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Full text of "The Absorbent Mind"

THE BOOK WAS 
DRENCHED 



CO > 

OU 164288 



OSMANIA UNIVERSITY LIBRARY 

Call No. 1J6.72A76A Accession No. 28877 

AuthorMontensori , f'aria 
Title Absorbent min<i 

This book shoulc be returned on or ocfore the date last marked below. 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



THE \ 

\ ABSORBENT | 

MIND 



by 

Maria Montcssori 

M.D., D.Litt., F.E.I.S 



1949 

THE THEOSOPHICAL PUBLISHING HOUSE 
ADYAfi MADRAS INDIA 



INTRODUCTION 

THE present volume is based upon the lectures given by 
Dr. Maria Montessori at Ahmedabad, during the first 
Training Course after her internment in India which 
lasted up to the end of World War II. In it she exposes 
the unique mental powers of the young child which 
enable him to construct and firmly establish within a few 
years only, without teachers, without any of the usual 
aids of education, nay, almost abandoned and often 
obstructed, all the characteristics of the human per^bnal- 
ity. This achievement by a being, weak in its physical 
powers, who is born with great potentialities, but prac- 
tically without any of the actual factors of mental life, a 
being who may be called a zero, but who after only 
six years already surpasses all other living beings, is 
indeed one of the greatest mysteries of life. In the present 
volume Dr. Montessori not only sheds the light of her 
penetrating insight, based on close observation and just 
appreciation, on the phenomena of this earliest and yet 
most decisive period of human life, but also indicates the 
responsibility of adult humanity towards it. She, indeed, 
gives a practical meaning to the now universally accepted 
necessity of " education from birth ". This can be given, 
only, when education becomes a " help to life " and 



VI 

transcends the narrow limits of teaching and direct 
transmission of knowledge or ideals from one mind to 
another. One of the best known principles of the 
Montessori Method is " the preparation of the environ- 
ment " ; at this stage of life, long before the child enters 
a school, this principle provides the key to the realization 
of an education from birth, to a real cultivation of a 
human individual from its very beginning. This is a plea 
made on scientific foundations, but it is the plea also of 
one who has witnessed and helped the manifestations of 
child-nature all over the world, manifestations of mental 
and spiritual grandeur, which form a startling contrast to 
the picture shown by mankind which, abandoned during 
its formative period, grows up as the greatest menace to 
its own survival. 

MARIO M. MONTESSORI 
Karachi, May 1949. 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER PAGE 

Introduction . . . v 

~ I. The Child and World Reconstruction . . 1 

II. Education for Life . . . .10 

III. The Periods of Growth . . .24 

IV. A New Orientation . . .41 
V. The Miracle of Creation . . .57 

One Plan, One Method . . .74 

VI. Man's Universality . . . .91 

VII. The Psycho-embryonic Life . . .107 

VIII. The Conquest of Independence . .122 

IX. Care to be taken at Life's Beginning . 1 38 

X. On Language . . . .157 

XI. The Call of Language . . .169 

XII. Obstacles and their Consequences . .184 

XIII. Movement and Total Development . .198 

XIV. Intelligence and the Hand . . .212 
XV. Development and Imitation . . . 224 

XVI. From Unconscious Creator to Conscious Worker . 235 
XVII. The New Teacher . . .247 
XVIII. Further Elaboration through Culture and Imagi- 
nation . . . .261 
XIX. Character and its Defects in Young Children . 276 
XX. A Social Contribution of the Child : Normal- 
ization. .... 288 
XXI. Character- building a Conquest, not a Defence . 302 
XXII. The Sublimation of Possessiveness . .315 



Vlll 



CHAPTER 

XXIII. 
XXIV. 

XXV. 

XXVI. 

XXVII. 

XXVIII. 



Social Development 

Society by Cohesion 

Error and its Control 

The Three Degrees of Obedience 

The Montessori Teacher 

The Fountain Source of Love : the Child 



PAGE 

325 
342 
363 
375 
393 
409 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 



Dr. Maria Montessori 

The Multiplication of the Germinal Cell 

A Chain of 100 Genes 

Primitive Ball and Walls of Cells . 

Points of Sensitivity 

Types of Cells 

Embryonic Forms 

New Born Child and Adult brought to the same 

The Cerebellum at the base of the brain 

Diagram. Tendencies towards Independence 

Development of Language 

Grammar Symbols 

Schematic diagram of the Development of 
Language .... 

Development of Movement 

Normal and deviated features of the child's 
Character .... 

Circles of attraction towards superior and 
inferior types .... 



seal 



PAGE 

Frontispiece 
. 49 
. 60 
. 65 
. 66 
. 68 
. 75 
114 
. 128 
facing 1 36 
facing 1 84 
facing ] 86 

facing 196 
facing 2 1 2 

facing 291 
facing 360 



CHAPTER I 
THE CHILD AND WORLD RECONSTRUCTION 

THIS book is a link in our campaign to defend the great 
powers of the Child. To-day while our world is being 
torn apart, here and there one hears of plans being 
formulated for future reconstruction. One of the means 
which is envisaged for the purpose is education. Indeed 
the intensifying of education, the return to religion is 
recommended generally. I too feel that humanity is not 
yet ready to take part in the evolution that it desires so 
ardently, the construction of peaceful and harmonious 
society, the elimination of wars. Men are not sufficienty 
educated to control the events, rather they become the 
victims of them. Although education is recognised as 
one of the means for the uplift of humanity, it is con- 
ceived as an education of the mind only ; some superior 
sort of ordinary education is still envisaged. 

Philosophies and religions are said to give a contri- 
bution, it may be true, but how many philosophers are 
there in the ultra -civilised world of today and how many 
have there been before and how many more will there be 

I 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



in future ? Noble ideas, great sentiments have always 
existed and have always been transmitted, but wars have 
never ceased. And if education were to be conceived 
along the old lines of transmitting knowledge, the problem 
would remain without solution for ever. Indeed, there 
would be no hope for the world. It is not transmission 
of knowledge that is required, the consideration of the 
human personality alone can lead us to salvation. And 
we hold in front of our eyes a psychic entity, a social 
personality, immense in multitude of individuals, a world 
power that must be taken into consideration. If salvation 
and help are to come, it is through the child ; for the 
child is the constructor of man. 

The child is endowed with an unknown power and 
this unknown power guides us towards a more luminous 
future. Education can no longer be the giving of know- 
ledge only ; it must take a different path. The con- 
sideration of personality, the development of human 
potentialities must become the centre of education. When 
to begin such education ? 

The greatness of the human personality begins from 
the birth of man. This is an affirmation full of reality 
and strikingly mystic at the same time. But, practically 
speaking, how can one give lessons to a child that is just 
born, or even to children in the first or second year of 
life ? How can we imagine giving lessons to a babe ? 
He does not understand when we speak, he does not 
even know how to move ; so how can he learn ? Is it 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



perhaps hygiene merely that is intended when we speak 
of education of small children > Certainly not ! In 
modern times the psychic life in the new-born child has 
called forth great interest. Many scientists and psycho- 
logists 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. Edu- 
cation 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. 

Unexploited Riches 

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 civilisation without knowing 
of the riches that lie buried inside the psychic world of 
the child and indeed, for thousands of years, from the 

3 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 realise the impor- 
tance 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 them- 
selves 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 marvellous to follow the 
development of language. All who have done so agree 
that the child begins to use words and names at a certain 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 com- 
parison. 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 recognise 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 
recognising what it is around us or understanding and 
dealing with our environment. It is the whole of our 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 with- 
out 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, mathe- 
matics, 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 environ- 
ment. 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. 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 pre- 
school 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 1 say that any 
reform of education must be based upon the develop- 
ment of the human personality. Man himself should 
become the centre of education. And it must be remem- 
bered that man does not develop only at the univer- 
sity : 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 

8 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



intelligence, as the being who, guided by the inner 
teacher, in joy and happiness works indefatigably, follow- 
ing 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. 



CHAPTER II 
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 ' defence of life * the 
centre 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 final- 
ities, but it takes hardly into any consideration whatever 

10 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 de- 
velopment and help the individual from birth. If educa- 
tion 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 bio- 
logical and social life. If we stop to think about the 
question we soon realise that all those who are under- 
going 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 

tl 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



about the kind of civilisation 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 your- 
selves, then go into the world ". Yes. That is quite so, 
but education today does not form an intelligence capable 
of visualising 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 remain- 
ing 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 

12 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



and to their friends. That may be so, but I, as authority, 
am not concerned with peculiarities of psychology. 1 
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 possi- 
bilities. Sociologists have compiled statistics and have 
found that there are many criminals, many mad and 
many more who are considered * strange * : they con- 
clude 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 modifi- 
cation. These are some of the deficiencies that accom- 
pany 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 con- 
sideration whatever by the school. This age is called 

13 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 institu- 
tions 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 per- 
sonality 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 univer- 
sity. 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 psy- 
chology 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 realise the importance 

14 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 civilisation. 
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 contribu- 
tions 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 civilisation. That is why the 
resolution of this Indian leader is of such great import- 
ance. It is a step that will permit civilisation 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 centre 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 

15 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 educa- 
tion it means that education must be given, practically, 
otherwise one cannot call it compulsory ; and if educa- 
tion 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 recognises 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 

16 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



it must be society which provides for the child. The 
child must not be abandoned by the state. Thus educa- 
tion, 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 con- 
trol will not be one of restraint and oppression, but a 
control of physical help and psychic aid. It will be re- 
alised 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 educa- 
tion 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 great- 
est 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 states- 
man about education he will tell us : " I do not know 
anything about education. Education is a specialisation. 

17 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 indivi- 
dual 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 realised, 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. 

18 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 

19 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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. Re- 
cognising the merits of the child does not diminish the 
authority of the father and the mother for when they 
come to realise 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 inde- 
pendent 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 realise 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. 

20 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 realised this, the working man no 
longer appeared as the poor labourer who depended for 
his bread on his employer ; he assumed his real import- 
ance. 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 realised 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 



21 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 con- 
structor, 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. Better- 
ing 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 civilisation. The child is 
the builder of our intelligence, and it is our human in- 
telligence which guides our hands and produces what we 
call civilisation. 

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 

22 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



about education. It is a revolution inasmuch as every- 
thing 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 with- 
out 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 revolu- 
tion : a revolution that eliminates every violence, a re- 
volution in which everyone will be attracted towards a 
common centre. Mothers, fathers, statesmen all will be 
centred upon respecting and aiding this delicate con- 
struction 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 construc- 
tion 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. 



23 



CHAPTER III 
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 concep- 
tion 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 recognises 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 them- 
selves in this fashion : " Growth is a succession of births." 

24 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 in- 
fluence 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 
characterised by the great transformations that take place 
in the individual. In order to realise 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 1 2 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 trans- 
formation that takes place in the body is very visible. I 

25 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 1 2 
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 
recognised 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 recog- 
nised 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, 

26 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 1 2 years of 
age children generally leave the elementary school and 
enter high school. Why have they chosen the period 
from 6 to 1 2 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 recognised 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 charac- 
teristics that this period is considered as the most pro- 
fitable for imparting culture. 

27 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



After the 12th year of age, usually there is the begin- 
ning of a higher sort of school. By this official education 
has recognised 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 memorising 
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 

28 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 instru- 
ment of work was to be the intelligence and to whom 
were alloted 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 practi- 
cal work and practice do that. Thus we find that young 
doctors have to serve in hospitals, and lawyers have to 
practise in the office of an established lawyer. The same 
plan has to be followed for the engineer. This ap- 
prenticeship lasts for years and years, before they can 
have a practice of their own. And in order to be able 

29 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



to find a place to practise, 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 with- 
out control, but some sort of acknowledgement 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 

30 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 intelli- 
gence, but the whole of the psychic faculties are con- 
structed 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 medita- 
tion 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 

31 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 intelli- 
gence. He creates all that the human mind, the human 
individual is endowed with. It is a tremendous achieve- 
ment ! 

This is not done with a conscious mind. We are 
conscious ; we have a will and if we want to learn some- 
thing, 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 

32 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 recognising 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 lan- 
guage 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 fibres within the body that begin 

33 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



to vibrate in order to reproduce those sounds. We 
can compare it to something similar in ourselves. Some- 
times 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 un- 
conscious 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 per- 
sonality, 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 4 the sentence, the con- 
struction 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. 

34 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 construc- 
tions 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 con- 
struct it. He would have to have the power of reasoning 
in order to realise 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 accom- 
plish 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 

35 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 en- 
vironment 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 uncon- 
scious to conscious, following a path of pleasure 
and love, 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



This consciousness seems to us a great acquisi- 
tion. 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 acquisi- 
tions. 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 develop- 
ment 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 environ- 
ment 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 marvellously 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 

37 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 conscious- 
ness 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 marvellous, so full of miracles, that 
all who understand it cannot help but feel a great emo- 
tion. Our work is not to teach, but to help the absorbent 
mind in its work of development. How marvellous 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 

38 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 develop- 
ment. 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 realised 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 realise 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 

39 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 memorise 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. 



40 



CHAPTER IV 
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 

41 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 to- 
wards life because the purpose of the child is the con- 
struction 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 

42 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 

43 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 

44 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 : 4t 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 

45 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 

46 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 pro- 
tective 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 1 6 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. 

47 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



Embryology 

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 interest- 
ing 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 marvellous 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 XVI 1 1th 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 obser- 
vations to the conclusion that there is nothing pre-existing. 

48 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 




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 ig- 
norant person who says 
that nothing exists ? Why, 
this is against religion ! 
And the situation be- 
came 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 

49 




Fie. 1 
The multiplication of the germinal cell. 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 sensitive- 
ness. 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 else- 
where 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 

50 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



as though the purpose of each of these cellular points 
were to build something for themselves only, and the in- 
tensity, 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 them- 
selves 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 dif- 
ferent 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 enthu- 
siasm 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 

51 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 constru- 
ction, 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 develop- 
ment 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 multiplica- 
tion 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 

52 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 in- 
dependently 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 sen- 
sitivities 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 to- 
wards 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. 

53 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 treat- 
ment 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 develop- 
ment 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 

54 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 dis- 
coveries 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 3i, then we went to 3, then 2$, 

55 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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. 



56 



CHAPTER V 
THE MIRACLE OF CREATION 

THIS passing from a cell to a complete organ is some- 
thing which is incomprehensible, but it is a fact. It does 
exist, but it is so marvellous 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 '. Be- 
cause 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 ob- 
served, 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 con- 
siders 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 in- 
telligence service of collecting impressions from the 
environment, which is carried out with sense organs, is so 

57 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



marvellous that no modern instrument can approach it. 
What can for instance approach the marvel of the eye f 
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 labora- 
tories are unable to unite. If we consider communications 
in the human system, the most evolved and perfect com- 
munication systems which include telephone and wire- 
less, 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 organised 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 realise the wonder of nature. Each living 
animal, each living mammal, and man, this marvellous 
being, all of them come from one primitive cell which, 
when examined, differs in no way from other cells and 

58 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 1/1 Oth of a millimetre. To realise 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 millimetre will not hold ten 
of them. So imagine how microscopic is the cell, this 
cell from which man comes. And when this cell de- 
velops, 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 observa- 
tion with a powerful microscope, it has been found that 
each cell contains a certain number of points which as 
they can be very easily coloured by chemical means have 
been called * Chromosomes/ Their number differs in the 
different species. In the human species for instance, 

59 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 chro- 
mosomes 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 1 00 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 4 genes ' (fig. 2.) The word genes 





PlC. 2 

A chain of 100 genes shown linearly and each contained in one of the 
48 chromosomes disposed geometrically on the left. 



60 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 realises how mystic this dry scienti- 
fic 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 ex- 
perience, 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 f the colour 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 indi- 
vidual 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 pro- 
duce 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 circum- 
stances are not favourable, then it is the worse qualities 

61 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 indi- 
vidual 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 focusses on this science the interest of 
hundreds upon hundreds of people. Today this interest is 
not academic or philosophical. Today it has invaded 

62 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



the practical field. Great numbers of plants and ani- 
mals have been transformed. Some years ago, for 
instance, two young men carried out certain biologi- 
cal 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 continuator 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 

63 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 f 
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 

64 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



alike amongst themselves. Only they are smaller than 
the primitive cell. (Fig. 3.) 






O 
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o 
o 
o 



o 



o 

Q 










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5 




o o 




u 


o 







0oo 

SS 8 

X 


q 



v 00 ( 
S Q olbo 

C od 



o oo 
080 

8 g 

Po 




Fie. 3 

Upper left the primitive ball of cell* (morula) consisting of a single 

wall (right). Below left the introflected double-walled gasttula 

and to the right the third inner wall is formed. 

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 

65 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



made very recently, between 1929 and 1930 i.e., after 
the first world war. Now this is 1 4 years ago. Before 
a discovery is made and this discovery is made public 
and every one knows about it, 1 4 years are, we might 
say, as yesterday. Now the figure reproduced here does 
not correspond to a reality. (Fig. 4.) 

SENSlTfS/TiONt INCREASED ACTMTV. CRAOIENTSi 





PHYSIOLOGICAL QftADlEHT$, 
Fie. 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 dis- 
covery. The American called these points ' gradients f , 
the Englishman, as he made his discovery upon the 
nervous system, called them ' points of sensitisation * 
and ' sanglion '. 

Each of the three walls of the gastrula produces a 
set of organs. The external one produces the skin, the 

66 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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. 

67 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



Here I have reproduced some of these cells (Fig. 5.). 




MUSCLE CELL. 






LIVER CELLS MUCUS CELLS 

FIG. 5 
Types of cells 

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. 

68 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 
fibres 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 marvellous 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 

69 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 human- 
ity. 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 personal- 
ity, 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 

70 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 
travelling 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 envolved by society as the 
the chaotic state of our world very clearly indicates. In 

71 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 trans- 
port this to the field of embryology, one could say : " I 
think the liver cell is most suited to govern " ; and ano- 
ther : " " 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, in- 
conceivable, 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 trans- 
formed 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. 



72 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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. 



73 



CHAPTER V 
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 child- 
ren 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 

74 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



same. This is no new discovery. Fig. 6. shows the 
embryos of three different animals at two different 



FORMS. 




UATC* 6T A6E. , 




RABBIT 




LIZARD 




FlC, 6 

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 deve- 
lopment and the same forms. For instance you can see 

75 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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, r'.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 incar- 
nation 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 labourer, 
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 

76 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 edu- 
cation. 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. 

77 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 
4 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 con- 
struction of those organs and putting them in connection 

78 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 expla- 
nation a void remains and this is important. The impor- 
tant fact is to recognise 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 Phila- 
delphia. 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 

79 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 centre. 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. 

Behaviourism 

This is the new idea. The habits that the animal 
is going to have are fixed in the nerve centres much 
before the organ is built. Now if this psychic part is pre- 
existing, what does it mean ? It means that the organ 

80 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



finishes its own construction, moulding 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 centre of interest in previous times. The term used 
in this generalization of facts is what is designated as 
4 behaviour '. 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 
' behaviourism/ 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 transfor- 
mations necessary so that the body became adapted to the 
environment, that the efforts which animals made to keep 
alive, this 4 instinct of self-preservation ', caused a trans- 
formation in the successive generations and gradually the 

81 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



species became adapted. The species which could not 
do this perished. This was called the 4 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 behaviour of the animal at the centre 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 behaviour-pattern. So the animal 
which successfully carries out its experiences of life upon 
the environment does so along the lines of its behaviour. 
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 

82 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 other- 
wise 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 marvellously fit for these three tasks than 
the cow herself. So efficient is this machine that be- 
sides helping the growth of grass it also produces milk. 
What a wonderful agriculturist of nature is the cow. Her 
behaviour gives us one more reason to be grateful to her. 

83 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 worshipped. 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 f if the cow were conscious, she would be consci- 
ous 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 
behaviour 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 difficuft for them to find something 

84 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 behaviour. 

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 behavi- 
our. 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 behaviour. Other 
animals there are which eat in such tremendous quantity 

85 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



that it cannot be explained merely on the ground of the 
upkeep of life. They do not eat in order to keep them- 
selves 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 behaviour 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 

86 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



existence or upkeep ? The more one studies the behaviour 
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 intemper- 
ance, 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 in- 
habitants 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 them- 
selves 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 

87 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 con- 
structors 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 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



in universities. Ecology is a study of the different 
behaviours 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. Behaviour 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 

89 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



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 evo- 
lution of past times. 



90 



CHAPTER VI 
MAN'S UNIVERSALITY 

THE vision given by the theory of behaviourism shows 
how each animal species has a task to perform upon the 
environment and the individuals belonging to that species 
faithfully carry out the task which has been allotted to 
them, although they live and function independently from 
those who have generated them. We may have the 
impression that animals are free, that they have a free 
choice and that they struggle with others to have the 
upper hand. If we look more closely, we see that their 
freedom is merely to carry out what is in the behaviour 
of each and each one moves according to the dictates of 
this behaviour. We see certain animals that proceed by 
running, other animals by skipping, others by walking 
slowly and sedately, others by crawling and so forth. If 
we observe more closely still we find that each species 
has a task assigned at a different level in the environment, 
so that certain animals live upon the plains, others live 
upon the hills, others live upon the mountains, some live 
in frozen lands and others in torrid zones. 

91 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



Now, when we study the human kind and compare 
it with the animal kind, we find some differences and an 
important one is that the human kind has not had allotted 
to it a special kind of movement or a special kind of re- 
sidence. Certainly, it is a facilitation of life to have one's 
task assigned by nature. The study of nature shows, how- 
ever, that there is no animal which is as capable as man 
to adapt itself to any climate or to any place upon this 
earth. We find man in frozen lands where certain animals 
such as tigers or elephants cannot live. Yet if you look in 
the jungle where elephants and tigers are to be found there 
man can also be found. Man can be found even in 
deserts. So we can see that man has been allotted no fixed 
place. He can adapt himself and can live in any part of 
the world, for he is destined to invade every part of the 
world. Let us say then that because of this adaptability, 
man is the only being who is free to go wherever he likes 
upon this earth. 

If we look at the behaviour of animals, we find that 
this behaviour is expressed in their movements, which 
stand in relation to the work that they carry out, whereas 
man has no special movements. Man is capable of the 
most varied movements which he can acquire very 
rapidly and very perfectly. Also man can do certain 
things which no animal has ever been able to do or will 
ever be able to do. Man has done them from his first 
appearance upon the earth : he works with his hands. 
T[here is no limit to man's behaviour. Each animal, for 

92 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



instance, has one language. If we take for example an 
English dog, it will bark in the same fashion as a dog in 
America. But if we take a Tamilian and bring him to 
Italy, he will not understand the language there and the 
Italians will not understand him. Mankind has the most 
varied languages. The same can be said for movements : 
man can walk, run, jump and crawl also. Like the fish 
man can swim. Birds can fly. Man can fly better than 
birds. Not only this, man is capable of artificial move- 
ments such as dancing. 

Each animal has but one sort of movement. Man 
has a great variety of movements. So his behaviour is not 
fixed like that of the animals. Another thing is also 
certain. In the child none of these abilities we have 
mentioned are present. So we can conclude that though 
it is true that the abilities of man are infinite, each has to 
be acquired by the human individual during childhood. 
It is by an active conquest, by work, that he acquires 
language. He who is born without movement, who is 
born almost paralysed, by means of exercise can learn to 
walk, to run and to climb like any animal. But all these 
capabilities he must acquire by his own effort. Every- 
thing must be conquered by him. Whatever abilities man 
possesses, there must have been a child who conquered 
them. So we might say that the values of man have their 
beginning in the work of the child. 

We saw that men are to be found everywhere on 
the earth, in every possible condition and, strange to say, 

93 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



each one is contented and glad to live where he lives. If 
we consider the Eskimoes, we find that to them happiness 
of life consists in the great wide plains covered with 
snow, in those lights that break the long darkness with 
vivid colours, in the noise of the winds that howl and 
penetrate not only the body, but are music to the soul. 
The cold climate and everything that goes with those 
conditions of life give them happiness. Nowhere else can 
they be happy except there. The same can be said 
for others. The men who live in the tropics find 
that climate, that special food and those customs essen- 
tial for their life and happiness. No matter where 
we look, we will always find the same. Man is in 
love with his own country. There are certain people 
who live in places which seem to be absolutely unsuited 
even to the possibility of life. In Finland, the country 
is rocky, cold and for long months covered with snow 
and ice. Yet the recent war between Finland and 
Russia shows what attachment, what fascination this 
barren land seems to exercise upon the Finns. If we 
take Holland, we find that its inhabitants are extremely 
proud of and attached to their land though we can hardly 
call it land because it is only by a tremendous amount 
of work that they wrest the land from the water of the 
sea and once they have wrested it away, they have to 
surround it with dykes and they have to pump out the 
water continuously. And if they have to build a house, 
they build first the ground upon which the house is to 

94 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



stand, because otherwise the house would sink. They 
have to sink trees vertically side by side and create an 
artificial wooden platform upon which can be put the 
foundations of the house. A country with most undesir- 
able conditions, yet see with what ferocity they fought for 
that piece of land ! And how beautiful it seems to them ! 
It has produced some of the greatest painters. It is this 
attachment, this affection to the place, to the country, 
which makes it possible that the whole earth is peopled 
by men. Because if each people sought for the best 
conditions of life, for the most fertile of the lands, much 
of the world would be uninhabited. It is this attachment, 
this love for whatever country one lives in, that makes 
the whole world inhabited by human beings. 

Now, the curious part is that when we consider man 
in his adult stage, we see that he is one of the least 
adaptable beings. An Indian certainly does not like to 
live anywhere except in India. If the Indian adult goes 
outside for study or for work, he is always hankering 
to come back. And we who are accustomed to the 
Mediterranean environment and a temperate climate, 
we cannot adapt ourselves to the icy North. Yes, it is 
very nice to go to the desert to see strings of camels 
travelling along. It is fascinating and romantic, but not 
pleasant to live there. 

We are attached to our environment, but also to the 
times we live in. If we consider Europe of some years 
ago, it had a much simpler life than it has now-a-days. 

95 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



There were no railways or other fast means of com- 
munication. Travelling was done by horse carriages, 
horses had to be changed, people spent days and days 
to go from one country to another. In order to get news 
of their family, they would have to wait for months. 
Suppose a modern man from America came into such 
conditions. He would find it impossible to live. Or let us 
take somebody who lived a few centuries back. Everything 
was calm and peaceful. No trains, no electric light, no 
trams, no underground rumblings of sub-ways, no noise. 
If a person of those days were taken to New York today 
with its tremendous traffic, all the bustle and noise that 
goes on there day and night, where people always hurry, 
where darkness becomes a fantastic display of electric 
light advertisements, where no peace, no silence is to be 
found, he would say : " I cannot live in this place ". 

So here we see a contrast. Previously we have 
described man who is capable of loving and adapting 
himself to the worst conditions that the earth can present 
and who can live happily no matter in what country. 
Now we find that men of different centuries could not 
live and adapt themselves to the more evolved stage of 
civilization of more modern times just like we could not 
adapt ourselves to the slow fashion of living of the previ- 
ous age. We are happy to live in our age as our fore- 
fathers were happy to live in their ages. 

We see that as society and civilization evolve, 
conditions change and if men were fixed in their behaviour 

96 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



like animals, they would not be able to adapt themselves 
to the new conditions. Let us consider language. 
No language is born as it is now. Language evolves 
like everything else. First it is simple. Then it becomes 
more complicated. How is it that those who live in a 
time when language is so complicated, take it without 
pain and without paying any attention to it learn it 
so easily ? 

Where does the explanation lie ? We face a con- 
tradiction. There is a sort of mystery. Man must adapt 
himself to the changing conditions of civilization. The 
older humanity becomes, culture progresses the more. So 
there must be a continuous adaptation on the part of 
man, not only to geographical changes as we saw, but 
also to the continuous changes of civilization. And yet 
as we saw, adult man is not very adaptable. Here is a 
real enigma ! 

The Child Instrument of Adaptation 

The solution is found in the child, whom we can call 
the instrument of the adaptability of humanity. The child 
whom we saw born without any special movement, not 
only acquires all the human faculties, but also adapts the 
being that it constructs to the conditions in his environ- 
ment. And this takes place because of the special 
psychic form of the child, for the child's psychic form is 
different from that of the adult. Psychologists today 
show great interest in the study of this different form of 

97 

7 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



psychology. The child stands in a different relationship 
to the environment. We may admire an environment. 
We may remember an environment, but the child absorbs 
it into himself. He does not remember the things that he 
sees, but he forms with these things part of his psyche. 
He incarnates in himself the things which he sees and 
hears i.e., in us there is no change, in the child transfor- 
mations take place. We merely remember an environment 
while the child adapts himself to it. This special kind of 
vital memory, that does not remember consciously, but 
absorbs images into the very life of the individual has 
received from the psychologists a special name : they 
have called it Mneme. 

We have an example of this in language. The child 
does not remember the sounds of language. The child 
incarnates these sounds and he can pronounce them 
better than anybody else. He speaks the language 
according to all its complicated rules and all its exceptions, 
not because he studies and remembers it by means 
of ordinary memory, perhaps his memory never takes 
it consciously. Yet this language forms a part of his 
psyche, forms a part of him. This is a phenomenon 
different from mere mnemonic activity. It is a psychic 
feature that characterizes an aspect of the child's psychic 
personality. 

There is in the child an absorbent sensitivity towards 
whatever is in his surroundings. And it is by beholding 
and absorbing the environment that one becomes adapted 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



to it. This faculty reveals a subconscious power that is 
only found in the child. 

The first period of life is the period of adapta- 
bility. We must be very clear as to what we mean 
by adaptability in this case. We must distinguish 
it from the adaptability in the adult. The biological 
adaptability of the child is that which makes the only 
place one really loves to stay in, the place where one is 
born. Just as the only language that one speaks well is 
one's mother tongue. Now an adult person who goes 
to a country other than his own, never adapts himself 
to it in the same fashion or to the same degree. 

Let us take the example of those men who go 
voluntarily to another country in order to spend their 
life there, e.g. the missionaries. Missionaries are people 
who by their own will choose to go and live in another 
country. And yet if you speak to them, they usually say : 
" We sacrifice our lives by living in this country ". This 
denotes the limitations of the adaptability of the adult. 

Let us now take the child. The child is an in- 
dividual who loves whatever locality he is born in to 
the point that he could not be happy anywhere else, no 
matter how hard is the life there. So the man who loves 
the frozen plains of Finland and another who loves the 
dunes of Holland has each received his adaptation, his 
love for his country, from the child he once was. 

It is the child who practically and actually realizes 
this adaptation. The adult finds himself prepared, 

99 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



adapted, suited to his country, so that he feels the love 
and special fascination for the place where he lives, so 
that happiness and peace for him are only found there. 

In former times, in Italy, the people who were born 
in a village lived and died there and never moved away 
from it. Later people who got married sometimes 
moved elsewhere and gradually the original population 
were scattered from their native places. By and by a 
strange malady came about. People became pale, sad, 
weak, anaemic looking. Many cures were tried but in 
vain. So at last when it could not be cured in any 
other way, the doctor said to the relatives : " I think 
you had better send this person to get a breath of his 
native air ". And the person was sent to his home 
town, or the farm, or wherever he was born and after a 
little while he came back fully cured. People said that 
a breath of the native air, was better than any amount 
of medicine, but the air itself was often much worse than 
that of the place where one was suffering. What this 
person really needed was the quiet given to his sub- 
conscious by the conditions of the place where he had 
lived as a child. 

Now there is nothing more important than this 
absorbent sort of psyche which forms man and adapts 
him to no matter what social conditions, to no matter 
what climate, to no matter what country. It is upon 
this that we must concentrate and work. When one says : 
11 J love my country ", one does not say something 

100 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



superficial, something artificial. It is something which 
forms a part of one's own self, of one's own life. 

From what we have said above we can also under- 
stand how the child absorbs by this type of psyche, the 
customs that he finds in the land, the habits, etc., and 
thus forms the individual who is typical of his race. 
This * local ' behaviour of man, i.e., of man suited to the 
special country in which he lives, is a mysterious con- 
struction which takes place during childhood. It is evi- 
dent that men acquire customs, habits, mentality, etc. 
peculiar to their own surroundings because none of them 
is natural to humanity. So we have now a fuller picture 
of the work of the child. He constructs a behaviour suited 
not only to the time and to the place, but also to 
the mentality of the place. Here in India there is 
a great respect for life, a respect which leads to venera- 
tion also of animals. This cannot be acquired by 
an adult person. It is not by saying : " Oh, life must be 
respected " that this feeling is acquired. I may reason 
that those people are right and feel that I also must 
respect animal life, but with me it is not a sentiment, it 
is reasoning. What I cannot feel is the sort of venera- 
tion that some Indians feel for the cow, for instance, 
whereas people who possess it can never get rid of it. 
Other people have their religion and even if their mind 
eventually rejects it, still at heart they feel uneasy, rest- 
less. These things form part of us as we say in Europe : 
44 they are in our blood ". The things that together 

101 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



form the personality, sentiments of caste and all sorts 
of other feelings that make a typical Italian, a typical 
Englishman, a typical Indian, are constructed during 
childhood by this mysterious sort of psychic power that 
psychologists call Mneme. This is true for everything, 
even for certain types of characteristic movement that 
distinguish different races. There are certain people in 
Africa who develop and fix qualities which are provoked 
by the need of defence against wild animals. They do 
certain exercises in order to render their hearing sharper. 
Sharpness of hearing is one of the special characteristics 
of the individual of that special tribe. In the same way 
all characteristics are absorbed by the child and fixed in 
the individual. There are certain religious sentiments 
which remain in spite of the fact that the mind may later 
on reason otherwise and reject the teachings of this 
religion. Something continues in the sub-conscious, 
because what has been formed by the child can never 
be totally destroyed. This Mneme, which may be con- 
sidered as a superior natural memory, not only creates 
characteristics, but holds them alive in the individual. 
The individual changes, it is true, but those things which 
are formed by the child remain in the personality just 
as the legs remain, so that each man has this special 
character. 

One would like to change individual adults. Often 
we say : " This person does not know how to behave ". 
Often we call such and such a person bad-mannered. 

102 



THE .ABSORBENT MIND 



He or she knows it, they feel humiliated, because they 
recognize that they have * a bad character ', but the fact 
is that it cannot be changed. In the same way in which 
this type of psychology leads the child to the wonderful 
acquisitions of civilization, to the complications and 
elaborations of modern language, it also leads him to fix 
in his psyche certain things which reason would like to 
eliminate from the personality, but which cannot be 
changed. The same phenomenon explains the adapta- 
tion to, we might say, different phases of history, because, 
while an adult of olden times could not adapt him* 
self to modern times, the child adapts himself to the 
level of civilization which he finds, no matter what 
the level of that civilization may be and succeeds 
in constructing a man suited to those times and those 
customs. 

So today the child begins to be visualized as it should 
be, as the connection, the joining link between different 
phases of history and different levels of civilization. 
Childhood is now considered by psychologists as a very 
important period because they realize that if we wish to 
give new ideas to the people, if we wish to alter the habits 
and customs of the country, or if we wish to accentuate 
more vigorously the characteristics belonging to a people, 
we must take as our instrument the child, as very little 
can be done by acting upon adults. If one has really 
a vision of better conditions, of greater enlightenment 
for people, it is only the child that one can look upon 

103 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



in order to bring about the desired results* If there 
are people who think that their customs are degenerate, 
or others who want to revive old ones, the only individual 
with whom they can work is the child. They will never 
have success with the adults. If anybody wants to 
have an influence upon society, he must orientate himself 
towards chilhood. In past times people tried to influence 
adults. Now they have understood better and they start 
schools for children because in the children the construc- 
tion of humanity takes place. They construct with what 
we give them. Let us suppose that a statesman wanted 
to try and change the customs of his people. Strange 
as it may sound, this person must take into great con- 
sideration the children of his country. This has actually 
happened recently among different nations. A person 
set out to make warrior-like people out of those who were 
very peaceful, of a loving nature. He tried with the 
grown-ups, but in the end he had to take the young 
children. Mussolini did so in Italy, Hitler followed suit in 
Germany. The Fascist hymn begins with the words 
' Youth, Youth '. This was the main trend of their policy, 
to make use of the creative spirit of youth, but soon they 
had to go towards even younger people and soon the 
hymn should have sounded * Infancy, Infancy '. By 
taking children of three years and younger and by 
creating around them an atmosphere of enthusiasm, of 
dignity, of activity, in one generation the character of the 
whole people was changed. 

104 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



The mentality we fight today was neither the original 
character of the Italian people nor perhaps that of the 
Germans, but by creating an atmosphere, an enthusiasm 
based upon 4 our glory * around the children, these rooted 
so firmly this warrior-spirit in their psyche that no matter 
what disaster may fall upon the nation, this spirit will 
not die. With older people one can reason, but not 
with the young ones. They will fight till they are dead. 
If they are defeated they will continue to fight under- 
ground. And you see the different methods and how 
even ordinary democracy is not the answer to our needs, 
for children cannot choose a leader because they do not 
understand. We cannot hold a meeting of children of 
three years in order to make them understand political 
idealism or to make them warriors. In order to influence 
them, you must do so by means of the environment, be- 
cause the child absorbs the environment, he takes every- 
thing from the environment and incarnates it in himself. 
He can do everything. He is really omnipotent, where- 
as the adult who is already formed cannot change. So 
we have in front of us a clear vision. If we wish to 
change a generation, if we wish to influence it either 
towards good, or evil, if we want to reawaken religion or 
add culture, whatever it is that we may wish to do, we 
must take the child. 

The power of the psyche is something parallel to what 
has been discovered in the embryo. By action upon the 
embryo, you can either make a monster or a more 

105 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



perfect being. Indeed, experiments have been made by 
transfering the sanglion and arms have been made to 
develop on the back. But in an adult, one could not do 
it. It is the same here for the psyche. You cannot create 
man, but you can make him more perfect by acting upon 
the psychic embryo. This gives great power to the 
adults and to education because it confers control over 
psychic growth and psychic development. This power is 
immense if we compare it to the power society has had 
when it acted merely upon the adult. The child gives us 
a new hope and a new vision. Perhaps a great many 
modifications which would bring more understanding, 
greater welfare, greater spirituality can be brought about 
in the future humanity. 



106 



CHAPTER VII 
THE PSYCHO-EMBRYONIC LIFE 

LET us repeat again that the child at birth is endowed 
with psychic life. If this be so, this psychic life may not 
have begun then. If it exist, it may already have been 
built, otherwise how could it be there ? Also in the 
embryo there may be psychic life. When one conceives 
this idea, one wonders at what period of embryonic life 
the psychic life begins. Let us consider certain cases. 
We know there are occasions when a child is born at 7 
instead of at 9 months and at 7 months the child is 
already so complete that it can live. Therefore its 
psychic life is capable of functioning like that of the child 
who is born at 9 months. I do not want to insist upon 
this question, but this example will suffice to illustrate 
what I mean when I postulate that all life is psychic life, 
and that even as an embryo the child is endowed with a 
psyche. As a matter of fact, each type of life has a 
specific quantity of psychic energy, a specific kind of 
individual psyche, no matter how primitive the form of 
life is. Even if we consider unicellular beings, we find 
that there is a kind of psyche, they move away from 

107 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



danger, towards food, etc. To give an example, there is 
a unicellular being which is called the little vampire of 
the spirogyra. This little being, out of all the plants in 
the water, feeds upon a special weed. In order to do this 
it must have a specific psychic individuality which makes 
it choose this plant. It must, in other words, be endowed 
with a specific behaviour. 

Each type and especially every animal form of life 
has a special irresistible way of conducting its life which 
shows that their actions are directed by a special form 
of psyche. If we were to leave the strictly scientific field 
we might say that there is a psychic director who dis- 
tributes all the activities upon the earth using different 
types of life to do so. In other words today life is con- 
sidered as a great energy, one of the energies of cosmic 
creation. Therefore, why should it surprise us when 
people state that the new-born child is endowed with 
psychic life ? Indeed if it were not so, how could it 
be alive ? 

This conclusion made a great impression because 
previously the child had been considered void of psychic 
life. Many began to study and meditate upon the fact 
that the child is endowed with a psychic life even be- 
fore birth. 

If one is endowed with psychic life, one receives 
impressions and at birth a great shock must be felt by 
the child. This is a new point which makes thinkers 
dwell upon the drama of birth, the fact of a psychic life, 

108 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



of a living being thrown all of a sudden from one environ- 
ment into another vastly different. This sudden change 
of environment is even more impressive when one 
considers the condition of the child at birth. The new- 
born child is not fully developed and indeed the more 
people study it, the more they realize how incomplete it is 
even physically. Everything is unfinished. The legs 
with which he will walk upon the earth and invade the 
whole world are still cartilaginous. The same is true 
of the cranium that encloses the brain which is in need 
of a strong defence, but in the new-born child the head 
is not yet ossified. Only a few of its bones are deve- 
loped. More important still is the fact that the nerves 
themselves are not completed so that there is a lack of 
central direction and therefore a lack of unification 
between the organs, so that this being, whose bones are 
not yet developed, is at the same time unable to obey 
the urge to move because every urge is transmitted by 
nerves and they are not yet fully developed. So in 
the human new-born, there is no movement whilst 
among animals the new-born walk almost at once. 
The conclusion is this : the child at birth is still in 
an embryonic stage. Thus we must consider" the child 
as possessing an embryonic life that extends before 
and after birth. This life is interrupted, we might say, 
by a great event, the great adventure of birth, by which 
he plunges into a new environment. The change 
in itself is terrific ; it is as though one went from the earth 

|09 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



to the moon. But this is not all ; in order to make this 
great step the child must make a tremendous physical 
effort. Generally the fact that the child goes through 
so difficult an experience is not considered. When a 
child is born, people think only about the mother, and how 
difficult it has been for her. The child, however, passes 
through a greater trial than the mother, especially if one 
considers that the child is not even complete, but is never- 
theless endowed with a psychic life. Let us therefore 
remember that the new-born child does not possess 
developed psychic faculties because he has yet to create 
them, this psychic embryo, which even physically is not 
complete, must create its own faculties. 

Let us then continue to reason along this line. This 
being which is born, powerless, motionless, must be 
endowed with a behaviour that leads it towards move- 
ment. The formation of those human faculties which 
do not exist and which must be created, represents a 
further period of embryonic life : the psycho -embryonic 
life. 

This physically incomplete new-born child must 
complete the complicated being who is man : he must 
create man's psychic faculties. 

After birth psychic development takes place following 
the line dictated by behaviour. In other words, it is the 
psychic development which creates movement. The 
instincts which in other animals seem to awaken at birth, 
as soon as the animal comes into contact with the outer 

no 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



environment, must in man be built by the psyche. It is 
the psyche which must construct the human faculties and 
along with that the movements to correspond to those 
faculties. And while this goes on the physical part of 
the embryo finishes its development. The nerves become 
mielinized and the cranium ossified. It seems as though 
the human embryo were born incomplete because its final 
form and its functions must wait until the psyche has 
built itself. 

Little chickens, when they come out of the egg but 
wait for the hen to show them how to pick up food and 
immediately start to behave like all other chickens. This 
is so now, this was so in previous generations and it is to 
be expected that it will always be so. For man this is 
not the case, because man, before he starts to move, 
must develop his psyche. Therefore he is born incapable 
of movement. The psyche must be constructed accord- 
ing to the evolution of man, according to the environment 
in which man finds himself, according to the conditions 
he finds around him, because he must build man suited 
to his time and conditions. 

The movements are built up together with the 
psyche i.e., the psyche while it develops its faculties, also 
develops the movements that express them and thus such 
behaviour is built that man is adapted to his time and to 
his conditions. The first active experiences upon the 
environment must wait until the formations of the psychic 
faculties have been laid, 

HI 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



Several consequences follow this fact. One is 
that from birth itself the most important side of life in 
man is the psychic life, not movement, because move- 
ments must be created following the guide and dictates 
of the psychic life. Intelligence is what distinguishes 
man from all animals. The first act of man in this life must 
therefore be the construction of intelligence. While both 
the skeleton and the nervous system await the construc- 
tion of this intelligence, the body remains inert. It has to 
wait, because this is not the body of a being whose 
behaviour is prefixed. Nature has taken its precautions, 
it has deprived man of the power of movement and made 
his body soft-boned, because before starting on his 
experience upon the environment, he must wait until he 
has made a great psychic acquisition. It is logical that if 
psychic life is to construct itself by incarnating the 
environment, the intelligence must observe and study 
first, it must gather a great quantity of impressions from 
it, just like the physical embryo begins with a great accu- 
mulation of cells before starting to build its special organs. 

The first period of life has been reserved in order 
that impressions may be collected from the environment. 
This is logical because how could man orient himself in 
the environment if he started to walk immediately after 
birth, unless he were endowed with fixed instincts like 
those of the animals ? 

This is the marvellous part. In the life of man the 
first period is one of the greatest psychic activity. It is 

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THE ABSORBENT MIND 



then that the accumulation of impressions is made upon 
which intelligence builds itself afterwards. 

Also, as it is towards his environment that the 
movements of man are directed and as man is born 
in different environments and in different historical 
epochs, as he must adapt himself to them, it is imperative 
that at first the psyche receive and accumulate a 
great deal of nourishing matter which lays the founda- 
tion of this special adaptation to the specific environ- 
ment and historical epoch in which the individual is 
born. The first year of life then appears to us as a 
period of the greatest activity leading to the absorption of 
everything that there is in the environment. In the 
second year the physical being nears completion, its 
movement begins to become determined. This shows 
how clearly nature has planned that the movements of 
man be determined by psychic life. 

This is all the more impressive because people in 
olden times said that children who cannot move and 
cannot speak were psychically speaking non-existent* 
What a change ! Then people thought that the small 
child had no psychic life whereas now it is known that 
the main activity during this first year is of the brain. 

Now if with this vision, we consider again the new- 
born child, we seem better to understand why the size 
of the head of the one year old child is double the size of 
that of the new-born child. And at the third year its size 
is already half of that of an adult. And when the child is 

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THE ABSORBENT MIND 



four years of age, the size of its head is 8/10 of that of 
the adult. (Fig. 7.) 




FIG. 7 

A new-born child and an adult brought to the same scale 
show the difference in the proportions of their bodies. 

How clearly one sees then that the human being 
grows especially in intelligence, in psychic life, and that 
all the rest of growth is but that of an instrument of this 
psychic life as it develops its faculties. 

This, if it shows anything, shows the importance 
of the first year for the rest of life and that the child 
of man is characterized by his intelligence. This also 
shows the greatest difference there is between man and 
the animals. Animals merely have to obey the instincts of 

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THE ABSORBENT MIND 



their behaviour. Their psychic life is limited to that. In 
man there is another fact : the creation of human intelli- 
gence. What man will do in the future we do not know 
and we cannot know from the new-born child. The 
intelligence of the child will have to take in the present of 
a life which is in evolution, which goes back hundreds of 
thousands of years in its civilization and which has 
stretching in front of it a future of hundreds, of thousands, 
of millions of years perhaps : a present that has no limit 
either in the past or in the future, and that is never for a 
moment the same : its aspects are infinite whereas for 
the others there is but one aspect which is always fixed. 

For man there is no limit. Human intelligence is 
the centre which must be taken into consideration when 
man is studied. Certainly this psychic life which has the 
possibility of going towards the infinite, which is destined 
to go towards the infinite, must begin in some mysterious 
fashion. It begins before birth because in the mind of 
the new-born we find powers so strong that they have 
the possibility of creating any faculties, of adapting man 
to any condition. 

The various impulses of man have as their basis this 
psychic life. This point must be clearly visualized 
before we go on and before we can understand the 
psychic development of the child. There is something 
else which must be considered and that is the essence 
of the mind of the child and its way of functioning, 
because this mind is so very hungry in the first year of 

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THE ABSORBENT MIND 



life that it wants to gather impressions of everything that 
exists in its environment. It does not absorb anything 
consciously. It is life with its powers that guides the 
development of the child. What is the nature of this 
psychic life > We must understand this if we are to 
understand some of the future actions of the child. How 
does the child re -act to external things ? 

Birth Terror and its Reactions 

Psychologists are today struck by what they call the 
4 difficult adventure of birth ', and conclude that the child 
at birth must undergo a great shock of fright. Today 
one of the scientific terms of psychology is ' birth terror \ 
Certainly, it is not a conscious terror, but if his conscious 
psychic faculties were developed, he would express him- 
self by bitter words : " Why have you thrown me into 
this terrible world > What can I do ? How shall I be able 
to adapt myself to a life which is so different from my 
own ? How am I going to adapt myself to the terrific 
amount of sounds, I who had never heard even the 
slightest whisper before ? How shall I take upon myself 
these very difficult functions which you, my mother, took 
upon yourself for me ? How can I digest and breathe > 
How shall I be able to withstand these terrific changes of 
climate in the world, I who have been in a temperature that 
was always of the same agreeable warmth of your body ? f * 

Now, the child is not conscious of all this. He could 
not say that he is suffering from birth terror. There must 

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THE ABSORBENT MIND 



be a psychic feeling different from the conscious, because 
if he were conscious the child would say " Why have you 
abandoned me ? You have left me who am wounded. 
You have abandoned me, who have no strength. How 
had you the courage to do so > " 

This would be his reasoning if he were conscious, 
but he is not conscious. Yet in his sub-conscious he is 
very sensitive, and he must feel very nearly something 
corresponding to what we have expressed above. 

This must be taken into consideration by those who 
study life. The child must be helped in his first adapta- 
tion to our environment as his psyche must, through 
birth, receive a terrific shock. There is no doubt that 
the child can feel fright. 

Very often we have seen children who, if quickly 
lowered into the bath in the first hours of life, made a 
grasping movement, as one does when one is falling. 
That shows that they felt frightened. 

