling isolated, disconnected, and adrift, not of being alone. It is related to loss – of a loved one, of a childhood, of an undefined relationship with oneself. It is extremely painful, erodes trust, and according to Cacioppa, can cause lonely people to “feel others around them are threats rather than sources of cooperation and compassion.”
Like many associated mental health illnesses, loneliness is stigmatized and seen, Cacioppo relates, as “the psychological equivalent of being a loser in life, or a weak person.” In a world where being tough, successful and ‘driven’ are championed, weakness (particularly in men) and other such inadequacies are frowned upon. As a result people deny loneliness, which is a mistake, as this suffocating condition can increase the risk of an early death by a staggering 45%, higher than both obesity and excessive alcohol consumption.
Materiality and division
Materialistic values characterise the present, all pervasive socio-economic model; governments of all political persuasions are the docile servants of the system, the partners of the corporations who run it. Together they form the contemporary elite. A contented, united and happy populace is the last thing they want. The ideal social unit for the benefit of the ‘Masters of the Universe’, as Adam Smith famously called them, is “you and your television set”, Noam Chomsky has said; in a world devoid of community spirit, where selfishness is encouraged, “If the kid next door is hungry, it’s not your problem. If the retired couple next door invested their assets badly and are now starving, that’s not your problem either.” Social unity and human compassion are the enemies of the elite and an unjust system, which promotes values of greed and indifference.
Such values divide and separate, creating the conditions in which loneliness is almost inevitable. Selfishness and accumulation are encouraged; individual ambition and the competitive spirit, which “destroys all feelings of human fraternity and cooperation,” Albert Einstein said, and “conceives of achievement not as derived from the love for productive and thoughtful work, but as springing from personal ambition and fear of rejection,” pervade and largely dominate all areas of life.
If humanity is to progress towards a new and peaceful way of living, such values, need to give way to other more positive ideals. Cooperation instead of competition, for example, will cultivate tolerance and understanding where suspicion and selfishness prevail, allowing communities to come together, strengthening unity – a primary need of our troubled times.
Cry for help
The pain of loneliness, John Cacioppo maintains, is an “aversive signal for survival” in the same way as thirst or hunger is. It “is part of a biological machinery to alert you to the threat and damage to your social body,” which, he says, we need to survive. This is an instinctive reaction to being on the social periphery, and therefore in danger, perhaps not physically any more, but certainly psychologically. According to Caccioppo, this sense of threat initiates an instinctive process of self-preservation and defensiveness. The brain goes into a high alert state and releases increased levels of “morning cortisol – a powerful stress hormone,” that can lead to clumsy, intolerant reactions, which further strengthen social alienation.
A recent report into loneliness in Britain – particularly amongst elderly people – described the condition as “a modern ‘giant”. Shame, guilt and a sense of failure often accompany this psychological monster. The lonely ones feel they are somehow inadequate – not attractive, sufficiently interesting or successful enough for this ‘dog eat dog’ world. And despite the emphasis placed on achievement as the elixir of happiness and fulfillment, Psychology Today makes clear that “talent, financial success, fame, even adoration, offers no protection from the subjective experience [of loneliness].”
So what is the answer? A strong social network, purpose and structure, and supportive relationships are crucial, but do these address the underlying emptiness, which triggers the loneliness?
Relationship with Self
As is well documented, our sense of happiness and general well-being is more readily brought about when we feel connected, but what is it we long to connect with? The universal need to feel connected is rooted in a sense of fragmentation, an underlying sense of loss – experienced as loneliness. If we felt complete, whole within ourselves, this perceived need, one assumes, would not be present.
There is a school of thought that says the emptiness and isolation we experience is the result of not being in relationship with our true Self – that centre of peace, or some would say divine seed at the core of our being. That the ache we are constantly trying to quieten is caused by identifying with everything and anything other than the Self, and by constantly distracting ourselves with pleasure, which has to a large degree replaced happiness.
The great Indian teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti said that when we become aware “of loneliness, the pain of it, the extraordinary and fathomless fear of it, you seek an escape.” This would seem natural and understandable, but the distractions, which tend to be sensate in nature, do not, he maintained, bring an end to loneliness, rather they “lead you to misery and chaos”.
Indeed can the emptiness of loneliness be satiated by anything external to oneself? “If we have experienced and found one escape to be of no value, are not all other escapes therefore of no value?” Krishnamurti logically argued.
Silence and the space to look within are rare jewels in our World, particularly in western societies. The current socio-economic model is a noisy, poisonous system based on negative values.  It has polluted the planet and is making us unhappy and ill in a variety of ways.
It is a system that ardently promotes material success and the indulgence of personal desi
res, all of which encourages dependence on methods of ‘escape’ of one kind or another – drugs prescribed, (legal and illegal), alcohol, sex, entertainments in all shapes and sizes – including organized religion, to fill the chasm of loneliness, and keep the mind in a constant state of agitation and discontent.
But as Krishnamurti rightly states, such transient distractions will never sufficiently drown out our innate need for union with oneself, with the Self; a realization brought about by self-awareness; by negation – ceasing to identify with the fancies of the mind, and as the 19th century Indian sage Sri Ramana Maharshi taught, by constantly challenging one’s thoughts and feelings with the deconstructive enquiry ‘who am I’. These Men of Wisdom assure us that, with sustained commitment and effort, a relationship can be established with the Self, which reveals separation and isolation to be an illusion, and establishes a deep, non-dependent sense of unity – with others and the world in which ‘we live and breathe and have our being’. Purpose, contact with others and activity are essential to battle loneliness, but if one becomes dependent on these externals and does not, at the same time, seek to overcome the underlying cause, then it seems clear little will have been achieved and the ‘modern giant’ will rise up again.
July 2015

Education for a New Time: The Purpose of Education

Given the catalogue of calamities raging round the world, one could be forgiven for concluding that we are a civilisation in terminal decline. The socio-economic system, which promotes negative divisive values dominates all areas of life and is the cause of much of our difficulties. It is an outworn, unjust way of organising society, does not serve the majority of people – the 99.9%, and is causing far-reaching damage to the planet that, unless radical action is taken, may well prove irreparable.
The environmental crisis is the greatest of a range of interconnected problems facing humanity, the answers to which are not to be found within the existing inflexible, unimaginative paradigm, based as it is on false values and misguided conclusions. And as they repeatedly prove, the current batch of politicians lacks the intellectual imagination, vision and wisdom to meet the worldwide challenges.
A new awareness is needed; systems re-designed based on altogether different values to the existing ones; and a fair and just economic model inculcated. Values that unite people, cultivate cooperation, tolerance and understanding, in place of competition, prejudice and ignorance. Values that will allow a sense of unity and social responsibility to naturally flower. New systems, imbued with perennially accepted values of goodness – sharing, freedom and social justice, would take much of the stress and fear out of life, and allow people to trust one another. Under such circumstances peace may even be possible. 
At the heart of the required changes – which need to be both gradual and radical, must be education, formal and non-formal. Like all our current structures, institutionalised education throughout the world is in crisis, and fundamental change is badly needed. Reform is under discussion in many countries, ‘new’ educational structures are being looked at and governments everywhere are debating how to alter the existing, inadequate methods. All to often however these discussions are limited by existing ideologies, reforms are motivated by the obsessive desire for economic growth, a narrow nationalistic approach to life and a simplistic view of the needs of the individual.
New methodologies are needed that inculcate true individuality and creative independent thinking. That is to say, thinking freed from sociological and psychological conditioning, which is essential if the children of today are to find within themselves the resources needed to re-shape society in a way that better meet the needs of the majority and save our planet 
Defining lasting purpose
It seems logical that the aims of education should be consistent with the purpose of life. This fundamental question as to purpose is one that most of us rarely consider, or have not the time or energy to look at. “To most of us, the meaning of life as a whole is not of primary importance,” Krishnamurti stated, “and our education emphasizes secondary values, merely making us proficient in some branch of knowledge.” He continues, “Education is not merely acquiring knowledge, gathering and correlating facts; it is to see the significance of life as a whole.” 
