David Edmund Moody
The Unconditioned Mind: J. Krishnamurti and the Oak Grove School
(Weaton: Quest Books, 2011, 260pp.)
The function of education is to give the student abundant knowledge in the various fields of human endeavour and at the same time to free his mind from all tradition so that he is able to investigate, to find out, to discover. Otherwise the mind becomes mechanical, burdened with the machinery of knowledge. Unless it is constantly freeing itself from the accumulations of tradition, the mind is incapable of discovering the Supreme, that which is eternal, but it must obviously acquire expanding knowledge and information so that it is capable of dealing with the things that man needs and must produce. So knowledge, which is the cultivation of memory, is useful and necessary at a certain level, but at another level it becomes a detriment. To recognize the distinction — to see where knowledge is destructive and has to be put aside, and where it is essential and to be allowed to function with as much amplitude as possible — is the beginning of intelligence. J. Krishnamurti in This Matter of Culture (1964)
How to put the insights of J. Krishnamurti into practice in the framework of a primary through secondary private school in California is the theme of this fascinating account by the former director of the school, David Moody.
Krishnamurti stressed that along with knowledge necessary for everyday life, it was essential to have students understand the process of thought, the working of the mind. He said “In a real school, the student must not only be taught various subjects but also helped to be aware of the process of his own thinking…You cannot create a new world if your mind is not alert, watchful, expansively aware; and that is why it is so important while you are young, to spend some time reflecting over these very serious matters and not just pass your days in the study of a few subjects.
“Our present education consists in telling us what to think, it does not teach us how to think, how to penetrate, explore; and it is only when the teacher as well as the student knows how to think that the school is worthy of its name.
“A crucial feature of intelligence is the capacity of self-awareness. Self-knowledge comes when you observe yourself in your relationship with your fellow-students and your teachers, with all the people around you…If you can just observe what you are and move with it, then you will find that it possible to go infinitely far.
“To go beyond its hindrances, the mind must first be aware of them. You must know the limitations, the boundaries, the frontiers of your own mind…If one can watch the hindrances of the mind, not only the superficial hindrances but also the deeper hindrances in the unconscious — watch them without condemnation — then the mind can go beyond them; and that very going beyond is a moment towards truth.”
In order to develop a school in which there is both the transmission of knowledge and an emphasis on the processes of the mind, you need teachers who are aware of these processes of the mind. As Krishnamurti said “You must have teachers who really have a song inside them and are therefore happy, creative human beings.” Teachers must help the students to explore, to discover, to understand the whole process of life with a mind that is very acute, sharp, alive, inquiring, curious, and therefore capable of discovery.
Understanding how the mind functions should also open the door to creativity. “There must first be freedom of the mind for creativeness to take place, and then technique can be used to express that creativeness. But to have the technique is meaningless without a creative mind, without the extraordinary creativeness which come with the discovery of what is true.”
By understanding the working of the mind, a student also learns to understand how negative conditioning can take place. As Krishnamurti said “Your mind is like a rich soil, and if given sufficient time any problem that comes along takes root like a weed, and then you have the trouble of pulling it out; but if you do not give the problem sufficient time to take root, then it has no place to grow, and it will wither away. If you encourage hate, give it time to take root, to grow, to mature, it becomes an enormous problem. But if each time hate arises, you let it go by, then you will find that your mind becomes very sensitive without being sentimental; therefore it will know love.”
Understanding the processes of the mind is a crucial step in overcoming fear. The overcoming of fear is necessary for psychological freedom. As Moody writes “The full, unmediated perception of fear is the solvent in which it is dissipated. Such perception is not easily achieved, however, for the mind is quick to supply judgements or justifications, reasons why fear should or should not exist, as well as the impulse to fix it, suppress it, or overcome it. All these movements of the mind introduce distortions and prevent the act of pure perception. ‘Choiceless awareness’ in Krishnamurti’s phrase, is therefore an art in its own right, one that requires dedication, clarity, and the intention to live a different kind of life.”
Krishnamurti had said “we shall give our hearts, our minds, our bodies towards creating a school where there is no such thing as fear with all its implications.” Understanding the processes of the mind helps to create a sense of world citizenship, of going beyond narrow identifications. As Moody stresses “Right education will cultivate in the student a global outlook, a realization that all of humanity is linked and shares a common, basic psychological condition. The individual is not, in any deep respect, different from mankind everywhere. The school’s work is not to reproduce an American mind, or a European mind, or an Indian mind, but rather a mind unconditioned by identification with any national, ethnic or cultural group. The role of the teacher entails unconditioning himself as well as the student. There is no blueprint or method for this process because any prescribed method can only produce a mechanical result. What can be done is to explore the meaning of conditioning and the actual, living reality of one’s own state of mind.”
Teachers must help students to create an atmosphere in which such learning is possible. For students, Krishnamurti underlined the importance of “cleanliness, tidiness of dress, a smile, a graceful gesture, the rhythm of walking, a flower in your hair, good manners, clarity of speech, thoughtfulness, being considerate of others, which includes punctuality — all this is part of beauty…It is to sit quietly without pressure, to eat elegantly without rush, to be leisurely and yet precise, to be clear in one’s thinking and yet expansive.”
Much of the book is devoted to why reaching these processes and goals is difficult — problems which will be known to those who have been involved in private progressive education. There are relatively few teachers who are already trained in such an approach to teaching, and there is little time or opportunity for such training. There is a hope that through dialogue and inquiry consensus on methods can be reached. However, such consensus-making takes time. There is the persistent issue of parents who do not fully understand the teaching system and who worry about the future of their children when it gets time to go to college. Thus many parents are willing to have unorthodox primary schools but prefer to have their children in secondary schools that prepare students to get into good universities.
There are financial issues. Such education requires small classes. Oak Grove aimed to have 12 to 14 students per class. Thus you need to find parents who both understand the approach and who have money to pay for it. Although mixed social backgrounds would be an ideal; in practice finance limits social backgrounds.
Oak Grove School administration was made even more complicated by having a school board, largely parents of current students and also a board with members of the Krishnamurti Foundation with many different aims: publication of talks, organization of lectures, management of properties as well as having a say in the way the school was structured and run. Moreover, people who are attracted to innovative educational methods often have strong personalities, making compromise and cooperation difficult. There was a small group of people around Krishnamurti who had been with him for a long time. Although these people were not officially in the school administrative structure, Krishnamurti depended on them.
These factors and others well set out, led David Moody to give up the direction of the Oak Grove School. He may have left just before being pushed out in any case. The book can be read on two levels: one, the pedagogical implications of Krishnamurti’s ideas on the processes of the mind, and on another level, on the joys and sorrows of progressive school management.