H. P. Blavatsky, Pioneer in Education

By Bernard S. Parsons 

Schools nowadays are asking themselves, What, if any, is our philosophy? This question has long been glossed over, left to the pundits of church or state, or ignored. Behind every system of thought, whether it be religious, social, or educational, lies a basic philosophy. From this we establish goals, priorities, social standards, and mores, the role of parents, community, teachers, and students. These topics have been of concern to spiritual educators of all time, and not least to Helena Petrovna Blavatsky who, about one hundred years ago, saw the materialists and religious groups hurling dogmas at each other in a bitter battle of words. She saw the need for a new attitude to truth and gathered a nucleus of like-thinking people about her. The motto they chose for their Society was, "There is no religion higher than truth."

Truth can never be mastered, no book can imprison it, for consciousness is ever extendable to new heights. Truth must be held gently in the mind; turned over and examined often, with respect, but all the time knowing that another turn of the path of learning will show that what was thought to be truth is either false or but part of a new whole.

If it is recognized that the human race shares with all other beings the thirst for experience and learning, a new factor emerges. We are linked, each to every other, via our bodies, our psyches, our mental forces, our will, our aspirations, our whole nature; even that which gives us the feeling of selfhood we share. We now have to recognize a new powerful factor in social relationships. The inner divinity which shapes our ends is a vital force in every human being for which due allowance must be made. What of the individual's own image of his place in the kingdom of man, his relationship to the plants, seas, and earth? What does the organic view of the cosmos offer?

Plato and/or Socrates, in discussing the way the cosmos is architectured, spoke of "Ideas," "Forms"; he also used the word "Universals" for a similar concept. H. P. Blavatsky used the term "Cosmic Principles." All these are an attempt to put forward the notion that the constancy of law prevails in the midst of change and that behind this change of being is the constancy of Principle. Something of great importance arises out of this and it concerns everybody. Each one of us has exemplified within him to some degree, active or latent, the infinite array of mighty cosmic forces. We share, even if only microcosmically, all the principles or forces or universals of the macrocosm. Certain tribes of Australian Aborigines call the great stream of life and spirit the powerful Rainbow Serpent and at the wet season of the year celebrate its appearance with a corroboree dance drama. What they are saying is that each one is interlinked with the earth under his feet, with his brothers the plants and animals and with his fellow humans. We are inextricably interlinked. Each one of us is at home in the universe, has his place there because he has built his scene and life around himself. Each one is a god-spark, a mind-spark, a life-spark.

That is an immensely important message to give a child, to help foster attitudes of courage, of self-reliance, of eagerness to learn, of compassion, and hope.

Like Plato, Blavatsky urged that to know the truth we must search within; that what we discover of truth is really an act of recollection by the developing soul. The path of learning is a step-by-step uncovering of the truth whilst clearing away the impediments to insight, such as emotions, what the Buddha called "clingings," laziness, or inappropriate choices of study. There is a belief, hoary with antiquity and very widespread, that all being behaves in a cyclic manner or has cyclic properties. This applies to the very great and the very small, as rhythm is universal, characteristic of not only matter and the forces measured by science, but of things spiritual and powers of the spirit. This outlook would aid the young to see themselves as an arena in which many forces are at work: forces which at times may elate or depress them, cause sickness or health, give them insights or dull their vision. With help they will develop the skill of self-knowledge and self-mastery, through intelligent use of the cyclic nature of the forces that flow through them. In a review article of Moral Education, Its Laws and Methods [The Theosophist 5:3, December 1883.] by Joseph R. Buchanan, M.D., Madame Blavatsky gives this arresting definition: "Education is the attempt to realize the harmony between nature and man. It is to find out the real aim and object of life and, when found, to render them unswerving and loyal devotion."

H. P. Blavatsky's writings aroused strong reactions. Churches felt affronted and under attack, because she held that Christianity had lost its ancient light and the grand old vision of truth had given way to acrimonious contention and dogma. Her thoughts on education in particular did nothing to endear her to the clergy, which for centuries had had the sole responsibility for the schooling of the young. More and more her views seem to be coming into the forefront of educational thinking -- not revolutionary, as they were in the 1880s when the time spent in letting students seek the how and why of things was minimal, learning was by rote, and discipline autocratically imposed. She was one of the first to deplore the very strong competitive element that permeated the teaching scene and exam systems, claiming they bred selfishness and jealousy.

In most school systems today, academic subjects designed to turn out accountants, scientists, or lawyers are more prestigious than those that produce artisans and artists. Yet the ability to create novel and beautiful things is part of the natural heritage we, as humans, all share to some degree. Part of the process of early education should be the careful exploration of the child's innate skills. That the talent for creativity exists in all children there can be no doubt. This creative talent is one of the spiritual powers in human beings, part of the spectrum of consciousness that includes the faculties of understanding, of discrimination, and of direct knowing. Ideally education is a joyous voyage of discovery and a growing development of the skill of self-discipline. The emphasis on the joyous life is not new. The educational tradition H. P. Blavatsky put forward is in line with ancient philosophies and modern theories, which place the emphasis on joy, serenity of mind, harmony with the laws of nature, and which recognize reason and intuition as powers innate and educable in us all.

The teacher's role, and a most demanding one it is, is to provide an environment where spiritual faculties can be developed and enjoyed and where the students can explore the hidden mysteries not only of science, mathematics, art, communication, but also of their own nous and psyche, and discover the principles underlying these. In 1889 she wrote in her Key to Theosophy (pp. 270-71):

Children should above all be taught self-reliance, love for all men, altruism, mutual charity, and more than anything else, to think and reason for themselves. We would reduce the purely mechanical work of the memory to an absolute minimum, and devote the time to the development and training of the inner senses, faculties and latent capacities. We would endeavour to deal with each child as a unit, and to educate it so as to produce the most harmonious and equal unfoldment of its powers, in order that its special aptitudes should find their full natural development. We should aim at creating free men and women, free intellectually, free morally, unprejudiced in all respects, and above all things, unselfish.

In that statement is a set of goals that would grace any school, and fire the heart of any student, young or old.

(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 1986; copyright © 1986 Theosophical University Press)

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