Unity, relationship, self-awareness, these must be at the heart of all areas of education, Bertrand Russell states that, “any serious educational theory must consist of two parts: a conception of the ends of life, and a science of psychological dynamics, i.e. of the laws of mental change.“[8]  
In relating the purpose of education to the ‘purpose of life’ we appear to create an intractable problem, there being various contradictory views compounding the subjectivity of the investigation. However we may make certain generally accepted statements, which whilst they may offend the offended, will allow sufficiently broad interpretations and creative expression to be investigated in all areas of educational work. For education must concern itself with life as a whole, as Krishnamurti made clear –  “to bring about right education, we must obviously understand the meaning of life as a whole.”  
Once fundamentals are established, not tabulated, but revealed, and broadly accepted, for they infringe not on common sense, being based on its simplicity, forms in which such purposes may be made manifest will quite naturally follow.
Formal education for the most part is seen as a feeding system for employers, a means to train and indoctrinate young people to become people who will do as they are told. Efficient workers who will strengthen the nations accounts and enhance its ability to compete on the ‘world stage’. Krishnamurti: “we are turning out, as if through a mould, a type of human being, whose chief interest is to find security, to become somebody important, or to have a good time with as little thought as possible,”
With conformity colouring all areas of schooling, from the nursery to the university. Children are rarely seen as individuals, with certain innate gifts and talents, but as [potential] workers or economic assets; encouraged, forced in many cases through economic pressures, and the impulse to ‘succeed’, to move from school to university and into employment as quickly as possible.
Dissent from the state view or company line, whilst seemingly tolerated, is not really allowed, being cleverly suppressed.  Methods of control are swiftly enforced, debt being a primary weapon in the armoury of control.  Individuality is subdued under the weight of anxiety, fuelled by fear engendering competition and the mantra that success is all that matters – no matter the impact, psychologically, physiologically and/or environmentally.
This distortion of function, into a system of conditioning, indoctrination and manipulation is far from the purpose of education and it is time these inhibiting methods were abandoned in favour of a new, creative approach to education and social living. One that facilitates independent thinking, fosters cooperation and tolerance, and encourages free expression and broad social participation.
Unity of Life
The individual and society are not separate, but interrelated, interconnected, whether that society is a family, a classroom or school, a neighbourhood, town, city, country or planet. All are the collective expression of those individuals that live within it and all who live in any particular society are responsible for it.
Each and every one of us is an integral part of a whole. That whole we call humanity – we are brothers and sisters of one humanity – and that whole forms part of the planetary life with its various kingdoms. And that living totality, which we call planet Earth forms a part of a larger whole known as the solar system, which is but a part of the Universe. And on and on into infinity stretches this extraordinary unity.
Life is one; a totality toward which and within which, men, women and children everywhere should be made aware; encouraged to contribute their particular colour and tone, to share their gifts with the group, the society of which they are an integral part. The decentralisation of the individual; the realisation of unity; and the cultivation of relationship with the group should be seen as one of the key purpose’s of all aspects of education.
In Education in the New Age, Alice A Bailey[1] makes clear that “through education self-consciousness must be unfolded until the man recognises that his consciousness is a corporate part of a greater whole. He blends then with the group interests, activities and objectives. They are eventually his and he becomes group conscious. This is Love. It leads to wisdom, which is love in manifested activity. Such should be the major objective of all true educational endeavours. Love of self (self-consciousness), becomes love of those around us (group-consciousness), become love of the whole (God consciousness). Such are the steps.” The movement in conscious awareness outlined by Bailey, gradually shifts the individual’s identification away from the little separate self, weakening selfish behaviour and building awareness of the whole, thereby encouraging selfless-ness, social responsibility and service.
Relationship and Awareness
In ‘Education and the Significance of Life’, Krishnamurti says that, “the purpose of education is to cultivate right relationship, not only between individuals, but also between the individual and society.”  Not only is relationship central to education, but as Krishnamurti points out, ‘right relationship’. Present educational methods and social values emphasis separation and division, being based as they commonly are on competition, and nationalism.
This distorting method of motivation has pervaded every area of education. in such and atmosphere right relationship, in which harmlessness is an expressed quality, and where seeing, free from bias is made extremely difficult. Values that emphasis unity, cooperation, and tolerance will aid the establishing of ‘right relationship’. These should be cultivated in all areas and at all stages of education. 
Relationship and awareness are closely related; the cultivation of self-awareness or self-knowledge, aids ‘right relationship’ and helps to bring about a sense of integration within the individual. Alice Bailey affirms that “the new education will primarily be concerned with the scientific and conscious bridging between the various aspects of the human being, thus producing coordination and synthesis.” Integrated individuals at harmony with themselves will feed into and create a society at ease. Harmony and order within, manifesting as peace without. As Krishnamurti states, “the individual is made up of different entities, but to emphasize the differences and to encourage development of a definite type leads to complexities. Education should bring about the integration of those entities-for without integration life becomes a series of conflicts and sorrows. Of what value is it to be trained as a lawyer if we perpetuate litigation, what significance has technical and industrial capacity if we use it to destroy one another”?
In an interview on Education Benjamin Creme states his view that, ”education, in the first place, has to show the child that it is a member of a world family. Children need to be shown that we are not living alone in one large or small country, but in a world shared by 5.7 billion people. The child, above all, should be taught that this is the fundamental position of his/her life on Earth: that they are one of a group, a family.”[2]  Awareness of the group: classmates, family, community and ultimately humanity as a whole, and the environment in which ‘we live and move and have our being’ by definition encourages a sense of responsibility.
The cultivation of group/social responsibility and unity runs contrary to much current educational practice and methodology. L.Lee Knefelkamp – (Professor of Psychology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University) states, “we now suffer from more separation and fragmentation than ever before”, and that “our sense of mutuality has been severely shaken.”[6]  With the foundations education, within institutions and society, including the home and the workplace, being built on competition, conformity and schooling for work, divisions have been compounded. Krishnamurti, “our education emphasizes secondary values, merely making us proficient in some branch of knowledge. Though knowledge and efficiency are necessary, to lay chief emphasis on them only leads to conflict and confusion.” The individual is encouraged to value their own progress, success and material acquisition over the well being of the group, often in fact at its expense.
Ambition, the fulfilment of personal material goals and the cultivation of attitudes, which exclude and see others as ‘the competition’ fuels division and separation, leading to conflict and suffering. Krishnamurti expresses it thus; “we all want to be on top, and this desire creates constant conflict within ourselves and with our neighbour; it leads to competition, envy, animosity and finally war.”  The emphasis on individual achievement denies social responsibility and sets the individual apart, which as Krishnamurti makes clear ‘creates constant conflict within ourselves and with our neighbour’.
Values and methods that establish group relationships and encourage group awareness would help to create an integrated world community. Social responsibility naturally flows from the awareness of the integrated nature of life, and of ones place within the whole. John Dewey felt the impulse to help others is a natural human quality experienced by all children, in Education for Social Change he states, “the child’s natural desire [is] to give out, to do, and this means to serve”.  Service flows from, and generates responsibility for others and ones environment, it naturally comes about as self awareness flowers. As Alice Bailey states “identification with group purposes and plans is the natural attribute of the soul. As this identification is carried forward on mental and soul levels, it produces a corresponding activity on the personal life and this activity we call service.” Service, we might defines as, action undertaken for the benefit of others, for the enrichment of the group, with little or no selfish motive. 
Demonstrations of social responsibility flow ‘naturally’ from an awareness of ones place within the whole and help to facilitate a natural realisation of the unity of all life, which encourages values of tolerance, cooperation and understanding of others –  Principles of Goodness we could call them.
Spiritual Basis
Such ideas moves us to think of education as that which, amongst other things enables relationship with the ‘Will of Life’ that imbues all form with purpose. Establishing relationship with this – ‘divine purpose’ and cultivating actions consistent with its nature, should be seen as a fundamental purpose of education. Rudolph Steiner explained that, “when we confront education earnestly it is demanded of us not only to acknowledge for the peace of our soul, but to will God’s will, to act the intentions of God. To do this however, we need a spiritual basis for education.”[3]
Education that de-centralises, that places value in service, encourages self-knowledge and ‘right relationship’ with oneself and others, will help create a quite space within, enabling one to respond to what Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (founder of The Theosophical Society in 1875 and author of The Secret Doctrine) described as ‘The Voice of the Silence’, in which echoes, what she called, ‘the intentions of God’. Krishnamurti affirms, “when there is self-knowledge, the power of creating illusions ceases, and only then is it possible for reality or God to be known”.
