The Absorbent Mind was Maria Montessori’s most in-depth work on her educational theory, based on decades of scientific observation of children. Her view on children and their absorbent minds was a landmark departure from the educational model at the time. This book helped start a revolution in education. Since this book first appeared there have been both cognitive and neurological studies that have confirmed what Maria Montessori knew decades ago.
Maria Montessori Montessori
The Absorbent Mind (Rediscovered Books)
The Absorbent Mind was Maria Montessori's most in‑depth work on her educational theory, based on decades of scientific observation of children. Her view on children and their absorbent minds was a landmark departure from the educational model at the time. This book helped start a revolution in education. Since this book first appeared there have been both cognitive and neurological studies that have confirmed what Maria Montessori knew decades ago.
The Absorbent Mind
by Maria Montessori
Copyright © 2014 by Rediscovered Books
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ISBN 13: 978‑1‑63384‑451‑3
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Table of Contents
- The Child and the World Reconstructed
- Education For Life
- The Periods Of Growth
- A New Orientation
- The Miracle Of Creation
- One Plan, One Method
- Man’s Universality
- The Psycho‑Embryonic Life
- The Conquest Of Independence
- Care To Be Taken At Life’s Beginning
- On Language
- The Call Of Language
- Obstacles And Their Consequences
- Movement And Total Development
- Intelligence And The Hand
- Development And Imitation
- From Unconscious Creator To Conscious Worker
- The New Teacher
- Further Elaboration Through Culture And Imagination
- Character And Its Defects In Young Children
- A Social Contribution Of The Child: Normalization
- Character‑building A Conquest, Not A Defense
- The Sublimation Of Possessiveness
- Social Development
- Society By Cohesion
- Error And Its Control
- The Three Degrees Of Obedience
- The Montessori Teacher
- The Fountain Source Of Love The Child
The Child and the World Reconstructed
In modern times the psychic life in the new‑born child has called forth great interest. Many scientists and psychologists have made observations of children from 3 hours to the 5th day from birth. Others, after having studied children carefully, have come to the conclusion that the first two years are the most important of life. Education during this period must be intended as a help to the development of the psychic powers inherent in the human individual. This cannot be attained by teaching because the child could not understand what a teacher would say.
Observation, very general and wide‑spread, has shown that small children are endowed with a special psychic nature. This shows us a new way of imparting education! A different form which concerns humanity itself and which has never been taken into consideration. The real constructive energy, alive and dynamic, of children, remained unknown for thousands of years. Just as men trod upon the earth first and cultivated its surface in later times, without knowing of or caring for the immense riches that lay hidden in the depth, so is man now‑a‑days progressing in civilization without knowing of the riches that lie buried inside the psychic world of the child and indeed, for thousands of years, from the very beginning of humanity itself, man has continued repressing these energies and grinding them into the dust. It is only today that a few have begun to suspect their existence. Humanity has begun to realize the importance of these riches which have never been exploited something more precious than gold; the very soul of man.
These first two years of life furnish a new light that shows the laws of psychic construction. These laws were hitherto unknown. It is the outer expression of the child that has revealed their existence. It shows a type of psychology completely different from that of the adult. So here begins the new path. It is not the professor who applies psychology to children, it is the children themselves who teach psychology to the professor. This may seem obscure but it will become immediately clear if we go somewhat more into detail: the child has a type of mind that absorbs knowledge and instructs himself. A superficial observation will be sufficient to show this. The child of two speaks the language of his parents. The learning of a language is a great intellectual acquisition. Now who has taught the child of two this language? Is it the teacher? Everyone knows that that is not so, and yet the child knows to perfection the names of things, he knows the verbs, the adjectives etc. If anyone studies the phenomenon he will find it marvelous to follow the development of language. All who have done so agree that the child begins to use words and names at a certain period of life. It is as if he had a particular time‑table. Indeed, he follows faithfully a severe syllabus which has been imposed by nature and with such exactitude that even the most pains‑taking school would suffer in comparison. And following this time‑table the child learns all the irregularities and different syntactical constructions of the language with exacting diligence.
The Vital Years
Within a child there is a very scrupulous teacher. It is he who achieves these results in every child, no matter in what region he is found. The only language that man learns perfectly is acquired at this period of childhood when no one can teach him. Not only that, but no matter what help and assistance he will get later in life if he tries to learn a new language, he will not be able to speak it with the same exactitude as he does the one acquired in childhood. There is a psychic power in the child that helps him. It is not merely a question of language. At two years he is able to recognize all the things and persons in his environment. The more one thinks about it the more it becomes evident that the construction the child achieves is immense: for all that we possess has been constructed by the child we once were, and the most important faculties are built in the first two years of life. It is not merely a question of recognizing what it is around us or understanding and dealing with our environment. It is the whole of our intelligence, our religious sentiment, our special feelings of patriotism and caste that are built during this period of life when no one can teach the child. It is as though nature had safeguarded each child from the influence of human intelligence in order to give the inner teacher that dictates within, the possibility of making a complete psychic construction before the human intelligence can come in contact with the spirit and influence it.
At three years of age the child has already laid the foundations of the human personality and needs the special help of education in the school. The acquisitions he has made are such that we can say the child who enters school at three is an old man. Psychologists say that if we compare our ability as adults to that of the child it would require us 60 years of hard work to achieve what a child has achieved in these first three years. And they express themselves by the strange words that I have mentioned above: at three a child is already an old man. Even then this strange ability of the child to absorb from the environment is not finished. In our first schools the children came at three years of age; no one could teach them because they were not receptive. But they gave striking revelations of the greatness of the human mind. Our school is not a real school; it is a house of children, i.e., an environment specially prepared for the children where the children absorb whatever culture is spread in the environment without any one teaching them. In our first school the children who attended came from the lowest class of people; the parents were quite illiterate. Yet these children at 4 years knew how to read and write. Nobody had taught them. Visitors were surprised to see children of so tender an age writing and reading. “Who has taught you how to write?” they asked and the children would look up in wonder and answer, “Taught? no one has taught me,” This seemed at the time a miracle. That children so small could write was in itself wonderful, but that they should do so without having received any teaching seemed impossible. The press began to speak about spontaneous acquisition of culture, Psychologists thought that these children were special children and we shared this opinion for a long time. It was only after some years that we perceived that all children have this power of absorbing culture. If this is so, we reasoned, if culture can be taken in without fatigue then let us put different items of culture for them to absorb. So the children absorbed much more than reading and writing, subjects like botany, zoology, mathematics, geography and so on were taken with the same ease, spontaneously, without any fatigue.
So we found that education is not what the teacher gives: education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual. It is acquired not by listening to words, but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher then becomes not one of talking, but one of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity spread in a specially prepared environment. My experiences have lasted for 40 years now and as the children developed, here and there, in different nations, parents asked me to continue the education for older children and so we found that individual activity is the only means of development: that this is true for the preschool child as well as for the young people in primary and other schools.
The New Man Arises
In front of our eyes arose a new figure. It was not a school or education. It was Man that rose; Man who revealed his true character as he developed freely; who showed his greatness when no mental oppression was there to restrict his soul. And so I say that any reform of education must be based upon the development of the human personality. Man himself should become the center of education. And it must be remembered that man does not develop only at the university: man starts his development from birth and before birth. The greatest development is achieved during the first years of life, and therefore it is then that the greatest care should be taken. If this is done, then the child does not become a burden; he will reveal himself as the greatest marvel of nature. We shall be confronted by a child not as he was considered before a powerless being an empty vessel that must be filled with our wisdom. His dignity will arise in its fullness in front of our eyes as he reveals himself as the constructor of our intelligence, as the being who, guided by the inner teacher, in joy and happiness works indefatigably, following a strict time‑table, to the construction of that marvel of nature: Man. We, the human teachers, can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. If we do so, we shall be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul, to the rising of a New Man who will not be the victim of events, but who will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society.
Education For Life
The School and Social Life
It is necessary from the very beginning to have an idea of what we intend by an education for life that starts from birth and even before birth. It is necessary to go into detail about this question, because recently, for the first time, a leader of the people has formulated the necessity not only of extending education to the whole course of life, but also of making ‘defense of life’ the center of education. I say for the first time when I refer to a political and spiritual leader, because science has not only expressed the necessity of it, but from the beginning of this century it has given positive contributions which show that the conception of extending education to the whole life can be done with certainty of success. Education, as a help and protection to life, is an idea which certainly has not entered the field of action of any ministry of education, neither in America North or South nor in Europe. Education as conceived up to today is rich in methods, in social aims and finalities, but it takes hardly into any consideration whatever life itself. There are many official methods of education adopted by different countries, but no official system of education considers life itself or sets out to protect development and help the individual from birth. If education is protection to life, you will realize that it is necessary that education accompany life during its whole course. Education as conceived today prescinds from both biological and social life. If we stop to think about the question we soon realize that all those who are undergoing education are isolated from society. Students must follow the rules established by each institution and adapt themselves to the syllabus recommended by the ministry of education. If we think about it we find also that in these schools no consideration is given to life itself. If the high school student for instance has not enough food, that is no concern of the school. In the recent past if there were children who were partly deaf, they were marked out by their receiving lower marks because they were unable to hear what the teacher said, but the defects of the child were not taken into consideration. If a child was defective in sight he also received bad marks because he could not write as beautifully as other children. Physical defects have not been taken into consideration until very lately and when this was done, it was from the point of view of hygiene. Even now, however, no one worries about the danger there is for the mind of the student, danger due to defects in the methods of education adopted. What school worries about the kind of civilization the children are forced to live in? The only thing officialdom is bothered about is whether or not the syllabus has been followed. There are social deficiencies apt to strike the spirit of young men attending the university and which do strike them, but what is the official admonition? “You students should not concern yourselves with politics. You must attend to your studies and after you have formed yourselves, then go into the world,” Yes. That is quite so, but education today does not form an intelligence capable of visualizing the epoch and the problems of the times in which they live. Scholastic mechanisms are foreign to the social life of the times: its study does not enter the realm of education. Who has ever heard of any ministry of education that is called upon to solve any social problem acutely felt in the country? Never has such a case occurred because the world of education is a sort of retreat where the individuals, for the whole of their scholastic life, remain isolated from the problems of the world. They prepare themselves for life by remaining outside of life.
