Part 2 of 5: Surendra writes about how the school was run, how children participated and the task to prepare the kids for life in the world.
When I joined as an adult in January 1991, the school was well established, run by a core of grounded and talented adults. Most of them had been sannyasins for many years and had also been in Ko Hsuan for some time. Together, they had laid the foundations. Carefully absorbing most of Osho’s comments about raising children and education, they established the principles on which the school was based.
One main source was chapter 23 from The Golden Future:
“Nobody is inferior, and nobody is superior. One is just oneself, incomparable.”[…] With these considerations, I divide education into five dimensions. The first is informative like history, geography and many other subjects which can be dealt with by television and computer together. […] In the first dimension also come languages. Every person in the world should know at least two languages; one is the mother tongue, and the other is English as an international vehicle of communication.”
“The second is the inquiry into scientific subjects, which is tremendously important because it is half of reality, the outside reality. And the third will be what is missing in present-day education, the art of living. People have taken it for granted that they know what love is. They don’t know and by the time that they do, it is too late. Every child should be helped to transform his anger, hatred, jealousy, into love. […] A reverence for life should be the foundation of the third dimension.”
The fourth dimension should be of art and creativity: painting, music, craftsmanship, pottery, masonry – anything that is creative. All areas of creativity should be allowed; the students can chose. There should only be a few things compulsory – for example an international language should be compulsory; a certain capacity to earn your livelihood should be compulsory; a certain creative art should be compulsory. […] By being creative one becomes divine, creativity is the only prayer.”
And the fifth dimension should be the art of dying. In this fifth dimension will be all the meditations, so that you can know there is no death, so that you can be aware of an eternal life inside you.”
Quite a tall order but we did our best. Osho spoke in the same discourse about the importance of humour and this was a great help. A lot of the time, laughter could be heard at least somewhere in Osho Ko Hsuan.
Here is an example of the importance of English as an international language: A fairly new kid from Germany approached three or four other kids in the hallway. “Do you know which room Dooberrydo is in?” “Nine,” came the first reply. The German girl asked another kid and received a firmer answer “NINE!” This interchange went on until another German kid ended the misery with “Neun.” This was not quite as bad as my attempt to ask for directions in Munich. My pronunciation was so poor that instead of a train station, it sounded like I wanted to find a fat prostitute.
Osho also spoke against exams but in the world as it was and still is, earning a livelihood can be difficult without them. Before my time, the maximum school age was dropped to fourteen as it became more and more difficult to work with teenagers above this age who wanted to skip classes, sleep in all day and party all night. The solution was that to stay on beyond fourteen, kids had to commit to exam courses. The emphasis was always on freedom but not without some responsibility. Skipping classes was not an option. Kids also had to help with cooking and cleaning and were to look after their own possessions. Adults were confident that we had to have some basic rules and these were made clear to kids and new adults before they joined the school. Everyone had the choice not to come and be part of the commune if they could not accept them.
We all tried to keep rules to a minimum. Minor ones were open to debate but the practical foundation had evolved from the lengthy soul searching and debate of the experienced adults who had established and developed the school in the first place. Of course, there were no detailed instructions; keeping in mind the koan of freedom with responsibility, we had to respond on our feet to each situation: every day, every hour, every minute. What a constant learning that was. Once in a while we sent a question to Osho. At one time, all the kids wanted to watch horror movies but many adults were against the effects. Osho was asked directly about the issue as it meant interfering with freedom. Apparently, Osho said “Yes, interfere with their freedom. The unconscious is already full of violence and we should not be adding to it.”
Osho’s birthday was celebrated with special food and fizzy drinks. The date was not only near the end of the year but also the end of the winter term and was a great time for a party before the kids left. The large hall was ideal for that event and other parties, such as Halloween with costumes, black and red food and eerie ghost stories. Discos also popped up throughout the year. Sometimes there were spontaneous skits put on by adults and kids. The main use of the stage, though, was during the annual festival at the end of the summer term. It lasted for several days and was attended by many parents and quite a few sannyasins who wanted to join the party. There was live music, plays, dance routines and amazing, colourful fashion shows from the kids. One skit written, performed and directed by one of the kids had a great scene. Trying to sell a magic, healing ring, one of the characters takes it back again when the potential buyer claims she could not feel anything. “You are just not ready for it,” claimed the condescending salesman. One year four of us adults, dressed in black, did a hip hop routine. Judging from the delight of the kids, it could have been the start of astronomical fame. On second thoughts, with one of our raps “I went down to the ghetto to get my Cornetto,” we would never have made the charts.
