Thursday, February 23, 2017

ARDHANARISHWARA (An Educational Paradigm)

The third layer is the intellect or buddhi, which is the real instrument of thought and that which orders and disposes of the knowledge acquired by the other parts of the machine. For the purposes of the educationist this is infinitely the most important of the three I have named. The intellect is an organ composed of several groups of functions, divisible into two important classes, the functions and faculties of the right hand and the functions and faculties of the left hand. The faculties of the right hand are comprehensive, creative and  synthetic; the faculties of the left hand critical and analytic. To the right hand belong Judgment, Imagination, Memory, Observation; to the left hand Comparison and Reasoning. The critical faculties distinguish, compare, classify, generalise, deduce, infer, conclude; they are the component parts of the logical reason. The righthand faculties comprehend, command, judge in their own right, grasp, hold and manipulate. The right-hand mind is the master of knowledge, the left-hand its servant. The left hand touches only the body of knowledge, the right hand penetrates its soul. The left hand limits itself to ascertained truth, the right handgrasps that which is still elusive or unascertained. Both are essential to the completeness of the human  eason. These important functions of the machine have all to be raised to their highest and finest working-power, if the education of the child is not to be imperfect and one-sided. 


More than a half-century later information has begun trickling in from the neurophysiological laboratories and clinics of the world, telling us that there is a very material and structural basis for considering the existence of two distinct modes of function, and the need for separate attention to the two as much more than a poetic fancy or an aesthetic sentiment or an esoteric pronouncement worthy of admiration and worshipful quotation. During the last few years the trickle has become a flood.  

Brain Lateralization

The contemporary neurophysiological information on the functions of the two hemispheres of the brain can be broadly summarised.

1. The left brain refers to the right half of the body. The right brain refers to the left half of the body. This reference is merely with regard to the gross movements and sensations of the body.

2. A whole complex information from within and outside the body is available to both halves of the brain. Moreover, the two halves of the brain are connected by a broad thick band of fibres permitting mutual influence.

3. However, the most significant difference lies in the distinctive manner in which the two halves process the information continually flooding into them through the various inner and outer sensory inputs. It is probable that the brain is capable of more direct reception, too, as apart from the gross sensory apparatus.

4. The left hemisphere is a verbal, logical sequential operator, linear in time. In fact, the whole verbal function is located in the left half. This verbal function is an outstanding example of of the linear, sequential process in time: one word succeeding another in time. Naturally, this mode of functioning attracts material that suits its operational capacity and tends to ignore information that does not so fit.
As if to reflect the fact that it is the glib, clever, talking sophist who has ruled and continues to rule the world, the left hand brain had been designed as the dominant or Major hemisphere, and shows the disastrous consequences a socially determined technology has on scientific progress.

5. The right hemisphere functions on a totally different basis. It has the capacity of instantaneous computation of a variety of information available to it without being rigidly bound by time sequence. It operates on the basis of perception of total patterns rather than linear sequence. It can be seen that a whole range of total bodily operations require this sort of constant, instantaneous computation of internal and external information. A simple operation like pointing out one’s nose, which looks so simple, requires that information from the nose, finger and hand, position of hand, position of head and body, blood supply requirements for the various muscles involved and so on has to be instantaneously processed. This is an example of right brain function. Only in disease or injury can the global importance of the right hemisphere be seen. Unfortunately, the right brain cannot produce a verbal dissertation and logical support for its work. It cannot adjourn its operations pending legal sanctions.

6. Robert E. Ornstein, in his work on the Psychology of Consciousness, published by Jonathan Cape, London, in 1975, sums up the position thus:

The Psychology of Consciousness

If the left hemisphere can be termed predominantly analytic and sequential in its operation, then the right hemisphere is more holistic and relational, and more simultaneous in its mode of operation.

7. Evidence for these observations comes from many sources: observation on patients with known disease or injury of the separate halves of the brain; observation of the performance of patients in whom the connection between the two halves of the brain has been surgically severed, thus permitting observation of the independent operation of the two sides; electrical findings from the halves of the brain when one or the other half is being differentially examined.

Anyone can verify how the eyes of a person deviate to right or left depending on whether the person is tackling a mathematical problem or an emotional problem. The electrical activity of the right half is depressed while a verbal, logical or mathematical task is being solved; the electrical activity of the left half is depressed while an emotional or intuitive task is in hand.

