Dada Caetanyananda's workshop at the NHE Summit was on “A Spiritual Education for the Child's Personality Development”. Below are some notes from his talk followed by the introduction to one of his books “How to Develop a Spiritual Atmosphere in the Classroom.” Dada Caetanyananda runs the Rainbow School in Medan, Indonesia . There are three kindergartens with a total of 250 children and an after school English language programme with a total above 2250 students. Dada Caetanyananda has written a series of books on the programme he has developed. These books will be available soon through Gurukula Publications.
A Spiritual Education for the Child's Personality Development
As neohumanist educators we come from a legacy of a rich philosophy that includes practical application through sixteen points, fifteen shiilas and many other beautiful things. When we teach children, should we start with this legacy? And if yes, in what sequence do we do this? What is number one, number two and number three? Or perhaps should we start from what education stands for. What does it really stand for? When I began to work out a neohumanist program in Medan I decided I didn't know the answer to this. I asked the questions, why should we educate at all, how much and with what goal in mind? So many methodologies and curricula existed about when to teach children to read, etc. All the curricula and all the methods are not the purpose. To teach without a purpose there is no point. To look for the answer to this question, I found the key to be the child himself. To decide on the goal, the curriculum and the methodology I would need to study the child.
I didn't have any educational or psychological background, just my training as an acarya, all of Shrii P. R. Sarkar's writings and my own common sense and meditation. So this is where I started.
Children have a mind and part of it is highly spiritual. They also have their physical body. I have to study these things and ask the questions:
What is the child?
What is it made of?
What is it's purpose on earth?—What's the purpose of the entire creation? Is it the same as the child's?
What should I do with the child at all starting at age zero?
I see three parts in the child.
1. Physical body. Do we have a physical education?—Yes, there are plenty of resources for that.
2. The mind. Can we provide a mental education?—Yes, we can; there are lots of materials and ways (always improving) for that.
3. A soul, some spiritual counterpart. Can we provide a spiritual education?—No, comment.
What is Neohumanist Education even in the worst conditions? Really Neohumanist Education is about spirituality. Methodologies will always change and improve. We should not identify NHE with specific methodologies. We may speak perhaps of a philosophy of methodologies encompassing all methodologies. Some are crude, others more subtle; some reach higher layers of the mind, others are more mundane. Nevertheless if we want to differentiate what makes us different from other schools of thought – it is only spirituality. Spirituality mixed with everything else is what we have to give. Spirituality is the core.
I believe that until now we (as well as the rest of the world) have been teaching a lot about morality but little or not enough about real spirituality. Yes it is a bold statement, but aren't Yama and Niyama moral principles, and the fifteen shiilas moral guidance? They are methods—psycho-spiritual methods. Yes, the presence of a spiritual aspirant in the classroom does bring some spirituality; as we teach our hearts and minds impart some spirituality but not our curricula, not our written methods, not a proper system.
When studying ways to make a spiritual child I had to face the blocks of my own meditation. I realized that we human beings, including spiritual aspirants, don't have a clue as to what spirituality is until we actually ‘get there' and experience it. I saw that what takes years to painfully open inside me is already a granted state in young children, and the joy I may feel in the best of my sadhana is common ground with the natural happiness young children can feel. That is why I often say that mothers don't really know their own children, especially if they don't practise any meditation.
The children are not taught to value their natural happiness, their love, energy... The teacher works on keeping them happy, being kind and loving, and so they grow with happiness in their kindergartens. But being happy and kind is not enough to make a spiritual grown up.
The children (teachers first) must be taught to value their own happiness, love, beautiful feelings… They must be able to identify with them. Then they must be able to use them in everyday life with every common thing they do such as handing over a sheet of paper or simply saying ‘good morning'. The approach is to build a spiritual awareness with conscious and meaningful practices, supported by a philosophy of life that centres in the Divine's attributes, joy, love, beauty, life, truth…. I call that philosophy the ecology of joy. It is not about creating a new philosophy; it is about being neo-humanist and practical.
It is possible to create a Neohumanist classroom, a spiritual environment with very few criteria. In a spiritual classroom the teachers get much more output with the same amount of work. The teacher and the children are happier, and when the child is happy learning is faster, memory longer lasting, and conflicts among the children are reduced tremendously. Children not exposed to spirituality are quieter, more physically disciplined, more afraid of strangers, more confined to themselves. Children exposed to spirituality are happier, more outgoing, more creative, more interested in learning, and truly magical.
The remainder of the workshop explained the system used at Rainbow School to bring spirituality to the children in a way that will remain with them for the rest of their lives. By means of summary the following is excerpted from one of Dada Caetanayananda's books.
How to Develop a Spiritual Atmosphere in the Classroom
It is difficult for the teacher to keep an elevated mind each time she teaches a class. Inspiration does not come on command. The teacher comes from her busy environment; she may have her own hard days or she may just be tired. When entering the classroom she cannot find the energy to feel and share lofty spiritual concepts, and she slowly gives up, saying she can't do it.
Of course she may just use her own mind and instruct the children with moral lessons, but if she can't feel what she says, if she can't experience what she speaks, then the children won't learn anything; they will just hear and forget.
Since the adult cannot keep on being inspired she has to get her inspiration from the children. The children already exhibit spiritual qualities, they are naturally happy, loving and full of energy; most of all they are simple. Teachers always learn from the children. Every teacher knows that children provide energy. Then why not have the children give the teacher the inspiration she needs?
