Monday, 30 October 2017

The Gathering Storm


“You can … be assured that our administration is committed to strengthen and modernise America’s nuclear deterrent,” Mike Pence, the vice-president, said on Friday on a morale-boosting visit to Minot air force base in North Dakota, home to Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles and B-52 strategic bombers.  “History attests the surest path to peace is through American strength. There’s no greater element of American strength, there’s no greater force for peace in the world than the United States nuclear arsenal.”  the guardian.com October 29th 2017

For a short time, when I was nine, nuclear war became a distinct possibility. I remember cowering under the forbidding wooden and iron desks in the schoolroom of the boys’ boarding school to which I had been sent as an ongoing educational exercise in cruelty and the privilege of deprivation.

“The Russians are going to attack America from their nuclear bases in Cuba,” the older boys were saying.

“And they will bomb us as well!” added other boys, a mixture of fear and excitement in their voices.

From a small seaside town into which the cold Baltic wind swept in arctic breaths that would numb and paralyse, the thought of what might be happening on an unknown island, thousands of miles away, was conjuring a terrified lifelessness in us all; for us the world was ending.

Again, there are people who have attained positions of power in the world that see nuclear weapons as a legitimate show of force, want to create stockpiles of destruction, and are prepared, indeed willing, to use them. The last two world wars were preceded by certain countries stockpiling weapons in a deadly, nationalistic fuelled race to become the dominant world power; today we have the potential for global destruction in the hands of those individuals who possess that heady and volatile mixture of ignorance and arrogance…

‘there’s no greater force for peace in the world than the United States nuclear arsenal.’ 

In Africa, Asia and America devastating floods are causing havoc to all life. Ice caps are melting, and deserts are growing. The extinction of species is accelerating at an unprecedented rate. Human population is growing exponentially. Those of us who have been alive for a while can see it every day: more cars, more planes, more high-rise blocks, more of everything; inevitably, more competition, and the world is continuing to fragment at an alarming rate in almost every aspect of human existence. Life has become incredibly complicated and extraordinarily dangerous in ways that are difficult to imagine.

‘The object of education is to give man the unity of truth. Formerly, when life was simple, all the different elements of man were in complete harmony. But when there came the separation of the intellect from the spiritual and the physical, the school education put entire emphasis on the intellect and physical side of man. We devote our sole attention to giving children information, not knowing by this emphasis we are accentuating a break between the intellectual, the physical and the spiritual life.’        Rabindranath Tagore: ‘My School’, 1901.

Harmony and balance….where are they in modern life?

‘A toxic ideology rules the world – of extreme competition and individualism. It misrepresents human nature, destroying hope and common purpose.’ George Monbiot: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis, 5th Sept. 2017.

Equilibrium, balance, is the basis of a healthy individual, community and society. Conflict is essentially destructive: the threat of nuclear war as a real possibility is highly disturbing, bringing a deep fear of existence into every home; and, looking out on the rain, the clouds, or blue sky, the questions arise, ‘Why are we prepared to destroy all this? What is the purpose of this man-made destruction?’ Many children, with all their lives ahead of them, wonder: ‘What is life about?’.  This questioning intensifies with the viewing of destruction caused by the latest hurricanes in the Caribbean, the plight of the refugees from Myanmar, and the daily pronouncements of politicians all over the world.

I am reminded of my conversation with the Buddhist monk, Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, that took place earlier this year in Chennai, India. And I quote from a previous blog:

‘Towards the end of our conversation we observed that humanity was on an almost irretrievable course towards disaster; that, even if it was not to be precipitated by human behaviour, it might equally come about through some natural phenomena. This, he felt, had the possibility of bringing about some sense of realisation or understanding of the effects of self-centred or egotistical activity. The global economic system as it is currently, underpinned by violence and greed, with the existence of rapid environmental degradation, widening inequality between the poor and the rich, and increasing religious intolerance is destroying any semblance of balance or harmony in the world - negating the values and ethics that might give some avenue to ensuring the survival of the human race.’