What help is there in nature ? Nature does give help 
to the young in this difficult adaptation. Nature gives 
mothers the instinct of keeping their child close to their 
own body and to protect him from light. And the mother 
herself has been made powerless by nature during this 
period. Not too much energy is left to her. By keeping 
quiet for her own sake she gives the needed quiet to the 
child. It is as though sub-consciously the mother were 
reasoning : " This child has received a terrific shock. 
I must keep it close to me ". 

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THE ABSORBENT MIND 



She warms it with her warmth and she protects it 
from too many impressions. 

Human mothers do not do this with the enthusiasm 
we see in mothers of other types of life. We see the 
mother-cats who hide their young in some dark hole and 
they are very jealous if somebody comes near them, 
whereas human mothers seem to have lost this animal 
instinct. As soon as the child is born somebody comes, 
washes it, dresses it, puts it into the light to see the colour 
of the eyes, etc. That is why the human kind is in 
danger. It is no longer nature that guides, but human 
reasoning and the reasoning is faulty because it is not 
enlightened by understanding. It is a reasoning which 
considers that the child is not a being endowed with a 
psyche. This birth-terror, it has been observed today, 
leads to something much more terrible than vocal protests, 
it leads to wrong characters assumed by the child 
as it develops. The consequence is a psychic transfor- 
mation, or rather, instead of taking the path which we 
might say is normal, the child takes a wrong path. The 
faulty characters are to be found not only in the child, 
but remain in the adult. They have been included in 
the general term of * psychic regressions*. Instead of 
progressing, instead of going forward along the path of 
life, individuals suffering from a negative reaction to birth- 
terror seem to remain attached to something which existed 
before birth. These characters of regression are several, 
but they all give the same impression. It is as though 

118 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



the child were reasoning in this fashion : " My goodness, 
how terrible is this world, I am going back to where I 
came from**. The long hours of sleep in the new-born are 
considered normal, but too long sleep is not normal even 
in the new-born and it is considered as a sort of refuge 
due to a psychic repulsion from the world and a means 
to seek oblivion from the earth. 

And is it not so ? Is not sleep the kingdom of the 
sub-conscious ? If something unpleasant troubles our 
mind, let us sleep. For in sleep there are dreams, not 
realities, in sleep there is a life in which there is no 
necessity for struggle. Sleep is a refuge, a getting-away 
from the world. Another fact is the position of the body 
in sleep. In the new-born child the natural position is to 
double up with the hands near the face, and the legs next 
to the body. This however continues also in some older 
people, and is, we might say, a refuge into the pre-natal 
position. Then there is another fact. This is clearly a 
character of regression. When children wake up, they 
start crying as if they were frightened, as if they were 
living again through that terrible moment of birth which 
brings one into a difficult world. Often they suffer from 
nightmares. These form a part of the terror of life. 

Another expression of this tendency is to attach 
oneself to somebody as though one was afraid of being 
left alone. This attachment is not affection. It is 
something which has fear in it. The child is timid and 
always wants to remain near someone, the mother 

119 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



preferably. He is not happy to go out, but would always 
like to remain at home isolated from the world. Every- 
thing in the world that should make him happy frightens 
him, he feels repugnance from new experiences. The 
environment instead of proving attractive, as it should to 
a being in course of development, is repellent. And if a 
child, from the very first infancy feels repulsion towards 
this environment, which ought to be its means of deve- 
lopment, certainly this child will not develop normally. 
He will not be the child who conquers, who is destined 
to take the whole of his environment and incarnate it in 
himself. He will do so, but with difficulty and incom- 
pletely. He is the very picture of the saying 4 To live is to 
suffer '. To do something is, to him, to go against his own 
nature. Even respiration seems to be hard. People of this 
sort require much more sleep and rest ; even digestion 
seems to be difficult. So you see what sort of life this 
type of child prepares for himself in the future, for these 
characters are things not only of the present, but also of 
the future. He is of the type who cries easily. He will 
always require somebody to help him. He will be 
indolent, sad and depressed. And these are not passing 
features. They remain as characteristics for life. Even 
when an adult, he will feel repulsion for the world, will 
fear to meet people and be always timid. It is evident 
that such beings are inferior to others in the struggle for 
existence in social life. It will not be the lot of these 
people to have joy, courage and happiness. 

120 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



This is the terrible answer of the subconscious 
psyche. We forget with our conscious memory, but 
though the subconscious appears not to feel and though 
it does not seem to remember, it does something 
worse. The impressions made there, are made upon the 
Mneme ; they remain engraved as characteristics of the 
individual. Therein lies the great danger to humanity. 
The child, not properly cared for, will take revenge on 
society through the individual that it forms. The treatment 
does not foment rebels as it would amongst adults, it 
forms individuals who are weaker, inferior to what they 
ought to be ; it forms characters that will be an obstacle 
to the life of the individual, and individuals who will be 
an obstacle to the progress of civilization. 



121 



CHAPTER VIII 
THE CONQUEST OF INDEPENDENCE 

THE characteristics of regression are developed when the 
child has been unable to achieve the first adaptation i.e., 
soon after birth. Certain tendencies which can be traced 
back to this remain also in the adult. 

Modern psychologists describing these characters of 
regression say that when they are not there, then the 
child presents tendencies which are very clearly and very 
strongly set towards independence. Then development 
is a conquest of ever greater independence. It is as 
though an arrow had been sent flying from the bow and 
it goes straight, sure and strong. So does the child 
proceed along the path of independence. This is normal 
development : an ever growing and more powerful 
activity shown along the path that leads to independence. 
The conquest of independence begins from the first 
commencement of life. As the being develops, it per- 
fects itself and overcomes every obstacle that it finds on 
its way. A vital force is active in the individual and 
leads it towards its own evolution. This force has been 
called Horme. 

122 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



If one had to find something to compare to this 
Horme in the conscious psychic field, one would have to 
compare it to the force of will, although there is very 
little analogy between the two. The force of will is 
something too small and too much attached to the con- 
sciousness of the individual, whereas the Horme is some- 
thing which belongs to life in general, to what we might 
call a divine force which is the promotor of all evolution. 
This vital force of evolution is expressed in the child 
by a will to perform certain actions. This will cannot be 
broken by anything short of death. I call it ' will/ because 
we possess no better word to describe it. It is not will, 
however, because will implies consciousness and reason- 
ing. It is a subconscious vital force which urges the 
child to do certain things and in the normally growing 
child its unhindered activity is manifested in what we 
call * joy of life '. The child is enthusiastic, always 
happy. 

These conquests of independence are in the 
beginning the different steps of what is generally 
known as natural development. In other words, if we 
examine natural development closely, we can describe it 
as the conquest of successive degrees of independence. 
This is true not only of the psychic, but also of the physi- 
cal field. The body also has a tendency to grow, a 
tendency so strong that nothing can stop it short of death. 

Let us then examine this development. The child 
at birth frees himself from a prison, the prison of the body 

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THE ABSORBENT MIND 



of the mother. At birth he becomes independent of the 
functions of the mother. The new-born child is endowed 
with an urge, an impulse to face the environment and to 
absorb it. We might say that he is born with the ' psy- 
chology of conquest of the world/ He absorbs it in 
himself and in absorbing it, he forms his psychic body. 

This is the characteristic of the first period of life. It 
is evident that if the child feels this urge, if the first 
impulse he feels is the desire to conquer the environment, 
this environment must exert an attraction on the child. 
Therefore we say, using words which are really not 
appropriate to describe the fact, that the child feels 
4 love ' for the environment. 

The first organs which begin to function in the child 
are the sensory organs. Now what are sensory organs 
but organs of prehension, instruments by means of which 
we grasp the impressions which, in the case of the child, 
must be incarnated ? 

When we gaze, what do we see ? We see everything 
there is in the environment. As soon as we start hearing, 
we also hear every sound there is in the environment. 
We might say that the field of prehension is very wide, 
that it is almost universal. This is the way of nature. 
One does not take in sound by sound, noise by noise, 
object by object, we begin by taking in everything, a 
totality. The distinctions of object from object, sound 
from noise, sounds from sounds, come later as an evolu- 
tion of this first global gathering in. 

124 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



This is the picture of the normal child's psyche. At 
first it takes in the world and then it analyses it. 

Now let us suppose another type who does not feel 
this irresistible attraction for the environment, a type in 
whom this great fondness has suffered damage by fright, 
by terror. It is evident that the development of the 
first type must be different from that of the second. 

Let us continue to examine the development of the 
child by considering the child at six months of age. 
Certain phenomena present themselves which are 
looked upon as sign-posts of normal growth. At 
the age of 6 months the child undergoes certain 
physical transformations. Some of these are invisible 
and have been discovered only through experiments, e.g., 
the stomach begins to secrete chloric acid which is 
necessary for digestion. It is also at six months that the 
first tooth makes its appearance. This is a further 
perfection of the body which at birth is not finished and 
develops along a certain path of growth. It also means 
that at six months the child is capable of living without 
the milk of his mother, or at least of supplementing milk 
with other substances. This is a further conquest of 
independence. If we consider that the child up to that 
age had been absolutely dependent upon his mother's 
milk because if he were to take anything else he would 
not be able to digest it, we realize what a great degree 
of independence he acquires at this period. The 6 
months* child seems to reason : " I do not want to live 

125 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



upon my mother. I am a human being and I can eat 
everything now." An analogous phenomenon takes 
place in adolescents who begin to feel the humiliation 
of being dependent on their family. They do not want 
to live on them. They would like to live by their 
own resources. 

It is also at about this epoch (which seems to be a 
critical moment in the life of the child) that he begins 
to utter the first syllables. This is the first stone in the 
great building which will develop later into language 
which is another great step, another great conquest of 
independence. When the child acquires language, he 
can express himself and does not have to depend upon 
other people to guess his needs. Instead of somebody 
having to guess what he, the child, wants, he can express 
himself. He can tell everybody : " Do this. Do that/* 
Thus he comes into communication with humanity, 
because without language how can one communicate ? 
This conquest of language and this possibility of intelli- 
gent communication with others is a tremendous step 
towards independence. Before acquiring it the child 
may be compared to a deaf and dumb person, because 
he cannot express himself and he cannot understand 
what other people say. After the conquest of language 
it is as if he suddenly acquired ears and the possibility 
of uttering the speech of the people around him. 

A long time after that, at one year of age, the child 
starts to walk. This is to become free of a second 

126 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



prison, because now he can run on his own two legs 
and if you come near him, he can get away. He can 
say : " I can run on my two legs, I can express with 
language my thoughts to men like you/' 

Thus man develops gradually and by means of these 
successive steps of independence, he becomes free. It 
is not a question of will, it is, a phenomenon of inde- 
pendence. Really, it is nature that is giving to the child 
the opportunity of growing, gives him independence and 
at the same time leads him to freedom. 

The ' conquest of walking ' is very important, 
especially if one considers that, in spite of being very 
complex, it is achieved in the first year of life and is 
made together with all the other conquests of langu- 
age, of orientation, etc. To walk is for the child a 
physiological conquest of great importance. Animals 
do not need to make it. It is only man who has this 
prolonged and refined type of development. In his 
growth he has to make three different achievements, 
three conquests, before being physically able to walk, or 
even to stand erect on his two legs. Look at those 
majestically looking animals, the oxen. Imagine if atone 
year of age calves just began to stand on their legs. 
Indeed they do not. They begin to walk as soon as 
they are born. Yet these animals are inferior to us, even if 
they are gigantic in construction. We are so apparently 
powerless because the construction of man is much more 
refined and takes therefore much more time. 

127 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



The power of walking and being able to stand on 
one's two legs entails a thorough development composed 
of different items. One of them concerns the brain. 
There is a part of the brain called the * cerebellum * 
which is situated under its larger portion. (See fig. 8). 

It is just at six months 
that the cerebellum de- 
velops rapidly and this 
rapid development of the 
cerebellum continues until 
the child is 14 or 15 
months. Then the growth 
of the cerebellum isslower r 
but continues nevertheless 
until the child is 4j years, 
Fie. 8 The possibility of stand- 

The cerebellum at the base of the brain j ng Qn twQ J eg8 am j Q f 

being able to walk erect depends on the development of 
the cerebellum. In the child this development can easily 
be followed. We see the two developments following 
each other step by step : the child begins to its up at six 
months of age, starts to crawl at 9 months, stands at 1 
and walks between 12 and 13 months, while at 15 
months the child walks with security. 

The second item of this complex development is 
the completion of certain nerves. If the spinal nerve, 
through which the direct command to the muscles must 
pass, were not completed, it could not pass and it is only 

128 




THE ABSORBENT MIND 



during this period that the nerves become completed* 
How complex is development and how many things have 
to come into harmony before the conquest of walking 
can be made. This however is not all. There is a third 
achievement to be made : the development of the skele- 
ton. The legs of the child are not completely ossified, as 
we have seen. They are cartilaginous and that is why 
they are so soft. If this is the case, how can they support 
the weight of the body ? Therefore the skeleton has to 
be complete before the child can start to walk. Still 
another thing is that the bones of the cranium were not 
united at birth and only now they become complete, so 
that, if the child falls down, he is not in danger of in- 
juring his head. 

If by means of education we wished to teach the 
child how to walk before this time, we could not do it, 
because the fact of being able to walk is dependent on a 
series of physical developments, which take place simulta- 
neously. If one tried one could not achieve any- 
thing without seriously damaging the child. Here it is 
nature which directs. Everything depends on her and has 
to obey her exact commands. At the same time, if you 
tried to keep the child who has started to walk and run 
from doing so, you would not be able to do it, because 
in nature whenever an organ is developed, this must be 
put in use. Creation in nature is not to make something, 
but also to allow it to function. As soon as the organ is 
complete, it must immediately be used in the environment* 

129 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



In modern language these functions have been called 
4 experiences upon the environment/ If these experiences 
do not take place, then the organ does not develop nor- 
mally because the organ, incomplete at first, must be 
used in order to accomplish its completion. 

The child can only develop by means of experiences 
upon the environment, we call them ' work.' As soon as 
language appears the child begins to chatter and no one 
can silence him. Indeed one of the most difficult things is 
to make a child stop talking. Now if the child were not 
to talk or to walk, then he would not be able to develop 
normally. There would be an arrest in his development. 
Whereas the child walks, runs, jumps and by doing this 
he develops his legs. Nature first makes the instruments, 
and then develops them by means of functions, through 
experiences upon the environment. When, therefore, the 
child has increased his independence by the acquisition 
of new powers, he can only develop normally if left 
free to function. When the child has acquired independ- 
ence, it is by exercising this independence that he will 
develop. Development does not come of itself, but, as 
modern psychologists express it, 4 the behaviour is affirmed 
in each individual by the experiences this individual 
carries out upon the environment '. If therefore we think 
of education as a help to the development of the child's 
life, we cannot but rejoice when a child shows signs of 
having attained a certain degree of development. We 
cannot help saying : " My child has today said his first 

130 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



word " and rejoice about it. Especially inasmuch as we 
know we cannot do anything to bring about this event. 
If, however, we realize that, although the development 
of the child cannot be destroyed (because nature is too 
strong for us, thanks be to God), it can however be kept 
incomplete or retarded if the child is not given an oppor- 
tunity of carrying out experiences upon the environment, 
then a problem does arise : The problem of education. 

The first problem of education is to furnish the child 
with an environment which will permit him to develop 
the functions that nature has given to him. This is not 
an indifferent question. It is not a question of merely 
pleasing the child, of allowing him to do as he likes. It 
is a question of co-operation with a command of nature, 
with one of her laws which decrees that development 
should take place by means of experiences upon the 
environment. With his first step the child enters a higher 
level of experiences. 

If we observe the child who has reached this level, we 
see that he has a tendency to acquire still further indepen- 
dence. He wants to act in his own way, i.e., he wants to 
carry things, to dress and to undress alone, to feed 
himself, etc. And it is not by following our suggestions 
that the child begins to do things. On the contrary he 
has such a strong urge, such a vital impulse that our 
efforts are usually spent in restraining him from doing 
things. It is not the child that we fight when we do 
this, it is nature. It is not the child's will that we fight, 

131 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



he merely collaborates with nature and obeys her laws 
and step by step, first in one thing, then in others, he 
acquires ever increasing independence from those who 
surround him, until a moment comes when he will want 
to acquire mental independence too. Then he will 
show the tendency to develop his mind through his own 
experiences and not through the experiences of other 
people. He begins to seek out the reason of things. 
And thus it is that the human individuality is constructed 
during this period of childhood. This is not a theory. 
This is not an opinion. These are clear natural facts, 
they are observed facts. When we say that we must 
render the freedom of the child complete, when we say 
that his independence and his normal functioning must be 
assured by society, we do not speak about a vague ideaL 
We speak because we have observed life, we have 
observed nature and nature has reveafed this fact. It is 
only through freedom and by experiences upon the 
environment that man can develop. 

Now, when we speak of independence and freedom 
for the child, do not transfer to this field the ideas of 
independence and freedom that we hold as ideal in the 
world of adults. If the adults were to examine them- 
selves and give a definition of independence and free- 
dom, they could not do so with exactness. In reality 
they have a very miserable idea of what freedom is. 
They have not the largeness that nature has. The 
child offers the majestic vision of nature that gives life by 

132 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



giving freedom and independence. She gives it with 
determined laws regarding the time, and the needs : she 
makes freedom a law of life : either be free or die. 1 
believe that nature offers us help and aid for the 
interpretation of our social life. It is as though the child 
offered us the picture of the whole and we in our social 
life took only small details. The child is right in this 
sense that what he shows leads to reality, to truth. When 
there is a natural truth, there can be no doubt about it* 
It is interesting therefore to consider the freedom of the 
child which is achieved through growth. 

What is the aim of this ever increasing conquest of 
independence ? From where does it arise ? It arises in 
the individuality that forms itself, that is able to function 
by itself. But in nature all living beings have the 
tendency towards this. Every living being functions by 
itself. So in this also the child obeys the plan of 
nature. He achieves that freedom which is the first rule 
of life in every being. 

How does the child acquire this independence ? He 
acquires it by means of continuous activity. How does 
the child realize his freedom ? By means of continuous 
effort ; what life cannot do is to arrest itself, to stop. 
Independence is not static. It is a continuous conquest. 
And by means of continuous work, one acquires not only 
freedom but strength and self-perfection. 

Let us consider the first instinct of the child : he 
seeks to act alone, i.e., without help from others. His 

133 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



first conscious act of independence t is to defend himself 
from those who try to help him. And in order to act by 
himself, he tries to make an ever greater effort. If, as 
many of us think, the best idea of well-being is to sit 
down, do nothing and let other people work for us r 
then the ideal state would be that of the child before 
birth. The child might as well go back to the body of 
the mother, because the mother would do everything for 
the child. If we think so, why should one learn a 
language in order to communicate with others ? No, 
nature has other intentions. She forces the child to make 
this difficult conquest of language so that he can enter 
into communication with other beings. Or again, if we 
adopted rest as the ideal of life, then the child might say : 
" I have nice sweet milk from my mother. It is easily 
digestible. Why should I want any other food ? I shall 
stick to it. Why should I have to take the trouble of 
chewing coarser food that I have to secure for myself > 
No ! No ! I am going to stick to mother's milk." Or 
again : " Why walk ? Somebody carries me in her arms. 
I have something like an automobile of my own. See the 
tremendous effort I must make in order to walk, I have 
to develop my bones, my brain and even finish the 
insulation of the nerves in the spinal chord. Why should 
1 go to all this trouble ? Why should I be so uncouth and 
bad-mannered as to insist upon knowing things for 
myself ? Why, when there are so many wise people 
around me, people who have instruction and culture and 

134 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



who can tell me things > " But the reality shown by the 
child is not so. The child reveals that nature's teachings 
are quite different from the ideals that society has forged 
for itself. The child seeks independence through work : 
independence of body and of mind. The child seems to 
say : "I do not mind how much you know, 1 want to 
know things for myself. I want to have experience in the 
world and to perceive it with my own effort ; you keep 
your own knowledge and let me acquire mine/' We 
must understand clearly that when we give freedom and 
independence to the child, we give freedom to a worker 
who is impelled to act and who cannot live except by 
his work and his activity. This is the form of existence 
for living beings, and as the human being is also living, 
he also has this tendency. And if we try to stop it then, 
we produce a degeneration in the individual. 

Everything in creation is activity and in life this is 
all the more so. Life is activity and it is only through 
activity that perfection of life can be sought and found. 
The social aspirations that have come to us through the 
experience of past generations : an ideal life of less hours 
of work, of people working for us, of idling as long as we 
can, is what nature shows as the characteristic of a 
degenerate child. These aspirations are the characteristics 
of regression of the child who was not helped in the first 
days of its life to adapt itself and who has acquired 
a disgust for the environment and for activity. He it is 
who wants to be helped by other people, who wants to 

135 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



have servants, wants to be carried or driven in a peram- 
bulator, who sleeps too long, who shuns the company of 
other people. These are the characteristics that nature 
has shown as belonging to degeneration. These are the 
characteristics which have been recognized, analysed and 
described as the tendency to go back to embryonic life. 
He who is born and grows normally goes towards inde- 
pendence. The one who shuns it is degenerate. 

Quite another problem of education faces us in these 
degenerate children. How to cure regression ? Regres- 
sions retard or deviate normal development. The devi- 
ated child has no love for the environment, because the 
environment presents too many difficulties, too much 
resistance. Today the deviated child holds the centre in 
the scientific field of psychology which we could better 
call ' psycho-pathology/ Pedagogy teaches that the 
environment must offer the least resistance. It is sought, 
therefore, to diminish the avoidable obstacles and 
resistance that the environment presents to the child, 
and, if possible, to eliminate them altogether. Now- 
adays we try to give attraction to the environment. 
The environment must be rendered pleasing, beautiful, 
because it is necessary, especially in the case of one who 
feels repulsion for the environment to arouse sympathy 
and benevolence towards it. The environment must be 
made as attractive as possible so as to overcome 
diffidence and disgust. We must give pleasant activity 
to the child, because we know that it is through activity 

136 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



that development takes place. The environment must 
contain plenty of motives for interesting activity which 
are an invitation for the child to carry out his experiences 
upon the environment. These are clear principles for the 
deviated child, principles which are dictated by life, by 
nature, and which bring those who have acquired 
regressive characteristics from the tendency to idle to the 
desire of working, from lethargy and sluggishness to 
activity, from that state of fright which sometimes trans- 
lates itself into attachment to somebody whom they never 
want to leave, into a freedom of joy, freedom to go 
towards the conquest of life. 

From inertia to work ! That is the path of the cure 
just as from inertia to work is the path of development 
for the normal child. If a new education is to be envi- 
saged, this must be its basis, for it has been formulated by 
nature herself. 



137 



CHAPTER IX 
CARE TO BE TAKEN AT LIFE'S BEGINNING 

THE absorbent mind of the child orients itself in the 
environment ; so it is necessary to prepare the environ- 
ment with much care. 

We must remember that there are different periods 
of development in the life of the child. One period is 
soon after birth, and this is so important a period that it 
is impossible to deal with it in a book as short as this. I 
feel that in the future there will be people who will 
specialize in this type of study, at present there are only 
very few. 

If we study the animals we shall see that nature has 
provided special protection to the mammals, giving 
special care at this period. Nature has arranged that 
mothers isolate themselves from the rest of their species 
just before the time when they give birth to their little 
ones and they remain isolated for some time before 
coming back. This is very evident in animals who live 
in herds or packs. Horses do this, cows do, elephants, 
wolves, deer, dogs, all do this. During this time the 

138 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



little new-born animal has time to adapt itself to the 
new environment, alone, except for its mother's love f 
watchful guidance and care. In this period the baby- 
animal gradually expresses the behaviour of its kind. 
During this short period of isolation there is a continued 
psychological reaction on the part of the little one to all 
the stimuli of the environment, and that reaction is 
according to the special features of the behaviour of its 
kind. So that, when the mother returns to the herd with 
her baby, the little one enters the community with 
its own special preparation for living there already 
established. It is either a little horse, psychically 
speaking, or a little wolf, or a little cow, psychically not 
merely physically. 

The child has no fixed behaviour, but he has to take 
in the environment, therefore it is necessary to take special 
care of the environment which surrounds this new- 
born child. This care is of utmost importance in order to 
aid the absorption of the environment, so that the child 
may feel attracted towards it instead of repelled, and 
does not develop phenomena of regression. The progress, 
growth and development of the child depend on his love 
for the environment ; we must therefore take care that he 
can absorb it with interest. Science nowadays takes this 
into great consideration. Without entering into too many 
details we can enunciate certain principles. The child 
should remain as much as possible in contact with his 
mother and the environment must not present obstacles, 

139 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



such as great differences of temperature from that to 
which the child has been accustomed before birth. Not 
too much light, not too much noise, for the child has come 
from a place of perfect silence and darkness. Today, in 
the modern Nursing Homes, the mother and child are 
placed in a glass-walled room where the temperature is 
easily controllable, so that it may be gradually assimilated 
to that of the normal temperature outside. The glass is 
blue so that the light entering the room is very subdued, 
and the air also is regulated. Care should also be taken 
in the way how the child is handled and moved. It has 
been customary to handle the child as if it were an object 
without feelings, and it was plunged into a low bath and 
rapidly and roughly dressed (roughly in the sense that 
any handling of a new-born child is rough, because it is 
so delicate a thing, psychically as well as physically ), 
Today science has come to the conclusion that the new- 
born child should be touched as little as possible, and 
should not be dressed, but rather kept in a room the 
temperature of which is sufficient to keep the baby warm 
and free from draughts of cold air. The way of trans- 
porting the baby is also changed : he is carried by means 
of a soft mattress, something like a hammock, so that he 
remains in a level and horizontal position, similar to his 
pre-natal position. He is not lifted up or down but 
treated as we treat wounded people who need great care. 
Sick people today are not lifted up and then taken to a 
cart and drawn along ; there is a stretcher which is at the 

140 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



same level as the bed, and the invalid is carried very, 
very carefully, so that there are no bumps and jumps. 
This is done for adult people. The tendency today is 
to give the baby the same care and consideration, only 
even more refined and perfect. This is more than merely 
hygienic care, because hygiene is something else again. 
Today the nurses of the child have a cloth in front of 
their mouth and nose, so that microbes from them may 
not enter the environment of the new-born child. He is 
protected from them. Nowadays mother and child are con- 
sidered as two organs of one body which are in communi- 
cation. The adaptation to the environment then takes 
place successfully and naturally for the child, since 
mother and child have a special connection with each 
other. It is considered as a kind of magnetism. There 
are certain forces within the mother to which the child is 
accustomed and these forces are a necessary aid for the 
child during the first difficult days of adaptation. We 
can say that the child has changed his position in relation 
to the mother. He is now outside the mother's body 
whereas before he was inside, but the rest is the same. 
They are still in close communication and this magnetism 
that goes from the mother to the child remains intact. 
This is how these things are considered in our modern 
times, but only a few years ago the first thing that was done 
at birth, even in the best Nursing Homes, was to separate 
the mother from the child. The child was taken away 
and bathed and then brought back to his mother. The 

141 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



treatment I have described above is the * last word ' in 
the scientific treatment of the child. Nature shows us that 
this special care is not necessary to the child during the 
whole period of childhood. Just as, after a time, the 
mother cat brings her kittens out and does not hide them 
any more, so after a little time the human baby and 
mother can come out of their isolation into to the social 
world. 

Usually, as soon as a baby is born, all the relatives 
go and see this baby. They pat him and say : " How 
beautiful he is, he looks just like the father (or mother, or 
both !) ". They kiss it and caress it. This should be 
stopped. The richer the children the more unhappy 
they often are, the unhappiest of all are perhaps the 
king's children. In olden times, when the queen gave 
birth to an heir to the throne, the king himself took the 
baby out on to a balcony. The little one was wrapped 
in a bundle of clothes, and shown to the people who 
were assembled in the square outside the palace. 
Imagine this and how it would give rise to regressions ! 

It is interesting to note that the social questions of 
the child are not the same as those of the adult. We might 
say also that the economic position has a bearing upon the 
child which is the reverse of that which it has upon the 
adult, for we find that while among the adults it is the poor 
who suffer, amongst the children it is often the rich who 
suffer most. It is among the rich that the mother gives 
the child to a nurse for care, while the poor mother follows 

142 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



the proper method of keeping her child with her. The 
children of working mothers also usually receive more 
substantial food from their mothers, because the mothers 
are healthy and produce more milk which is of a more 
substantial quality than that of rich mothers, who do not 
need to work and are often inert and so their milk is scarce 
and poor in quality. This is one of the main reasons 
why a child is given to a nurse. The mother does not feed 
the child owing to unsuitable milk, and in olden times the 
baby was given to a * wet nurse,' who was a healthy 
peasant woman with plenty of good milk. There is 
therefore not a general question of rich and poor ; 
in the world of children things and values change 
altogether. 

Once this first period is passed the child adapts 
himself happily to the environment without feeling any 
repugnance. Then he begins travelling on the path of 
independence that we have described, on which the child, 
we might say, opens its arms to the environment, receives 
the environment and absorbs it to the extent of making 
his own, the customs of the environment in which he 
lives. 

The first activity in this development, which we 
might call a conquest, is the activity of the senses. 
Owing to the lack of completeness in its bony tissues, the 
child is inert, without movement of limbs, so his activity 
cannot be that of movement. His activity is purely that 
of the psyche taking in the impressions of the senses. 

143 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



The child's eyes are very active, but we must have very 
clear in our minds that (as science has described in 
modern times) the child is not merely struck by the light 
on its eyes. The child is not passive. He certainly 
receives impressions, but he is also an active research- 
worker in the environment. This is the new idea ; it is 
he, the child, who seeks these impressions ; he is not 
a victim of impressions that are all around him and that 
strike him, but he seeks them. 

Now, if we look at the animal species, we see that 
they have a type of apparatus in the eyes similar to that 
which we have, a sort of photographic machine. But 
these animals are specialized in their use of it : they are 
attracted towards certain things more than others so that 
they are not struck by the whole of the environment. 
They have a guide in them that makes them follow 
certain lines and through their eyes they follow that guide 
of their behaviour. So they direct themselves towards 
those things for which their behaviour is made. From 
the very beginning there is a guide ; the senses perfect 
themselves and are then used always following this guide. 
The eye of the cat will perfect itself in the dim light of the 
night (as does that of other nocturnal prowlers), but the cat, 
although interested in the darkness, is attracted by moving 
things and not by still things. As soon as something 
moves in the darkness, the cat pounces upon it ; to the 
rest of the environment it pays no attention. There is 
not a general awareness of the environment, therefore, 

144 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



but an instinctive move towards specialized things. In the 
same way, there are insects which are attracted by flowers 
of special colours, because in the flowers of those colours 
they find their food. Now, an insect just emerged from 
a chrysalis could not have any experience along that 
line ; it has a guide which directs it and the eye serves to 
follow that guide. Through this guide the behaviour of 
the species is realized. The individual, therefore, is not the 
victim of his senses, neither is it dragged by them ; 
the senses are there and work in the service of their 
owner, following a guide. 

The child has a special faculty. His senses are not 
limited like those of animals, but his senses also are in 
the service of a guide. The cat is limited to things that 
move in the environment, it is attracted only by them. 
The child has no such limitation. The child observes his 
surroundings and experience has shown us that his 
tendency is to take in everything. He does not merely 
take them in by means of his camera-like eye, but a kind 
of psycho-chemical reaction takes place so that these 
impressions form an integral part of his psyche. We might 
make this observation which is an impression and not 
a scientific statement that the person who is merely 
dragged by his senses, who is the victim of his senses, 
has something wrong within him. His guide may be 
there, but instead of acting it has become enfeebled in 
some way and so the person becomes the victim of his 
senses. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that the 

145 

10 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



guide which is within each child should be taken care of 
and kept alive. 

To make clearer what happens in this absorption 
of the environment, I would like to make a comparison. 
There are certain insects who resemble leaves and others 
resembling sticks. These insects can be quoted as analo- 
gies to what takes place in the psyche of the child. They 
live on sticks and leaves and resemble them so closely 
that they have become as one with their environment. 
Something like that happens in the child. He takes the en- 
vironment in and transforms himself accordingly like leaf- 
insects or stick-insects. This is very interesting indeed ! 
The impressions that the environment gives to them are 
so great that some biological or psycho -chemical trans- 
formation makes them resemble their environment. They 
become like the thing they love. This power of taking 
in the environment and transforming accordingly, is now 
discovered to exist in all types of life, in some physically 
as in the insects mentioned and in some other animals, 
but psychically in the child. It is to be considered as one 
of the greatest activities of life. The child does not look 
at things as we do. We may look at a house and say : 
44 How beautiful ! " and then we see something else and 
we have but a vague memory of those things afterwards. 
But the child constructs himself by means of the profound 
way in which he gathers them especially in the first period 
of life. It is in infancy, by virtue of the unique powers of 
infancy, that the child acquires the human characteristics 

146 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



that distinguish him, such as language, religion, racial 
character, etc. Thus he constructs the adaptation 
to the environment. In that environment he is happy 
and develops taking in its customs, language, etc. He 
does not refuse food if the word for food differs from that 
in his own country. He constructs an adaptation to each 
new environment. What does it mean to build up 
adaptation ? It means to transform oneself so that one 
becomes suited to one's environment, so that this environ- 
ment forms a part of oneself. We must therefore observe 
these facts as the child absorbs his environment. 

The child is in need of an environment in order to 
develop himself. Having accepted that, the next point 
is, what are we to do ? What sort of environment must 
be prepared for the child so that it may be of assistance 
to him ? It is a very embarrassing question. If we were 
dealing with a child of three years, he might be able to 
tell us. We should have to put flowers and beauty in 
the environment ; we should have to provide those 
motives of activity which belong to his path of develop- 
ment. We could easily find out that certain motives of 
activity would have to be in the environment in order to 
offer an opportunity for functional exercise to this child. 
But when the baby has to take in the environment in 
order to build up adaptation, what sort of environment 
can we prepare for him ? There can be but one answer 
to this : the environment for the baby-child must be the 
world, the world that is around him, all of it ! It is 

147 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



evident that if the child is to acquire language, he must 
be among people who speak, otherwise he will not 
be able to do so ; if he is to acquire any powers or 
faculties he must be among people who habitually use 
those powers and faculties. If the child is to take in 
customs and habits he must be constantly among people 
who themselves follow them. That is why we find that 
the child who is among cultured people who use many 
words and many small refinements of behaviour, acquires 
many more words and many more little refinements than 
the less fortunate child. 

This really is a strikingly revolutionary statement. 
It is a contradiction of what has happened in the last few 
years, since, as a consequence of hygienic reasoning, 
people have come to the conclusion or misconclusion 
that the child should be isolated ! What has happened 
is that the child has been placed in a nursery. When it was 
discovered that the nursery, hygienically speaking, was 
not good enough, the hospital was taken as a model and 
the child was left undisturbed and made to sleep as much 
as possible like a sick person. Let us realize that if this is 
progress this exclusively hygienic care it is a social 
danger. If the child is kept in nurseries, in a sort of prison,, 
with as his sole companion a nurse who obstructs more or 
less the development of the child, because no expressions 
of truly maternal sentiment or feeling are shown to the 
child, there are serious obstacles to normal growth and 
development ; serious retardation and dissatisfaction, one 

14ft 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



might say psychic hunger on the part of the child, is bound 
to result with harmful effect. Instead of staying with his 
mother, who loves him and with whom there is a special 
current of communication, the child has a nurse who does 
not speak much to the child because of the hygienic 
habit of covering her mouth. How then can he learn the 
language ? He must be protected from the sun or cold so 
a hood is put up over his perambulator and he sees only 
the face of the nurse or the hood and is shut away from 
all other parts of the environment. The richer the 
children the worse their lot, because this is life in a prison 
for them. Instead of nice beautiful mothers they have 
nurses, sometimes very experienced, but then old and 
ugly and the more aristocratic the family, the more formal 
it is and the parents see still less of the child. Many 
families see their child for a moment once a week be- 
cause ' the nurse knows how to deal with the child/ 
Mother says : "I do not deal with him ". After that 
period, they put the child in a boarding school ! 

The treatment of the child is really a social question 
and today more and more we begin to realize that it must 
be changed. Once this has been understood people 
begin to worry very much as in America which is awake 
now to the need for this new sort of aid to the child. 
They study how the child should be treated, and there is 
a growing conviction that as soon as the child can come 
out of doors, one should bring him along in the midst 
of one's work and allow him to see as much as possible. 

149 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



Then the perambulator is built very high, because the 
higher the child the better he can see. The nursery also 
has undergone a transformation. It conforms as rigo- 
rously to the requirements of hygiene as a hospital room, 
but the walls are full of pictures and the child lies on a 
stand which is slightly sloping and fitted high up, so that 
he can command a view of the whole of the environ- 
ment and not of the ceiling only. This is the first throne 
for the child. The idea has been understood that the 
child must be placed in a position to see everything. 

The absorption of language presents a more difficult 
problem especially to nurses who themselves belong to a 
social environment different from that of the child. Here 
also there is another side to the question. The child must 
be brought with us when we converse with our friends. 
Usually when we go to call on a friend or when a friend 
comes to see us, the child is taken away and put back in 
the nursery. If we want to aid the child we must put 
him in our midst so that he can see how we do things 
and can hear the conversation. He does not register it 
consciously, but if he sees the people round him talking, 
eating, etc., he receives a sub-conscious impression that he 
takes in and this will help his growth. Also when we 
take him for an outing what will he like ? We cannot 
say so definitely, but we can observe him. Here again 
mothers and rightly prepared nurses, when they see the 
child interested in something, will stop and let the child 
examine and inspect it as long as he likes. The nurse, 

150 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



instead of dragging along a cart with something in it as 
she used to do in the old days, considers the child and 
the little face lights up with interest as he is allowed to 
examine what attracts him. How, indeed, can we know 
what is going to be of interest to the child on any parti- 
cular day ? We must be at his service. Our whole con- 
ception is therefore revolutionized, and this revolution 
must be brought about among adults. The adult world 
must realize that the child constructs a vital adaptation to 
the environment and must therefore have full, complete 
contact with the environment, for if the child is unable .to 
construct this adaptation, we face a social problem of the 
first order. All the social problems we have today are 
due to a lack of adaptation on the part of somebody, 
either in the moral field or in others. This is a fundamental 
problem, a question of fundamental importance. This 
conclusion, of course, points to the fact that the education 
of the small child will in the future become the most 
basic and important consideration of society. 

Then how is it possible that we knew nothing of it 
before ? Our grandparents and great-grandparents knew 
nothing of these things and yet children grew up and 
humanity existed. This is the sort of statement that 
usually comes into the mind of a person who hears some- 
thing new ! They say : " Humanity is very old and 
people must have lived. I have grown up myself ; my 
children have grown up and yet we had no such theory 
before. In spite of the lack of such preparation, people 

151 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



have acquired their language and in many countries 
certain customs have become so strong that they have 
become prejudices. How has that taken place ? How 
is it that without any such preparation I have become 
one of my race ? " 

Let us consider this question for a little while. One 
of the most interesting studies is the study of the 
behaviour of human groups at different levels of civiliza- 
tion. Every one seems more intelligent than we in the 
West with our ultra-modern ideas ! In most other coun- 
tries we see that children are not treated as disastrously 
as by the rich ultra-modern Westerner. We see that in 
most countries the child accompanies his mother every- 
where. The mother and child are as one body. Wher- 
ever the mother goes the child goes with her. In the 
street she talks and the child listens. The mother has an 
altercation with some tradesman about prices, the child 
is present. Whatever the mother does the child sees and 
hears, and for how long does that last ? During the 
whole period of breast-feeding. The mother has to feed 
her child and so sis she goes to work or goes out she 
cannot leave the child. To her it is not merely a question 
of feeding the child, it is really a question of attraction 
between the mother and child. " I do not like to leave 
the child, because I love him/' she would say. Nature 
has arranged that milk and love solve the problem of 
adaptation to the environment on the part of the child. 
So here is the picture : the mother and child are but one 

152 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



person divided into two. Where civilization has not 
destroyed the possibility, the mother loves the child and 
takes him about with her, everywhere. She says, and 
rightly : " I do not trust anyone with my child." Is this 
mother a gaoler then ? No ! She goes everywhere and 
so does the child. The child hears the mother speaking 
in a normal way to many people. She speaks whatever 
she has to say and the child takes part. People say that 
mothers are loquacious ; yes, because they have to aid 
the development of the child and his adaptation to his 
environment. If the child were to hear only the words 
that the mother addresses to himself, he would not learn 
much. Instead, the child learns language in its construc- 
tion. It is not language consisting only of disconnected 
words, it is language taken from the people who speak. 
It is really marvellous that the child is able to absorb the 
language of the environment in which he lives, but this 
can only happen if he lives among people. Therefore I 
stress the necessity of the child being brought out into 
the world. 

Again, if we study the different human groups, 
races or nations, there are other characteristics to observe : 
the fashion of transporting the child is one of these 
characteristics. Ethnological studies are made and people 
go about observing these and other customs and there 
are many interesting things to be seen. One of the 
greatest interest is to see how women carry their children. 
They usually lay the child on a bed or in a bag and do 

153 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



not carry him in their arms. In some countries the child is 
fastened to a piece of wood and put on the shoulders of 
the mother, when the mother goes to work. Certain 
people tie the child on the neck, others on the back, 
others use a basket. But each race has found some 
means of carrying the child along. There is always the 
question of breathing to consider. The child is usually 
carried with his face against the back of the mother, there 
is the danger of suffocation to be considered, and so 
precautions are taken. The Japanese put their children 
in such a way that the neck of the child comes above 
the shoulder of the person who is carrying it, and the 
first traveller who went to Japan, called the Japanese 
two-headed people, on account of this habit. In India the 
child is carried on the hip, and the Red Indian straps it on 
the back ; the child is in a sort of cradle and is fastened 
to the mother back to back, so that the child sees 
whatever is behind her. Each country has different 
habits and customs, but the child never leaves the mother. 
It never enters the head of the mother to leave the child 
behind any more than she would leave her hair behind. 
In Africa among a certain tribe there was to be a coro- 
nation ceremony for a queen. To the surprise of the 
missionaries who witnessed the ceremony, the queen 
had her child along with her. It never entered her head 
to leave the child at home. Another curious fact with 
these people is that the period of breast-feeding lasts for 
a long period. In some countries it lasts one year, in 

154 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



others one and a half or up to two years. It is not neces- 
sary, because the child has the necessary means now to 
eat anything. In fact he does eat a great many things 
besides drinking his mother's milk, but since the mother 
continues to feed him, it means that she takes the child 
along with her and so involuntarily ensures the proper 
aid of a full social environment during this important 
period. The mother says nothing to the child but he has 
his eyes and he goes about. The mother carries him 
and the child comes to know people in the street and the 
market, carts and buses. He sees all these things with- 
out anybody telling him anything. And when mothers 
go to market and fix the price for fruits, if you look at the 
face of the child she carries, it is curious to see the inten- 
sity of interest there is in his eyes. The mother is un~ 
expressive in her face but the child is intensely expressive. 
Another interesting factor is that the small child who is 
being carried about never cries, unless he is ill or wounded. 
Sometimes the child falls asleep, but he never cries. 
Among the enormous quantity of photographs taken in 
these countries, you never see a child crying. The photo- 
graphs have been taken of the mother, of course, to show 
her customs, but incidentally we notice that one feature 
of them is that the child does not cry, whereas what 
people complain about in Western countries is : " My 
child is always crying," and " what do you do when a 
child cries ? " What can one do ? Crying is the problem 
in Western countries. Today the answer of psychologists 

155 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



is this : the child cries and is agitated, he has fits of cry- 
ing and ' tempers ' , because he suffers from mental star- 
vation. He is mentally undernourished. He is kept in 
prison with a restricting guardian over him. The only 
remedy is this : to take the child out of prison and allow 
him to go into society. What nature shows us is this 
treatment of the child which is unconsciously followed in 
many races. This treatment has to be understood and 
applied consciously by us as we use our observation and 
intelligence. 



156 



CHAPTER X 
ON LANGUAGE 

LET us consider the development of language in the 
child. In order to understand language, we must reflect 
on what language is. It is so fundamental that we might 
well call it the basis of normal human life, because 
through it men join together to form a group. It brings 
about the transformation of the environment that we 
call civilization. 

There is a central point that distinguishes humanity : 
it is not guided to do this or that fixed task as animals 
are. We never know what man will do, hence men must 
come into harmony with each other or they will never 
do anything. In order to come into accord and to take 
intelligent decisions together, it is not sufficient to think, 
not even if all of us were geniuses. What is necessary 
is that we must understand one another. This under- 
standing one another is possible only by means of langu- 
age. Language is the instrument of thinking together. 
Language did not not exist on the earth until man made 
his appearance. Yet after all, what is it ? A mere breath, 

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THE ABSORBENT MIND 



a series of sounds put together not even logically, just put 
together. 

Sounds have no logic, the collection of sounds that 
occur when we say * plate ' have in themselves no logic. 
What gives sense to these sounds is the fact that men 
have agreed that those special sounds shall represent 
this special idea. Language is the expression of agree- 
ment among a group of men, and it is only the group who 
has agreed on those sounds who can understand them. 
Other groups have other sounds to represent the same 
idea. Language is a sort of wall that encloses a group 
of men and separates it from other groups. That is why 
language has become almost mystical, it is something 
that unites groups of men even more than the ideas of 
nationality. Men are united by language, and language 
has become more complicated as man's thought has 
become more complicated ; it has grown with man's 
thought. 

The curious thing is that the sounds used to com- 
pose words are few, yet they can unite in so many ways 
to make so many words. How complicated are the 
combinations of these sounds ! Sometimes one is placed 
before another, sometimes after another, sometimes softly, 
sometimes with force, with closed lips, with open lips, 
etc., etc. It needs a great memory to remember them 
all and the ideas represented by these words. Then 
there is the thought itself, as a whole, which must be 
expressed and this is done by a group of words which we 

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THE ABSORBENT MIND 



call a sentence. The words must be placed in a special 
order in that sentence so as to conform to the thought of 
man and not just to string together a number of things in 
the environment. There is therefore a set of rules in 
order to guide the hearer as to the intentional thought of 
the speaker. If man wishes to express a thought, he 
must put the name of the object here and an adjective 
near it and another noun there. The number of words 
used is not sufficient, their position must be considered. 
If we want to test this, let us take a sentence with a clear 
meaning, write it out, cut the written sentence into its 
separate words and mix them ; the sentence will not 
make sense, yet there are exactly the same words. So 
here also there must be agreement among men. Lan- 
guage therefore might be called the expression of a supra- 
intelligence. On first consideration we feel that language 
is a faculty with which we are endowed by nature, but 
after further thought we realize that it is above nature. 
It is a supra-natural creation produced by conscious 
collective intelligence. Around it there grows a sort of 
network that extends and increases and there is no limit 
to the extension and increase, so that there have been 
languages so complicated, so difficult to remember for 
ever, that they have died. They extended so far and 
gradually became so complicated that it was impossible 
to retain them, and they disintegrated. And if one 
wished to study Sanskrit or Latin one would study for 
eight years, ten years, and even then one would not 

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THE ABSORBENT MIND 



succeed in speaking this language completely and in its 
perfection. 

There is nothing more mysterious than the under- 
lying reality that to do anything, men must come together 
in agreement and to that they must use language, this 
most abstract instrument. 

This problem is always worrying humanity, but it 
mast be solved, because language has to be given to the 
new-born child. Attention to this problem has led 
people to consider and realize that it is the child who takes 
in language. The reality of this absorption is something 
very great and mysterious which men have not sufficiently 
considered. It is said : " Children are among people who 
speak, so they speak". This is a very profound state- 
ment indeed ! especially when one considers the com- 
plications. Yet people have gone on for thousands of 
years to think of it so superficially. 

Another thought has entered men's minds through 
their study of this problem of language ; a language might 
be difficult and complicated for us to learn and yet it has 
been spoken once by the uncultured people of the country 
to which it belonged. Latin is a difficult language, even 
for those who speak the modern languages that have 
developed from Latin, but the language that the slaves of 
imperial Rome spoke was this same complicated and 
difficult Latin ! And what did the uncultured peasants 
speak as they laboured in the fields ? This complicated 
Latin ! And what did the children of three years speak 

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THE ABSORBENT MIND 



in imperial Rome ? They expressed themselves in this 
complicated Latin and understood it as it was spoken to 
them. It is probably the same in India. Long ago, the 
people who worked in the fields and roamed in the jungle 
spoke Sanskrit. To-day this mystery has aroused 
curiosity and the result is that the development of 
language in children is receiving attention and, let us 
remember, it is development, not teaching. The mother 
does not teach language to her little one. Language 
develops naturally as a spontaneous creation. And 
what strikes one is that language develops following 
certain laws and in certain epochs that development 
reaches a certain height. This is true for all children 
whether the language of their race be simple or com- 
plicated. Even today there are some very simple 
languages spoken among certain primitive people ; the 
children who live among them attain the same develop- 
ment in their language as the children with a more 
difficult language do. There is a period for all children 
when only syllables are spoken ; then words are spoken 
and finally the whole syntax and grammar is used in its 
perfection. The differences of masculine and feminine, 
of singular and plural, of tenses, of prefixes and suffixes, 
all are used by children. The language may be com* 
plicated and with many exceptions to the rules, yet the 
child who absorbs it learns it all and can use it in the 
same time as the African child learns the few words of 
his primitive language. 

161 

11 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



If we look at the production of the different sounds 
we also find it follows laws. All the sounds which com- 
pose words are made by putting into use certain mechan- 
isms. Sometimes the nose is employed together with 
the throat, and sometimes it is necessary to control the 
muscles of the tongue and cheek, etc. Different parts 
of the body come together to construct this mechanism. 
Its construction is perfect in the mother tongue, the 
language taken by the child. Of a foreign tongue, we 
adults cannot even hear all the sounds, let alone re- 
produce them. We can only use the mechanism of our 
own language. Only the child can construct the mechan- 
ism of language, and he can speak any number of 
languages perfectly if they are in his environment. 