There may be, for instance, a university student who dies of tuberculosis. That is very sad indeed. But as a university, what can be done? At the most it can provide to be represented at the funeral. There are many individuals who are extremely nervous; when they go into the world, they will be useless not only to themselves, but will be a cause of trouble to their family and to their friends. That may be so, but I, as authority, am not concerned with peculiarities of psychology. I am only concerned with studies and examinations. Who passes them will receive a diploma or a degree. That is as far as the schools of our times go. Those who study sociology or problems of society have said that the people who come from school or university are not prepared for life, not only that, but most are diminished in their possibilities. Sociologists have compiled statistics and have found that there are many criminals, many mad and many more who are considered ‘strange’: they conclude by saying that the schools must do something to remedy this.
This is a fact. The school is a world apart and if there are social problems the school is expected to ignore them. It is the sociologists who say that schools must do something, but the school itself has not the possibility of doing so, because the school is a social institution of long standing and its rules cannot be modified unless there is some outside power which enforces this modification. These are some of the deficiencies that accompany education and therefore the life of all who go to school.
The Pre‑School Age
What about the child from birth to the seventh year, or of the child before its birth? It is taken into no consideration whatever by the school. This age is called pre‑scholastic and this means it falls outside the concern of the school. And as to people who are just born what could the school do about them? Wherever institutions have been created for children of pre‑school age, these are hardly ever governed by the ministry of education. They are controlled by municipalities or private institutions who dictate their own rules and regulations. Who is concerned as a social problem with the protection of the life of the small child? No one! Society says that small children belong to the family and not to the state. Today great importance is given to the first years of life. But what is it that is being recommended? A modification of the family, a modification in the sense that mothers must be educated. Now, the family does not form a part of school, but of society. So we see how the human personality or the care of the human personality is broken into pieces. On one side there is a family which is one part of society, but is generally isolated from society, from social care. On the other the school, also kept apart from society, and then the university. There is no Unitarian conception of the social care of life. There is one piece here, one piece there and each one ignores the other. Even those new sciences that reveal the harm of this isolation such as social psychology and sociology are themselves isolated from the school. So nowhere is there a reliable system of help for the development of life. When a statesman says that education must be a help to life, we realize the importance of it. It is, as I mentioned before, nothing new to abstract science, but socially it is something that does not yet exist. It is the next step to be taken by civilization. Everything is prepared however: criticism has revealed the errors of the existing conditions, others have shown the remedy to be applied at different stages of life. Everything is ready for the construction. The contributions of science may be compared to the stones cut and ready for the building, but what is necessary is some one who takes the stones and puts them together to make the new building necessary for civilization. That is why the resolution of this Indian leader is of such great importance. It is a step that will permit civilization to rise higher and it is to the building of this step, that in the field of applied science, we strive and work.
The Task of Education and Society
What is the conception of education that takes life as the center of its own function? It is a conception that alters all previous ideas about education. Education must no longer be based upon a syllabus but upon the knowledge of human life. Now, if this is so and it has to be so the education of the new‑born acquires a sudden great importance. It is true that the new‑born cannot do anything, cannot be taught in the ordinary sense, it can only be observed, it can be studied so as to find out what are the needs of the new‑born life. Observation has been carried out by us with a view of discovering what are the laws of life, because if we wish to help life the first thing we must do is to know the laws governing life. Not‑ only this, because if it were merely knowledge that we sought then we would remain in the field of psychology; but if we are concerned with education our action cannot be limited merely to knowledge. This knowledge must be spread, for all must know what is the psychic development of the child. Education then acquires a new dignity, a new authority, because education will then tell society: “These are the laws of life. You cannot disregard them and you must act in this way.”
Indeed if society wishes to give compulsory education it means that education must be given, practically, otherwise one cannot call it compulsory; and if education is to be given from birth, then it is necessary for society to know what are the laws of the development of the child. Education can no longer remain isolated from society but must acquire authority over society. Social machinery must arrange itself around what is to be done so that life be protected. All must be called upon to collaborate: mothers and fathers must, of course, do their part well, but if the family has not sufficient means, then society must give not only knowledge, but enough means to educate the children. If education means care of the individual and if society recognizes that such and such a thing is necessary for the child for its development and the family is not capable of providing for it, then it must be society which provides for the child. The child must not be abandoned by the state. Thus education, instead of remaining apart from society, is bound to acquire authority over society. It is evident that society must have control over the human individual, but if education is considered as a help to life, this control will not be one of restraint and oppression, but a control of physical help and psychic aid. It will be realized by these few words that the next step for society is that of allotting a great deal of money to education.
Step by step the needs of the child during the years of growth have been studied scientifically and the results of this study are being given out to society. The education conceived as a help to life takes in every one not only the child. That means that social conscience must take over responsibility for education and that education will spread its knowledge to the whole of society in every step it takes, instead of remaining isolated from society as it does today. Education as protection to life affects not only the child, but the mothers and fathers as well as the state and international finance. It is something which moves every part of society, indeed it is the greatest of social movements. Education as it is today! Can we imagine anything more immobile, stagnant and indifferent? Today if economy is to be made in a state, education is the first victim. If we ask any great statesman about education he will tell us: “I do not know anything about education. Education is a specialization. I have even entrusted the education of my children to my wife and she has given them to the school.” In future it will be absolutely impossible for any head of the state to answer in this fashion when one speaks about education.
The Child Builder of Man
Now, let us take another point. Let us take the statements made by different psychologists who have studied small children from their first year of life. What conception does one derive from them? Generally that from now on instead of growing haphazardly, the individual will grow scientifically, with better care. He will achieve better development and growth. This is the common idea: “The individual will grow stronger, the individual will grow more balanced in mind and have a stronger character,” In other words the extreme conception is that besides being provided with physical hygiene, the growing child will be provided with mental hygiene. But this cannot be all. Let us suppose that science has made some discoveries about this first period of life, and this is not merely a supposition. .Indeed there are powers in the small child that are far greater than is generally realized, because it is in this period that the construction, the building‑up of man takes place, for at birth, psychically speaking, there is nothing at all zero! Indeed not only psychically, for at birth the child is almost paralytic, he cannot do anything, he cannot speak, even though he sees all that happens around him. And behold him after a while; the child, talking, walking and passing on from conquest to conquest until he has built up man in all his greatness, in all his intelligence. If we consider this we begin to have a glimpse of reality. The child is not an empty being who owes whatever he knows to us who have filled him up with it. No, the child is the builder of man. There is no man existing who has not been formed by the child he once was. In order to form a man great powers are necessary and these powers are possessed only by the child. These great powers of the child which we have described for long, and which at last have attracted the attention of other scientists, were hitherto hidden under the cloak of motherhood, in the sense that people said that it is the mother who forms the child, the mother who teaches him to talk, walk etc., etc. But I say that it is not the mother at all. It is the child himself who does all these things. What the mother produces is the new‑born babe, but it is this babe who produces the man. Suppose the mother dies, the child grows just the same. Even if the mother is not there, and even if the mother has not the milk necessary to feed him, we give other milk to the child and that is how he continues to grow. It is the child who carries out the construction and not the mother. Suppose we take an Indian child to America and entrust him to some Americans. This child will learn the English language and not an Indian language. By English, we mean American English. So it is not the mother that gives the knowledge. He takes it himself and if these Americans really treated the child as one of their own, this Indian child would acquire the habits and customs of the American people and not those of the Indian people. So none of these things is hereditary. The father and mother cannot claim the credit: it is the child who, making use of all that he finds around him, shapes himself for the future.
The child needs special aid in order to build man properly and society must give this its attention. Recognizing the merits of the child does not diminish the authority of the father and the mother for when they come to realize that they are not the constructors, but merely the helpers of this construction, then they will be able to do their duty better; they will help the child with a greater vision. Only if this help is well given will the child achieve a good construction, not otherwise. So the authority of parenthood is not based upon an independent loftiness but upon the help that is given to the child. Parents have no authority other than that. Let us consider another aspect. Everyone will have heard of Karl Marx who was the originator of a social reform when he made the workers realize that whatever society enjoys was due to their work and that everything we have in our environment has been made by some man or woman. Our daily life is based upon these workers and if they ceased to produce, our social and political life would cease. This is part of the theory of Karl Marx. The workers are those who really give us the possibility of carrying on our lives; they produce the environment and provide everything, food, clothing, every means of life. When people realized this, the working man no longer appeared as the poor laborer who depended for his bread on his employer; he assumed his real importance. Previous to that all importance was given only to princes, kings and capitalists, but later the merits of the workers came to light. And the real contribution of the capitalist was realized as the supplier of the means that the workers needed to carry out their work; also that the better were the conditions afforded to the worker, the better and more accurate was his product.
Let us carry this idea into our field. Let us realize that the child is the worker who produces man. The parents furnish the means of construction to the worker. The social problem confronting us then is of much greater importance, because from the children’s work, humanity itself is produced, not an object. Childhood does not produce one race, one caste, one social group, but it produces the whole of humanity. This is the reality that humanity must envisage: it is the child that society must take into consideration, this worker who produces humanity itself. The two social questions really present a striking resemblance, e.g. before Karl Marx expounded this idea, the working men were not considered. They had to do whatever they were told just as the child has to; the workers’ needs and his dignity as a man were not considered. In the work of the child, the needs of life physical and psychic are not considered, and his dignity of man is non‑existent. What have socialists and communists done? They have started a movement in order to obtain better conditions of life for the working man. Also to the child, this constructor, we must give better means of life. Workers ask for more money; more money must also be given to those who produce humanity. The workers wish to free themselves from restraints and repressions. We must free childhood from repression that weighs upon it. The conditions of this constructor of man are more dramatic than those of the constructor of the environment. Bettering the conditions of life for the constructor of man will bring about a betterment in humanity. We must follow this great worker from the moment he starts, at birth, follow him until he reaches adulthood; and provide him with means necessary for a good construction. We must remember that he is going to form that humanity which with its intelligence is building civilization. The child is the builder of our intelligence, and it is our human intelligence which guides our hands and produces what we call civilization.
If life itself is taken into consideration and studied, we shall know the secret of humanity. We shall have in our hands the power of governing and helping humanity. The social vision of Karl Marx brought about a revolution. It is a revolution that we are preaching when we speak about education. It is a revolution inasmuch as everything that we know today will be changed. Indeed I consider it the last revolution. It will be a non‑violent revolution because if the slightest violence is offered to the child, then his psychic construction will be faulty. This delicate construction of human normality, as it should be, needs protection; it must be carried out without the slightest violence being offered to it. Indeed all our effort has been to remove obstacles from the path of the growth of the child. We have taken away from him the dangers and misunderstandings that surrounded him.