8. There are about 5% of the population in whom the verbal function is not definitely situated in the left hemisphere.

9. While there is undoubtedly mutual influence one should have expected that the two halves work in harmony. The facts are otherwise. There appears to be a sort of unhappy marriage as it were with friction more in evidence than cooperation. This conflict may be at the basis of much disease in the individual and of major disasters in society.

Are we not educating the whole of the brain when we are educating a child? Is there a single educationist who does not proclaim his adherence to total, integral education? Where is the need for such vociferous avowals from centuries excepting that in fact these avowals conceal woeful neglect in practice! One look at the world today amidst the magnificent mausoleums dedicated to education and the hatred, ugliness and rampant greed they seem to breed belies the profuse, verbal homage paid to integral education. It is not mind and body that require coordination: It is the two halves of the machine of the mind, says Sri Aurobindo, which require to be instructed to play their appointed roles in their evolutionary destiny.

It can be seen that, for centuries and more clearly today, the world’s effective controls - political, economic, and naturally its education system - have been and are all left brain oriented. The education of the right brain has been sadly, almost deliberately, neglected with tragic consequences. Or else, it has been left to the various esoteric schools - of yoga, Zen Mysticism, Sufism and so on - all effectively sequestered from the mainstream of life.

The verbally not so facile individual, however brilliant he might otherwise be, is relegated to patronage, crucifixion or idle but profitable worship. From the very childhood, the person with prominent right brain traits, with poor verbal expression has a tough time at home and school. The word ‘backward’ is immediately applied and a highly patronising attitude displayed; the parents drag him around to various specialists, and the child becomes the butt of ridicule amongst his fellows and teachers. Everything possible is done to smother his intuitive and inventive qualities under a spate of pedagogic, verbal garbage. If despite all this, the child survives and shows his usefulness, his talents are commercially exploited to the utmost. Genius and savant and explorer serve as grist for its skill in salesmanship, squeezing the maximum profit with minimum of effort. The word gymnasium refers in the west to both physical and mental education training centres: these are the outstanding monuments to the left brain whose result is the mass production of clerks and soldiers under the guidance of the account book. The left brain dominated society has converted each spiritual and scientific contribution of the right brain into a marketable commodity and a veritable curse on humanity.

The destruction of huge quantities of milk because of poor profits, while at the same time injecting cows with drugs to increase production of milk is one symbol: The bombing of whole populations and organising Red Cross relief to the disabled and Christian burial service to the dead is another symbol. Fighting legal and armed battles to decide who has the right to give water to a particular tree while the tree is actually dying or dead is another symbol. A loveless and heartless, cold, calculating commerce resting on a plethora of dead religious formulas of precept, precedent and respectable propriety are its scepter and crown.

The smothered and fettered right brain has become the slave of the left brain. Sri Aurobindo tells us that it is just the reverse that is our goal.

The requirements for the education of the left brain are too well known and well entrenched and too obtrusively dominant to require elaboration. However, they can be summarised: Slate and chalk; paper and pencil; classroom; debate; committee; conference; logical profundity resting on poverty and paucity of total information, and excision and exclusion of all data, evidence, objects and persons that contradict its well oiled syllogisms; all supported by the keys to the treasury of patronage; further repetition of conference and committee to logically explain the disastrous consequences of its logic; a variety of well furnished and upholstered rooms for its deliberations made sound proof in order to block out the screams for life and love held in a strangle hold emanating from these rooms.

Readers of Savitri of Sri Aurobindo will recognise the troll of reason.
Arriving late from a far plane of thought
Into a packed irrational world of Chance
Where all was grossly felt and blindly done,
Yet the haphazard seemed the inevitable,
Came Reason, the squat godhead artisan,
To her narrow house upon a ridge in Time.
Adept of clear contrivance and design,
A pensive face and close and peering eyes,
She took her firm and irremovable seat,
The strongest, wisest of the troll-like Three.
It is more than eight decades since Sri Aurobindo observed the need for paying attention to this discrepancy. Educationists who desire to pay heed to his advice can ask themselves as to the steps they are taking in this direction. For instance what is the proportion of time the educational experts dedicate to verbal and nonverbal tasks. It will be good to recall the 1969 message of Mother - “No words, acts!” It is also helpful to recall the admonition of the Mother to aspirants in Auroville that a person should devote at least five hours a day to the application of consciousness to matter, in actual work. This is the direction pointed to the educationists.
Rabindranath Tagore with the Mother and Paul Richard in Japan in June 1916

The left brain has been in saddle for centuries and it is going to be an uphill task, a veritable battle to dislodge it. It will employ every trick, stratagem and weapon to perpetuate its dominance. As soon as one hints at the education of the intuitive, verbally poor right brain, the left brain steps in and organises a conference, seminar and debate, books of reference and precedent, and mouths poetic passages on how wonderful, mystic and spiritual the right brain is, and meantime every facility, material and time necessary for its actual education is denied or dismissed as visionary idealism. This trick of the left brain is so ubiquitous that it is hardly noticed, least of all by its operators - very much like environmental pollution, to be taken for granted.