This construction is not the result of conscious work, 
but takes place in the deepest layer of the sub-conscious 
of the child. He begins this work in the darkness of 
the sub-conscious and it is there that it develops and 
fixes itself as a permanent acquisition. It is this that 
lends interest to the study of language. We, adults, can 
conceive only a conscious wish to learn a language and 
set about to learn it consciously. We must however have 
another conception of a natural, or rather supra-natural 
mechanism that takes place outside of consciousness, and 
this mechanism, or series of mechanisms, is fascinating. 
They take place in a depth not directly accessible to 
adult observers. Only the external manifestations can 
be seen, but these are very clear in themselves if we 

162 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



observe them properly, since they take place in all 
humanity. Especially striking is the fact that the sounds 
of any language keep their purity age after age ; another 
curiosity is that complications are taken in as easily as 
simplicities. No child becomes * tired' of learning his 
mother tongue, his mechanism elaborates his language 
in its totality. 

There comes to my mind a sort of comparison to 
this absorption of language by the child. My idea has 
nothing to do with the various factors of the phenomenon, 
nor with reality, but it gives a picture of something similar 
that we can experience. If, for instance, we wish to 
draw something, we take a pencil or colours and draw it, 
but we can also take a photographic picture of the 
thing and then the mechanism is different. The photo- 
graph of a person is taken on a film. This film does not 
have to do much work, and if there were instead of one 
a group of ten people to be photographed, the film would 
have no more work than before ; the mechanism works 
instantaneously. It would be just as easy to take a 
thousand people if the camera were large enough. If we 
photograph the title of a book, or if we photograph a page 
of that book filled with minute or foreign characters, the 
effort is the same for the film. So the mechanism of 
the film can take in anything, simple or complicated, in 
the fraction of a second. Whereas, if we have to draw a 
man it will take some time, and if we have to draw ten 
men it will take more time. If we copy the title of a book 

163 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



it will also take some time, if we have to copy a page 
of minute and foreign characters it will take much 
more time. 

Then, too, the photograph is taken in darkness and 
still in darkness it undergoes the process of development, 
then it is fixed, still in darkness, and finally it can 
come to the light and is unalterable. So it is with the 
psychic mechanism for language in the child. It begins 
deep down in the darkness of the sub-conscious, is devel- 
oped and fixed there, and then it is seen openly. Certain 
it is that some mechanism does exist, (whether I have 
made a good comparison or not) so that this under- 
standing of language may be realized. Once one has 
envisaged this mysterious activity, one wants to find out 
how it happens ; so there is today a deep interest in the 
investigation of this mysterious feature of the deep sub- 
conscious. 

This however is only part of the activity of observa- 
tion that adults can perform ; the other part is to watch 
the external manifestations, because it is only of these 
external manifestations that we can have proof ; but this 
observation must be exact. Nowadays several people 
are engaged in this. Observations have been carried out 
day by day from the date of birth to two years of age 
and beyond : what happened on each day, how long the 
development remained at the same level, etc. From these 
observations certain things stand out like milestones. 
They have revealed the fact that there is a mysterious 

164 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



inner development that is very great, while the corres- 
ponding external manifestation is very small, so there is 
evidently a great disproportion between the activity of 
the inner life and the external expression. Another thing 
that stands out in all these observations of outer mani- 
festations is that there is not a regular linear develop- 
ment, but development manifests itself in jerks. There 
is the conquest of syllables, for instance, at a certain 
time and then for months the child emits nothing but 
syllables there is no progress externally. Then suddenly 
he says a word ; then he remains with one or two words 
for a long time. Again there seems no progress and one 
feels almost disheartened to see this slow external 
progress. It seems so sluggish, but the acts reveal to us 
that in the inner life there is a continuous and great 
progress. 

After all is this not illustrated also in the actions of 
society ? If we look at history, we see that man for cen- 
turies lived at the same level, primitive, stupid, conserva- 
tive, incapable of progress ; but this is only the outer 
manifestation seen in history. There is an inner growth 
going on and on, until an explosion suddenly comes ! 
And then another period of placidity and little progress 
externally and then another revelation ! 

So it is with the child and this language of man. 
There is not merely small steady progress of word by word, 
but there are also explosive phenomena, as psychologists 
call them, happening without reason or teaching. At the 

165 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



same period of life in each child comes suddenly this 
cataract of words, and all pronounced perfectly. In 
three months the children use with ease all the com- 
plications of nouns, suffixes and prefixes, and verbs. All 
this happens at the end of the second year for every 
child. So we must be heartened by this action of the 
child and wait. (And at the sluggish epochs in history 
we may hope for the same ; perhaps humanity is not so 
stupid as it appears, perhaps wonderful things will 
happen which will be explosions of internal life.) These 
explosive phenomena and eruptions of expression con- 
tinue after the age of two years ; the use of simple 
and compound sentences, the use of the verb in all its 
tenses and modes, even in the subjunctive, the use of 
subordinate and co-ordinate clauses appear in the same 
sudden explosive way. So is completed the expression 
of the language of the group (race, social level, etc.,) to 
which the child belongs. This treasure which has been 
prepared by the sub-conscious is handed over to the 
consciousness, and the child, in full possession of this new 
power, talks, and talks, and talks, till the adults say : 
" For goodness* sake can't you stop talking ! " 

After this great landmark at two and a half years, 
which seems to indicate a border-line of intelligence when 
man is formed, language still continues to develop, with- 
out explosions, yet with great vivacity and spontaneity. 
This second period lasts from two and a half to four and 
a half or five years. This is the period when the child 

166 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



takes in a great number of words, and perfects the 
rendering of sentences. Certainly if the child is in an 
environment of a few words or of * slang ', he will use 
those words only, but if he lives in an environment of 
cultured speech and rich vocabulary, the child will fix 
it all. The environment is very important, yet in any 
case an enrichment of vocabulary will come about* 
Great interest is being taken in this fact. In Belgium 
scientific observers discovered that the child of only two 
and a half years knew two hundred words, but by the 
time of five years he knew and used thousands of words, 
and all this happens without a teacher ; it is a spontaneous 
acquisition. After he has learnt all this, we allow the 
child to come to school and say : " I will teach you the 
alphabet ! " 

We must keep clearly in mind this double path that 
has been followed : that of the sub-conscious activity which 
prepares the language, and then that of the consciousness 
gradually coming to life and taking from the sub-conscious 
what it has to give. And what have we at the end ? 
MAN the child of five who can speak his language 
well, knows and uses all the rules. He does not realize 
all the sub-conscious work, but in reality he is MAN who 
has created language. The child has created it for him- 
self. If the child did not have these powers and did not 
spontaneously acquire language, there would have been 
no work possible in the world of men and no civilization. 
We see, therefore, how important is MAN in this period of 

167 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



his life : he constructs all. If it were not for him, civiliza- 
tion would not exist, for he alone constructs its foundation. 
So we should give him the help he needs and not leave 
him to wander alone. 



168 



CHAPTER XI 
THE CALL OF LANGUAGE 

WHAT I want to illustrate is a fact that will arouse 
little sympathy, I am afraid, because we human 
adults think we are above mechanisms and live in 
the abstract. How interesting however are these wonder- 
ful mechanisms. Mechanisms are basical things, they 
are material facts. Material things are not only flesh 
and blood, but also mechanisms. All know that in the 
mechanism of the nervous system there are the sense- 
organs, the nerves and nerve-centres, and the motor organs. 
The fact that there is a mechanism concerning language 
goes somewhat beyond such material facts. It was towards 
the end of the last century that the brain-centres which deal 
with language were discovered. There are in the cortex 
of the brain two special centres dealing with language : 
one is the centre for heard language, auditory receptive 
speech, and one the centre for the production of language, 
that is of spoken, motor speech. If we consider the 
question from the physiological point of view, there are 
also two organic centres : one for hearing the language 

169 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



(the ear) and one for speaking the language (the mouth, 
throat and nose, etc.), and these two centres develop 
separately, both psychically and physiologically. The 
receptive or hearing centre is in relation with that mysteri- 
ous side of the psyche in which language is developed in 
the deepest part of the sub-conscious, and the activity of 
the motor centre is manifested when we speak. 

It is evident that this second part, which deals with 
the movements necessary for the emission of language, is 
slower to develop, and is manifested after the other. 
Why ? Because it is the sounds heard by the child that 
prot)oe those delicate movements which produce sound. 
This is very logical, because if humanity does not have 
a pre-established language (which it does not, considering 
that it creates its own), then it is necessary that the child 
first hears the sounds of his group's created language 
before he can reproduce them. Therefore the movement 
for reproducing sounds must be based on a sub-stratum 
of impressions on the psyche, on those sounds, because it 
is on the sounds which have been felt (impressed on the 
psyche) that movement depends. 

This is easy and logical to understand, but it has not 
come because of logic, but because of a mechanism in 
nature. And what logic is there in nature ? In nature 
one first notices facts and after seeing them, one says : 
" How logical they are !" and then, " There must be a 
directing intelligence behind the facts ". The mysterious 
intelligence which acts in the creation of things is much 

170 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



more visible here in the psychic phenomena than it is in 
flowers even t with all their beautiful colours and shapes. 

It is clear that at birth, these two activities of the 
heard and the spoken language do not exist. What does 
exist then ? Nothing exists, yet at the same time every- 
thing is there. What exists are these two centres, centres 
free of all sound and of all heredity yet capable of taking 
in language, and of elaborating the movements necessary 
for its emission. These two points are part of the mechan- 
ism for developing language in its totality. Going more 
deeply into the matter we see that both a sensibility and 
an ability exist which are centralized. It is easy to see 
also that the elaboration of language begins after birth, 
since it depends on the hearing of language and before 
birth the child cannot hear anything. Activity must come 
afterwards. It is marvellous that all is prepared so that, 
when the child is born, it can start on its work. 

Now let us study the organs as well as the mechan- 
ism. Certainly the creation of this mechanism is mar- 
vellous, but all creation is marvellous. Is it not marvellous 
to think of the creation of the ear (the organ of heard 
language) before the child is born > There, in that 
mysterious environment, this very delicate and compli- 
cated instrument has developed spontaneously. How 
marvellously is it constructed, as if some musical genius had 
built it up. A musician, yes, because the central part of 
the ear is a sort of harp, with the possibility of vibrating 
with different sounds according to the length of the 

171 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



4 strings '. The harp in our ear has sixty-four ' strings f f all 
placed in gradation and as the size of the ear is so small 
they have been arranged in the form of a snail's shell. 
What intelligence ! Respecting the limits of space, yet 
building up all that is necessary for musical sounds. And 
who is going to play on these strings ? For if no one plays 
on it, the harp may remain silent against the wall for years. 
We see a drum in front of the harp, and when something 
touches that drum, one or more of the harp strings 
vibrate ; so the drum plays the harp and we hear the 
music of speech. Not all the sounds of the universe are 
taken in by the ear, because there are only sixty-four 
strings, but quite a complex music can be played on it. 
By means of it a language, with all its delicate and fine 
complications, can be transmitted. And if this compli- 
cated instrument has created itself in the mysterious 
pre-natal life, why should it be that after birth something 
else is created, i.e., the language that the child finds in 
his environment and must create for himself ? We 
shall see. 

For the moment let us look at nature ; how marvel- 
lous she is, and how quick ! Even if the child is born at 
seven months, all is complete and ready. Nature is 
never late ! How does this instrument transmit the sounds it 
receives through the nervous fibres to the brain, where the 
special centres are located to collect these special sounds ? 
That is also mysterious, but these are facts of nature. 
The curious thing is that psychologists, who have studied 

172 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



new-born children, say that the sense most sluggish to 
develop is that of hearing. They say it even seems that 
the child is deaf. All sorts of noises are made round the 
child and there is no reaction. This is because these 
centres are centres for language, for words, and it seems 
as though this powerful mechanism responds and acts 
only in relation to these special sounds the spoken word 
so that thus, in time, will be produced the mechanism 
of movement, which will reproduce those same sounds. 

If this special isolation of the centres were not pro- 
vided for, imagine what would happen to man ? If the 
centres were free to take anything, then the child who 
was born on a farm would be impressed only by the 
sounds of the farm, and would say : " Moo, Moo " and 
grunt and cackle. The child born near a station would 
only make the sounds of the whistling and puffing trains. 
It is because nature has built and has isolated these centres 
specially for language that man can speak. There have 
been cases of wolf -children, children who, for one reason 
or another, have been abandoned in the jungle, and by 
some wonderful means have managed to live. These 
children, although they have lived in the midst of all 
kinds of bird- and animal-sounds, those of water and of 
falling leaves, have nevertheless remained entirely dumb. 
They produced no sound whatever, because they did not 
hear the sounds of human speech, which alone provoke 
the mechanism of spoken language. All this I relate to 
show that there is a special mechanism for language. This 

173 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



distinguishes humanity, it possesses this mechanism ; not 
to possess language, but to possess this mechanism for 
creating its own language characterizes humanity. Words 
are the result of a sort of elaboration performed by the 
child, but the child himself is not a mechanism, far from it. 

Let us imagine the ego in this mysterious period, just 
after birth, as a sleeping self. This sleeping ego suddenly 
wakes up and hears a delightful music. If this mysterious 
ego could talk, it would say : " I have entered the world, 
and they have welcomed me with music, a music, so 
divine, so soul-penetrating, that my whole being, my very 
fibres have begun to vibrate to it. No other sound reached 
me, because this reached my soul and I heard no other 
sound but this divine call ! " And if we remember the great 
propulsive powers which create and conserve life, we can 
see how this music produces a thing that remains ever- 
lasting. What takes place in the mneme of the new- 
born child now, remains for ever. Every group of 
humanity loves music, creates its own music and its own 
language. Each group responds to its music with move- 
ments of the body and this music attaches itself to words, 
but those words have no sense in themselves, it is we 
who give the sense. In India there are many languages, 
but music unites all. The impressions on the new-born 
child have remained. There are no animals that make 
music and dance, but all humanity does it wherever it is. 

These sounds of language then are fixed in the 
sub-conscious. What goes on inside we cannot see, but 

174 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



the outer manifestations give us a guide. Sounds are 
fixed and this is an integral part of the mother tongue. 
We might call it an alphabet. Then syllables come, 
then words, just spoken as a child will read sometimes 
from a primer, without knowing what it all means. But 
how intelligently the child works ! Inside the child him- 
self is a little teacher, like one of the old-fashioned 
teachers who make the child recite the alphabet, then 
syllables and finally words. Only the human teacher 
does it at the wrong time when the child already 
possesses his language. The teacher inside the child 
does things at the right time, so the baby fixes sounds, 
then syllables. It is a gradual construction as logical as 
the language. Afterwards words come and then we 
enter the field of grammar. Names of things (nouns) 
come first. That is why it is so illuminating to follow the 
teachings of nature, because nature is a teacher, and it 
teaches the child the most arid part of language. It is a 
real school with methods. It teaches nouns and adjec- 
tives, conjunctions and adverbs, verbs in the infinitive, 
then the conjugation of verbs, the declensions of nouns, 
then prefixes and suffixes and all the exceptions. Then 
there is the examination ; he shows he can use them. We 
then see what a good teacher there has been and what a 
diligent pupil, because he uses them all quite correctly in 
the examination. Isn't he clever ? One should applaud 
him, but no one takes any notice of him. Much later 
when he is at the school we adults have chosen for him, 

175 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



he is given a medal and we say " What a clever teacher 
he has ". 

But it is the small child who is really a living 
miracle ! This is what the teacher should see in the 
child : a pupil who has learnt in such a fashion that the 
teacher herself could not learn better. In two years he 
has learnt everything ! This is a deep mysterious fact. 
Let us then follow the manifestations the child gives in 
these two years, because thus it will be easier to follow 
what the child has done. On examining these manifesta- 
tions, we see a gradual and ever-awakening conscious- 
ness and then, suddenly, this consciousness becomes 
predominant and wishes to master all. At four months 
(some say earlier, and 1 am inclined to agree with them) 
the child perceives that this mysterious music that sur- 
rounds him and touches him so deeply, comes from the 
human mouth. It is the mouth (the lips that move) which 
produces it. This is seldom noticed, but if we watch 
a baby we see with what intensity he watches the 
lips. Consciousness is already seen taking a hand in the 
matter, for consciousness takes a propulsive part in the 
work. Certainly, movement has been unconsciously pre- 
pared, all the exact co-ordinations of minute fibres have 
not been achieved consciously, but consciousness gives 
interest, enlivens and makes a series of keen, alert 
researches. 

After two months of this observation of the mouth, 
the child produces his own sounds (at six months of age). 

176 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



All of a sudden, this baby, who has been unable to say 
anything except an occasional interjectional noise, one 
morning wakes up (before you) and you hear him saying : 
*' Ba-ba-ba ", " Ma-ma-ma ", etc. It is he who invented 
* Papa* and * Mama '. He now goes on for so long a time 
with these syllables only that we say he cannot do any 
more. After a great effort he has reached this. Let us re- 
member, it is the effort of the ego who has made a 
discovery and is conscious of his powers ; a little man 
who is no longer a mechanism, but an individual using 
mechanisms. We arrive at the end of the first year of 
life, but before that, at ten months, the child has made 
another discovery : that this language from the mouth of 
people has a purpose. It is not merely music. When we 
say : " Dear little Baby, how sweet you are !", he 
realizes : " this is meant for me" and so he begins to realize 
there is some purpose in these sounds addressed to him. 
Two things therefore have happened by the end of the 
first year : in the depths of the unconscious he has under- 
stood : on the heights of consciousness he has created 
language, though at the moment it is only babbling, just 
repeating sounds and combinations of sounds. 

At one year of age the child says his first intentional 
words. He babbles just the same, but it is intentional, 
and intention means conscious intelligence. What has 
happened within ? Having studied him we know that he 
has much more within him than is shown by these un- 
obtrusive manifestations. More and more the child has 

177 

12 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



realized that language refers to the environment round 
him and he goes on to the conscious mastery of it. Here 
a great struggle arises within the child, a struggle of con- 
sciousness against mechanism. It is the first struggle of 
man, it is the first war between the parts ! To illustrate 
this I can use my own experience. I know many things, 
I want to express them to an English-speaking 
audience, but I do not have the language. I only know 
a little English and my words would be a useless bab- 
bling. I know that my audience is intelligent and we 
could exchange ideas, but, alas, I only babble. This 
epoch when the intelligence has many ideas and knows 
people could understand them, but cannot express these 
ideas through lack of language is a dramatic epoch in 
the life of the child. It gives the first disappointments 
of life. If I had no translator, what could I do ? 
What can the child do ? He goes to school in his sub- 
conscious, and his desire spurs him to learn. It is the 
conscious impulse to be able to express himself that 
makes this hurried acquisition of language possible. 
Imagine his attention to language at this time ! 

A being who is so desirous of expressing himself, 
needs to go to a teacher to give him the words clearly. 
Are we any use as such teachers ? No ; we don't help 
him at all ; we merely repeat to him his own babbling. If 
he did not have this inner teacher, he would learn nothing 
at all. It is this inner teacher who makes him go to 
adult people who are talking to each other, not to him. 

178 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



The impulse forces him to take the language with exact- 
ness, but we do not give it. Yet after one year of age 
he could indeed go to school ; to one of our schools 
where intelligent people talk to him intelligently. Some 
people have understood this difficulty of the child between 
one and two years, and the importance of giving to the 
child the opportunity of learning exactly. Just a few 
days before I wrote this, I received a communication 
from Ceylon in which someone wrote : " How glad we 
are that there are now schools in our country for our 
small child !" They have understood the need there. So 
besides those who say : " What a pity we have no 
University ! " there are also those who say : " How glad 
we are to have these schools for small children ! " We 
must realize that since the child has grammatical know- 
ledge we can talk to him grammatically and help him 
with the analysis of sentences. The new teachers of 
children between the ages of one and two years should 
know the development of language. Mothers must know 
it, as it is important, and teachers should know it in a 
scientific fashion. Then the child need not go about 
to find people talking to others, not to himself, in order 
to receive the aid he needs. We become the servants of 
nature that creates, and of nature that teaches, and a 
whole syllabus and method is ready for us. 

What can I do with my babbling if 1 want to tell 
something that is very important ? I may not have much 
self-control, I may become agitated, enraged, and begin 

179 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



to cry. That is what happens to the child of one or two 
years. He wants to show by one word what he wants ua 
to know, but he cannot and hence tantrums. Then people 
say : " See man's innate perversity coming out ! " 
(What ! in a man of one year !) The origin of war is 
there in this child of one year, who gets angry and violent 
for no reason at all, as we think. We say : " We care 
for him, we dress him, we do things for him, yet he 
makes all these naughty scenes ". Poor little man who 
is working towards independence ! To be so misunder- 
stood ! And yet this poor being who has no language 
and whose only expression is one of rage, has yet the 
power of making his own language. The rage is merely 
an expression that comes after the obstructed effort to try 
to make words, and he Joes make some sort of words. 

There is another period at about one and a half 
years when the child has recognized another fact ; namely, 
that each object has a name. This is marvellous because 
it means that among all the words he has heard, he has 
been able to pick out nouns, especially concrete ones. 
There was a world of objects, now there are words for 
these objects. Unfortunately, with nouns alone one 
cannot express everything, so he has to use one word 
to express a whole idea. Psychologists therefore give 
special attention to these words that are meant to express 
sentences, and they call them fusive words or * one-word- 
sentences.' Let us suppose porridge is eaten with milk, the 
child then may call out : " Ma pa " meaning : " Mother 

180 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



I am hungry, I want some porridge ". He is expressing 
one whole sentence in a word. Another feature of this 
fusive speech, this forced language of the child, is that 
there are alterations in the words themselves ; there are 
often abbreviations. A Spanish baby will use * to f 
instead of 4 paletot * which means ' overcoat * ; and 
4 palda * for * espalda ' which means * shoulder \ This is 
a modification, an abbreviation of the words We use, and 
sometimes they are so different that we might say that 
the child uses a foreign language. There is a * child- 
language ', but very few take the trouble to study it. 
Teachers of children of this age, should study this in 
order to help the child and bring calm to his torment- 
ed soul. 

These two child-words ' to ' and ' palda ' were the 
manifestation of a mental conflict in a child, and the 
child was so enraged and agitated that many people did 
not know what to do with it. The mother of the child 
was carrying her coat over her arm and the child was 
screaming, screaming. At last, at my suggestion, the 
mother put on her coat and immediately the screaming 
ceased, the child was calm and crowed happily : " To 
palda ", meaning to say : " That is right ; a coat is meant 
to be worn over the shoulders/* So you see another fact, 
that this mysterious language of the child can reveal 
the psychology of the child at this age, his urge and need 
for order and his distress at disorder. A coat was not 
meant to be carried carelessly over the arm ; it was the 

181 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



wrong place for it, and the disorder was more than the 
child could bear. 

I have another instance, an incident that reveals that 
a child of one and a half years can understand a whole 
conversation and the sense of it. Some five people were 
discussing the merits and demerits of a child's story-book. 
They had been discussing for some time, and the con- 
versation ended with the remark : " It all ends happily." 
Immediately the little one, who was in the room, began 
to shout : " Lola, lola ! " The people thought it wanted 
its nurse and was calling her by her name. But no ! It 
became more agitated and cried in distress and rage, not 
yet self-controlled, and then at last it managed to get 
hold of the book and turning to the back cover pointed 
to the picture of the child about whom the story was 
written, and said again : " Lola, lola ! " The adults had 
taken the end of the printed story as the end of the book, 
but for the child the last picture, which was on the back 
cover, was the end, and in that picture the child was cry- 
ing : " how could they say it ended happily ? " It had 
followed the whole conversation, knew it was about that 
book, and had understood what was said and that a 
mistake had been made by these adults. Its understand- 
ing was complete and detailed, but its speech was not 
sufficient. It could not even pronounce the correct word 
for * cries * which is * llora ' in Spanish, so it said ' lola *. 
The one word * lola ', was used to tell these adults : 
44 You are wrong ; it does not end happily : he cries." 

182 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



This illustrates why I say that it is necessary to have 
a special ' school ' for children of the age of one and one 
and a half years. Mothers, and society in general, 
must take special care that the children have frequent 
experiences of the best language. Let the child come 
with us when we visit our friends and also when we 
go to meetings, especially where people speak with 
emphasis and clear enunciation. 



183 



CHAPTER XII 
OBSTACLES AND THEIR CONSEQUENCES 

I NOW wish to deal with certain inner sensitivities, so 
that we may understand the hidden tendencies of the 
child. We might compare this to a sort of psycho- 
analysis of the invisible mind of the child. In Fig. 9. 
I represent by symbols the language of the child, and 
that may clarify the idea. 

For the symbolic representation of the nouns (names 
of things) that children use, I have used a black triangle ; 
for the verbs, a red circle ; and different symbols for other 
parts of speech. These symbols are shown in Fig. 10. 
So if we say that the child uses two to three hundred 
words at a certain age, I represent this by symbols 
in order to give a visual impression of it. It is then 
sufficient to have eyes to see the development of langu- 
age and it does not matter whether we speak English, 
Gujarati, Tamil, Italian or Spanish, because the symbols 
for the parts of speech are the same. 

All the nebulous patches at the left hand side of the 
diagram represent the efforts of the child to speak, his 
first exclamations, interjections, etc. Then we see two 

184 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



sounds come together and syllables are formed, and then 
three sounds together and the first words are spoken. A 
little further to the right of the diagram, we see a group- 
ing of words, some nouns that children use, then two- 
word phrases (a sentence with diffused meaning), just a 
few words to mean quite a lot. Then there is a great 
explosion into words. This is an exact representation of 
the actual number of words that psychologists have found 
children to use. At one side of this picture of the 
explosion we see a patch of words which are nearly all 
nouns, then next to that, different parts of speech in a 
confused combination, but soon after two years the next 
stage is represented, i.e., words in order. There is an 
explosion of sentences. So the first explosion is of words 
and the second explosion is of thoughts. 

There must be a preparation for this. It is hidden, 
a secret, but though it is secret it is not a hypothesis, 
because the results indicate efforts. One can realize the 
great efforts the child has had to make in order to express 
his thoughts. As adults do not always understand what 
the child means, at this stage there is the rage and 
agitation I mentioned before. This agitation forms an 
integral part of the life of children. All the efforts which 
the child will carry out, if not crowned with success, will 
produce agitation. It is a known fact that the deaf and 
dumb are often quarrelsome. The explanation lies in 
their inability to express their thoughts. There is an 
inner wealth and richness which tries to find expression ; 

185 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



it does so in the ordinary child, but amidst great diffi- 
culties. 

There is a period of difficulties which we must take 
into consideration ; difficulties caused by the environment 
and by the child's own limitations. This is the second diffi- 
cult period of adaptation, the first was that of birth when 
the child was suddenly called upon to function for himself, 
whilst his mother had hitherto done it for him. We saw 
then, that unless great care and understanding were shown, 
birth terror affected the child and caused regressions. 
Certain children are stronger than others, certain others 
have a more favourable environment, and these go straight 
to independence, the path of normal development, with- 
out regressions. A parallel situation is seen at this period. 
The conquest of language is a laborious conquest towards 
a greater independence, and it ends in the freedom of 
language, but there are parallel dangers of regression too. 

We must also remember another characteristic of 
this creative period, viz., every impression and the result of 
it has a tendency to remain permanently registered. This 
is true for the sounds and for grammar. Children taking 
in knowledge now retain it for the rest of their life ; so 
also if there are obstacles at this period their effect 
will remain permanently. This is the characteristic of 
every epoch of creation. A struggle, fright or other 
obstacles, may produce effects that remain for the rest of 
life, since the reactions to those obstacles are absorbed like 
everything else in development. (In the same way if there 

186 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



is a spot of light on the photographic film we mentioned 
above, all the prints of that film will show that spot.) 
In this epoch therefore we have not only a development 
of the character, but also a development of certain 
deviated psychic characteristics which children will mani- 
fest as they grow older. Knowledge of the mother- 
tongue and the faculty of walking are acquired at this 
epoch of the child's life, during the creative period which 
goes beyond the age of two and a half years, but 
is then less strong. The acquisition of these two faculties 
takes place now, but their growth and development 
continue afterwards. So also it is with any defects and 
obstacles acquired now ; they remain, and grow ; and 
so many defects that adult people present are attributed 
to this distant epoch of their life. 

The difficulties that mar normal development are 
included in the term repression, (this term is particularly 
used in psycho-analysis, but also in psychology generally). 
These repressions, now known to the general public, 
refer to this age in childhood. Examples of these repres- 
sions may be given in connection with language itself, 
though there are many more having a relationship with 
other human activities. The mass of words that explodes 
must have/reecfom of emission. Also when the explosion 
of sentences occurs and a child gives regular form to his 
thoughts there must be freedom of expression. Great 
emphasis is laid on freedom of expression, because it is 
not only connected with the immediate present of the 

187 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



developing mechanism, but also with the future life of the 
individual. There have been certain cases where, at the 
age when the explosion should take place, nothing 
occurred ; at more than three or three and a half years 
the child still used only the few words of a much earlier 
age and appeared as a dumb child, although his organs 
of speech were perfectly normal. This is called * psychic 
mutism * and it has a purely psychological cause, it is a 
psychic illness. This is the epoch of the origin of psychic 
illnesses and psycho-analysis (which is really a branch of 
medicine) studies them. Sometimes psychic mutism dis- 
appears suddenly like a miracle ; a child speaks suddenly, 
well and completely, with a full grasp of grammar, as he 
is already prepared inwardly, only the expression had 
been hindered by some obstacle. We have had children 
in our schools of three and four years of age who had 
never spoken and then suddenly spoke. They had never 
even spoken the words of the two-year old, they were 
absolutely dumb and then suddenly they spoke. By 
allowing them free activity and a stimulating environ- 
ment, they suddenly manifested this power. Why does 
this happen ? Because either a great shock or persistent 
opposition has impeded the child hitherto from giving 
forth the wealth of his language. 

There are adult people also who find difficulty in 
speaking ; they have to make a great effort and they 
look as if they were not sure what to say, there is a 
hesitation. There are different reasons for this hesitation : 

188 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



(a) they do not have the courage to speak, 

(b) they do not have the courage to pronounce 

the words, 

(c) they have a difficulty in using sentences, 

(c/) they speak more slowly than a normal person 

and say " er, um, ah " etc. 

They find a difficulty in themselves which is fatal 
and remains throughout life ; it represents a state of 
permanent inferiority in the person. 

There are also psychic impediments which prevent 
an adult speaker from articulating words clearly ; cases 
of stuttering and stammering. This is a defect that has 
had birth during the period when the mechanisms them- 
selves were being organized. So there are different 
epochs of acquisition and corresponding regressions may 
occur at those epochs : 

First period : Mechanism of words is acquired, 

Corresponding regression stammer- 
ing 
Second period : Mechanism of sentence (expression 

of thought) is acquired, 
Corresponding regression hesitation 

in the formulation of thoughts. 

These regressions are related to the sensitivity of the 
child ; as he is sensitive to receive, in order to produce, 
so also he is sensitive to obstacles that are too strong 
for him. The results of this thwarted sensitivity then 
remain as a defect for the rest of life. It is because this 

189 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



sensitivity of the child is greater than anything we can 
imagine that these things take place. 

Let us then study these obstacles. It is an adult 
who is responsible for these anomalies, an adult who 
acts too violently in his dealings with the child. Non- 
violence must be exaggerated, because what may not 
be violence for the adult is often violence for the child. 
We do not realize when we are violent to children, so we 
must study ourselves. The preparation for education is 
a study of oneself ; and the preparation of a teacher 
who is to help life is more than a mere intellectual 
preparation, it is a preparation of character, a spiritual 
preparation. 

The sensitivity of the child presents various aspects, 
but some things are common to all. One is a sensitivity 
to shocks at this period. Another common feature is 
sensitivity to the calm but cold, determined effort of the 
adult to prevent outer manifestations of children : " You 
mustn't do this ! " " It is not done ". Those who have 
the good fortune (!) to have what is called a well-trained 
nurse for their children should especially beware of this 
tendency in her ; she very often has it. That is why 
this type of impediment is so frequent among aristocrats, 
they do not lack physical courage, but when they speak 
they stutter and stammer. I wish to stress this question 
of violence. It must be understood from the child's 
point of view, and we must be very delicate in our 
behaviour. It has happened to me to be violent to children 

190 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



and I have given an example in one of my books. 1 A 
child put his pair of outdoor shoes on the nice silk cover- 
let of his bed. I removed them very determinedly, put them 
on the floor and brushed the coverlet vigorously with my 
hand, to demonstrate that it was not the place for shoes. 
For two or three months after that, whenever the child 
saw a pair of shoes, he changed their position and then 
looked round for some silk coverlet or cushion to clean. 
The answer of the child to my too vigorous (violent) 
lesson, was not a crude, rebellious spirit. He did not 
say : " Do not talk, I will put my shoes where I like ! ", 
but an abnormal development. The child is so often 
non-violent in his reactions. 1 wish he were not, rebellion 
would be better than taking the faulty path to anomalies. 
The child with tantrums has found out how to defend 
himself and may arrive at normal development, but when 
a child responds by changing his character, this affects his 
whole life. Yet people take no notice of this, they only 
worry about tantrums ! 

There is another fact : certain senseless fears and 
4 nervous ' habits which we find in adults can be traced 
to violence to the child's sensitivity. Some of ; the sense- 
less fears concern animals, cats and hens ; some concern 
remaining in a room with the doors closed, etc. No 
reasoning, no persuasion can help the victims of these 
fears. I once had a colleague, a Professor of Pedagogy 
in a University of Italy. She was forty-five years old and 

1 CL The Secret of Childhood. 

191 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



she came to me one day and said : " You are a doctor 
and will understand. Every time I see a hen I am 
terribly frightened, I have to make an effort not to shriek. 
I tell nobody ; they would laugh at me/' Perhaps, as a 
tiny girl of two and a half years, she went to fondle a 
fluffy baby-chick and met the sudden agitated frenzy of 
the watchful mother-hen. The feathered fury of that hen 
gave her a shock which remained. These kinds of un- 
reasonable fears are included under the name phobias ; 
some are so common that they have special names such 
as claustrophobia (the fear of closed doors, of a confined 
space). Many more examples could be given if we 
entered the field of medicine. 1 mention them to illustrate 
the mental form of children of this age. 

Our action is not reflected merely in a sweet or 
naughty child, but in the adult who will result from this 
child. Therefore, I repeat, this epoch of the child's life is 
very important for the rest of his life and for humanity ; 
it must be studied. This study is very important, but it 
hardly exists as yet. It is necessary to embark on this 
path, which is a path of discovery. It is necessary to try 
and penetrate into the mind of the child, as the psycho- 
analyst penetrates into the sub-conscious of the adult. 
It is difficult because we often do not understand their 
language, or if we do, we don't understand the meaning 
they give to the words they use. Sometimes it is 
necessary also to know the rest of the life of the child ; it 
is a sort of research work or detective work, but a 

192 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



research work of great utility because through it we 
bring peace to this difficult period. We need a translator, 
an interpreter of the child and his language, and this 
interpretation will allow us to understand the child's 
state of mind. I myself have worked in this sense and 
tried to become the interpreter of the child and it has 
been curious to see how the children run to this inter- 
preter, because they realize there is someone who can 
help them. This eagerness of the child is something 
entirely different from the affection of the child who is 
petted or caressed. The interpreter is to the child a great 
hope, someone who will open to him the path of dis- 
covery when the world had already closed its doors. 
This helper is taken into the closest relationship, a rela- 
tionship that is more than affection because help is given, 
not merely consolation. 

In a house where I was living and working I used 
to rise early in the morning, before the rest of the 
family, and work. One day a little child of the family, 
not more than one and a half years old, came in at 
this early hour. I thought he had got up because 
he was hungry and wanted food, so I said : " What 
would you like ? " He said : " I want worms ". I was 
startled and said : " Worms ? Worms ? " The child 
realized I did not understand, but was trying to do so, so 
he gave me some more help and added : " Egg." I 
thought : " This can't be a breakfast that he wants ; 
what does he want ? " Then he added another word : 

193 

13 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



" Nena, egg, worms ". Light came to my mind. I remem- 
bered a fact (and that is why I say you must know 
something of the circumstances of the child's life). The 
previous day his little sister, Nena, was filling up the oval 
inset, drawing with coloured pencils. This little one had 
wanted the pencils and the sister had defended herself 
and told him to go away. Now, (see the mind of the 
child), he did not oppose his sister, but waited for his 
chance, and with what patience and determination. I 
gave him the pencil and the inset. There was a great 
light on the face of the child, but he could not make the 
4 egg \ so I had to make it for him. Then after I had 
made the oval, he filled it up with wavy lines. His 
sister had used the usual straight lines, but he thought he 
knew something better, so he made wavy lines, ' worms '. 
He had waited till he knew everyone was asleep but his 
interpreter, then he came to her for he felt she would 
help him. It is not tantrums, violent reactions, but pati- 
ence that is the real characteristic of this age in all 
children ; patience to wait for their opportunity. Violent 
reactions or tantrums express a state of exasperation, 
when he cannot attain his expression. 

This interpreter of words can give light in order to 
penetrate into the mind of the child. From the example 
given one can see that the little child tries to carry out 
the activities followed by older children. If one intro- 
duces the child of three years to an activity, the child of 
one and a half also wants to do it. Probably he will be 

194 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



impeded and stopped from doing it, but he will try, A 
small child in our house wanted to copy his sister of 
three, who was learning her first steps in dancing. The 
teacher had wanted to know how to teach so young a 
child to dance ballet, etc. We said : " Never mind, you 
try it ; what does it matter whether she learns or not ; 
you will receive your salary." Knowing that we were 
working to help the child, she agreed to try. Immedi- 
ately the one and a half year old, said : " Me, too ! " 
The teacher said : " Absolutely impossible ", and when 
we said : " Try it ", she said it was derogatory to her 
dignity as a teacher of ballet to teach a baby of one and 
a half years. We suggested she put her dignity in her 
pocket, so at last she came to the house, somewhat 
disgruntled, threw her hat on the sofa and began to play 
a march. The little one was immediately furious, and 
shrieked and would not move. The teacher said : " You 
see, you can't teach one so small ". But the child was 
not distressed about the dancing ; he was having a dis- 
cussion with the hat, addressing it with fury. He did 
not use the name of the hat itself, nor that of the teacher ; 
he just used two words which he repeated with concen- 
trated fury : " Hat-rack ! Hall ! " meaning : " This hat 
must not be here on the sofa, but on the hat-rack in the 
hall ! " He had forgotten the dance and the pleasures of 
life, he had his duty to perform of changing disorder into 
order before anything else. When the hat was on the 
hat-rack, his fury went and he was ready to dance. Till 

195 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



then the fundamental need for order erased everything 
else. So this study allows us to penetrate into the mind 
of the child to a depth where psychologists generally do 
not go. The patience of the child in my first example 
and the passion for order in the second make a picture 
which it is difficult for us to realize and understand. If 
we take these pictures, together with that which I men- 
tioned above of the child who understood a whole con- 
versation and disagreed with the final opinion of the 
happy ending to the story, we see that there are not 
only the facts represented on figure 9, but a whole men- 
tal life, a whole psychic picture usually hidden from us 
by our own blindness. 

Every discovery of the mind of the child at this age 
must be made known, and not as knowledge to be gained 
for ourselves, as the knowledge of Sanskrit for instance, 
but in order to help the child to adapt himself to the 
environment around him. We must be a help to life all 
the time, even if it means we have to spend great energy 
as an interpreter. The task of the teacher of small 
children is very noble. It belongs to a science that will 
develop in the future, and will help mental development 
and the growth of character. Above all we must carry 
it out so that children may avoid those defects that make 
certain individuals inferior to others. We must remember, 
if nothing else, that we must realize : 

1 . That education in the first two years of life is 
important to the whole life. 

196 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



2, That the child is endowed with great intelligence 

which we cannot see. 

3. That he has an extreme sensitivity which may 

(under any violence) bring forth, not re-action 
only, but defects incorporated in his per- 
sonality. 



197 



CHAPTER XIII 
MOVEMENT AND TOTAL DEVELOPMENT 

IT is necessary to consider movement from a new point 
of view. Because of some misunderstanding, movement 
is considered less noble than it is, especially the move- 
ment of the child. In education as a whole movement 
is sadly neglected and all importance is given to the 
brain. Only physical education which up till recently 
held a very inferior place considers movement, although 
disconnected from the intelligence. 

Let us consider the organization of the nervous 
system in all its complexity. First of all we have the 
brain itself ; then the senses which take the images 
which are to be passed to the brain and thirdly we have 
the nerves. But what is the aim of the nerves and 
where do they go ? Their purpose is to give energy, 
movement to the muscles (the flesh). This complex 
organism, therefore, consists of three parts : (1) the brain 
(the centre) ; (2) the senses and (3) the muscles. Move- 
ment is the conclusion and the purpose of the nervous 
system. Without movement we cannot speak of an 
individual at all. If we think of a great philosopher he 
speaks of his meditations or writes of them, and so must 

19S 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



use his muscles. If he does nothing with his meditations, 
of what use are they ? Without the muscles, the ex- 
pression of his thoughts would not exist. 

If we turn to animals, their behaviour is only ex- 
pressed through movement. Therefore, also if we wish 
to consider the behaviour of man, we must take man's 
movements into consideration. The muscles are part 
of the nervous system. 

The nervous system in all its parts puts man into 
relationship with his environment ; that is why it is also 
called the System of Relation. It puts man into relation- 
ship with the inanimate and animate world and therefore 
with other individuals ; without it there would be no 
relationship between an individual and his environment. 

The other organized systems of the body are com- 
paratively selfish in their aims, because they are ex- 
clusively at the service of the body of the individual and 
of nothing else. They merely allow one to live, or to 
vegetate as we say ; hence they are called the systems 
and organs of the vegetative life. So there is this 
difference : 

The vegetative systems serve only to help the indi- 
vidual in growing and vegetating, 

The nervous system serves to put the individual in 
relation with other individuals, it is a sort of 
Minister of Foreign Affairs. 

The vegetative systems help man to enjoy the 
maximum comfort and purity of body and health ; hence 

199 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



we go to places with cool air, good hotels, etc. If we 
consider the nervous system from a similar point of 
view, we shall make a mistake ; even if we think it is 
only to give us the most beautiful impressions and 
purity of thought and continuous uplift to loftier levels. 
It is nice to be pure in this field also, but it is a mistake 
to lower the nervous system to the level of merely 
vegetative life. If this criterion of mere purity and uplift 
of the individual is upheld, the individual is led to spiritual 
selfishness. It is the greatest mistake one can make. 
The behaviour of animals does not tend merely to be 
beautiful and graceful in movement ; it has a purpose 
deeper than that. So has man a purpose which is not 
just to be purer and finer than others. Of course, man 
can and should be beautiful and take only the finest 
things on the loftiest levels, but if that is his only aim, 
his life would be useless. What would be the use of 
this mass of brain then, or of these muscles ? 

There is nothing in this world which does not form 
part of a universal economy ; and if we have spiritual 
richness, aesthetic greatness, it is not for ourselves, it 
is part of the spiritual, universal economy and must be 
used for the universe. The spiritual powers are wealth, 
but not personal wealth ; they must be put into circula- 
tion for the rest to enjoy ; they must be expressed, made 
use of, and in this way complete the cycle of relationship. 
If I content myself to become pure so that I may go to 
heaven, I might as well die. I should have left aside the 

200 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



greatest part of my life and the greatest part of the aim of 
my life. If one should believe in reincarnation and say : 
44 I shall have a better life next time if I live well now ", 
this is selfish. We have reduced the spiritual to the 
vegetative level. We are always thinking of ourselves, of 
ourselves in eternity. We are egotists for eternity. The 
other point of view must be taken into consideration, not 
only in the practice of life, but also in education. There 
must be completeness of function. Nature has endowed 
us with functions ; therefore it is necessary that they be 
exercised. 

Let us make a comparison. If we have lungs, a 
stomach, a heart, it is necessary that these function in 
order to have health. Why not apply the same rule to 
the nervous system ? If we have a brain, senses and 
organs of movement, they must function, and if we do 
not exercise every part we cannot even understand them 
with certainty. Even if we wish to uplift ourselves, make 
our brains finer for instance, we cannot do so unless we 
use all the parts. Perhaps movement is the last part that 
will complete the cycle. In other words, we can obtain 
spiritual uplift through action. This is the point of view 
from which to consider movement ; it is part of the 
nervous system and cannot be discarded. The nervous 
system is one, a unity, though it has three parts. Being a 
unity, it must be exercised in its totality to become better. 

One of the mistakes of modern times is to consider 
movement separately from the higher functions. People 

201 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



think that the muscles are merely there and have to be 
used in order to keep better bodily health. In order to 
keep fit or as recreation we play tennis. If we do that 
we can breathe more deeply. What an idea ! Or we go 
for a walk to ensure better digestion and sleep, forsooth ! 
This mistake is penetrating education. This is, physio- 
logically speaking, as though a great prince had been 
made use of to serve a shepherd. This great prince 
the muscular system has become a handle to turn in 
order to stimulate the vegetative system. This is the great 
mistake. It leads to separation : physical life is put on 
one side and mental life on the other. The result is that, 
since the child must develop physically as well as mental- 
ly, we must include physical exercise, games, etc. What 
has mental life to do with physical pastimes ? Nothing. 
Yet we cannot separate two things that nature has put 
together. If we consider physical life on one side and 
mental life on the other, we break the cycle of relation, 
and the actions of man remain separated from the brain. 
The motor actions of man are used to aid better eating 
and breathing, whereas the real purpose is that move- 
ment be the servant of the whole life and of the spiritual, 
universal economy of the world. 

The motor actions of man must be co-ordinated to 
the centre the brain and put in their right place ; this is 
fundamental. Mind and activity are two parts of the 
same cycle and, moreover, movement is the expression 
of the superior part. Otherwise we make man a mass of 

202 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



muscles, but without a brain. Something is out of place as 
with a broken bone and the limb does not serve any 
more. Man then develops his vegetative life and the 
relation between the motor part and the brain is left out. 
There is a self-determination of the brain apart from 
movement and muscles. This is not independence ; it is 
to break something that nature in her wisdom has put 
together. If mental development is spoken of, people say : 
" Movement > There is no need for movement ; we are 
talking about mental growth ! " When they think of 
mental improvement they imagine all are sitting down, 
moving nothing. But mental development must be con- 
nected with movement and is dependent on it. This is the 
new idea that must enter educational theory and practice. 

Up to the present most educationists have considered 
movement and muscles as a help to breathing, improving 
the circulation, etc., or, if movement is indulged in, it is to 
acquire greater muscular strength. It remains a part of 
physical education only. What is the individual supposed 
to do with it ? 

Our new conception stresses the importance of 
movement as a help to the development of the brain, 
once it is placed in relation to the centre. Mental 
development and even spiritual development can and 
must be helped by movement. Without movement there 
is no progress and no health (mentally speaking). This 
is a fundamental fact which must be taken into con- 
sideration. 

203 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



I might be asked to demonstrate these facts, but they 
are not ideas, nor even personal experiences. They are 
demonstrated whenever we observe nature, her facts, 
and the precision given to this observation conies from 
watching the development of the child. Watching him, 
one sees that he develops his mind by using his move- 
ments. The development of language, for instance, 
shows an improvement of understanding accompanied 
by an ever extending use of the muscles of production. 
Besides this and other examples the child, scientifically 
observed, shows that he develops his intelligence general- 
ly through movement. Observations made all over the 
world have shown that the child demonstrates that 
movement helps psychic development, that development 
expresses itself in its turn by further movement and 
action. So it is a cycle, because both psyche and move- 
ment belong to the same unity. The senses also help. 
Without opportunity for sensorial activity the child is less 
intelligent. That is why the examination of the develop- 
ment of the small child is of such great aid to the whole of 
education. 

Now muscles (flesh), the activity of which is directed 
by the brain, are called voluntary muscles ; that means 
that they are moved by the will of the individual. The will 
is one of the greatest expressions of the psyche. Without 
that energy psychic life does not exist. Therefore, since 
the voluntary muscles are the muscles depending on the 
will, they are a psychic organ. 

204 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



The muscles are the main part of the body. Take 
a mammal and take off its flesh, what is left ? Skeleton, 
bones. What is their purpose ? To support the muscles, 
so they also belong to this section. Take them away 
then. What is left ? Very little. The main part which 
has been developed by nature has been taken away. 
And if we look at someone and say how beautiful he 
is, or the opposite, the form which we contemplate is given 
by muscles attached to the bones. All animals endowed 
with an inner skeleton owe their form to voluntary 
muscles and when we see a camel in proud disdain or a 
lady walking gracefully or a child playing, we see merely 
form given to each by its own flesh (muscles). These 
muscles are interesting to study in form and number. 
They are in great quantity. People who study medicine 
say that students must forget them seven times before 
they remember them and even then they forget ! Some 
are delicate, some bulky, some short, some long, they 
have different functions. A curious fact is that if one 
muscle functions in one direction, there is always another 
functioning in the opposite direction, and the more vigor- 
ous and refined this play of opposite forces, the more 
refined the movement resulting therefrom. The exercise 
one takes to attain more harmonious movement is an 
exercise to put more harmony in the opposition. So what 
is important is not agreement, but opposition in agreement. 