Illusions flow from all constructs of the self as separate, and reinforce negative aspects of living such as fear and guilt. Separation is regarded as ‘the great illusion’ and is the seed for all mental constructs that veil reality. What higher purpose could education possibly have than to shatter the ‘great illusion’ and respond to divine purpose; to “will Gods Will” as Steiner puts it.    
An understanding and awareness of the spiritual basis of all life needs to be at the root of education. To date education has focused on the external, the material, the ephemeral, now it is time to broaden this approach and relate the spiritual to the material, to emphasis the life within the form.
Pragmatic spirituality underpinning all areas of education, formal and non-formal alike, will transform education, placing value and quality as expressions of Being at the heart of all areas of learning and communal living. Such a shift in approach is essential if we are to re-imagine civilisation and bring about the much needed fundamental changes in society.
Central to this revolution in consciousness must be education, which in its current form neglects what Maria Montessori called, “the most basic of all needs of the child – the exigencies of his spirit and his soul. The human being that lives within the child remains stifled therein.”[4]  Alice Bailey makes the point even more clearly saying, “the task of the new education is (therefore) the coordination of the personality, eventually bringing about its at-one-ment with the soul.” A living spirituality underpinning all areas of education, understood as that which expands the evolving consciousness into greater awareness, deeper understanding, and more purposeful living, for this to take place there must be freedom, of thought and being. 
Ideological identity
For freedom to be realised ideologies – religious, political, economic etc, need to come to an end. The encrusted doctrine of opinions that form ‘isms of all kinds isolate and exclude, and they should be rigorously questioned and challenged. Any such debate is greatly threatening to those seeking to build a world in their making. John Dewey sates, “Anyone who has begun to think, places some portion of the world in jeopardy.” [10]
Participation in the life of a nation, lets call it a democracy, is greatly limited where there is limited or restricted access to formal education, where literacy is poor, where the freedom to think and articulate ones views cogently is discouraged, and where education is largely based on economics. For these reasons the ‘New Rulers of the World’, who differ little from the Old rulers of the world, are against  liberal education – no matter the rhetoric and party/State line. Noam Chomsky makes this clear, saying “the anti-democratic thrust of opinion in what are called democratic societies is really ferocious, and for good reason. Because the freer the society gets, the more dangerous the great beast becomes and the more you have to be careful to cage it somehow.”[11] The ‘Great Beast’ is what Alexander Hamilton (a founding father of The United States and chief staff aid to George Washington) called ‘the people’ – the 99.9%. Chomsky again, “as freedom grows, the need to coerce and control opinion also grows if you want to prevent the great beast from doing something with its freedom” – like challenging the status quo.
In order for education to enable democratic participation, which is involvement in every aspect of society, communities, the workplace, schooling – every area, it must be purged of all ideological influences. Specifically, but not exclusively, the ideology of the ‘market’ with its political power; democracy based on the ‘market’ – capitalist based democracy, is a very distorted version of democracy.  Education based on corporate politics demands that young people be conditioned in a particular manner; such polluted ideas have no place in the ‘new time’ or the movement of change sweeping through the world and no place in  education. 
I think I am what I think
Education, within schools, universities and the home, has been used as a vehicle for the perpetuation of ideology and control. Conformity has been the norm and goal. Much talk is given to independence and fostering a creative spirit and enquiry, whilst subtly, and not so subtly, methodologies are employed that manipulate the child to accept certain ideas; ideas that breed intolerance and prejudice and isolate the individual from the whole.
It is the conditioned identification of the self with an ideology, which is the root of the insistence that a particular set of ideas and the resulting view of life is correct. The ideologue becomes the ism. Each and every ism, or doctrinal construct is as deadly as the next. Self-identification with any belief system traps the one identified and fuels divisive thoughts, words and deeds, Krishnamurti “if in our relationship with ideas we justify one ideology in opposition to another, mutual distrust and ill-will are the inevitable results.” 
When we identify ourselves with any ideology, we limit, or trap the self, and set up a brittle basis upon which self-identity and relationship rests. We become protective of the position adopted and fearful of any weakness in its design being revealed. For the ideology to be seen to be ‘wrong’ or limited, proven to be so perhaps, one is seen to have failed. Such failure then is a failure not simply of judgement but of who and what one is.
Through fostering expectation and encouraging ambition, the cultivation of seperative attitudes takes place, instilling negative values apposed to perennial principles of goodness, Krshnamurti “education should help us to discover lasting values so that we do not merely cling to formulas or repeat slogans, it should help us to break down our national and social barriers, instead of emphasizing them.” Self-awareness, which allows for self-knowledge will aid in the deconstruction of ‘isms and the flowering of intelligence. “Understanding comes only through self-knowledge, which is awareness of ones total psychological process. Thus education in the true sense is the understanding of oneself.” The understanding of oneself, of the total make up of the individual, the innate potential, the gifts, as well as the negative tendencies and patterns, is a main purpose of education. 
Freedom to Think the Unthinkable
Freedom to think is, in principle, if not in fact, a quality of democracy; democracy is participation, involvement and sharing, Chomsky, “a truly democratic community is one in which the general public has the opportunity for meaningful and constructive participation in the formation of social policy:  in their own immediate community, in the workplace, the society at large.” [13]  In order for there to be ‘meaningful and constructive participation’, all members of society need to be ‘well’ educated. By which is meant, educated to think freely, or to allow freedom of thought to take place.
Within a so called democratic society freedom of the individual is greatly restricted, unless the expression of said freedom is consistent with the prevailing ideology. Conformity to the ideal is expected, in fact insisted upon and fiercely promoted through the powerful tools of propaganda, the media, advertising, organised religion and educational. To resists the pressure to adopt the prevalent ideology takes great strength and independence of mind.  The social pressure to conform and ‘fit in’ is great, within all areas of social living; children (on the whole) yearn to be liked, loved in fact, by their parents and peers, and adopt all manner of behaviour patterns of conformity and self manipulation in order to be so. Krishnamurti  says, “to be different from the group or to resist  environment is not easy and is often risky as long as we worship success. The urge to be successful, which is the pursuit of reward, whether in the material or in the so-called spiritual sphere, the search for inward and outward security, the desire for comfort-this whole process smothers discontent, puts and end to spontaneity and breeds fear.”
Freedom to be
The purpose of education must be to establish unity of being, within the individual, between people and between mankind and nature. This is an evolving process of recognition; expansions of consciousness, to include greater and greater aspects of reality, widening the experience of life and broadening awareness. Krishnamurti tells us the “right kind of education, which is to foster an understanding of what is.” Self-awareness, free from the pressure to conform or succeed, enables the individual to see him or herself with clarity. To experience the various aspects of their being, mental, emotional and physical, in space and time. To witness they’re becoming.
The observer observes, seeing strengths and failings. In the awareness of potential a sense of that which is latent may be felt and known. Plato viewed education as a revelatory work, of making conscious an ever-present unrealised state; “education means, because the mind is active, a process of eliciting something that in a way we already know.”[18] The manifestation of the limitless within the limited, experienced through self-awareness, should be a concern of education. Alice A. Bailey talked in a similar way, saying that education “must enable him (student) to bridge the various aspects of his own mental nature.” Bailey is here referring to the three aspects of mind, which she states, “constitute the most important part of his {mans} nature,” and further, that “the fundamental necessity which today confronts the educational world is the need to relate the human mentality to the world of meaning, and not to the world of objective phenomena.”