This is what is intended by education as a help to life; an education from birth that brings about a revolution: a revolution that eliminates every violence, a revolution in which everyone will be attracted towards a common center. Mothers, fathers, statesmen all will be centered upon respecting and aiding this delicate construction which is carried on in psychic mystery following the guide of an inner teacher.
This is the new shining hope for humanity. It is not so much a reconstruction, as an aid to the construction carried out by the human soul as it is meant to be, developed in all the immense potentialities with which the new‑born child is endowed.
The Periods Of Growth
According to the modern psychologists who have followed children from birth to university age, there are in the course of development different and distinct periods. This conception is different from the one which was held previously and which considered that the human individual when young holds very little and then becomes more capable as it grows, the conception of something small that developed, i.e., something small which grows, but which holds always the same form. That was the old conception about the human mind. Today psychology recognizes that there are different types of psyche and different types of mind at different periods of life. These periods are clearly distinct from one another. It is curious to say that these periods correspond to different phases in the development of the physical body. The changes are so great, psychically speaking, that certain psychologists, trying to render them clear, have exaggerated and they have expressed themselves in this fashion: “Growth is a succession of births.” At a certain period of life, a psychic individuality ceases and another is born. These successive births take place during the period of growth. The first of these periods goes from birth to six years. This period shows notable differences, but during its whole length the type of mind is the same. From zero to 6 the period shows two distinct sub‑phases. The first from to 3 years shows a type of mentality which is unapproachable by the adult, i.e., upon which the adult cannot exert any direct influence and, indeed, there is no school for such children. Then there is another sub‑phase from 3 to 6 in which the type of mind is the same, but the child begins to become approachable in a special manner. This period is characterized by the great transformations that take place in the individual. In order to realize this, it is sufficient to think about the difference there is between a new‑born babe and a child of 6. How this transformation takes place does not concern us for the moment, but the fact is that at 6 years the individual becomes, according to the usual expression, intelligent enough to be admitted to school.
The next period is from 6 to 12 years. This period is one of growth, but without transformations. It is a period of calm and serenity. It is also psychically speaking a period of health and strength and security. Now if we look at the physical body, we see signs that seem to mark the limit between these two psychic periods. The transformation that takes place in the body is very visible. I will cite only one item: the child loses his first set of teeth and starts growing the second.
Then there is the third period which goes from 12 to 18 years, which is also a period of such transformation that it reminds us of the first period. This last period can also be sub‑divided into two sub‑phases, one that extends from 12 to 15 and one from 15 to 18. This period is also distinguished physically by transformations in the body which achieves maturity. After 18 man is considered completely developed and there is no longer any considerable transformation. Man merely becomes older.
The curious thing is that official education has recognized these different psychic types. It seems to have had a subconscious intuition of them. The first period from to 6 years of age has been clearly recognized because it has been excluded from compulsory education and it has been noticed that at 6, there is a transformation. People seem to have reasoned that the child of 6 years is sufficiently intelligent to be admitted to school. In doing so they have unconsciously admitted that the child knows a great many things; for if he were completely ignorant, he would not be able to attend school. If, for instance, children do not know how to orientate themselves, how to walk, how to understand when somebody talks and so forth, even at 6, they would be unable to attend school. So we might say that this has been a practical recognition. But they never thought, these educators, that if the child can come to school, find his way about and understand the ideas transmitted to him, he must have learned to do so, because at birth he was unable to do any of these things. Who has taught him then? Not the teachers, because, as we saw, during this period the child is excluded from school. It has never even entered their minds that there must be a very elaborate procedure to enable the new‑born individual who had no intelligence, no co‑ordinated movement, no will, and no memory, to understand what we say.
An unconscious recognition was also given to the second period, because in many countries at 12 years of age children generally leave the elementary school and enter high school. Why have they chosen the period from 6 to 12 and why do they consider it the proper period in which to give the basic and elementary items of culture? As this happens in every country of the world, it means that it was not done by chance. It means that there must be a psychic basis common to all children that made this possible. It had been recognized by reasoning based upon experience. It has been found that during this period, the child can submit to the mental work necessary in schools. He understands what a teacher says and he has enough patience to listen and to learn. During this whole period, he is constant in his work, as well as strong in health. It is because of these characteristics that this period is considered as the most profitable for imparting culture. After the 12th year of age, usually there is the beginning of a higher sort of school. By this official education has recognized that at that year a new type of psychology begins in the human individual. That this type has two divisions has also been felt. It is shown by the fact that they have divided high schools into two parts.
We have in our country an inferior and a superior high school. The inferior high school lasts three years and the superior sometimes two and sometimes three. Here we have a period which is not as smooth and calm as the preceding one. Psychologists say that it is a period of such psychic transformation that it may be compared to the first period from to 6. Usually during this period the character is not steady, there is indiscipline and some sort of rebellion. Physical health also is not as strong and secure as during the second period. But the school pays no heed to this. A certain syllabus has been elaborated and children are forced to follow it, whether they like it or not. In this period also the children have to sit and listen to the teachers, have to obey implicitly and spend their time memorizing things.
Then comes the university. The university also does not differ essentially from the types of school that precede it, except perhaps by the intensity of study. Here also the professors come, they talk and students listen. When I was young, men did not shave, they had beards. And it was curious to see in the lecture halls all these men fully bearded, some of them with pointed beards, some with square ones; some had long beards and some had them short, while the most different varieties of moustaches were displayed. Yet all these men mature and more than mature were as little children. They had to sit and listen; they had to submit to the jibes of the professors; they had to depend for their cigarettes, for their street‑car fares on the liberality of their fathers who scolded them if they failed in the examinations. They were adult men! These men, whose intelligence, whose experience was going to direct the world, whose instrument of work was to be the intelligence and to whom were allotted the highest professions, were the future doctors, engineers, lawyers. And what good is a degree today? Is one’s life assured on receiving one’s degree? Who goes to a doctor who has only just received it? And if somebody wants to build a beautiful house, does he go and ask the services of a newly fledged engineer. Or if I have a law suit on my hands, am I going to employ a newly accredited lawyer? No. And why? For the simple reason that all these years of study, all these years of listening, do not form ‘man’; only practical work and practice do that. Thus we find that young doctors have to serve in hospitals, and lawyers have to practice in the office of an established lawyer. The same plan has to be followed for the engineer. This apprenticeship lasts for years and years, before they can have a practice of their own. And in order to be able to find a place to practice, they must have an opportunity and protection. There have been very strange cases resulting from this in many countries. A typical one took place in New York. There was a procession exclusively of intellectuals; hundreds of them who had been unable to find any sort of employment. They bore a banner with this information: “We are without work; we are starving. What are we to do?” Such is the situation, even today. There is no planning. Education is without control, but some sort of acknowledgment is given to the fact that during growth there are different types at different periods of life. There are different mental types and to each mental type has been allotted a different phase of education, elementary, high school and university.
The Period of Creation
When I was young, the children from 2 to 6 years were not taken into consideration at all. Now there are pre‑school institutions of different kinds. There is the creche for small children and the so‑called Montessori school, nursery and kindergarten schools for children from 3 to 6. But today, as then, the most important part of education is considered to be university education, because from the university come the people who have best cultivated that part of man’s mind which we call intelligence. Now that the psychologists have come to study life, there is a tendency to go to the other extreme, and there are other people besides me who say that the most important part of life is not the university, but the first period the period that extends from to 6 years, because it is during this first period that intelligence, the great instrument of man, is formed; and not only intelligence, but the whole of the psychic faculties are constructed during this period. This has made a great impression upon all who have had any sensibility towards psychic life. Today many meditate upon the small child; upon the new‑born, and the one year old, who create the personality of man; and they feel the same emotion, the same deep impression as those who in olden times used to meditate upon death. What is it that takes place when death comes? This is what attracted meditation and sentimentality in the past. Today a similar meditation is being carried out upon man who has just entered the world. This is a Man, this is the being who has been created with the highest and loftiest intelligence. Why is he to have such a long and painful infancy? No animal has a period of infancy so painful and so long. This is what attracts the attention of the thinkers. “What is it that takes place during this period?” they ask themselves.
Certainly it is a period of creation because before nothing existed, and then, a year or so after birth, the child knows everything. It is not as if a child were born with a little bit of intelligence, with a little bit of memory, with a little bit of will which after a while grows. There is nothing! Individuality starts from zero! It is not as though there were a little voice that later developed, as is the case, for instance, for the kitten, who at birth is able to mew even if imperfectly, or for the bird or the calf. Man is absolutely mute. The only means of expression he has is that of crying. In the case of the human being, it is not a question of development. It is a question of creation that starts from zero. If you do not exist, you cannot hope to grow. That is the tremendous step the child takes, the step that goes from nothing to something. We are not capable of it. Our mind is not capable of it.
A type of mind different from ours, endowed with different powers is necessary to accomplish this. And it is not a small creation that the child achieves. It is the creation of all. He creates not only the language, but the organs that make it possible for us to speak. Every physical movement he creates, every side of our intelligence. He creates all that the human mind, the human individual is endowed with. It is a tremendous achievement!
This is not done with a conscious mind. We are conscious; we have a will and if we want to learn something, we go about it. There is no consciousness in the small child, no will. For both consciousness and will have to be created. The child’s mind is not the type of mind we adults possess. If we call our type of mind the conscious type, that of the child is an unconscious mind. Now an unconscious mind does not mean an inferior mind. An unconscious mind can be full of intelligence. One will find this type of intelligence in every being and every insect has it. It is not a conscious intelligence even though sometimes it looks as if it were endowed with reason. It is of an unconscious type and while he is endowed with it the child performs his wonderful achievements. The child of one year has already seen all things that are in his environment and is capable of recognizing them.
