Educating the Hero-Soul

By Ingrid Van Mater

There is a wisdom indigenous to the human race that has always existed, the central theme being that divinity is the generating force behind the growth and evolution of all beings. Our destiny as humans is to continually evolve and change, gradually unfolding our divine potential through the various aspects of our complex nature.

In the early 1900s Katherine Tingley pursued this ideal by starting the Raja Yoga School at Point Loma, California, with the object of fostering the "kingly union" of all the faculties and the reality of universal brotherhood, thereby awakening some of the deeper dimensions within. This comprehensive approach carried out the very root meaning of the word education (from e, forth, and ducere, to lead), and what she was able to bring forth from children attracted educators from around the world for three decades.

At an early age, along with the regular curriculum which included athletics, every opportunity was given for appreciation and study of the arts and numerous crafts, for learning wise precepts from many traditions, and enjoying nature's beauty and wonder. With character building in mind, each pupil was given daily chores in which focus of attention and an attitude of helpfulness were stressed. Katherine Tingley believed in planting seeds of thought that would nourish the soul before the mind became dominant and clouded a child's closeness to the spirit, knowing that these seed ideas would develop in their own time, and in their own way, according to the child's true nature. Children have a spirituality that transcends any religion. What they need is encouragement of their natural inclinations toward universal truth instead of limiting interpretations that tend to dim their intuitive sense and inherent belief in themselves.

Plato mentioned that the sum of education is right training in the nursery. In the light of reincarnation and karma we gain a new view of children, and can see that the child-state has its role to play in the universal scheme. Children are experienced souls in young bodies, reflecting the spiritual world from which they have just emerged, bringing with them character traits, abilities, and the karmic circumstances they have created in previous lives.

If parents and teachers were aware of the vast potential of every child and the background of experience from other incarnations, what a difference this would make. Experiments have substantiated the Pygmalion effect: that children tend to live up or down to an adult's expectations. When the teacher or parent believes in them, the results almost invariably are good, giving a child a feeling of self-worth and motivation. Adult prejudices can be correspondingly damaging. Inner trust is also mutually beneficial in adult interactions, when there is faith in the soul's essential integrity.

A significant book, Education for Character: How Our Schools Can Teach Respect and Responsibility by Thomas Lickona, (Bantam Books, 1991; Dr. Lickona is an internationally respected authority on moral development and education) reports on successful programs implemented in many schools in Canada and the United States which have used ethics to develop mutual trust between teachers and pupils. It further discusses: "How schools can teach respect, responsibility, hard work, compassion, and other values so desperately needed in today's society." The author refers to habits of mind, heart, and action which make up moral maturity. Children learn how to judge what is right — "even in the face of pressure from without and temptation from within" (p. 51). A high school teacher indicated, "We have to share ourselves, not just our subject matter." Dr. Lickona emphasizes the importance of a job well done, and of exercising self-discipline.

Another book that significantly opened the way to more meaningful approaches to life is Marilyn Ferguson's Aquarian Conspiracy, an articulate summary of the paradigm shift in world thought, of whole-brain knowing and transpersonal education. Some of the ideas she presents have been incorporated by educators into their school reform programs. Regarding education, she writes: "It is high time we freed ourselves from attachment to old forms and eased the flight of the unfettered human mind." Certainly there is a necessity to "break through stereotypes." Of particular interest are some of her comparisons of the old and the new:

Old — Learning as a product, a destination
New — Learning as a process, a journey
Old — Emphasis on analytical left-brain thinking
New — Augments left-brain rationality with holistic, nonlinear, intuitive strategies
Old — Education to train for specific skills or for a specific role
New — Education seen as lifelong process, one only tangentially related to schools — pp. 290-1

Opportunities for new ways of seeing and expanding awareness are limitless. The media are a powerful means of communication, and despite the negative messages of degrading and violent images, there is also the counter-influence of creative and thoughtful programs that uplift the mind and widen the sphere of knowledge for old and young alike. Many outstanding individuals are involved in this effort, such as filmmaker David Puttnam, who believes "in the power of film to teach and inspire," and appeal to that "deep, decent core in people" (interview with Bill Moyers, A World of Ideas, 1989).

Glimmerings of more penetrating views of our human destiny and the marvels of our universe are definitely beginning to have their positive effect. Joseph Campbell in his series with Bill Moyers on myths has left an indelible mark on world consciousness, awakening and deepening the thought-life of thousands of people. His initial interest in the mythology of different lands was to find "the commonality of themes in world myths, pointing to a constant requirement in the human psyche for a centering in terms of deep principles. . . . Our technology in all its expressions is not enough. We have to rely on our intuition, our true being" (The Power of Myth, p. xvi). He electrified the world with his vision and depth of insight. The hero in myths to him, "symbolizes our ability to control the irrational savage within us. . . . The ultimate aim of the quest must be . . . the power to serve others" (p. xiv-xv). Shortly before Campbell died, Bill Moyers asked him if he still held to his ideas expressed to him earlier about the future, "that we are at this moment participating in one of the very greatest leaps of the human spirit to a knowledge not only of outside nature but also of our own deep inward mystery." After a moment he answered, "The greatest ever."

Each one of us, as hero-soul, journeying for long ages to and from this "vale of soul-learning," is gradually garnering wisdom as we seek to discover the mystery of our enigmatic selves. From this inner standpoint education is an ongoing experience of self-transcendence, with ever more distant horizons of understanding and becoming the noble being we are at heart. Every time we dedicate ourselves to the benefit of others, however insignificant this may seem, we are contributing our share to the momentum of unselfishness in the world and to the general welfare of humanity.

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1994; copyright © 1994 Theosophical University Press)


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Learning for learning's sake isn't enough. . . . We may learn things that constrict our vision and warp our judgment. What we must reach for is a conception of perpetual self-discovery, perpetual reshaping to realize one's goals, to realize one's best self, to be the person one could be. — John W. Gardner