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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 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
O 

o
o
o 

o 

o 

Q 

I 

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 

112 

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 

113 

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 

114 

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 

115 

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 

116 

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 ". 

117 

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 

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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 

123 

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, 

157 

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 

158 

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 

159 

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 

160 

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 wh

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