She is suggesting that an important purpose of education is a bridging work. Building connections between the various aspects of mind, and facilitating the undistorted expression of ideas contacted.  Plato felt that “mind moves towards the ultimate end of knowledge”, the form [as he called it] of ‘The Good’. “Education culminates in the knowledge of this Form.” (PTEd) The ‘good’ we could say is the nature of man himself, it is the life within the form; the higher seeking expression through the lower, brought about through correct relationship. Knowledge of this form – ‘the good’ will bring about action consistent with its nature, known by its inherent quality –and imbued with meaning. Plato’s thoughts again, “right action implies acting in the light of the knowledge of the Good; knowledge of the Good is the perfection of education.” (PTEd)
Education has therefore as a fundamental purpose, the facilitating of relationship with the higher aspects of mans nature. Conscious apprehension of the place the individual holds to the whole and a realisation of the unity of all life, will grow out of such union, and social responsibility – ‘right action’, will naturally – as John Dewey rightly said – flow from the awareness of this essential unity. Alice A Bailey states that “true education is therefore the science of linking up the integral parts of man, and also of linking him up in turn with his immediate environment, and then with the greater whole in which he has to play his part. Each aspect, regarded as a lower aspect, can ever be the expression of the next higher.” The ‘integral parts of man’ constitute a whole.  Bodies of expression for the indwelling life, the observer – who and what he/she in truth is. Aiding the individual in the experience and realisation of his true being, has to be a primary function of education, and is I suggest, consistent with a definition of the purpose of life. Robert Louis Stevenson felt that “to be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.”[20]
The removal of elements that seek to mould a person into a particular shape, from all areas of education and society, will allow the individual to quite naturally be themselves, not some kind of constructed idea of self, but a realisation of ones inherent nature. Krishnamurti: “if we begin to understand the individual directly instead of looking at him through the screen of what we think he should be, then we no longer want to transform the individual into something else; our only concern is to help him to understand himself.” This is a concept held dear by the thinkers of the Enlightenment, who maintained that education that allowed the individual to reveal who and what they are was the highest goal in life.
Education & Society
Clearly education has a vital role and responsibility to play in the type of society we create and live in.  If we are to achieve peace within society the individuals who make up the society must be in harmony with themselves, this will naturally create living environments free from conflict, for the society is the individual. Krishnamurti expresses this idea “If we want to change existing [living] conditions, we must first transform ourselves, which means that we must become aware of our own actions, thoughts and feelings in everyday life.” The cultivation of Self-awareness must therefore be a fundamental purpose of all education.
Education is about freedom, and the promotion of freedom in which ‘the Good’ may be expressed, or as Krishnamurti puts it in a letter to the schools, “goodness can only flower in freedom”. It is important to   understand what we mean by freedom. Can there be freedom within the boundaries of thought, which, moving within the field of time is always bound by its content? The conditioned patterns that move, often unconsciously within our consciousness, animating our actions, determining the direction of our lives and perpetuating the belief systems adhered too.
The dismantling of restrictive patterns of thought – psychological conditioning – is a fundamental purpose of education. Krishnamurti tells us “consciousness is it content”, well, such content is largely unconscious. Self-awareness, borne of observation is (in the first place) the conscious recognition of content, enabling (conscious) action to take place, freed, albeit partially, from conditioning, which forever imposes limitation. Krishnamurti again, “there is an intelligent revolt which comes with self knowledge through the awareness of ones own thoughts and feelings,” and “there is radical transformation only when we understand our own conditioning and are free of it.” With this, education should be concerned, but, as Benjamin Creme, made clear “the fundamental purpose of education, as I see it, is to equip people to demonstrate their divine potential.” The realisation of ‘divine potential’ can only come about when educational environments in which liberation from all that limits and inhibits are cultivated. Crème goes on to say that “education should be the evocation of the potential – whether emotional, mental, or spiritual, of each individual child.“
This focuses the discussion of purpose in education towards a new underlying function; to allow for the demonstration of ‘divine potential.’ It is a function that is compatible with the various purposes stated throughout. Freedom, love, ‘the good’, unity, relationship, all find a common source, it is a point of wholeness without limitation, beyond definition. It is the nature of life itself and in the realisation of such, education needs to concern itself.  Let us no longer neglect nor stifle the most basic needs of the human being – the realisation and expression of their ‘divine potential’,  but rather design a living approach to education that sees such noble work as key to its puspose.
We hear all too often the truism that education should help the individual fulfil their potential. It is common sense that education should take as a primary purpose the realisation of our nature, which Crème suggests is divine. He of course is not alone in making such an assertion, in Rudolph Steiner’s theories of education, he makes clear, he sees the child as a ‘soul in incarnation’ and that “education becomes an aid to incarnation, to assist and harmonize the growth of the spiritual being into its physical form.”[24]
A key purpose of education then, is to allow for the realisation and expression of that which is innate, to give expression to and aid in the realisation of who and what we as human beings are. Alice A Bailey makes clear, “the increasing of soul awareness, the deepening of the flow of consciousness and the development of an inner continuity of awareness, plus the evocation of soul attributes and aspects upon the physical plane constitute the objective of all education.”  (ENA)  Whether that which is innate is described as ‘potential’ as Dewey terms it, or what Rousseau called ‘human freedom’, the ‘divine’ according to Benjamin Creme, or the ‘soul’ of which Steiner, Montessori and Alice Bailey speak. Education must be concerned with facilitating the relationship with and manifest expression of this aspect of mans nature, so long overlooked through ignorance and prejudice.
[1] Education in the New Age Alice A Bailey Lucis Trust 1954
[2] Education in the New Age (ENA) Interview with Benjamin Crème by George Catlin
[3] Spiritual Ground of Education. (SGE) The necessity for spiritual insight Rudolph Steiner.   
[4]  The Child. Maria Montessori
[5]  Education in the New Age. (ENA AB) Alice A Bailey.
[6] Faculty and Student Development in the 80s (FSD) L.Lee Knefelkamp
[7] The Educational Theory of Noam Chomsky (ETNC)
[8] Education And Discipline” Bertrand Russell
[10] John Dewey
[11] (EII)
[13] The Essential Chomsky. (EC)  New York, N.Y.: The New Press
[14] John Dewey Democracy and Education. 1916.
[15] The Age of Reason and Natural Human Rights
[16] Carl Jung Paracelsus the Physician (1942)
[17] Dewey. Democracy and Education. 1916.
[18] Plato’s theory of education in The Republic, (PTEd) an introduction by A.B.Finlay
[19]  Rudolph Steiner, Spiritual Ground of Education. The necessity for spiritual insight.     
[20] Robert Louis Stevenson, Familiar Studies of Men and Books
[21] J Krishnamurti. Letters to the Schools. Krishnamurti Foundation Trust Ltd England.
[22]  Language and Freedom (LF) –
[23]  The Child. Maria Montessori
[24]  UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol.XXIV, no. 3/4, 1994, p. 555-572..…/steinere.pdf

The Pain of Modern life: Suicide – a Worldwide Epidemic

A friend recently asked to meet for coffee. ‘I’ve had some more bad news,’ his text said. A ‘fifty something’ year old friend had taken his own life the day before. Jack had hanged himself from a tree in a public park on the outskirts of London; it was his fourth attempt. He had four children. This was the second, middle-aged, male friend to have committed suicide within six months.
Their stories are far from unique. Suicide occurs everywhere in the world to people of all age groups, from 15 to 70 years. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that almost one million people commit suicide every year, with 20 times that number attempting it, and the numbers are rising. Methods vary from country to country: in the USA, where firearms litter the streets, 60% of people shoot themselves; in India and other Asian countries, as well as South Africa, taking poison, particularly drinking pesticides, is the most popular choice. In Hong Kong, China and urban Taiwan, WHO records that a new method, “charcoal-burning suicide” has been recorded. Drowning, jumping from a height, slashing wrists and hanging (the most popular form in Britain, the Balkans and Eastern European countries) are some of the other ways desperate human beings decide to end their lives.
