by Milly Sil,
Neohumanism will give new inspiration and provide a new interpretation for the very concept of human existence. It will help people understand that human beings, as the most thoughtful and intelligent beings in this created universe, will have to accept the great responsibility of taking care of the entire universe – will have to accept that the responsibility for the entire universe rests on them. P.R. Sarkar (1921 – 1990)
It’s astounding to learn how despite all of the social, economic, political and environmental challenges faced by the world, a quiet revolution is underway. The silent manifestation of Sarkar’s Progressive Utilization Theory, more commonly known as PROUT, teaches us how to think about education differently. In this alternative model, education isn’t just ‘universal’ and ‘non dogmatic’ but also bridges cultures and life experiences through service. The foundational basis of PROUT has been the common need of every human being, both in the East and West, for peace and justice. With economic democracy as the central concept, PROUT aims at achieving sustainable development through education that encompasses physical, intellectual, and spiritual development.
PROUT or PROgressive Utlization Theory, was conceived by Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar in 1959 as a socio-economic movement to bring social and economic justice for all living creatures on earth, including humans and non humans. Sarkar also coined the term “Neo humanism,” which is defined as one’s expansion of adherence to self interest to a much wider and inclusive identification and compassion towards entire humanity. Understanding Sarkar, Bussey explains that all humans live and experience life based on some ‘ideas’ which are a set of philosophies (such as ‘Marxism’). However, realizing a gap between the abstract as well as materialistic ideas Sarkar presented Neohumanism as a pragmatic approach towards bridging these subjectivities and reality and proposed an educational system that would shape a new idea bridging the two.
So how is Neohumanism different from Humanism?
As Bussey explains, Sarkar’s Neohumanism is a reinterpretation of Humanism:
It (Neohumanism) takes the universal aspiration of humanism, to reach beyond the limitation of humanity and strive for unity at the social level, and suggests a universalism that includes all animate and inanimate existence…..the Cosmos, its matter and the organic forms that populate it , are all taken to be conscious, thus human isolation is broken down.
Through the juxtaposition of the images of the Vitruvian man and Nataraj, Bussey presents the subtle ideological differences between Humanism and Neohumanism. Essentially, Neohumanism has a more socio-economic and pragmatic approach with the goal of liberating ‘self and society from contextual limitations’. These limitations, according to Sarkar, are ‘pseudo-humanism‘ which leads to deception of people and imposition of ‘pseudo-culture,’ and exclusion of other forms of life such as plants and animals. Hence, Sarkar identifies training of mind to be vigilant against exploitation and hypocrisy.
It was during Sarkar’s imprisonment from 1971 to 1978 for reasons unclear, that his mission and vision of PROUT began crossing international borders. PROUT Universal was founded by Sarkar in 1978 to propagate his theory and includes five federations, Women’s PROUT being one of those which is dedicated to uplifting underprivileged girls and women. PROUT Universal is globally organized and divided into nine sectors with a specific sector dedicated to North America. Through their various commitments including social service, cultural events, seminars and adventure camps, PROUTist Universal aims at awakening the Sadvipra in every human being in order to alleviate the challenges and plight faced by humanity today. Ananda Marga Gurukul affiliated schools located all over the world aim specifically at a holistic development of children which includes physical, intellectual as well as spiritual development. Based on Progressive Utilization Theory, these institutions focus on an alternative pedagogy that would completely utilize the natural potential of a human being. Progressive School of Long Island in New York, New Day School in Portland and Morning Star Preschool in Denver are some of the schools in USA that were founded on the principles of PROUT.
These schools boast both high academic and spiritual achievements of their students. The teachers, being the torch bearers of this movement, are chosen carefully based on their strong beliefs of social service and personal integrity. Interestingly, the methods and the curriculum are developed locally to meet the individual needs of each locale.
Sarkar believed that education should be based on the sense of oneness with all living creatures on earth. Hence, through his conception of Neohumanist Education, he proposed an incorporation of a ‘harmonious blending’ of ‘oriental introversial philosophy’ and ‘occidental extroversial science’ essential to help redefine human experience from one of attempting to be competitive and dominating, to that of co operative. Today through Ananda Marga Gurukul system, there are about 1,000 primary and secondary schools spread across the globe that have been established over the past 50 years. The teaching methods are flexible, creative and importantly ‘culturally sensitive’. Values for universal love, yoga and meditation and ecological and social consciousness – form an integral part of the curricula along with the development of academic, practical and personal skills.
While the principles of PROUT and Neohumanist socio-economic approach appear to be essential to healing our bruised earth, whether there will be a greater acceptance of the new system in a capitalist world and how the alumni of the Ananda Marga Gurukul bring about this desired change, will remain time tested.