Book 3. The Space of Love (1998)
Who is he? We are accustomed to describing a person through his biographical outline, his record of service, the titles bestowed upon him. But in the present instance all that would be meaningless. In the Bible it says: “By their fruits ye shall know them.”1 Academician Shchetinin’s fruits are the happy, beaming faces of the children studying at his school, along with those of their parents. Then, who is he?
Natalia Sergeevna Bondarchuk is not only an award-winning Russian actress, she is also a member of the board of the International Roerich Foundation (a UN non-governmental organisation). She told me:
“I have talked with many famous preachers and teachers in various countries of the world, but I have never been so impressed as here. We may well have come into contact with
a great Vedun.2 I say a Vedun not because of his acquaintance with the Old Vedic scriptures, but because he knows what many of us don’t.”
I should also like to record my impressions from my meetings with Mikhail Petrovich Shchetinin, but I am not a specialist in the educational field and hence my terminology may not be all that accurate, so I shall try to reproduce his own words as faithfully as possible.
At one point I was walking down a corridor of the school building, along with Natalia Sergeevna, her cameraman and Mikhail Petrovich. We came to a spacious hall opening onto the corridor, where a number of tables had been set up. At these sat children ofvarious ages, all intensely engaged in some kind of mysterious project, from which neither our presence nor that of the videocamera could distract them. From time to time one or another of the children would get up and go off somewhere, and then come back again. Sometimes they would go over to examine numbers on a bulletin-board hanging on the wall, at other times they would thoughtfully pace around the room. Some of them were talking amongst themselves — arguing or explaining things to each other.3
“Mikhail Petrovich, what is going on?” asked Natalia Sergeevna.
“Here you are basically witnessing attempts to establish contact. If the contact is successful, the children will be able to master the ten-year school maths programme in just one year. That is their assignment. It will happen when the children are able to make contact with those who possess similar knowledge, and the degree of openness in their relationships is important. Their field elements4 will then be able to share information with each other.
“You’re familiar with the observation made by simple folk: love at first sight’, when people in love catch each other’s meaning with hardly a word between them. You haven’t even opened your mouth, and he’s already got it. You can see the whole point here is to make the children feel free and
and come and go as they please. Maintaining relationships is the important thing.
“Working on relationships is not only very important for the children but also for the ones organising the activities. So we take off the brakes, so to speak, we refrain from focusing on age. Over there, right next to fifteen-year-old Ivan Alexandrovich is sitting ten-year-old Masha. We also have a university student named Sergei Alexandrovich, who’s actually finishing university this year.”
‘And how old is he?”
“He’ll turn eighteen this year.”
‘And he’s finishing university at seventeen?”
“Seventeen, in this generation, but we generally try not to refer to the notion of age. That’s a very important point. If you will notice, here the teachers tend to blend in with the pupils. True, it is a rather special group. The ones you see here are those that weren’t able to participate in the construction. And they have quite a task ahead of them — assimilating the ten-year school maths course, so they in turn will be able to share their knowledge with those who are currently occupied in the construction. And it will all come about. Because what is germinating in them is a system of interdependent integration elements.
“Our collective ancestral memory has knowledge of the laws of the Cosmos, as well as techniques for living in cosmic space. So it is very important to reject any suggestion that there is something they don’t know. If one of those doing the explaining entertains such a thought, his pupils will not know it. The explainer’s basic task is to enter into a relationship with his pupils focused on solving problems, then the learning process takes place all by itself. So as not to distract them with attention to the actual learning or memorisation. The thought of somebody out there teaching has to be rejected.
As they work together, the consciousness of a dividing line between teacher and pupil is obliterated.
“The problem-solving process brings with it the necessary knowledge, and what actually takes place is a recalling of things forgotten. This is the reflex arc, you know, as in Pavlov: stimulus-reaction. When necessary, I decide.
“It is very important that what they do should have a direct effect on people around them. And now they are studying not for themselves, that is very important. They are concerned about how to share what they are learning with others. Marks aren’t important to them. They know that in a few days they will have to explain it all to someone else.
“They have been entrusted with the beginning of the learning process. Each pupil you see here has been assigned a group. He observes how his designated pupils work on the construction and watches to see that members of his group do not fall behind their schoolmates. Considerable emphasis is laid on motivation — the idea of service to others. And if they learn anything, they learn to understand the soul, the aspirations and the thoughts of another individual. It’s not the mathematics that’s important here, but rather Man learning mathematics. Not maths for its own sake, but maths for the sake of progress toward Truth. And the more powerful this for the sake of motive is, the more successful will be one’s immersion into a field of knowledge.