There is a tide of revolution that is swirling round the world, demonstrating the courage, compassion and sensitivity of which humanity is capable. Against this tide runs a global wave of aggression, greed and hatred. At some point the wave will disappear into the endless motion of the ocean; but by then, what damage will have been done? 

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Partition: 70 years of sorrow and the consequences of division

   
Forty-six years ago I crossed the Pakistan – India border. On both sides there were tangible signs of the forthcoming war between these two countries. Under the warm December sky, against the backdrop of the people going about their everyday business, soldiers were on the move by the truckload; tanks crept along the narrow highway, jeeps mounted with machine guns weaved between them – they meant business. After all, that is what the military is for; we keep them well- resourced so that they can go about their business and their business is killing. I was the nineteen year old product of a system of deprived privilege; a system that had been developed over a period of one hundred years to ostensibly educate the ruling class to operate both at home and in the colonies; a system that enabled the domination of vast numbers of people by a relatively small number of men.

It is now seventy years since the creation of the state of Pakistan in the extraordinary act of partitioning the sub-continent by religion. In the British media there has been significant coverage of this event, mostly through the stories of individuals who survived the mass slaughter brought about by the polarisation of communities through religion, and the consequent movement of vast numbers of people. Many of these people had subsequently made their homes in Britain, and were still haunted by what they had seen and experienced. It is not beyond the edges of imagination to see significant similarities with this and what is happening in the Middle East, conflict, misery and suffering arising out of human arrogance, stupidity and cruelty.

Travelling in an old coach that I had boarded on the edge of Clapham Common in London, we passed through Lahore, the old capital city of the Punjab, over the border to the Sikh holy city of Amritsar, a road that had been awash with blood not so many years before; now the machines of violence were driving over the ghosts of women, children and men with the expressed purpose of wreaking more havoc and misery in the name of one of the most pernicious of ideas we so love to cling to – nationalism. On the way to Pakistan, amongst many other countries, we had passed through Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Kashmir; entering Pakistan by way of the magnificent Khyber Pass. In those days it was the well-worn path of many a young Western traveller, fired with a sense of exploration and the wish to find something different. These countries were, to our eyes, whole, containing vast peaceful lakes, snow-capped mountains, clear seas and dark-green jungles; animals and birds beyond description, and people, whose many smiles would shake the dullness of a culture determined that the only way to live was to be materially successful. So many of the buildings and monuments incorporated extraordinary craft and skill; the timeless devotion of their nameless, forgotten builders – memorials to a world beyond the self- enclosure of the individual. In the ensuing forty-six years, how things have changed!

It has been said that the savagery brought about by Partition was without comparison in the history of Asia in its ferocity and long-term effect. Despite the fact it may be thought that the realisation of this might bring some semblance of sanity, Pakistan and India remain deeply entrenched in their inability to forge a peaceful relationship. The war in 1971 was one of the shortest wars in history, lasting thirteen days, and saw the creation of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh from what was established as East Pakistan. In the early 2000s, Maggie, my wife, and I were in India during a particularly tense phase, many people we talked to were openly fearful of war between these two nations, who by then were both in possession of nuclear weapons. At present there appears to be little or no positive relationship between them: any public communication being confined solely to words of aggression.

In fact, disintegration, insensitivity to others and hatred are occurring on a global level fuelled by fear, greed and the deep insecurity brought essentially by the knowledge of the limitations the planet faces. The division of the many by the extremes of the few appears to be taking hold in the U.S, the U.K, India and many other areas of the world. Recently, some politicians have spoken of the use of nuclear weapons in terms of possibility or even probability; open hostilities have broken out between people who refuse to go any way towards respecting each other; it appears that hatred has been made acceptable, in the same way greed has. We are all in serious trouble.

The lessons of the past are clearly laid out before us, but many of us do not understand the past, or we only have a partial view which severely distorts our actions in the present. Often this distortion is used to further the aims of particular groups in order to support their specific ideologies, whatever the consequence. The present contains both the past and the future, in acting intelligently one has to have some awareness of where this action is coming from: that is the conditioning of the individual. We are imprisoned by our own backgrounds, and in order to be able to act intelligently and creatively it is from our backgrounds that we must free ourselves.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

'I don't Like the Learning!'