The child or person is not conscious of this oppo- 
sition, but nevertheless it is the way movement takes 

205 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



place. In animals the perfection of movement is given 
by nature. The gracefulness of the tiger's pounce or the 
running up and down of the squirrel is due to a wealth 
of opposition put into play to attain that harmony, like a 
complicated piece of machinery working well, like a 
watch with wheels going in opposite directions ; when 
the whole mechanism runs smoothly, we have the correct 
time. So the mechanism of movement is very compli- 
cated and more refined then one could imagine. In man 
this mechanism is not pre-established before birth and so 
it must be created, achieved through practical experiences 
on the environment. The number of muscles in man is 
so great that he can achieve any movement, so we do 
not speak of exercise of movement, but of co-ordination 
of movement. This co-ordination is not given, it has to 
be created and achieved by the psyche. In other words 
the child creates his own movements and, having done so, 
perfects them. The child has a creative part in this 
work and then achieves a development of what he has 
created through a series of exercises. 

It is really marvellous that man's movements 
are not limited and fixed, but that he can control 
them. Some animals have a characteristic ability to climb 
or to run ; these are not man's characteristic movements, 
but he can do both very well. Certain animals have a 
characteristic ability to burrow in the earth ; it is not a 
characteristic of man, yet he can go deeper than any of 
them. So his characteristic is that he can do all movements 

206 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



and extend them further than any animal ; he can make 
some of them his own. So we might say that his 
characteristic is universal versatility, but there is one con- 
dition : he must construct them himself. He must work 
and create by will, and repeat the exercises for co- 
ordination sub-consciously as to their purpose, but volun- 
tarily as to his initiative. So he can conquer all. As 
a matter of fact, however, no individual conquers all his 
muscles, but all are there. Man is like very wealthy 
people, he is so wealthy that he can only use part of his 
wealth ; he chooses which part. If a man is a professional 
gymnast, it is not that special muscular ability was given 
to him ; nor is a dancer born with certain refined muscles 
for dancing ; he or she develops them by will. Anyone, 
no matter what he wants to do, is endowed by nature 
with such a wealth of muscles that he can find among 
them what he needs, and his psyche can direct and 
create any development. Nothing is established, but 
everything is possible, provided proper direction is given 
by the individual psyche. 

It is not in man to do the same standardized thing 
as in animals of the same species. Even if the same 
thing is done by some, it is done in a different manner. 
We all write, but each has his own handwriting. Each 
has his own path always. 

We see in movement as it is developed the work of 
the individual, and the work of the individual is express- 
ing his psychic life ; it is the psychic life itself. It has 

207 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



at its disposal a great treasure of movements, so move- 
ment is developed in service of the central part, i.e. of the 
psychic life. If man does not develop all his muscles, 
even of those he does develop some are only for 
rough work. So man's psychic life is limited in as much 
as his muscles only develop for rough action, not for 
refined action. It is limited also by the type of work 
that is accessible or chosen. The psychic life of those 
who do no work is in great danger. We might say that 
though all muscles cannot be put in motion, it is danger- 
ous for the psychic life to go below a certain number. If 
the number of muscles in use is not sufficient, then there 
is a weakness of the whole life. That is why gymnastics, 
games, etc., were introduced in education ; too many 
muscles were being left aside. 

The psychic life must use more muscles or else we 
also shall have to follow the double path of ordinary 
education alternating physical and mental activities. The 
purpose in using these muscles is not to learn certain 
things. Some forms of * modern * education develop 
movement just because there is a desire to serve a cer- 
tain direct purpose in social life ; e.g. one child must 
write well because he is going to be a teacher and 
another is going to be coalheaver so he must shovel well. 
This narrow and direct training does not serve the 
purpose or aim of movement. Our purpose must be that 
man develop the co-ordination of movements necessary 
for his psychic life ; to enrich the practical and executive 

208 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



side of psychic life. Otherwise the brain develops apart 
from realization through movement and cannot fulfil its 
directive function regarding movement and that brings only 
revolution and disaster in the world. Movement then 
works by itself, undirected by the psyche, and so brings 
destruction. As movement is so necessary to the human 
life of relations with the environment and other men, it 
is on this level that movement must be developed, in 
service of the whole. It is not work to be first in 
one's art or profession. 

The principle and idea today are too much directed 
towards self- perfection, se//-realization. If we understand 
the real aim of movement this self-centralization cannot 
exist ; it must expand into the immensity of space. We 
must, in short, keep in mind what might be called the 
4 philosophy of movement '. Movement is what distinguish- 
es life from inanimate things. Life, however, does not 
move in a haphazard fashion, it moves with a purpose 
and according to laws. In order to realize this fact let 
us just imagine what the world would be like if it were 
quiet, without movement. Imagine what it would be like 
if all the plants stopped living, if the movement within 
the plant ceased. There would be no more fruits, nor 
flowers. The percentage of poisonous gas in the air 
would increase and cause disaster. If all movement 
stopped, if the birds remained motionless on the trees, or 
if insects fluttered to the ground and remained still, if the 
wild beasts of prey did no longer move through the 

209 

14 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



jungles, or the fish stopped swimming in the oceans, 
what a terrible world it would be ! 

Immobilization is impossible, the world would become 
a chaos if movement ceased or if living beings moved 
without purpose. Nature gives a useful purpose to each 
living being. Each individual has its own characteristic 
movements with its own fixed purpose. The creation of 
the world is a harmonious co-ordination of all these 
activities with a set purpose. 

And imagine what a society of men would be like 
if it were without movement ! The movement of humanity 
shows the intelligence of a personality. Think what 
would happen if all men stopped moving for even one 
week only. Everyone would die. Work and movement 
are one, the question of movement is a social question. 
It is not a question concerning individual gymnastics. If 
the whole society of men all over the world did nothing 
but performing some physical jerks, humanity would die 
in a short time. All its energies would be consumed for 
nothing. 

Society is formed by a complexity of individuals, 
each of whom moves differently from the other, following 
his own individual purpose. The individual moves in 
order to carry out this purpose. The basis of society is 
formed by movement with a useful aim. When we 
speak about * behaviour ', the behaviour of men and 
animals, we refer to their purposeful movements. This 
behaviour is the centre of their practical life. It is not 

210 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



confined to the practical life in a house, cleaning the 
rooms, washing clothes, etc. This is important of course, 
but everyone in the world must move with a larger pur- 
pose, everyone must work not for himself alone, but also 
for others. It is strange that man's work must also be 
work in the service of others. If this were not so, his 
work would have no more meaning than gymnastic exer- 
cise. All work is done for others as well. Dancing is 
perhaps one of the most individual movements, but even 
dancing would be pointless without an audience, without 
a social or transcendental aim. The dancers who perfect 
their movements with so much trouble and fatigue, dance 
for others. Tailors who spend their lives sewing, could 
not possibly wear all the clothes they make. Yet tailor- 
ing, like gymnastics, requires many trained movements. 

If we have a vision of the cosmic plan in which 
every form of life in the world is based on purposeful 
movements, having their purpose not in themselves alone, 
we shall be able to understand and to direct the children's 
work better. 



211 



CHAPTER XIV 
INTELLIGENCE AND THE HAND 

THE study of the mechanical development of movement 
is considered to be very important, because it is a com- 
plicated machine, each part of which is of great value. 
That is why the movement of small children has been 
studied with great attention and as nothing is hidden, 
but all is manifested outwardly, it can be very clearly 
followed. 

In figure 12, the development of movement is shown 
by the two lines with various triangles standing on it. 
These lines are guides to different forms of movement, the 
blue triangles mark every six months and the red-topped 
ones every twelve-months. The lower line represents the 
development of the hand and the upper line represents 
the development of equilibrium and of walking, therefore 
the diagram represents the development of the four limbs, 
two by two. 

In all animals the four limbs develop in movement 
together, but in man the one pair of limbs develops differ- 
ently from the other pair. This clearly shows that their 
function is different. The function of the legs is quite 
different from the function of the arms. Another thing 

212 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



which stands out is that the development of walking and 
equilibrium is so fixed in all men that one might call it a 
biological fact. We might say that after birth man will 
walk and all men will do exactly the same thing with 
their feet, but we do not know what the individual man 
will do with his hands. We do not know what parti- 
cular activity of the hands is possible or has been 
possible in the past ; their function is not fixed. So the 
types of movement have a different meaning when con- 
sidering hands or feet. 

It is certain that the function of the feet is biological, 
yet it is connected with an inner development in the 
brain. At the same time only man walks on two limbs, all 
mammals walk on four. Once a man achieves the art of 
walking on two legs he continues to walk on two legs 
only and to keep the difficult state of erect equilibrium 
constantly. This equilibrium is difficult to attain, it is a 
real conquest. It demands that man put his whole foot 
on the ground, whereas most animals walk on tiptoe, as 
a small resting place is sufficient when using four legs. 
The foot used for walking can be studied from a phy- 
siological, biological and anatomical point of view ; it has 
connections with all of them. 

If the hand does not have this biological guide, because 
actions are not fixed, then with what is it connected ? If 
not connected with biology and physiology, it must have 
a psychological connection. The hand then depends on the 
psyche for development, and not only on the psyche of 

213 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



an individual ego, but also on the psychic life of different 
epochs. We see that the development of the hand is con- 
nected with the development of the intelligence in man and r 
if we look at history, it is connected with the development 
of civilization. We might say that, when man thinks, he 
thinks and acts with his hands and almost as soon as 
man appeared on the earth, he left traces of work done 
by his hands. In great civilizations of past ages there 
are always samples of his handiwork. In India we can 
find work so fine that it is almost impossible to imitate 
it ; and in Ancient Egypt there are also traces of very 
fine delicate work. If the civilization was of a less 
refined type, then the handiwork remaining is also of a 
rougher type. 

The development of the hand therefore goes side 
by side with the development of the intelligence. Cer- 
tainly the refined type of handiwork needed the attention 
and guidance of the intelligence to carry it out. In the 
Middle Ages in Europe there was an epoch of great 
intellectual awakening and at the same time they covered 
with beautiful illuminations the writing that conveyed the 
new thoughts. Even the life of the spirit, which seems 
so far from the earth and the things of the earth, was 
nevertheless affected, for we see the result in the temples 
where the people worshipped, and this is to be found 
wherever there is spiritual life. 

St. Francis of Assisi whose spirit was perhaps 
the simplest and purest once said : " You see these 

214 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



mountains ; these are our temples and from these we 
must seek inspiration." Yet when once asked to build a 
church he and his spiritual brethren being poor used 
the rough stones that were available. They all carried 
the stones to build the chapel and why > Because if 
there is a free spirit it needs to be materialized in some 
kind of work and the hands must come into use. Every- 
where are the traces of the hand of man, and in these 
traces we can read the spirit of man and the thought 
of his time. 

If we talk of Christianity, it may be difficult to make 
its influence demonstrable, but when we see countries 
covered with churches, with works of art and beautiful 
cloth of all kinds, with hospitals and educational insti- 
tutions, we can realize its spiritual and cultural effect. 

And if we look into the dim past, of which not even 
bones are left, what gives us knowledge of the peoples 
and their times ? Their works of art. When we look 
into these prehistoric times, we see there the rougher 
sort of civilization based on strength : the statues and 
works of art are formed from huge masses of stones and 
we wonder how they got there. Elsewhere we see finer 
works of art and we say : " Here was a more refined 
race ". How do we know ? No man of them is left, 
but the works of man tell us. So that we can see that 
the hand has followed the intelligence, spirit and emotions, 
and touching all these, has left us the traces of man. 
Even if we do not take the psychological point of view, 

215 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



we still see that all changes in man's environment have 
been made by the hand of man. Really, it would se$m 
that the purpose of having intelligence was almost to have 
hands, because if the intelligence of man had merely built 
up his spoken language in order to communicate with 
others, nothing would have been left behind when that 
race of men died out. They would have stated their 
wisdom by mere breath. It is because the hands have 
accompanied the intelligence that civilization has been 
built up, therefore we can well say that the h and is the 
organ of that immense treasure given to man. 

The hands therefore are connected with psychic life. 
In fact those who study the hand show that there is an 
intuition that the history of man is printed in the hand, 
that it is a psychic organ. Therefore the study of the 
psychic development of the child must be closely linked 
up with the study of the development of the hand. The 
child has clearly shown that his development is connected 
with the hand which reveals this psychic urge. We can 
express it this way : the intelligence of the child will 
reach a certain level without the use of the hand ; with 
the hands it reaches a still higher level, and the child who 
has used his hands has a stronger character. So we see 
that even the development of character, which seems so 
completely within the psychic field, remains rudimentary, 
if it has no opportunity of practising on the environment 
(which means through the hand). The child has shown 
us most clearly that if (through circumstances in the 

216 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



environment) he cannot use his hands, his character 
remains on a very low level, incapable of obedience, of 
initiative, lazy and sad, whereas the child who has been 
able to work with his hands shows also a development 
and firmness of character. This reminds us of an inter- 
esting point in the Egyptian civilization when work with 
the hand was present everywhere, in the fields of art, of 
construction, of religion ; if we read the inscriptions on the 
burial places of that time the highest praise accorded to 
any man was that he was a person of character. The 
development of character was important to them and 
they were people of great works carried out by the hand. 
This is one more instance of the fact that the movement 
of the hand follows through history the development of 
character and civilization. It shows how the hand is 
connected with the individuality. And if we examine 
how all these people walked, we always find of course 
that they walked on two legs, erect and with equilibrium. 
Probably they danced and ran a little differently, but 
they always used two legs for ordinary locomotion. 

It is therefore clear that the development of move- 
ment is twofold ; one part is biological and the other, 
though using the muscles, is nevertheless connected with 
the inner life. If we study the child we consequently study 
two developments : the development of the hand apart 
from that of equilibrium and walking. In figure 12 we 
see that only at one and a half years any connection 
between the two takes place. It is when the child wants 

217 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



to transport heavy things that his legs must help him, 
otherwise there is no connection. These feet that are 
able to walk and transport him to various parts of the 
earth, take him there so that he can work with his hands, 
A man walks and walks and gradually covers the face 
of the earth 9 and through this invasion by walking he lives 
and dies, but he leaves behind him the trace of his 
passage in the work of his hands. 

When we studied language we saw that speech 
is connected especially with hearing, whereas in the 
development of movement we see this is connected with 
sight ; first of all because we must have eyes to see 
where to put our feet, and when we work with our hands 
we must see what we do. These are the two senses 
specially connected with development : hearing and 
sight. In the development of children first of all there is 
observation of the environment, because he must know 
the environment in which he has to move. This obser- 
vation is carried out before he can move and then he 
orients himself in it ; so the orientation in the environment 
and movement are both connected with psychic develop- 
ment. That is why the new-born babe is immobile at 
first, when he moves he follows the guide of his psyche* 

The first development in movement is that of grasp- 
ing or prehension ; as soon as the hand grasps something 
the consciousness is called to this hand which has been 
able to do so. Prehension is unconscious at first and 
then conscious. The hand calls for the attention of 

218 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



consciousness whereas the feet do nothing of the sort. 
When the consciousness is called to this fact, prehension 
is developed, so that what was instinctive prehension be- 
comes intentional prehension, and it is at six months that 
the child shows this development. At ten months 
observation of the environment has awakened the 
interest of the child and he wants to catch hold of it ; 
intentional prehension is accompanied by desire and 
mere prehension ceases. After this begins the exercise 
of the hand, it begins to change the places of objects* 
There is a vision of the environment, there is a desire 
and the hand begins to do something in the environment. 
Before one year of age the child carries out many actions 
with his hand that are ever so many types of work. He 
opens and closes doors, drawers, puts stoppers in bottles, 
puts objects on one side and then puts them back, 
etc* It is through these exercises that the child acquires 
ability. 

What has happened to the other pair of limbs > 
Neither intelligence nor consciousness has been called 
forth. There is something anatomical happening how- 
ever : the rapid development of the cerebellum, the 
director of equilibrium. It is as though a bell rang and 
called an inert body to get up and attain equilibrium. 
The environment has nothing to do with it ; the cere- 
bellum orders it and the child, with effort and help, sits 
up and then gets up by itself. Psychologists say, man 
gets up in four periods. Then the baby turns on his 

219 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



tummy and walks on four limbs, and if, during this time 
when he begins crawling, you give him two fingers, he 
will make the feet go one in front of the other, but on 
his toes. Before this, even with the help of two fingers, 
he would not walk, the cerebellum and not the environ- 
ment is responsible. 

When at last he stands by himself, he rests his whole 
foot on the ground ; he has attained the normal erect 
position of man and can walk if he holds on to something 
(mother's skirt). After a little while he can walk alone. 
The tendency now is to say : " Goodbye ; I have my 
two legs, and off I go " ! Another stage of independence 
is attained, for the acquisition of independence is the 
beginning of doing things by oneself. The philosophy of 
these steps of development tells us that independence 
and development of man is attained by effort. To be 
able to do without other people's help is independence, 
it is not comfort. If independence is there the child 
progresses very rapidly ; if it is not there the progress is 
very slow. So if we keep this picture in mind we know 
the way of dealing with the child, and it is a useful 
guide. We are taught not to help him, whereas we 
always fall on him to help him. The child who 
is capable of walking alone must walk by himself, 
because all development is strengthened by exercise and 
all acquisition confirmed by exercise. When a child of 
even three years is carried, as I have often seen, his 
development is not helped, but hindered. Immediately 

220 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



the child has acquired independence the adult who should 
continue to help him becomes an obstacle to the child. 
It is therefore clear that we must not carry the child, but 
permit him to walk, and if his hand wants to work, 
we must give him motives of intelligent activity. The 
child by his actions goes to greater conquests of inde- 
pendence. 

It has been noticed that there is a very important 
and visible factor at one and a half years of age in both 
the development of the hands and of the feet, this fact is 
strength. This child who has acquired agility and ability 
is now a strong man. His first urge in doing anything is 
to use the maximum effort ; not merely to exercise, but 
to make the maximum effort (so different from the 
adult). This is brought about by nature which seems to 
admonish : " You have the possibility and agility to go 
about, now become strong or it is of no use." It is now 
that the contact of hands and equilibrium takes place. 
Then what do we see ? The child instead of merely 
walking, likes to walk far and carry heavy loads. Man 
is destined not only to walk, but to shoulder his load. 
The hand that has learnt to grasp must exercise itself 
also by sustaining and carrying weight. So we see the 
one and a half year old with a large jug of water, adjust- 
ing his equilibrium and walking slowly. There is the 
tendency also to break the laws of gravity and overcome 
them. Having learnt to walk, why not be satisfied to 
walk ? No ! He must climb and to do so must grasp 

221 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



something with his hand and pull himself up. This is 
no longer a grasping to possess, but grasping with a 
desire to go up. It is an exercise of strength, and there 
is a whole period of this exercise of strength. Again 
there is the logic of nature here, since man must exercise 
his strength. Then what follows next ? The child, 
capable of walking, sure of his strength, seeing the actions 
of men around him, has a tendency to imitate them. 
Nature's first task for him is to take in, to absorb the 
actions of the humanity of his period. So there is an 
imitative period in which the child imitates the actions of 
his surroundings not because someone tells him to imitate 
them, but because of an inner urge. This imitation is 
only seen if the child is free to act. We then see the 
logic of nature : 

1 . To make man stand erect. 

2. To make him go around and acquire strength. 

3. To make him take in the actions of the people 
around him. 

There is a preparation in time that precedes the 
action. First he must prepare himself and his instru- 
ments, then he must get strong, then look at others and 
start doing something. While he does that, nature also 
tells him to prepare by gymnastics, to climb chairs and 
steps. Then only comes the stage when he wants to do 
things by himself. " I have prepared myself and now I 
want to be free, thank you ! " No psychologist has taken 
into sufficient account that the child becomes a great 

222 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



walker who is in need of long walks. Usually we carry 
him or put him in a perambulator and so the poor child 
can only walk in imagination. 

He can't walk, we carry him ; he can't work ; we do 
it for him : on the threshold of life we give him an 
inferiority complex. 



223 



CHAPTER XV 
DEVELOPMENT AND IMITATION 

IN the last chapter we left the child at the age of one 
and a half years ; this age has become a centre of in- 
terest and is considered of the greatest importance in 
education. It may seem strange that this period should 
seem so important, but we must remember that it is the 
point where the preparation of the upper and the lower 
limbs coincides. Also it will appear natural if we 
consider that the child at that epoch is on the eve of the 
disclosure of his fullness of manhood for at two years 
he reaches a point of completion with the explosion of 
language. On the eve of that event, at I i years, he is 
already making efforts to express what is within him. It 
is an epoch of effort and an epoch of construction. 

Once the importance of something has been dis- 
covered, everybody at once sets to work. Humanity is 
generous, but ignorant, so when they learn of some- 
thing they precipitate themselves, usually with too 
much enthusiasm, and so also in this instance. Philoso- 
phers, psychologists, sociologists and others have centred 
their interest on the child of 1 J to 2 years of age. This 

224 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



is an epoch of development in which special care must be 
taken not to destroy the tendencies of life. If nature has 
given us such clear indications that this is the period of 
maximum effort we must support this effort. This is a 
general statement, but those who observe become more 
exact in the details they give. They state that at this epoch 
the child begins to show an instinct of imitation. This, 
in itself, is not a new discovery, because at all times 
people have said that children imitate, but hitherto this 
was a superficial statement. Now it is realized that the 
human child must understand before it imitates ; this is 
logical, but it had not occurred to anyone before. The 
old idea was that we only had to act and the children 
would follow, there was hardly any further responsibility 
for the adult. Of course it was also said that we had to 
set a good example. This sets forth the importance of 
all adults, especially teachers. They must set a good 
example if there is to be a good humanity. Mothers also 
were specially included. The feeling was that children 
who have bad examples will grow up badly. The adult 
therefore stressed that he had set a good example for his 
children to imitate and the real responsibility was thrown 
on the heads of the children surrounding him, it was their 
fault if they did not profit by the good example the adults 
so generously gave to them. The result was unhappiness 
everywhere, for although children ought to become 
models of perfection, they were far from it. We wanted a 
perfect humanity and thought humanity was to be perfect 

225 

15 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



by imitating us, but we were imperfect ; what a con- 
fusion ! Nature has not reasoned like we, she has reasoned 
another way ; she does not bother about perfection 
in adults. What is important is that in order to 
imitate, the child has to be prepared to do so. It is 
this preparation that matters and it depends on the efforts 
of the individual child. The example offers a motive to 
imitation, it is not the aim. It is the effort of imitation 
which develops, not the attainment of the examples given. 
In fact the child once launched on the part of this effort 
often surpasses in perfection and exactitude the example, 
which served as an incentive. 

Some people think : "If I want my child to be a 
pianist, let me (or a teacher) be a pianist and the child 
will imitate ". But it is not as simple as that and many 
of us know that a child has to prepare his hands in order 
to gain the necessary agility enabling him to do anything 
on the pianoforte. Yet we follow this simple reasoning 
in matters which are on lofty levels. We read or tell the 
child stories of heroes and saints and think the child will 
imitate. It is not so easy. His spirit must be prepared. 
One does not become great by imitation. An example 
may furnish inspiration and interest, the instinct of 
imitation spur the effort, but even then one must have 
a preparation to carry this out and, in education, nature 
has shown that without preparation no imitation is 
possible. The effort does not aim at imitation, it 
aims at creating in oneself the possibility of imitation, of 

226 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



transforming oneself into the thing desired. Hence the 
value of indirect preparation in all things. Nature does 
not merely give the power of imitation, but that of trans- 
forming oneself to become what the example demon- 
strates. And if we, as educationists, believe in helping 
life, we must see which are the things we must help. 

If one observes a child of this age, one sees that 
there are certain activities that the child sets out to do. 
To us they may seem absurd, but that does not matter. 
He must carry them out completely. There is a vital 
urge to carry out certain things, and if the cycle of this 
urge is broken, the result is deviation and lack of purpose. 
The possibility of carrying out this cycle of activity is 
considered important now, just as the indirect preparation 
is considered important ; it is an indirect preparation. 
Even all through life we prepare for the future indirectly. 
In the lives of those who have done something in the 
world, there has always been a previous period of some- 
thing worked for ; it may not have been on the same 
lines as the final work, but there is intense effort on some 
line which gives a preparation of the spirit, and this effort 
must be fully expanded, the cycle must be completed. 
So if we see any intelligent activity in the child, even if it 
seems to us absurd or not according to our wishes (as 
long as it is not dangerous to life and limb of course !), 
we must not interfere, because the child must complete 
his cycle of activity. Children of this age show many 
interesting forms of carrying out this cycle of activity ; 

227 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



one sees children below two years of age carrying big 
heavy weights far beyond their strength, and for no ap- 
parent reason. In a house of a friend of mine were very 
heavy footstools, and a child of one and a half years 
carried all of them with much effort from one end of the 
room to the other. Children will help to lay the table 
and carry large loaves of bread in front of them so that 
they cannot even see their own feet. They will continue 
doing these activities, carrying things back and forth, 
until they are tired. The adult's usual reaction is to have 
sympathy for the child's effort, they go to help him and 
take the weight from him, but psychologists have re- 
cognized that such * help f , which is an interruption of the 
child's own chosen cycle of activity, is one of the greatest 
repressions of this age. The deviations of many * diffi- 
cult ' children are traced back to this interrupted cycle 
of activity. Another effort is to climb staircases ; for us 
to climb up a difficult staircase is an aim, but not for the 
child. Having accomplished the climbing he is not 
satisfied, he must come back to the starting point to 
complete the cycle and this too they repeat many times. 
The wooden or concrete slides we see in children's 
playgrounds offer opportunities for these activities ; it 
is not the coming down that is important, it is the joy 
of going up, the joy of effort. 

It is so difficult to find people who do not interrupt 
that all the psychologists ask for places where children 
can work uninterruptedly, and hence the schools for 

22ft 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



very little children are very important and the most 
important of all are those for little ones from 1 J years. All 
sorts of things are created in those schools : small houses 
in trees with ladders to climb up and go down. The 
house is not to live in or rest in, but a point to reach so 
that you can go up there and come down again : effort 
is the purpose, but the house gives a centre of interest. 
We notice it with our own material : if the child wants to 
carry something, it always chooses either the brown stairs 
or the cylinder blocks because they are so heavy. So too 
the climbing instinct which is so apparent in children is 
merely an effort to pull himself up, he looks for difficult 
things in the environment to climb on, like a chair. But 
a staircase is a very great joy, for there is a tendency in 
the child to go up. I have seen a child who was climbing 
a very steep staircase from one floor of a house to the 
other ; the steps were so steep that they reached to 
the child's middle and he had to use both hands to pull 
himself up and then put his legs round in a most difficult 
position, but he had the constancy to reach the top, 
45 steps. Then he looked back to see what he had 
achieved, overbalanced and went head over heels back- 
wards down the stairs. They were thickly carpeted 
and when he had reached the last bump and was at the 
bottom again, he was facing right round into the room. 
We thought he would cry, but he laughed as if to say : 
44 How hard to go up and how easy to come down ; 
just what I wanted ! " 

229 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



Sometimes these efforts are efforts of attention and 
fine co-ordination of movement, not merely efforts of 
strength. One child of 1 1 years I knew, who was free 
to go round the house, came to a store-room where there 
were twelve large napkins, starched and ironed, ready 
to be put away. The baby took the top one with both 
hands, happy to see that it came away from the pile, went 
along the corridor and laid it on the floor in the farthest 
corner. Having done that he came back for another 
and put that in the same place ; he did this for all the 
twelve napkins and each time he took one, he said ; 
"One". Having put them all in the corner, from our 
standpoint the work was finished, but no ! As soon as the 
last one was in the corner, he started from there and 
brought them all back in exactly the same way, saying : 
" one ", each time, and left them where he found them. 
The attention and the tension of the child during the 
whole time was marvellous to see and his face had a 
delighted expression as he went away at last on further 
business of his own. 

These examples of cycles of activity have no outer 
purpose in themselves, but the child is carrying out 
exercises giving fine co-ordination of his own movements^ 
And what has he done thereby ? He has prepared 
himself to imitate certain things. There must be an 
object in these exercises, but the object is not the real aim ; 
they obey an inner urge. When he has prepared himself, 
he can imitate, and the environment affords inspiration, 

230 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



The dusting of the floor or the making of bread he sees 
being done, serve him as an inspiration to do likewise. 

Walking and Exploring 

Let us consider the child of two years and this need 
for walking which most psychologists do not con- 
sider. It is natural that the child should show the 
tendency to walk, he is preparing man and all essential 
human faculties are being built. A child of two years 
can walk for a mile or two miles and, if he likes to 
climb, so much the better. The difficult points in a walk 
are the interesting ones. We must realize what walking 
means to the child ; it is different from our idea. The 
idea that he could not walk for any distance came be- 
cause we expect him to walk at our rate. That is as 
sensible as if we were to tie ourselves to a horse and if, 
when we became tired trying to keep up with him, he 
would say : " Never mind, you get on my back and we 
will both get there ". The child does not want to ' get 
there ', he wants to walk, but his legs are disproportionate 
in size to ours and disproportionate to the size of his own 
body (cf. Fig. 7), so we must not make the child follow 
us, we must follow the child. The need to ' follow 
the child * is clearly demonstrated here, but we must 
remember that it is the rule for all education of children 
in all fields. The child has his own laws of growth and, 
if we want to help him grow, we must follow him, not 
impose ourselves on him. The child walks with his eyes 

231 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



as well as his legs, and it is the interesting things in the 
environment that carry him along. He walks and sees a 
lamb eating, he is interested and sits down by it, watch- 
ing ; then he gets up and goes further, he sees a flower 
sits down by it and sniffs at it ; then he sees a tree, 
walks up to it and round and round it four or five times 
and then sits down and looks at it. In this way he 
covers miles ; they are walks full of resting periods and 
at the same time full of interesting information, and if 
there is something difficult like a boulder in the way, that 
is the height of his happiness. Water is another great 
attraction. Sometimes he will sit down and say : 
" Water ", happily and all you can see is a tiny stream 
falling drop by drop. So he has an idea of walking 
different from that of his nurse, who wants to arrive at a 
spot in the quickest possible time. She takes him to a 
park for a walk or a so-called ' airing ' in a peram- 
bulator, the hood up, so that he cannot see too many 
things. 

The habits of the child are like those of the primitive 
tribes of the earth. They did not say : " Let us go to 
Paris ", Paris was not there. Nor did they say : " Let 
us catch a train to go to . . .", there were no trains. So 
their habit was to walk till they found something interest- 
ing that attracted them, a forest that might supply wood, 
a place to sow crops, and so on. So does the child pro- 
ceed, it is a natural fashion. This instinct of moving 
about in the environment, passing from attraction to 

232 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



attraction forms part of nature itself, and of education. 
Education must consider the walking man who walks as 
an explorer. This is the principle of scouting which is 
now a relaxation from education, but should form part of 
education and come earlier in life also. All children 
should walk in this fashion, guided by attraction ; and 
it is here that education can give help to the child 
by giving him a preparation in school, e.g. by intro- 
ducing him to the colours, the shapes and forms of leaves, 
the habits of insects and other animals, etc. All these 
give points of interest to him when he goes out. The 
more he learns, the more he walks. He should explore 
and that means to be guided by an intellectual interest 
which we must give. Intelligent interest leads man to 
walk and to move about. 

Walking is a complete exercise ; there is no need of 
other gymnastic efforts. He breathes and digests better 
and has all the advantages we ask of sports. Beauty of 
body is formed by walking, and if you find something 
interesting to pick up and classify, or a trench to dig, or 
wood to fetch for a fire, then with these actions accom- 
panying walking, the stretching of arms and bending of 
the body, the exercise is complete. As man studies more 
he has many interests calling him, and his intellectual 
interest augments his activity of body. If the child is 
capable of following these interests, he finds other things 
he did not know, and so his intellectual interest grows . 
The path of education has to follow the path of evolution ; 

233 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



walking about made man see more things, so should the 
life of the child expand and expand. 

This must form part of education, especially today r 
when people do not walk, but go in vehicles, and there 
is a tendency towards paralysis and sloth. It is no good 
to cut life in two and to move limbs by sport and then 
move the head by reading a book. Life must be one 
whole, especially at an early age when the child must 
construct himself according to the plan and laws of 
development. 



234 



CHAPTER XVI 

FROM UNCONSCIOUS CREATOR TO 
CONSCIOUS WORKER 

WE have been dealing with a part of the development 
of the child which we have compared to that of the 
embryo. This type of development continues till 3 years 
of age. It is full of events because it is a creative period. 
Yet although it is a period in which the greatest number 
of events take place, it may nevertheless be called the 
forgotten period of life. It is as if nature had traced a 
dividing line ; on one side there are events which it is 
impossible to remember ; on the other side remembrance 
begins. The forgotten period is the psycho-embryonic 
period of life, and may be compared to the physio- 
embryonic period before birth which nobody can re- 
member. 

In this psycho-embryonic period, there are deve- 
lopments which come separately and independently, 
such as language, the movement of the arms, the move- 
ment of the legs, etc., and there are certain sensorial 
developments like that of the eye in which the muscles 
are not needed. Like the physical embryo in the pre- 
natal period, which had organs unfolding one by one, 

235 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



each separate from the other, so in this period the psychic 
embryo develops faculties separately and we remember 
nothing of either. This is because there is no unity of 
the personality. Everything is developing, one after the 
other, so there cannot be unity as yet ; that can come 
only with completed parts. 

When the age of three years has been reached, 
it is as though life began again, for then the life of con- 
sciousness begins fully and clearly. These two periods 
the unconscious psycho-embryonic period and the later 
period of conscious development seem to be separated 
by a very definitely marked line. The faculty of con- 
scious memory was not developed in the first period ; 
only when consciousness comes is there unity of the per- 
sonality and therefore memory. 

Psychically speaking, before three years there is 
construction and creation (as in the physical embryo in 
the pre-natal period), and after three years there is 
development of the faculties created. The border line is 
compared with the river Lethe of Greek mythology, the 
river of Forgetfulness, Certainly it is very difficult to 
remember what happened before three years of age, still 
more before two years. Psycho-analysis has tried by all 
sorts of means to bring the consciousness of the individual 
back to its own history, to the beginning, but no 
individual could ordinarily and reliably remember further 
back than three years of age. This is a very dramatic 
situation, because it is during this first period that 

236 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



everything is created, starting from nothing and yet the 
memory of the individual who accomplished all this can- 
not recall anything, not even the memory of the adult 
man who is the result of this creation. 

This sub-conscious and unconscious creation this 
forgotten child seems to be erased from the memory of 
man and the child coming to us at three years of age 
seems to be an incomprehensible being. The communi- 
cation between him and us has been taken away by 
nature, so either we have to know the period or to know 
nature herself. 

If we do not take into consideration the natural 
laws of development and if children take a form of life 
that departs from its earlier part, the adult must know this 
former life or there is a danger that the adult destroys 
what nature would have made. If therefore, because of 
social development or the way of civilization, man 
abandons the natural path of life, there is a great danger 
since the natural provisions are taken away. As humanity 
in the development of civilization has given protection 
only to the physical and not to the psychic part of man, 
the child finds himself in a prison. If civilization is not 
given the necessary light regarding the natural laws of 
psychic development the child very likely lives in an 
environment full of obstacles to normal expression. It 
must be remembered that during this period the child is 
entirely in the care of the adult, because it cannot yet 
provide for himself, and we adults, if not enlightened by 

237 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



the wisdom of nature or science, will present the greatest 
obstacles to the life of the child. 

After this period the child has acquired certain 
special faculties which allow him to defend himself, 
because he can speak for himself. If he feels the oppres- 
sion of the adult, he can run away or have tantrums. 
Nevertheless, the aim of the child is not to defend himself, 
but to conquer the environment and in it the means for 
his development. In this later period he must develop 
by means of exercises in the environment, but what 
exactly must he develop ? That which he has created in 
the previous period. So the period from three to six 
years of age is a period of conscious construction when a 
child takes consciously from the environment. He has 
forgotten the things and events of the epoch before three 
years of age, but, using the faculties he created 
then, he can now remember. The powers he created 
are brought to the surface by the experiences consciously 
carried out in the environment by the child. These 
experiences are not mere play nor are they haphazard, 
they are consciously brought about by work. The hand, 
guided by the intelligence, does a sort of work. If then 
in the first period, the child was a sort of contemplative 
psychic being, observing the environment in apparent 
passivity and then taking from it what he needed for his 
construction, i.e., constructing the elements of his being, 
in the second period he is following the will. At first it 
was as if a force outside his will led him ; now it is the 

238 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



child's own ego which guides him, and now he shows 
the activity of his hands. It is as though this child who 
before received the world through his unconscious in- 
telligence, now takes it by his hands, using his hands. 
There is therefore another sort of development : that of 
perfecting former acquisitions. The development of 
language for example continues spontaneously to four 
and a half years, but we have seen that at two and a 
half years it is already complete in all its details. Now 
he acquires enrichment and perfection. 

Yet though this is a period of perfectionment, the 
child still retains the embryonic power of absorbing without 
fatigue. The absorbent mind continues, but now his 
hand and its experiences help him to develop and enrich 
further his acquisitions. The hand becomes the direct 
organ of prehension to the intelligence ; so while the child 
previously absorbed the world and developed his intelli- 
gence merely by walking about, now he must develop 
by working with his hands ; further psychic development 
takes place this way. He lives not merely because he 
has life ; he must have an environment in which to ex- 
press his work. If we watch the child of this age we 
see that he is continuously at work, happy, lighthearted, 
but always busy with his hands. It is called the * blessed 
age of play ' ! Adults have always noticed this, though 
only lately has it been scientifically studied. In Europe 
and America, where the trend of civilization has taken 
humanity farther from nature, society offers any number 

239 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



of toys to correspond to the activity of the child. In- 
stead of the means to create the intelligence, he is given 
only mostly useless toys. At this age he has the ten- 
dency to touch everything, the adults let him touch some 
things and forbid others. The only real thing they let 
him touch at will is sand, play with sand is stimulated 
all over the world. Where there is no sand, compas- 
sionate men bring it to rich children. If there is no sand 
or only a little, water may be allowed, but not too much 
of it, because the child gets wet, and water and sand 
make dirt which adults have to wash. 

Toys and Reality 

When the child tires of sand, he* is given small copies 
of things used by adults : toy-kitchens and houses, toy- 
pianos, etc., but these in a form which render them useless 
to the child. The adults say : " Children want them ; 
they see us working so they want to do the same ", But 
the things they give them to work with are useless ; the 
copies of fruits are stone fruits, they cannot prepare them 
nor eat them. It is a mockery. The child is lonely, so 
he is given a mockery of the human figure, the dolL 
These dollies are more real than father and mother, 
all sorts of presents are given to it in clothes, jewels, 
etc. We know that up to four and a half yeara 
the child perfects his language, yet the only being 
he can freely talk to is his dolly, and dolly cannot 
answer him. 

240 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



The toy has become so important in the West, that 
people think it is a help to the intelligence. It is certainly 
better than nothing, but if we watch the child, we see he 
always wants new ones, he breaks them, he develops 
nervous and moral complaints. People who study the 
child superficially say that as he breaks the toy, he seems 
to find delight in taking everything apart and in destroy- 
ing everything. This is an artificially developed charac- 
teristic due to the circumstances which deprive the 
child of the right things. He is not even quiet with his 
toys or not for more than a few minutes. It is Nurse who 
loads the perambulator with toys, and takes them out 
for the child. When they arrive at the park, the child is 
often not interested. Very often the child deliberately takes 
a look at it and then smashes it on the ground. Those 
psychologists who study phenomena and not their cause, 
say that the child has an instinct of destruction and another 
observation that has been made by these superficial 
observers is that the child does not fix his attention on 
any of these toys. Both these criticisms of the child 
are true, but superficial, the cause of this behaviour is not 
investigated. The real trouble is that children have no 
real interest in these things, because there is no reality in 
them. It is the misunderstanding by the adult that has 
led to this life of lack of attention on the part of the 
children ; this useless life, a mockery of life instead of 
real life. The child cannot exercise the energies that 
nature has given him to perfect his individuality, they 

241 

16 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



are wasted and worse than wasted. So the result is that 
the child cannot develop normally and the longer he 
lives in this environment full of toys, the less capable he 
becomes of adapting himself to the real environment, and 
gradually his personality is completely deformed. It is 
here and now that he seriously and consciously tries to 
perfect himself through imitation of his elders. His con- 
sciousness develops through the experiences of life and 
these are denied to him, so of course he is deformed. 

In countries which have not developed such a toy- 
civilization for children, you find children greatly different 
from those of the West. They are much more calm, 
healthy and cheerful They take their inspiration from the 
activities they see around them. They are normal human 
beings. They take the objects of the adults and use 
them. When mother washes, or makes bread or chap- 
paties the child does it too, if he has suitable things. It 
is like imitation, but it is intelligent, selective imitation, it 
finds real inspiration in those around him ; he is preparing 
for the environment in which he lives. 

There are clearly two periods in this early phase of 
development : 

The first period : to 3 years ; the child absorbs the 
environment. 

The second period : 3 to 6 years ; the child realizes 
the environment by the work of his hands. 

This fact cannot be doubted ; the child must handle 
things for purposes of his own. When, as lately in the 

242 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



West, toys are made which are in proportion to the child 
so that he can be active with them as the adults are 
active, then the child changes his character and becomes 
calm, serene and attentive. This shows that child- 
ren do not merely play, but are intelligently active. 
These activities, however, are performed in order to fill a 
psychic need of the child, not for the need of the environ- 
ment. This activity has superficially been attributed to an 
Instinct of Imitativeness ; but it is more than this. One 
sees that the child does not use objects that are not in his 
usual environment. Why not ? Because the child's work 
is to produce an individual who is suited to his en- 
vironment. 

Once this has been understood, one can no longer 
speak of play with sand and imitation as the essential 
characteristics of the child, as if the child were a monkey. 
This imitation is but a means of learning what js in the 
environment, and nature wishes to give joy in the fulfil- 
ment of special things. The new trend nowadays is not 
to give children toys, but to furnish them with an environ- 
ment full of things with which they can perform the same 
actions as the adults of their race and community. We 
provide motives of activity with objects built in proportion 
to their strength and body ; and as we usually work at 
home or on the land, it is necessary that the children 
have their own home and their own land. Not only 
toys for children, but houses for them ; not toys for child- 
ren, but land for them with tools to carry out work on 

243 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



the land ; not dolls for children, but other children and a 
social life in which the child is not just seated on a chair 
and has to be still while the teacher acts, but where he 
acts himself ; an environment where he can act, talk and 
find all the instruments necessary for intelligent, con- 
structive activities. All these today substitute the toys of 
the past. 

When this idea, which is just now taking hold of the 
public imagination, was first expressed, it caused surprise. 
Prof. Dewey of America, a famous educationist, was 
persuaded of this idea and set out to hunt for objects 
proportionate to children. He himself, though a Univer- 
sity professor, went to all the New-York stores to look 
for small brooms, chairs, tables, plates, etc. He found 
NOTHING not even the idea of manufacturing them 
existed. There were innumerable toys of all kinds ; 
whole furnished houses of minute size, little horses and 
carriages, nothing for the child. However, the multipli- 
cation of toys did one thing. Dolls which started very 
small increased until they were almost the size of a child ; 
and as the dolls grew, the objects for the dolls grew ; 
they became larger and larger, but never large enough for 
a child to use really. The child was now almost on the 
threshold of fulfilment, but the door was yet closed. The 
adults had spent millions and millions in order to make 
him happy, and had succeeded in giving him an ex- 
pensive mockery. We said : " Make all these things a 
little bigger and the child can use them as he needs to 

244 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



use them." So the step was taken and the dawn of a 
new world was realized ; there were real houses and real 
objects for children to use in order to perfect the prepara- 
tion that had been made in the previous period from 
to 3 years. Once the result was seen, these objects 
were made everywhere, and a new industry and a new 
source of wealth came into being. 

Prof. Dewey was so certain that in New- York he 
would find the things he was searching for that when he 
failed to find them anywhere, he said : " The child has 
been forgotten", and I say, "What a discovery!" 
But, alas, he is forgotten in other ways too, he is the 
forgotten citizen, living in a world where there is every- 
thing for all, except for him ; for him only mockery, a 
desert. He wanders ambling aimlessly, crying in tantrums, 
destroying the mockeries provided, only seeking for the 
satisfaction of his soul. And standing in front of him 
the adult could not see the real being of the child. 

Once this barrier was broken and the veil of unreality 
torn asunder, once the child was given real things, we 
expected happiness, readiness to act with the objects, but 
this was not the only thing which took place. The child 
showed a completely different personality. The first result 
was an act of independence, as if he said : " I want 
to be self-sufficient ; keep your aid/' This has been one of 
the revelations that the freed child has given. The child 
has not become a wealthier being with bigger objects 
than when he played with toys ; he has become a man 

245 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



seeking independence. He was a surprise to all around 
him, nurses, mothers, teachers. He refused help, he 
wanted to be alone. No one had ever imagined that 
his first act would have been that of refusing assistance, 
and that, as he worked, nurses and mothers would have 
to be observers only. 

This environment was not merely proportionately 
constructed, it was one of which he became master. 
Social life and development of character came spon- 
taneously. It is not the happiness of the child that is the 
aim, but that he become the constructor of man, inde- 
pendent in function, the worker and master of his 
environment. This is the light that the beginning of the 
conscious life of the individual reveals. 



246 



CHAPTER XVII 
THE NEW TEACHER 

THE problems facing village education, especially in 

countries like India, the primitive circumstances under 

which such work is started, might be something similar to 

what happened in the beginning of my work which was 

very surprising to all. I believe that the facts which we 

were fortunate enough to witness would not have 

happened but for certain circumstances. No one else in 

the world has recognized them, because if Prof. Dewey, 

for instance, had found the objects he was seeking in the 

stores of New-York and had been able to organize a 

house for children with all these activities, nothing would 

have happened, as nothing happens in so many schools 

which are richly endowed. Nothing would have 

happened as objects are not enough. It is not lack of 

objects alone that matters, but certain other things as well 

that obscure the real characteristics of children. What will 

happen cannot be foreseen, because what is needed is 

freedom for the child and not wealth, and that freedom 

we cannot understand unless we experience it. No one 

247 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



could have seen it in my experiment but for a chance 
which gave the necessary conditions. They were : 

1. Extreme poverty and a social condition of ex- 
treme hardship. It was not a class of working 
people among whom we worked, those were 
rich compared with the parents of the children 
I had. This extreme poverty was a favourable 
condition. The child who is extremely poor 
may suffer from lack of food, but he finds himself 
in natural conditions. Now that we see that 
the development of the child is directed by 
natural laws, we see that the child who has a 
greater number of natural conditions has much 
greater opportunities to reveal his inner wealth 
than one living in rich, artificial conditions. 

2. The parents of the children Were illiterate, there- 
fore unable to give help to their children in 
learning. 

3. The teachers were not teachers. If they had 
been real teachers, I do not think these results 
would have been achieved. In America they 
never succeeded so well, because they looked 
for the best teachers. Who is believed to be a 
good teacher > It means usually one who has 
studied all the things which do not help the 
child ; such teachers are full of prejudices and 
ideas about the child which are not conducive 
to giving freedom to the child. As is the case 

248 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



with a * good ' nurse who thinks she must help 
the child to do everything, so these teachers 
think they must help the child's mind. It is this 
teaching, this imposition of the teacher on the 
child, which hinders him. 

Who would have thought of imposing the three 
conditions mentioned above in order to have a successful 
experiment ? One would naturally have thought to give 
just the contrary. 

The great success which we obtained augurs well 
for similar attempts and experiments in India, because 
one of the complaints is the lack of good teachers. One 
must take simple persons and make use of them. In 
Indian villages also the parents are probably illiterate, so 
much the better for the children. And as to poverty, it 
is universally recognized as the first condition for the 
development of spiritual qualities. It is difficult to tell all 
to give up their riches, and it might not work, but religious 
leaders in all countries have renounced the world and 
sought poverty. We need not impose poverty, but it 
must not frighten us, as it is the most favourable condition 
for spiritual development we can find, if accepted with 
assent. If we want to experiment in giving freedom to 
the child, the field of poverty is the best. If one wants 
an easy experiment and sure success, go and work among 
the poor children. We offer them objects and an 
environment they do not possess. An object scientifi- 
cally constructed, offered to a child who has nothing, is 

249 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



taken with passionate interest and awakens mental 
concentration and meditation. Forty-two years ago 
this fact caused great surprise. Concentration had never 
been recognized in children of three years, yet it is a 
basic factor because it means to take intense hold 
of the environment, item by item, exploring each one 
of them and dwelling on each of them. Under the 
usual unsatisfactory conditions, the child flits from one 
thing to another and concentrates on nothing, but that 
is not his characteristic, it is forced on him by an un- 
satisfactory environment. 

Also, in a small child of three years that mysterious 
teacher which urges the child to work is still active 
within him ; and when we speak of a free child (i.e., with 
inner freedom) we speak of a child free to follow the 
powerful guides of nature within him. These guides are 
extremely wise, and lead the child to seek exactness, 
precision and the full achievement of what he under- 
takes. The child is led by nature to go into all the 
details (e.g. to dust the top, sides, bottom and all the 
groves of a table). This is what we want for success in 
education. What any teacher requires of his pupils is 
attention and concentration on what the teacher does, 
so that they can carry out exactly any instruction and all 
is done completely. This is the maximum any teacher 
can expect in order to have success. The surprising 
revelation that the children have given us is that this is the 
natural behaviour when a child is free. Given freedom 

250 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



and no interruptions by the teacher, he performs full, 
complete, concentrated work. At this age of three years, 
he does not receive with facility from others, because he 
is constructing himself. Too many teachers are inclined 
to put so many things before the child, to interrupt him 
continuously and teach continuously, instead of letting the 
children have their own experience. The child of this 
age, therefore, who develops by spontaneous work, 
following the guides of nature, cannot develop in this 
fashion with a teacher who teaches. Also the teacher 
aiming at success (i.e., that the child do what the teacher 
thinks important, such as obeying her or him) and 
convinced that she must go from the easy to the difficult, 
from the simple to the complex, by gradual steps, when 
instead a child goes from the difficult to the easy and 
with great strides ; such a teacher is not a help in our work, 
and most teachers are like that, because they have been 
trained so. Inevitable conflict would arise between the 
child and such a teacher. Another prejudice such teachers 
have is that of fatigue. If a child is interested in what he 
is doing, he goes on and on. The child is not fatigued. 
When however the teacher makes him change every few 
minutes and ' rest ', he gets fatigued. As the completed 
cycle of physical activity gives added strength to the very 
little ones, so do mental activities with the older ones. 