It is clear that while for the operation of the left brain all that is required is words, pencils, rooms and slaves to carry out its precise logical formulations based on precedent, the right hemisphere education requires the involvement of the whole bodily machine and all the information it can provide about the universe within and without, obtained not merely from the left brain type of organised, sequential verbal or physical drills, but from an active participation in the whole business of living, in arts, skills and crafts of every kind where the precise coordination of all or almost all the parts of the body are simultaneously called for and are inbuilt in the very nature of the work itself. It is where the right hemisphere meets its challenges and grows in meeting them.

The whole life of a person’s apprenticeship with his guru illustrates the point. Years of elaborate physical or total bodily tasks - sweeping floors, hewing wood, drawing water, repairing and building huts and articles, tending to land and cattle, all conducted under the loving eye of the Guru and his Spouse - were briefly interspersed with a few words of spiritual guidance. However, especially after the invention of the printing press and the emergence of departments and professors of spiritual education, the business of spiritual guidance has become the delightful and lucrative business of elaborate verbal dissertation, glossing over the whole process by which the guru was preparing the disciple’s brain to a state of readiness to become the direct and perfect instrument of love and intuitive knowledge of the needs of universal love. The armchair vendors of spirituality present all these various activities as occupational pastimes for the idle and not-so-clever disciples of olden days and not meant for really advanced people like themselves. The economists said that these tasks were ways of keeping the disciples gainfully employed in running the Guru’s household, and to see that the disciples were really earning and deserving the food given to them. One might recall the life of Satyavan and Savitri in their daily action as described by Sri Aurobindo to get a glimpse of the role of work of a variety of kinds as the background preparation for spirituality.
Savitri and Satyavan 2
It is often said that children do not like work. What is to be deplored is the tragic, loveless and mirthless, commercial exploitation to which they are open, rather than any basic incapacity or lack of interest on their part. One has only to note the look of joy in a child’s eyes when he is engaged in a useful task as a fully responsible member of a loving family.

It is a grotesque educational system that relegates the verbally deficient but dextrous child to a second rate, educationally backward category.

It is necessary at this point to underline the role of love in education of the brain. The left brain measures, calculates, each situation, object, tree, child, man and woman is measured and treated according to the profit that can be got by use or sale of the article in question, and the saving in space and maintenance that accrues by loss or death of the article in question. There is the story of the man who prayed to God and obtained the gift of being able to understand the language of animals. He found it very profitable. One day, he heard the cow telling the dog that the horse was going to break its leg in a few days’ time. Promptly the man went and sold the horse. He went on profiting by such foreknowledge of the fate of animals. One day he heard the dog telling the goat that the master of the house was going to fall and break his neck. The man howled and frantically prayed to God, “Lord,” he cried, “till now your gift has been most useful, and I profited greatly by selling my animals before they fell ill. Now what am I to do!” God replied, “Very simple! Go and promptly sell yourself!” 

The favourite words of the left brain, efficiency, discipline, perfection are all so many deadly weapons when they are not in the service of love. Two world wars have amply shown it. If a third is to be avoided one recalls that Sri Aurobindo concluded his Savitri asserting that love and oneness are the key of our transformation.

All this is not to denigrate the left brain function, but to draw forceful attention to the consequences of its having assumed the role of Master in the household.

The concept of right and left, intuitive and intellectual, female and male duality of the cosmic and human personality has a hoary tradition. The Chinese Yin-Yang, the Hermaphrodite, the Indian Siva-Sakti concepts are examples. However, nowhere has this concept reached such profundity as in the symbolism of Ardhanariswara, the male and female element in the same unity, who in the full harmony of their love give birth to Kumara, the eternal youth, the herald of the Divine Forces.