What is education? It is essentially the art of learning, not only from books, but from the whole movement of life.’ J Krishnamurti

Recently, when we were taking care of our two grandsons, the five year old decided to complain loudly about the fact he had to go to school. My wife, Maggie, asked him:

“What’s the matter with school? Why don’t you want to go?”

Through tears of protestation he said, “I don’t like the learning.”

Here is a boy who is fascinated by almost everything. He can spend hours with Lego; putting it together, taking it apart, and constructing imaginary games with figures of all descriptions. During the time that we were helping to look after our grandsons the weather was hot and the nights were such that air barely seemed to move so Maggie bought a pedestal electric fan, boxed and ready to put together; on his return from school this little boy was immediately fascinated by what the box contained. He persuaded her to unpack it then and there, and together they began to work out how to put it together; he excitedly provided solutions to the construction and actively worked together with his grandmother. He had never seen one of these fans before, so he was not employing memory…

‘I don’t like the learning.’!

Schools, as they are now, are dead and their lifeless forms are mouldering tumours in the belly of global society, filled with the shiny cancerous cells of modern life: competition, coercion, and conformity; creating a stratified, divided, contemptuous world, where the ultimate value is purely economic.

In the conclusion to her new edition of ‘Alternative Approaches to Education’, Fiona Carnie writes,

‘They [alternative schools and learning communities] are based on the values of a healthy society – of democracy, community, fairness, trust, tolerance, openness and support. Children who have experienced these values in an active way as an integral part of their education are more likely to reflect them in their own lives and work. Now more than ever we are aware of the need to create a world which is based on such values… schooling has to be more than a means of training children to contribute to economic growth regardless of the social and environmental costs.’.

So, what happens now?  I would like to suggest that instead of looking at what might replace schools, we investigate learning: our assumptions about learning, how learning is organised and what learning really is. In a blog written by the psychologist, Peter Gray, he states that:

Throughout essentially all of human history, children educated themselves by exploring, playing, watching and listening to others, and figuring out and pursuing their own goals in life.’

Adding that:

‘Coercive schooling has been a blip in human history, designed to serve temporary ends that arose with industrialization and the need to suppress creativity and free will.  Coercive schooling is in the process now of burning itself out, in a kind of final flaring up.’.

‘Coercive schooling’ reflects the dominant authoritarian view of life, that learning is the delivering and assimilation of a body of required knowledge in which the child will be tested/examined to ensure that a certain standard is reached. The roles of the teacher and the taught are clearly drawn up into one who knows and one who doesn’t, ensuring the continuation of division in human society.

‘As an educator you have no status; you are a human being with all the problems of life, like a student. The moment you speak from status, you are actually destroying human relationship.’ J Krishnamurti

Imperialism, nationalism, age related superiority, gender related superiority, race related superiority and species related superiority, reside deeply in the consciousness of the modern mind; to a great extent the organisation of learning continues to serve these world views and the vast machinery of education either overtly or inadvertently crystallises certain attitudes in its ‘learners’ (a term that appears to have replaced children or students). A central aspect of this approach is that learning is always towards an end, which begins at a certain pre-ordained point and then progresses incrementally towards an agreed conclusion – a body of knowledge consigned to memory; whoever is the learner in this process plays a passive, receiving role.

‘If you observe the world about you, you see how insane it all is: mothers sending their sons to war to kill or be killed; the divisions of religion and governments with their conflict and their corruption; the talk of peace while preparing for war; the endless breaking-up of human beings into categories, temperaments, with their gurus and analysts. This insanity has its own activity, which is contradictory. Imitative and divisive. Education as it is now exists to conform to the pattern of insanity.’ J Krishnamurti

When we collect our grandson from school, he runs and dances all the way to his house, delighting in the physical freedom, flinging his arms and legs in all directions as if he had just escaped from a straightjacket. He knows how to learn, he has interests he is developing on his own; he listens, most of the time; and he observes and asks questions. It is not that he wants to learn; it is that learning is in his very make up as human being. The other side of the coin from the adult point of view, is that I have had times as a teacher when I have felt frustrated and confined in the classroom through the tedium of my own lesson; restricted by the expectation to perform in an area which for me held little interest.