These prejudices are so impregnated in teachers edu- 
cated in the usual type of Training Colleges, that to get 
rid of them, you would have to kill the teacher. No new 

251 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



vision of the mind would get rid of them. It is the same 
with some of the prejudices of society, nothing short of a 
bloody revolution can help. Some of the most modern 
Colleges have this prejudice of the need for rest so badly 
that they have interruptions and rest every three quarters 
of an hour or half an hour on a carefully graduated plan. 
The result is extreme indifference in the minds of the 
people educated. Interest and enthusiasm only can pro- 
duce anything of value and these are automatically killed. 
Modern pedagogy sees things from a superficial and 
erroneous point of view, because it takes no notice of the 
inner life. The guide of the psychic activities is com- 
pletely ignored. Also the pedagogical world (or it leaders) 
is ruled by human logic, but human logic is one thing and 
the logic of nature another. Human logic says we must 
distinguish between mental and physical activities, for 
mental work we must be immobile in a class room and 
for physical work the mental faculties are not required. 
It cuts the child in two. When he thinks he may not use 
his hands, and when he uses his hands his head is not 
considered. Thus we get men with a head and no body 
at one time and with a body and no head at another. 
Consequently there are problems and trouble of all 
sorts for the teacher. Yet nature shows that the child 
cannot think without his hands and that the hands are 
the instruments of intelligence. Objects must occupy the 
hands and interest the mind. Our experience has shown 
us that, when the child thinks, he is continually moving. 

252 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



So indeed great men often give us the thoughts they 
gained as they walked about, meditating (cf. the peri- 
pathetic school of philosophy). What do people who 
philosophize do ? They go into convents and walk hours 
alone under trees, meditating. In this period between 
three and six years, it has been clearly revealed that 
movement and mind go together ; yet many think it is 
impossible to have schools where children study and con- 
tinuously walk about. 

From this we can realize that a well-prepared teacher 
(in the usual sense) is the worst teacher for the child. 
The greatest effort in our method is that of trying to free 
the teacher from the prejudices he or she may possess 
and the greatest success is the teacher who can best free 
herself or himself from them. The measure of how well 
they succeed is seen in how far they are still cloaked by 
prejudice. So if education of a great number is envisaged 
and there is a scarcity of teachers, what can we say but : 
" Thank God ! " It is one of the best conditions. 

The new teachers found among simple folk must 
understand certain fundamental things which, however, 
are not difficult. In my first experiment 1 instructed the 
4 teacher ' (who was the daughter of the door-keeper of 
the tenements) to take certain objects and to present 
them in a certain fashion to the child and then to leave the 
child alone with them and not to interfere. Uneducated 
as she was, she was able to do this exactly. A full- 
fledged teacher would probably have been unable to do 

253 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



that. In the first place he might have thought it below 
his intelligence and, even if he had done it, he would not 
have done it so simply. He would have launched a 
verbose attack of explanations on the class, whereas 
anything beyond the necessary and sufficient causes 
distraction and confusion. My uneducated 4 teacher * 
did exactly what she was told and, to her surprise and 
mine, the children worked and worked with these objects 
with wonderful results. She was so surprised that she 
thought there were angels or some spiritual agencies at 
work. Then the children exploded into writing when 
she had taught them nothing of writing and when visitors 
came and asked the children : " Who taught you to 
write ? ", they would say : " No one taught us to write ". 
She would add in an awed manner : " No, I haven't 
taught him to write ". She would come to me, half- 
frightened, to say : " Madame, at 2 o'clock yesterday 
the child started to write ! " She could not understand 
how he could write at 2 o'clock, and perfect sentences 
in beautiful handwriting too, when he had not written 
anything in his life before, even up to 1 o'clock. We 
had given them the cursive letters, then we thought 
they might find reading easier if we gave them letters 
of the print-type, but before we had them prepared, 
the children were already reading books and did not 
need them. Now, after forty-two years, we know 
that these explosions occur and can understand why 
they occur. These incidents, however, happend before 

254 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



we knew the reason of them. Now we know that 
the child is endowed with an absorbent mind which 
takes from the environment without fatigue, so that 
culture, if properly prepared and presented, can be taken 
as the mother tongue is taken, with the greatest ease. 
The only thing necessary is to construct a material, 
scientifically exact, which can be handled by the children. 
Then a great many items of culture can be brought 
down to the period of three to six years of age. 

Experience has shown that the teacher must with- 
draw more and more, therefore the task of those who 
have to train these teachers is easy. Tell them : " Do 
not do anything, but prepare for the children ; they will 
work." It brings into actual fact a great truth : "Self- 
renunciation can bring great truths." Our task is to teach 
the teacher where he or she intervened needlessly. We call 
this part of our work ' the method of non-intervention*. 
The teacher must measure what is needed and limit her 
work to that, like a good servant carefully prepares a 
drink for his master and then leaves it for his master to 
complete the work, i.e., drinking it. He does not force 
his master to drink, that is not his business. His business 
is only to prepare. So must the teacher act towards the 
children. It might be good to send teachers to study 
with a good servant so that they might learn to be 
humble ; not to impose themselves on the child, but to be 
vigilant and prepare all for the child and then put it at 
his disposal and leave him. 

255 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



People who are in charge of children of this age 
have to serve the psychic needs of the children. It is 
not indispensable to know them scientifically. If we say 
to a mother : " Carry the child of one year always with 
you, so that he may see the world, and take him where 
people talk so that he may hear his mother tongue *\ 
the mother can understand and the teacher can explain 
it very easily. Also the teacher can tell the mother not 
to carry a child when he is old enough to walk, not to be 
afraid of letting him carry heavy things if he wants to do 
so. All these things are easy to understand if the mind 
is not encumbered with prejudices. 

It is difficult perhaps to understand the psychological 
reasons for all this, but the practical things themselves are 
not difficult to tell or to understand, just as putting a 
seed in the ground or looking after a plant does not 
require the effort of studying vegetable biology in the 
University. We must distinguish between the practice 
of nature, and the science that man has built round that 
practice. Practice is easy. All the marvellous results 
always come from the expenditure of the spontaneous 
energy of the child which is usually impeded in ordinary 
schools. 

Let us consider the illiteracy of the parents. 
Illiteracy brings about other conditions of ignorance, 
so that when the child comes home and shows how 
he can wash his hands, the mother thinks : " How 
clever he is ! " and the child is uplifted. Also when the 

256 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



child whose mother and father cannot write, writes his 
first word, their adoring admiration again brings uplift to 
the child, whereas the richer parents will probably say : 
44 Oh ! ah ! yes !, but do they teach you art at school ? " 
and the child is chilled and loses interest. Or if a child 
dusts something the better-class mother kills the joy of the 
little one, because she says it is sweeper's work and she 
did not send her child to school to learn that. Or if it is 
mathematics he learns, she is afraid he will get brain- 
fever and wants to stop the work. So either the child 
gets an inferiority-complex or a superiority-complex 
and thinks it is not necessary for him to do certain things. 
The real problems are with the literate, cultured parents 
and if they are pedagogues themselves, so much the 
worse, because then they think they know all about 
education. 

A Social Problem Solved 

The conditions, therefore, which we think bad for an 
experiment, are really good. Success will not limit itself 
to the children, it will influence the parents. In my first 
experimental 4 House of Children f when they had started 
doing exercises of practical life and were interested in 
the details of them, they would tell their mothers that 
they must not have spots on their dress and must not 
spill water. 4< You do it like this", so the mothers began 
to care for their dress and appearance. This shows the 
power the child has of transforming the environment. It 

257 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



is the child probably who is the only force who will 
lead illiterate persons to educate themselves. The 
parents in my first ' House of Children * came to me to 
learn how to read and write, because their children could 
do it. In dealing with children of this age one handles 
almost a magic wand in social life. First there is the 
marvel of the transformation of the child himself, secondly 
there is the touching marvel (it causes emotion) that the 
child is able to do much more than one had expected, 
and this rouses in the spirit of the adult a sort of 
reverence for the spirit of childhood, hence it achieves a 
transformation and an education of the adults. 

If one envisages a social reform on a large scale and 
plans according to the old method, one has to make a 
plan covering many years (the Sargent Scheme covers 40 
years). If one has to prepare teachers with all the pre- 
judices of psychology all over the world, we can calculate 
how long it will take to train them. These teachers begin 
with children of seven who have passed the sensitive 
stage and being faced with this dead-weight (the children 
do not possess the enthusiasm natural to the little ones 
for the same things) they force and force and the children 
become more and more bored. The child who, before, 
had at least a relative freedom, now finds himself under a 
teacher who fusses and tells him to do this, that and the 
other. It will take forty, eighty, a hundred years, two 
centuries perhaps before the work is completed. If, on 
the contrary, we consider these psychological facts which 

258 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



are easy to practise, then things are not so difficult, 
because we tap and make use of natural energies which 
always exist. It is necessary to understand the child at 
different ages, certainly, but then practically all is done. 
Such facts as the smaller child's better memory than the 
older one's, for instance, when remembered, make 
things quite simple. 

We see that the child learns better than with the 
old methods and that the whole of education is shifted 
downwards, towards birth, from eight to four years. 
Thus so many years are saved and as the absorbent 
mind and the sensitive periods are functioning at this age, 
which means that all things are taken with interest and 
enthusiasm, the wish to continue is present and education 
does not have to be imposed. 

What about the teacher ? She will work long hours 
with the children since the children do so, but in a very 
different way. Once a teacher has become a good teacher 
in this sense, she is happy. A newspaper-man in America 
once visited his cousin, a Montessori teacher, and found 
her lying on a deck-chair and thought she had vacation. 
She told him to be quiet and not to disturb the children. 
He could not see. or hear any children, but looking 
through a window he found them all working quite 
happily without any noise on the lawn. Children educated 
in this way will always work, also without the teacher if 
she is late or away. The possibility of a reform on a large 
scale is much more rapid and easy to attain in this way. 

259 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



In my first experiment I used to give instructions ta 
the teachers once a week and after ten months there was 
the explosion into writing. Today our observations have 
made it plain to us how these miracles happened, but 
when they happened we did not know the reasons, so it is 
not indispensable to know them. If we put a plant in the 
earth, we must know how much soil and water it wants, 
and then water it regularly. Then, one day, we shall 
see the flower coming. We do not need to know the 
anatomy of the flower or the acidity of the soil, etc. 
We only have to wait in patience and look for the 
flowers. So with the education of children, all that ia 
necessary are adults, simple and of good will. 

In all countries where children live in a simple r 
natural way, in so-called backward countries, where 
education seems to present the greatest problems, the 
great miracles of our early experiments will easily be 
lepeated and a great and urgent problem solved. Simple 
teachers are perhaps better than others and all these 
little children will lead the rest of the world. Those who 
feel the appeal of this work must not be afraid of the 
task : what must be kept in mind are not the difficulties 
of the theories we have given, but the vision of the first 
experiment before any of these theories were developed. 



260 



CHAPTER XVIII 

FURTHER ELABORATION THROUGH 
CULTURE AND IMAGINATION 

THE period between three and six years is most interest-* 
ing ; it follows the period of the spiritual embryo (0 to 
3 years). The passage between these two periods is not 
very marked. Usually only one period is considered, the 
period from 6, but it is really divided into two parts. 
The first part concerns the creation of the psychic life, and 
the second part is a sort of period of perfectionment or 
fixation. Certain faculties developed in the first period 
are rendered secure. Also in the first period there is a 
prevalence of the unconscious part, whereas in the second 
period consciousness guides development. It is, therefore, 
not only a period of fixation, but of greater perfection. 
We no longer have the embryo, but man who is com- 
pleting himself. The second period shows a special form 
of activity, because consciousness falling upon the world 
grasps the world and handles it, and in this handling the 
conquests that were not clear before, become clear and 
perfect. The child not only takes in the environment, 

261 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



but realizes himself. This is the period in which the 
conscious individuality is established and this is done 
spontaneously. It is still a period forming part of creation 
and is still closed to outside influences such as an adult 
mentality trying to impose or transmit something directly. 
The child, therefore, cannot be educated in the ordinary 
sense of the word by a teacher, but education must come 
through the natural bases. The natural laws of develop- 
ment compel the child of this age to experiment on the 
environment by the use of his hands, both in cultural 
and other matters. It is the passage from nothing to 
life. Only recently this has become known, before then 
the whole psychic life of the child was buried under the 
indifference of humanity to him. Now it has made 
itself suddenly known to those who did not know of it. 

It was the explosion into writing that first caught 
the attention of the public to the child's psychic life. It 
is not an explosion of writing only, the writing was like 
the smoke out of a pipe, the real explosion was of the 
human self in the child. He might be compared to a 
mountain which seems to be solid and eternally the same r 
but contains a hidden fire. One day there is an explosion 
and out comes the fire through the outer heaviness. It 
is an explosion of fire, smoke and unknown substances, 
from which those who can see, will be able to tell ua 
what the earth contained. Our explosion was similar 
and it happened because of circumstances which, as I ex- 
plained in the previous chapter, were the least favourable 

262 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



(apparently) for such a revelation. These revelations 
came also on bases which 'were * non-existent/ The 
poverty and ignorance, the lack of proper teachers, 
syllabus and rules were basic 4 nothings '. We found 
nothingness, and because there was nothingness, the 
soul was able to expand itself. The obstacles had been 
removed, but no one knew (at that time) what the 
obstacles were. It is well to understand this, because 
in the child lies a great energy a latent cosmic energy. 
It is important for us to know this, because if we know it 
is there and wait for its flashing revelations, we are on the 
road to success. It was not a method of education 
which caused these explosions, because the method did 
not exist when the explosions occurred. The following 
up of psychology and the building up of the method 
came as a result of these volcanic revelations of the 
children. The explosion came as the result of a discovery 
not of a method. The Press spoke of it from the first 
as of a * discovery of the human soul.' From it sprang 
the new science which followed step by step the revelation 
of the children. 

I will explain these phenomena a little. They are 
facts, they should not be attributed to intuition, but to 
perception. I have described what I saw. The facts 
seen are the foundation of the new science ; these facts 
can be found in my previous books. 

Two groups of facts are important in these 
revelations, one is that the mind of the child is 

263 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



capable of acquiring culture at a period of life when 
nobody would have thought it possible, but can only 
take it by his own activity. Culture cannot be received 
from another, but only through the work and increased 
realization of oneself. Nowadays, when we are aware 
of the powers of the absorbent mind during the period 
from three to six years, we know this possibility to take in 
culture at a very early age. The other important group 
of facts deals with the development of the character. 
Development of the character has pre-occupied education 
at all times, but all educators have agreed that the age 
from three to six years is not the age to influence 
character in a systematic fashion. No one thinks of 
real discipline for children so young ; only later can 
discipline be imposed. Also it was thought that it was 
the adult who had to influence the character of young 
people and the problem of changing evil into good is 
an eternal problem. We were wrong : this is the time 
for developing character, but the child must develop his 
own character according to the laws of growth. We 
have already seen a great deal of how the mind is 
formed, but it is interesting to dwell in some detail on 
the contents and working of the mind at this period 
and we shall deal with the formation of character in 
another chapter. 

The child is especially interested in and concentrates 
on those things he has already in his mind, those that 
were absorbed during the previous period, for whatever 

264 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



has been conquered has a tendency to remain and the 
mind dwells on it. So, for instance, the explosion into 
writing was due to the special sensitivity for, and 
conquest of language. As the sensitivity ceases at 
five and a half to six years, it was clear that writing 
could be achieved with such joy and enthusiasm only 
before this age, while older children of six or seven were 
not capable of doing this and did not feel the same 
enthusiasm. So our method came from the observa- 
tion of the children, from the observation of facts. 
It was seen that children had prepared the organs 
necessary for writing previously, so indirect preparation 
was adopted as an integral part of the method. Thus 
certain bases of the method could be fixed. We had seen 
that nature prepares indirectly in the embryo ; she does 
not give orders until she knows that the individual has the 
organs which enable him to obey. That is why the child 
cannot do anything by mere imitation and obedience ; 
it must be provided with the means to be obedient. 
Both mind and character were helped by the observation 
of these facts. Earlier it was thought that all that was 
needed was good example by the adult and good will 
from the child, but the adults lacked a wisdom that 
nature possesses, i.e., that the means must be prepared 
for the command to be obeyed, and this is not done 
directly. To receive frequent and successive commands 
does not create obedience ; obedience is attained in- 
directly by inner preparation. Obedience to arbitrary 

265 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



commands of the adult cannot achieve development. 
The child has in himself such a fountain of wisdom to 
guide him, that it is evident that frequent and ill-founded 
interference by the adult is not a help, but an obstacle to 
his development. The necessity of a prepared and well 
organized environment for the child and freedom for the 
child to expand its soul within it stands out very 
clearly now. 

If, as we found, the child again takes up the con- 
quests of the first period in order to elaborate them in the 
second period, the first period can furnish us with a 
guide for the second period which follows the same 
method of development. Let us take language : in the 
first period we have seen that the child follows a method 
which is almost grammatical : he successively absorbs 
and uses sounds, syllables, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, 
conjunctions, verbs, prepositions, etc. We then know 
that we should help the child in the second period by 
following the same grammatical method. The first 
teaching is that of grammar. It seems absurd to our 
usual way of thinking, that teaching should begin with 
grammar at three years of age, and that before he 
knows how to read or write, he should learn grammar. 
If we stop to think of it, however, what is the basis of 
construction of a language if not grammar ? When we 
(and the child) speak, we speak grammatically. If, 
therefore, we give him grammatical help at four years of 
age when he perfects his language in construction and 

266 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



enlarges his vocabulary, we give a real help. By giving 
him grammar, we allow him to absorb more perfectly the 
language spoken around him. Experience has shown 
us that these children were keenly interested in grammar 
and that this was the right time to give it. In the first 
period (0 to 3 years) the acquisition was almost un- 
conscious ; now it has to be perfected consciously by 
conscious exercise. Another thing we noticed was that 
the child of this age acquires a large number of words ; 
there was a special sensitivity and interest in words and 
he spontaneously took in any number of new words. 
Many experiments were carried out and it was seen that 
all children considerably enriched their vocabulary at this 
age. The words acquired were those used in the 
environment of course, so a cultured environment gave 
a child the opportunity to learn many words ; but in 
any environment the instinct was to absorb the greatest 
possible number of words ; the child had a hunger for 
words. In a cultured environment he can take thousands 
and thousands of words. To give many to him is a help 
at this age. If unaided he takes them with effort and 
without order ; the help will consist in reducing the effort 
and giving order. 

Another detail in the method was established as a 
result of this observation, to give many words. The 
uncultured * teachers * we had in our first experiment 
noted this fact and they wrote words for the children^ 
They wrote as many as they knew, but presently they 

267 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



came to a halt and they came to me and said that they 

had given all the words relating to dress, house, street, 

names of trees, etc., but the children wanted more words ! 

So we thought, why not give to the children at this age 

the words necessary for culture, e.g. all the names of the 

geometrical figures they had been handling in the 

sensorial apparatus, polygons, trapezium, trapezoid, etc. 

The children took them all in one day ! So we went to 

scientific instruments, thermometer, barometer, etc. Then 

we gave them botanical names, sepals, petals, stamens, 

pistil, etc. They were all taken in with enthusiasm. 

41 Do you not have any more ? " they asked, and the 

teachers complained that when they took them for a 

walk, they knew the names of all the motor cars which 

we, of course, do not know. The thirst for words is 

insatiable and the power for taking them inexhaustible, 

while in the period that follows this is not the case. 

Other things develop then, but there is difficulty in later 

periods to remember strange words. We found that 

our children who had the opportunity of learning these 

words early, recalled and remembered them easily when 

they found them later in the ordinary schools, at 8 or 9 

or even 12 or 14 years, while those children who then 

met them for the first time found it difficult to remember 

them. So the logical conclusion is to give scientific 

names at this age, of 3 to 6 years. They are not given 

mechanically of course, but in connection with specially 

prepared apparatus, so that they are based on real 

268 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



understanding and experience. To us foreign names 
are long, complicated and difficult to remember, yet the 
foreign child says his name with the utmost ease. In 
Italian there are many strange names for foreigners, but 
there is no difference for the Italian child between these 
and other words like triangle. To help this remark- 
able thirst for words in the children we give them the 
words of the various classifications in all subjects, 
botany, zoology, geography, etc., like the different parts 
of a leaf, of a flower, of geographical features, etc. They 
are all easily represented and apparent in the environ- 
ment and therefore most suitable. They offer no difficulty. 
The difficulty was with the teachers who did not know 
these words and found it difficult to remember which 
was which. 

In Kodaikanal I once saw older children of 14 years 
of age, who were studying in the ordinary school, puzzled 
over the name of a part of the flower, a tiny child of 
three years said : " pistil ", and ran off to play. The 
child of this early age does not take words indifferently as 
any ordinary easy thing ; it is as if a light is lit in the child 
and he is profoundly interested. We showed to older 
children of 7 or 8 years the classification of roots accord- 
ing to the botany books and a small child came in and 
asked of an older child what were the new charts on the 
wall. He was told and later we found plants pulled out 
of the garden, because the tiny ones were so interested 
that they wanted to see which roots those plants had. 

269 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



When we saw their interest, we gave this knowledge to 
them and then the parents complained that the children 
pulled up the plants in their gardens, washed them and 
said they wanted to see roots. 

What is the limit of the words the children will learn ? 
I do not know ! Does the mind of the child limit itself in 
taking in objects and the facts about the things they can 
see ? No ; the child has a type of mind that goes beyond 
concrete limits. It has the power of imagining things. 
This power of visualizing things that are not present to 
the eye, reveals a higher type of mind. An object I can 
see is an easy thing to know, but when I have to make 
an image for myself (to imagine) it is more difficult. If 
the mind of man were restricted only to the things he 
could see, it would be very limited indeed. Man sees 
without seeing ; culture is not made up of the knowledge 
of things seen. Geography gives an example. If we 
have never seen a lake or snow, we have to imagine 
them, imagination has to be put into activity. Up to 
what point can children imagine things ? We did not 
know, so we began with some experiments starting with 
children of 6 years. We saw that they did the opposite 
of what we imagined. We had thought they would be 
interested in big things, but they were interested in the 
details. We took the globe ; they knew the world, they 
had heard of it so much. * The world * is a phrase to 
which no sensorial image corresponds, yet the child 
forms an idea of what it is, which shows that he has a 

270 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



power of imaginative understanding, of abstraction. We 
prepared special small globes. We covered the earth 
with " star dust " and the oceans with deep and bright 
blue. The children began to say : " This is land ", 
" This is water ", " This is America ", " This is India ". 
They loved the globe so much that it became a favourite 
object in our classes. The mind of the child between 
3 and 6 years fixes not only the functions of the intelli- 
gence in relation with objects, but also those of imagi- 
nation and intuition. This means that the intelligence 
must have a great and vivid power at this age beyond 
that of merely absorbing through the senses. It has a 
higher power, that of imagination, which enables the 
individual to ' see * things he cannot see. This may seem 
an exaggeration in relation to children of this age, but if 
we think about it, we realize it is not such an exaggera- 
tion, since psychology has always said that this is a 
period of imagination. Even the most ignorant people 
tell their children fairy tales, and they love them im- 
mensely, as if they were anxious to use this great power 
of imagination. They call a table a house, a chair a 
horse, etc. Everyone realizes that the child likes to 
imagine, but he is given tales and toys as the only help. 
If the child can realize a fairy and visualize fairyland, it 
is not difficult for him to visualize America, etc. Instead 
of only hearing vaguely about America, a globe with the 
general shape of America is a concrete help to his imagi- 
nation. Imagination is endeavouring to find the truth of 

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THE ABSORBENT MIND 



things, a fact which is often forgotten. If in the child's 
environment the word * America * or 4 World f had never 
been mentioned by anyone, then it might be difficult for 
him to show interest in it, but since he hears the word 
so often, it enters his mind and he clothes it with imagi- 
nation. The mind is not the passive entity one imagines, 
the mind of man is a flame, an all-devouring flame, it is 
never still, but always active. 

When those children of six years had the globe and 
were talking about it, a child of three and a half came in 
and said : " Let me see ! Is this the world ? " " Yes '\ 
said the older ones, a little surprised, and the child of 
three and a half said : " Now I understand, because I 
have an uncle who has gone three times round the world. 
How was it round ? How did he go > Now I under- 
stand/* At the same time he realized this was only a 
model for he knew the world was immense ; he had 
taken it from the conversation round him. 

We had a child of four and a half, who also asked 
to see the older ones* globes and he looked steadily at 
one. The bigger children were talking of America, taking 
no notice of him. Presently the tiny one interrupted them : 
41 Where is New-York ? " The older ones, surprised, 
showed it to him. Then he said " Where is Holland ? ** 
Still more surprised, they showed it to him. Then, 
touching the blue part, he said : " Then this is the sea/* 
The older ones were interested, so the little one said r 
44 My father goes to America twice a year ; he stays in 

272 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



New-York. After he has started, Mother says, " Papa 
is on the sea ". For many days she says it ; then she 
says : " Papa is in New- York ". Then after a while she 
says : " He is on the sea again " and then one day she 
says : "He is in Holland, and we go to meet him at 
Amsterdam ". He had heard so much about America, 
that when the older children were talking about it, he 
was very eager to know about it and felt : "I have 
discovered America ". And what a rest it must have 
been for him, for he had been trying to find an orientation 
in the mental environment as he used to do in the 
physical environment. In order to take the mental world 
of his time, he has to take words from the adults and 
cloak them with images. This is the fact. 

Playing with toys and imagination through fairy 
tales represent two needs of that special period of life : 
the first, to place oneself in direct relation with the 
environment, to master the environment, and by this a 
great mental development is acquired by the child. The 
other reveals the strength of the imagination, so much so 
that he turns it on his toys. If we then give him real 
things to imagine about, this is a help to him and places 
him in more accurate relation with his environment too. 

At this age children often want information. They 
ask questions to know more of the truth of things. It is 
well known that the child is curious, always asking 
questions. If all these questions come together, it means 
that the child is in need of knowledge. The questions of 

273 

18 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



children are also interesting if one consider them not as 
a nuisance, but as the expression of a mind seeking 
information. Children of this age are not able to follow 
long explanations, so we do not give him a long explana- 
tion of the world, but a globe. Usually people give too 
exhaustive explanations. A child asked his father once 
why the leaves were green. The father thought how 
intelligent his child was, so he gave a long explanation 
of chloroplasm and chlorophyll and of the blue rays of 
the sun, etc. Presently he heard the child mumbling and 
listened ; the child said : " Oh, why did I ask Papa ? I 
want to know why the leaves are green, not all this 
about chlorophyll and the sun ! " 

Play, imagination and questions are the three 
characteristics of this age ; this is known by all and mis- 
understood by all. Sometimes questions are difficult 
like : " Mamma, where did I come from ? " but the child 
has reasoned to come to this question. An intellectual 
lady who guessed beforehand that her child would ask 
this question one day, determined to tell him the truth 
and when the child asked her the question at four years 
of age, she said: " My child, I made you'*. The 
answer was quick and short and the child was immedi- 
ately quiet. After a year or so she told him : " I am 
making another child now ", and when she went into 
the Nursing Home, she said she would come back with 
the child she had made. When she arrived back, she 
said : " Here is your little brother ; I made him as I 

274 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



made you ". By this time the child was six years old, 
so he said : " Why don't you tell me really how we 
come into the world ? I'm big now ; why don't you 
tell me truth ? When you told me last time you were 
making a child, I watched you, and you did nothing/* 
Even telling the truth is not as easy as it seems, so it 
needs a special wisdom on the part of teachers and 
parents to know how to help this imagination. 

The teacher requires a special preparation, because 
it is not our logic that solves problems. In no point on 
which we have touched, does our logic help, we have to 
know the child's development and to shed our pre- 
conceived ideas. Great tact and delicacy is necessary 
for the care of the mind of a child from three to six years, 
and an adult can have very little of it. Fortunately the 
child takes more from the environment than from the 
teacher. We must know the psychology of the child 
and serve him where we can. 



275 



CHAPTER XIX 

CHARACTER AND ITS DEFECTS IN 
YOUNG CHILDREN 

THE education of character was one of the most important 
items in old pedagogy ; it was one of its main aims. 
At the same time no clear definition of what is character 
was given, nor of the way to educate it. Old pedagogy 
only said that mental education is not sufficient, prac- 
tical education is not sufficient ; character is needed, but 
it is an unknown quantity X . These old educationists 
have some intuition of it, for what they really mean is 
the realization of the value of man, but when you go to 
these values, there also they are not clear. Like many 
other things in education, it is vague. Value is given to 
certain things, such as the virtues : courage, constancy, 
certainty of what one ought to do, moral relations with 
one's neighbours. In the question of character moral 
education plays a part. 

All over the world we find the same vague ideas. 
It seems to me that this question must be looked at from 
a different point of view, and instead of speaking about 

276 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



the education of the character we ought to speak of the 
construction of the character, the development of the 
character in and through the effort of the individual. A 
demonstration of this active creation of the character, not 
its education from outside, was shown by the children in 
my first school. Let me illustrate some points of this 
construction, which give a new idea to education. 

From the point of view of life, we could consider 
everything about character as behaviour in man. As I 
have mentioned before, the life of the individual from 
18 years can be divided into three periods : 6 years 
(with which we deal in this book), 6 12 years and the 
last period form 12 18 years ; each again divided into 
two sub-phases. In considering each of these groups, 
the type of mentality which each represents is so different 
that they might appear to belong to different people. 

As we have seen, the first period is a period of 
creation ; it is here that the roots of character are to 
be found, although when the child is born he has no 
character. The period from 6 years is therefore the 
most important part of life regarding character too, since 
here it is formed. Everyone has recognized that at this 
age the child cannot be influenced by outside example 
and pressure, so it must be nature herself that lays the 
foundation of the character. The child at this age has 
no understanding of or interest in what is good or bad ; he 
lives outside our moral vision of life. This is recognized, 
because we do not call the child of this age evil or bad* 

277 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



but naughty, indicating that this behaviour is infantile. 
We shall, therefore, not speak of evil and good or of 
morality in this book because those terms have a different 
meaning at this age. I mention this, because people ask 
all kinds of questions as to the use of the good example 
of forefathers, of patriotism, etc. They are important, but 
they do not concern this age ; in the second period 
(6 1 2 years) lies the beginning in the child's consciousness 
of the problem of good and evil, not only in his own 
actions, but in, and among, other people too. The question 
of good and evil comes into the light of consciousness as 
a special characteristic of this age : the moral conscience 
begins to form itself ; later it leads to social conscience. 
In the third period (12 18 years) comes the feeling of 
patriotism, of belonging to a group and of the honour of 
the group. I mention this now to make clear that it does 
not belong to the age of 6 years. 

I mentioned above that, although the character of 
each period is so different that it seems to belong to 
different people, yet each period lays the foundation for 
the next period. In order to develop normally in the 
second period, one must have lived well in the first 
period. It is like the caterpillar and the butterfly which 
are so different to look at and so different in their habits ; 
yet the fineness of the butterfly is attained by the true life 
of the caterpillar it was before, and not by imitating the 
example of another butterfly. In order to construct the 
future one must attend to the present. The more fully one 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



period is lived as regards its needs, the more successful 
the next period will be. 

Life begins at the conception of the individual If 
conception is brought about by two pure beings, not by 
alcoholics or drug-addicts, etc., then the resulting indi- 
vidual will be free from certain hereditary taxations on 
life. The right development of the embryo depends on 
the conception. For the rest the child can be influenced, 
but only by the environment, i.e. during gestation, by the 
mother. If the environment is favourable, the result is a 
strong healthy being. A fact worth considering is that 
this conception and gestation have an influence on the 
nervous system of the child (that is the reason why, if 
a shock or accident happens, he may become an idiot), 
so what happens after birth is due largely to the period 
of gestation. The first important thing in life is therefore 
conception, then gestation, then birth. We have 
mentioned the shock at birth and that this might give 
rise to regressions ; these characteristics of regression are 
serious, but not so serious as alcoholism or hereditary 
illness (as epilepsy, etc.). This shows us that, as we go 
on, the danger of the obstacles grows less and less, but 
the characteristics are always of a psychic kind. They 
influence the individual either in the direction of regres- 
sion or in that of independence. 

After birth come the three important years which we 
have already studied. During these two or three years, 
there are influences that can alter the child and alter 

279 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



his character in after-life, e.g. if the child has had 
some shock or met too great obstacles during this time, 
phobias may develop or we may have a timid or melan- 
cholic child. The character, therefore, develops in relation 
to obstacles or freedom from obstacles during this period. 
If during conception, gestation, birth and this period 
the child has been treated scientifically, then at the age 
of three years the child should be a model individual. 
This ideal of perfection is never fully attained as, amongst 
other reasons, during these developments the child has met 
with many accidents. At three years we meet with one 
or fifty or a million children with different characteristics. 
We have so many different results of different experiences 
and these different characteristics are of different import- 
ance according to the seriousness of the experience. If 
the characteristics are due to difficulties after birth, they 
are less serious than those of the period of gestation, and 
these in their turn are less serious than those of concep- 
tion. If they are due to the post-natal age, they can be 
cured between 3 and 6 years, because then perfection- 
ment is attained and defects are adjusted. If, however, the 
defects are due to shock at birth or earlier, then they are 
very difficult to correct. So there are certain imperfec- 
tions that may appear, but there is an active period of 
perfectionment and the erasure of certain defects 
of post-natal life is possible, but idiocy, epilepsy, 
paralysis, etc., which may even be hereditary cannot be 
cured by any help we can give. It is interesting to know 

280 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



that all but these organic difficulties can be cured, but 
if these defects, developed from 3 years, are not 
corrected now by treatment at the age of 3 6 years, 
they will not only remain, but will be increased by the 
wrong treatment during the period from 3 6 years. 
Then, by the age of 6 years, there may be a child with 
the defects of the period from 3 years strengthened, 
and with the newly acquired difficulties of the sub-phase 
from 3 6 as well. These in their turn will have an 
influence over the second period and the development 
of the conscience of good and evil. 

All these defects have a reflection on the mental 
life and on intelligence. Children are less able to learn 
if they have not met with good conditions of develop- 
ment in the previous period. A child of six years of 
age, therefore, is an accumulation of characteristics that 
may not be really his, but are acquired under the influence 
of circumstances. If a child has been neglected from 
3 to 6 years, he may not have the moral conscience that 
develops from 7 to 1 2 years or he may not have the 
normal intelligence. We then have a child with no 
moral character and no ability to learn, more troubles 
are added, and he is a man with scars due to the 
difficulties he has gone through. 

In our schools (and in many other modern schools) 
we keep a record of the biological details of each child 
in order to see how to treat the child. If we know the 
troubles of the different periods, we can orient ourselves 

281 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



as to how serious they are and how to treat them. We 
therefore ask the parents if there is hereditary illness, 
we enquire after the age of the parents at the birth of the 
child, make tactful enquiries as to the mother's life during 
the period of gestation, whether she had falls, etc. Then, 
if the birth has been a normal one, whether the baby was 
well or suffered from asphyxia. There are the questions 
regarding the home life of the child, if parents have been 
severe or if the child has had shocks. If we have 
problem-children or naughtly children, we try to find a 
reason for it in the life the child has led previously to that 
time. When they come to us at three years, almost all 
of them show strange characteristics, but they are 
curable. We can briefly consider the familiar types 
of these deviations. 

All these manifestations which are faulty and not 
normal, enter the field of what is usually called character. 
All children are different and the general idea is that 
each child must have a different treatment to cure his 
defects, but we distinguish two main groups of faulty 
characteristics, one belongs to the strong children who 
fight and overcome obstacles and the other group to the 
weaker ones who succumb to adverse conditions. 

Defects of the Strong Children 

Violent tantrums, anger, acts of rebellion and aggres- 
sion. One of the most common features is disobedience 
and another is destructiveness. Then there is the desire 

282 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



for possessions ; so we have selfishness and envy (the 
latter not manifesting itself passively, but by trying to 
have what other children have). Inconstancy (very 
common in children) ; incapability of attention ; inability 
to co-ordinate the movements of the hands so that they 
drop and break things ; a disorderly mind and strong 
imagination. Also they frequently shout, shriek and make 
loud noises ; they interrupt and they tease and torment 
and often are cruel to the weak and to animals. Fre- 
quently too they are gluttons. These are a few of their 
troubles. 

Defects of the Weak Children 

These are of a passive type and have negative 
defects such as sloth, inertia, crying for things and wanting 
people to do things for them ; they want to be amused, 
are easily bored. They have a fear of everything and 
cling to adults. Then too they have the fault of lying (a 
passive form of defence) and of stealing (a passive form 
of grabbing other's possessions,) and many more. 

There are certain physical characteristics which are 
concomitant with these difficulties ; i.e., these physical 
defects have a psychic origin, but are confused with real 
physical illnesses. One of these is the refusal of food 
and loss of appetite ; the contrary defect is indigestion 
due to gluttony ; both are of a psychic origin. Then 
there are nightmares, fear of the dark, agitated sleep 
which in their turn affect the physical health and then 

283 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



anaemia results. Certain forms of anaemia and liver 
trouble are due to psychic facts. There are neuroses too. 
All these have a psychic origin, as is shown because no 
medicine can cure them. 

All these characteristics enter into what is called 
moral problems and behaviour. Many of these children 
(especially the strong type) are not felt as a blessing in 
the family, the parents try to get rid of them and hand 
them over to nurses or schools and they become orphans 
with their parents living. They are ill with a healthy 
body. This leads to the depression of life called naughti- 
ness. They are problems and their parents want to know 
what to do with them. Some ask questions, some try to 
solve their own problems. Some adopt severity con- 
vinced that if you stop them at once, they will be cured, 
these defects checked as soon as they appear will not 
develop, they think. All means are used : slapping, 
scolding, sending them to bed without food, but it is 
found that they become more ferocious and bad, or 
develop the passive equivalent of the same defect. Then 
the persuasive line is tried, we will reason with them 
and their affection is exploited : " Why do you hurt 
Mummie," or one washes one's hands of the whole thing, 
and leaves them alone. Discussions start : " My sister's 
children do what they like and see what they are ! " 
" What about your children > " " Oh, I tell their father, 
who beats them ". " And are they good ? " " Oh, no, 
they are just like their father ! " 

284 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



Then there are the people who leave their children 
alone. These children usually belong to the passive 
type, they do nothing, and the mother thinks her boy 
good and obedient, and when he clings to her, she says 
how much he loves her ; he loves her so much that he 
will not go to sleep without her. But somehow she finds 
he is slow and retarded in speech and he is too weak to 
walk. " He is healthy, but he is so sensitive, he is afraid 
of everything ! He doesn't want to eat either ; he is a 
spiritual child because I have to tell him stories to make 
him eat, he must be a saint or a poet ! " Finally she 
thinks he is ill and the doctor is called to give medi- 
cine. These psychic illnesses make a fortune for the 
child's doctor. 

All these problems can be understood and solved 
if we know of the cycles of activity necessary for 
the construction of the personality ; if we realize 
the children's need to hear men and see the actions of 
men and carry out their own experiences. We know 
that all these troubles are due to faulty treatment in the 
earlier period ; they have been startled mentally, their 
mind is empty because they had no means of constructing 
it. This starved mind (of which psychology takes much 
notice now) is the main cause of these defects and 
another cause is the lack of spontaneous activity guided 
by the constructive impulses of the child which we have 
studied. Hardly any children have been able to find 
the conditions necessary for full development. They 

285 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



have been isolated from people, made to sleep all the 
time ; the adults have done everything for them ; they 
have not been able to complete cycles of activity without 
interruption. They have not been able to observe 
objects, because when they handled them, they were 
taken away ; seeing them only and unable to handle 
them, made them want to possess them, so when they 
did get hold of a flower or an insect they pulled them 
apart, not knowing what to do with them. And the 
passive child has developed inertia instead. 

Fear also is traceable to the early period. If, when 
the little child fell down all the stairs, the adults had all 
rushed to help him and made a fuss (as they usually do) 
he would have felt fear instead of laughing. Our actions 
are often the cause of fear in children. 

One of the facts that made our schools remarkable 
was the disappearance of these defects. It was due to 
one thing : the children could carry out their experiences 
on the environment, and these exercises were nourish- 
ment to the mind ; that is why all these common defects 
disappeared. Round the interest in their activity they 
repeated exercises and passed from one period of con- 
centration to another. When the child has reached this 
stage and is able to concentrate and work round an 
interest, defects disappear ; the disorderly become 
orderly, the passive active and the disturber becomes 
a helper. This is a marvellous fact and the disappear- 
ance of these defects made us understand that they were 

286 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



acquired, not real characteristics. Children were not 
different in that one told lies and another was disobedient. 
All the troubles came from the same cause : the children 
had lacked the necessary means for psychic life. 

So what advice can one give to mothers ? To tell 
them to give their children work and interesting occupa- 
tions ; not to help them unnecessarily, and not to 
interrupt them if they have started any intelligent action. 
Sweetness, severity, medicine do not help at all. 
Children are suffering from mental starvation. If anyone 
is suffering from physical starvation, we do not call him 
stupid or hit him or sentimentalize over him ; that 
would do no good ; what he needs is to eat. So it is 
with this question too ; neither harshness nor sweetness 
will solve the problem. Man is by nature an intellectual 
creature and he needs mental food almost more than 
physical food. Unlike animals, he must construct his 
own behaviour and life is life for this need. So if he is 
on the road where he can construct the behaviour for 
which life has been given to him, all will be well. 
Physical illness disappears, nightmares disappear, digestion 
is normal without gluttony. He becomes normal, because 
the psyche is normal. 

This is not a question of moral education, but 
regards the development of character. Lack of character, 
faulty character disappear without the need of preaching 
or of an example by the adult. Neither threats nor 
promises are necessary, but just conditions of life. 

287 



CHAPTER XX 

A SOCIAL CONTRIBUTION OF THE CHILD : 
NORMALIZATION 

ALL the characteristics we described in the last chapter 
when tracing the behaviour of the strong and weak 
children, are not considered evil by general opinion ; 
some are considered good traits. Those children who 
showed a passive character and were attached to their 
mother are considered good. Other traits still are con- 
sidered as signs of superiority ; children who are always 
bustling about, are extremely healthy and have vivid 
imaginations are all considered superior. They usually 
pass from one thing to another, but the parents think 
they are bright children. 

So we might say the world considers three types of 
children : 

1 . Those whose traits need to be corrected ; 

2. Those who are good (passive) and serve as 
models ; 

3. Those who are considered superior. 

The two latter types are considered desirable and 
the parents are proud of such children ; even when (as 

288 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



with the last type) they feel a certain discomfort when 
they are near, they still speak proudly of them. 

I have insisted on this point and drawn attention to 
this classification, as these features have been noticed 
during the centuries, and no other characteristics have 
been noticed but these. Yet what I have seen in my 
first school, and in others, is that all these characteristics 
disappeared at once, as soon as a child became interested 
in work that attracted his attention. So-called bad traits, 
the so-called good and the so-called superior, all disap- 
peared and only one type of child appeared with none 
of the traits I have described. This means that the world 
hitherto has not been able to measure good or bad or 
superior ; what we considered so, was not really so. It 
reminds me of a mystical saying : " Nothing is right 
except you, O Lord ; all the rest is erroneous." The 
children of our schools revealed that the real aim of all 
children was constancy at work, and this had never been 
seen before. Neither had spontaneity in the choice of 
work, without the guide of a teacher, ever been seen 
before. The children, following some inner guide, occu- 
pied themselves in work (different for each) that gave 
them calm serenity and joy, and then something else 
appeared that had never yet appeared in a group of 
children : a spontaneous discipline. This struck people 
even more than the explosion into writing. This disci- 
pline in freedom seemed to solve a problem which had 
been insoluble. The solution was : to obtain discipline, 

289 

19 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



give freedom. These children going about seeking for 
work in freedom, each concentrated in a different type 
of work, yet as a whole group presented the appearance 
of perfect discipline. We shall return to this question of 
the real nature of the children that finally obtained, but 
meanwhile we will describe the change which took place 
in the children. 

All children, if placed in an environment allowing 
ordered activity, show this new appearance, so there 
is one psychic type common to all humanity, which 
hitherto had remained hidden under the cloak of other 
apparent characteristics. This change that came over 
our children and made them appear as of one uniform 
type, did not come gradually, but suddenly. It always 
came when the child was concentrated in one activity ; 
so that if there was a lazy child, we did not urge him to 
work. We merely facilitated contact with the means of 
development in the prepared environment. As soon as 
he found work all his trouble disappeared at once. It is 
not reasoning with the children that will do good ; it is 
something within themselves that sets to work. 

The human individual (especially in the period of 
construction) is a unity and constructs a unity, when the 
hand is working and the mind is guiding it. I recognized 
that when the mind and hand are not united, there is no 
unity in the individuality and it is then that these super- 
ficial traits of ' badness *, 4 goodness ' and 4 superiority f 
appear. This conclusion is the result of my observations 

290 




FIG. 13 

Normal and deviated features of the child's character 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



of children, it certainly is no a priori idea of mine. This 
is the new point which came to light and which is per- 
haps most difficult to understand, probably because we 
live in a world of virtues and defects (which are rewarded 
or punished) and among children who have always shown 
the traits outlined above, because they had no opportunity 
to express anything else. It is not necessary to have an 
adult as a guide and mentor to conduct, but it is essential 
to give the child opportunities of work which have been 
denied to him heretofore. 

The passage from the superficial to the normal traits 
is always through a function, through intelligent activity of 
hand and mind together. In figure 1 3 on one side we 
see all the different characteristics of children as we 
usually know them, represented by lines raying out. 
They are innumerable. The middle thick perpendicular 
line symbolizes concentration on one point ; it is the line 
of normality. When the children are able to concentrate, 
then all the lines on the right of this middle line disappear 
and only one type is seen revealing characteristics re- 
presented by the lines on the left. The loss of all the 
superficial characteristics is not achieved by an adult, 
but by the child passing along the main line of function- 
ing with his whole personality ; then normality is achieved. 

I shall now give some examples of what appeared 
in some schools after the first school which had such 
unusual conditions. People came from all parts of the 
world to take my Courses and then went back to their 

291 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



own countries and started schools there. Most of these 
schools were for rich children, who have more defects,, 
because they have much less chance of normal function- 
ing, having so many servants. The first letters I 
received from these students were letters of dismay ; 
records of tremendous disorder, and they described in 
detail all the usual defects, e.g. 

1 . One child used material as if it were a train or an 

aeroplane, etc. he joked and talked loudly and 
molested other children (the old superior type). 

2. Another child was snobbish and superior to- 

wards the apparatus and was lazy. 

3. A little one was attached to his brother, took 

exactly what his brother took, and when his 
brother got up, he got up too, etc. 

4. Other children were almost pathological cases, 

e.g. afraid to touch water, etc., and one about 
3^ did not speak at all. 

A collection of children like these, all together, made 
a confusion for the teacher too. One said that they 
threw the material on the ground and danced on it. The 
teachers who expected little angels to drop down from 
heaven were therefore bitterly disappointed. 

After some months the tone of the letters began to 
change. The transformation which we call 'normali- 
zation ' had occurred. Teachers who had no connection 
with each other (some were in New Zealand, others in 
Rome, in France, in America, or in England) all wrote 

292 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



the same thing : " such and such a child has found some 
work and he has changed himself/' The child who 
followed his brother everywhere, one day took the pink 
tower by himself and his attention became fixed on it. 
When his elder brother went into another room, the little 
one did not follow him, so that the big brother had such a 
shock that he said in an almost offended tone : " What is 
this ? You are doing the pink tower when I am drawing 
in the other room ? " The little one had found his own 
value and no longer needed the moral support of his 
brother. Another child would not come to school or 
stay in school without his mother ; she would put herself 
in a corner and say she would stay and if she tried to 
slip away, the child would immediately cry. One day 
the child became interested in washing a table ; the 
mother thought this was a good opportunity to slip away, 
but she hesitated to do so without some intimation to 
the child lest he should scream later when he found her 
not there. She, therefore, said to him, " I am going ". The 
little one said, " All right, goodbye Mummie ", and never 
needed her any more either to stay in school or to accom- 
pany him to school The children who had been attached 
to their mother and brother, had not had freedom for 
independence, so they were unable to do anything alone. 
Someone always had to function for them. As soon as 
both became interested in work and the mind guided the 
hand, they found their own independence and functioned 
for themselves. 

293 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



The romping child who used the material as trains 
and aeroplanes became interested in the geometrical 
insets ; he went round the shapes and the frames and 
fitted them in with his eyes shut. At once his wild fancies 
disappeared. Instead of saying : "This is an engine " f 
44 This is an aeroplane/' etc., he said: "This is a 
trapezium ", " This is an octagon," etc. He was attached 
to reality now, not to fantasy ; and his hands which had 
previously dropped everything, now became very de- 
finite, precise and careful in their work. He became 
calm and serious with all the material. If one examines 
these things, one might say that this little fellow, living 
in a world of fantasy, had had nothing of real value to 
occupy his attention, so he occupied himself with what 
he found around him ; neither had his hands had any 
opportunity to hold anything for any real purpose. When 
the mind, which had been running about in fantasy apart 
from the hands which had nothing to do, became a guide 
for the hands which were doing something real, there 
suddenly came a united individuality and the real work 
in its turn was now nourishing the mind. 

