Sri Aurobindos Integral Education:Physical and Vital Education

Jan - Feb 2006

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Sri Aurobindos Integral Education:Physical and Vital Education

"The truth we seek is made of four major aspects: Love, Knowledge, Power and Beauty."
These four attributes of the Truth will spontaneously express themselves in our being. The psyche will be the vehicle of true and pure love, the mind that of infallible power and strength and body will be the expression of perfect beauty and perfect harmony."
Man has various parts of being and a system of education, to be truly effective, must cover all the aspects of his existence.

Thus the four basic elements of his being: the physical, the vital, the mental and the psychic must be developed and perfected by their appropriate education so that he achieves the utmost possible perfection of himself and contributes his maximum for the total progress of humanity. These four parts of man are interrelated, even interwoven, and it is not possible to separate them distinctly in their functioning. Each part influences the others and the education of each has its effect on the whole. Each part, however, calls for a special approach of education. Now, material form is intended to express the Divine Beauty. Wherever we turn we see Nature presenting a panorama of beauty.

The glorious sunrise on the eastern horizon, the floating of white fleecy clouds in a clear blue sky, the rolling mass of waters in a turbulent river, the mighty mountains lifting their heads up in the sky, the lush green foliage in a thick forest are so many faces of Beauty. In the animal world, the majestic approach of a lion, the dancing peacock, the swift running of a cheetah or a deer, the swinging body of a king cobra with its hood upraised, are equally beautiful. The human body too must express beauty & beauty in form and beauty in movement. A well-developed and proportionate body, with a bright face and eyes, healthy skin, an upright carriage, a cheerful disposition, radiating health, vigour and vitality, is beauty personified. So also grace, rhythm, power and energy harmoniously expressing themselves in its movements are beauty in action. All these may be considered as inherent qualities. But education and culture in an ideal environmental condition can do much for the maximum utilization of the potentialities.

The body is the pedestal of our terrestrial existence. The body is the means for the expression of life, mind and soul. Its importance extends far beyond its own well-being. Apart from the expression of truth of the body itself, its condition, good or bad, has great relevance to the expression of truths of the other parts. The body has to be taught to live as long as possible by maintaining its health, strength and energies. To preserve the body strong and active it is essential that, apart from observing the normal rules of health, a sound programme of physical education should be adopted."The basic programme will be to build a body beautiful in form, harmonious in posture, supple and agile in its movements, powerful in its activities and resistant in its health and organic functions." A systematic physical education with suitable food, adequate rest and sleep, personal and environmental hygienic conditions, appropriate activities of self-expression, and inner quietude and calm goes to produce physical fitness with all its components of health, strength, endurance and skill. Physical skill means speed, agility, suppleness, a good neuromuscular coordination, spontaneous reflex, grace, harmony and those special capacities which can be acquired only by special exercisings and activities. "An extended and many-sided physical education and discipline" is needed. For discipline and morale, a sound and strong character are important and they are naturally acquired by a meaningful education. It helps "to form even necessitates the qualities of courage, hardihood, energetic action and initiative or call for skill, steadiness of will, rapid decision and action, the perception of what is to be done in an emergency and dexterity in doing it." Activities of such an organized system of physical education promote sportsmanship, leadership, obedience to leadership and spirit of fair play so necessary for a healthy and progressive life, individual and collective. The vital, the life-energy part of man, is more difficult. "The vital being in us is the seat of impulses and desires, of enthusiasm and violence, of dynamic energy and desperate depression, of passion and revolt. It can set in motion everything, build up and realize, it can also destroy and mar everything." Education of vital proceeds in various stages. Firstly, a good amount of energy must be generated by the vital. When the body functions in its optimum health and fitness, and there is harmony between the body, the vital and the mind, plenty of vital energy is generated in the system. This balanced state of the various parts of the being also creates a very congenial condition for contact with universal energy from which, if one is trained sufficiently, one can draw almost inexhaustibly. The second step is to learn how to preserve this energy within oneself and not to throw it out and waste. If the vital is left to itself it brings in strong desires, impulses and their variable reactions draining the energy. The process of coercion and suppression will not do. That can only bring violent disturbances in the being. Or if one sits tightly upon it in order to give it an expression, the vital is likely to get weakened. But this energy is not meant to be bottled up. It is to be used. And the next part of vital education is to learn how to use this energy rightly. To be able to use it properly one must take up the education of the senses, the eyes, ears, nose, palate and touch, which gather and feed the mind with their experience. These senses must be trained to perceive and receive correctly and report exactly to the mind. The mind too must be taught to interpret them justly without bias or preconceived notions or ideas. Sufficient use of the senses, exercise or full attention and power of observation, a strong memory, along with the discipline of the emotions with the purification of moral habits, can help in this regard. An aesthetic sense and feeling for harmony and beauty must be cultivated. A good amount of the vital energy is needed for the normal life-process. But still a good part remains unutilized. That must be tapped for individual and collective progress, and there is so much to build and create in this beautiful world of ours. To conclude in Sri Aurobindos own words: " Our life, still full of obscurity and confusion and occupied with so many dull and lower aims, must feel all its urges and instincts exalted and irradiated and become a glorious counterpart of the supramental super-life above. The physical consciousness and physical being, the body itself must reach a perfection in all that it is and does which now we can hardly conceive. It may even in the end be suffused with a light and beauty and bliss from the Beyond and the life divine assume a body divine."

-Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya

[Published with glad permission of the author from his book By the Way (Part III). The author who is endearingly called Pranabda or Dada has been the founder director of the Department of Physical Education of Sri Aurobindo Ashram for the past 60 years. He was the closest and dearest child (sadhak) of the Divine Mother for well over two decades until Her Mahasamadhi in 1973. We publish it with deep gratitude to Pranabda. - Editor]

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