Children's behaviour and energy are random. The children speak what they hear, do what adults do around them. They display what they learn at random. The teacher already works on training them with repeated suggestions, reminding them of good intentions, good behaviour and the like. But that teaching does not bring the genuineness of spirituality. That teaching makes a moral classroom; it does not make a spiritual classroom. In a moral classroom the children are behaving more or less orderly; if not, disorder is quickly redressed; a fight is quickly stopped. Most of the children sit quietly waiting for the teacher to begin the entertainment. The children respond to the teacher who presents her lesson.
In a spiritual classroom the children show a definite alertness and curiosity. The children can describe happiness with stories and anecdotes. They generally repeat the stories that the teacher has told, but they also show that they are experiencing them along with their values, beauty, kindness, honesty. Then, one child may just say something that is strikingly beautiful and that already inspires the teacher. That little inspiration lifts the mind of the teacher and triggers some more insights. “I am a magician now,” says little John, “I made them all very happy!”
How to build such a classroom? How to train the children to think spiritually, and let them be a continuous source of inspiration even in difficult days?
There is a teaching style and some steps to follow. The teaching style is as Rainbow School defines it: numerous single concepts, repeated at random, according to the children's' flow, with very short sessions, songs, role-plays, stories, games, etc. The style may vary according to the children's flow with longer sessions for deeper understanding: illustrated stories, discussions, art work. Deeper understanding does not necessarily mean experiencing. A striking comment can be told in a few seconds and trigger a spiritual realisation in the mind of a child. A spiritual realisation always transcends a mundane intellect. Although an intellectual approach is also necessary, longer sessions to make the children ‘understand' are not enough. It is by the constant repetition of various spiritual comments, and some very short sessions of 10 second stories, 30 second role-plays, etc., spontaneously practiced any time of the day, that we can build a spiritual classroom. A daily half-hour session solely dedicated to a moral / spiritual lesson is clearly not enough. If we are to train the children to live spiritually we have to live every minute in a spiritual flow.
The first step is to train the children to think aesthetically . In this context ‘aesthetic' does not only mean positive, sentient, and beautiful; it also means spiritual, kindness, altruism, simplicity, candour, immensity... It requires the children to constantly think with an aesthetic purpose for goodness. This is done by the constant reminding of the teacher who gives an aesthetic purpose for every action she and the children do or speak. Without the accomplishment of this first step none of the following steps are possible.
The second step is to help the children to find a truer identity than just their names and gender. The teacher is to train the children to identify themselves with absolute values such as Joy, Love, Beauty, Life, and Truth. It involves centring, imparts self-esteem, and provides a new outlook of one's potential.
The third step is to connect with the environment. This huge task begins with identifying the universe as one's own creation. The children are exposed to some mechanisms of the universe, mainly an ecology of Joy, Love, Beauty, Life, and Truth. This is practically done with comments, stories, and discussions, and practically tending to animals, people, plants, and the inanimate.
The fourth step is to learn magic (or Magick). The children learn to perform with a flow of Joy, Love…. They also discover the true meaning of magic. The ecology of Joy, Love…, provides the fundamental mechanisms and motivation. It involves visualisations, concentration, and most important, experiencing an aesthetic motivation.
The fifth step is to impart some morality . The children are to practise moral lessons such as sharing, non-harming, etiquette, etc. The purpose of morality becomes clear when practising magic.
The sixth step is to progressively give the child a mission and a challenge . The challenge is to live in this physical body and still remain one's true Self. The mission is to do something more wonderful with every passing day, and some day, do something really great for others, for the Divine. The mission is also to merge in one's divine Self despite all the obstacles of life.
The other steps
The other steps are to bring the child along a journey through the creation, the universe, the animals, plants, humans, and one's own person. The journey alternates between the inner Self (Joy, Beauty, Love, Life, Truth) and creation.
These steps are described in great detail in the remainder of the book and the other manuals and activity books that Dada Caetanyananda has written.
There was a big portion of the presentation Dada Caetanyananda was not able to convey due to lack of time, that is the Ecology of Joy. The book ‘How to create a spiritual atmosphere in the classroom' describes some methods to achieve a spiritual atmosphere. But methods are not enough. The teachers just like the children need to have good reasons for doing what they are asked to do. That is what the Ecology of Joy is about. It is neohumanism presented in a very aesthetic way to suit the magical mind of the child. Here is a short introduction by Dada Caetanyananda.
Speak of the child as the Divine with holy attributes, love, beauty, life, the truth, and joy. Let the child be the Divine who holds all the joy, beauty, life and love in the world. Decide that joy is that mysterious force which makes everything move in this universe. Joy, then, takes on many names, fondness, kindness, strength, but still remains the same essence present everywhere in the world. Every sentient move the child makes is directed by his original Self, a sentient joy, the Divine. Every interaction of the child with his environment brings about changes which results in a diversifying creation. The distribution of the essence of joy, love, beauty, and life, about the child and his actions, varies with the purpose and the amount of joy involved in the actions. The distribution and the exchange of joy, love, life and beauty among living beings makes the ecology of joy.
Practically in the classroom, the ecology of Joy is centred about principles that the teacher must adopt and apply for herself before she decides to have the children follow them. For example:
The child must practice beauty, joy, love, and life as a mean to grow and perform in his society. The child grows by learning. At home and at school he learns to fit in this world, to gain self confidence, and also about reading, arithmetic, etc. He has also to learn about the practice of joy, beauty, and love, which comes as a subject of its own. The performance that is expected from the child (speaking clearly, a sensible logic, politeness, etc), also includes excellence in the practice of joy, love, and life with the people, animals, plants, and the inanimate that constitute his environment.
Dada Caetanyananda is still writing down some of the principles of the Ecology of Joy. These ideas are currently being tested in the classroom with lots of activities. Some more development will be presented in another posting. Kindergarten principals who would like to participate in the study are welcome to contact him at—ctnavtindosat.net.id
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