The child who had a fear of water, especially of 
pouring water (and had probably been scolded with some 
violence for playing with water) became interested in 
the baric sense tablets at last. She was very happy ; and 
when she had finished that, she did some other work- 
Then she suddenly realized that she was no longer afraid 
of pouring water ; and she was so happy that seeing 

294 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



some children using water colours, she immediately went 
to fill all their little jars with fresh water and took that 
task as a special one for herself. 

One child had a trait of not sitting down, even 
though tired. We tried to find out what had happened 
earlier in her life to account for this peculiarity. The 
mother said she had never scolded her for sitting down 
at any time, and then the father remembered an incident 
which happened when the child was about one and a 
half years of age. She had a new dress and she went 
to sit on a newly painted stool, and the mother said 
suddenly : "Be careful ! don't sit on that ! there now 
you have made a mess ! " This was the cause of the 
fear of sitting, and the question was how to cure her. 
I said : " Take no notice of her ; let her find her own 
interest ". After a time she became interested in some 
work and repeated the activity full of interest. Wanting 
to continue she " unconsciously " drew a chair to herself 
and sat down. From that moment she lost her fear of 
sitting down. The child of 3 years who did not talk, was 
examined by a doctor ; there was nothing organically 
wrong which would prevent her from talking. She was 
given electric treatment, but that did not help. She spent 
some time in school wandering about, doing nothing and 
saying nothing of course. At last she became interested 
in some work and we could see her face light up. When 
she had finished, she ran to the teacher and said : " Come 
and see what I have done ! ", her first words. 

295 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



Also digestive trouble, nightmares and other things 
disappeared and at home too the children became calmer. 
One child always afraid of the dark, became interested 
in work at school, and one evening at home, when her 
mother needed something from a dark outhouse, she 
said : "Til go and fetch it Mummie ". She was no 
longer afraid of the dark. 

So too the over-obedient, passive children changed, 
the passivity and the over-obedience disappeared through 
concentrated spontaneous activity. 

We must repeat that this was not a sporadic pheno- 
menon. It happened in our schools all over the world, 
so we realized that this type of calm, serene, unafraid 
child was the real, normal child and showed the real 
behaviour and character of childhood. It was only after- 
wards that I fully understood what this actually meant, 
viz., that the child must construct himself, as we have 
been expounding in this and our other books. If 
the conditions do not allow this, normality disap- 
pears, but once the conditions for building the psyche 
are there, the normal type appears. We therefore 
called the type that developed in our schools 4 normal- 
ized' children and the others deviated children. One oi 
the greatest and most interesting factors was the extra- 
ordinary discipline of normalized children, each occupiec 
in the work of his choice. The newspapers said : " II 
is marvellous if it is true, but it is incredible ". Everyone 
who visited these schools tried to find out what tricl 

29( 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



I used, they were sure it must be a trick. Some said it 
was my personal hypnotism that produced the result, but 
I said : " This happened in New York ; and I was in 
Rome ff . Others thought that the children had been pre- 
pared before by the teacher or that she used her eyes in 
some way to express approval or disapproval, but who 
would have gone through all this trouble to prove some- 
thing that had not been seen before ? 

A public occasion which also demonstrated the 
genuineness of these phenomena was at the World Fair 
in San Francisco, at the time of the opening of the 
Panama Canal. Among the educational exhibits had 
been built a small Montessori classroom with glass walls 
so that the public could watch from outside without 
disturbing the children at work. Helen Parkhurst, the 
later orginator of the * Dalton Plan ', was then the 
teacher. The door was locked at night and the key 
left with a caretaker. One day the caretaker had an 
accident and did not turn up, so the people were outside 
waiting and also the children with their teacher. The 
teacher said : " We can't get in today to work ", but one 
child saw an open window and said : 4< Lift us up and 
we can get through the window and work ". The window 
was of a size proportionate to the children, so the 
teacher said : " That is all right for you, but I cannot get 
in ". The children answered, " Never mind ; you don't 
work anyhow ; you can sit outside and watch us with 
the other people ". It is not a theoretical principle that 

297 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



1 am advocating, they are facts which were witnessed by 
the whole world. 

At one time there was an earthquake in Italy which 
destroyed the city of Messina ; after the earthquake 
many children were found who had lost their parents, 
and were suffering from terrible shock and obviously had 
to be helped by the State. They were collected to- 
gether in an orphanage and sixty of them, who were the 
most depressed and of a suitable age, were chosen to try 
and give them some special consolation by using this 
new method. They were of course most difficult to treat 
and so a special environment was made for them to help 
their independence. It was very beautiful and bright 
with many exercises of practical life. In a few months 
they were so happy that they skipped about as they laid 
tables in the garden for lunch. People outside wondered 
what had happened. What had really happened was this : 
into the exercises of practical life many complications 
had been incorporated which were given with great 
exactness of detail. Among the people helping them were 
aristocrats who taught them many refined details of social 
manners that were not known outside aristocratic circles, 
and these details and the precision they demanded caught 
the children's interest and they began to have a new 
life. People outside said that these children were both 
perfect gentlemen and ladies, and perfect servants. It 
is the number and exactness of details that call forth 
the attention ; on a gross action the mind does not dwell, 

298 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



on exactness of detail the mind must dwell. One 
American authoress, Dorothy Canfield- Fisher, came to see 
these children and as a result she wrote The Montessori 
Mother, a book which is still in print. In the case of 
these children it was a depression of life that was cured ; 
life had gone to its lowest extremity through the shock the 
children had received, and now it came bubbling up again. 

From all this we must conclude that the first psychic 
need of the child is to live according to his own psychic 
laws. Activity brings him to the normal behaviour of 
man, because it is not merely ordinary activity as with 
an adult, it is a need of life. The child must develop, 
functioning individually, going towards independence, 
the mind linked with the hand. If the natural laws are 
not obeyed, innumerable difficulties arise ; if natural laws 
are obeyed the difficulties disappear. If therefore work- 
ing with the hands according to free choice in a prepared 
environment expands the activities of the first period 
and perfects them, it is possible between the ages of 
three and six years to overcome all difficulties. The 
facts are simple, but they are the facts of life, witnessed 
all over the world in the last forty years. On the basis 
of these facts new characteristics have been revealed, 
and a new organization of schools has commenced ; 
schools where the children are active and the teacher is 
mostly passive, acting indirectly through the environment. 

This transformation of character does not take place 
in all children. Certain organic forms of defects and 

299 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



illnesses which originated in the pre-natal state, we 
cannot help or cure. The small angle represented at 
the left of our diagram represents these. They are the 
congenital, mental and moral defectives who will grow 
up to be the idiots and criminals of our society. They 
are relatively a very small proportion of humanity, but 
this proportion of the criminals, the idiots and the mad 
is increased by the numbers of those who could have 
been helped before they were six years old, but were 
not helped. So we begin to understand a little of the 
problems of society. In the United States of America, 
for instance, statistics give us the figure of 1 00,000 as the 
number of new admissions to the mental asylums every 
year ; and since every one of these has been crazy for 
ten years at least, one can realize how many crazy and 
mad people there must be in the United States, and 
how many are still at large. This is not natural, most 
of these could have been helped, but only before the age 
of six years. Jails also are full and special jails are built 
for youths, another tragedy. 

The small angle to the right of the diagram also 
represents those whom we do not help ; they are the 
saints and geniuses of society who do not need us. 
Normalization is for the great mass of men, not for the 
very few exceptions on either side, those who do not 
need it because they are great personalities as saints and 
geniuses, and those who cannot be helped because their 
defects are pre-natal in origin, the criminals and the mad. 

300 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



We have hopes that through understanding many can 
be helped and that the number of the insane and criminal 
can be much reduced, but the schools and social life 
must alter for they are responsible for much of the trouble. 
Hence, this first institution of mine is important, and we 
owe a great debt of gratitude to these first children for, 
without their example, we could not have known all this. 
The child is the great citizen who has shown the 
way of bettering society, the simplicity and uniqueness 
of the way are all the contributions of the child. It is 
only through work that re-organization can be achieved, 
but work that gives joy, not work imposed against the 
laws of life. 



301 



CHAPTER XXI 

CHARACTER-BUILDING A CONQUEST, 
NOT A DEFENCE 

IN the previous chapter we mentioned that the defects 
that arose after birth were lost by children if they 
had the proper environment before the age of 6 
years. The disappearance of these defects was not 
due to the general practice of attacking them one 
by one ; they all disappeared suddenly in the same 
fashion when the children's interest was centred on one 
activity. Then began a series of phenomena which was 
constant. All normalized children acted in a uniform 
manner, i.e. they continued to work concentrated on some- 
thing, serene and tranquil. This, at the time, was 
surprising, because it had never before been seen in small 
children. They also showed a special characteristic not 
seen in adults and not before seen in children : they 
worked with the maximum effort, and continued their 
activity till the task tOas completely finished and with exacti- 
tude. This accomplishment of a task with exactitude is 
uncommon even in adults ; the children do this to the 
extreme limit, for, having perfectly completed their work 

302 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



once, they repeat it many times often carrying these 
repetitions to what seems to us absurdity. They will 
polish a brass vessel ten times over or repeat forty times 
and even two hundred times the exercise with the cylind- 
ers. Obviously children do not work with an outer 
aim ; it is evident that they have another aim which is 
not external, but dictated by nature. These repeated and 
concentrated activities always share one feature ; the 
mind and the hand are engaged in it together. We must 
envisage this and try to understand it. These children are 
building the character of man, they are elaborating the 
inner qualities which we admire in a man of character : 
the ability to decide rapidly, constancy in work. These 
qualities have not been developed in response to preach- 
ing or to our examples. We must study character 
from a positive point of view : character is only acquired 
through long and gradual exercise which lasts for years. 
This is achieved in the period from 3 to 6 years and this 
creation and elaboration of qualities of character are 
carried out along the lines that nature established for the 
formation of the human personality. As between and 
3 years of age certain acquisitions are elaborated (e.g. 
language) so here the creation and elaboration of charac- 
ter is achieved following natural guides. All the acquisi- 
tions from to 3 years were made through the absorbent 
mind so that the child, merely by living among others, 
absorbed the language, etc., but from three to six years, 
he must construct and he constructs his character in an 

303 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



active fashion. The construction of character is accom- 
panied by work so that at six years of age the construction 
of mental qualities and character has been fundamentally 
accomplished. If we take this into consideration it be- 
comes clear, not only that we cannot teach the virtues of 
character, but that we must not disturb the normalized 
child of three to six years when he is building his 
character. If we intervene unnecessarily we interrupt 
this construction. The work of education for children of 
this age is therefore not to preach to them ; there is only 
one way of helping this spontaneous development of 
character and that is to prepare the environment for their 
development and then to respect their intelligent activities 
and leave them alone. It is useless to put examples in 
front of these children. For one thing, they may do better 
than the example already ; and in any case it is useless 
to preach to them, it is like talking to the wind. Even 
ordinary parents understand something of this, that is why 
they smack them because they know that it is useless to 
talk to them. 

The revelations of our children pointed the way to 
us to place this part of education on a scientific basis. 
At a later age it is possible to approach the mind of the 
child directly and we can intervene with preaching and 
exhortations. After six years only one can become a 
missionary of morality to the child ; between the ages of 
six and twelve years the conscience is awakened and the 
child sees the problems of what is right and what is 

304 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



wrong. Still more success is attainable between twelve 
and eighteen years when the child begins to feel ideals 
like patriotism and the social aspect of religion, etc. Then 
we can become missionaries to them and also to adults. 
The moralizing activity of preaching is always carried out 
among adults, so there is plenty of time for our mis- 
sionary efforts. The only trouble then is that after six 
years of age they cannot spontaneously develop qualities 
of character, and the missionaries, imperfect themselves, 
have difficulties, because they are trying to act on 
smoke not on fire. Educationists lament that they can 
teach science, literature, etc., but that these young people 
have no character, and when character is lacking, the 
propelling force of life is lacking. It is only in those who, 
through storms and mistakes of the environment, have 
nevertheless been able to rescue some or all of these 
characteristics, that there is character. The fault lies 
in the fact that we did not give them the opportunity of 
constructing their own character through the normal 
activities natural to them and undisturbed by us, before 
they were six years old. Now we cannot make these 
young people concentrated if they lack the power of 
concentration. If we tell them to be constant in their 
work and attend to it exactly, how can they do it if they 
lack the power ? It is as though someone said " Walk 
straight " and we had no legs to do it. TTiese abilities can 
only he acquired by exercise and not by command. I 
cannot play on the piano or the veena even if commanded 

305 

20 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



and willing to do so, because I do not have the ability ; 
the chance has been lost. Many things lost to the child 
during the creative period cannot be created again. 
What can we do then ? Society generally says : " Be 
patient with youth ; we can only persist in our good 
intentions and examples " ; and we think with patience 
and time we shall achieve something. We achieve 
nothing ; with the passage of time we become older, but 
we create nothing. Nothing can be achieved only with 
time and patience ; if you do not use the opportunities 
of the creative period when they are there, you can wait 
for eternity with the patience of Job. 

Another point becomes clear if we look at human- 
ity, which is really an undeveloped mass of confused 
minds. Everybody repeats : " All are different from 
each other ", but these different individuals can be 
grouped in different categories. If we could become 
mental eagles and look at them from above we should 
see these categories. It seems that, as with children, 
these adults differ in defects, but have something deep 
and profound, common to all of them, but remaining 
hidden. In all men there is a tendency, though some- 
times vague and subconscious, to better themselves, a 
trend towards spirituality. Indeed these actions on the 
defects of character, have later on the quality of stimu- 
lating improvement. Both individuals and society have 
this in common : continued progress. This is a fact both 
externally and internally speaking and means that there 

306 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



is a little lamp in the subconscious of humanity which 
leads it to betterment. In other words the behaviour of 
man is not fixed as in other animals, but can progress, 
so it is natural that man has this urge to progress. 

In figure 14 we see in the centre a red circle, the 
centre of perfection, around it is an aura of blue which 
represents the category of humanity of the stronger 
normal type. The white space round that represents the 
great mass of people not-well-developed in various 
degrees. On the periphery is a small brown circle 
between two black lines which represents those outside 
the circle of normal humanity, the very few extra-social 
or anti-social people (the extra-social being the imbecile 
and insane and the anti-social, the criminals). The 
criminals and the insane have not been able to adapt 
themselves to society ; all the others have been able to 
adapt themselves to a greater or smaller degree. The 
problems of education, therefore, are all with people who 
have been able to adapt themselves to some extent. 

That adaptation to the environment is the work of 
the child under six years, so here is the origin of human 
character. What a tremendous problem it is, finding or 
not finding easy adaptation ! There are the people who 
have more or less perfectly adapted themselves, they 
more or less answer the needs of society, they are those 
represented in the white circle. Those in the blue circle are 
nearer to perfection, stronger because they have a greater 
amount of vital energy or found a better environment, 

307 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



while the others have less vital force or met with 
many obstacles. In society, those in the blue circle are 
recognized as having the stronger character and the 
others are said to have a weaker character. People in 
the blue circle have a natural attraction to the perfection 
represented by the centre, whereas the people in the 
white circle feel an attraction to the extremity, the outer 
circumference. So there is a category of people who feel 
an attraction to, and are sliding down towards, the anti- 
and extra-social belt, as if they were climbing with diffi- 
culty and slipped down. They meet many temptations 
and if they do not continually make an effort, they 
slide down ; they feel themselves becoming inferior. We 
have to sustain these morally so that they do not slip in 
temptation. It is not an attraction of pleasure, because no 
one enjoys slipping towards criminality or insanity ; it is 
like an irresistible attraction of gravity and involves con- 
tinuous fighting against it. It is this effort to resist the 
tendency to slip downwards that is considered a virtue. 
Virtue, in fact, prevents us from falling down into a 
moral chasm. Such people are told to take care not to 
Jail and they will do penance ; they will put a rule 
on their life to keep them from falling ; they will attach 
themselves to someone better than they are ; they will 
pray to the Omnipotent to help them against temptation. 
More and more they clothe themselves in virtues, but it 
is a very difficult life. Penance is not a joy of life ; it is 
an effort of one climbing a cliff and clinging to some 

30ft 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



projection so as not to be dashed on the rocks. Youth 
ieels this pull of gravity and it is the educationists who 
try to help them by examples and exhortation. They 
serve as a model, though they feel the pull sometimes as 
much as the youths do. How many times they say : "I 
must be a model, or what will my pupils do ? " And they 
feel the restraint of model-hood. Both pupil and edu- 
cationists are in the category of the virtuous people the 
white circle ; this is the environment of the education of 
character and morals today and so it has been accepted 
as the only education. Hence the majority of people 
are always in the white circle and humanity generally 
considers that this is the true man, who is continually on 
the defence. 

In the blue circle are the stronger people with an 
attraction to perfection. There is no pull of gravity, but 
a real attraction to get nearer to perfection. This may 
often be an aspiration without the possibility of actual 
perfection, but in any case they go towards it naturally 
and almost without effort. They are not people that are 
not thieves because of fear of the police or that make an 
effort against the sense of possession ; they are not people 
led towards violence, but refraining from it by virtue ; 
they are not attracted by the possessions of those around 
them nor are they violent. They feel only one attraction, 
that of the centre of perfection and they feel that because 
it has become a quality of their life. They do not need 
virtue in the same way, because they are less subject to 

309 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



the pull of gravity towards imperfection. They hate imper- 
fection. When they go towards the centre of perfection 
they do not feel it as a sacrifice, but as their dearest wish ; 
they want to go. 

Let us make a physical comparison, and consider 
the question of vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Many 
who eat meat, abstain from eating meat on certain days 
of the week, and in Lent they fast for forty days, which 
means they go without meat and some other things. It 
often is one long, dreary period of penance to them and 
they feel very virtuous. After this period there comes a 
reaction and they gorge on all sorts of meat perhaps. 
During Lent they are tempted and say : " O, Lord, help 
me ! " These are virtuous people who observe the rules 
of other people and religious leaders. They are pure, 
but in the blue field are the celestial ones, the vegetarians, 
who have no temptation to eat meat ; they avoid it. It 
is of no use sending a missionary against meat-eating to 
the vegetarians ; they observe non -meat-eating better 
than he does. 

Let us take another example : the physically strong: 
and the weak (e.g. a sufferer from chronic bronchitis). 
The latter needs protection for his lungs with many warm 
wraps and woollen garments ; perhaps too he needs baths 
and massage for bad circulation. These seem quite 
normal people, they are not in hospital, but take care 
of themselves. Or perhaps their digestion is not good 
and they have to eat special food in special ways at 

310 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



special times in order to keep well. All these people 
keep afloat among the normal people, but with a lot of 
care and attention to details, and with the fear of the 
hospital and death always in the environment. They 
are always attached to doctors and nurses and people of 
the family and they have a constant cry of " Help me *\ 
But look at those who enjoy good health, they eat what 
they like and do not care about rules. They go out in 
the cold because they enjoy it, and they jump into an 
icy stream for a swim when others hardly dare to put 
their nose out of doors. Polar explorers feel the adven- 
ture as a joy ; they don't worry about the physical dis- 
comforts. In the whitish field of virtues, too, Sadhus and 
Babus are needed and spiritual mentors of all kinds or 
there is a fall into the abyss or chasm of temptation. But 
the people in the blue field do not need these in the 
same way and they have joys the others could not 
dream about. 

Let us then go to the circle of perfection in our effort 
to put character on a basis of facts. What is perfection > 
Is it perhaps to possess all the virtues to the highest 
degree, and to attain what ? Here also we must put 
something possible and factual. By character we mean 
the behaviour of humanity, which is urged (even if sub- 
consciously in many) towards progress. This is the 
general trend : humanity and society must progress in 
evolution. Some people feel the attraction towards God, 
but let us consider for the present a merely human centre of 

311 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



perfection, which is the progress of humanity. Some 
individual makes a discovery and society progresses on 
that line. It is the same in the spiritual field, an indivi- 
dual reaches a level and gives a push forward to society- 
All that we know, spiritually speaking, and all that we 
see, physically speaking, has been the result of some 
man's attainment. If we study geography or history we 
see continuous progress, because from time to time some 
man puts a point in the red circle, of perfection and this 
is an attraction, but only to the people in the blue field, 
who are sure of themselves and who do not need rules 
or penance. They do not have to spend energy fighting 
temptation, thus they can use the same energy to achieve 
things impossible to those who have to struggle in order to 
keep safe from temptation. So Admiral Byrd submitted 
himself to the humiliation of one who seeks to collect 
money in order to do what ? to explore the South Pole 
and expose himself to all the sufferings of a polar ex- 
pedition. He felt nothing of the suffering, he felt the 
attraction of the red circle of perfection, of reaching some- 
thing not yet reached. 

To conclude we might say that humanity is too 
wealthy in those who are in the white circle and too poor 
in those who are in the blue circle from the point of view 
of character. There are too many people in need of 
crutches to enable them to avoid temptation ; and if the 
world continues to centre education on this level, it is 
keeping the people down on this level. 

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THE ABSORBENT MIND 



Imagine a missionary from the white field coming 
to children in the blue field and telling them to renounce 
meat or they will fall ; such children would say : " I 
cannot fall, I feel no attraction for meat ". Or another 
missionary says : " You must cover yourself or you will 
catch a cold ", the child would say : " I do not need to 
cover myself, I have no fear of cold ". Let us realize that 
this tendency in education to provide mentors from the 
whitish field, tends to push all the children down to this 
level (even if it is only to resist) and not up and to- 
wards the centre of perfection. If we look at all the 
syllabuses of education, we see the scarcity of infor- 
mation they give and the aridity of them. It is humiliating 
this education of today and brings about an inferiority- 
complex and an artificial reduction of human strength. It 
does this by its very organization. It puts limits to know- 
ledge, and limits below the level of man. It gives men 
crutches, when they could have strong legs to run with- 
it is a wrong education based on the inferior qualities of 
man not on the superior qualities. It is by the effort of 
man himself, that men are today a mass of inferior beings. 
They have not built their character before six years of 
age. We must try and reconstruct the real level, try to 
allow the child to use his creative powers ; and probably 
the blue space which is not one of perfection, but of 
attraction towards perfection, not of defence, but of 
conquest, will invade the whole of the whitish space . If 
there is only one epoch in man's life when he can construct 

313 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



himself psychically, and the construction is not then 
made or is badly made on account of a wrong environ- 
ment, then we naturally obtain a mass of undeveloped 
individuals. Supposing, however, that we allow the 
character to develop according to nature and give an 
opportunity for constructive activity, not exhortations 
only, then the world will need another type of 
education. 

Take away artificial limitations and set in front of 
humanity great things to be accomplished. I can read 
all the histories and philosophies and remain a dunce, 
but give the means which lead to great efforts and the 
result will be different. We must cling to something 
which finds a response in man in order to do this. The 
qualities which we can encourage are the creative quali- 
ties which are built up in the creative period, and if we 
do not allow them to establish themselves then they are 
not there later, and it is useless to preach and give 
examples. 

This is the difference between the old and the new 
education : we wish to help the construction of man by 
himself at the right period ; to help all possibilities to 
ascend to something great in order that something may 
really be done now. Society has built walls and barriers, 
we must destroy them and show the horizon. The new 
education is a revolution, but non- violent, the non-violent 
revolution. After that, and if it succeeds, it will be im- 
possible to have a violent revolution. 

314 



CHAPTER XXII 
THE SUBLIMATION OF POSSESSIVENESS 

HAVING given a glimpse of the general phenomena, 
let us observe in detail the facts which took place and 
the interpretation we gave to them. These facts that 
presented themselves, both because of the age of the 
children and of the intensity the children showed, were 
very surprising and arresting, but even more so because 
of the relation between the character shown by the 
children and the loftier characteristics of humanity. 

If one studies all the phenomena which took place, 
one can see in them all a process of construction. This 
process of construction may be compared to the action 
of caterpillars at a certain stage. Instead of moving 
about on many twigs as they had been doing, they 
stay in one spot and become very active there, and 
after a little time one sees a cloud of threads hardly 
visible, so diaphanous they are, but this is the beginning 
of a strong cocoon. As with the caterpillar, the first 
phenomenon we notice is a phenomenon of concentration 
on one thing. In a child of three and a half, who was 
in our first school, this concentration was striking for its 

315 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



intensity ; there were many other stimuli in the environ- 
ment, but it was impossible to break her concentration. 
A similar degree of concentration can be observed in 
some adults, but only in exceptional characters as for 
instance in Archimedes, who was so intensely concen- 
trated in his geometrical problems, that although enemy 
soldiers had entered the city and were penetrating his 
house, he said merely : " Don't disturb my circles ! " He 
had not realized that the city had fallen to the enemy. 
Poets also have been known to continue their work 
without noticing a noisy carnival procession outside. But 
it is only with geniuses that such concentration is noticed 
in adults. The phenomenon in the three and a half year 
old child was not of the same type of concentration. In 
the child such concentration is given by nature, and 
when we see it repeated by different children in different 
countries, we decide that it must be a part of the pattern 
of construction. As with the compass the fixing of one 
point is necessary before anything can be done, but once 
it is fixed any design can be drawn, so with the construc- 
tion in the child the fixing of the attention is the first 
stage. It need not always be fixed on the same thing, 
but unless it is fixed, construction cannot begin. It is 
as if the individuality found a centre and once that has 
been done, it can possess what it achieves. So with 
us, if we want to organize, we must have a concentration 
diffused over everything connected with the work in 
hand. Without this concentration the object with which 

316 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



the child is concerned possesses the child, he is led by 
all the stimuli, but once this fixity of concentration 
obtains, then the child possesses and controls the 
environment. 

When in the adult world, we find a person changing 
his interest frequently, we speak of him as inconsistent 
in character and we know that such people are unable 
to undertake anything responsible in life, whereas when 
we see a person with a deep aim, who can distribute his 
attention and organization on things given to him, we 
feel that such a person will do something in the world. 
We tend to ponder on these things and say we should 
like to have our young students concentrated on their 
work, but we cannot manage to bring it about. This 
means then that it is not among the items that one can 
give by ordinary educational means. As it is difficult 
to get from older children (college and high school 
students) who would have thought of getting it from 
three and a half year old children ? It would be impos- 
sible to think that any teacher could provoke such 
concentration when the rest of the class were dancing 
and jumping about ; all the more impossible to obtain 
it in a whole class, yet, it happened in that class of 
the Messina orphans whom I mentioned in a previous 
chapter. There were sixty of them working in one large 
room or hall, and a hundred students came in and ranged 
themselves round the walls, and the children did not 
notice their entrance or look up. 

317 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



This phenomenon shows that nature is constructing 
some great item of the human psyche, and from this 
already one can understand that the elements of the 
human will are being built. It is not by an already exist- 
ent strength of will that the children achieve this con- 
centration, it is by nature ; nature builds the will in this 
way. After this all the gyrations and deviations dis- 
appear and character is formed. What takes place after 
this fact > We see constancy (repetition of exercise) with 
no outer aim and therefore with an inner aim ; and this 
constancy is characteristic of children, we adults do not 
possess it. We may have constancy in pursuing a long 
work, but not in repeating the same work. This re- 
petition of the children is a sort of training for character 
which the adult will be able to use, but which the child 
constructs. There are certain adult people who do not 
have the patience to see the child repeating all these 
exercises of exactness ; it is done so often. The child 
does not yet have the will for this constancy, he does it 
by nature, but through it he builds the will of the adult 
which will later persist in carrying out any task that must 
be carried out. And if we see how nature practises each 
single exercise separately and so often, we see how im- 
possible it is to obtain any constancy or will from youth 
who have not had these possibilities of practice and of 
developing the elements of the will. People who do not 
have these are not to be blamed, they had no opportunity 
to construct them. 

318 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



There is another thing that takes place after this 
first fixation of concentration and that is the determination 
by the child of the action he will carry out. Children 
in our classes, who are choosing their work freely, are 
exercising this determination of action. This also is 
constructed by repetition, every day, for years. We 
often find ourselves with adults who can never decide 
what they want, we say they have no will. Quite a 
majority of people are like this and when we find a 
person who can express clearly what he wants and what 
we want, we say he has a strong will and can determine 
his actions. Children determine their action by nature's 
law, the adult by mental reflection. It is evident that in 
order to exercise this power of determination of actions, 
it is necessary to have independence from an adult who 
tells the child what to do every moment of his life, because 
it is evident that this determination comes from inner 
development and inner forces. If someone, stronger for 
the time being, usurps the office of the inner guide, then 
the child cannot develop either determination or con- 
centration. So if we wish these qualities to develop, 
then the first thing is that the child must become indepen- 
dent of the adult. If we look at child life anywhere, we 
find that the strongest instinct is to be free from the 
adult and this is true for all species. And how logical it 
is when one looks at the conclusion ! But the child does 
not do it by logic, he does it by nature ; so nature gives 
a special design that the child must follow. This 

319 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



indicates a parallel in the development of the character in 
man and the behaviour of animals, because the animal 
has to follow a certain pattern and does so by freeing 
itself from the adult of its species. There are natural 
laws that guide growth and construction and the indivi- 
dual must follow these laws if he has to construct 
his character his psyche. 

We can witness the construction of the psyche in 
every item and element. The character of man is not 
the result of education, it is a cosmic fact ; it is willed by 
nature. It is not the result of our imposition, it is a fact 
of creation not of education. 

Let us consider some of the defects that disappear. 
One of the most common defects of children who have 
not been able to develop properly is an urge for posses- 
sion. It is expressed by the saying " wishing for the 
moon ". What is this if not an instinctive impulse ? Now 
in normalized children the active possibility of interesting 
themselves in any object, leads them to the stage where 
it is no longer the object, but the knowledge of it which 
fixes the attention, and then a change takes place in this 
possessiveness. It is a curious fact that children who 
want objects for physical possession, after a little time 
lose or break those objects. The defect of possession 
is accompanied by the defect of destructiveness, but if 
it is an object that has no lasting interest for us, this is 
understandable. It has only caught the interest for a 
moment and then is thrown on one side. Take a watch 

320 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



for instance ; it is meant to tell the time and that is its 
real value. A tiny child cannot tell the time so the real 
interest in the watch is not there and quickly he breaks it. 
An older child may want to know how it is built and 
opens up the case and sees all the wheels which in their 
working give the time. This complicated machinery 
then interests the child for its function not for any outer 
aim. It has happened that people have felt this feeling 
for its function so strongly that it gives a passionate 
interest. History gives us examples, Louis XVI of 
France had this passion for the functioning of watches 
and he spent much ot his time in a laboratory of watches. 
The Emperor Charles V, who ruled a large part of Europe, 
also had this interest ; he had twelve watches, which he 
tried to keep constantly at the exact time, but he couldn't 
succeed in keeping them together, so he said : " If I can't 
keep twelve watches together, how can I hope to keep 
all Europe together > I had better retire ", and he became 
a monk. This is a second type of possession interest 
in how it works. We can notice this in other fields. 
Children pluck flowers merely to possess and the result 
is that they destroy them. Always material possession 
and destruction go hand in hand. Do we not see it in 
the world at the present time ? If instead the child knows 
the parts of the flower, the kinds of leaves, the direction 
the stem takes, etc., thenjhere is no possessiveness and 
destruction. He is interested, an intellectual interest 
centred on the plant or an intellectual possession. 

321 

21 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



The child will destroy also butterflies, if he merely seeks 
to possess the insect, but if his interest is aroused in its 
life and function, it is still centred on the butterfly, but to 
observe not to possess and destroy. And this intellectual 
possession showed itself in such a great attraction that 
we might call it a love, and it brought the child to care 
for these things in a delicate and refined manner. 

So we can say that this possessiveness because 
of an intellectual interest is raised to a superior level 
and that intellectual interest urges the child to progress 
through this life they study. Instead of the instinct of 
possession, on this higher level we see three things : 
to know, to love and to serve. Possession transformed 
into love and when it has arisen, there is not only conser- 
vation of the object, but service of it. Then it is said 
that an instinctive impulse is sublimated. In the same 
way curiosity becomes sublimated into scientific research. 
Curiosity becomes an impulse to learn and from this the 
strength and attraction for study comes. It is interesting 
to observe that when the child has become the lover and 
admirer of one object, he becomes zealous in the upkeep 
of all the objects. It was the transformation of children 
in our first class which showed how children go from 
possession to a higher level of love and service. Their 
copy books when completely filled showed no * dog's ears \ 
nor smudges nor blots, but were neat and even decorated. 

If we look at humanity, at the greatness of humanity, 
as revealed by history and evolution, we see that it is an 

322 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



instinct of man to attain this sublimation. He tries 
to enter every field and protect and better it, so he helps 
life by intellectual penetration into the laws of life. The 
farmer serves his plants and animals all his life ; the 
scientist loves his microscope and lenses and shows his 
love in the extreme care and delicacy of his handling 
them. Humanity starts by grabbing with its hands and 
by destroying, and ends by loving things intellectually 
and serving them. Once in a while we have reversals as 
in the recent war when loads of lead fell on cities and 
destroyed them, but these are incidents only. Generally 
the rule is to serve and to love. It is in man to be 
brought out because it is in nature. The children who 
tore plants out of the garden, now watch for the plant's 
growth, count its leaves, measure its sides. It is no 
longer my plant, but the plant. This sublimation and love 
is given by knowledge, by penetration of the mind. 
Destructiveness cannot be overcome by preaching ; the 
child still wants the thing for himself so that no other 
shall have it. If we try to correct him by smacking, or 
moralizing or exploiting his emotions sentimentally, he 
may alter for five minutes, but he comes back to the same 
starting point. Only work and concentration which give 
knowledge first and then love will achieve the transfor- 
mation. It is a revelation of the spiritual man to know, 
to love and to serve. It comes only by one's own 
experience and development, not through preaching. As 
soon as the attention of the intellect on details is there, 

323 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



love comes, the desire to know all details, so that \ve 
may not unwittingly hurt. 

To know, to love and to serve is preached in all 
religions, but it is the child who is the constructor of our 
spirituality ; he has revealed that nature has a plan for 
our behaviour or character, a careful plan determined in 
age and functioning and needing freedom and intense 
activity following life's own laws. Repetition of the 
exercise is followed in intellectual as well as physical 
exercises ; and it is not physics or botany or cleaning 
one's shoes that is achieved merely, but the will and the 
elements of the spirit are built. The adult can make use 
of that will which the child builds up, so the child is the 
spiritual builder of us all. Discoveries we make, when 
adults, often fall on our own heads (as actually in the 
recent war) because we have forgotten the soul the child 
has built or, more often, prevented him from building it 
normally. 



324 



CHAPTER XXIII 
SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT 

THE first work the child has to do is to find the way and 
the means to concentration which lays the foundations 
of the character and prepares social behaviour. This im- 
mediately shows the importance of the environment, 
because no one will be able to give concentration or to 
organize the child from without. He has to organize him- 
self. The importance of our schools is that there the child 
has a chance of finding the kind of work that will give 
him concentration. A closed environment (our school or 
class-room) favours concentration ; we know this because 
when people want to find concentration they build a 
temple or a shrine. Through an activity that promotes 
concentration in a closed environment character is formed 
and the creation of the individual achieved. In ordinary 
schools children are mostly admitted after the age of five 
years only when they have already finished the first and 
most important period of formation, or, if they have not 
had the opportunity to do so, at least the age for it is passed, 
whereas our school is a protective environment where the 

325 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



first elements of character may be formed and acquire their 
particular importance. That is why the question of the 
prepared environment in education, when first proclaimed 
to the world, gave rise to such a great interest. Artists, 
architects and psychologists got together to prepare care- 
fully the size and the height of the rooms and the artistic 
elements of the school. This interest arose, because for 
the first time we had the conception of a school which 
was not merely a shelter, but aimed at helping the con- 
centration of little children. It was more than a protective 
environment, it was a psychic environment. In this 
environment it is not so much the form, size, etc., but the 
objects it contains that matter, because concentration can 
only take place if a child has an object. These objects 
are not casually chosen, they are special objects deter- 
mined by our experience with the children themselves. 

The first idea was to enrich the environment with 
many objects and the children were given freedom to 
choose what they desired among these objects. We 
found that the children chose only certain objects, others 
remained unused, so we eliminated them from the 
environment. The objects we now have decided on, 
were chosen by the children themselves, and we did not 
work on these experimental lines in one country only, we 
tried it out all over the world. There were certain objects 
that all children chose, those we put in as essential ; 
there were certain objects that children in all countries 
rarely used, (even though adults thought they would use 

326 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



them), those we eliminated. Wherever there were our 
normalized children and freedom of choice this happened, 
and it reminded me of insects that go only and always to 
certain flowers which they need. Here with the children 
there is the need of certain stimuli. The children chose 
those objects which aided their construction of themselves. 
In the beginning there were many toys, but the children 
did not use them. There were many types of objects 
for teaching colour, the children chose only one type : 
the colour tablets which we now use. This happened 
in all countries alike. Also with the size of the objects 
and the intensity of colour the choice of the children was 
taken as the determining factor. This brought about the 
system of determination and limitation of objects in our 
method. This principle has a bearing on social life as 
well. If there are too many objects or more than 
one set of material for a group of about 30 to 40 
children, there is confusion. The objects therefore are 
few though the children are many. 

In a class of many children there will only be one 
copy of each object. If a child wants to use an object 
which is already being used, he cannot do it and when 
the children are normalized they will wait till the other 
has finished using that material. Thus certain social 
qualities develop which are of great importance, e.g., 
the child knows that he must respect objects being used 
by another, not because someone has told him, he simply 
must, it is a fact he has found by social experience. 

327 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



There are so many of them, there is only one object, 
the only thing to do is to wait. As this happens every 
hour of the day for years, this experience of respecting 
and waiting enters into the life of each individual as 
an experience which matures with the passing of time. 

Thus a transformation and adaptation take place 
and what is this but building social life > Basically society 
is not founded upon liking, but on a combination of 
activities which must harmonize together. By these 
children's experience another social virtue is developed : 
patience. This patience is a sort of abnegation of 
impulses. Thus the features of the character we call 
virtues come by themselves. One cannot teach this type 
of morality to children of three years, but experience can. 
As normalization was not achieved by the children 
in other environments, this was thrown into greater 
relief. In the outside world children were snatching at 
this age, but our children waited. People said : " How 
could you obtain this sort of discipline in such small 
children ? " It was a question of a prepared environment 
and freedom within it, and thus certain qualities came 
out which usually do not appear in children from three 
to six years, neither much between adults of 25 to 
30 years ! 

The interference of the adult in this adjustment of 
social behaviour is almost always wrong. E.g., two 
children may walk on the line, one mistakes the 
direction and it looks like an unavoidable head-on 

328 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



collision. The adult would have the impulse to turn 
one of the children round, but the children solve their 
own problem and they solve it every time, not always in 
the same way, but always satisfactorily. There are many 
problems of a similar kind in other fields of activity. They 
arise continuously and the children find great pleasure in 
solving these problems. If the adults step in to adjust, 
the children get nervous, but if they are left alone they 
solve them peacefully. This is also an exercise of social 
experience and if these problems are solved peacefully, 
there is continuous experience of social situations which 
could not be given by the teacher. Generally if a teacher 
interferes, she has an idea quite different from that of 
the children and disturbs the social harmony of the 
class. If there is such a problem, we should, but for 
exceptional cases, leave the children alone and mind 
our own business, because in so doing we are able 
to see how the children solve these problems and 
observe a manifestation of the behaviour of childhood, 
of the real behaviour which the adult does not know 
at all. Through all these daily experiences a social 
construction takes place. Generally the teacher has no 
patience and interferes. In fact, this is so instinctive that 
in the first days of my work, as the teachers could not 
resist this impulse, I said : "Tie yourself to a post'* and 
several people did it materially. Other teachers instead 
of doing that had a rosary, and every time they had an 
impulse to interfere and someone (or they themselves) 

329 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



checked it, they moved a bead. They always found it 
wiser not to .interfere and they could count how many 
times they refrained from doing so. 

Ordinary educators do not understand our work for 
social life ; they think that Montessori schools cater 
for subjects of the curriculum, but not for social life. 
They say : " If the children work by themselves where 
is social life ? " But what is social life but to solve prob- 
lems, behave and make plans to suit all ? They think 
of social life as sitting together and listening to a teacher 
or someone else but this is not social life at all. In fact 
in ordinary life social experiences are limited to the 
* interval * or to the occasional excursions, whilst our 
children live and work in a community all the time. 

Differences of character are revealed and different 
experiences are possible when there is a great number 
of children in a class. They do not take place when 
the children are few. Indeed the greatest perfectionment 
of children takes place through these social experiences. 

Let us now give some consideration to the constitu- 
tion of this society of children. It was brought about by 
chance, but by a wise chance. Those children who 
found themselves together in a closed environment were 
of different ages (from 3 to 6 years). Usually this is not 
found in schools, unless the older children are mentally 
dull. Children are usually classified by age, only in 
a few schools we find this vertical grouping in one class. 
The children themselves, however, made us see the 

330 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



difficulty of trying to give culture to children of the same 
age and capacity. A mother may have six children, but 
her household runs smoothly. If some of those children 
are twins, triplets or quadruplets, then difficulties begin, 
because it is fatiguing for the mother to deal with four 
children all needing the same thing. The mother with 
six children of different ages is better off too than the 
mother with only one child. One child is always 
difficult. The real difficulty is not that he is petted, but 
that he has no society and he suffers more than other 
children. Families often find difficulty with the first 
child, but not with later children ; they think it is due to 
their greater experience, but it is really because the child 
has society. 

Society is interesting because of the different types 
that compose it. An Old Men's or Old Women's Home 
is the most deadly thing. It is a most unnatural and 
cruel thing to put people of the same age together. It is 
one of the most cruel things we do to children ; it breaks 
the thread of social life, there is no nourishment for social 
life. In most schools there is first the separation of the 
sexes and then that of the ages, separated into classes. 
This is a fundamental error leading to all sorts of mis- 
takes ; it is an artificial isolation which cannot develop 
the social sense. We generally have co-education 
for small children. Really co-education is not so im- 
portant, boys and girls could have different schools, but 
there should be children of different ages in the classes. 

331 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



Our schools have shown that children of different ages 
help each other, the small one sees what the elder one 
does and asks about it, and the older one gives an ex- 
planation. This is really teaching, but the explanation and 
teaching of a child of five years is so near to the under- 
standing of the child of three years that the little one 
understands easily, whereas we should not reach his 
intelligence. There is a sort of harmony and interchange 
of ideas between them which is not possible between an 
adult and a child so small. We can see this if we com- 
pare it with adult society. A university professor gives 
a talk to illiterates and the latter cannot understand 
anything, so it is not wise to ask them to help in the 
work with illiterates. They do not easily find the means, 
the level should not be so far distant. That is why adult 
education is so difficult. When the first Popular Univer- 
sity in Rome was founded, all the big University pro- 
fessors wanted to help. One of them tried to teach 
hygiene to these poor ill-educated people. The subject 
was plague and he showed pictures of the bacilli. The 
audience asked : " What are bacilli ? " He answered : 
44 You see them on this slide." Then he was asked : 
41 What is a slide ? " and he answered : " It is a slip of 
glass which you put under a microscope ". The next 
question was : " What is a microscope ? " etc., etc. So 
the professor gave up the chair in the Popular University. 
In the problem of educating the masses one should not 
go to the great professors, but to people of goodwill 

332 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



and basic knowledge who can transmit it in simple 
language. 

We teachers are incapable of making a child of three 
years understand many things, but a child of five years can 
make him understand ; there is a natural mental osmosis 
between them. Also the child of 3 years can become 
interested in what the child of 5 years does because it is 
not so very different from the possibilities of the child of 
3 years. All the older children become heroes and 
teachers and all the smaller ones are great admirers. 
The small ones go to the older ones for inspiration and 
then work by themselves. In ordinary schools where 
there are children of the same age it is true that those 
with more ability could teach the others, but the teacher 
does not usually allow it. They merely ask to give the 
correct answers when others cannot and so envy arises. 
With younger children there is no envy, they are not 
humiliated by being taught by an older one, because they 
know they are smaller and feel that when they are big 
they can do the same. There is love and admiration, 
real brotherhood. In the old schools the only way to 
reach a higher level is by competition, which means envy, 
hate, humiliation and all things depressive to life and 
anti-social. The intelligent child becomes vain and 
gathers power over others, whereas the child of five with 
the child of three feels himself a protector. It is difficult to 
imagine how much this atmosphere of protection and 
admiration increases and deepens in its action : the class 

333 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



becomes a group cemented by affection. The children 
come to know each others character and appreciate each 
other. In ordinary schools they merely know : "That 
fellow got the first prize, that other fellow got zero/' 
Brotherhood cannot develop in these conditions and yet 
this is the age of construction for social and anti-social 
qualities, according to the environment ; it starts at this age. 

People become worried whether the five years old 
will acquire sufficient knowledge if he is always teaching 
younger ones. In the first place, he is not always 
teaching, he has his freedom and it is respected. Apart 
from that, in teaching he fixes his own knowledge, 
because he has to analyse and re-handle it in order to 
to teach, so he sees it with greater clarity. The older 
child also is benefited by this exchange. 

The class of children from three to six years of age 
is not rigidly separated from that of the seven to nine 
year old ones either, so the six year old gets his inspira- 
tion from the next class. All our walls are only half 
walls and there is always easy access from one class to 
another as all the children are free to move from class to 
class. If the three years old goes to the class of the 
seven to nine years old ones he does not stay long, 
because he sees he cannot get anything that is useful to 
him. There are limitations therefore, but no separation 
and all the groups are in communication. The groups 
have their own environment, but they are not isolated. 
There is the possibility of an intellectual walk, A three 

334 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



years old can see a nine years old extracting the square 
root, he asks him what he is doing. If the answer gives 
him no inspiration he goes back to his own class where 
there are objects of inspiration, but the six year old would 
be interested and would find inspiration there. With 
this freedom one can see the limits of the intelligence of 
each age. That is how we found that the children of 
eight and nine years understood the extraction of the 
square root being done (at that time) by children of 
twelve and fourteen years. Thus he also understood that 
the child was interested in and capable of algebra at 
eight years. It is therefore not only the age which leads 
to progress, but also the freedom to move about. 

It is intellectual height which is important. In 
society you find people of all ages, in all history we do 
not find any instance of a society divided into age 
groups. In the ordinary schools divided in age groups 
there is nothing which is social despite all its claims. 
This intercourse between children of different ages brings 
harmony and happiness, because the older children find 
they are real teachers even though they have not been 
to Teachers' Training Colleges and are not B.T.s. 
These children Jo teach, whereas, judging by examination 
results, apparently qualified teachers do not teach ! 

There is animation everywhere and there is no in- 
feriority-complex. The smaller child is animated, be- 
cause he Joes understand what the older one does, and 
the older one is animated, because he can teach what he 

335 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



knows ; so there is an enhancement of forces, of psychic 
forces. 

These and other facts show that all these pheno- 
mena which seemed so extraordinary were not really so 
extraordinary. They were merely the result of natural 
laws being obeyed. 

All these energies are thrown away in ordinary edu- 
cation. If henceforth they are no longer wasted, there 
will be new psychic wealth for the new generations. It 
comes without much expenditure : few teachers and by 
tying those few to poles ! 

It is by studying the behaviour of these children 
and their re-actions to each other in this atmosphere of 
freedom that the real secret of society is revealed. They 
are fine and delicate facts that have to be examined 
with a spiritual microscope, but they are of the utmost 
interest since they reveal facts inherent in the very 
nature of man. These schools, therefore, are thought 
of as laboratories for psychological research, although 
it is not really research, but observation that is carried 
out. It is this observation which is important. 

There are facts the importance of which is very 
great, e.g., that the children solve their own problems. 
If we observe the children without intervening, we notice 
one great fact, w'z., that children do not help each 
other in the same way as we do. We see children carry- 
ing heavy objects and no other child goes to help them, 
or they put all the apparatus away after a complicated 

336 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



exercise and nobody helps. They respect each other 
and only help when help is a real necessity. This 
enlightens us greatly, because they evidently have an 
intuition of, and show respect for, the essential need 
of the child not to be helped uselessly. There was 
once a child who had spread all the geometrical cards 
on the floor with all the geometrical insets. Suddenly 
there was music, a procession passing, all the children 
ran to look except the little fellow with all the material. 
He did not go, because he would not dream of leaving 
all the material about like that. It should be put away 
and normally nobody would help him, but there were 
tears in his eyes, because he too wanted to see the 
procession. The others realized the emergency and all 
came back and helped him. Adults do not possess this fine 
discrimination in determining when to help. They help each 
other frequently when it is not necessary. A gentleman 
will often (as a matter of good manners) adjust a chair 
at a table to help a young lady to sit down when she is 
quite capable of sitting down unaided, or take her arm 
in going downstairs although she is quite capable of 
walking without his support, but when someone loses 
his fortune then nobody helps. When help is needed, 
nobody helps, when help is not needed all help ! So 
here is a point where the adult cannot teach the children, 
because he himself does not know the right way as well 
as the children do. I think that probably the sub- 
conscious of the child still retains the memory of his 

337 

22 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



desire and need to make the maximum effort and 
that is why instinctively he does not help others where 
help would be a hindrance. 

Another interesting feature is the way children deal 

with a disturber, perhaps a child newly admitted to the 

school and not accustomed to the behaviour there. He 

disturbs and is a real problem for the teacher and the 

children. The teacher generally says : " That is very 

naughty. This is not nice ", sometimes : " You are a 

bad boy ", but the reaction of the children is interesting. 