At this juncture it is appropriate to draw attention to the unique contribution made by Sri Aurobindo to the symbol. The careful reader would have noted that what Sri Aurobindo refers to as right and left hand functions really correspond to the right and left hemisphere functions of the physiologists’ terms. By itself this may be taken as an accident. But Sri Aurobindo is said to have directed that his portrait be placed to the left of the Mother’s portrait. This reverses the traditional placing of the male and female principles. I venture to surmise that Sri Aurobindo deliberately placed the Mother at the real seat of her power which is the right hemisphere and not at the customary left side which is merely her external manifestation. I do not pretend any competence to guess at Sri Aurobindo’s intentions, and this is not really germane to the present discussion.

Here we may briefly allude to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in its role as an instrument of integral education as expressed and expounded by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. In the very process of its inception it can be seen that the Mother gave overwhelming importance to the training of the right hemisphere of the brain, an intimate, total bodily involvement of the disciples in a variety of creative activities, day and night, in an atmosphere of her ceaseless, tireless and timeless love - building work, farms, and so on, which have blossomed into the various full fledged departments of today. In the Ashram we have all the ingredients necessary for the progressive and harmonious development of the two hemispheres of the brain, the right being given or expected to be given the dominant role.

First of all, in the Ashram, we have the overall atmosphere of love and mutual care and concern, the constant reminder of the Mother’s unique compassion, understanding and highly concert love and concern shown to each particular element of the Ashram, each tree, animal, let alone sadhak as an individually valuable, loved and needed member - not merely some faceless private in a mercenary army; loved for their own sake rather than according to current market rate of their carcasses as measured by the highly efficient and logical left brain. The Ashram has the unique good fortune of having elders and guides who have matured in the abundant richness and warmth of Mother’s unconditional love - Mother who defined true love as that which loves without expecting the object of love to change.

Secondly, as already pointed out, the Mother helped to create a variety of structure and function uniquely suited for the differential needs of the two hemispheres of the brain.

The departments of general and physical education embody some of the best principles of left hemispheric education. Even in these departments the close student will find an atmosphere of love and understanding, and a rich variety of attitude and technique developed over the years that provide the highly individual needs of the right brain great scope.

However, the multifarious functions fulfilled by the Ashram as a whole provide an extraordinary spectrum of possibilities for the education of the right brain. It is essentially in training the right hemisphere to inherit its role as master of the house, that the various departments - kitchens, dining halls, farms, workshops, buildings, repair sections, etc. - assume importance. The injunctions of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, and latter day studies, show that the non verbal, right hemisphere receives its full development only in the course of work of a variety of kinds, performed in an atmosphere of love. The left brain dominated society uses the right brain, non verbal functions as servitors, employees or helpless servants to be supervised in being useful and well behaved, and cleverly denigrates the importance of all such work and workers as inferior to the great art of sitting in armchairs working out the economic basis of the spirit. The words - atmosphere of love - have to be underlined: Work done in love liberates and trains the right brain. Work done out of fear of any kind stifles the right brain, the seat of the Divine Mother. When unbearable limits are reached, Kali, the destroyer, is the result.

A close observer of the Ashram will also be struck by the fact that at the Ashram there is a great flexibility and plasticity of roles available to its members including the students. Many individuals play more than one role - the same person working in a kitchen may be an economics professor; a person may be leader in one group and follower in another.

Sometimes persons who give grants to the Ashram wonder why some money given for research is spent on buildings or dining halls.

They forget that the Ashram as a whole is a unique laboratory which for the first time in history is working out the revolutionary task of educating the human brain in its proper, evolutionary perspective enabling the right hemisphere to inherit its role as the master.

A left hemisphere oriented society wishes to judge the issues with an account book. For instance, outside the Ashram, research is to be carried out in a building; in the Ashram, the business of constructing the building itself is an educational operation. The left brain directed society, squandering billions of dollars in support of their wholly, totally irrational rationalities begrudges the morsels of money it hands out patronisingly for ventures of this kind, and expects the items to be checked by accountants who cost more than the morsels granted.

The Sri Aurobindo Ashram is not just one more sample of an educational endeavour to reform humanity. The Ashram as a whole is the dynamic interplay of forces, the visible operation of a consciously directed force aimed at the urgent task of releasing the functions of the right hemisphere for the salvation of mankind, and its preparation to receive the New Man.

The purpose of this article has not been to substantiate the truth of Sri Aurobindo’s observations. His observations rest on direct experience, and their truth has to be apprehended by apprenticeship in the light of that experience. The purpose has been to strengthen the steps of those who wish to implement his teachings in the field of education.

The Ardhanari-Kumara symbolism is working out its unfoldment in the impetus given by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. A bit of this cosmic event is being enacted in each one of us. Those who wish to participate in this, the first real revolution in the history of mankind, are indeed fortunate. 



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