Academic or career achievements never emerged during our conversation about the legacy cultivated by Krishnamurti-founded Brockwood Park School in Britain. Rather, former students pointed to the values of self-knowledge, symbiotic relationship, and the spirit of inquiry and cooperation that helped them make sense of the world.
When the weather permits, pupils go out on the south lawn to play, study or relax under the sun.
Prach Boondiskulchok, a former Thai student there, said the school helped him discover the energy within himself. After Brockwood Park, Prach went to Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London; and after graduation he set off on a career in music and is currently on tour in England and America.
Added Lucy Smith, 26, a British entrepreneur: "Before I came to Brockwood, I could only see one route to success. But the education here showed me that if you find out what is really important to you, there are many directions to move in life towards adulthood and a career. This is more fulfilling once you find what excites you and motivates you."
To this day, Smith said, she still wonders what Krishnamurti means when he says "be a light to yourself."
Indeed, to meet life as a whole is what spiritual teacher and philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986), pointed as the spirit of education which, sadly, mainstream schooling fail to fulfill.
Throughout his lifetime, Krishnamurti criticised traditional education for, in his own words, being concerned with the cultivation, not of intelligence, but of intellect, of memory and skills. This mode of education brought about a superficial and mechanical way of life. Students are streamlined, like factory-line production, to fill up career channels; and disregard the meaning of living.
To propagate his vision, in 1969, he founded Brockwood Park in a tranquil landscape of Hampshire, 96.5km southwest of London, Britain. The school of around 70 students attracts young enthusiasts, 14 years and over, from more than 20 countries.
Unique to this boarding school is a lifestyle of inquiry and deep reflection. One of the school's routine every morning is 10 minutes of sitting in silence for self-reflection. Discussions and dialogues among teachers and students are common in their every day interaction.
"Some of the things I benefitted most of having studied here are questioning mind definitely, an ability to question people, ideas, beliefs, and to pose serious questions on complicated issues, be it social or otherwise, perhaps because we had the chance to do that in school," said Pongsit Karnkriangkrai, 26, a freelance violinist.
Aside from general classes, students are encouraged to attend Krishnamurti Class.
"Interested students would sit in a circle and read out certain parts of his teachings from a book that they find interesting and relevant to their lives. There was no one to interpret the teachings, not even the teacher, we just discussed and reflected on the ideas with one another," said Soonya Vanichkorn, 26, a Thai news reporter.
According to Krishnamurti's teachings, discussions or dialogues are never meant for an exchange of thoughts to saturate one's intellect. Rather, the process requires deep self-reflection and inquiry; and in so doing, one will learn and thus a profound change in consciousness can come about.
"K encouraged us to find out why our minds, or ourselves are attached to things, to people, to your lovers, to our parents, to our beliefs, and so on. He didn't say get rid of attachment, but be aware of it and understand its root causes," said Soonya.
The awareness and inquiry to understand attachment, she said, has helped her deal with the blues she had when having to part from her mother, when breaking up with her boyfriend, and when facing deadline pressure at work.
"I began to see the underlying motives of why I was feeling that way, because I was insecure and fearful of something or the other. But when I began to be conscious of these emotions and began to uncover how they came about, surprising the attachment eased."
For over 40 years since its establishment, the school maintains a low student to staff ratio in classes; according to Krishnamurti, human relationship is essential in learning and cultivation of intelligence.
"The whole school was the size of one class here in Thailand. I had a lot of personal contact with teachers, who were very welcome to help me with whatever problem I had," said Pongsit.
Classes are not streamed according to age, but rather by ability and emotional maturity. Students take part in the process of creating their individual learning programmes; be they on languages, humanities, math, science, arts and performing arts.
Students also have a tutor, a member of staff who provides additional guidance and pastoral care. Tutor group outings are fun experiences when students spend time with other students who share the same tutor and all have a meal together or take part in an activity, said Smith.
In a non-competitive and home-style environment, students and staff learn to co-operate and share responsibility. Every school day morning, for half-hour of their morning-jobs routine, all share the responsibility of cleaning the premise.
"I never felt there was hierarchy between students and teachers. We were literally like family, you can be very open with the teachers, they come say goodnight before going to bed, cook dinners together on the weekend, or go for trips to other parts of England," said Soonya.
There is definitely a lot of freedom, not freedom to break rules or to do exactly what one wanted to, but the positive freedom to initiate new things, to speak up ones mind, to be truly open with ones feelings with fellow students as well as teachers, she added.
While the school maintains a low number of students, it opens to high ethnic and cultural diversity.
"The school is so international. You can end up learning two to three European languages easily if you really want to, informally outside the classrooms. The school is literally multilingual; French, German, English, Spanish and what have you," said Soonya.
Altogether, the population of teachers and students come from over 20 different countries, Thais are usually among them.
"There is a real sense of belonging to a community. It is very interesting to meet people from around the world and learn about different perspectives," said Pongsit.
"In this environment, you learned to be considerate to other people's feelings and needs. This was very helpful when I went to university and work. At work, you need to work with others and as a team. Cooperation, therefore, is needed and cooperation can only come about when there is empathy, understanding and the desire to succeed shared amongst members," he added.
Through all the learning and living process at the school, students learn, gradually and subtly, to understand the function of one's education.
In his letters to K-schools, Krishnamurti wrote; "This is the function of all education. We need to bring about a good society in which all human beings can live happily in peace, without violence, with security. As a student you are responsible for this."
About the author
- Writer: Karnjariya Sukrung