In part 4 of 5, Surendra recollects the interaction between adults/teachers and kids and the importance of the kids’ individuation.
Osho’s third dimension of five dimensional education was the art of living. This was not a subject for the classroom. We all learned by being together with as much love and awareness as we could muster. It took a while for Ko Hsuan to appear on the map of the school inspectorate. When we did, they were often amazed. Encountering the confidence of the kids in an environment throbbing with vitality was awesome for everyone. Once, in the corner of the dining room, one inspector was going through his checklist. “How do you teach racial equality?” In answer, I only had to turn towards our nearest group of kids who, with different accents and skin colours were having a great time laughing and joking together.
All adults were house parents as well as teachers. In pairs, we helped with morning clean ups before classes and held room meetings once a week. The school was divided into four age groups: Majids, eight to ten; Meeras, ten to twelve; and Mandirs thirteen to sixteen, or sometimes older. Some kids wanted to join an older group before their time and, if they and the group they wanted to join could convince the adults, this was allowed. As house parents, adults tried to avoid getting stuck with one age group. Unless it seemed like the best arrangement for everyone, we tried to support different groups of kids each term.
The youngest, the Majids, were endearing in their innocence. They were also learning how to take responsibility for themselves. That meant keeping track of their own shoes, clean and dirty clothes and toys, something that Mummy had done before they arrived. It could get very messy. I was often too fainthearted to tackle this group. When I did, I remember feeling happy when fifty per cent of the carpet was visible so that we could at least vacuum that part. Once there was so much stuff, more than one layer deep, strewn all over the floor that I threatened to put it all in bin bags and throw them out of the window. They were stubborn enough not to clean up and I was mad enough to carry out my threat. Luckily, it was warm and dry outside and we brought it all back in later and sorted it out.
“If the children are in the hands of the commune… I have experimented and found it immensely successful. The children are far happier because they are far freer. No conditioning is stamped on them; they mature earlier, and because nobody is trying to make them dependent, so they become independent. Nobody is going out of their way to help them, so they have to learn how to help themselves. This brings maturity, clarity and a certain strength.”
Osho, Socrates Poisoned Again After 25 Centuries, Ch 13 (excerpt)
When young kids arrived at the school, the coddling ended. In no way was the regime harsh, we were very caring and demonstrated our affection but we never fussed over them. We recognised that the dependency of most young kids had been created by the parents, seemingly for their own benefits and not the child’s. It was almost a disabling corruption. Deep down, kids loved to be independent and take care of themselves. At Osho Ko Hsuan, the adults did not have to do much to help the process: the other kids took care of that. In their rapid growing up, it was great to see individuality flowering and presenting itself to the world.
We had a dedicated kids’ phone line that parents could call outside of class hours. One kid of about nine answered a call from his mum with, “I’m busy playing a game. Why don’t you talk to my friend.” This was his second term. At the beginning of the previous term, he was often waiting by the phone, homesick and tearful. Calls from parents soon tended to dwindle. This did not mean that the relationships suffered. We had three school holidays per year of at least one month. Most kids looked very happy to be going home and were delighted to be coming back.
The Meeras were in transition, sandwiched between running around like the youngest and the turbulence of being a teenager. This could bring the uncertainty of an Alice in Wonderland and the need for a bit of reassurance from the adults. As long as they found something interesting in the classroom, they were generally happy to be there. As their inner worlds were shifting, they had a lot of energy for the outer. They loved outings to the seaside or Dartmoor, eating out, and trips to Exeter. They were also wonderful foils if we got too serious. They liked a laugh. Adults who could entertain were very popular with this group and there was usually at least one of those around.
Depending on their maturity and available space, between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, kids were housed in one of the twin rooms in the new wing. Up until then, they were in small dormitories and had stipulated bedtimes, supervised by the adults. The teenagers simply had to confine themselves to their own area after lights out. They often stayed up late, maybe all night but had to be up for that first lesson around 9.00am. To help them do so, adults went around giving and repeating wake-up calls from 7.30am onwards, when breakfast was ready. One term, when that was my job, I brought music of increasing volume with a portable stereo. I finished off with the soundtrack of the rocket attack from Apocalypse Now. The thwack of the chopper blades, explosions and Brunhilde’s battle cry ‘Heiya Ho’ from Wagner’s Ring got the final stragglers out of bed. Another week I borrowed various instruments from the music room. Unable to play any, the awful sounds easily got them up and into their first classes. Probably our distant neighbours got to work that day early as well.