How has he been able to take in this environment? This is due to one of the special characteristics that we have discovered in the child: a power of such intense sensitivity that the things which surround him in the environment awaken in him an intense interest and such a great enthusiasm that they seem to penetrate into his very life. The child takes all these impressions not with his mind, but with his life. The acquisition of language is the most evident example of this. How is it that the child acquires language? It is said that the child is endowed with the sense of hearing, that he hears the voice of the human being and thus he learns to speak. Let us admit this. It is a fact. Why, however, amongst all the millions of different sounds and noises that surround him, does he hear just the voice of man? If it is true that the child hears, and if it is true that he takes only the language of human beings, it means that the human language must have made a great impression on the child. These impressions must be so strong, they must cause such an intensity of feeling and such a great enthusiasm as to set in motion invisible fibers within the body that begin to vibrate in order to reproduce those sounds. We can compare it to something similar in ourselves. Sometimes one goes to a concert. After a while one begins to see rapt expressions on the faces of the public; heads and hands begin to move. What has brought them into movement if not the impressions caused by the music? Something similar must happen in the unconscious mind of the child. The voice causes such impressions that the impressions aroused in us by music seem almost non‑existent in comparison. One can almost see these movements of the tongue that thrills, of the minute chords that tremble and of the cheeks, everything vibrating and becoming tense, preparing in silence to reproduce those sounds that have caused so much emotion in the unconscious mind. And how is it that the child acquires language in its exactness? It is so exactly and firmly acquired that this language forms part of his psychic personality, it is called his mother‑tongue, and it is as clearly distinguished from all other languages that he may learn, as a set of false teeth may be distinguished from the natural set. How is it that these sounds which in the beginning have no meaning suddenly bring to his mind understanding, ideas? He has not merely taken in the words. He has taken ‘the sentence, the construction of the sentence.’ If we do not understand the construction of the sentence, we cannot understand language. If we say, for instance, “the glass is on the table” it is the order of the words that gives the sense. If one said to them, “glass the on is table” it would be difficult to get the idea. It is the sequence of words that we understand. The child has absorbed the constructions of the language.
The Absorbent Mind
How does it take place? It is said “he remembers these things,” but in order to remember, he has to have memory and he had no memory; he has still to construct it. He would have to have the power of reasoning in order to realize that the construction of a sentence is necessary in order to understand it. But he has no reasoning power. He has to construct it.
Our mind, such as it is, could not do it; to accomplish it a different type of mind is needed, and that is what the child possesses, a type of intelligence different from ours. We might say that we acquire with our intelligence, the child absorbs with his psychic life. The child merely by going on with his life, learns to speak the language belonging to his race. It is like a mental chemistry that takes place in the child. We are vessels; impressions pour in, and we remember and hold them in our mind, but we remain distinct from our impressions, as water remains distinct from the glass. The child undergoes a transformation. The impressions not only penetrate the mind of the child, but form it. They become incarnate. The child makes its own ‘mental flesh’ by using the things that are in his environment. We have called his type of mind “Absorbent Mind” It is difficult for us to conceive the powers of the absorbent mind of the small child, but certainly it is a privileged form of mind. If only it could continue, if only it persisted! Just think. The child is born and for some months he lies in his house. After a while he walks, goes around, does things and he enjoys himself, he is happy; he lives from day to day and by doing this he learns movements; language comes into his mind with all its constructions; the possibility of directing his movements to suit his life and many other things. Whatever is in his environment comes to be part of his mind: habits, customs, religion. Think how wonderful it would be if, while merely enjoying ourselves, merely by existing, just because we had such a type of mind, we could become doctors or lawyers or engineers. Think of it. Children learn the language with all the perfection or imperfection they find in their environment without going to school. How wonderful would it be if one could learn German merely by walking with a German. Instead how hard have we to work. Arid how much have we to study when we have to learn the different subjects.
Little by little the child becomes conscious of all the things, these form his consciousness. And so we see the path followed by the child. He acquires all unconsciously, gradually passing from unconscious to conscious, following a path of pleasure and love, this consciousness seems to us a great acquisition. To become conscious; to acquire a human mind! But we pay for it. Because as soon as we become conscious, every new acquisition causes hard work and fatigue.
Movement is another of these wonderful acquisitions. At birth the child moves very little, then gradually his body becomes animated. He starts to move. The movements that the child acquires, just as is the case with language, are not formed by chance. They are determined in the sense that they are acquired during a special period. When the child begins to move, his absorbent mind has already taken in the environment. Before he starts to move, an unconscious psychic development has already taken place. As he starts to move, he begins to become conscious. If you watch a small child of three, he is always playing with something. That means he is elaborating with his hands, putting into his consciousness, what his unconscious mind had taken in before. It is by this experience in the environment in the guise of playing that he goes over the things and the impressions that he has taken into his unconscious mind. It is by means of work that he becomes conscious and constructs Man. He is directed by a marvelously grand mysterious power which little by little he incarnates and thus he becomes a Man. He becomes a man by means of his hands, by means of his experience, first through play, then through work. The hands are the instrument of the human intelligence. And by means of this experience he becomes a man, he takes a definite form and becomes limited because consciousness is always more limited than unconsciousness and sub‑consciousness.
He comes to life and begins his mysterious work and little by little he becomes the wonderful personality adapted to his time and to his environment. He builds his mind, until little by little he has constructed memory; until little by little he has constructed understanding, reasoning power; until little by little, he has arrived at his 6th year. Then suddenly we educators discover that this individual understands, that he has the patience to listen to what we say, whereas before we had no power to reach him. He lived on another plane, different from ours. In this book we are concerned with this first period. And a study of the psychology of the child in the first years of his life is so marvelous, so full of miracles, that all who understand it cannot help but feel a great emotion. Our work is not to teach, but to help the absorbent mind in its work of development. How marvelous it would be if by our help, if by an intelligent treatment of the child, if by understanding the needs of his physical life and by feeding his intellect, we could prolong the period of functioning of the absorbent mind! What a service we should render if we could help the human individual to absorb knowledge without fatigue, if man could find himself full of knowledge without knowing how he had acquired it, doing it almost by magic. And why should it not be possible? Is not nature full of magic, full of miracles?
The discovery of the fact that the child is endowed with an absorbent mind has brought about a revolution in education. Now it is easy to understand why the first is the most important amongst the periods of development. The creation of human character takes place within its span; and once we have understood this, it also becomes clear that we must help the child in his creative work. For there is no age in which the child is more in need of intelligent help than in this period. It is evident that if the child meets with obstacles, his creative work becomes less perfect. We do not any longer help the child because he is a small and weak being. No! We have realized that the child is endowed with great creative powers, that these great powers are delicate in their nature and can be thwarted if obstacles are placed in their path. It is these powers we wish to help, not the small child, not his weakness. When we understand that these powers belong to an unconscious mind which must become conscious by work and experience carried out in the environment, when we realize that the child’s mind is different from ours, that we cannot reach it and teach him things, that we cannot directly intervene in this process of passing from the unconscious to the conscious and of constructing the human faculties; then the whole conception of education will change and will become that of a help to the child’s life. Education will take the guise of an aid to the psychic development of man and not of making him memorize ideas and facts.
This is the new path of education and how to help this mind in its different processes, how to second the different powers and how to give strength to the different qualities of this mind will be the object of our study in this book.
A New Orientation
In our days there is a definitely new orientation in biological studies. Previously all study was carried out on the adult being. For instance, when animals or plants were studied by scientists it was the adult specimen which came under consideration. This applied also to the studies upon humanity. It was always the adult that was taken into consideration, e.g. in the study of morality, in the study of sociology, it was always the adult. Another field which attracted the attention and meditation of the thinkers was death and this was logical because the adult being as he proceeds in life is headed towards death. The study of morality was, we might say, the study of the conditions and rules of social contact amongst adults. It is true that there are moral ideas such as love for one another, the sacrifice of one’s self for the welfare of other beings and so forth, but all these are difficult virtues. They require a preparation and an effort of the will. Today scientists seem to have taken the opposite direction. It seems as though they were proceeding backwards. Both in the study of human beings and of other types of life, they consider not only the very young beings, but their very origin. So biology directs its attention to embryology, to the life of the cell and so forth. From this orientation towards the origin a new philosophy has sprung up but this philosophy is not of an idealistic nature. Rather, we might say, it is scientific because it springs from observation and not from abstract deductions of thinkers. The progress of this philosophy proceeds side by side with the progress in the discoveries made in the laboratories.
When one enters the field of origins, the field of embryology, one sees things which do not exist in the fields that concern adults, or if they do exist, they are of a very different nature. Scientific observations reveal a type of life which is quite different from the one that humanity was accustomed to consider previously. It is by this new field of research that the personality of the child has been thrown into the limelight. A very banal consideration will show that the child does not progress towards death like the adult, the child progresses towards life because the purpose of the child is the construction of man in the fullness of his strength and in the fullness of his life. When the adult arrives, the child is no longer. So the whole life of the child is a progress towards perfection, a progress of ever greater achievement. Even from this banal observation, one can deduct that the child can find joy in the fulfilment of a task of growth and perfection. The child’s is a type of life in which work, the fulfilment of one’s task, brings joy and happiness, whereas in the field of adult, work is something which is usually a rather painful process. This process of growth, this proceeding in life is for the child something that expands and enlarges, inasmuch as the older the child becomes, the more intelligent and stronger he becomes. His work, his activity help the child to acquire intelligence and strength, whereas in the case of adults, it is rather the contrary. Also in this field of the child, there is no competition, because no one can do the work that the child does in order to construct the man that he has to construct. In other words, nobody can grow for him.
The adults who are near the child usually are protectors of the child. So one can see that, in the case of human beings, it is in the field of the child that examples and inspiration for a better society can be found. It is not a question of an ideal. It is a reality. As this field is different and also as it represents a better kind of life, it deserves to be studied.
Now let us go still further back in the life of the child, i.e. to the period before birth. Already before birth the child has contact with the adult because as an embryo life is spent in the body of the mother. Before the embryo, there is the germinal cell which is the result of two cells which come from adults. So from either side when one goes towards the origin of the life of human beings, and when one goes on following the child towards the completion of his task of growth, one finds the adult. The child’s life is the line that joins the two generations of adult life. The child’s life which originates and is originated, starts from the adult and finishes in the adult. This is the way, the path of life, and it is from this life that touches the adult so intimately that a great light can be derived. That is why its study is so fascinating.