The ground from which all learning rises is the individual, the person through whom all perception of reality flows, therefore learning about life is inseparable from learning about oneself and this learning has no conclusion. Our propensity to separate our learning into ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ severely limits our understanding of both the inner and outer world; relying all too often on the judgement of others. And learning about oneself is not a self-absorbing process as it is based upon the listening and observation that connects outer with the inner; freedom to breathe the pure air.

‘I don’t like the learning.’!

  Quotations from:
The Whole Movement of Life is Learning: J Krishnamurti; Krishnamurti Foundation Trust 2006

Alternative Approaches to Learning: Fiona Carnie; Second Edition; Routledge; 2017

Differences Between Self-Directed and Progressive Education: Peter Gray; Psychology Today(online); 2017




  





Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Western Democracy - what next?

We know what’s coming……as when you are walking along the narrow country lane and you hear the unmissable sound of a gargantuan four-wheel drive motoring along at a speed that is totally inappropriate to the conditions, and it’s coming towards you but the steep banks afford no hand or toe hold.

‘I must confess at once that I do not see any solution to the intricate evils of disharmonious relationship between nations, nor can I point out any path which may lead us immediately to the levels of sanity. Like yourself, I find much that is deeply distressing in modern conditions, I am in complete agreement with you again in believing that at no other period of history has mankind, as a whole, been more alive to the need of human cooperation, more conscious of the inevitable and inescapable moral links which hold together the fabric of human civilisation. I cannot afford to lose my faith in this inner spirit of Man, nor in the sureness of human progress which following the upward path of struggle and travail is constantly achieving, through cyclic darkness and doubt, its ever-widening ranges of fulfilment.’   Rabindranath Tagore -  letter to Gilbert Murray, 16th September 1934.

The 1930s: a time of global danger, demonization of certain races, increasing militarisation and nationalism. 2017: a time of global danger, demonization of certain races and religions, authoritarian nationalism, leaders who want to increase the number of nuclear arms and would consider their deployment, rapid climate change and environmental degradation.

‘The whole world waits to see what this great Eastern nation [Japan] is going to do with the opportunities and responsibilities she has accepted from the hands of modern time. If a mere reproduction of the West, then the great expectation she has raised will remain unfulfilled. For there are grave questions that Western civilisation has put before the world but not completely answered. The conflict between the individual and the state, labour and capital, man and woman; the conflict between the greed of material gain and the spiritual life of man, the organised selfishness of nations and the higher ideals of humanity; the conflict between all the ugly complexities inseparable from giant organisations of commerce and state and the natural instincts of man crying for simplicity and beauty and fulness of leisure – all these have to be brought to a harmony not yet dreamt of…’
Rabindranath Tagore ‘Nationalism in Japan’ 1917

Here in the UK we are being cynically exploited by the forces of ‘greed’, ‘organised selfishness’ and ‘all the ugly complexities…’ as we reel away from a referendum dominated by lies and the language of division, only to be met with an election that is dominated by misinformation, deception and arrogance. Western democracy has lurched into a form of personality authoritarian culture that truly echoes the state of Europe between the wars; I do not consider myself to be any more intelligent than the vast majority of my fellow humans, but I look, listen and read with increasing incredulity. I am finding that my jaw is beginning to ache with its reaction to what comes out of politicians’ mouths.