One child approached such a newcomer and said : 

" You are naughty, but don't worry about it, when we 

came we were as naughty as you ". The naughtiness 

was recognized as a misfortune and the child was trying 

to console the naughty one and bring out the real boy. 

He had compassion for him. What a change there 

would be in society if the evil doer evoked compassion 

and we made an effort to console him. It would 

mean compassion for him as we have when he has 

a physical illness. Wrong doing is often a psychic 

illness due to an unfavourable environment or the 

condition of birth or some such misfortune. It ought to 

evoke compassion and help, not merely punishment. 

This would change our social structure for the better. 

With our children if an accident happens, e.g., a vase 

that falls down, the child who has dropped it is often 

desperate, because they do not like destruction and also 

it suggests inferiority, they are incapable of carrying it 

338 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



The instinctive reaction of the adult is to say : " See it is 
broken ; why do you touch these things when I have told 
you not to do so ? " Or at least they would tell him to 
pick up the pieces, because they think the child will take 
the lesson more seriously if he has to clear up the results 
of the accident. But what do the children do ? They all 
run around to help ; with the the sound of help in their 
little voices, they say : " Never mind ! We can get 
another glass." And some of them will pick up the 
pieces and another will wipe up the water that has run 
over the floor. So there is an instinct that attracts them 
to help one who is weak with encouragement and 
consolation and this is an instinct of social evolution. 
Indeed a great part of our social evolution has come 
about when society went out to help the weak. All our 
medical sciences developed on this principle, so that from 
this instinct has come help not only for those who were 
the object of compassion, but for the whole of humanity. 
It is not an error to encourage those who are weak and 
those who are inferior, it is the correct thing and it carries 
forward the whole of society. Children show these 
sentiments as soon as they become normalized, not only 
for each other, but for animals too. 

Everyone thinks that respect to animals has to be 
taught, as they think that children tend to cruelty towards 
them. This is not so, they have an instinct to protect them. 
We had in our school at Kodaikanal a baby-goat. I used 
to feed it daily and held the food high so that the little one 

339 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



used to rise up to it on its hind legs. I was interested 
in watching the baby-animal do this and it seemed to 
enjoy it. But one day a little child with a look of anxiety 
on his face came and held the goat with his two hands 
under its body, because he thought the baby-animal 
should not have to depend on only his two hind legs. 
This was a very delicate sentiment. 

Another manifestation in our schools is the admira- 
tion for those who do better than oneself. The children 
are not only not envious at all, but the achievements of 
other children evoke an enthusiastic admiration and joy. 
This was what happened in the famous incident of the 
explosion into writing. It was the first written word and 
it caused a great joy and laughter and they looked at the 
writer with admiration and then it suddenly inspired them 
to write : " I can do this too ! " The good work of one 
brought the uplift of the whole group. It was the same 
with the enthusiasm for the alphabet, so that it happened 
once that the whole class formed a procession with the 
letters as flags, and there was so much joy and shouting 
in glee that people came up from downstairs (we were 
on the roof) to see what all the joy was about. " They 
are enthusiastic over the alphabet " said the teacher. 

There is an evident communication among the 
children based on a high sentiment and so there is unity 
in the group. From these instances one realizes that 
there is a sort of attraction in an atmosphere of high 
sentiment when the children are normalized. As the 

340 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



older ones are attracted to the little ones and the little 
ones attracted to the older ones, so the normalized are 
attracted to the non-normalized (new) children and vice 
versa. 



34! 



CHAPTER XXIV 
SOCIETY BY COHESION 

I WOULD like to relate another episode out of my 
memorable experience. One day I thought I would 
give a lesson on a subject which in itself was hardly 
attractive. I taught the children how to blow their noses 
and they evidently were greatly interested in my lively 
demonstrations. I showed them how different people 
blow their noses, some ostentatiously unfolding their 
handkerchief and making a lot of noise, and on the other 
hand the well-educated person who does so almost 
hiding the necessary movements and even with the least 
perceptible noise. What struck me was the serious way 
in which the children followed me. Not one began to 
laugh. When I had finished, to my immense surprise, 
the audience of infants burst out into loud applause. 
Never had I witnessed such manifestation. Never, as 
far as I know, in world history had a gathering of small 
children applauded a speech. 

Yet, not two or three children only, but all of them 
at the same time clapped with great enthusiasm their 

342 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



small hands which until then had only " worked ". I 
went out as usual and after having walked along the 
footpath for a little while I turned round and saw to my 
amazement that all the children had been following me. 
They really looked like a swarm of bees, only they 
moved so silently that I had not been aware of them. 
What a curious situation ! What would the passers-by 
have said if they had seen a lady walking in the street, 
followed at some distance by this solid group of forty- 
five tiny children > I turned to them and said calmly : 
11 Now run back to school, all of you, but on tiptoe and 
take care not to knock against the door-post ". I gave 
this instruction, because I knew that exactitude in actions 
has great interest for such young children. As by magic 
they all turned their back on me and ran off on tiptoe. 
When they reached the door they made a wide curve 
and avoided the corner, Centering through the centre of 
the door-opening. Thus they disappeared. 

" Why such enthusiasm ? " I thought. Perhaps I 
had happened to touch a social question to which they 
were very sensitive. In fact all children are generally 
humiliated on account of their dirty noses. In Italy 
vulgar people call the child " a snotty one " instead of 
calling him a child. Small children have always dirty 
noses and the mothers of the people sometimes attach a 
handkerchief to the child's dress with a safety-pin, right 
in front of their body. This evidently they feel as a 
humiliating sign of inferiority. Perhaps that was the 

343 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



reason of the success of my lesson. I had given them a 
lesson instead of showing contempt. Now they had 
acquired knowledge which redeemed them and raised 
their personal dignity. My action had somehow been 
similar to that of a popular leader, of a revolutionary who 
tries to raise the masses and defends their human dignity. 

This miniature episode was really surprising, but the 
main fact was that these children felt and acted as a 
group. They really formed a society of children, united 
by a mysterious bond, and acted as one body. This 
bond was formed by a common sentiment felt by each 
individual. Although they were " independent indivi- 
duals ", although they did not depend on one another, 
they were all moved by the same impulse. 

Such a society seems to be more closely connected 
to the absorbent mind than to consciousness. 

The lines of construction which we have observed 
seem to be analogous to those which we can follow 
through the microscope when we observe the work of the 
cells building up an organism. Evidently also society 
has an embryological phase which can be observed 
in its initial formation among children in course of 
development. 

It is very interesting to see how, slowly, they seem 
to become conscious of forming a community which acts 
as such. They seem to become aware of belonging to a 
group and of contributing to the activity of that group. 
They not only begin to be interested in it, but I would 

344 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



almost say that they delve into it with their spirit. When 
they reach this stage they do not act mechanically any 
longer, they aim at success, they give special considera- 
tion to the honour of the group. This first step towards 
full social consciousness I call " clan spirit " comparing 
it to those primitive human societies wherein the in- 
dividuals already love, defend and appreciate the value 
of their group as an aim of each individual's activity. 

The first manifestations of this phenomenon amazed 
us also, because they appeared independently of any 
influence of ours. They came forth as facts successively 
expressing development, just as at a certain age the teeth 
are seen to pierce the gums. This association brought 
about by natural urges, directed by a power within 
itself, animated by a social spirit, I call * Cohesive 
Society '. 

I came to this conception by some spontaneous 
manifestations of children which amazed us very much. 
Let me give an example of them : I knew that some 
important visitors from the United States were to come 
and see the school the next day. I, however, could not 
possibly be there to receive them. Before going away I 
told the children as a matter of confidence : " To-morrow 
some people are coming to see the school. How happy 
I would be if they said : " This is the school with the 
nicest children in the world/' I uttered this sentence 
without any afterthought, almost involuntarily, and did 
not think it would have the slightest consequence. 

345 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



When I came back to the school another day I found 
the teacher quite excited, she was in tears when she spoke 
to me. " You should have seen these children ! Every 
one of them worked and they were full of enthusiasm. 
They greeted the visitors very politely. I was really 
moved to see how each of them did his best. Whoever 
directed them ? It must have been the holy Angels 
themselves ! " They evidently felt the honour of their 
clan and acted in a way even more impressive than 
when they only obeyed their vital urges. They had 
been capable of feeling something beyond their indi- 
vidual needs. 

Similar experiences were often repeated. When the 
Ambassador of the Argentine wished to see this famous 
school where children of only four and five years old 
worked on their own, read and wrote spontaneously and 
behaved with discipline not imposed by the authority of 
the teacher, he was really very incredulous. Instead of 
announcing his visit he wished to pay a surprise-call. 
Unfortunately he came just on a holiday and the school 
was closed. This school was the * Casa dei Bambini * 
established in the block of flats where the children lived 
with their families. A small child happened to be in the 
court-yard when the Ambassador came along and heard 
his expressions of disappointment. The child understood 
that he was a visitor and told him : " It does not matter 
that the school is closed, the janitor has the keys and we 
are all at home/* The door was opened and all the 

346 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



children came to their class and began to work. They 
felt a kind of responsibility to do well for the honour of 
their clan. Nobody received any personal benefit from 
it, nobody wished to distinguish himself, all co-operated 
for their community. The teacher heard about it only the 
day after. 

This social feeling that had not been instilled by any 
teaching and was completely different from a competitive 
sentiment or a personal interest, was like a gift of nature. 
Yet, it was definitely an achievement which these 
children had reached through their own efforts. As 
Coghill says : " Nature determines behaviour, but it is 
developed only by means of experiences in the environ- 
ment." Nature evidently gives a design for the con- 
struction of the personality and of society, but this design 
is realized only through the obedient activity of the 
child when he is in a position of bringing it to actuality. 
In doing so he illustrates the successive phases of 
development. This clan -spirit which pervades the 
cohesive society corresponds closely to what the modern 
American psychologist and educationist, Washburne, calls 
' social integration '. He maintains that this is the key 
to social reform and should constitute the basis of the 
whole of education. Social integration is realized when 
the individual identifies himself with a group to which he 
belongs. A person possessing it thinks of the success of 
the group rather than of personal credit. Washburne 
tries to explain his conception by means of a comparison 

347 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



to the Oxford and Cambridge boat-races. " Each in- 
dividual there makes the greatest possible effort for the 
honour of his team, fully aware of the fact that he 
personally will not derive any benefit nor any credit from 
it. If this were the case in every social enterprise, from 
nation-wide enterprises to those in industry, etc., and if 
all let themselves be spurred by the desire of success for 
the whole of which each forms part, the entire human 
society would be regenerated. In the schools the deve- 
lopment of this feeling of integration of the individual 
with society should be fostered, because," he adds, " this 
is what is lacking everywhere and leads society to failure 
and ruin." 

The example of a society where social integration 
exists can be given : it is the cohesive society of young 
children, achieved by the magic powers of nature. 

We must consider it and treasure it where it is actually 
being created, because neither character nor sentiments can 
be given through teaching : they are the product of life. 

Cohesive society, however, is not the same as the 
organized society that rules the destiny of man. It is 
merely the last phase in the evolution of the child, it is 
the almost divine and mysterious creation of a kind of 
social embryo. 

Organized Society 

At once after six years of age when the child enters 
another phase of development which marks the transition 

348 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



of the social embryo to the social new -born, another 
spontaneous form of social life appears very clearly. It 
shows an organized association, fully conscious of itself. 
The children then look for principles and laws established 
by man himself. They seek a leader who directs the 
community. Evidently obedience to the rules and the 
leader forms the connective tissue of this society. This 
obedience has, as we know, been prepared in the 
embryonic stage which precedes this period of develop- 
ment. MacDougall describes this type of society which 
children of six and seven years of age already begin to 
form. They submit to other, older children as if urged by 
an instinct which he calls the gregarious instinct '. 
Often neglected and abandoned children now organize 
gangs groups associated especially in revolt against the 
principles and the authority of adults. These natural 
urges, however, which often lead to a rebellious attitude 
have been sublimated in the Boy Scouts movement. 
The latter answers a real social need of development, 
instilled in the very nature of children and youths. 

This ' gregarious instinct * is different from the force 
of cohesion which was the basis of the society of infants. 
These successive societies which continue to develop 
until they reach the society of adults are all consciously 
organized societies, they all require man-made rules and 
a leader to direct them. 

Life in society therefore is an innate fact, belonging 
to human nature as such. It develops as an organism, 

349 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



having different characteristics during its natural evolution. 
We would compare it to the manufacture of cloth, to 
weaving and spinning in the manufacture of home-spun 
cloth which is such an important part of Indian cottage 
industry. Without doubt we then have to begin at the 
beginning and consider first that small white fluffy tuft 
which the cotton plant produces around its seed. So 
when we wish to consider the construction of human 
society we must begin with the child and look at him in 
the surroundings of the family which has given birth to 
him. The first thing that is done with cotton, which is 
also the first work in Gandhi's village schools, is to purify 
the cotton harvested from the plants. The black bits 
left behind in the cotton by the shell of the cotton seeds 
have to be cut out. The first activity corresponds to 
what we do when we gather the children from amongst 
their homes and purify them of their deviations and help 
them to concentrate and normalize themselves. Then 
comes the spinning. Gandhi who has indicated spinning 
as a means to achieve the liberation and re-birth of India 
has placed a great symbol in front of the Indian people. 
Spinning corresponds, in our simile, to the formation of 
the child's personality accomplished through work and 
social experiences. This is the basis of all : the develop- 
ment of the personality. If the thread is well spun and 
strong, the cloth woven from it will equally be so. The 
quality of the cloth depends upon it. In this symbolic 
sense the Mahatma's emphatic assertion : "I have 

350 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



consideration only for those who spin ", is very right. It is 
indeed the principal thing to be considered, because 
cloth woven from threads without resistance has no value. 

Then comes the stage when the threads are put on 
a loom, on a limited frame. The threads are taken up 
and all stretched in the same direction and then fixed to 
the staffs at both ends of the loom. The threads are all 
parallel, of equal length, separate and they do not touch 
each other. They form the woof of a piece of cloth, but 
are not cloth. However, without this woof cloth could 
not be woven. If the threads break or go astray with- 
out being fixed in the same direction, the spool cannot 
shoot through them. This woof corresponds to the 
cohesive society. In the embryonic preparation of human 
society it depends on the activity of the children who 
act upon the urges of nature in a limited environment, 
corresponding to the loom. In the end they associate 
themselves, everyone tending to the same aim. 

The actual weaving then takes place by passing the 
spool through these threads and thus uniting them all, 
keeping each one firmly in place by means of the trans- 
versal threads closely pressed together on the woof. 
This stage corresponds to the real organized society of 
men which is fixed by rules under the direction of an 
acknowledged leader whom all obey. Then only we 
have a real piece of cloth which remains intact even 
when taken off the loom. It has an existence independent 
of the loom and once taken off it can be utilized. An 

351 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



unlimited amount can be produced. Men do not form 
a society because each individual has turned towards 
some aim in the environment and has concentrated him- 
self upon it on his own account, as happens in the 
cohesive society of small children, but the final form of 
human society rests on organization. 

The two things, however, are interlinked. Society 
does not depend only on organization, but also on 
cohesion. The latter in fact is the more fundamental of 
the two and serves as a basis for the construction of the 
former. Good laws and a good leader cannot keep the 
masses together and make them act, unless the indivi- 
duals themselves be already oriented towards something 
that fixes them, and makes a group out of them. The 
masses in their turn are more or less strong and active 
according to the degree of development of the personality 
of the individuals who make them up. The organization 
of society depends therefore not only on circumstances 
and events, but first of all on the formation of the indi- 
viduals and their inner orientation. 

The Greeks, e.g., had as the basis of their social 
constitution the formation of the personality. Their 
leader, in later times, Alexander the Great, conquered 
with but few men the whole of present day Persia. Let 
us also look at the Muslims : they represent a formidable 
union, not so much on account of their laws and leaders, 
but because they are united in cohesion by a common 
ideal. Periodically they take to the road in masses and 

352 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



go as pilgrims to Mecca. These pilgrims do not know 
each other, they have no private interests nor ambition : 
they are all individually directed towards the same goal. 
Nobody pushes them on, nobody commands them, and 
yet they are capable of immense sacrifices to achieve 
their aims. These pilgrimages are accomplished only 
by cohesion. 

In the history of Europe during the Middle Ages 
we see something that the leaders of our war-torn times 
try in vain to achieve : then there were really the United 
Nations of Europe. And how did it happen ? The 
secret of this success lay in the fact that all the indi- 
viduals of the nations and European empires had been 
conquered by one and the same religious faith which 
formed a formidable force of cohesion. Then we really 
saw kings and emperors each ruling his own people 
according to his own laws, but all subject to and depen- 
dent on the force of Christianity. Cohesion, however, 
does not suffice to construct a society which acts 
practically upon the world creating civilizations by means 
of intelligence and labour. In our own times, we 
observe the Jews who are united by a millenarian force of 
cohesion : but they are not organized and do not exist 
as a national power. They are only the woof of 
a people. 

It is noteworthy that in the most recent times we 
had a new example of this in history. Mussolini and 
Hitler were the first to realize that in order to achieve 

353 

23 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



success in conquest the individuals should be prepared 
from their very infancy. The " Figli della Lupa" (sons 
of the wolf the name of the organization of Fascist 
children) and the " Balilla italiani" (name of the organi- 
zation of older children) just as the " Hitler Jugend " 
(Hitler Youth, as the Nazi youth organization was called) 
were set up years before these two leaders began to step 
up the armament of their countries in view of war. 
They prepared the children and the youths during the 
years of schooling and imposed upon them from the 
outside an ideal that would unite them. This was a new, 
logical and scientific procedure whatever its moral value 
may have been. These leaders understood the need to 
have a " cohesive society " as the basis of their plans 
and prepared it from infancy. 

The cohesive society, however, is a natural fact and 
must be constructed spontaneously on the creative urges 
of nature. Nobody can substitute himself for God and 
whoever tries to do so in society becomes a devil like 
the adult who in his pride crushes by repression the 
creative energies of the child-personality. Also the 
force of cohesion in adults is something which is attached 
to cosmic directives, to ideals superior to the mechanism 
of organization. There ought to be two societies, 
interwoven among themselves, one of them, we might 
say, has its roots in the subconscious and creative 
unconscious mind, the other depends upon men who 
act consciously. We could also express it as follows : 

354 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



one begins in childhood and the other is superimposed 
upon it by the adult, because, as we have seen in 
the beginning of this volume, it is the absorbent mind 
of the child which incarnates the characteristics of 
the race. Which are the characteristics it incarnates 
almost as if it realized another form of heredity found 
only in man ; a heredity which does not depend upon 
the hidden genes of the germinative cell, but comes from 
the other creative centre, the child ? The characteristics 
which the child incarnates when he lives as a spiritual 
embryo are not the discoveries of the intellect, nor of 
human labour, but those characters which are found in 
the cohesive part of society. He, the child, gathers 
them and incarnates them. By means of these charac- 
teristics he builds his personality : thus he becomes a 
man with a particular language, a particular religion, 
a particular set of customs. What is fixed, and funda- 
mental, what is ' basic ', to use a fashionable term, in 
an everchanging society is its cohesive part. 

When we leave the child to develop, when we 
leave him to build up the adult man from the invisible 
roots of creation, then we can learn the secrets upon 
which depends our individual and social strength. 

Instead of this and we have only to look about to 
see it 'nowadays men only judge and act and regulate 
themselves by the conscious and organizatory part of 
society. They wish to strengthen and assure the organi- 
zation as if they alone were its creators. They have no 

355 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



consideration for the bases indispensable to that 
organization. They only allow for human direction 
and their aspiration goes towards the discovery of a 
leader. 

How many hope for a new Messiah, for a genius 
of conquering and organizing power ! After the first 
world-war it was proposed to found schools for the pre- 
paration of leaders, because it was seen that those there 
were had insufficient training and were unfit to direct 
world events. There were really attempts to try and 
find out by means of mental tests which were the super- 
normal persons, youths who in their school years were 
the most intelligent, in order to train them for leadership. 
But who could train them if precisely there are no good 
leaders, teacher-leaders ? 

It is not the leaders who are lacking, or rather the 
question is not limited to this detail. The question is 
much vaster and it is the masses themselves who are 
completely unprepared for the social life of our actual 
civilization. The problem, therefore, is to train the 
masses, to re-constitute the character of all the individuals, 
to harvest the treasures hidden in everyone of them and 
to develop their values. No leader can achieve this, 
however great his genius may be. 

Just as a great literary genius would not be sufficient 
to make literates out of millions of illiterates, even if he 
had unlimited powers, because it would be necessary 
for those millions to learn how to read and to write r 

356 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



each one individually, (and this can be done by children 
only), so also in this far greater question. 

This is the most practical and urgent task of our 
critical times. The fact is that the human masses are 
inferior to what they could be. We saw it in the diagram 
of the two forces of * attraction, one coming from the 
centre and the other from the periphery. The great task 
of education must consist directly in trying to save 
normality which on its own strength tends towards a 
centre of perfection. Now, instead, all that is done is to 
prepare artificially weak and abnormal men, predisposed 
to mental diseases, in need of unceasing care and small 
exercises in virtue so that they may not fall towards the 
periphery where, once fallen, they become extra-social 
beings. This which actually happens now is really a 
crime of lese-humanity which has a repercussion on 
everyone of us and which may yet destroy us. The 
mass of illiterates which covers half of the surface of the 
earth does not really weigh upon society ; what does 
weigh upon it is the fact that we are ignorant regarding 
the creation of man, that we trample upon the treasures 
deposited by God himself in every child without even 
being aware of it, because here is the source of the 
intellectual and moral values which can raise the whole 
world upon a higher plane. We weep in front of the 
dead and we aspire towards saving humanity from 
destruction, but it is not the salvation from dangers, it is 
the elevation that is the destiny of everyone of us which 

357 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



should stand before our mind's eye. It is not death, but 
the lost paradise that should afflict us. 

The greatest danger lies in our ignorance, in the 
ignorance of us who look for pearls in oyster shells, for 
gold in rocks, for coal in the very entrails of the earth, 
but ignore the spiritual germs, the nebulae of creation, 
which the child hides within himself when he comes into 
our world to renew mankind. 

If this spontaneous organization and the possibility 
to move easily and at will from one class to another were 
allowed for in ordinary schools, it would bring a great 
betterment, because in the ordinary schools people start 
from the opposite point of view. They believe children 
are not active in learning and so they urge or encourage, 
punish or give prizes to foster activity. Competition 
also they use as an encouragement to give animation 
to effort. People generally seem to be animated by 
a search for the evil in whatever there is in order to fight 
against it. The attitude of the adult is to seek evil to 
suppress it, then to criticize and judge malevolently is a 
necessity. But the correction of an error is a humiliation 
and discouragement and as this is the basis of education 
generally, the whole of it is based on a lowering of the 
level of life. No copying allowed, so no union, it is a 
sin in the school to help an inferior pupil ; the pupil 
who helps one who does not know his work is con- 
sidered as guilty as the one who accepts the help, so a 
morality is imposed which lowers the level. Again we 

358 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



hear all the time " Don't fidget ! ", " Don't prompt ! ", 
44 Don't help ! " " Don't answer when not asked ! " All 
DON'Ts, all negations. What must we do with this 
situation > Even if the average teacher did try to uplift 
his class, he would do it in a way opposite to that of the 
children. The maximum he would say is probably : 
44 Don't be envious if one is better than you " or " Don't 
seek revenge if someone has upset you ". Ordinary 
education apparently cannot be understood without 
negation. The general idea is that everyone is wrong 
and we must help them to become less wrong than they 
are. But children do things that do not occur to the 
teacher ; they would admire the one who was better 
than they, not merely be just * not envious'. One 
cannot however command admiration of a rival, so the 
teacher is limited. What can she do ? Certain attitudes 
of the spirit cannot be commanded if they do not exist. 
If the existence however is there and is instinctive 
(as it is) then how important it is to hold and encourage 
it. It is the same with the law : " Don't seek revenge.'* 
The child frequently makes one who hurts him or takes 
his place in the lime-light his friend, but one cannot 
command that. One must have sympathy and love for 
those who do evil, but it is not possible to command that. 
One must give help to the incapable, but one cannot 
command that. So there are sentiments in the soul of 
the child which cannot be commanded, but are there 
naturally and should be upheld. Unfortunately they are 

359 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



generally stifled and all the work in schools is in the inferior 
white zone of figure 14, with its pull towards the 
periphery of the anti-social and the extra-social. The 
teacher first thinks that the child is incapable and must 
be made capable, then he proceeds to do so by saying : 
" Don't do this or that " ; " Don't slide to the periphery " 
in other words. An effort is made to keep the sliders 
from sliding and that is all. But all the time normalized 
children are showing us an exaggeration of good instead 
of this emphasis on avoiding evil. The interruption of 
work by the hours fixed by a time-table and the periods 
of rest is also negative. " Don't work too hard at one 
thing or you will be tired ", whereas the child shows 
clearly the desire for the maximum effort. The ordinary 
schools could never help the creative instincts of children, 
because there is an exaggeration of activity on the part 
of the child. The exaggerated activity, to work a great 
deal, to find all work beautiful, to console the afflicted 
and help the weak are all instincts of these young 
children. A comparison between the ordinary school 
and normalized children reminds me of the Old Testa- 
ment of the Bible and the New Testament. The Ten 
Commandments of the Old Testament the book of the 
old religion are mostly negative : " Don't kill", " Don't 
steal ", all don'ts ; these are for inferior people and are 
necessary for those who are confused, but the New 
Testament shows Christ as similar to the children ; it 
says positive things an exaggeration of what one would 

360 




\tf. f Circles of attraction towards superior and inferior 
types 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



usually do ; e.g., : " Love your enemy " an exaggera- 
tion of positiveness. So also when there came people 
who seemed superior to many, who followed the laws 
and wanted approbation for that, Christ said : " I have 
come for the sinners " (the inferior). To this the children's 
nature corresponds. It is an exposition of the exaggera- 
tion of good. What, however, are the consequences ? 
It is not sufficient to teach these principles to man f nor 
is it sufficient for man to have them ; it is useless to 
repeat : " Love your enemy ; " even if it is said, it is said 
in church, but not on the battlefield, there just the 
opposite is done. The people who say : " Don't kill " 
are merely drawing attention to the evil in order to protect 
themselves, because the good to them is unpractical. 
Loving your enemy seems unpractical so it mostly re- 
mains an empty ideal. 

Why does this happen ? Because the root of good 
does not exist in the heart of man ; it may have been 
there once, but it is dead, it has disappeared. If during 
the whole period of eduation hate, rivalry, competition 
have been encouraged, how can we expect people grown 
in this atmosphere to be good at twenty or thirty, because 
somebody preaches goodness ? I say, it is impossible. No 
sensorial organ in the spirit has been prepared to collect 
this preaching or if it began to be prepared, it was destroy- 
ed, so the preaching flies away on the wings of the wind. 

Creative instincts, not preaching are the important 
things, because they reveal a reality, young children act 

361 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



as nature urges them to act and not because the teacher 
tells them to do so. Good should come about by reci- 
procal aid, by union brought about by spiritual cohesion. 
This society by cohesion which has been revealed by the 
children is the basis of all organization ; that is why I 
maintain that it is not we who can teach children between 
the ages of three and six years. We can observe in a re- 
fined manner and see how development is achieved by 
every daily and hourly exercise. That which nature gives 
is developed by constant exercise. Nature provides a guide 
but it is also revealed that to develop anything in any field, 
continuous experience and effort is necessary. If I have 
not had the opportunity for this, preaching is useless. 
Growth comes from activity, not from intellectual under- 
standing, hence the education of small children is im- 
portant, and especially between the ages of three and 
six years, because this is the embryonic period for the 
formation of character and for the formation of society 
(just as the period from birth to three years is the 
embryonic period for the formation of the psyche ; and 
the prenatal period, the embryonic period for the forma- 
tion of physical life.) The things that the children carry 
out between the ages of three and six do not depend on 
doctrine, but on a divine directive given by God to the 
spirit undergoing construction. They are germs of 
behaviour and can develop only with the right environ- 
ment of freedom and order. 



362 



CHAPTER XXV 
ERROR AND ITS CONTROL 

WHEN we say that the children are free in our schools, 
organization is necessary, an organization more detailed 
than in other schools, so that the children may be free to 
Work. The child, by carrying out experiments in a 
prepared environment, perfects himself, but a certain 
amount of apparatus is then necessary and space is 
necessary. Once the child has achieved concentration, 
he continues to be concentrated through many activities, 
and as he becomes more and more active, the teacher 
becomes less and less so, till she is almost put aside. 

We have mentioned that through exercises repeated 
in freedom the children join together in a special society 
and this society is so much more refined than ours that 
it inspires the wish and conviction that the children 
should be left free and not interfered with. It is a pheno- 
menon of life, a phenomenon as delicate as the pheno- 
mena of embryonic life and it should not be touched. If 
these conditions are present it can happen with any of 
our materials. 

363 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



In this environment there is a definite relation 
between the teacher and the child. The teacher's task, 
which is determined in detail, shall be outlined in another 
chapter, but one of the things she must not do is to 
interfere, to praise, to punish or to correct errors. This 
seems a wrong principle to most educationists and when 
we find them opposed to our method, it is always on this 
point. They say : " How can we improve the children's 
work if we do not correct the errors ? " In ordinary 
education the fundamental task is to correct both in the 
moral and intellectual field, else the teacher does not feel 
she has done her job. Education walks on the two feet 
of the giving of prizes and of giving punishments ; but 
if a child is given prizes and punishments it means that 
he does not have the energy to guide himself and that the 
teacher is hovering over the child and directing him. In 
our schools they automatically disappeared because there 
was no need for them. Prizes and punishments come 
from outside, so when they are given the spontaneity 
of spirit disappears ; and as this is a method of sponta- 
neity, it makes no sense to give prizes or punishments. 
This is so difficult to understand that even in so-called 
Montessori schools they are given ; how often have I 
been invited to a prize-giving in such * Montessori ' 
schools ! Whereas if the children are given freedom, 
they are absolutely indifferent to prizes. 

In my first experiment, the teacher who was, as I 
have mentioned, the caretaker's daughter, also had this 

364 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



idea of prizes and punishments. After all it is so 
common in the home as well as in the school, that it is 
almost incarnated in the soul of man. I was against it 
then, but had no method as yet, and I tolerated it because 
the poor teacher had to have something to do. She 
made big * military ' crosses in gold or silver paper as 
rewards and pinned them to the breasts of the children 
rewarded, with a silk ribbon. 1 did not think much of 
the idea, but I left it alone. One day I went to the 
school and found a child seated all by himself on a 
chair in the middle of the room and wearing a large 
cross. I asked : " Have you given a prize to this one ? " 
The teacher said : " No, he was being punished ; that is 
why he is sitting alone/* The cross had actually been 
given to another child, but it was in his way as he 
worked, so he gave it to the child in the middle who had 
nothing to do and with whom it would not interfere ! 
And the child in the middle was indifferent both to the 
cross and to the punishment ! We found also that sweets 
and such rewards were not appreciated. 

The abolition of prizes might not have aroused much 
trouble, because after all it would mean an economy. 
Only a few get them in any case, and those at the end of 
the year. But punishments ! That was a different 
matter, they happen every day throughout the year and 
' corrections * are still more frequent. What does this 
correction, in copy-books for example, mean ? It means 
putting a mark A, B, or C or 10 or 0. How can the 

365 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



marking of a zero be a correction ? Then the teacher 
says : " You always make the same errors ; you don't 
listen when I speak ; you will fail in the examination ". 
All these corrections in books and these accusations of 
the teacher result in a lowering of energy and interest. 
To say : " You are bad " or " You are a dunce " is 
humiliating ; it is an insult, an offence, but it is not a 
correction, because in order to correct oneself one must 
become better, and how can a child become better if he 
is below level already and then we humiliate him further ? 
In olden times teachers used to put donkey's ears to 
children when they were stupid, and beat the tips of the 
fingers of those who could not write. If they had used 
all the paper in the world making donkey's ears and 
beaten the fingers to pulp, they would have corrected 
nothing. Experience and exercise alone correct errors, 
and the acquisition of faculties demands long exercise. If 
a child lacks discipline he becomes disciplined through 
work and association with others in a society of cohesion, 
not by telling him that he is undisciplined. If you tell a 
child he cannot do something, he could quite easily tell 
you : " You are telling me that ? I know I can't." 
That is not correction, but a presentation of facts. 
Correction and perfection come only when the child 
can exercise himself in freedom for a sufficiently 
long time. 

Errors can be made and the children may not always 
see them, but teachers also can make errors and not know 

366 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



they are errors. Unfortunately the teacher usually starts 
as if she were a perfect being and an example, so if she 
makes a mistake she certainly does not tell the child 
about it. Her dignity is based on always being right. 
In the ordinary school she must be infallible, so the whole 
of education there is on a false basis. 

Let us consider error itself. It is necessary to admit 
that we all make errors ; it is a reality of life so that 
admission in itself is a great step in our progress. If we 
are to walk on the path of truth and reality we must 
admit that we all make mistakes or else we should be 
perfect. So the best thing is to become friendly with the 
error and then it will not frighten us any more, but will 
be a friendly person living among us and will perform its 
task, because it has one. Many errors are corrected 
spontaneously through life. A child of one year walking 
on the line, walks unsteadily, rolls, falls, but finally it 
walks correctly. He corrects his errors through growth 
and experiences. We have an illusion that we are walking 
along the path of life towards perfection, we are all the 
time making errors and do not correct them. We do 
not recognize them, so we are out of reality altogether 
and in illusion. The teacher who poses as perfect and 
does not recognize that she makes errors, is not a good 
teacher. No matter where we look, we always find 
Gentleman Error ! If we set out on the path towards 
perfection, we must look carefully at error, because 
perfection will come by correcting it. We should use a 

367 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



light to show the error. We must know there is error as 
there is life ; it is as real as that. 

The exact sciences (mathematics, physics, chemistry, 
etc.) have called attention to errors, because these 
sciences purposely make them stand out. The scientific 
study of error has begun with the positive sciences, those 
which are considered to be without error, because they 
measure exactly and can appreciate error. There are 
therefore two things in life : (i) to reach a certain exact- 
ness : (ii) to appreciate error in exactness. Whatever 
science gives, she gives as an approximation, not as an 
absolute, and this approximation is considered with the 
result. For example, an anti-microbe injection is certain in 
95% of the cases, but it is important to know that there is 
5% uncertainty. Also in taking a measurement it is stated 
correct to so many thousandths of an inch. In science 
no data are given or accepted unless with the indication 
of probable error and what gives importance to the data 
is the calculation of the error. No data are considered 
seriously, unless the amount of probable error is given 
and attached to the result, it is as important as the result 
itself. So if it is so important for the exact sciences, how 
much more important it is for our work. Then error 
becomes something interesting and important, and the 
knowledge of it is necessary for correcting or controlling. 

We then reach a scientific principle, which is also a 
principle of truth, i.e., the ' control of error/ In whatever 
is done in school by teacher or children or by others, 

368 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



there must be error and this must so enter into the school- 
life that there is no outside correction, but an individual, 
independent control of error, that tells us whether we are 
right or not. I must know whether I have worked rightly 
or not, therefore error becomes interesting to me whereas 
before it was superficial. In the usual school one makes 
errors without knowing it, unconscious and indifferent 
to it, for it is not I, but the teacher who makes me 
conscious of errors. How far off from the field of free- 
dom ! If 1 do not have the ability of controlling my error, 
I have to go to someone else who may know no better 
than I. Instead, how important one becomes, when one 
knows one is making mistakes and can control them ! 
One of the greatest realizations of psychic freedom is 
to realize that we may make a mistake and can control 
it ; to recognize and control error without help. One 
thing that makes for indecision of character is that we 
are unable to control anything without the help of someone 
else. There is a sense of inferiority, of discouragement 
and a lack of confidence, when one has to rely on others 
to tell one where one is wrong. So the control of error 
becomes the guide which tells us whether we are proceed- 
ing on the right path or not. We have an instinct to go 
towards perfection ; we want to be able to know for 
ourselves whether we are on the right path. 

Supposing I want to go somewhere and I can drive 
a car, but I do not know the road ; this often happens 
in life. In order to be sure that I go right, I take a map ; 

369 

24 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



also I see several signs which tell me where I am. 
I may have been seeing signs which said " 2 miles to 
Ahmedabad," but if then I suddenly see a sign that 
says " 50 miles to Bombay ", I know I have gone wrong 
somewhere. The map and the signs have helped me ; 
if I had had no map I should have had to ask and be 
told many things probably contradictory in their advice. 
If there is no guide or control it is impossible to go on. 

What is necessary therefore in positive science and 
in practical life must also be included in education from 
the very beginning : the possibility of a control of error. 
So with the teaching and the material must go the 
control of error. The way to go forward is to have 
freedom and a sure way, with the means of telling 
ourselves when we make a mistake. When this principle 
is realized in the school and in practical life, it does not 
matter whether the teacher or the mother is perfect or 
not. Errors in older people become interesting and the 
children have sympathy with them. It becomes some- 
thing interesting, but completely detached. It becomes 
an inherent fact in nature, and how much affection it 
provokes in the hearts of children that we can all make 
mistakes. Another factor enters the relationship between 
mother and child. The fact that we can all make mis- 
takes makes us more friendly. Brotherhood comes along 
the path of errors, not along the path of perfection. 
If one is perfect one cannot change any more, two 
* perfect * people together usually fight, because there is 

370 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



no possibility of change and of understanding each other. 
If one has grown up without error, there is no progress 
and no help possible, because one cannot help the 
perfect. If, therefore, we think we are perfect, we are not 
in the field of truth ; one is misled by the illusion of 
perfection one puts before one's eyes, but never achieves. 
Let us make a geometrical comparison : we can 
superimpose squares one on the other, as is done in one 
of our children's exercises with inscribed squares. As 
we continue inscribing squares to a further and further 
degree, we gradually reduce the difference between the 
last one and that immediately before it. If we think of 
this as gradually reducing the * error * between the 
squares, we find that, however small it eventually becomes, 
yet we never reach the complete elimination of error. 
Let us look at one of the earliest practical exercises 
the children do. We have cylinders all of the same 
height, but differing in diameter which fit into corres- 
ponding sockets. Recognizing that they differ is first 
perfectionment, holding them with three fingers is another 
perfectionment. The child begins to place them in their 
sockets, but when he has finished he sees that he has 
made a mistake for a thick one is left whilst there is only 
a thin hole for it to fill, and some of the others are loose 
and rattle, so he looks at them again and observes them 
more carefully than before. The child knows he can 
make a mistake and that if he does so, one cylinder 
cannot be fitted. If there were not this possibility of 

371 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



mistake there would not be the same interest. It is this 
that makes him repeat the exercise again and again. So 
the material has two requirements to meet : (i) to refine 
the senses of the child, (ii) to provide a possibility of 
control of error. 

The above mentioned material has a control of 
error which is very material and visible, so a little child 
of two years can use it and with it acquire the knowledge 
of control of error on the path to perfection. With daily 
practice in such exercises the child gains power to control 
error and becomes sure of himself. To be sure of oneself 
does not mean perfection, but it means to know one's 
possibilities and, therefore, to be able to do something. 
He may say : " I am not perfect ; I am not omnipotent 
but I know this thing and my strength and I also know 
that I can make mistakes and control them, so I am sure 
of my path." There is prudence, certainty and experience. 
These lead towards perfection, not that some one says, 
one is this, that or the other. In other words to arrive at 
this sureness is not so simple as one supposes ; to be on 
the path towards perfection is not so simple either. To 
tell anyone he is silly, stupid, brave, good or bad is a 
betrayal of humanity ; one must be sure for oneself and it 
is necessary to give the means of development and the 
control of error for this. 

Let us look a little later at a child thus trained. 
There are mathematical exercises, e.g., multiplication 
sums. With the sum there is a table of multiplication^ 

372 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



which serves as a control of error. Without it there is no 
possibility of being sure whether one is right ; so instead 
of the teacher correcting, we let the child get into the 
habit of controlling his own errors. This control of error 
is more attractive than the exercise itself. So with 
reading. The child has an exercise of written cards to 
put with the specimens of those names, and then there 
are cards with the names written underneath to control 
his work. The attraction is in finding out whether he 
was right or not. 

If in the practice of school-life there comes this 
opportunity for constant control of error, this leads to 
perfection. The interest in the progress to perfection and 
the control of error is so important to the child that 
progress is ensured. By nature the child leans to exact- 
ness and so this control interests him very much. In 
one of our schools a child had a reading command 
which said : " Go out, close the door and come back ". 
The child studied it and started to carry it out ; then she 
came to the teacher and said : " Why did you write it 
like this ? It cannot be done. How can I come back if 
the door is closed > " So the teacher said : " Yes, my 
mistake/* and rewrote it, and the child said with a 
smile, " Yes, now I can do it." 

Fraternity arises from this interest in the control of 
error. Error divides men, but control of error is a means 
of fraternity. It becomes a universal interest to overcome 
error no matter where it is found. The error itself 

373 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



becomes interesting. It becomes a link and certainly it 
becomes a means of cohesion among all beings, but 
especially between the child and the adult. Finding a 
small error in the adult does not lead to lack of respect 
or a lowering of dignity. Error is detached from the 
person and made a thing apart which can be controlled. 
Thus simple steps lead to great things. 



374 



CHAPTER XXVI 
THE THREE DEGREES OF OBEDIENCE 

THE main preoccupations in ordinary character education 
concern the will and obedience, and generally the two 
ideas are opposed in the minds of those preoccupied with 
them. One of the main aims is to curb the will of the 
child, to substitute for it the will of the adult and to 
demand obedience from him. 

I would like to clarify these ideas, basing myself not 
on any opinion of my own, but on my experience. First 
of all we must admit that there is a great confusion in 
these topics. Some biological studies tell us that the will 
of man is part of a universal power (horme), and that 
this universal force is not physical, but a force of life 
along the path of evolution. All life is urged irresistibly 
towards evolution, and this urge is called horme* 
Evolution is governed by laws and is not haphazard or 
casual. These laws of life show us that the will of man 
is an expression of that force and shapes his behaviour. 
In childhood this force becomes partly conscious as soon 
as the child carries out a certain self-determined action and 

375 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



then this force is developed in children, but only through 
experience. So let us begin by saying that the will is 
something which must develop and, being natural, it 
obeys natural laws. 

Confusion in this subject is also shown by the 
thought that the voluntary actions of children are 
naturally disorderly and sometimes violent. This is so 
generally admitted because people see these sorts of 
actions in the child and think they express his will. It is 
not so, these actions do not belong to the field of the 
universal force or horme. Let us consider the behaviour 
of adults ; suppose we mistook convulsions in a man for 
voluntary manifestations, or actions performed in a 
frenzy of anger to be directed by his will, that would 
clearly be absurd. We do not think so ; we think of a 
person of will primarily as someone who carries out 
something purposive and difficult. If we consider 
voluntary actions to be mainly disorderly movement in 
adult or child, then of course we feel we must curb the 
will, or ' break it ' as the older generation used to say ; 
and if we find it necessary to break this ' will ', then, of 
course, we must substitute our will for the child's by 
means of his * obedience ' to us. 

The real fact is that the will of man (child) does not 
lead to disorder or violence ; these are a mark of devia- 
tion and suffering. The will in its natural field is a force 
which compels us to carry out actions considered to 
benefit our life. The task given by nature to the child is 

376 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



growth, so the child's will is a force urging to growth and 
development. 

A will that wills what the individual does enters 
upon a road of conscious development. Our children 
choose their own work spontaneously and, repeating this 
exercise of choice, develop a consciousness of their 
actions. What at first was a hormic impulse urging the 
child to act now becomes an effort of the will. At first 
he acted instinctively, now he acts consciously and 
voluntarily : this is an awakening of the spirit. 

The child himself has understood this difference and 
expressed it in a way that will ever be a precious remem- 
brance of our experience. A society lady once visited 
the school and, having the old frame of mind, said to a 
child : " So, this is a place where you do what you like, 
is it not ? " The child answered : " No, Madam, we do 
not do what we want, we want what we do." The child 
felt the difference between doing what one likes and 
liking what one does. 

One thing ought to be clear : the conscious will is a 
power which is developed by means of exercise, of work. 
Our aim is definitely to cultivate the will, not to break it. 
The will can be broken almost instantaneously, the deve- 
lopment of the will is a slow process unfolding itself by 
means of continuous activity carried out in relation to 
the environment. It is easy enough to destroy ; the 
devastation of a building can be accomplished in a few 
seconds by a bomb or an earthquake. How difficult 

377 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



instead is the construction of a building ! It requires 
accurate knowledge of the laws of equilibrium, of tension,, 
even art is necessary in order to achieve a harmonious 
construction. 

If all this is needed to achieve a lifeless construction, 
how much more for the construction of the human soul I 
It takes place from within. The constructor, therefore^ 
can be neither the mother nor the teacher. They are not 
the architects, they are not almighty to say, like God in 
the Bible : " Let there be light, and the light was made/* 
They can only help the creative work that comes from 
the child himself. That should be their function and 
their aim, but it is equally in their power to destroy it, to 
break it by repression. This point, darkened by so many 
prejudices, deserves to be made clear. 

The prejudice prevailing in ordinary education 
suggests that everything can be achieved by mere teach- 
ing (that is by directly addressing the child's hearing) or 
by upholding oneself as an example to be imitated (whick 
is a kind of visual education). The personality instead 
can only develop by means of individual exercise, 
through activity. The child is commonly considered as 
a receptive being instead of as an active individual. This 
happens in every field. Even the development of the 
imagination is considered in this fashion. Children are 
told fairy tales, enchanting scenes of princes and lovely 
fairies and thus one tries to develop the imagination. 
The child, however, then only receives impressions and 

37S 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



does not really develop his imaginative powers which are 
the highest of human intelligence. In the case of the 
will this error is still more serious, because ordinary 
education does not only deny the will a chance to 
develop, it actually obstructs this development and 
directly inhibits the expression of the will. Every attempt 
at resistance on the part of the child is repressed as a 
form of rebellion against this pretension. The educator 
really tries to destroy the child's will. The educative 
principle of teaching by example does not lead the 
teacher to picture a phantastic world of princes and 
fairies, here the teacher goes as far as to uphold himself 
as a model. And so both imagination and will remain 
inert, their activity is confined to follow the teacher who 
tells stories and who acts. 

We must deliver ourselves of these illusions and 
courageously face reality. 

In traditional education the teacher reasons in a way 
which in itself may seem logical enough. It runs like 
this : "In order to educate I must be good and perfect 
(this means that I must disguise myself as a kind of 
Father Christmas who offers gifts to the children). I 
know what should be done and what should not be done. 
It is, therefore, sufficient that the children imitate me and 
obey me." Obedience is the secret basis of teaching. 

I do not remember which renowned educationist 
pronounced the maxim : " All the virtues of the child 
can be resumed in one : obedience/' but there it is. 

379 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



The task of the teacher then becomes easy and 
exalting ! He says : " In front of me there is an empty 
being or a being full of naughtiness 1 shall now trans- 
form him creating him almost to my image and likeness/* 
He repeats to himself the words of the Bible : " and 
God created man to His own image and likeness." 

The adult, of course, is unconscious of thus putting 
himself in God's place. He forgets above all the other 
part of the biblical story where it is told how the devil 
became such precisely on account of his pride urging him 
to take the place of God. 

The poor child ! this being who bears within him- 
self the work of a Creator much greater than the teacher, 
the father or the mother whose likeness he is forced to 
acquire. In other times teachers used the stick to achieve 
this aim and even recently in an otherwise highly 
civilized nation teachers declared : "If we must renounce 
the stick, we must also renounce education." Besides, 
in the Bible we find among the proverbs of Solomon the 
famous one declaring that if we do not use the stick we 
are bad parents because we condemn our children to 
hell. Discipline is enforced by threats and fear. This 
leads to the conclusion that the child who does not obey 
is bad, the child who obeys is good. 

In this era of the theories of democracy and liberty, 
when we ponder over this attitude, we are inclined to 
judge the old type of teacher as that of a tyrant. This, 
however, would not be true, that kind of teacher is not a 

380 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



tyrant. A tyrant is much more intelligent. Tyrants 
have a certain will-power, some originality and a certain 
dose of imagination. Teachers of the old type instead 
have only illusions and prejudices and uphold unreason- 
able rules. The difference between a tyrant and an old 
fashioned teacher lies in this : the tyrant uses violent 
means to achieve the success of his aims, the teacher 
uses violent means to reach the failure of his aims. It 
is a fundamental error to think that the will of the in- 
dividual must be destroyed in order that he may obey, 
i.e., that he may accept and execute the decision of 
somebody else's will. If we applied this reasoning to 
intellectual education we ought to say that it is necessary 
to destroy the child's intelligence in order that he may 
receive our culture in his own mind. 

To obtain the obedience of individuals who have 
well developed their own will, but decide to follow ours 
by their own free choice, is very different indeed. 
This latter type of obedience is an act of homage, 
an acknowledgment of a superiority in the teacher, 
which could make him feel proud and satisfied of 
himself. 

Will and obedience are connected in as much as the 
will is the foundation and obedience marks a second phase 
in a process of development. Obedience has thus a higher 
meaning than is generally realized in education. It 
may be considered as a sublimation of the indivi- 
dual will. 

38! 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



Also obedience must be interpreted in a way which 
places it among the phenomena of life and can then be 
considered as one of the characteristics of nature. 

In our children, in fact, we witness the develop- 
ment of obedience as a kind of evolution. It appears 
spontaneously, as a surprise. It represents the destina- 
tion of a long process of perfectionment. 

If there were not this quality in the human soul, if 
men could not reach the point of being able to obey 
by an evolutional process, society could not exist. If 
we throw but a superficial glance at the affairs of the 
world we easily discover up to what extent people obey. 
This kind of obedience is exactly the reason that causes 
whole groups of humanity to fall into a chasm of des- 
truction. An obedience without control, an obedience 
leading whole nations to disaster. There is no lack of 
obedience in the world, far from it ! Obedience as a 
natural consequence of the development of the human 
soul is very evident indeed, but the control of obedience 
is sadly lacking. 