The Two Lives
Nature furnishes special protection to the young. They are born amidst love, the very origin of the child is love. Once he is born, he is surrounded by the love of his father and mother. So it is not in strife that he is generated and that is his protection. Nature gives to the parents love for their young and this love is not something artificial, or enforced by reason, such as the idea of brotherhood that all people aspiring to unity are trying to arouse. It is in the field of the child’s life that can be found the type of love which shows what ought to be the ideal moral attitude of the adult community, because only here can be found love that naturally inspires self‑sacrifice. It inspires the dedication of an ego to somebody else, the dedication of one’s self to the service of other beings. In the depth of their sentiment all parents give up their own life in order to dedicate it to their children. This sacrifice that the father and mother make is something natural that gives joy. It does not appear as sacrifice. Nobody for instance says: “Oh, this poor man has two children etc.” But one says: “How lucky this man is to have a wife and children. What a joy it must be for her to have such lovely children!” And yet there is a real self‑sacrifice on the part of the parents for their children, but it is a sacrifice which gives joy. It is life itself, so that the child inspires that which in the adult world represents an ideal: renunciation, self‑sacrifice which are almost impossible to attain. What businessman, if, on the market, there is something rare he needs, tells another rival firm: “Here you take it, I do not want it?” But if they are both hungry and if there is only a small piece of bread, what father or mother would not say to the child: “You eat it. I am not hungry?” This is a very lofty sort of love that can be found only in the world of children. It is nature that gives it. So there are two different lives. The adult has the privilege of taking part in both. In one life because of the child and in the other because he is a member of society. The better of the two is the part which concerns the child because in this life his loftiest sentiments are developed.
Now it is curious that, if the study is carried out among animals instead of among men, these two types of life are also to be found. There are, for instance, the wild and ferocious animals which seem to change their instincts when they have a family. Everybody knows how tender are tigers and lions for their young and how brave becomes the timid deer. It seems as if there were a reversal of instinct in all animals when they have young ones to protect. It is a sort of imposition of special instincts over the ordinary ones. Timid animals, even to a greater degree than we, possess an instinct of self‑preservation, but when they have young ones, this instinct of self‑preservation changes into an instinct of protection for the young. So with many birds. Their instinct for the protection of life is to fly away as soon as any danger approaches, but when they have young ones, they do not fly away, but some remain frozen upon the nest in order to cover the betraying whiteness of the eggs. Others feign being wounded, keep themselves just out of reach of the dog’s jaws and attract them away from their young who remain in hiding. Ordinarily instead of taking the chance of being caught, they fly away. There are many instances of this kind and in every form of animal life there will be found two sets of instincts: one set for self‑protection and another set of instincts for the protection of the lives of their young. One of the books which most beautifully describes this is a book of the French biologist J. H. Fabre in which he concludes by saying that it is to this great mother‑instinct that the species owes its survival. This is true because if the survival of the species were due only to the so‑called weapons for the struggle for existence, how could the young ones defend themselves? They have not as yet developed these weapons. Are not the small tigers toothless and the young birds without feathers?
Therefore, if life is to be saved and if the species is to survive, it is necessary first of all to provide protection for the young who though unarmed are building up their weapons.
If life owed its survival only to the struggle of the strong, the species would perish. So the real reason, the main factor of the survival of the species, is the love that the adults feel for their young. If we study nature, the fascinating part is to see the revelation of intelligence that there is even in the lowest of the low, as we consider them. Each one is endowed with different kinds of protective instincts; each one is endowed with a different kind of intelligence and all this intelligence is expended for the protection of the young, whereas if one studies their instincts for self‑protection, these do not show so much intelligence and there is not the same variety of instinct in this field. There is not the finesse of detail that made Fabre fill 16 volumes, treating mainly of the protective instincts among insects. So studying among all different kinds of life, one sees that two sets of instincts are necessary and two types of life. When we carry this to the field of human life, were it for nothing but for social reasons, the study of the life of the child is necessary for the consequences it has in the adult. And this study of life must go to the very origin.
There are today different sciences which take into consideration the life of the child and the life of the living being from its very beginning. One of the most interesting is the study of embryology which is also carried out in a new fashion. Thinkers and philosophers in all times have wondered about the marvel of a being who did not exist before and becomes a man or a woman who will have intelligence, thoughts, and who will be able to show the greatness of his soul. How does this come about? How are the organs made which are so complicated and so marvelous P How are the eyes formed and the tongue, that allows us to speak, and the brain and all the other infinite details of the human organism? How are they formed? In the beginning of the XVIIIth century scientists thought that there must be in the egg‑cell a minute ready‑made man or woman. It was so small that one could not see it but it was there and afterwards it merely grew. This was thought to be so also for the mammals. Two schools disputed as to whether it was the man who had this in his generating cell or the woman. And they fought carrying on learned discussions in the Universities. At that time there was a young man who made use of the microscope, which had just been invented, saying to himself: “I am going to see what really happens.” He started to study the germinal cell. He came by observations to the conclusion that there is nothing pre‑existing.
He said that the being builds itself and described how it is formed. The germinal cell divides itself into two, the two divide into four and by multiplication of cells, the being is formed. (See Fig. 1.) The learned university men who were fighting with each other became angry. Who is this ignorant person who says that nothing exists? Why, this is against religion! And the situation became so bad for this poor man that he was chased out of his country. He remained an exile and died in a foreign country. For 50 years though the microscopes were multiplied, nobody dared to look into the secret again. But meanwhile what this first man had said had begun to penetrate and people thought that it might be true. Another scientist after 50 years made the same study and found that what the first man had said was true. He said it to every one arid this time every one believed it, and a new branch of science arose which today is very advanced: Embryology.
Today embryology has developed to the point that it begins to reason and says that it is true that there is nothing pre‑existing, that there is no ready‑made man or ready‑made woman who grows and grows until he becomes a full‑grown man or woman; but there is a pre‑established plan of construction which is surprising, because it seems so well made, so well reasoned out, that it appears as if somebody had thought it out and fixed it. It is as though some one wanted to build a house and started by collecting bricks before beginning to build the walls of the house. And the same happens with this primitive cell: first it accumulates a number of cells, by sub‑division and multiplication, and then builds three walls. When the three walls have been built, the second phase begins the phase of the construction of the organs.
Now the construction of the organs takes place in an extraordinary way. It begins by one cell at one point. I do not know what happens there. I do not know if it is something of a chemical nature or if it is a sort of sensitiveness. I believe no one does. The fact is that around that point an extraordinary activity begins. There the rate of multiplication of cells becomes feverish whereas elsewhere it continues in the same calm fashion. When this feverish activity ceases, an organ has been built. There are several of these points and each one of them builds up a definite organ. The discoverer has interpreted the phenomenon in this fashion: there are points of sensitivity around which a construction takes place. These organs develop independently one from the other. It is as though the purpose of each of these cellular points were to build something for themselves only, and the intensity, the activity, is such that in each of these organs the cells become so united, so imbued with what we might call their ideal that they actually transform themselves and they become different from the other cells. So the cells assume a special form according to the organs that they are constructing. Then when the different organs are formed independently one of the other, something else comes, which puts them into relation and communication. When they are all united, so united and so interconnected that one cannot live without the other, the child is born. It is the circulatory system that joins them together. And after the circulatory system, the nervous system is finished, to make more intimate the union. And then one sees the plan of construction. This plan of construction is based upon a point of enthusiasm from which a creation is achieved. And once the creation of the organs is a fact, they are destined to unite, to join together. This plan is the same for all superior animals and for man. It is followed by them all for the development of each.
The modern idea is therefore that there is but one plan of construction common to all lives. Embryos are in fact so similar that in the recent past there was a theory that evolution had proceeded along a path of different degrees of animality; so that man for instance came from the monkey, that mammals and birds came from reptiles, these from amphibians, the latter from fishes etc. The embryos of each were thought to pass through the stages of all the preceding ones before achieving birth; so that in the embryos there was a synthesis of the evolution of the species, Today this is an abandoned theory. Today science looks merely at the facts and says that nature has but one method of construction, that there is only one plan of construction in nature.
Now if we have this in mind, then many obscure facts are better understood, e.g. the psychic development of the child, because not only the human body, but also the human psyche is constructed following the same plan. It starts from nothing, or at least from what appears to be nothing, in the same way as the body starts from that primitive cell which appears in no way different from other cells. In the new‑born child, also psychically speaking, there seems to be nothing which is already built up, just as there was not a ready‑made man in the primitive cell. And in the psychic field also, organs are built around a point of sensitivity. There is at first the work of accumulation of material, just as we said there was an accumulation of cells by a multiplication in the case of the body. This is done by what I have called the ‘absorbent mind’ After that come points of sensitivity. These are so intense that we adults cannot even imagine anything approaching it. We gave an example of this when we illustrated the acquisition of language. From these points of sensitivity, it is not the psyche that is developed, but the organs of this psyche. Here also each organ develops independently of the other, e.g., language, being able to judge distances, or being able to orient oneself in the environment, or being able to stand on two legs and other co‑ordinations. Each of these items develops around an interest, but independently one of the other. Now this point of sensitivity is so acute that it attracts the individual towards a certain set of actions. None of these sensitivities occupies the whole period of development. Each occupies only part of the time; long enough to ensure the construction of a psychic organ. After the organ has been formed, the sensitivity disappears, but during this period there are powers so great that we cannot imagine them, because we have lost them and therefore cannot even have an idea of what they are. When all the organs are ready, they unite, in order to form what we call the psychic unity.
Biological studies carried out upon different animals have revealed that all of them build their adult species by means of these sensitive periods. One cannot understand the construction of the psyche of the child, unless one has an idea of these sensitive periods. When one knows of them, then the whole attitude towards childhood is bound to change. As a consequence we are better able to help the psychic development of the child if we know when these sensitive periods occur.
People say: “What about the previous generations? How did they develop into healthy and strong beings if they did not know about them?” It is true that humanity did not scientifically know the sensitive periods, but in previous civilizations mothers applied an instinctive treatment of their children which enabled them if not to second the needs of a sensitive period at least not to disturb it too much. Nature which in its plan has devised the sensitive periods so as to achieve the construction of the psychic organs has also put an instinct in mothers that guides them to give protection. And when one studies the simply living mothers in the treatment of their children, then one understands how well mothers of past generations must have aided the development of their children and how well they seconded the special sensitivities. It is in the sentiments that nature has put in the hearts of parents that the reason is to be found for the spiritual strength of previous generations.