‘But politics is not a mere abstraction, it has its personality and it does intrude into my life where I am human. It kills and maims individuals, it tells lies, it uses its sacred sword of justice for the purpose of massacre, it spreads misery broadcast over centuries of exploitation, and I cannot say to myself, ‘Poet you have nothing to do with these facts, for they belong to politics.’ This politics assumes its fullest diabolical aspect when I find all its hideous acts of injustice find moral support from a whole nation only because it wants to enjoy in comfort and safety the golden fruits reaped from the abject degradation of human races.’ Rabindranath Tagore to William Rothenstein 1920

Fundamentally, it is what drives us as individuals, our basic motivation, that dictates the trajectory of our lives and creates the environment within which we live. And, generally, we adopt ideas and world views that reflect the way we live, being defensive and rigid in our justification of this way of life. For if we were to question our own lives then we threaten our fragile psychological existence – what we think makes up ourselves. To question yourself requires courage, honesty and care; it is easy to question others. To what extent are we able to think for ourselves? Or do we really need leaders to tell us what to do; who know best?

‘So, our brain, which is the centre of our consciousness, with all the nervous responses, sensory responses, the centre of all our knowledge, all our experience, all our memory (your memory may be from another, but it is still memory; you may be highly educated, the other may have no education at all, may not even know how to read and write, but it is still part of the whole) - so your consciousness is shared by every human being on this earth. Therefore you are entire humanity. Do you understand, sirs? You are in actuality, not theoretically or theologically, or in the eyes of God - probably gods have no eyes! - but in actuality there is this strange irrevocable fact that we all go through the same mould, the same anxiety, hope, fear, death, loneliness that brings such desperation. So we are mankind. And when one realizes that deeply, conflict with another ceases because you are like me.’ Jiddu Krishnamurti Talks at Saanen 1985


In times of danger we human beings tend to take up our defence in what we know, or what we think we know. We retreat into the safety of and comfort of the familiar. But the sound of the vehicle approaching is getting nearer; the machine is accelerating fast as the driver feels the power of the engine. What are you going to do? What am I going to do?

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Travelling in India: Reflections



The peacock walks majestically in the dry, brown, sparse grass, holding his head high in the magnificence of his plumage, as the peahen hustles around with others of her like, a sociable and busy group. They live here, in this oasis, fast becoming bordered on all sides by rattling roads and gargantuan edifices that will be rabbit-hutch homes for many people some way above the ground that sustains them. Elsewhere, night-time cameras put in place by wildlife experts around the campus of a school on the outskirts of Bangalore capture images of three leopards, two male and one female, who frequent the life-giving jungle that is being slowly squeezed by the constant expansion of the city, and the lake that hosts the flashing kingfishers grows smaller every year.

To live in harmony with nature and with humanity is the spring which nourished the lives of both Rabindranath Tagore and Jiddu Krishnamurti; it became clear as we travelled around India for ten weeks that it was the understanding of this that created so many of the connections of which we had become part over the last twenty-five years. Our visits to India have developed along three paths: in 1990 Maggie and I began to take groups of students from St. Christopher School in Letchworth for three week visits to Rajasthan through contacts with Faith and John Singh of the Anokhi textiles company in Jaipur, and Aruna and Bunker Roy of Barefoot College near Jaipur.  In 2002 we paid our first visits to the schools founded or influenced by Krishnamurti; and in 2007 we made our first visit to Santinketan in West Bengal, where Tagore founded schools and a university. Through these visits we have come in contact with people from all walks of life, different backgrounds, different ages, from the affluent to the poor, and from the so-called educated to those who have never been to school. Many of these people have become our friends and others, with whom our meetings have been mere flashes of time, have profoundly affected the way we look at the world and ourselves. A gesture, a look, a smile, a touch, those infinite connections so often go beyond words and take us to that all important space unknown to the rational mind.

