One of the degrees I just finished was related to how people learn and process information. Below is my final essay from a course studying the philosophy of schools as a system and individual education. We read Plato, Dewey, and Krishnamurti in that course, for their opinions on education and schooling. Yes, I mean that Krishnamurti, Madame Blavatsky’s pet. His belief is that schools are completely and utterly wrong and misguided, we teach the wrong things and the wrong way, and all schooling really should be is a place to nurture people to their true self. No math, no science, no English, no history, just learn who you are…and when you can’t get a job…I’m not sure. Anyways the final project was personal (rather than academic) in which we were to reflect on a “learning experience” and how it relates to one of the authors we studied. I wrote upon the first time I did a ten day Vipassana meditation retreat and related it to Krishnamurti’s idea of a true self hidden by social conditioning. This is longer than most posts, but I felt there was no where good to divide it. I’ve reformatted it when I could to include information from the readings or a previous essay of mine that would have been known/contextual to the prof. This is basically me looking at the value of meditation and isolation in regards to understanding/experiencing/revealing the self. I think this is something crucial to being a magickian of any value, and something a lot of occultists overlook, or claim they have done without doing so with any real effort or result. So while it’s geared to a prof dealing with education, read it as a magickian and question what would happen if the world fell away, and who would remain?
“The individual is of first importance, not the system; and as long as the individual does not understand the total process of himself, no system, whether of the left or of the right, can bring order and peace to the world.” To Krishnamurti there was no more important concept than the self and self-knowledge. To him all the problems of our world essentially can be laid out at the feet of self-delusion; a misunderstanding of who and what the self is, and how the self is connected to others. This philosophy led him to advocate schooling as growth, not a method of schooling that is indoctrination and conversion, but an education that is first and foremost about the self, and developing the self.
While I cannot help but find his text idealistic, and perhaps even hypocritical due to his time and support with the Theosophical Society, I also cannot deny the wisdom of what he says. Perhaps it is idealistic to think humanity as a whole will ever reach the state of self-abnegation Krishnamurti hopes for, or that by having “right teachers” all other problems will fall away, but idealistic or not it is a start. “Right teachers” and “right education” may not solve all the world’s troubles but it can start the change. He claims that “[t]he responsibility for building a peaceful and enlightened society rests chiefly with the educator” which is a daunting responsibility for anyone who wants to be a teacher, but he is largely right. Outside of the family, teachers are the most influential socializing force in the life of the student, in some family structures they may be more influential, and if this teacher isn’t the right kind of educator, then the student receives the wrong education, and the wrong conditioning.
When I did social work I focused on oppression and realized how much of all the racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ablism, transphobia, and other oppressions were rooted in socializing and conditioning, often unconsciously. There is a difference between knowing a candle produces heat and feeling the flame, and there is a difference between knowing how conditioned we are intellectually and experiencing that conditioning. Experiencing the social conditioning is exactly what I feel happens when I’ve undertaken ten day long vipassana meditation retreats, or when I’ve spent time in retreat at temples. One might argue not all conditioning is bad, but I’d argue that all conditioning is false and restrictive. This is much the way that Krishnamurti sees it, something restricting the self from understanding the self; conditioning is all the masks and distractions we put upon ourselves and others and that prevent us from a true engagement or understand, preventing personal freedom.
“Freedom comes with self-knowledge, when the mind goes above and beyond the hindrances it has created for itself through craving its own security.” Only by being aware of our conditioning can we overcome it, only through overcoming our conditioning can we see the self as it truly is. My qualm with Krishnamurti’s text is he advocates this state of self-knowledge but gives no vehicle for its development. Personally I’ve found this self-knowledge, at least to some extent, within vipassana. Vipassana, meaning insight or seeing deeply, is the meditation attributed in mythology to the historic Buddha, though it predates Buddhism as a social-religious institution and the practice of vipassana requires no belief in or understanding of Buddhism, and as such is a secular practice. I do not attest that vipassana is the only way to gain insight into the self, for that would be arrogant, assumptive, and do what both Krishnamurtia and Buddha reject and that is set one “belief” system against another.