Stigma and under-reporting of suicides
According to WHO, 1.5% of worldwide deaths were caused by suicide in 2012, making it the third highest cause of death in the world. And this is just those deaths confirmed as suicide. WHO admits that the availability and quality of data is poor, with only 60 Member States providing statistics “that can be used directly to estimate suicide rates.” Many suicides, they say, “are hidden among other causes of death, such as single car, single driver road traffic accidents, un-witnessed drownings and other undetermined deaths.” These are just some of the many factors that make accurately assessing the numbers who take their own lives problematic. In countries where social attitudes, or religious dogma, shroud suicide in a stigma of guilt (Sub-Saharan Africa, where suicide is rarely if ever discussed or admitted, for instance), suicide may be hidden and go un-reported; so too in countries where suicide is still regarded as a criminal act: Hungary for example, where attempted suicide carries a prison sentence of five years, or Japan where it is illegal to commit suicide. North Korea, where relatives of a person committing suicide are penalised; Ireland, where self-harm is not generally regarded as a form of attempted suicide; Singapore, where suicide remains illegal and attempted suicide can result in imprisonment; or Russia, where the rate of teenage suicides is three times the world average and where those attempting suicide can be committed to a psychiatric hospital. All of which are pretty strong reasons for hiding suicide attempts and concealing suicide as the cause of death, as well as deterring people from discussing suicidal thoughts.
Whatever the precise number of total deaths by suicide – and all the indications are that it is a good deal higher than WHO says – what is clear is that suicide is a major social issue. The figures of both attempted suicides and committed suicides are increasing; it needs to be openly discussed, the causes understood and more support provided. In the last 45 years, WHO state that suicide rates have increased by 60%, and unless something marvellous happens that drastically changes the environment in which we are living, they predict that by 2020 the rate of death will have doubled – from one suicide every 40 seconds, to someone, somewhere in the world taking his/her life every 20 seconds!
Rates of suicide and gender ratios vary from country to country and region to region, but overwhelmingly men are more at risk than women. WHO found that 75% of global suicides occurred in low- and middle-income countries, with 30% of all suicides occurring in China and India where suicide was only de-criminalised in 2014. Eastern European countries the lowest. And although suicide rates worldwide have traditionally been highest amongst elderly men, young people – that’s 15-29 – year olds, are now the group at the greatest risk in a third of all countries. Suicide, WHO states, is the “leading cause of death in this age group after transport and other accidents and assault for males,” with very little gender difference – “9.5% in males and 8.2% in females.”
Throughout western societies around three times the number of men die by suicide than women, and over 50s are particularly vulnerable. In Britain men account for 80% of all suicide cases (with an average of 13 men a day killing themselves), 40-44 year olds are particularly at risk here. In “low- and middle-income countries”, WHO records, “the male-to-female ratio is much lower [than more developed countries] at 1.5 men to each woman.” Surprisingly, in the USA, where four times the number of men die from suicide than women, according to The Centre of Disease Control and Prevention, women are more likely to attempt it.  The statistical gender gap in western societies may in small part be caused, The Samaritans think, by the different suicide methods used by men and women. Leading to the fact that in some cases “the intent cannot be determined (or assumed) as easily [with women] as in methods more common to males.” This may result, they say, “in more under-reporting of suicidal deaths in females.“
The causes of suicide
The specific reasons why people commit suicide are many and varied; ‘mental health issues’ is the umbrella term often cited as the cause. According to researchers at Glasgow University 90% of suicide cases suffer from some form of mental illness. It is an ambiguous phrase though, that explains little, and comforts the bereaved less. It would seem obvious that if someone kills themselves, they are not feeling mentally or emotionally ‘intact’, or ‘good’. ‘I struggled for so long’, ‘I couldn’t cope anymore’, ‘life seemed meaningless’, ‘I felt tremendous anxiety’, and so on, are phrases common to many of us, including those people contemplating, attempting or committing suicide. Perhaps understandably depression is usually mentioned as a cause, but this of course does not mean everyone suffering from depression is at risk of suicide!
The WHO makes clear that whilst suicide rates vary enormously from country to country, differences, “influenced by the cultural, social, religious and economic environments in which people live and sometimes want to stop living..…the pressures of life, that cause extreme emotional distress” and sometimes lead to suicide,
are similar everywhere.”
It is these ‘pressures of life’, that need to be properly understood, what they are, where they come from, the impact they have, and how we can change the structure of society to free humanity from them. Why do we have such damaging ‘pressures of life’?  We should not be living in a world that produces such detrimental forces. Something in our world society is terribly wrong when a million or so people kill themselves every year, and where suicide is the second highest cause of death amongst under 20 year olds.
I am not a psychologist, but commonsense would suggest that the ‘sense of self’ sits at the heart of the issue, the volatile central cause. If that ‘sense of self’ is positive, if one feels connected to ‘life’, has structure, purpose and self-belief, feels liked, loved even, then suicide would seem unlikely. If, however, the image of self is negative, of a ‘failure’, unable to ‘fit in’, feeling lost, lacking direction and experiencing social and emotional withdrawal, a fragile sense of self and increasing vulnerability are, it would seem, likely.
Then there are the practical problems we all face of earning a living and paying the rent/mortgage; the more subtle issues – pressures of ‘succeeding’ – economically, socially, in a career, and in ‘love’. The inability – real or perceived – to meet these ‘pressures of life’ creating worry and anxiety – perhaps leading to alcohol or substance abuse – which strengthens social isolation, reinforces the image of failure, weakening self-belief/confidence and strengthening self-loathing. And all this in a world where weakness, particularly in men, is frowned upon; where sensitivity, uncertainty and fragility are to be overcome – ‘toughen up’ is the message, spoken directly or indirectly.
We have little understanding of who and what we are, so we create images, cling to ideological constructs that move us further and further away from our true nature. The ideal image of what it means to be a human being, particularly a man, has become increasingly narrow. Men, especially under 40 year olds, must be decisive, strong and ambitious. Any flowery beliefs – philosophical or religious for example – should be eradicated, or at least hidden, certainly not mentioned in public. Any admission of self-doubt and signs of vulnerability should be completely avoided, and a macho, no-nonsense approach to life adopted and expressed.
Broadly speaking this has become the stereotype of what it is to be a man in the 21st century, and conformity to the pattern is insisted on – via education, peer pressure and the corporate media. Women, particularly young women are expected to meet a similarly, if slightly less constricting, formulated ideal. Both are extremely restrictive, unhealthy images that fit into a worldwide system of societal uniformity, built by, and in the interests of, multinationals (who own everything), facilitated by corporate governments (who lack principles), which is sucking the richness, and diversity out of life. Everyone is expected to want the same things, to wear the same clothes, believe the same propaganda, aspire to the same ideals and behave the same. Every country, city, town and village is seen as a marketplace, every person a consumer to be exploited fully, sucked dry and discarded.
Competition and conformity have infiltrated every area of worldwide society, from education to health care. Everything and everyone is seen as a commodity, to be bought at the lowest price and sold at the highest, financial profit is the overwhelming motive that drives and distorts action. Materialistic values promoting individual success, greed and selfishness saturate the world; ‘values’ that divide and separate humanity, leading to social tension, conflict and illness. Ideals, which are not values in any real sense of the word, which have both fashioned the divisive political-economic landscape in which we live (which has failed the masses and poisoned the planet), and been strengthened by it. Together with the economic system of market fundamentalism which so ardently promotes them, these ‘values’ form, I believe, the basic ingredients in the interwoven set of social factors that cause a great deal of the ‘mental health issues’, which lead those most vulnerable members of our society to commit suicide. Men, women and children who simply cannot cope with the ‘pressures of life’ anymore, who feel the collective and individual pain of life acutely, are disposed towards introspection and find the world too noisy, its values too crude, its demands of ‘strength’ not weakness, ‘success’ not failure, ‘confidence’ not doubt, impossible to meet. And why should they have to meet them, why do these ‘pressures of life’ exist at all?
It is time to build an altogether different, healthier model, a new way of living in which true perennial values of goodness, shape the systems that govern the societies in which we live, and not the corrosive, ideologically reductive corporate weapons of ubiquitous living which are sucking the beauty, diversity and joy out of life.  Values of compassion, selflessness, cooperation, tolerance and understanding; we need, as Arundhati Roy puts it, “to redefine the meaning of modernity, to redefine the meaning of happiness,” for we have exchanged happiness for pleasure, replaced love with desire, unity with division, cooperation with competition, and have created a divided society, where conflict rages, internationally, regionally, communally and individually.