Tagore and Krishnamurti were questioners who did not accept the authority of others, nor did they seek to create authority in themselves. During these weeks in India it has become increasingly obvious that there is a global shift towards authoritarianism which has expression on many different levels - politically, economically and socially - with nationalism rearing its ugly, dangerous head and puffed up leaders ranting against their fellow human beings, pouring the poison of fear into the ears of the unsuspecting. The timeless grace of so many of its people, and the wisdom that lies in the eyes of the old who are, even now, held in respect by those who are younger, is slowly being swallowed by ‘development’. The pace of change that we have seen in nearly thirty years of travelling to India has been extraordinary and dramatically visible. However, much of this change has reflected a Western way of life and thus is built on competition and material growth. Ironically, whole scale improvement in the lives of the poor and destitute is not as visible as the blocks of flats, new and ever larger cars, roads in various states of repair and disrepair, and soulless glass shopping malls.
It is with extraordinary gratitude that we have received so much generosity and affection, so much simple human contact that sustains the spirit beyond any material benefit. To see the monkeys, to watch the birds, to walk beneath the broad-leaved jungle trees and smell the breeze washing over the land is to be alive. To avoid being squashed by vehicles of all types and to travel, reaching our destinations in one piece again, makes us grateful; for we quickly learn the sharp lesson that control in life is an illusion and that occasionally acceptance of ‘what is’ is the only route. However, wretched fatalism is often instrumental in handing one’s life to another who is more powerful, hiding under the cloak of passivity, and often creates the sense that all life is cheap. All being well, we intend to return to India and our friends, old, new and yet to be made.


Meanwhile, part of my work is a writing project, which I have alluded to from time to time; I will be using this space to experiment with various themes.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Travelling in India: The Spiritual Way?



A couple of weeks ago we were in Rishikesh and the place was filling up with participants for the big International Yoga Festival; these people had come from all over the world to attend the event, and one person we asked said that around seven thousand people were expected to be there this year. We were there for two nights en route from Haridwar to stay with friends in Dehradun after eight weeks  travelling in India, and with just two left until our return to the UK.
We had been staying in a hotel not far from the banks of the fast flowing grey blue Ganges, with views of the town, the temples, ashrams and the wooded hills that dominate the valley revered by so many. From our balcony we were able to observe the comings and goings of the clientele of the Pure Soul Cafe and Organic Kitchen, which we ourselves had visited earlier - very nice too. Most of the people that came and went were all you would expect from attendees at such a festival; lithe, physically confident and completely at ease in the spiritual environment of the valley of the Rishis. This is where the Beatles famously spent some time with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in February 1968, thus creating a surge of interest in all things Indian in the West, as well as being instrumental in causing a flurry of gurus to make their way westward.

What, in this world drowning in so many problems, is spirituality?

Just a few days before our visit to Rishikesh we were also by the Ganges, this time just a few metres away from the still rushing river at Haridwar. Here we were able to observe the festival of Shivratri, where the god, Shiva, is celebrated and water from the Ganges is gathered to be taken back to the temples to wash the Shiva lingam. Crowds of people were about, many bathing in the river and others gathering water in plastic bottles being sold nearby. We were told that once the water had been collected the container should not be placed in contact with the ground before it is used in the purification process in the temple.  Apparently, this demanding ritual is all about purification, of the body and of the spirit. We were able to watch the many groups of people pass below the hotel, some clearly from the rural areas nearby who had made the journey to bathe in the river and gather water.

So we had seen in the space of a few days different faces of the expression of spirituality: the apparent packaging and commodifying of an ancient way of living to an affluent world, and the unquestioning continuation of an ancient devotional practice.

Meanwhile in Haridwar  beggars lined the bridge near where all the activity was taking place. Crowds passed them, some gave money, occasionally they were given food by nearby vendors: the awful faces of suffering. Just beyond the river were the shelters of the landless, set in fields of dust, plastic and all manner of rubbish. The road between Haridwar and Rishikesh was clogged with traffic that had to gingerly negotiate partially made surfaces and treacherous driving. One car lay by the side of the road on the edge of the forest, a mangled skeleton from which the occupant or occupants could not have emerged alive.

Has spirituality anything to do with the way we treat our fellow humans? Has it anything to do with our wanton destruction of our world? Or is it just a matter of personal salvation, the achievement of a higher state; higher than you or me?

Or is it the going beyond the self, the ego driven individual that compares and divides? Is it the connection with the suffering of all living beings that comes with cooperation and collaboration? And is it the deep understanding of the indivisibility of all humanity?

Our learning is so deeply conditioned by competition, exploitation and the worship of narrow achievement that to teach our children to go beyond the limitations of their own experience goes against the way the vast majority of us live. However, humanity has reached a point where change must occur in order to divert us from the road to self-destruction; and the ground for this change lies in education and a re-examining of the way we approach learning.  The question is: how can this be done?