Most teenagers skipped breakfast and starved until the mid-morning snack break. The food at Ko Hsuan varied a lot from meal to meal. For the lunches, we had an adult specialising as a cook. Dinners were prepared by two other adults and four or five kids. We all had a say in what to make and which loud music accompanied the task. The adult responsible for making the rotas usually had developed the art of creating teams that got on well together. In spite of this, the lack of appeal of the food was a source of complaint as we tended to like different things. The Mandirs were allowed to serve themselves to late night snacks of bread, toast, Marmite and/or jam and many relied on this to fuel their rapidly growing bodies. Probably, like most boarding schools we could never match the quality and choice of what kids had at home.
Even so, dinner was not always avoided, spaghetti Bolognese with soy mince was a favourite with most but had to be made reasonably well and we often relied on one of the older kids who knew exactly how to time the al dente pasta and tweak the piquancy of the sauce. An energetic team would sometimes take the pizza challenge. Starting off with fresh dough for over eighty made another very popular dish, creating a noisy queue well before dinner time. Brown rice and veg which appealed to most adults, did not entice many of the kids, silence reigned with an occasional “Yuk!” Once in a while one or several of the parents came to our rescue staying for a few days on a moral support visit. Much appreciated by everyone, this usually took the form of bringing their home cooking into the kitchen and enhancing the menu.
However much we stocked up during the holidays, cutlery and crockery dwindled through term. In summer with the wide open spaces, it could get dire: down to ten plates and nine forks to service dinner for more than eighty. Usually, at least once a term, the edict went out: “No dinner unless you gather a piece of crockery and cutlery and bring it to the kitchen.” Where was it? Out in the fields amidst the lengthening grass, in the woods, in bathrooms, on bookshelves but most of all, cluttering the dormitories.
Regular school meetings replaced the first lesson one morning a week. For much of the time, they started with a fifteen minute meditation. There were different variations. A typical one was five minutes of gibberish, five minutes of laughter and five minutes of silence. The adults usually had a few reminders or announcements to which the kids sometimes responded, “Aaah, what!” or with cheers. Sometimes one or two kids or a majority would become impassioned with a burning issue. There were even perennial debates – taking off shoes was a biggie. Most kids did not want to stop in their tracks when coming in or going outside. Seconds were vital when running after or away from someone or they simply felt they had better things to do with their time than piss about with shoes. A lot of the kids dealt with the rule by going barefoot. Instead of dirty shoe-prints, we had muddy feet or stains from soggy socks all over the house. This was typical of many, many quandaries that put us adults into flat spins. It was hard to enforce wearing shoes outdoors, even if we wanted to. Adults were too busy and relatively, too few in numbers. So rules around shoes came and went and then came back again and went again. This issue was really compounded when a powerful lobby for white carpets came from the older teenage girls. On the grounds of cost and practicality, we could not agree but we so respected them for their rhetoric and vision of making Ko Hsuan more beautiful.
Ad hoc school meetings were called in an emergency. The most common theme was stealing. The dreaded stealing meetings could go on for a whole morning when we would get sore bums and aching backs sitting in silence, waiting for a perpetrator to own up. There were plenty of moans, sometimes the loudest from me. Obviously important for the kids who had been wronged I can see they were also fundamental for the well-being of the school as a whole. Whether within minutes of the situation being described or much longer, when a kid admitted to taking something, there were roars and applause. Relief flooded the faces of those involved and trust was taken a little deeper for everyone. If the stolen item was a consumed consumable, like a box of chocolates, reparation of some sort was encouraged and worked out between the kids, usually light-heartedly as blame faded away. When nothing was forthcoming, a search party was chosen and let loose while we waited. Sometimes, the stolen item was actually lost and then found behind a bed or amidst a pile of clothes. We all cheered this result, too, and happily got on with our day.
Osho spoke frequently about the importance of the individual. Ko Hsuan was a hot house for individuation. As one perceptive fifteen year old summed up, “When I came to Ko Hsuan, I started to find out for the first time who I really was and now I am leaving I have learned how to live it.” While there, the kids were totally there and with fond memories, when they left they were gone. Evening bonfires were always popular at the school. I remember several of the kids, about to leave, ritually throwing years of school work, page by page into the flames, purging the old to make way for the new.
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