Friday, 24 April 2009

The University (Fragment of a letter from November 1976)

The University of Otago, Dunedin.

I came to this place four years ago, young and eager to learn: to be awakened, stimulated, and to participate in the growth of man’s awareness of himself and his relationship to the other aspects of our existence.

What has happened to that young man?

He has learned that one is paid, by way of grading etc, not to think for himself.

He has learned that it is a battle against the university to maintain the spark of creativity and imagination – that is the price they want.

So much is involved beyond the essence of learning that education has taken second place in these institutions. They are just one more component of the Consuming Society in which we all live; processing plants that cunningly subvert people with the power to do far more, into doing far less.

These exams I’m about to sit are a great risk, not because exams are important in themselves, but because they are a symbol of something much more malevolent ….. There are always two communications implicit in what is said or done. Outwardly, universities give, but in reality they survive by burning up youthful energy, imagination, initiative. In return they give us a status – but this status is only viable so long as we remain within the boundaries the system has laid out for us.

Status, like words, defines things, limits them, and cuts them off from their true selves. The essence of wisdom is the dissolving of all definitions – this the Buddha may have agreed with. And isn’t it interesting that Christ chose fishermen to follow him? Only men such as these would have had the power to see what he represented. The power to see beyond the artificial cocoon that most of us spend our waking hours immersed in – especially here.

Yet, it is almost paradoxical, for this is what university has taught me.

I could not have learnt it anywhere else.

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