BECK index

Education for Self-Awareness

by Sanderson Beck

Perhaps the highest purpose of education is for the individual to become aware of oneself. Socrates admonished, "Know yourself," and declared that the unexamined life is not worth living. He also stated that the best person is the one who is most perfecting oneself, and the happiest is the one who feels one is most perfecting oneself. This concurs with Jesus' admonition to "Be perfect." Yet has the university provided opportunity for his most important aspect of education? The overwhelming emphasis has been on objective knowledge, that is, knowledge of the world rather than knowledge of oneself as a unique individual and how one relates to the world. Even religious education has usually emphasized the objective teaching of the particular religion. With the rare exceptions of esoteric mystery schools such a the Pythagoreans, the Egyptian pyramid initiates, far Eastern yoga disciplines, and some medieval occult alchemy, the lack of subjective or inner education has been perhaps the greatest failure in the entire known history of education. In fact society's generally negative attitude toward the above mysterious trends has indicated a fear and suspicion of searching into oneself and the deeper realities of life such that these people so concerned had to hide or esotericize their knowledge. Thus the whole area has been fraught with misconceptions and misunderstandings due to the various confusions that have risen to the surface. Fortunately however, all of these failures and confused attempts can be put aside completely, because the process of self discovery need not concern itself with any pre-conceived objective ideas.

Why study oneself? Subjective knowledge is greater than objective knowledge as the soul, or beingness of who one really is, is greater than the world, or the environment. Jesus asked, "What does it profit someone to gain the whole world and lose one's soul?" What good is all the scientific objective knowledge if one does not know how to live one's life? T. S. Eliot asked of our times, "Where is the life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?" The logical outcome of the trend of objective knowledge is the behavioristic notions of men such as B. F. Skinner who want to solve the problems of humanity from outside and which attempts to destroy the human sense of freedom and dignity. Many people can see that this methodology of external control treats human beings as animals to be trained and would lead to a totalitarian 1984. An example of this conflict was portrayed in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which humans, the tool-making animal, reach the point where their technology in the form of an HAL 9OOO computer attempts to take over control. Yet ultimately humans create their technology and are responsible for its use. Even in Skinner's plan, someone has to decide who is going to program the conditioning. No matter what political system is used to decide (and Plato described five: aristocracy, timocracy, plutocracy, democracy, and despotism), the result is a master-slave relationship. That humanity could descend to even contemplate such an ignominious system indicates the tremendous lack of individual self-awareness, and is reminiscent of the Atlantean civilization which eventually destroyed itself due to the few who held the power of knowledge enslaving and animalizing the bulk of the population. As great as the Atlantean culture once was, the failure to achieve universal enlightened education was probably the chief cause of its downfall. The salvation of the human race does not lay in enslavement to "objective science, but in spiritual liberation through self-awareness. For it is through awareness that we become free to create our destiny wisely and use scientific knowledge as a tool rather than giving over to something outside of oneself in order to try to escape one's freedom in finding an illusory security and bodily gratification.

First let us examine the differences between training, indoctrination, and education. Then let us look at the meaning of information, knowledge, awareness, and wisdom. Training is well-known by those who have experienced or observed a master relationship to an animal. The goal is to modify behavior according to the dictates of the master, and the method of conditioning the creature is by rewarding desirable behavior with positive reinforcement and punishing undesirable behavior with aversive reinforcement. This manipulative use of the pleasure-pain principle works very effectively on biological organisms; the creature can be controlled according to the will of the master. The use of this technique in human relationships is the outgrowth of the idea that humans are nothing more than highly sophisticated biological organisms. The ethical implications of this method depend upon its use. If this is forced on people, it would appear to be the infringement on the human right of freedom. If a person consciously decides to give oneself over to it, then one must be responsible for this choice. Perhaps the best use of this technique is for an individual to consciously use it on oneself in order to train the lower nature of appetites through self-discipline, which leads then to self-mastery, but in this case it becomes a self-aware process.

Indoctrination is a process of pouring in knowledge and information into the minds of people. It is not possible to indoctrinate animals or plants. Education for career includes both training and indoctrination, and cultural transmission is almost exclusively indoctrination. Yet we hope a career is freely chosen, and if cultural transmission is universal and open to interpretation, then the indoctrinating can serve a useful and human purpose as an objective basis for higher education.

Education, then, is the awakening into actuality the potentials within an individual. Education does not merely give an individual knowledge, it teaches him how to think and use knowledge. Computers are objective examples of the storage of knowledge and information, but humans must still make the decisions as to how that knowledge is to be used, and even how and what knowledge is to be programmed into it in the first place. Indoctrination of information and knowledge is received into the mind, which is a highly sensitive instrument that the individual uses to cognize the world. Yet the reality of beingness of who we really are is not merely the mind, for we can control the mind and utilize it as a faculty. Who does it?