Writing the memoir on a vipassana retreat and analyzing it is quite difficult, for parts of it are very abstract. Part of the trouble in writing the memoir is one of the reason that the retreats are so effective: the monotonous repetition of the days, all the same with no variation. I’ve explained the value I’ve found in vipassana retreats and personal practice as an experience in deconditioning, over the course of ten solitary days, where all you can do is meditate/breathe, sleep, and eat, there is nothing to distract you from yourself. After a time you are left with only one object, yourself. In that time, in that place, everything you think and believe becomes a question. It is so radically out of the ordinary to do nothing but focus on your breath for ten days that you can’t help but evaluate and doubt the self. Some of this is conscious, and some of this isn’t, which is what makes this so hard to write about. As I sat in the meditation hall fear and grief crept up on me as I wondered what would happen if my fiancé died while I was in retreat, and slowly this faded away. Not the thought that it was a possibility, but my self-investment in the possibility faded.
If someone died while I was in retreat, there is nothing I could do, and there is nothing my awareness of the event could change, so I had nothing to do but keep breathing. Some people think this may be a cold reaction, but I find it is a truly logical and loving one. Part of my conditioning is to think of people as “mine”; my mother, my sister, my lover, my friend, but that thought is just limiting them and me. While I was in retreat an estimated one and a half million people would die across the world. The only real difference between these people and the people above is I don’t consider them “mine.” Another part of my conditioning is to think I can dominant and control the world [Edit: Not in the paper, but this idea is compounded as a magickian obviously]. I can influence myself and my reactions and actions in the world, but I can’t dominate it and control it. This illusion of power is one of the vices that Krishnamurti sees as inhibiting the free person from accessing their own potential for growth and in retreat in various aspects I came to grapple with some of this illusion of control. What happens when someone lets go of that illusion, if only for minute? There is a peace, and an ability that Krishnamurti values, to not impose a false-self upon the moment.
That was a clearly defined experience for me, the object of the experience is easily pointed to and traced back to me –lover, possession, attachment, dominance– but others are more nebulous experiences that can’t be pointed to in the same way. Slowly during the retreat there was a dawning of self (or non-self) awareness. So much of “me” is made of what I’ve learnt from everyone else; in fact most of what is “me” isn’t me, it is everything but me. Waking up at 0400 is not a pleasant experience for a night-owl, but over the retreat 0400 quickly became an easy time to wake up, because I’m not a night-owl, that’s a label of convenience placed upon me due to when I find it easiest to operate in our society. Being an avid reader, an athlete, a musician, a child, a sibling, a friend, a lover, political identification, gender, race, class, sexuality, likes and dislikes; all of these are to some extent a conditioning, a mode of thought and identification placed upon me, without others to reflect them these identities are meaningless. More importantly in many ways all of these are restrictions keeping me from being or perceiving the self that I am. Yet in silence over ten days, with no distractions, these labels, these conditioned ideas begin to fall away. Manners, mores, social patterns, ethics, morality, in that same silence these get challenged. How much of what is thought of as right is objectively right, and how much of what is right is what teachers, family, friends, religion, media, and society have said and implied is right? How much of the identity is something “real” and how much is convenient labelling and conditioning?
I have no answer for these questions beyond the vague: “A lot more than we realize, and a lot more than we are willing to admit.” I feel through vipassana I’ve been able to grapple with some of this conditioning, see who is left when the world falls away. In this way I feel that I’ve been granted access to Krishnamurti’s “right education” in some ways, not in the system he saw it embodying, for that is something required to be on going and from an early age, but through a type of deconditioning or deinduction. Rather than being granted an education that taught me “to question the book, whatever it be, to inquire into the validity of the existing social values, traditions, forms of government, religious beliefs and so on” or “to discover the true values which come with unbiased investigation and self-awareness” I was, and am, given the opportunity to retreat from society, the source of this conditioning and restriction, and for a short period at a time deal only with me. This let me cultivate my own understanding and freedom, rather than be coerced into a social conformity, understand my own values and define them in absence of an imposing social force. In solitude from others, life, and society, the self can become the focus and one can see the distractions and conditioning that hide the self, from society and ourselves. When in the throes of life we never have the chance to deeply question what we feel, what we think, what we want, because we’re too busy doing what we think we want, or reacting in the ways we’re supposed to feel and think.
This is the conditioning that Krishnamurti finds so damaging. While his idealized education may not be realized, he is quite right that in order to truly develop and nurture students the teacher “must be aware of our conditioning and its responses, both collective and personal” or we will only perpetuate the systems of dominance and oppression, restriction and devaluation. While many of us like to think we understand how much of our life is based on societal conditioning, we don’t, and for me it was the strange alien world of ten days of meditation that began to shake my identity, to thrust my awareness against the cage of my ideals, wants, and beliefs and force me to look at them. It was there I got to try to see how many of these concepts are me, how many of them are valid, and how many of them are damaging memes that if I want to be a “right person” or a “right educator” I need to confront and eliminate.