Ko Hsuan was living proof that given the support and encouragement and the freedom to let their energy flow, kids (and adults) are immensely creative. Nowhere was this more the case than the art room. Kids explored all kinds of media and the depth of expression could be extraordinary. So much so that we decided to offer a higher exam in art meant for eighteen-year olds and taken at Osho Ko Hsuan by kids of fifteen or sixteen. It was a great syllabus based mainly around course work and a final exam piece. The hard part was a dissertation on an established artist which required a critique of their work so we had to give some suggestions to help get that bit done. Our kids were intuitive with their own art: it came from their depths and said something that we could all feel. They could not necessarily explain intellectually what it was about any more than some of the greatest artists. I doubt if we would get much out of Van Gogh even if he were still alive. The art spoke for itself and spoke so eloquently and powerfully that most of our kids got the highest grades.
Photography was included. When I arrived, a few of the oldest kids were running the small darkroom that one of the teachers had set up. It was not long before I finally found my favourite media and joined them. They were very passionate about photography, one exclusively so. Our regular art teacher decided to help him explore other media. He baulked on painting but when cornered, finally agreed to try clay. The art teacher later came to me in tears of laughter holding a model camera he had made. As my enthusiasm and skill grew it was a magnet for many of the kids. At one point half of the school had cameras and were keen on black and white photography. Something similar had happened when a potter came for a term. He made one announcement that kids could join him in their art classes if they wanted to. After that, he set himself up in the courtyard carving stone. It was like a wildfire as more and more interested kids had chisels in their hand.
I enrolled in evening classes and in the fall of 1993 received my City and Guilds Photography Certificate. In line with the kids, I was awarded distinctions in all five modules. In 1994 by submission of a portfolio, I went on to become an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society. This prestigious organisation was based in Bath, within drivable distance of Osho Ko Hsuan. They held regular exhibitions in their main gallery, adjacent to which was a room for school exhibitions. The following year, after some determined shooting and printing, Ko Hsuan kids made a great hit there. The comments book brimmed with praise: quite a few stated that more talent and original creativity was demonstrated by the kids, who were aged between ten and seventeen, than by the professionals in the room next door.
Creativity did not only flourish in art. We found a science syllabus in line with Osho’s recommendations. It was based heavily on coursework – the investigations that they carried out during the whole two years. The final term, like the art exam entailed one detailed experiment. One guy tested the strength of table tennis balls. He bought three grades of balls: cheap, medium and professional. He placed each ball at the bottom of a length of pipe and dropped weights of increasing magnitude from the same height. The medium priced balls held up best. He could have put someone out of business.
The kids recorded each experiment, drew graphs and wrote their conclusions. Two kids made a large pot of blended vegetable soup. It came out a beige colour. They divided it into three portions adding green food colouring to one, red to the other and left one plain. They then tested the three soups on the whole school, giving a spoonful of each one to each person and asking which they preferred. The amazing thing was that not a single person thought that they all tasted the same. They were, in fact, all the same soup some just had a tiny amount of tasteless food colouring.
Chemistry, which I taught, was pretty good for grabbing attention. Kids like colours and explosions and jaws dropped as a penny in concentrated nitric acid fizzed into a cloud of brown fumes and gradually disappeared without trace, leaving behind a bright turquoise liquid. The thermite reaction was even more spectacular as it involved lighting a match and creating molten iron. Getting it to work was not so easy but when I finally did, half the school came to watch. The adults were the first to leg it down the school drive when the bright glare looked like it might go off like a bomb.
Another part of the education was to prepare our kids for life in the world. It was sometimes difficult to get this across. The older ones knew they had to participate in exam courses if they wanted to stay in Osho Ko Hsuan. They could not always see the connection with what they planned to do once they left. We sent the oldest kids around Barnstaple, our nearest town, to find out what they needed in order to get various jobs or places in colleges for further education. They came back somewhat shocked and reported to the whole school that it could be hard to move forward without some basic qualifications. That helped to generate more enthusiasm for the classroom. This was not a bad thing as study time had to jostle with all the other juicy and exciting things that flourished in Ko Hsuan. Each year of kids did seem to have its own qualities. One year, the outstanding results in exams were not confined to art and spread spectacularly across the full range of subjects gaining a mention in the local newspaper. Other years seemed less academically inclined. Kids leaving might not always be sure what they wanted to do but most importantly, they had a good sense of who they were.
Text and photos by Surendra
Articles of the same series: Osho Ko Hsuan School
A former Reichian therapist, British Surendra took sannyas in 1976. He lived in Osho’s communes in India, USA, UK and Japan from the early 1980s on. In Pune 2 he looked after the painting work in Lao Tzu House, and then worked in Osho Publications. From 1991–1996 he taught at Ko Hsuan in Devon, UK, and after a sojourn again in 2001 he also became a passionate photographer. In 2013 he relocated to the Japanese Alps with his partner, Amrapali. All articles by this author on Osho News. surendraphoto.com