We could distinguish information from knowledge by describing information as the isolated facts and knowledge as the mental origination of them. 'What then is awareness? To differentiate primary knowledge from secondary knowledge, we could say that awareness is that knowledge which is directly experienced. We can have knowledge of an event by observing it ourselves or by learning about it from someone else. The former we call awareness, the latter knowledge. These are receptive characteristics of consciousness. Wisdom is the ability to utilize awareness and knowledge in successful ways. Thus wisdom is the ultimate objective goal of education.

The subjective goal of education is the liberation of the self. The existentialists have stated that "Existence precedes essence;" therefore we are free to choose our own essence. Thus to become more aware of one's own actions and their consequences for which one is responsible, one must study one's own creations. This search for self-knowledge, or actually self-awareness, is the most challenging and useful endeavor, for it can be pursued or applied at any time in any situation since one is always with oneself. By analyzing the patterns in one's life, corrections and improvements can be made to achieve the goals one decides upon. The beauty of this process is that it is self-motivating, self-correcting, and self-disciplining.

Oftentimes it is the facing of existential crises in one's life which stimulates the person to search within oneself; and if the person has the courage, one can take conscious control over the direction of one's life. This crisis may be facing death as the reality that limits this life, thus enforcing choice and selection; it might be the loss of faith in a religion or ideology which has been used as an objective outer guideline, the overthrow of which leaves the person naked with one's own freedom of choice; it could be the end of a relationship in which another person has been relied upon; or one might simply awaken to the idea that one has the right to determine one's own destiny The assertion of one's self-reliance in the acceptance of freedom and the responsibility for it, is usually a turning point in what has been called the spiritual path. In The Flies by Sartre, Zeus declares, "Once freedom lights its beacon in a man's heart, the gods are powerless against him." Once one realizes that mastery is within oneself, then the outer world can no longer enslave one's consciousness.

Many existentialists describe certain emotional states which accompany their experience of freedom, such as the anxiety of choosing and the forlornness and dread at being singularly responsible for one's actions. Yet if we are to be true to the existence preceding the essence, then it is not necessary to bind oneself to any emotional conditionings. What they experience has a certain psychological value as objective knowledge, but the pure existence itself stands alone as unconditioned being. Therefore ultimately the human being can achieve mastery over the emotions and mind, and actually ultimate liberation includes this self-mastery.

To understand this self-awareness more clearly it is helpful to analyze choice. For all the skill of the mind in rationalizing, providing reasons for decision, it is the self not the mind that actually decides and moves the life energy in the direction of the choice. The movement of the life being is perhaps best described as love, but the quality of that love is indicated by the conditioning that influences and describes the choice. As examples, people love food when they are hungry; so they eat; they love sleep when they are tired; some people love to fight when they are angry; some people love to talk with friends or to paint when they are at leisure. In other words, how and where and of what quality people extend their love, or life-beingness, are the choices they make with their freedom. I am not talking about an emotional love, but love as the movement of the life-force within a person. What is the purest expression of freedom? Transcending the conditioned actions of the body, emotions, and mind, the liberated self loves the self in others which is likewise unconditioned being, rather than just loving someone's body, emotions, or mind. If the true self of every individual is unconditioned subjective energy, then is it not possible that the true subject of all life is the unconditioned being who has created our known world just as we create our individual actions through the exercise of freedom? If this is so, then the being of each individual must be a part of and one with this being, and by contacting our own true self within, we could contact and draw unconditioned energy from this being. This can be experienced by attuning one's consciousness to their inner beingness.

True self-awareness is then experiential knowledge of the reality of our being whose pure essence in action is loving. Therefore, the supreme ethics of self-awareness is unconditional love, that is, loving the self within oneself and others regardless of conditions.

How can the university assist in the process of self-awareness education? Ultimately each individual must do it himself. Yet the university could provide the opportunity for students to freely choose situations such a seminars where they could meet with a facilitator who is a little further along in the process of self-awareness and has some experience in counseling. In these groups the students could learn various techniques for searching within them and handling their experiences, They could share the lessons life teaches them and learn from one another. In the often difficult early stages of this quest they could gain some supportive strength and guidance that they would be able to give to others later in their growth. Many people often experience similar difficulties, and this process of sharing can speed up progress. They would also learn how to maintain their individuality in a group situation.

Isn't it about time that people begin to study the most important questions in life ? Who am I? Where have I been? Where am I going?

Copyright 1996 by Sanderson Beck

BECK index