April 2015

Hope and Wonder Amidst the Misery

A friend’s five year old daughter recently asked him to ‘turn off the radio news’ because its ‘always so miserable’ – is anyone else sick and tired of reading and hearing continuously disturbing, depressing news items? I know I am. The corporate worldwide media peddles a relentlessly bleak vision of life and world affairs, and acting in partnership with governments of all shades, seems determined to keep us all in a condition of perpetual anxiety and insecurity. However, there is much to cheer and feel positive about in this beautiful world of ours; allow me to share one of the more extraordinary, albeit controversial stories that the mainstream media largely ignores. It is a message of hope, and if true there may just be the chance, that “all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” As the 13th century Christian mystic Dame Julian of Norwich famously said.
Over the past thirty years or so British artist and writer Benjamin Crème travelled the globe telling anyone who would listen that Maitreya, the World Teacher, the ‘Coming One’ for this time, is in the world and is gradually, patiently emerging into public view. Crème’s work “has been to make the initial approach to the public, to help create a climate of hope and expectancy”. And to this end he has given hundreds of media interviews, constantly lectured and written an impressive array of books, as well as editing Share International Magazine since its inception.
The idea of a teacher coming forth to share his wisdom and vision of life with humanity at times of crisis and upheaval is of course not new. In the Bhagavad Gita (Book iv, sutra 7 & 8) – the cornerstone of Hinduism – Krishna tells His disciple Arjuna, that “whenever there is a withering of the law and an uprising of lawlessness on all sides, then I manifest myself. For the salvation of the righteous and the destruction of such as do evil, for the firm establishing of the Law, I come to birth age after age.” Looking around this world of ours there would certainly appear to be an “uprising of lawlessness on all sides,” and the implementation of man-made laws, (never mind the adherence to Laws from a ‘higher source’), is definitely withering!
Krishna is One great teacher amongst many who have graced us with their presence over the centuries: Mohammad, Christ, the Buddha, Sankaracharya, Vyasa, Mithra, Rama are some of the other major historical figures. They have shared their knowledge and given out the teachings that inspire and guide millions of people around the world.
The time is right
The appearance of a divine teacher in our IT, scientifically-oriented world sounds fantastical to many who will no doubt dismiss even the possibility; but it is a promise held close by all the world’s religions and hoped for by millions of believers. Christians of course look for the second coming of Christ, Buddhists are expecting a new Buddha, called Maitreya Buddha, Hindus await the return of Krishna, Muslims, the Imam Mardi and Jews are still hoping for the Messiah. Esoteric literature makes clear, and many believe, that these are but different names for one and the same individual: the World Teacher, whose personal name is Maitreya. He was foretold to come at this time by the previous Buddha, Gautama Buddha, who is reported to have said (2,600 years ago) that, “at the beginning of this cycle there would come into the world another great teacher, a Buddha like himself, by name Maitreya”…. who “would inspire humanity to create a brilliant golden civilization based, as he put it, on Righteousness and Truth.” Two qualities that most would agree are sorely missing in this world, particularly in the world of politics and economics – imagine corporations, bankers and politicians speaking the truth and acting with righteousness!
Maitreya, Crème explains, is the head of a large group of perfected, ‘Self-Realised’ individuals, an idea found in a range of esoteric texts. They are collectively known under various names: the Great White Brotherhood, the Society of Illumined Minds, the Elder Brothers of Humanity, the Teachers, the Guides, the Mahatmas, the Masters of Wisdom and the Lords of Compassion. It is from this group of spiritual giants (who we are told, have lived for millennia in the mountains and deserts of the world) according to various sources that the teacher has cyclically emerged down the ages.  We are living at the beginning of a new cosmic cycle or age: the ‘Age of Aquarius’. It is at just such an auspicious time that a guide would be expected to come forth, and is indeed hoped for by millions of people – religiously inclined and not.
Crème points to a wide range of signs, which he says Maitreya and His group is responsible for, to substantiate his claim. From the worldwide appearance of multi-coloured moving ‘stars’; to mysterious patterns of light, which for decades have adorned seemingly random buildings in Europe and America; hundreds of weeping statues of deities (mainly Jesus and the Madonna); the extraordinary Hindu ‘Milk Miracle’, which has occurred three times since 1995; the flowing of ‘healing water’ in Tlacote Mexico (since May 1991) and elsewhere  – and many more baffling phenomena.
As well as these unexplained ‘miracles’ invoked as signs of Maitreya’s presence, there is a raft of more down -to-earth events, which suggest we are living in unprecedented times of change – much needed, with the inevitable uncertainty.
In amongst the outward turmoil there is evidence of a shift in thinking, small and subtle, but potent and real, taking place amongst large numbers; sharing, social responsibility and ideas of collective action, cooperation and unity are its hallmark. The worldwide protest movement, that has seen huge numbers take to the streets demanding freedom, justice, an end to government corruption and ideological interventions, bears witness to such a change. Against this progressive development religious extremism has swept across the Middle East and large parts of Africa, and the neo-conservative reactionary forces throughout the world close ranks, resist change and seek to do all they can to maintain the divisive unjust status quo.
Perhaps there is a connection between Maitreya’s promised emergence and these various global happenings.
The story is an extraordinary message of hope – something which is in very short supply. At the very least it demands our attention and open-minded enquiry; if true and it is somehow compelling, it will be seen to be of unprecedented importance.
February 2015

Transitional Times or the End Times?

Many there are, who seeing the violent turmoil raging throughout large parts of the world, together with the devastating impact of man-made climate change, fear humanity and the planet is on the verge of destruction. Those religiously inclined – particularly those sitting on the far right of the spectrum, point towards various passages in sacred texts, which they believe accurately describe these times and proclaim them to be ‘the end times’. Apocalyptically understood, through the prism of doctrine, to be not simply the annihilation of a sin-drenched humanity who according to the ‘judgment of the just’ no doubt deserve it, but the obliteration of the Earth itself. This doom-laden interpretation of events cultivates fear, suffocates hope and fails to recognise the good amongst the black flags and chaos.
Fortunately there is an alternative, sunnier view of the present time, a common sense albeit controversial vision that creates hope (something that is in short supply), not fear and despair. It is a quieter voice which remains largely buried under the worldwide blanket of anxiety and insecurity, it says these are not ‘the end times’ but transitional times; that we are not witnessing the ‘end of the world’ or the slow demise of humanity, but the final cries of a crumbling civilisation in terminal decline. A civilisation built over the last two thousand years or so in response to certain conditioning influences promoting specific values and ways of living; an out-dated and in many ways, to many people, inadequate mode of organising society that is now collapsing, and rightly so.
That there is great resistance to change is clear; those who have benefitted most under the present socio-economic model, fearful of lost privilege, seek to tighten their grip on power and silence those troublesome radicals demanding social justice, freedom, environmental responsibility and democratic participation. Regime response to social revolutions throughout North Africa – the ‘Arab Spring’ – violent suppression in Turkey and Brazil, Thailand and Venezuela, are examples of governments’ unyielding brutal response to the united cries of the people. Cries that have echoed throughout the world, north south, east and west over the past thirty years or so, in an unprecedented movement of popular activism to claw back rights and liberties, confront government corruption and demand social justice, as well as standing up to corporate development plans led by ideologically driven international agencies (namely the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank) and environmental abuse. Huge numbers have marched, demonstrated and rallied: ‘people power’ – ‘the worlds second superpower’ is perhaps the brightest spark of optimism in the world and is one of the clearest signs of the times in which we are living: times of change, times of transition and action, times of opportunity and hope.
Perennial values re-discovered
Sitting at the decaying heart of the present socio-political structures, aggressively dominating all areas of contemporary life is neo-liberal capitalism (or market fundamentalism). A product of the ideological environment of the time it has cultivated certain values, which without fear of contradiction we might term materialistic: values promoting individual success and ambition, encouraging greed, selfishness and social division that condition motives and distort actions. Deep within the festering ground of inequality and division, the seeds of conflict and turmoil, watered by despair and exclusion, flourish. Nations, regions as well as individuals, are forced to compete against one another, feeding nationalism, separation and conflict. Ideologically driven division has fuelled totalitarianism and extremism: political, economic, social, and, perhaps the darkest most dangerous manifestation, religious – as current events in Iraq reveal.