                                                                                     * * *


This has been written in the final week of a ten week trip to India; visiting schools, reconnecting with friends, having conversations with young and old alike. Maggie and I have covered significant distances, seen and heard many things, experienced extraordinarily generous hospitality and received so much affection. We have observed the dreadful suffering of humanity and the terrible destruction of the land, for in India all life appears to be laid bare and there seems to be very little that is hidden behind closed doors. When we return I am acutely aware that I will have to continue to respond to this challenge for change; there is considerable responsibility in privilege and, among many other things, this trip has confirmed that we have been, and are, very privileged.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Travelling in India: A Conversation with a Buddhist Monk


The snake appeared quite unannounced, silently slithering over the red, dusty sand of the drive leading up to the imposing white, old colonial house, built for grandeur with little acknowledgement of the hot humid climate in which it is set.

We were quite a way from the snake and yet, in its shimmering brown progress, it seemed to turn its glittering eyes towards us before effortlessly ascending the low red cement wall and disappearing into the newly fallen leaves and branches. We looked carefully to see where it had gone; no trace was left.

He came into the large hall where wicker chairs had been put to one side for us to meet. His head was not shaved, but the thick covering of white hair was very short. Placing his hands together gently in greeting, he sat down to be introduced to us, arranging the deep maroon robes so that he was comfortable.

At the age of seven, having been recognised as the reincarnation in a line of important religious figures, he became a Buddhist monk and began his studies in a monastery in Tibet. When he was twenty years old he was part of the group that accompanied the Dalai Lama in his flight from the Chinese invasion, seeking refuge in India. In the years that followed he worked predominantly in setting up educational institutions for the Tibetan refugees that also sought asylum in India. Recently he had spent a term of ten years as the Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government in exile.

That evening he was to give a public talk in front of the white, colonial house entitled: 'Buddha's Teachings and Krishnamurti's Insights'. However, he had agreed to meet us for a conversation soon after our arrival at the end of a six hour car journey.

Towards the end of our conversation we observed that humanity was on an almost irretrievable course towards disaster; that, even if it was not to be precipitated by human behaviour, it might equally come about through some natural phenomena. This, he felt, had the possibility of bringing about some sense of realisation or understanding of the effects of self-centred or egotistical activity. The global economic system as it is currently, underpinned by violence and greed, with the existence of rapid environmental degradation, widening inequality between the poor and the rich, and increasing religious intolerance is destroying any semblance of balance or harmony in the world - negating the values and ethics that might give some avenue to ensuring the survival of the human race.

We talked of the education system as it generally is worldwide; the superficial approach to learning with the tendency towards the acceptance of information without examination or questioning. From this emerges a form of blind faith whether it be in religion, modern technology or in the economic system. In Buddhist terms, he explained, the process of learning is seen as a movement from the imparting and acquiring of knowledge through to the direct perception of truth, at which point it becomes authentic learning. Thus the individual, through reflection and meditation, gains an insight into the truth and therefore is no longer a second-hand human being, accepting what has been told. When asked about the relationship between teacher and student, he responded that the Buddhist view is to use the word 'friend', that is one who removes fear and explains with simplicity and clarity. And that this relationship, if it is lo lead to authentic learning had to be a collective, collaborative process, involving neither comparison nor competition.  In this quality of collaboration, doubts and difficulties would emerge, but in this collaboration there would have to be the removal of all authority.

The question was then put as to whether this process was also one that occurred in self-knowledge, or self-realisation. Learning about the self was entirely dependent on an understanding of what the 'self' and the 'other' is, as opposed to the misunderstanding that leads to the confusion of self and ego. He mentioned that the realisation, or perception, of the self leads to the transformation of behaviour and relationship, particularly with nature.

He left us with an apology for his limitations in the English language.

Learning, whether through the words of wisdom of another or the observation of the snake over the sand has the potential to be of extraordinary depth and endless.

Our travels in India continue until March 14th.