Book Talk

Meenakshi Thapan ed., J. Krishnamurti and Educational Practice: Social and Moral Vision for Inclusive Education, 2018, pp. 424. New Delhi: Oxford Universityt Press. ISBN 0-19-948780-4.

~ Sasanka Perera, South Asian University

As J. Krishnamurti and Educational Practice: Social and Moral Vision for Inclusive Education edited by Meenakshi Thapan enters circulation, I wondered how to write a non-conventional review of it.  That is, to outline the politics in which it can be located and read, rather than say what it contains and what it does not.  The bottom-line however is, the book consists of thirteen essays on various aspects of Krishnamurti’s thinking and insights as well as a contextualization of the pedagogic practices this thinking has inspired.  All the essays are written by a group of authors who are both familiar with Krishnamurti’s thinking and also awed by it.

I consider Krishnamurti a creatively dangerous thinker. He has attempted to engage with constructive ideas, though they were not always popular among political actors and even among ordinary people who might come into contact with them. His thinking is dangerous to conventional thinking and parochial dogmas that often overshadow our ways of looking at the world. Krishnamurti’s thoughts, as articulated in his numerous lectures presented at different times in his peripatetic career, subvert the popular notion of manufactured freedom, formal education, and institutions such as family, marriage and kinship with which we associate most human emotions.

In general, Krishnamurti was interested in fermenting change in the fundamentals of people’s thinking and action.  This is why he had such a strong preoccupation with education.  Precisely due to this reason, the bulk of the chapters in the book places in context the more longer lasting of the experiments inspired by his thinking. This is particularly so in the eight essays presented in the two sections, ‘Leaner-Centered Pedagogy and Practice’ and ‘Diversity and Inclusive Education.’ As Thapan notes, “it is in the everyday that Krishnamurti seeks out change, beginning with the individual and the world, both personal and social” (Thapan 2018: 3). Towards the goal of achieving such fundamental changes in thinking, though Krishnamurti focused on educational practice, he did not see education in a reductionist, utilitarian and objectivist sense as it is often understood today.  This contemporary reductionism in understanding education has happened mostly due to perceiving it from market perspectives.  For Krishnamurti however, education “was a deeply nuanced method for the transformation of consciousness and social change” as Thapan reminds us (2018: 4). But education for emotional and intellectual empowerment in this sense is a source of radical political and social power that allows the mind and intelligence relative freedom to roam, discover, creatively conspire and enact change.  That is why Krishnamurti saw intelligence as “the capacity to perceive the essential, the what is.”[1] And he saw education as the means “to awaken this capacity, in oneself and in others.”[2]

However, despite the debates and discussions on the thinking of Krishnamurti in India and beyond, his ideas have hardly become a cornerstone in any national policy of education in India or more broadly in South Asia. Thapan rightly recognizes this situation when she notes with a detectable sense of anguish that his work “remains at the margins of educational perspectives that inform the academy and education practice in general” (Thapan 2018: 4). One needs to seriously consider, why this might be so. In a way, much of J. Krishnamurti and Educational Practice: Social and Moral Vision for Inclusive Education is a plea via an empirical and reflective detour to make a strong case for the continuing relevance of Krishnamurti’s ideas in contemporary times.

But how does one explain this state of affairs? We cannot realistically expect any outcome other than this kind of marginalization given the consistently subversive nature of Krishnamurti’s thinking when situated in the context of the mainstream of educational practice as well as policy. I have long held, that Krishnamurti’s ideas in general are perhaps far too cosmpoolitan in the social and cultural worlds we inhabit in South Asia. Moreover, when compared to how people have engaged with ideas of thinkers such as Jyotirao Phule or B.R. Ambedkar or even Mohandas Gandhi, as a form of polticis in India, Krishnamurti’s thinking still by large remain in the realm of ideas, and not in the domain of broader politics. That is, they are restricted to comfort zones of the apolitical. This is a fundamental problem that passionate followers and admirers of Krishnamurti are unwilling to recognize. In these circumstances, Krishnamurti’s thinking has become a discourse with considerable meaning and sense, but without the power of social transformation or popular appeal in the broader sense. His thinking in the present form is a kind of political and social discourse without the intent of politics.  It is this discursive limitation in terms of political dynamics and reach as well as the limited number of schools that are self-consciously inspired by and established on the basis of his thinking that have led to the criticism of these schools as elitist, and to the argument that Krishnamurti’s perspective and the resultant forms of educational practice cannot realistically be factored into the mainstream (Thapan 2018: 4).

If the long-term ideological interest of people closely affiliated with the thinking of Krishnamurti is to make his thinking more squarely relevant to contemporary times, then, these ideas need to percolate from his writings, the main Krishnamurti schools and the discourses of followers to the broader and more engaged domains of politics.  In other words, these ideas will have to get closer to the messier and sometimes nastier landscapes where everyday politics take place.  But clearly, this is a difficult journey. Or, one can simply ask whether Krishnamurti’s thoughts can engage with contemporary politics, if they do not transcend beyond the comfort zones of institutions where they mostly reside at present. Admittedly, such institutionalization allows forums for ideas to become esoteric, accessible to scholars, and cultural elites, but not to the masses. People at large can be awed by them, or even fear them if they ever accidently come across them, but never think of working with them.

Let me conclude with an anticipation of hope.  Hopefully J. Krishnamurti and Educational Practice: Social and Moral Vision for Inclusive Education might mark the beginning of a new life for the thinking and the educational practices inspired by Krishnamurti.  If that new life was to manifest, it might usher his thinking into the mainstream in India in particular and South Asia more generally, through a more nuanced engagement with day-to-day politics.  Perhaps this is simply a utopia in my own mind.  But utopias need not be seen as unpractical or naive things. It would be much better if sensible people would take initiative to transform some utopias into realms of reality.


(This review was initially published in The Book Review, 2019. It is republished in TAP Book Talk with the reviewer’s consent)




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