The profound and positive effect this philosophy has had on my life has motivated me to offer a taste of practical philosophy for seekers of wisdom, unity and truth…
After being inspired with new insights about life through participating in courses at ‘The School of Philosophy’, Maia sat down for a chat with one of the School’s facilitators, Rex Howard.
Maia: As many fascinating and worthwhile concepts as there are, I’d like to touch on some of the bare essentials so readers can get a feel for the School of Philosophy.
Rex: The essence behind any philosophical teaching is to give anyone who’s interested the opportunity to unleash his or her potential – and when we talk about potential what we mean is consciousness. The consciousness in every human being is identical; it’s the consciousness that created the universe. The problem that almost all human beings face is that they don’t know that’s true; they think they are limited individuals with no real connection to the greater working of the universe. In the philosophical tradition we follow, that’s not true – it’s an imaginary separation. People are searching; they have a sense that something is missing and so they are potentially open to learning.
Maia: Do you feel that searching comes from an innate, deeper wisdom from the consciousness within us all, which so many of us tend not to be fully aware of?
Rex: Because the consciousness of the individual is identical with the consciousness of the universe, every individual has this feeling within them ‘there is more’ – they may not know what that is, and they may look for it in the strangest places; but in the end when you reduce all human activity to its essence there is the desire to rediscover that forgotten connection – to answer the question ‘who am I?’ Most human activity is misdirected and doesn’t actually achieve that end, but that’s what motivates people. The closer individuals get to realising that ultimate connection, the happier and more satisfied they are.
Maia: So what learning approach do you use?
Rex: The whole point of the organisation is that it is a school of philosophy, so it’s based on knowledge, and knowledge is not information; it’s information which has been experienced in practice so you actually know it is true.
Maia: “He tastes nothing who has not tasted for himself”?
Rex: Exactly. You can be told a cake tastes good, but you can’t really know if it’s true or not until you actually taste it yourself. You’ve got to put philosophy into practice to know whether it is true or not for you. We are all remarkably similar in a lot of ways so all of these things have a similar effect on every individual, but there are always differences – different history, different background, different problems.
Maia: You ask participants to neither accept nor reject the information you provide. Do you find that works for students? Can they lose sight of that?
Rex: The problem is ever-present because it’s the nature of the human mind to want to take hold of something – to either accept or reject, and we tend to accept or reject on the basis of what we think as opposed to what we know.
We always get people who react negatively or positively; there’s not much difference between the two. In a way the positive is better insofar as it doesn’t set up blockages; you’re still open to what you’re hearing. Outright disagreement tends to set up a blanket blockage so you stop hearing everything, but both need to be transcended. We need to hear what is said, consider it rationally and objectively, then put it into practice. Individuals have to come to it in their own time, in their own way, and verify for themselves in their own experience, and that is always the approach we take.
Maia: And you base everything on Advaita?
Rex: The basic premise of the philosophy is encapsulated in the word Advaita—not two, the philosophy of non-duality. There is an underlying unity that is the basis of all manifestation, which unifies all experience. That underlying unity is given many different names: consciousness, the Absolute, God, etcetera. As far as we’ve discovered, the Vedic approach to philosophy is the most concise, accurate system for the discovery of truth.
Maia: Philosophy has an effect on individuals and how they interact with other people, but does it also provide a general uplift in the underlying universal consciousness?
Rex: The two go hand in hand, you can’t separate them, but they can be distinguished; so providing you can provide the technique for individuals to realise who they really are, at the same time, as a consequence, it provides an uplift in society, in its general level of consciousness.
The school also sponsors creative works of art, composition and performance of music, dramatic works, publication of books and that sort of thing, which feeds into that same broad field of raising general awareness in society.
Maia: I’m fascinated to know what determines an individual’s response, or decision to take a certain path whether right or wrong, constructive or detrimental. What’s the philosophical view of this?
Rex: There are two factors involved: one being the inner potential of the individual, and then there’s the circumstances they find themselves in. It depends on how those two interrelate. For some people it’s a foregone conclusion. There are forces from the past which tend to govern the way a person acts, but there is always the opportunity for the operation of reason – it’s always open to the human being to choose. Everyone has the potential for that, but it depends on how you act as to whether you reduce your ability to make that contact – whether you’re capable of accessing that choice, and it’s possible to keep acting in a way as to remove all possibility of a choice entirely.
Maia: And then what?
Rex: Like all other forms of human activity, what you practise doing you get good at; what you practise changes your nature. So, if you practise being unreasonable and irrational, you naturally become more and more unreasonable and irrational. If you practise habits over and over without exercising a rational choice, then eventually you find yourself incapable of exercising a choice and entirely at the mercy of habit and external stimuli.
Maia: Who participates in your courses and what feedback do you get from students?
Rex: A wide variety of people come along. It’s open to everybody from mid-teens, and is most often attended by adults. Some are into it straight away, others are more cautious or overwhelmed, others find it really challenging – a bit too uncomfortable – but often you can’t predict the ones who will drop out.
The main positive response we get is things like, “I’ve been looking for something like this all my life”, “It’s changed my life”, “I know where I’m going now, where I want to go”, “I’ve got a technique to guide me, it’s not a matter of wanting to change, it’s a matter of knowing how to change” and generally that it provides inspiration and guidance, and that it’s good to see others who have gone before.
There can be some quite negative reactions in the first week or two, but it seems usually to be because things come up that some people don’t want to deal with. Rather than use it as an opportunity for self-examination, they can strike some inner resistance, become overwhelmed and lash out at the object outside – that’s just the way some people respond.
The School was founded in London in the 1930’s. and evolved into principally focussing on Platonic-based philosophy, with some influence from modern philosophers like Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.
By 1961 the school came into contact with the man who introduced Transcendental Meditation to the west, Maharishi Mahish Yogi, and the practice of meditation became part of the School’s approach. The School evolved still further after contact with the head of the Maharishi’s tradition in India, Shri Shankaracharya Shantananda Saraswati, and he is the School’s main source of Vedic philosophy as it is still used today.
There are many branches of the School throughout the world and it continues to grow. The schools are dotted throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, the USA, Canada, Trinidad, Greece, Malta, Spain, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.
The School has also branched out into teaching philosophy to school children in many countries by running numerous infant and primary schools, and in some places high schools and boarding schools, to give young people a head start in life.