Today, on account of civilization, mothers have lost this instinct. Humanity is headed towards degeneration. That is why it is as important to study the maternal instinct as it is to study the phases of the natural development of children. In the past the mother not only gave physical life, not only the first nourishment, but she also gave protection to growth as other mothers belonging to animal species give it even today. And if today in humanity the maternal instincts tend to disappear as they do, then a very real danger looms ahead of humanity. Today, we are face to face with the great practical problem that mothers must co‑operate and science must find some way of aiding and protecting the psychic development of the child as it has found a way of protecting the physical development. The artificial life of the West has deprived most children of their mother’s milk and the children would have starved if science had not intervened and supplied the child with some other sort of physical nourishment. In the psychic field, maternal love is a force, it is one of the forces of nature. This must receive today the attention of science, science must enlighten the mothers by means of the discoveries made in the field of the psyche of the children so that henceforth mothers can help consciously instead of unconsciously. Now that circumstances no longer give free play to instincts in the mother, a consciousness of the child’s needs must be given to her. Education must come to the rescue and give mothers this knowledge. Education that starts from birth means to give a conscious protection to the psychic needs of the children. It is certain that in this effort to give protection to the psychic needs of the children, the mothers must be the first to be invited and interested. And if the life of today has become so artificial that the child cannot achieve its development, then society must create institutions which will fulfil the needs of the children. When should schools begin? We started from 31/2, then we went to 3, then 21/2, then 2. Now the children of one year are brought to school. But education meant to give protection to life, must reach further down until it includes the new‑born child.
The Miracle Of Creation
This passing from a cell to a complete organ is something which is incomprehensible, but it is a fact. It does exist, but it is so marvelous that no one can understand it and if one reads the modern scientific books upon this subject, one finds a word used which before was anathema to scientists. It is the word ‘miracle,’ Because though it is something that happens continuously, nevertheless it is miraculous and wonder at this miracle is felt just the same. No matter what animals are observed, a bird or a rabbit or any sort of vertebrate, one sees that it is composed of organs which in themselves are extremely complicated and what causes great wonder and surprise is to see how these very complicated organs are closely connected one with the other. If one considers the circulatory system, one sees in it a drainage system so fine, so complicated and so complete that no system of drainage invented by the most advanced type of civilization can be compared to it. Also the intelligence service of collecting impressions from the environment, which is carried out with sense organs, is so marvelous that no modern instrument can approach it. What can for instance approach the marvel of the eye or of the ear? And if one studies the chemical reactions that take place in the body, one sees that there are special chemical laboratories in which substances are evolved, placing and holding together other substances that we in our most modern and most powerful laboratories are unable to unite. If we consider communications in the human system, the most evolved and perfect communication systems which include telephone and wireless, telegraphy and telephones and all that we may imagine which have been evolved and put together they, when compared to the communications that there are in the body by means of the nervous system, are as nothing. And if one studies the best organized army, one will never find the obedience that the muscles have, which carry out the commands of one strategic director whom everyone obeys immediately. These obedient servants exercise themselves in a special work, in a special fashion, so as to be ready to obey whatever commands come to them. If we consider that all these complicated organs, organs of communication, muscles obedient as soldiers, nerves that penetrate each little cell in the body, come from one cell, the primitive cell which is spherical in its form, we realize the wonder of nature. Each living animal, each living mammal, and man, this marvelous being, all of them come from one primitive cell which, when examined, differs in no way from other cells and looks very very simple. If we, who are accustomed to big things, consider the size of these primitive cells, we shall probably receive a shock. It is the l/30th part of an inch, or 1/10th of a millimeter. To realize what this means, consider the size of a point made by a sharp pencil and try to put 10 such dots one against the other, no matter how tiny they are a millimeter will not hold ten of them. So imagine how microscopic is the cell, this cell from which man comes. And when this cell develops, it develops isolated from the parent because it is protected, it is enclosed in a sort of envelope that keeps it separate from the adult that contains it. This is true for all animals. The cell is isolated from the parent so that the adult resulting from it is actually the product of the work of this cell originated by the adult. This has been the cause of meditation for a long time because the greatest men in different spheres, such as Napoleon or Alexander or Gandhi, Shakespeare or Dante, etc., as well as the humblest of the humble among the human beings, every one has been constructed by one of these tiny cells. This mystery not only provoked meditation but has also roused the attention of many scientists who have made these cells the object of their studies. By observation with a powerful microscope, it has been found that each cell contains a certain number of points which as they can be very easily colored by chemical means have been called ‘Chromosomes’ Their number differs in the different species. In the human species for instance, there are 48. In others there are 15, in some 13 so that the number of chromosomes distinguishes the species to which they belong. Scientists thought that these chromosomes had something to do with the formation of the organs. Recently much more powerful microscopes have been invented. These allow one to see things which it was absolutely impossible to see previously. They have been called ultra ‑microscopes, and by their means people have been able to see that each of the chromosomes was a sort of a little box which contained a sort of chain, composed of about 100 little grains. The chromosomes break up, the grains free themselves and the cell becomes the depositary of some four thousand little grains that have been termed ‘genes’ (Fig. 2.) The word genes implies the idea of generation. They have been so called because the characteristics of the body are formed by their combinations.
This is really science. Yet if one stops to think what this implies, one realizes how mystic this dry scientific statement sounds, for this cell is so tiny as to be almost invisible, yet it contains within itself the heredity of all times. In this little speck, there is the whole experience, the whole history of the human kind. Before any apparent change is visible in the primitive cell, already a combination among these genes has taken place. They have already arranged themselves to determine exactly the form of the nose, the color of the eyes etc. of the being that will result from this primitive cell. Not all the genes are employed in the formation of a body. A sort of struggle takes place between these genes; only a few combine and these give the outer characters of the individual while others remain hidden and obscure. For instance, there is the famous example of Mendel who made an experiment. He crossed a plant with red flowers and one of the same kind with white flowers and then the seeds of the new plant were sown. These produce either three plants with white and one with red flowers or the contrary. So out of 40 seeds, 30 will come with red flowers and 1 with white flowers or 1 with red and 30 with white. If the circumstances are good, it is the superior qualities that prevail; but if the circumstances are not favorable, then it is the worse qualities that come forth. So according to the circumstances in which the cell finds itself, you can have a more beautiful individual or a less beautiful individual, a stronger individual or a weaker individual. And this is due to the combinations between the genes. The combinations are so many that every human being is different from every other and even if one observes families that have many children, though all the children are generated by the same parents, yet some are beautiful, others ugly; some are tall, others short and so forth.
Today much time is spent in studying what are the circumstances which will make the better characters come forth; a new science has arisen, Eugenics, which shows how man has by his intelligence succeeded in acquiring influence even over heredity. Human intelligence has understood that heredity can be influenced only at the stage when the primitive cell is formed and changes can be made. Thus man becomes a sort of god who takes in hand the powers of life and orients the path it will take. Nothing much has been done in this direction in the field of humanity, but in that of plants and animals, man has been able to influence heredity to a great extent. What does it mean when one has the power of life in one’s hand? It means that we can dispose of heredity so as to transform the species. This is the fascinating part that in our days focuses on this science the interest of hundreds upon hundreds of people. Today this interest is not academic or philosophical. Today it has invaded the practical field. Great numbers of plants and animals have been transformed. Some years ago, for instance, two young men carried out certain biological experiments and a race of stingless bees was produced which made a great deal more honey. So man has been able to influence the life of these insects and to create a species that has become harmless and produces more of a nourishing substance that humanity appreciates. In the same way certain plants have been transformed so as to produce much more food than they did previously. Men have also transformed simple roses into the many beautiful varieties that today gladden our eyes and delight our sense of smell. In the case of flowers great achievements have been made. Man has captured a secret of life. He has become a sort of magician who has embellished life with the magic wand of his intelligence; because of it, the world is much richer and more pleasant. We begin to see one of the aims of the life of man, one of the reasons which makes him one of the great cosmic forces. He has not been placed in the world in order to enjoy beautiful things. He has been placed here to make the world better. Man has intelligence because he has to make a better world than that which he has found. It is as though man were the continuation of the creation, as though he had been sent to employ his intelligence in order to help and make creation more perfect. Intelligence is the great gift that has been given to him. Man has been able to enter a field that permits him to have control over life. Hitherto man had to follow life as it was, but now he can control it. So the study of embryology is no longer an abstract and fruitless study. It is a study which has allowed man to penetrate certain secrets of life and to be able to control by means of these secrets the beings that are to come. Now, if by a stretch of imagination we think that psychic development follows a similar procedure, then we can imagine that man, who has penetrated the secrets of physical development, can also control and help psychic development.
This chapter about genes and heredity is separate from pure embryology. Embryology considers only the way in which the primitive cell produces the individual. To do this, the ultra ‑microscope or special reasoning are not required. It is merely a question of observation. From one cell, two are generated and these remain joined. Then the two become four, the four eight, eight become sixteen and so on. This continues until hundreds of cells are produced which are similar to the bricks that are used for the construction of a house. Eventually a sort of hollow sphere is produced. Curiously enough, in the oceans, there are certain animals which are just like that, a hollow ball, and they are called ‘volvo’ because they are always going round. Then these balls become inflected and form two walls and later a third wall is formed between the two. So the first construction consists of these three walls. Up to now all cells are alike amongst themselves. Only they are smaller than the primitive cell. (Fig. 3.)
Recently studies have permitted the discovery of the way in which these organs are formed. I mentioned this fact in the previous chapter. This discovery Was made very recently, between 1929 and 1930 i.e., after the first world war. Now this is 14 years ago. Before a discovery is made and this discovery is made public and every one knows about it, 14 years are, we might say, as yesterday. Now the figure reproduced here does not correspond to a reality. (Fig. 4.)
It is something imaginary made in order to show points of sensitivity. There are these spots in which cells begin to multiply very fast and it is in these special points that organs are formed. While one person discovered this in America, in England independently somebody else was also doing research work and he made the same discovery. The American called these points ‘gradients,’ the Englishman, as he made his discovery upon the nervous system, called them ‘points of sensitization’ and ‘sanglion.’
Each of the three walls of the gastrula produces a set of organs. The external one produces the skin, the sensory organs and nervous system. And this illustrates that the external layer is in relation with the environment, because the skin gives us protection and the nervous system places us in relation to the environment. The innermost one develops organs used for nourishment such as the intestines, stomach, the glands of digestion, liver, pancreas, and the lungs. The organs of the nervous systems are called organs of relation because they allow us to put ourselves in relation with the environment. The organs of the digestive and respiratory systems are called vegetative organs because they make vegetative life possible. The third or middle wall produces all the rest, the skeleton that sustains the whole body and the muscles. Now it is curious to see how each one of these walls has a special purpose and this purpose remains the same for each kind of animal. As long as they are in the stage of walls, the cells are more or less alike, simple. Is this not intelligent? First three walls are made, then the organs. And is it not curious that the plan of the whole is made while each of the three layers is still independent of the other? After this, each of the cells that are going to form organs begins to transform itself. They assume the form best suited to perform a function which, however, they do not carry out in the embryo. So that this fine specialization of the cells which transform themselves for a certain function takes place before the function begins.