“It is important to be in an atmosphere of sincerity, with no feelings of being offended or irritated. That’s wrong is a phrase we never use. In the Old Russian language there is no stoppage of motion and no bad words. In ancient times people,
no matter what their ethnic affiliation, never used a bad word in reference to anything. It simply doesn’t exist, so why pay attention to it? What is bad does not exist. If you find yourself at a dead-end, then the words you would use to get out of that dead-end would be phrases like: turn right, turn left, climb up — hinting at which way one should go, but not snapping: ‘You’re standing the wrong way’ Today russophobes commit sacrilege by saying ‘Speak Russian!’, when they actually mean cursing. That is not Russian at all. Kobzev has a very succinct expression of this thought:
From, our Slav forebears we have heard Midst happenings of great dimension,
They paid to language, phrase and word A special homage and attention.
“That is true. So people who work with them should have a deep vocabulary range which excludes thought-distracting, incidental words. Words warmed by feelings have special sig-nificance.
“Truth, their legacy — it’s all spiritual. The child must be enrolled in a natural cosmic process — eternal self-reproduction. Then you have given the child eternity, the joy of life, real existence. Not just illusory forms, like: ‘See here, son, I’ve bought you a shirt and trousers and shoes — now I can die.’ But what have you really given your son? Your gifts, after all, won’t last more than a single season! If only you had given your son your good name, your honour, your work, your friends, a flourishing people! If you had given him an understanding of the Truth of being and a life of wisdom, then you could say: ‘Son, I have given you the most important thing, you will be happy. You will buy shirts and build houses, you know now how it is done.’”
Listening to Academician Shchetinin speak and observing his interactions with the children, I noticed that they were very much like what Anastasia had said about children, and I wondered: how could a lonely Siberian recluse and this greyhaired academic think so much alike — almost identically, in fact? And, come to think of it, why is he talking with me at all? Why did he receive me so warmly, even setting the table and offering me a meal? He’s taken me around the school, shown me everything. Why? What kind of education expert am I? I’m nobody. One who used to get pretty poor marks in school. But of course — Anastasia’s somehow been at it again.”
Of course it was only thanks to Anastasia that I ended up at Shchetinin’s school in the first place. But he and I didn’t talk about her. We talked about all sorts of other things — everyday things. Each time I visited we would walk around and see how the construction of this unusual temple building was progressing. As for my book, he said tersely: “It’s very accurate” — and that was it.
A few days after my first visit — after the day I had come with a group of conference participants, and had shown them Nastia, asking her to warm everybody with her gaze — the following incident occurred. Mikhail Petrovich and I were walking along one of the school corridors, and I was keeping my eye peeled for her. I searched for her the way people intuitively search for a source which emits light.
“Nastia’s light has gone out,” Shchetinin said all of a sudden. “Right now I’m in the process of restoring her strength. It’s coming along, but slowly She’ll need some time to fully recover.”
“What do you mean, it’s gone out? Why? She’s a strong lass. What happened?”
“Yes, she is strong. But she had a very powerful emotional outburst.”
I stood there in Shchetinin’s office, angry and irritated at myself. Why had I done such a thing? For just whose benefit was I trying to prove something? I had utterly failed to heed Anastasia’s warning: “Neither my appearance in the flesh nor any miracles performed in public will pour the light of faith into the faithless. They will only exacerbate the feeling of irritation on the part of those who do not like someone else’s perception of the world.”7
That’s enough, I thought to myself. I shall no longer try to show people and I shan’t write any more. That’s it. Look what a mess I’ve made with my writing! I was thinking this to myself, but then Shchetinin suddenly said out loud:
“Tou shouldn’t stop writing, Vladimir.” Then he came over to me, placed his hand on my shoulder and, looking me straight in the eye, began vocalising a tune. I could hear how easily he took the high notes, but even more amazing was the fact that the melody he was vocalising was very similar to the one Anastasia had sung for me in the taiga.
As I made my way back to the main door, I passed the same hall where the pupils were still scurrying about. There was Nastia, sitting on a chair. I went over to her. She got up, raised her head, and her rather weary-looking eyes brightened in a second, emitting light and warmth with their sparkle. I realised now that she was giving of her energy and warmth to others. She was giving her all, without reservation, to help that other Anastasia, the one in Siberia, fulfil her dream. For it had now become their shared dream.
So what was going on here? What was the force behind that dream? Why were they...? With complete self-sacrifice... And the child’s gaze... Is it possible to become worthy even partially worthy, of such a gaze during a single lifetime? I wondered. Aloud I said:
“Well, hello, Nastia!” And to myself: “You don’t have to, Nastia. Thank you. Forgive me.”
“I’ll see you out,” the girl offered. “Lena and I will go with you to your car.”
As we drove off, I kept looking behind me until the car rounded a corner, watching the little figures standing there at the end of the road, by the mansion, under a lamp-post, as they got smaller and smaller. They weren’t waving their arms in the usual sign of farewell. Each of them held one hand raised in the air, palm out-turned in the direction of the departing vehicle. I knew what this meant — Shchetinin had explained it to me earlier. It signified: “We send you our rays of good, may they follow you wherever you go.” And once more I felt fired up with the thought: “What do I need to accomplish to become worthy of your rays?”