The Practical Philosophy Introductory Course is presented in 10 sessions referred to collectively as 'Philosophy and Wisdom'. There are many practical exercises on the course which are not mentioned here. We have a practical session half way through term to which all our students are invited. Introductory students will receive a blue booklet before the first session which explains the structure of our courses in the Kingston Branch. The general content of each session is a follows:-
The Introductory Course covers:
1. The Wisdom Within - Philosophy means the love of wisdom. Our course is intended to show how philosophy may help us enjoy richer, less stressful and more useful lives. This opening session considers these aims further, and introduces simple exercises in mindfulness and the application of wisdom which can be practised in daily life.
2. Know Thyself - Who am I, really? My body? My emotions? My strongly held beliefs? My soul? Such questions have preoccupied philosophers down the ages. We look at practical ways to explore who we really are and how to tap our true potential.
3. Being Awake - Often the most notable quality of wise people is their alertness to the subtleties of a situation. They are awake, perceptive and curious. We look at deeper levels of awareness, and consider how we may become more awake to ourselves, our surroundings, and the events we meet.
4. The Present Moment - We review our own experience of attention through a model featuring attention centred, captured, open and scattered, and how these each relate to the past, present and future. We examine the extraordinary brightness and freedom naturally available in the present moment. A straightforward practice is introduced to help us experience this more frequently.
5. Living Justly - According to Plato, justice and injustice do not start ‘out there’. They begin within ourselves. For justice to prevail, Plato suggests that we must learn to avoid being 'tyrannised' by our passions and fears to the extent they overrule our reason. We discuss the practicality of Plato's ideas on justice in our daily lives.
6. Understanding Energies And Using Them Wisely - Sometimes we seem not to have enough, or the wrong kind, of energy. A wise person can act consistently despite these varying conditions. We consider how to recognise differing energies, how to gain and conserve them and how to use them wisely.
7. The Light of Reason - We look at the philosopher Shankara's notion that reason is the ability to discern the transient from the eternal, the changing from the unchanging. This leads to the question what, in our experience, can actually be said to be unchanging? Suggestions are given to help further consideration of this question during the coming week.
8. The Power of Beauty - Beauty has the capacity to open the heart and bring delight. In this session we discuss our direct experience of beauty in its different form: of the sensory world, of thought, of feelings, of the inner nature, and of conduct. We consider Plato's idea of there being ultimately one beauty - beauty absolute - 'not knowing birth or death, growth or decay'.
9. Unity in Diversity - When we look around, we see enormous diversity in nature. The wise person looks for the unifying factor: that which allows all this apparent diversity to be seen as part of a single whole. Seen in this way, life then has the best chance of being led freshly and openly.
10. The Desire For Truth - Practical philosophy is about discovering the truth of things – not theoretically, but in our own experience. In this final session we look back and ask ourselves how our search for truth has fared as the term has progressed. We discuss what has been discovered and how, in our own way, we may continue to develop it in our daily lives.
Having completed the Practical Philosophy Introductory Course students are invited to join a Foundation Group for five terms studying some of the following themed Parts. (Not necessarily in this order)
One Part is covered per term as follows:
Part 2 - Philosophy & Happiness
Happiness and service
Is happiness natural? Happiness and law
Happiness and utilitarianism
Happiness and pleasure, Epicurus, Aristippus, Plato
The Platonic goods which lead to happiness
An introduction to Marsilio Ficino
Lao Tzu, finding inner equilibrium
Happiness: contentment, Patanjali
Finding happiness in work
Happiness and wisdom
Part 3 - Philosophy and Love
Nature and source of love; its gain and loss
Seeing beyond the apparent. Practice of stillness
Expression of pure love through creation
Pure love through wisdom; attachment and delusion
Discerning truth from the fruit of actions. Overcoming all limits
Expansion and strengthening of pure love. Things that cover pure love
Nature of that which is loved. Transient and changeable
Absence of love and its effect. Nature and effect of gratitude
Love thy neighbour as thyself. Transformative effect of love
Decisions based on true principle. Open heartedness
Causes of duality and hostility
Sacrificial and sentimental love. Human and divine love
Stillness and deeper levels within oneself
Relationship between law and love
Love and work. Constancy between words and actions
Part 4 - Philosophy and Presence
Significance of Presence of mind
Learning takes place in the present
Stillness & unity – power of an unmoving mind
Teachings of adversity - extracting nectar from poison.