Here I have reproduced some of these cells (Fig. 5.).
There are the liver cells which are pentagonal in form; there are the cells of the muscles which are very long, and the triangular ones are those that make the bones. While these bone‑cells are very soft, they take carbonate of calcium from the blood and form bones. There are others which are very interesting because they are a sort of little cup and these little cups exude a sort of sticky substance. They also have a sort of fringe of fibers called cilia which vibrate so as to catch any dust that may enter the throat with their gluey mucus and move it up to the mouth. And then there are the heroes, who sacrifice their life for the welfare of others. These are the cells of the skin. The skin which sacrifices itself for the protection of the other organs, covers the whole body. The outer layer of the skin dies; its cells sacrifice themselves and underneath there is another layer which is getting ready to sacrifice its life for the safety of all. Those with the long filaments are the cells of the nervous system. Then there are the red cells of the blood which go on continuously taking oxygen to the other cells. They take back and throw away the poisonous gases that have formed. The marvelous thing is that though the red corpuscles of the blood are in enormous numbers, yet their number is determined.
Before the work starts, these are some of the types of cells. Each of these cells prepares itself for the work it has to do. When they have formed themselves for this special work, they can no longer transform themselves. A nervous cell can never be transformed into a liver cell. And so when they have transformed themselves as if imbued with a great ideal and dedicated themselves to the work that fulfils it, their task is fixed, because they have specialized themselves for it. Is it not the same in our human society? There are, we might say, special groups of men who form the organs of humanity. In the beginning each individual performs many tasks. In the primitive society, when people are few, one has to know a little of everything. One is a mason, a doctor, a carpenter and everything. But when society is evolved, then there is specialization of work. Each man chooses a type of work and his psyche becomes so involved in this work that he can do only that work and nothing else. For example, a doctor cannot be a shoemaker. The training for a profession is not only learning a technique, the individual undergoes a psychic transformation for the task that he is to perform so that one prepares himself not only technically, but, what is more important, one acquires a special psychic personality, which is suited for that special work. One finds one’s ideal realized in it. One’s life is that.
The same seems to happen in the case of the body. When each cell has specialized to form the different organs, something else comes that achieves a union among them all. It is composed of two complex organs which do not function for themselves but function in order to achieve the unity among all others. They are the circulatory and nervous systems. The first system is a sort of a river in which there are substances and these are carried to all. But it is not only a distributor, it is also a collector. The organs produce certain things which are needed by other organs that are far away from them. See what perfection has been achieved by this river! Each organ takes from it what it needs for its life and throws into the river whatever it has produced so that other organs can take of it according to their need.
Do we not find the same in our society to day? Has it not developed a circulatory system. All the substances that are produced are thrown into circulation and each one takes from it what is useful for his life and what is produced is thrown into the stream of commerce so that it becomes available to others. The merchants, the traveling salesmen who go about everywhere, are they not like red corpuscles? If we look at human society, we can better understand the functioning of the embryo because in society also the functioning is such that things produced in Germany are consumed in S. America, things which are produced in England are consumed in India and so forth. We can deduce from this that society has reached an embryonic stage in which the circulatory system begins to function, but with many defects still. The defects of circulation reveal that our society has not finished its development.
The one thing we do not find in human society is something corresponding to the specialized cell of the nervous system. We might almost conclude that this organ of direction has not yet been evolved by society as the the chaotic state of our world very clearly indicates. In the absence of this specialization, there is nothing that gives sensibility to all and can harmoniously direct the whole of society. What happens in democracy, for instance, which is the most evolved sort of social organization that civilization has produced? It permits all to choose their own leader by elections. If we transport this to the field of embryology, one could say: “I think the liver cell is most suited to govern”; and another: “I think that those cells which are inside the bones are more suited, because they have a strong structure.” And another might say: “I want some one heroic who will defend us. The skin cell must be at the work of direction,” If such a situation arose in the field of embryology, it would appear absurd, inconceivable, because if there must be specialized cells at all it is surely the cell which directs the functions of the whole. The work of direction is the most difficult task and requires greater specialization than any other. So it is not a question of election. It is a question of being fit and prepared for the work. He who has to direct others, must have transformed himself. Thus there can be no leader unless he has first transformed himself. But this principle that goes from specialization to function is fascinating. It becomes even much more fascinating when we discover that this is the plan adopted by nature for all branches of life, that it is the plan that nature follows when it creates. If we show an interest in embryology, it is not only because of this plan, and because of the fact that one can acquire control over development, but because it runs parallel step by step to what we have discovered in the psychic field.
One Plan, One Method
Neither the discoveries nor the theories that arise from modern discoveries explain fully the mystery of life and of its development. But certainly they do show and illustrate facts. These furnish us with sufficient data to enable us to see how growth takes place. Every new detail discovered shows an added realization, but does not explain it. These phenomena can be fully observed and they give an explanation of events of ordinary life. One of the things which is observed for instance is that the plan of construction is only one and all types of animal life follow it. Now when I say that it is a plan, I do not mean that we actually see a plan drawn up like a draftsman’s. But what we see occurring in front of our eyes, shows us that all the details follow a certain invisible plan. The plan can be seen materially in the embryo, it can be followed in the psychology of children and it can also be recognized in society. If one observes the embryos of different animals, one easily sees that the plan of development followed is the same. This is no new discovery. Fig. 6. shows the embryos of three different animals at two different stages. The earlier stage is on the left and the more advanced on the right. The animals are: Man on top, rabbit below it, and lizard below that. And this is one of the revelations I mentioned. As the picture shows, in order to realize themselves, the vertebrates have to pass through the same stages of development and the same forms. For instance you can see a striking resemblance between man and lizard at this stage of embryonic development. Yet when the embryo has finished developing, the difference is immense. So there is a period when all beings are alike.
We can also say with the same certainty that, psychically speaking, there is a period in which all the human beings are alike. And when we say that the new born is a psychic embryo, we must understand that all new‑born children are alike. There can therefore be but one means of treating or educating children of this age, i.e., if education is to start from birth, there can be but one method. There can be no question of special methods for Indian children or Chinese or Japanese or European children. Here there is an absolute method which is the same for all. There is a period of incarnation in which every human being acts in the same fashion, i.e., every human being incarnates itself in the same way; all have the same psychic needs and follow the same procedure in order to achieve the construction of man. No matter what type of man results from the work of the child, no matter if it is a genius, or a laborer, a saint or a murderer, each in order to become what he is in the end, must pass through these stages of growth, these phases of incarnation. What we must take into consideration is this process of incarnation, we must not pre‑occupy ourselves with what the individual will become later on. We cannot interfere with that. First of all we do not know it, and then we should not have the power to achieve it if we knew. What must preoccupy us, what must take our energies is the assistance to those laws of growth that are common to all.
This brings us to the question of the methods of education. There must be there can be only one method of education. The method which helps the natural laws of growth and of development, alike for all. This is not an idea; it is a fact, an evident fact and it shows that it cannot be a philosopher or a thinker to dictate this or that method of education. The only one who can dictate the method is nature itself which has established certain laws, which has infused certain needs into the growing being. It is the aim of satisfying these needs, seconding these laws, which must dictate the method of education; not the more or less brilliant ideas of a philosopher.
This is specially so in the first years of life. It is true that afterwards differences arise in the individuals but it is not we who cause these differences; we cannot even provoke them. There is an inner individuality, an ego which develops spontaneously, independently of us and we cannot do anything about it. We cannot make, for instance, a genius, or a general or an artist. We can only help that individual who is to be a general or a leader to realize his potentialities. No matter what they are, if they are leaders or poets or artists or geniuses, or merely common men, they must pass through these stages: embryonic stages before birth, psycho‑embryonic stages after birth, in order to realize their mysterious future self. What we can do is merely to remove the obstacles so that the mysterious being that each individual is to realize can be achieved, because by removing those obstacles, the work can be done better.
We call this fundamental effort of self‑realization ‘incarnation.’ This is the first practical point: there is a process of incarnation, this process of incarnation is the same for all, and our aim in education must be to help this process of incarnation.
Further Outcome of Embryology
The three embryos of Fig. 6 are very similar, one to the other. However, when they have finished their development, these beings are very different from one another. Now let us continue to illustrate this question of the development of embryos by following the reasoning of the most modern thinkers. What we have already seen is very striking: the existence of genes, the existence of points of sensitivity around which organs are formed and then the formation of two systems the circulatory system and the nervous system which connect and unite intimately all that has been created. After these organs have come into relation, there is something that is even more mysterious. This is the fact that it is not merely organs that are created and that come to be intimately connected one with the other, but that there come living beings free and independent. It is not merely the construction of those organs and putting them in connection with one another, the whole of these organs, the same in every being, form in each case a being different from the other: each has its own character. This is what is extraordinary. This problem has not yet been solved by science. There is the theory of evolution, but it is a theory and not a fact. Observation unfolds all the facts without explaining them. Whenever there is no explanation a void remains and this is important. The important fact is to recognize that there is a void. If we accept a theory, e.g., that of evolution which covers all the facts, then our intelligence is set at rest. But once the void has been noticed, the intelligence becomes restless and sets out to find an explanation. These voids lead people to think, to study facts until a new discovery is made and with each discovery, one more void is filled and one step forward in knowledge is made.
There was a discovery first made public in 1930 (this seems to be an important year for embryology). It was made in the laboratories of a biologist of Philadelphia. These modern laboratories of America are very well staffed and endowed so that each scientist can dedicate himself to the study of one special detail. One of these studied for seven or eight years but one type of animal, a very inferior sort of amphibian and he studied it for such a long time because the facts did not correspond to the scientific theories which were expounded at the time. Now to give a full explanation of what this man has discovered would be boring and not easy to understand. I just mention it in passing. This scientist discovered that the parts which were first formed were those parts which directed the functioning of the individual and that the formation of the executive organs comes afterwards. Every body knows that we have a nervous system and among other things we have a brain and in our brain are located certain parts each of which deals with an organ. There is a part of the brain which deals with sight and it is called the visual center. Now what this scientist discovered was that the part of the nervous system which was meant to direct sight was formed first, much before the nerve of sight and much before the eye. This was absolutely contrary to the scientific theory of the time. The conclusion he came to was this: that in animals the psychic part is formed before the being itself is formed i.e., the instincts of the animals are there before the animal has finished building itself physically. This means that generation concerns not only the body, and the different inner organs but also the psyche, also the instincts of each animal, and that the habits of these animals are fixed before the organ is formed.