Die-hard devotees of the individualistic values of division – from which ideologies of all kinds have flowed – proclaim them to be the outcome of human nature. Sown into the genetic fabric of animal man they are inevitable, have always driven humanity, and always shall, consequentially neither materialistic values nor their elite exponents can be challenged much less changed. These believers, many of whom profit handsomely from the system, have sought to close down the intellectual space, to stifle debate and tarnish dissenting voices as naive idealists who lack the strength of character to compete with the high-octane sharp shooters, who, seduced by the promise of material reward are content to destroy homes, cultures, lives and land in the fulfilment of their personal ambitions.
Life has been defined in increasingly unimaginative material terms: the pursuit of pleasure encouraged, selfish desire championed; wonder and mystery dismissed, the unexplained ignored. In the land of ‘the individual’, conformity insisted on. Nowhere is this more evident than in education, as Noam Chomsky says: “the whole educational and professional training system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who think for themselves, and who don’t know how to be submissive, and so on — because they’re dysfunctional to the institutions.” Institutions – both state and corporate – that know well the dangers of independent thinking and daydreaming.
The nature of modernity itself needs re-defining, the purpose of life re-evaluating, a new civilisation built. And if one looks beneath the chaos and surface detritus, if one connects the diverse movements, developments and actions, the embryonic signs of a new time, of peaceful potential and unity can be seen – heralds of a new and just civilisation. One rooted in altogether different values to the existing ideologically driven paradigm, based on perennial values of goodness known and extolled for millennia, but largely unexpressed: values of peace, brotherhood, freedom and justice, tolerance, cooperation and understanding. Nothing radically revolutionary, but ideals re-assessed, re-discovered, understood and pragmatically applied to the forms, political, economic and social, which draw the shape of the society in which we live.
September 2014

Corporate Capitalism Versus Human happiness

Happiness, or at least the search for it, is a human right. It is in America anyway, where at birth the founding fathers boldly stated in the Declaration of Independence that, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, are “unalienable rights”, given to all humanity by “the creator” and which government is duty bound to protect. This virtuous document goes on to state that if the government “becomes destructive of these ends”, the people have the right “to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government” – one that is “most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” In Britain a recent report on mental health (albeit motivated by the cost of mental illness to the National Health Service) concluded that, “the ‘pursuit of happiness’ must become an explicit and measurable goal of government.”
The commonsense deduction that government policy should cultivate happiness, runs contrary to the impact and, many would argue, intention, of democratic corporate politics, which despite the liberal rhetoric, creates the conditions in which people – the 99% – live with perpetual anxiety and insecurity. Discontent is fostered, feeding the urge for comfort and pleasure: for escape. Transitory habit-forming relief is supplied in a range of colours by a plethora of corporations, including the pharmaceutical giants who annually make worldwide profits of, according to the World Health Organisation around 100 billion US $.
It is hard to be happy, or to have the energy and psychological space to pursue happiness when trapped under the suffocating, inhibiting shadow of fear. The basic requirements for happiness are clearly documented. Unsurprisingly they are food and shelter, friendship, to feel part of something – a family, community etc. – valued, loved even. When these externals are threatened, so too is our fragile sense of wellbeing and happiness: anxiety floods our nervous system replacing these transient dependent states.
Pleasure or Happiness?
 Whether recognized as a universal human right or not, happiness is a state of being to which we all naturally aspire. Children throughout the world, often despite their circumstances, wake with it, bear testimony to its living presence and, free from longing, spread it abroad. It is an inherent part of our nature, as the great 20th century Indian Sage Ramana Maharshi said, “happiness is your nature. It is not wrong to desire it. What is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside.” The current economic paradigm forces us to do precisely this: it preaches a doctrine of happiness based on consumerism and materialism, and devotees of the divisive, worn out system, that sits at the poisonous root of so many of our problems, use universally pervasive methods to persuade and entrap. Advertising and PR, together with the media, form the primary tools of deceit.
All too often happiness is confused with or exchanged for pleasure; pleasure derived as J. Krishnamurti makes clear from satisfying a longing. ‘You want a car, and you get it, and you are happy… I want to be the greatest politician, and if I get it I am happy. If I cannot get it [what I want], I am unhappy. So what you call happiness is getting what you want.” And conversely, “if you cannot get what you want then unhappiness begins.” The happiness achieved by “getting what we want” does not last and traps us between what appear to be opposites: happiness and misery. The thrill of getting what we want – the new car, i-pad, job or dress – quickly dies away and we regress to the previous level of happiness or frustration (the Hedonic Treadmill of British psychologist Michael Eysenck) and the emptiness we were so desperate to fill reasserts itself.
We are encouraged to believe that pleasurable experiences make us happy’, are in fact the source of our happiness. And so we hunt them out, moving from one pleasurably stimulating moment to another, hopefully even more intense, more satiating. We live for these highlights, punctuate our lives with them and a great deal of time and energy is spent(understandably we might think) trying to maximize pleasure in the search for happiness, and avoiding its opposite – pain and the associated suffering. And here within the duality of desire we live out our days. Caught, trapped and all too often discontent and anxious.
Pleasure is generally sensory, often hedonistic, always temporary. It functions in tandem with desire. Insatiable and entwined, chicken and egg, with fear, desire was long ago identified by the Buddha as the cause of all suffering. In order to be free from pain He preached The Third Noble Truth (of Four), proclaiming that: all personal desire and ambition must be extinguished by the person who wishes freedom from suffering.” Before The Enlightened One shared His wisdom the ancient seers of India made plain the need to overcome desire, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad amongst others making clear that “the true nature of the Self [or Soul we might say] is to be free from fear, free from desire,” which function as the major obstacles to happiness, freedom and peace. Desire is like a permanent itch, it aggravates discontent and thereby inevitably fuels suffering. It has hold of the minds of humanity and is a core requirement in the perpetuation of the consumer driven neo-liberal economic system, which actively encourages the adoption of attitudes of mind that strengthen individual desire and intensify social division: ambition and competition, for example.
Hollow promises
The neo-liberal model of capitalist complacency beloved by politicians red, white and blue, promises happiness but delivers discontent, material dependency, social inequality and division: little of lasting value. It encourages identification with materiality, strengthens a value system promoting acquisition, consumption and desire. Hollow and insatiable ideals that divide societies, strengthen atomization, and cause unhappiness and illness. Governments, north, south (they have no choice), east and west, who believe they are elected to bring economic success and to ‘compete on the world stage’, are the murky facilitators, beneficiaries and bedmates of worldwide corporate chaos. Rampant capitalism – “market fundamentalism” the acclaimed Indian writer P. Sainath calls it – thrives on consumerism, it preaches abundance for all, never sufficiency, never just address your needs; no, fill your boots, your desires to overflowing – ‘because you’re worth it’, and then some more they scream, and scream. There in the homogenized land of globalized shopping, the Shangri-La of insatiability, where all credit card-carrying visitors are welcome, if not equal; it is there in the corporate polystyrene cafes that happiness sits, wrapped in mock leather inscribed in gold with the motto: ‘Greed is Good’ – or is it ‘Greed is God’.
Instead of facilitating the creation of a civilization based on perennial principles of goodness; freedom, social justice, unity and cooperation, the puppets in grey suits have allowed, indeed encouraged, a cul
ture of mediocrity and ugliness, competition and greed, division and destruction to spread like a plague across our beautiful world. Everything is a commodity, from a forest to a child, a river to a view: all is to be bought (after all ‘everything and everyone has their price’), used and sold; wrung dry of inherent value and promise and discarded. Conformity is demanded, desire constantly stoked; the agents of materialism knowing well no matter how often it is scratched it will never rest, never be made quiet, and so happiness will always lie in the next shopping basket, the upcoming vacation, that new jacket or mobile phone. This is the daily dogma poured out; subtle and crude are the ways, anxiety, discontent and a plethora of mental illness the consequences. In America for example, where the ‘pursuit of happiness’ is a constitutional duty of government, the WHO record that 21% of the population are known to be suffering from depression (that’s 64 million); worldwide they describe it as an epidemic, with 350 million suffering – hardly the picture of a society bathed in happiness.  Who knows what the figure would be if the 800 million living in stifling poverty in India where surveyed, or the 450 million struggling on less than $2 a day in Sub-Saharan Africa or rural China. And no, they are not ‘poor but happy’; they are poor, and suffering, many intolerably.
