The third principle of true teaching, according to Sri Aurobindo is – “from near to far, from that which is to that which shall be.”
This is, in fact, a profound truth of life and nature hidden in a simple phrase. Why should we go from near to far? That is the only way we go anywhere. With one little step, with the first step. We may keep our eyes on the distant goal, but we always start from what is nearest to us. A tree is hidden in the soul of a seed, but it begins its life from the first little sapling that reveals itself from within the seed.
Then why do we forget this simplest and profoundest truth when it comes to planning education for young minds or adult minds? We want to “teach” the most complex theories, the most abstract ideas because we feel that by including them in our teaching materials we can look more intelligent and “scholarly.” But we ignore to pay attention to what is most near to the student – his or her immediate environment, “the soil from which he draws sustenance, the air which he breathes, the sights, sounds, habits to which he is accustomed” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Volume 1, p. 385). How can we incorporate this creatively into a curriculum? This challenge makes sense not only for elementary or secondary education but also for higher education.
In some ways, this principle also compels one to recognize that what is most near to one is oneself. So perhaps learning about all that is “out there” may actually begin with learning about oneself, all that is “in here.” I covered this theme in an earlier post on K, Knowing oneself.
Perhaps it is not a simple question of what should be explored first – the world outside or the world inside. Perhaps it is about recognizing that only when we begin to know ourselves, we begin to know others. Because in the Indian view of existence, there is no essential difference between self and other, each is a different and unique manifestation of That One which expresses Itself in myriad ways, which Includes All yet Transcends Everything.
This principle, therefore, also has strong implications for learning about one’s nation, one’s culture and heritage. [See my earlier posts on I and H.] But it must also be emphasized that given the great diversity in India, where each little town or village may have its own legends, myths, history, and a way of life, students maybe better off by first learning to appreciate these uniqueness-es in their own immediate surroundings. This again requires a greater decentralization of education including curricular decision-making, much greater than what we have in India at present. Such a learning about the “near” helps students develop a good appreciation of where they come from, their particular history and community, and makes them ready to assimilate what they will be learning about other places and other communities. This can also help them see for themselves how Indians are diverse in their unity, and united in their diversity.
At the same time it is also important to remember that the knowledge of the near must also lead to knowledge of the far. Indian thought reminds us that those who are possessors of only the knowledge of self are steeped in a darker ignorance than those who possess only the knowledge of the world. This thought, combined with another truth of the Indian view of existence, according to which Matter is Divine too, perhaps provides the philosophical basis for the great intellectual strides that were made by ancient Indians in all spheres of human and intellectual pursuits, including science, medicine, mathematics, geography, astronomy, metallurgy, ship-building, architecture, engineering, economics, music, dance, arts, sculpture, everything.
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Linking this post with ABC Wednesday – N: N is for Near