This is the new idea. The habits that the animal is going to have are fixed in the nerve centers much before the organ is built. Now if this psychic part is preexisting, what does it mean? It means that the organ finishes its own construction, molding itself to the requirements of the psyche, of the instincts. This method of reasoning brings us to the conclusion that animals have their habits pre‑established before birth and the organs are built in such a fashion as best to fulfil these habits and these instincts. So according to this new theory, what is important in nature is the habits, the customs of animals. It is interesting to see that the organs, of whatever the animal, are the best suited to carry out the command of its instincts. The new theory has arisen from years and years of study and from observation of facts, not from pre‑established ideas. This brings us to the conclusion that the habits of animals are now‑a‑days more important than the form of the body which was the center of interest in previous times. The term used in this generalization of facts is what is designated as ‘behavior,’ It includes in its meaning the habits and customs of the animals described. The new theory is known in modern books, especially in America, as ‘Behaviorism.’ It is a new light that has come into the field of science. The old ideas which held that animals assume their habits because they had to adapt themselves to their environment have gone. The old theory held that it was the will of the adult which provoked the transformations necessary so that the body became adapted to the environment, that the efforts which animals made to keep alive, this ‘instinct of self‑preservation,’ caused a transformation in the successive generations and gradually the species became adapted. The species which could not do this perished. This was called the ‘survival of the fittest,’ This theory averred that by means of continuous efforts carried out during generations, a sort of perfection came about and this was then transmitted to the next generation.
The new theory does not do away with all this, but places the behavior of the animal at the center of all its habits. The facts observed are that the animal which strives for adaptation is successful only if its efforts are expended within its behavior‑pattern. So the animal which successfully carries out its experiences of life upon the environment does so along the lines of its behavior. Let us illustrate this by an example. Let us take the cows. They are powerful animals, strong and well armed. In the geological history of the earth, the course of their evolution can be traced. They make their appearance when the earth is already well covered with vegetation. One might ask oneself why this animal has limited itself to feed only on grass which is the most indigestible food that can be found, so much so that in order to digest it the poor animal has had to develop four stomachs. If, as the old theory said, it was a question of self‑preservation of survival, how much easier it would have been to eat something else of which there was an abundance in the surroundings. It would have been very simple and very easy. But today after millions and millions of years, we still see cows, when in natural surroundings, eating only grass. They stand with lowered heads, chewing and chewing. It is very seldom that you can make them raise their heads so that one can look into their beautiful eyes. Immediately after they have given you a look, down goes their head. If you observe the animal, you will see that it crops the grass near the roots, but it never uproots the plant. It seems to know that in order to keep the grass alive, it must be cut near the roots because if the latter are cut, the plant dies, whereas if they are cut like this, they develop under ground. The roots expand and occupy more ground and so the grass travels and spreads instead of dying. Now if one studies the history of evolution, one finds that only very late in the history of the earth grass appears and one also finds the tremendous importance that grass has for other vegetation; because grass ties together the loose grains of sand which otherwise would be carried away by the wind. Not only does it render the ground firm, but it fertilizes it also. No other vegetation could have grown if the grass had not prepared the way first. That is the importance of grass. Two things are necessary for its upkeep, besides cutting: one is manure, the other is rolling i.e., putting a heavy weight upon it. Now, tell me what artificial agricultural machine can be more marvelously fit for these three tasks than the cow herself. So efficient is this machine that besides helping the growth of grass it also produces milk. What a wonderful agriculturist of nature is the cow. Her behavior gives us one more reason to be grateful to her. We thought that she gave us milk and manure and nothing else. At the most we may have thought that the cow is an example of patience. But much more does humanity owe to the cow. It is something which has been ignored by humanity at large, but which has been felt by the subconscious mind in India, where the cow is worshiped. It is the upkeep of the earth, the life of other plants that we owe to the cow. The patience she has is more than the superficial patience that we admire. It is the patience of generations and generations.
A Task in Life
Now if the cow were conscious, she would be conscious merely of the fact that she is hungry, that she likes grass, just as in India the people like chapatis, rice and curry and other people like something else. But certainly the cow will never realize, will never think, will never be conscious of the fact that she is an agriculturist. Yet the behavior of the cow is just such as to help nature in its work of agriculture.
Now, let us take the example of crows and vultures who eat the refuse of nature. Why, with the abundance of food there is in the world, should the vultures eat rotten carcases and the crows excrements and whatever dirt they find in the environment? They have wings. They can and do fly long distances in search of their food. So it would not be difficult for them to find something more appetizing, such as other animals less endowed with strength and the possibility of movement do find. But can you imagine the amount of mortality there would be if this refuse were not removed from the earth? What an amount of illness, of plague and other diseases of all kinds would there be, if there were not some instrument whose only task in life is to keep the environment clean? They have by nature been allotted the task of cleaning the environment. Tell me what is the difference between the mass of workers that in Ahmedabad go back after their work, streaming from the mills towards their homes, and the hundreds of crows we see flying back at dusk towards their roost, after having done their work of cleaning and sweeping? This is their behavior.
These two examples have been given taking them from the choice of food. We might take hundreds and we should find that each species has chosen a particular kind of food. We might conclude that animals have no free choice of food. They do not eat merely to satisfy themselves. They eat to fulfil a mission upon the earth, the mission which is prescribed for them by their behavior. Certain it is that all these animals are benefactors of nature and the benefactors of all other living beings. They work to preserve the harmony of creation. They work out creation, because creation is achieved by the collaboration of all the living and non‑living beings. And these two do their part in it by their behavior. Other animals there are which eat in such tremendous quantity that it cannot be explained merely on the ground of the upkeep of life. They do not eat in order to keep themselves alive. They keep alive in order to eat, for instance, the earth‑worms. They eat only earth, although there is so much choice of foods. These earthworms eat daily a quantity of food which is 200 times the volume of their body. This is measured by their droppings. This is a species of being that does not eat in order to keep alive, especially when one considers the amount of other better food there is at its disposal. The worm is a worker of the earth. It was Darwin himself who first said that without the worms the earth would be less productive. The worms render the earth fertile. So there are forms of body or details of the body which go beyond the direct advantage of the individual.
Take the bees. They come out in hot weather. They are covered with a sort of fur or a sort of yellow and black velvet. This fur is not necessary in a hot country, but it collects the pollen from flowers which the bee itself does not use. This pollen, however, is useful to other flowers to which it is brought by them and which are thus fertilized. So the work of the bee is not useful to itself alone, it is useful for the propagation of plants so that one might say that this fur has been developed by the bees for the propagation of plants, not for themselves. Don’t you begin to see in this behavior that animals sacrifice themselves for the welfare of other types of life, instead of trying to eat as much as possible merely for their own existence or upkeep? The more one studies the behavior of animals and of plants, the more clearly one sees that they have a task to perform for the welfare of the whole.
There are certain unicellular animals which live in the ocean and drink such an enormous quantity of water that if they were calculated to the proportion of man, they would need to drink a gallon of water per second during their whole life. Certainly one could call this intemperance, for these animals cannot do it to satisfy their thirst. It is not a vice, however, it is rather like a virtue. They must work at high speed because their task is to filter all the water of the ocean, to eliminate from it certain salts which would be a terrible poison for all the other inhabitants of the ocean.
The same is true of corals. Corals are inferior animals and if the theory of evolution were true, it would be incomprehensible that having been among the first animals to appear, they have remained for millions of years always the same. Why have they not changed? Because they have a function to fulfil and they fulfil it in a perfect manner. This is the same function as that of the animals mentioned above: to eliminate from the ocean the poisonous matter which is brought into it by the flow of rivers. Their work is that of coating themselves with those salts. This has been going on for millions and millions of years and so we can imagine the enormous quantity of rock they have accumulated. They accumulate enormous quantities and these animals have been entrusted with the formation of new continents. Look at the innumerable little islands of the Pacific Ocean that today have come into the lime‑light on account of the war which has been fought between the Japanese on one side and the Allies on the other. Those islands are constructions made by these animals, the corals. They are the tops of mountains that today are rising out of the water, forming islands. If we study the rocks on dry land, we find that many of them are formed by animals. Even in the Himalayas much of the massif is of coralline origin. We may well say that these corals are the constructors of our continents.
So the more one studies the functions of these animals, the more one finds, that these functions are not for the upkeep of the animal’s body only, but that all give their contribution to the harmony of the whole. Let us say then that these animals are not merely inhabitants of the earth: they are the constructors and workers of this earth, they keep it going. This is the vision given by these new discoveries. Once given this light, by studying the geological epochs of the past, we find testimony of similar work carried out by animals which are now extinct. There has always been this relation between the animals and the earth, of the animals between themselves and between the animals and the vegetation. A new science has arisen from this which is called Ecology, a science which is widely applied today and forms an important part of the study in universities. Ecology is a study of the different behaviors of animals, and it reveals that they are not here to compete with each other, but to carry out an enormous work serving the harmonious upkeep of the earth. When we say they are workers, we mean that each one of them has a purpose, a special aim to fulfil and the result of these tasks is our beautiful world.
A fundamental study today is to consider the task of each upon this earth. Behavior does not merely fulfil the desire to continue to live. It serves a task which evidently remains unknown and unconscious to the being, because it does not form part of what one might wish. If animals were to become self‑conscious, they would be conscious of their habits, of the beauty of the places in which they live, but certainly the corals would never realize or understand that they are the builders of the world, nor would the worms which fertilize the earth consider themselves agriculturists, nor would others consider themselves the purifiers of the environment and so forth. The purpose which places the animals in relation to the earth and its upkeep would never enter their consciousness. Yet life and its relation with the surface of the earth, the purity of the air, the purity of water are dependent upon these tasks. So there is another force which is not the force of the desire for survival, but a force which harmonizes all the tasks. Let us say that each one is important, not because it is beautiful, or because it has succeeded in the struggle for existence, but because it carries out tasks which are useful to the whole and the effort of each is to try and reach the place allotted to it and the task which it is to fulfil. That is why we said that there was a pre‑established plan, and that the organs were formed to fulfil this plan. This pre‑established plan puts the animals in relation with the task that they have to accomplish upon the earth. Nor is the purpose of life to perfect oneself, nor only to evolve. The purpose of life is to obey the hidden command which ensures harmony among all and creates an ever better world. We are not created only to enjoy the world, we are created in order to evolve the cosmos. Today the influence of the existence of a cosmic plan is gradually changing the theory of the linear evolution of past times.
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