Happiness as a permanent state implies contentment and freedom from desire, with its inherent agitation and insatiability. Whilst it is not the responsibility of governments to ‘make’ people happy, it is their duty to abolish methods and reform systems that build obstacles to happiness and feed a climate of anxiety. Conversely governments should actively work to promote the building of a society based on perennial values, many of which sit at the heart of true democracy: participation, cooperation, sharing and unity. Qualities that allow happiness to naturally come into being.
August 2014

Goals of the New Way: Unity in Diversity

Well-informed, well-read, and by nature compassionately optimistic, a dear friend recently expressed our collective concern: “I am more worried about the state of the world now than at any time in my lifetime.”
Given the fires raging throughout the world it is difficult to remain hopeful for the future of humanity or the planet. With the Middle East tearing itself to pieces, extremism and intolerance reasserting themselves and far right groups in a variety of countries gaining support, and in many cases political influence, not to mention the worldwide environmental mayhem, man-made climate change (the most serious single issue facing us) and the suffering of billions of people living in suffocating poverty, these are indeed deeply worrying times.
However, at the risk of being labelled a deluded dreamer, these are also times of tremendous opportunity. Transitional times of pain and discord, potentially of growth and renewal as we inch forward, stepping cautiously out of the familiar and into the new and undefined, and begin to discuss alternative, more sane ways of living.
Throughout the world large numbers of frustrated and angry people have been coming together: peacefully marching calling for change – broad and often undefined, but heartfelt. Others in groups and forums discuss alternative ways of living together, a myriad of sharing schemes have sprung up facilitated by that miracle of the age, the worldwide web. The Occupy Movement (unfairly criticised by those firmly rooted in the past, for being vague and lacking positive suggestions), fuelled protests and occupations in 95 cities across 82 countries, including 600 communities in America; a phenomena albeit flawed, it “lit a spark” Noam Chomsky said, and “changed the entire framework of discussion of many issues. There were things that were sort of known, but in the margins, hidden, which are now right up front – such as the imagery of the 99% and 1%; and the dramatic facts of sharply rising inequality over the past roughly 30 years, with wealth being concentrated in actually a small fraction of 1% of the population.”
The creation of a neutral, non-ideological space in which open-minded discussion can take place and develop was key to Occupy, and is crucial in encouraging a creative debate exploring alternative ways of organizing society, and crucially redesigning the outdated, defunct economic system, which is the poisonous source of many of our problems and much of the suffering in the world. Change this, establish an economic system with sharing at its core and see the flowering of justice, the cultivation of trust and the erosion of much social tension and anxiety.
Any movement for change evokes its opposite – it has always been so. And, as the people, particularly the young cry out for a new way, for social justice and freedom, true democracy and the observation of human rights, the reactionary forces of the world resist and use all their powers (military, economic, media etc.) to maintain the status quo that has served them so well. One thinks of Egypt, Libya, Brazil and Turkey, to say nothing of the carnage that is Syria, as examples of repressive, brutal and in many cases criminal regimes, that will do anything it seems to cling on to power and imprison the people, who they are constitutionally in office to serve.
 From crisis to change
The crisis facing humanity is a crisis of values, and as such could be rightly termed a spiritual crisis. Not in some vague, undefined manner, but a crisis revealing starkly clear choices between what we might describe as ‘spiritual values’, of sharing, justice, tolerance and cooperation, and more purely materialistic ideals based on a strong identification with form, which promote selfishness, greed, consumerism and competition. It is not a religious crisis, although totalitarianism as manifest in fundamentalist religions is a poisonous part of the chaos, as totalitarianism more broadly is. It is a spiritual crisis focussed in the political-economic spheres, and it is there, in the polluted world of corporate politics, that it must be fought out and resolved.
It is a battle between those who see from left to right, and are wedded to ideologies that no longer serve humanity (if indeed they ever have), and those who long for a just world at ease with itself, free from ideologies, free from imprisoning ‘isms completely.
Despite reactionary resistance and the seemingly inexhaustible ability to regroup and carry on (the economic melt down of 2009 e.g. which many thought was the dying cry of a system in terminal meltdown), change and the emergence of a ‘the new,’ is inevitable.  The time for social justice and freedom, denied to so many for so long, is upon us. The only issue is when fundamental change will occur, not if.
Differing viewpoints on how change should take place and what a new society should look like are inevitable, and tolerance on all sides of the developing debate needs to be applied. Not everyone shares the same values, or holds them to the same degree; opinions vary as to what certain values mean and manifestly look like.
For change to be sustainable it needs to be gradual and carry the support of the majority, not 51%, of as little as 40% of the voting population as is currently the case under our so-called democratic systems of governance; political systems dominated by big business in which fewer and fewer people are engaged. Few vote, particularly the young; marginalised and uninterested they distrust all politicians – ambitious men and women, who, the world over, say one thing to gain power, and do another when elected. The people are awake to their duplicity and in many cases despise them. Look not to the current crop of inadequate politicians: they lack vision, are ideologically constrained and on the whole are wedded to the past. Democracy is synonymous with participation and social responsibility, responsibility not just for oneself but for the wider community. As the Dalai Lama puts it: “I believe that to meet the challenge of the next century, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. Each of us must learn to work not just for his or her own self, family or nation, but for the benefit of all mankind.” The new ways, the ideas and structures will and must emerge from the people; this is already beginning to happen and augers well for the future.
Unity: a cornerstone of the new
The formation of pragmatic, common sense solutions and ways of living, based on ideas rooted in perennial values is needed. Systems need to be built that meet the needs of the majority and are not designed simply to comfort and satisfy the wealthy elite. Economic and social models encouraging ways of living that broaden the notion of what it means to be a human being, allow for creative self-enquiry and natural happiness, and meet the basic needs of us all.
There are certain primary colours, ‘principles of goodness’ we could call them, that should, and let’s strike a further note of optimism and hope – will, sit at the heart of the new systems, guiding and fashioning the re-construction of society. “All humanity is one undivided and indivisible family”, proclaimed Mahatma Gandhi, affirming the fact, rep
eatedly stated throughout the ages, of the reality of our relationship – with one another, the natural environment and indeed with that impelling, Omnipresent Life we call God. The political, economic and social forms that fashion our societies need to be designed to encourage the realisation of this oneness; systems encouraging cooperation instead of competition, that foster tolerance and unite people. Group work and sharing – of the world’s resources as well as knowledge and skills – will support the development of a sense of connection, facilitating relationship and unity.
Although politics is still largely driven by national/self-interest there are encouraging signs of cooperation amongst nations (at least those with common concerns) and grass root groups; however the all-pervasive neo-liberal economic system, and its ideals of greed, competition and personal ambition, has infiltrated all areas of society, strengthening divisions, isolating individuals, denying unity. Many of us within western societies, and increasingly developing countries where globalisation has invaded and homogenisation begun, live what Noam Chomsky calls atomised lives: “people are alone, and not by chance. From the point of view of the power systems – business and government, the perfect social unit is a dyad, a pair consisting of you and your television set, not talking to anyone else… Huge efforts have been made to try to atomise the society (by the 1%), implemented by economic changes that make it possible… And the result is a society of people who are pretty much separated from each other.”
Globalisation insists on uniformity, the forcing of society (world society) into a predictable, market-friendly, neatly packaged definable entity. Not united, but the same. All areas of life have been discoloured by this ideological principle, particularly education. Within the classroom and lecture halls the stench of competition and conformity pollutes the atmosphere, promoting inhibiting stereotypes, conditioning the pliable, drowning the sensitive. Inside this bubble, people, including children, are not seen as individuals with their own quirky idiosyncrasies but consumers (or potential employees if you happen to be in school or university), men and women, teenagers and children measured up and filed into a particular social and economic demographic. Individuality is stifled or at best assimilated; conformity insisted upon.
Ideological, systemic change which places sharing, sustainability and cooperation not competition and abundance at its heart; cultivates tolerance, and encourages individuality not conformity, will help to break up the ‘Atomised Society’, building trust and social unity; unity rich with individual diversity.
July 2014