Our observation of children in a environment pre- 
pared to help their natural development has clearly 
shown us the growth of obedience as one of its most 
characteristic coefficients and this observation throws a 
great deal of light upon the subject. 

We have clearly seen in the course of our experience 
that obedience in children is developed in the same way 
as the other qualities of the character ; it follows hormic 

382 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



urges at first, then passes on to a conscious level where 
it is further developed along several degrees. 

Let us first specify what we really and practically 
mean by obedience. It is after all what has always 
been meant by it : a teacher commanding the children 
what to do and the children obeying the command by 
realizing it. 

The natural development of obedience in the child 
can be divided according to three degrees. 

In the first degree the child obeys only occasionally, 
not always. This fact which could be attributed to 
whimsical behaviour, should be analysed. 

Obedience is not connected only with what is usually 
called " willingness ", it depends on facts of formation. 
A certain ability and a certain measure of maturity are 
necessary in order to be able to perform the commanded 
action. Obedience, therefore, should be judged in relation 
to development and vital conditions. It is impossible 
to command " walk on your nose ", because this is 
physiologically impossible. Neither is it possible to 
command " write a letter" to a person who cannot 
write. It is necessary, therefore, to establish first the 
material possibility to obey in relation to the development 
reached. That is why a child of to 3 years of age is 
not an obedient child, he has not yet constructed himself. 
He is taken up by the unconscious elaboration of the 
mechanisms of his personality and has yet to reach 
the point where he can establish them so that they 

383 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



may serve his own purpose in order to then domi- 
nate them consciously. This represents a progress in 
development. In fact, the customs and the ways in 
which adult and child live together have led the adult not 
to expect obedience from a child of 2 years of age. At 
this stage the adult can only inhibit more or less violently 
the actions of such an undeveloped child, should he 
reprove them. 

Obedience, however, does not consist of inhibition 
only. It consists of the performance of actions corres- 
ponding to the will of another person, not to that of the 
child himself. Although the life of an older child is not 
taken up by the same primitive preparation which we 
mentioned for the child between and 3 years of age, 
where it takes place in the secrecy of his life, even at 
this later stage we find analogous facts. Also the older 
child must have developed certain abilities in order that 
he may obey, i.e., that he may act according to the will 
of another, and abilities are not developed over night. 
They are the result of an interior formation passing 
through several stages. As long as this period of forma- 
tion lasts it may happen that now and then the child 
succeeds in performing an action which corresponds to an 
acquisition just made, but only when the acquisition has 
become a permanent asset can the will dispose of it. 
This is also seen when the child labours to make those 
primitive mechanical acquisitions of the motor functions, 
when he acts under the compulsion of the hormic urges 

384 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



of life. A child of about 1 year of age can make his 
first steps, but then he falls down and perhaps he will 
not be able to repeat them for a long time. It is only 
when the mechanism of walking is completely established 
that the child can walk whenever he likes. This is a 
very important point. The obedience of the child at this 
later stage depends above all on the stage of develop- 
ment of his capacities. It may therefore happen that he 
can obey the teacher once, but not after that. This 
inability to repeat the act of obedience is then attributed 
to " unwillingness ". If so, the teacher with her insistence 
and criticism may become an obstacle to the inner deve- 
lopment that is taking place. In the history of Pestalozzi, 
the famous Swiss educationist, who had such a great 
influence on education in schools all over the world, we 
find a very noteworthy point. Pestalozzi was the first to 
introduce a so-called paternal gentleness in the treatment 
of pupils. He was always ready to show sympathy and 
to forgive. One thing, however, was not included in his 
forgiveness ; whimsical behaviour, a child now obeying 
then disobeying. Who had once executed a com- 
mand was capable of it and if at another time he 
did not obey the same command, Pestalozzi would 
not admit any excuse. That was the only time 
when he showed himself severe instead of indulgent. 
If this happened in the case of Pestalozzi, how 
often will not ordinary teachers commit the same 
mistake ! 

385 

25 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



On the other hand nothing is more harmful than 
discouragement at the very time when a facet of develop- 
ment is being constructed. When the child is not yet 
really master of his own actions, when they do not yet 
obey his own will, he is even less able to correspond to 
the will of another person. That is why it may happen 
that he obeys once, being unable to repeat this act of 
obedience. This does not even happen in childhood 
alone. How often will a beginner who plays a musi- 
cal instrument play a piece quite nicely whilst he is 
unable to do it a second time ? The day after he will be 
asked to do it again, but he cannot do it as well as he 
did the day before. The willingness to do so is not at 
fault, but we face an imperfectly established ability. 

What we call the first degree of obedience, therefore, 
is the period when a child can obey, but is not always 
able to do so. It is a period when obedience and disobe- 
dience exist together. 

The second degree is reached when the child can 
always obey, i.e. there are no obstacles concerning 
development. His abilities firmly acquired can be called 
upon and directed not only by his own will, but also 
by the will of another person. This possibility is a 
great gift. We could compare it to the ability to translate 
from one language into another. The child can absorb 
the will of another person and act accordingly. This 
is the highest level which generally education tries to 
reach. The ordinary teacher does not aspire after a 

386 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



stage beyond that when the child obeys all the time. The 
young child, however, goes far beyond our expectations, 
as always when he is given the opportunity to follow the 
laws of nature. The child does not stop here, but goes 
on towards the : third degree of obedience. Here obedience 
surpasses the relation to an acquired ability which brings 
it within reach of the child. Here obedience is directed 
towards a superior personality, towards the teacher who 
has served and helped the child. It is as if the child 
became conscious of the fact that the teacher is capable 
of things higher than those which he could do by himself. 
It is as if he said to himself : " This person who is greater 
than I am can penetrate into my intelligence by her 
power, she can make me as great as she is herself. She 
acts in me ! " This thought seems to give the^child a 
great and deep joy. To be able to receive directions 
from this superior life causes a new form of enthusiasm 
and joy. It is quite a sudden discovery. The child then 
becomes anxious and impatient to obey. To what could 
we compare this marvellous natural phenomenon ? Per- 
haps to the spirit of the Saint who said : " I am leaping to 
obey." Or we might compare it, on quite another plane, 
to the instinct of the dog who loves his master and 
through his obedience executes the will of a man. When 
his master shows him a ball, the dog looks at it intensely 
and when the master throws it away, he jumps and 
triumphantly returns it waiting for the next command. 
The dog is craving for commands, he is excited and 

387 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



waves his tail full of joy. He runs to obey. The third 
degree of obedience of the young child is somewhat 
similar, but the child shows his desire to obey in a 
different manner. In any case, he obeys with a surpris- 
ing promptitude, and seems impatient to do so. 

The findings of a teacher with ten years* teaching 
experience gives an interesting illustration. She had a 
class of children which she directed very well, but she 
could not abstain from advising them. One day she 
said : " Put everything away, before going home to- 
night/' The children did not wait for her to end her 
sentence, but as soon as they had heard " Put everything 
away , . ." they started immediately to put everything care- 
fully, but quickly in its place. Then they heard, to their 
surprise, " when you go home to-night/' Their obedience 
had become so instantaneous that the teacher felt that 
she had to be very careful in the wording of her requests. 
This time she ought to have expressed herself like this : 
" Before you go home to-night, put everything in its 
place/' She said similar things happened whenever she 
expressed herself without due care and she felt very 
responsible whenever she spoke on account of the 
children's immediate reaction. It was a strange experi- 
ence for her, because orders seem the natural attribute 
of authority. Instead of feeling the weight she carried, 
she keenly felt the tremendous responsibility of her 
position of authority. She could obtain silence so easily 
that it was only necessary to write the word silence 

388 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



on the blackboard, and even then, the moment she 
started to form the letter ' s f and long before she had 
finished the word, all the children were silent. 

The Silence Lesson 

My own experience, too, which led me to introduce 
the ' silence -lesson ', proves this attitude of obedience 
which in this case was a phenomenon of collective 
obedience. It proved a marvellous and unexpected 
correspondence by a whole group of children who almost 
identified themselves with me. 

Once I came into a class that was already seriously 
at work ; the children had already developed their will 
I entered this class of forty-five children with a baby of 
four months in my arms. It was an old Italian custom 
to place a baby's legs together and wrap them tightly 
round and round with cloth so that the legs and feet 
were perforce quite still and fixed. Showing the baby to 
the children I said : " I have brought you a visitor ; see 
how still he is ; I am sure you could not keep so still ". 
I meant it as a joke and thought they would laugh, but 
all became serious and put their legs and feet together 
and were still without movement. I thought they had 
not understood my joke so I said : " If only you could 
feel how gently he breathes ; you could not breathe as 
gently as that because your chests are bigger ff . Now, I 
thought, they will laugh, but no, they remained with their 
feet together and also controlling their breath so that it 

389 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



should make no noise and they looked seriously at me, 

I then said : " I will walk out very quietly, but the baby 

will be quieter than I ; he will not move or make any 

noise ". I took the child back to its mother and came 

back ; they were still there motionless and with a look on 

their faces as if to say : " See you made a little noise 

but we are as quiet as that baby ". So all the children 

had the same will, all were urged to do the same thing, 

and the result was a class of forty-five children perfectly 

immobile and silent. People would have thought, 

" what a wonderful discipline/* and would have wondered 

how it was obtained. How ? by an attempt to make 

the children laugh ! The result was a silence which was 

very striking, so much so that I said " What a silence ! " 

and the children seemed to understand and feel the 

silence and remained quite still, controlling their breath, 

and I began to hear sounds that I had not heard before, 

the ticking of the clock, the drip from a leaking tap outside, 

the buzzing of flies. Adults generally do not know this 

silence ; even in church they get up and kneel down and 

move about, put coins in the collection-box, etc. etc. ; so 

their idea of silence is very superficial. This silence was 

a cause of great joy to the children, and the silence 

lesson which is a feature of our schools now, developed 

from this experience. 

From this exercise of silence could be measured the 
strength of will of these children, and with the exercise 
the strength of this will became greater and greater and 

390 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



the period of silence lengthened. So we added to this 
the whispering of the name of each child, and as each 
heard his name he came quietly while the others re- 
mained immobile, and, since each child came carefully 
and slowly so as not to make a noise, how long the last 
child to be called had to wait ! They therefore had 
developed to a great degree their strength of will. When 
we say we must teach children to inhibit this or that, we 
must remember that children are capable of much greater 
inhibition than we are capable of, and after all will and 
inhibition give obedience. Inhibition of impulses is one 
of the great results of this exercise as well as the control 
of one's actions. Hence it came to be a part of our 
method : on one side, the will to choose and be freely 
active, and on the other side inhibition. The children 
thus developed into people of great will ; in that environ- 
ment they could do what they willed~act or refrain from 
action, and they formed a group wonderful to see. 

To have absolute silence we must all agree ; if one 
person does not agree, the silence is broken ; therefore a 
consciousness comes that we must act together and 
produce a result. Thus a conscious social relationship 
comes about. 

I had unintentionally stimulated this first silence by 
bringing the baby into the room, but I could not always 
depend on that, so how was I to arouse this interest 
again ? I found the best way was by saying simply : 
" Would you like to make silence ? " Immediately there 

391 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



was great enthusiasm and 1 found to my surprise that 
I could command silence and the children obeyed me. 
The adult gave a command which all obeyed. Obedi- 
ence had developed in the children, because all the 
elements were there. I merely said something and they 
obeyed ; so in developing the will, unseen and un- 
expected obedience had come. 

Obedience is the last phase of the development of 
the will, so the development of the will makes obedience 
possible. With our children it leads to a phase when the 
teacher, whatever he commands, is promptly obeyed. 
What he then feels is that he should be careful not to 
take advantage of this type of obedience of the children. 
He becomes aware of the real nature of the character 
which a leader should have. A leader should feel a 
great responsibility for the orders he issues. A leader, 
therefore, is not somebody with a sense of great authority, 
but somebody with a sense of great responsibility. 



392 



CHAPTER XXVII 
THE MONTESSORI TEACHER 

FROM all that we have mentioned it may be understood 
that a Montessori teacher has to be quite different from 
a teacher in an ordinary school, and one must be careful 
not to consider this too superficially, because there are 
certain Montessori teachers who take things too literally. 
They say : " The children must be active and the 
teacher must not interfere ", so they abandon the children 
and they do nothing. 

In the presentation of the means of development 
the teacher has a very active task ; also the fashion in 
which they must be presented and their details indicate 
a very active teacher ; therefore, the part the teacher 
plays is a complex one. It is not that the Montessori 
teacher is inactive and the teacher of the ordinary school 
active, but all the activities our teacher has to perform 
are a preparation, a guidance, and the subsequent 
41 inactivity " of the teacher is a sign of success. Complete 
outer inactivity of the teacher represents a task 
successfully accomplished, we might say it is an ideal 

393 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



aim, and blessed are the teachers who have brought 
their class to the stage where they can say : " Whether 
I am present or not, the class functions/* Each child 
through his activity has achieved independence and now 
the group has achieved independence. That is the mark 
of success, but to arrive at this there is a path to follow ; 
the teacher too must develop. 

One thing we must have clearly before our eyes, 
i.e., that the Montessori teacher and the ordinary teacher 
are on different levels. One cannot transform an ordinary 
teacher into a Montessori teacher ; one must create anew. 
To begin with, we might say that thte first step for the 
teacher is self -preparation. She has to prepare her 
imagination, because in the ordinary school the teacher 
knows what her children are like as far as their immediate 
behaviour shows and she knows she has to care for them 
and bring them up, whereas the Montessori teacher sees 
a child who is not there yet, materially speaking. This is 
the main difference. Our teachers are on a superior level, 
not on the material level. Teachers who come to our 
schools must have a sort of faith in the child who will 
reveal himself through work. The teacher becomes 
detached from any idea regarding the level on which 
the children may be. The different types of children r 
who are all deviated, do not affect her, she sees a 
different type of child who lives in a spiritual field. The 
teacher has faith that the children she has actually before 
her will show their real self when they find any work 

394 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



which attracts them. What does she look for ? What 
is her expectation ? To wait till one or two of the children 
become concentrated. 

On the path of the teacher's own spiritual evolution 
in this work there are three stages : 

First Stage. The teacher becomes the guardian and 
custodian of the environment ; she therefore concentrates 
on the environment instead of being caught up by all 
these deviated children. She concentrates on the environ- 
ment because from there the cure will come. The en- 
vironment holds the attraction that will polarize the will 
of the children. As in our countries where each bride 
has her own home and makes it as attractive as possible 
for herself and her husband, instead of paying over-much 
attention to her husband she pays attention first to the 
house in order to make it into an environment in which 
a normal and constructive relationship can be formed. 
She tries to make it a peaceful, comfortable house, full of 
interesting stimuli. In such a house, the essential part 
is cleanliness and order : everything in its place, clean, 
shining and bright. This is the first care of the wife. In 
the school also the first care of the teacher should be 
this : order and care of the material so that it be always 
beautiful, shining and in repair and nothing missing, so 
that everything looks new to the children and is complete 
and ready for use at any time. This also means that 
the person of the teacher must be attractive. She should 
be young, beautiful, with flowers in her hair, scented 

395 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



with cleanliness, happy and full of dignity. This is the 
ideal. Everyone can translate it as they like, but we 
must remember that when we present ourselves in front 
of children, we must realize they are great people. 
The appearance of the teacher is the first step to 
real understanding and real respect for the children. 
She should study her movements and make them as 
gentle and graceful as possible. The child of this age 
has a great ideal of his mother ; we don't know of what 
type the mother is, but very often we hear a child say 
when he sees a beautiful lady : " How beautiful she is, 
just like my mother ! " Actually the mother may not be 
so beautiful at all, but to the child she is and everyone 
whom he admires is " as beautiful as my mother ". So 
this care for one's appearance ought also to form part of 
the order in the environment of the child ; the most living 
part of the environment is the teacher. 

This care of the environment then, is the first work 
of the teacher and must precede everything else ; it is an 
indirect work. Unless it is completely attended to, there 
will never be any worthwhile and continuous results in 
any other field physical, mental or spiritual. 

Second Stage. Now we come to the children, 
having first ordered the environment. What to do with 
these children still disorderly with these aimlessly wander- 
ing minds which we wish to attract in order to fix them 
on work > I sometimes use a term which is not always 
appreciated : the teacher must be seductive, she must 

396 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



seduce the children at this stage. Imagine a child enter- 
ing a black dirty environment with a dirty teacher and 
being given an object to which he is supposed to be 
attracted ! Surely the teacher must be attractive first, in 
appearance and in manner. In this respect our teachers 
and the teachers in ordinary schools may be alike, but 
this is all before the period of concentration. 

Before concentration sets in the teacher can do 
what she likes more or less, because she upsets nothing 
important. She can intervene in the children's activities 
if necessary. I have read of a Saint who tried to 
attract the abandoned boys of the streets of a town 
who were learning bad habits. What did he do ? He 
tried every means to amuse them. That is what the 
teacher must do at this stage. The use of poetry, rhymes, 
singing, stories, drama, clowning ; anything is good 
enough except the stick. The teacher who fascinates 
the children attracts them and this leads to some exercise, 
which is not very important but it Joes attract them. A 
vivacious teacher can attract more easily, then why not 
make use of it ? To say brightly : " Now what about 
changing the furniture today " and then work with them, 
the teacher herself carrying things carefully and suggest- 
ing how to carry, doing all this brightly. Or : " How 
about polishing this beautiful brass bowl ? " or : " Shall 
we go into the garden and collect some flowers > " If 
the teacher is attractive the action will be attractive. 



397 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



This is the second period in the development of the 
teacher. If there is some child who persists in molesting 
others at this stage, the practical thing is to interrupt his 
actions. Whilst we have said so often that when a child 
is concentrated in work one must not, under any circum- 
stances, intervene and interrupt his cycle of activity, and 
so prevent his full expression, obviously here the contrary 
is the right technique : to interrupt and so to break his 
thread of disturbing activities. The interruption can be 
an exclamation merely, or it can be getting interested in 
him ; multiplying your attention to him is like a lot of 
electric shocks to him and will bring a reaction in time. 
If a child is bothering others, one might say : " How are 
you, Johnnie ? Come here, I want to give you some- 
thing to do ! " Probably he will not want to do that, so 
you say : " So you don't want to do that ) All right, 
let's go into the garden then," and go with him or let 
your helper take him and then his naughtiness comes 
under your care and the children are not troubled. 

Third Stage. Now comes the third stage when the 
children are interested in something, usually some exer- 
cise of practical life, because one cannot give any other 
material until one has been able to present it properly 
and that we cannot do while they are not concentrated 
on anything. When the child becomes interested in an 
object, the teacher must not interrupt, because this acti- 
vity obeys natural laws and has a cycle ; and if it is 
touched, it disappears like a soap-bubble and all its 

398 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



beauty with it. The teacher must be very careful now, 
non-interference means non-interference, in any form. 
Often mistakes are made by teachers here. A child who 
has been a nuisance, at last does a piece of concentrated 
work ; the teacher passes and sees him and says : 
44 Good ! " that is enough, the damage is done. The 
child will probably not look at work for another two or 
three weeks. Also if a child has a difficulty and the 
teacher interferes to show how to deal with it, the child 
will leave the teacher with the work and go away. The 
interest of the child was not in the mere task, but in 
conquering that difficulty. " If the teacher is going to 
conquer it instead, well let her, my interest is gone. 
Also if the child is lifting heavy things, the teacher will 
go to help and frequently the child will then just dump 
the things and walk off. Praise, help or even noticing a 
child are often sufficient interruption to destroy activity. 
Indeed, even the child's seeing one looking at him will do 
it. After all if we are concentrated in something and 
someone comes and looks over our shoulder or looks at us 
from somewhere nearby, our concentration disappears. The 
great principle which leads to the success of the teacher 
is this : as soon as concentration appears, pay no atten- 
tion, as if the child did not exist. We can note what he 
does in a single glance, without paying any attention that 
makes him aware of us. Now the child will begin to 
choose his own actions. This may cause problems in a 
class where more than one may want the same material. 

399 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



In the solution of these problems also, we must not 
interfere unless we are asked ; the children will solve 
them. Our duty is only to present new objects when the 
child exhausts the activities possible with the old ones. 

This ability of the teacher to refrain from interfering 
comes with practice, just as all the other abilities. She 
must act as if she were there to serve the children ; if she 
wants a good example, she can study a good servant. 
He prepares everything that pleases his master, but he 
does not tell him what to do. He keeps the master's 
hair -brushes in order, but he does not tell him when he 
must tidy his hair ; he prepares his food carefully, but he 
does not order him to eat. He presents it well and with 
exactness and unobtrusiveness and then disappears. So 
must we act to this master of ours the growing spirit of 
the child. This is the master we serve, the child-spirit. 
When he shows a wish, we are ready to satisfy it. The 
servant does not intrude on the master if he is alone, but 
when the master calls, the servant is immediately there 
to do what he wants and he answers : " Yes, sir ". He 
admires if asked to do so and says : " How beautiful '* 
if that is expected of him, even if he does not see any 
beauty himself. So with the child who has done some 
concentrated work. We must not intrude, but if he 
shows us what he has accomplished and wants our 
approbation, we give it generously. 

This is the plan and the technique : to serve, and 
serve well ; to serve the spirit. This is something new, 

400 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



especially in the realm of education. It is true we would 
all like to serve children, but does the ordinary teacher 
know how to serve or what to do ? She will see he is 
dirty and she will wash him ; that his clothes are in dis- 
order and she will dress him. This is the idea of the 
ordinary teacher, viz., that if one is to serve children, one 
must do everything for them, wash, dress and feed them. 
But we are not this type of teacher ; we are not servants 
of the body. We know that if a child is to develop, he 
must do these things himself. The basis of our teaching 
is that the child shall not be served in this sense. The 
child must acquire physical independence by being 
sufficient unto himself. Independence of will by choosing 
alone and freely, independence of thought by working 
alone and uninterrupted. The consciousness we have 
that development is a straight path to independence must 
give us the clue. We must help the child to act by 
himself, will for himself, think for himself. This is the art 
of the servant of the spirit, an art which can be expressed 
perfectly in the field of childhood. It is only then that 
we can see the development of those marvellous charac- 
teristics in children, that we have talked about. 

These qualities of a social being are wonderful to 
behold, and the joy of the teacher is to be able to see 
the manifestations of the spirit of the child. It is a great 
privilege since usually they are hidden, and as they 
appear, the teacher who knew of them by the inspiration 
of her faith, welcomes them. Here is the child as he 

401 

26 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



should be : the worker who never tires, the calm child, 
the child who seeks the maximum effort and who tries to 
help the weak, who knows how to respect others and 
shows us characteristics which make us know him as the 
true child. 

So the teacher gradually begins to say : "I know 
my children " and by saying that she says : " I have seen 
the reality of these facts. I have seen the child as he 
should be, a child even superior to what I had supposed/* 
This is to have knowledge of childhood. The ordinary 
teacher may say : " I know my children ; this is Johnnie, 
his father is a carpenter, his mother is a very clever 
manager in the home/' " I have been to this little girl's 
home ; 1 have eaten with her family ", etc. " I have 
given much time and thought to them ; I know them/' 
But with our teachers it is not these superficial facts that 
they know, but the secret of childhood. They have pene- 
trated into this secret and have a knowledge far superior 
to ordinary knowledge, just as their love and care was 
far superior to that of the ordinary teacher. The Monies- 
sori teacher has a deep love because she loves the deep 
knowledge of the secret of the children. Perhaps for 
the first time one understands what love really is on 
these occasions when the child manifests his spirit. " They 
are very touching, they touch me so deeply that they 
change me as does any love worthy of the name. I 
have been so touched that I cannot help talking about it 
And what have 1 loved ? These manifestations of the human 

402 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



spirit. It is these revelations, this spirit which has trans- 
formed me. It is possibly the highest form of love, for I 
may not remember the child's name, but the manifestation 
of the human spirit has deeply moved me, I am in love 
with it." 

Ordinary teachers say that they love their pupils : 
4i When they pass me, I rub their hair or I kiss them. 
I enquire after them when they are ill ". But this is 
personal love, only. So there are two different levels. 
One is material, and on this the whole conception of the 
old education is founded. Children are material beings ; 
if you think of spiritual things in connection with children, 
you think of the prayers or rituals you can teach them. 
But our level is spiritual, our love not material. The 
children have brought us to it ; so when the teacher says 
she knows her children she refers to something superior 
which the children have revealed. And when she says : 
44 I serve my children ", she means : " I serve the spirit of 
man which must liberate itself. I know them, i.e. I 
know the spirit of man/' 

This difference of level has really been brought about 
not by the teacher, but by the children. It is the teacher 
who finds herself brought up to this level which she did 
not know existed. The child has made the teacher grow 
up to his level ; now she is there and she is happy. Her 
happiness before was perhaps to have as little to do as 
possible and to draw as high a salary as possible and 
what other satisfaction ? Perhaps her authority over the 

403 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



children and her feeling that she is the ideal which the 
children follow and whom they obey. She may be satis- 
fied by a sense of power and vanity. Perhaps also she 
thinks of going a step higher in her material career, to 
become a headmistress or inspector. But there is no real 
happiness in this. The spiritual happiness that one may 
derive from the spiritual manifestations of the children, 
these teachers have never felt ; yet to have this one 
would be ready to leave the lesser happiness. How 
many headmasters and teachers in high schools have 
resigned their posts and salaries and gone to little children^ 
to find this joy > I do know of two doctors of medicine 
in Paris who left their profession to do this work in order 
to see for themselves these phenomena, and they found 
that what they actually did was to pass from a lower 
level to a higher one. 

What is the greatest height of a Montessori teacher's 
success ? To be able to say : " Now the children work as 
if I did not exist ". She has become nothing and the 
children have become all. The ordinary teacher may 
say : " I have brought my children up to this level ; 
I have taught this ; I have developed their intellectual 
powers ; I have .... I have . . . ." But what have they 
done > Nothing. They have not developed ; they have 
imposed themselves and crushed and impeded. This is 
the crime of the schools, especially at the period of 
development before six years. All we should be able to 
say is : " I have helped this life to achieve its creation " 

404 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



and that is real satisfaction. The Montessori teacher of 
children up to six years knows she has helped humanity 
in an essential period of development. She may not know 
anything of the material facts of the children, though actual- 
ly some she will be bound to know because the children 
will talk to her freely. She need not mind what happens 
afterwards to these children, whether they go to secon- 
dary schools and colleges or cease their schooling earlier ; 
she is satisfied to know that in this formative period they 
have achieved what they had to achieve. She says : " I 
have served the spirit of these children so that they have 
achieved development and I have accompanied them in 
all their experiences ". She does not care what the 
ordinary inspector says, it is of no importance, it is a 
ridiculous remnant of old times. The teacher who has to 
wait on inspectors* reports is a person in a miserable 
position and out of the reality of spiritual life, even if she 
prays five times a day. Spiritual life is perpetual life 
from one morning to the next morning. It is to live orx a 
spiritual level, not merely to say prayers. 

The ordinary teacher says : " How humble these 
teachers seem, they are not interested even in their own 
authority " and some say : " How can your method 
succeed, when you pretend that these teachers renounce 
all the usual things ? " But they have not renounced ; they 
have simply entered another life where the values are 
different ; where there are the real values of life unknown 
to the former life. All the principles are different, take the 

405 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



principle of justice. In the old schools justice was impor- 
tant. " The teacher has power, dignity and justice/* it 
used to be said. What was this justice > Treating all alike : 
" I don f t mind if the children are rich or poor ; if punish- 
ment is necessary, all are punished ". If any child made 
mistakes he got a zero for his work, in some cases even 
if he was deaf ; all had to be treated alike. Human 
society is based on this * justice *. Even in democratic 
countries justice frequently only means that there is 
one law for all the rich and powerful and the starving 
man. Justice is usually connected with trials, prisons, 
sentences. The Law Courts are called the Palace of 
Justice, and to say : " I am an honest man " means I have 
had nothing to do with justice (i.e., the police and the 
law courts.) In schools also the teacher is careful not to 
caress a child because if so she must caress all she must 
be just. This is a justice which levels all down to the 
lowest level ; as if, spiritually, we cut off the heads of the 
taller ones to bring them to the same level as the others. 
On the higher level of educational work, justice is 
really spiritual, it seeks that every child achieve the 
maximum of its individual abilities. Justice is to give to 
any human being all help that will enable him to reach 
his full spiritual stature, and those who serve the spirit in 
all ages, must give help to these energies. This will 
perhaps be the organization of the future society. So- 
called justice at present is ridiculous, it is the freedom 
where one man has no chance and others have all the 

406 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



chances and take no advantage of them. Nothing need 
be lost of these spiritual treasures and compared to them 
economic treasures lose their value. Whether I am rich 
or poor does not matter if I can reach full expression, the 
economic problem will then adjust itself. When 
humanity can achieve its spiritual self to the full, it will be 
more productive ; and economic things will lose their 
exclusive value. Men do not produce with their feet or 
their bodies, but with their spirit and intelligence. All 
insoluble problems will be solved. 

The children develop an ordered society unaided. 
We adults need police, lathis, soldiers, machine-guns. 
The children solve their own problems in peace. They 
have shown us that freedom and discipline are the two 
sides of the same coin, because scientific freedom leads 
to discipline. Usually coins have two sides, one beauti- 
fully engraved with a face or figure, the other flatter and 
with lettering. The flat side is freedom and the beauti- 
fully engraved side discipline. This is so true that when 
we find a class of undisciplined children this serves as a 
control of error for the teacher, for she says on seeing it : 
44 I have made a mistake against this class somewhere " 
and so she corrects it. The ordinary teacher thinks this 
is a humiliation ; it is not* It is a technique of the new 
education. In serving the children, we serve life. By 
helping nature we go to the next level of super-nature, 
since a law of nature is to go higher continuously. And it 
is the children who have built this beautiful structure to 

407 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



another level. The laws of nature are order, so when 
order comes spontaneously we know we have reached 
the cosmic order. One of the missions of children is to 
draw adult humanity to a higher level. I cannot develop 
this point here, important as it is, but it is a fact. The 
children draw us to a spiritual level and solve the problems 
of the material level. Let me quote some phrases which 
have helped us to keep in mind all these things we have 
mentioned. It is not a prayer, but a memorandum and 
so for Montessori teachers an invocation, a kind of 
syllabus, our only syllabus : 

" HELP US, O LORD, TO PENETRATE INTO THE SECRET 
OF THE CHILD SO THAT WE MAY KNOW HIM, LOVE 
HIM AND SERVE HIM, ACCORDING TO YOUR LAWS OF 
JUSTICE AND FOLLOWING YOUR DIVINE WILL." 



408 



CHAPTER XXVIII 

THE FOUNTAIN SOURCE OF LOVE 
THE CHILD 

IN our Courses we always see a gathering of workers that 
are typically Montessorian. There are babies, young 
people, older people, professional people, non-pro- 
fessional people, cultured and illiterate people and there 
is no leader among us. Our Courses are apparently hetero- 
geneous unlike most other courses of culture. Students 
following our courses have to have some degree of culture, 
but that is the only limit, within it we can have matri- 
culates and professors side by side, lawyers and doctors, 
and those who would be their patients. In Europe we 
used to have people from all countries and in America 
we once had an anarchist among us ! With all these 
differences of people there have never been any conflicts 
between the students. How is this ? It is because we 
have all been linked by a common ideal. In Belgium, 
such a small country that it might be fitted in one of the 
tips of India, there are nevertheless two languages: 
French and Flemish. The people are divided politically 

409 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



as a result. Seldom has it been possible to draw all these 
people together in a conference, but in a Montessori Course 
it happened. It was so unusual, that in newspapers it 
was commented : " For many years we have been 
trying unsuccessfully to get these parties together, now we 
have it in this course to study the child/' This is the 
power of the child : all are familiar with children, 
whatever their religious or political feeling, and all love 
children, hence the uniting influence of the child. Adults 
have formed some strong and ferocious convictions and 
these convictions divide them into groups. When they 
begin to speak of these convictions, their religious and 
political ideals, they begin to fight. 

But on one point the child they all feel alike ; 
that is why socially the child is so important. It is 
evident that this is a point from which one can start in 
order to put the world into harmony. It is one point on 
which all have a delicate sensitivity. When we speak 
of the child, all are touched, all feel love, all are 
sensitive. The whole of humanity is held by this deepest 
emotion which kindles friendly sentiments. It is a form 
of love. When one touches the child, one touches 
love. One does not know how to define this love ; all 
feel it, but cannot describe it. We may say : " I feel this 
love ; it exists, but its root and its vastness I do not 
know ". Just as we are aware of things through our 
senses, so we have this feeling of love ; we are impressed 
by it. We feel it is there, even though, when we consider 

410 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



much in the life of the adult, it is as if we had forgotten 
it. When an adult thinks of another adult, usually forces 
of defence arise, but when we think of the child the 
strong and hard accretions soften and disappear, we 
become sweet and gentle because now we are dealing 
with the basis of life. This is so not only for humans, 
but for all living beings. It comes when the young 
appear. There are then these two aspects of adult life : 
that of defence and that of love, but the fundamental one 
is that of love as one feels it for the child, because with- 
out the child the adult would not exist. 

Let us try to understand this love more consciously. 
Let us consider what prophets and poets have said about 
it, for they have been able to give form and expression to 
this great energy which we call love. Certainly there is 
nothing more beautiful or uplifting than the words of 
poets who have given this form to love so that man can 
visualize it to some extent ; this love which is the energy 
at the base of all existence. Even the most ferocious of 
men when they read these statements of poets and reli- 
gious men may say : " How beautiful ! " That means 
that this love has remained in them and keeps vibrating 
in them, despite the manner of their life. Were it not 
so, they would call such things, nonsense, stupidity, 
vapidity and so on. Although it does not seem to have 
entered their lives, yet they are influenced by it. It 
means that they are thirsty for love even without their 
knowing it. 

411 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



It is curious that even in times such as these when 
war is most destructive and has reached all the corners 
of the world, when one would think that to talk of love 
would be most ironic, people Jo talk of it. They are 
planning for unity, which is love. This means that it is 
a basic force. So now, at this time, when it would seem 
that everything might lead men to say : " Away with 
this thing called love ; let us have reality which has been 
proved to be destruction, for are not cities, forests, women, 
children, animals all destroyed ? ", still there is talk of 
reconstruction and love ; even while they destroy, 
people talk of it. If we look and listen to all around us, 
the wireless, newspapers, common talk, we hear the Pope, 
Truman, Churchill, the directors of the churches, those 
against the churches, the cultured and the illiterate, the 
rich and the poor and all the followers of all the " isms " 

and theologies, all saying " love ". And if this is so, (and 



there could be no stronger proof than there is to day of 
the force and impressiveness of this love) then why should 
not humanity study this great fact of love > Why should 
it be only spoken of when hate is raging ? Why should 
it not be studied and analysed always, so that its energy 
can be made use of ? And why not see why this energy 
has not been studied before so that it could be used to 
combine the other forces of which we know ? Man has 
put so much of his mental energies into the study of 
other natural facts. In those fields he has worked labori- 
ously and long and discovered many things. Why not 

412 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



put a little of this energy into the study of this force 
which should unite humanity > I feel that all contributions 
that give an illustration of love should be taken in with 
energy and avidity and great prominence should be given 
to them. 1 mentioned that poets and prophets have 
spoken of it, often as if it were an ideal ; but it is real, 
it has always been there and is eternal. 

We must realize too that if we feel this reality of 
love at the present time, it is not because we were taught 
it in school. Even if we were taught the beautiful des- 
criptions of love, the words were few and they would 
have disappeared, the memory of them would have 
vanished in the multitudinous events that have followed 
since then. When people appeal with so much energy 
for love, it is not because they heard of it in their youth 
or read of it in poetry or in religion ; it is the expression 
of something not learnt by heart, but of something given 
to us as part of the great heritage of our life. It is Life 
which speaks, not poets and prophets. Love can be 
considered from another side, besides that of religion 
and poetry. It is from the point of view of Life itself 
that we must consider it ; then love is not merely the 
fruit of imagination or aspiration, but a reality which is an 
eternal energy and cannot be extinguished. 

I would like to say a few words about this reality 
and about those things which the poets and prophets 
have said also. This energy we call love is the greatest 
cosmic energy. Even when we use such terms we still 

413 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



speak of it disparagingly, because it is more than an 
energy it is creation itself and is better expressed in the 
phrase " God is Love/' 

Now to come to more concrete things. I would 
like to be able to quote from all poets and prophets, 
but I do not know them nor do 1 know their language. 
But I know all have wonderful verses. Let me quote from 
one I know who showed great vehemence in his expres- 
sion when speaking of love. It is the best-known of all 
religious or poetic descriptions in Christendom, and says : 

" If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, 
and have not charity, I am become a sounding brass 
or a tinkling cymbal. And if I should have prophecy, 
and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and 
if I should have all faith, so that I could remove moun- 
tains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And if I 
should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if 
1 should deliver my body to be burned, and have not 
charity, it profiteth me nothing." (St. Paul in I. Cor. XIII) 

We could say to such a person : " You must know 
what love is since you feel it so strongly, it must be some- 
thing formidable, tell us about it in detail/' But when the 
description of this mighty sentiment is given, it is so 
simple. The illustrations he has used might be found in 
our present civilization which can move mountains and 
work even greater miracles than that, for we can speak 
in a whisper from one corner of a continent to a corner 
in another continent where we are heard. But all this is 

414 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



nothing, if there is not love. We also have organized 
great institutions to feed the poor and clothe them, but 
if we have not love it is like playing a drum which gives 
sound because it is empty. What then is this love ? 
St. Paul who gave us a description of its lofty grandeur, 
as quoted above, continues, but he does not furnish a 
philosophical theory, he writes : 

" Charity is patient, is kind : charity envieth not, 
dealeth not perversely : is not puffed up. Is not ambi- 
tious, seeketh not her own, is not provoked to anger, 
thinketh no evil. Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth 
with the truth : beareth all things, believeth all things, 
hopeth all things, endureth all things/' 

It is a long enumeration of facts, a long description 
of features, but all these features remind us strangely of 
the qualities of children. They seem to describe the 
powers of the absorbent mind. The absorbent mind 
receives all, it does not judge, it never repels, it does not 
react. It absorbs all and incarnates it in man. The 
child achieves incarnation in order to adapt himself to 
life with other men and become equal to them. The 
child suffers all : if he comes into the world in a cold and 
frozen environment there he forms himself to live in it and 
the adult he will be one day will only be happy in that 
environment. If he enters the world in a torrid region, 
there he will construct himself so that he could not live 
and be happy in another climate. Be it the desert which 
receives him, be it the plains fringing the ocean, be it the 

415 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



slopes in the high mountain ranges, he enjoys it all and 
there alone he reaches the highest well-being. 

The absorbent mind believes all, hopes all. It 
receives poverty as it receives wealth, it receives all faiths 
as it receives the prejudices and customs of his environ- 
ment : it incarnates it all within itself. 

This is the child ! 

And if it were not like this, mankind would not reach 
stability in any of the most different parts of the world, 
it would not achieve its continuous progress in civilization 
without ever having to start afresh. 

The absorbent mind forms the basis of the miraculous 
society created by man and appears to us in the guise 
of the small and delicate child who solves the mysterious 
difficulties of human destiny by the virtues of love. 

If therefore we study the child a little better than 
we have done hitherto, we find love in all its aspects and 
analysed. It is not analysed by the poet or the prophet 
but by what the child shows by reality. If we consider 
the description given by St. Paul and then look at the 
child, we say, " Here it is that all these are found ; so 
here is the great treasure itself/' 

The treasure then is to be found not merely near 
those who study poetry and religion, but within every 
human being. This miracle is sent to all ; the represen- 
tative of this tremendous force is to be found everywhere. 
Man makes a desert of strife and God continues to send 
this rain. So it is easy to understand that all the 

416 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



creations of adults, great achievements as they are, 
without love lead nowhere, to nothing. But if this love 
present in the child is taken among us, if its values and 
potentialities are realized and developed, our achieve- 
ments, already great, will be tremendous. The adult 
and the child must come together ; the adult must be 
humble and learn from the child to be great. It is curious 
that among all the miracles which humanity has per- 
formed, there is only one miracle that he has not taken 
into consideration : the miracle that God has sent from 
the beginning : the Child. 

Supposing we put a little levity into this weighty 
subject and tell a little story. A certain young man 
wished to marry and recounted all the praises of the 
lady of his choice. An elder guide responded in writing 
and this is what happened : The young man praises her 
beauty ; the guide writes a zero. The young man 
finding beauty is not enough, states that she is rich ; 
the guide writes zero. 

The young man says, she is learned, but the guide 
again writes zero. The young man says : " All this 
means nothing, well, she is athletic, she rides, swimg, 
plays tennis." Again the guide writes zero. The young 
man goes on describing all sorts of qualities which his 
lady-love possesses and the guide continues to write zero 
against them. Then the young man says : " She is of 
good character ", and the guide says : " That is some- 
thing ", and writes a figure one in front of all the zeros. 

417 

27 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



All the other merits acquire their value from this one 
quality and with that one in front of all the zeros her 
total value increases a thousandfold. So it is with civili- 
zation, all the achievements are naught and lead to des- 
truction, but if love is there they all acquire a great value. 
This teaching of the child as a power of love is not 
as the teaching of St. Paul, it is not an understanding of 
love with the mind. It is not that man has taught this 
love to children. Since he is not even capable of des- 
cribing it, how can he teach it ? It is a force of nature 
and is in the child. It means that there is this force that 
nature has placed in the very constitution of man, it is 
therefore more important than anything else and must be 
put before all the creations of man. This brings us to 
another field, to that of love not as a phantasy of man, 
but as a force in Natura Creatrix. Let us analyse the 
forms and aspects that this love can assume. 

That which we call love we have in our conscious- 
ness. It is the part of the universal energy that we feel 
consciously. But one may say that universal energy has 
nothing to do with humanity. Let us analyse it : it is 
an attraction, and what is attraction but a universal force. 
Let us consider the universe. What keeps the stars 
where they are and makes them move along the fixed 
path they follow ? Attraction. Why do bodies fall to 
the ground ? By attraction. What is it that works among 
the atoms of matter* so that they construct wholes ? 
Attraction. If this attraction did not exist there would 

418 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



be chaos, nothing would be in existence. There would 
be no heaven and no stars without attraction. And if 
there were no attraction to the earth, when we jump 
we would remain up in the air and so would everything 
else ! Chemical affinity which brings certain elements 
together could not manifest itself without attraction. And 
attraction is love. So we could say with St. Paul, " If 
I made the stars and everything on earth, but I had no 
love or attraction, nothing would exist." Love is not 
merely sympathy, but the very essence of existence. 

If we consider conscious love, we can analyse further. 
All animals have at certain moments the instinct of 
reproduction, which is a form of love. This form of 
love is a command of nature because without this attrac- 
tion nothing would continue. So a little atom of this 
universal energy is lent to them for a little moment in 
order that the species may be continued. They feel it 
for a moment and then it disappears. This shows how 
measured and economical nature is in lending love ; 
just sufficiently and no more, given in small doses 
and based on command. When the young come, the 
parents feel a special love for them which leads them 
to protect the species, and all the young ones are kept 
near the mother. But as soon as the young are suffi- 
ciently grown, love disappears suddenly from one mo- 
ment to another. It is not a sentiment as we think, 
but an energy given very carefully and economically, just 
a small ray to penetrate the darkness of consciousness, 

419 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



but as soon as the work is done, it disappears. So, 
love can take this aspect and then what does it convey 
to us ? That this supposed sentiment is not merely a 
sentiment. It is true that it lasts longer in man than in 
animals, but it is not a sentiment really (apart from its 
encouragement or discouragement). Cosmically it is an 
energy lent to every living being and withdrawn as soon 
as the immediate purpose is fulfilled. 

So this force is given within measured limits to 
man also, but even so it is greater than any other force, 
because it carries him to social organization. It must be 
treasured and developed and expanded to the maximum. 
Man can sublimate this force lent to him and make it 
vaster and vaster to reach abstraction. To bring it into 
the field of abstraction and to treasure it, this is the work 
of man. Let us take it and bring it into the field of 
imagination and make it general. Let us treasure it 
because this is the force that holds the universe together. 
This part, that we possess consciously, is given to us, 
and if this force is renewed in man every time a child is 
born, it must be treasured. By this force man can hold 
together all things that he can do with his hand and his 
intelligence. 

Love is a gift of the Universal Consciousness 
for a special aim and purpose, as is everything lent 
to man by the Cosmic Consciousness. If the aim is 
not fulfilled, then nothing can sustain itself and all 
crumbles away. We can understand the words of 

420 



THE ABSORBENT MIND 



the saint that all is nothing unless love is there. More 
than electricity which gives light in the darkness, more 
than the etheric waves which allow our voices to travel 
over wide distances, more than any energy that man has 
discovered and exploited is this love ; above all things 
it is the most important. All that man can do with the 
forces of electricity or of etheric waves depends on the 
consciousness of him who uses them. This energy of love 
is given to us so that each one of us contains it when a 
child comes and it opens out as a fan. Even if later 
circumstances destroy it, we feel a yearning for it. So 
we must study it and use it more than any other force in 
the environment, because it is not lent to the environment 
as other forces are, but it is lent to us. The study of 
love and its utilization will lead us to the fountain whence 
it springs and that is the Child. This is the new path 
that man must follow. 



421 



Printed by C. Subbarayudu, at the Vasanta Press, 
The Theosophical Society, Adyar, Madras 



JOV IDCOEPCIBLE flCTIVITU 



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EniHusmsm VITRL TenDEnci&s 
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TOUJRRDS 



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REGRBSSIOns 



RETARDATION OF { ALL THE NATURAL MATERIAL FORMS OF IHOE PEHDEHCE 

HE TAKES REFUGL\ in SLEEP - HE /s FRIGHTEHED OH AWAREN/HG - OFTEH HAS 

AVO/OS EHVlROnflE\1T (. SEEKS REFUGE AT HOME, 
SEEKS FOP PROTECTIOH -- HE FEARS 



BIRTH TERROR. 

( WALKING SPEAKIHG ETC.) 



HE 



WAHTS TO BE 

SUPEZFtC/AL RE.SP 
WEEPIHG, 



TO ACT FOR 
FED- 
I RAT I OH- 
Gj 'MELANCHOLY 



CURE 



ATTRACT/C/i 
SOCIETY 



HIS RELATIOHS, SPC/ALLY HIS MOTHER - SEEKS COHTIHUOUS 
THAT HIS MOTHER WILL LEAVB HIM _ AHUIOUS ATTACHMEttT - 



COtfPA/iY 



HE V/ftttTS TO BE 



LAZIHESS 



IMERT/A - 



FEAR 



TO BE DRAGGED 



BOREDOM- 



OF 



OF THE E/iV/RO/iMHT - 
OTHER CHILDREH . 
nuST OFFER THE LEAST RES/STAHCE. 



INTERESTING ACTIVITY ACCORD//1G TO THE DEGREE OF NATURAL P5YCH/C DEVLOPrttiT 



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EflODnious x-sPHPiD DEVELOPmEni OF THE CEREBELLUM 

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jL^ (i/cm OF BCTivim 


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Of Tflt BRQIll. ; Tt1E EQUILIBRIUM JS PCQUIRED in FOUR . STIKES. 


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Conliol i n it 

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is nflximum EFFORT 


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J tho heoc( He can Me con walk 

\./l i i n -, ,, ho| d if helped. 
When plared He can Sif He can sit himself - 


t . .. Runs and \\anq^ 
110 WQ|KS He walks cnrr/inq on lo obiccl- 
w.lhouf help hoavy Objecf6- ' W ',ih cerfqin ly 


1 


On hit, face if helped. bu himself. ^'ect 
r]ownwn/ds but walks 


HP cafches hold 


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lie Can |,fi- his ?. n , four 


M object-, (or foker, 


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v, J J limbs, 
head and 


Cl .mbmgup. ton 9 walks. 


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The movements Ho places the* 
f Balking foot 


H stu!'cLT tll<; ovmnflSTics. - 




V/hcn h ^'d up [(of on the ground 
^ro mode on fm . r 




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o o (5 o ) v oonooyvoooo o /^ 




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HKMTObE ALIVt r.VOLUTlOn EVOLIJFK .1 OF pBtMEllMnn DIPTCTED TOUHPDS 


VTPrnGNIH co-oRDinnion HV mtrtn^ OF FxPEPinicfi. 




1 nysinlotjK'al pD^h^^|SI^^ fi" Hlffl (Work ond ^x<e.ic:ibe) 


fxtyrhFs WUH ... 

ml"?;!,*"" 1 '" ^' l( "i^ftK T0 " Hap nit TO DO IT w nwtif " 


A d, i ptnlinn5 iDiScrirniDaliun ih wish ! 


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lllc^h i fUDmo T.-) 
L TMLV nai> IUITH mnEpFnpfnci io IUOSH DISHES 




inSTincrivi siUDif 


r i IMT nnivnu opinFii'ir-n <. 


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Pi?cnni5ion iH^rtmin ll)TLI1TI nnL Ppnifnsicn 


Y naruibUMi rHDlur/-,DnvT^ ^UPni55 in CflKHIflO 

orTHt H 1111 ^ lH lvHll ,Tocii m B S^,^ 1 !,^, HOLD or SUPPORT* 




PRf hFIISI(])n OF OHlDFf) BV rilt 


To (UP CDS Wofeh PD^PO^F ^^D 




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(OfOItt) 


or TO CLLOn qilO TO (.LlfriBWG. 

fflnxioium Efroors WHOWW ~ 






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