Discrimination between substance & form, transient & eternal
The moving mind: circling thought, dream & procrastination
Absolute existence: unlimited, infinite and complete.
Relative existence: changing, transient and dependent.
The power of Thought – As a Man Thinketh, James Allen
What in reality actually is present?
Power of illusion
Coming out of the dark
The difference between form & substance
The 'Now' & absolute existence
Playing one’s part - connecting with the natural rhythm.
The moving part of the mind and the power of thought
Thought under the influence of sattwa, rajas & tamas
The importance of what the mind thinks upon awakening.
The power of decision
Bases for decision making
Decision under the influence of sattwa, rajas & tamas
The Heart and the power of love
Love under the influence of sattwa, rajas & tamas
The Ego and the power of Will
Will under the influence of sattwa, rajas & tamas
Importance of Will being based on reason
Step by step – padam padam (Sanskrit Sutra)
Powers of thought, decision, love and will as universal powers
The self or Atman as the owner of these powers
Mantra Meditation & tradition
Part 5 - Philosophy and Freedom
Freedom, Truth and Love
Freedom and the play of life, going backstage
Freedom of speech, the four levels of speech, meditation
Discussion, dialogue and dialectic.
Journey to freedom, myths, the Odyssey
Freedom and the Heart
Valuing freedom, Guides for living
Freedom from tyranny, the subtle realm of mind
Freedom and humanity, Ubuntu, Sanatan Dharma
Freedom, True being, Meditation
Additional Supplimentary Foundation Group Themes:
Part 2R - Who am I?
1) Human being, body, mind, nature, consciousness. The witness.
2) Universal application. Human being is microcosm of the universe.
3) Nature. Essential and artificial acquired. How is nature modified?
4) The Sanskrit notion of Aham-Kara. (The Ego)
5) To what or whom are our actions dedicated?
6) Parts are changing all the time and they are complimentary.
7) The story of Hakuin. Meister Eckhart - letting go. Identification with limitations.
8) Catching the monkey. Claiming knowledge. For whom do we act?
9) Review of the term so far and summary. Two aspects to the drama.
Going back-stage. Meditation.
10) Socratic view. Upanishadic view - The town of spirit and the little space.
11) What is this body? Out of darkness - light.
Part 3R - The Individual & Universal
1) Universal elements.
2) Names and forms. Single-pointed attention. Consciousness.
3) In depth exploration of the elements and their subtle aspects.
4) The illusion of phenomenon. The quality of water.The peace of the self.
5) Five senses. The transient and eternal. Devotion. Bliss.
6) The need for a teacher. The story of the tea-man and the ruffian.
7) The teacher Shankaracharya. The inner organ of mind. The great universal drama.
8) Sattvic, rajasic, tamasic buddhi. Full participation in creation. Being a master of the world and companion of the Self simultaneously. How to create sattva.
9) Sattvic buddhi. Universal (Samashti) and individual (Wyashti). The need for a teacher for liberation. The concept of 'Other'. Small and big circles and how to transcend them.
10) Causes of forgetfulness. The value of scripture. Self-remembering. All gunas are satisfactory. Breath. Vulnerability.
11) Pleasure and pain. Strengthening Buddhi. Acting on knowledge. Forgiveness. Meditation.
12) How to rise above like and dislike. One destination three ways.
Part 4R - Being Oneself (Including some or all of the following)
1. Socrates Apology. Matter & Spirit – Gita. Memory of Self.
2. Apology. Gadfly. Pearl of great price. Silent witness.
3. Listening to music. Great lawgivers. Information useless matter. Transcending the word. Listening.
4. A Sonnet. Law in disrespect. Gita XVI. Mund p52. The “centre hole” Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching. Listening. Timing of the Awareness Exercise.
5. Ego (Ahankara). Thinking. Zen Story “7 days silence”. Kipling – “Godhead, hidden inside Man himself” Chandogya Upa “This town of Spirit”
6. Seeing a work of art. Listening. “Empty boat story” Chiang Tzu. “Lazy disciple” story. “God made sense turn outward” Katha Upa.
7. “Burnt Norton” T.S.Elliot. Being in present. Flowers. “Self, bodiless among the embodied” Katha Upa.
8. Are we free? Sattwa, Rajas, Tamas. Bondage – “I must” “I can’t” etc. “Primary knowledge” “Tension within, peace without”
9. Sattwa, Rajas, Tamas gunas. Gita XIV. “Nothing purifies like wisdom” Gita. Truth & “pilgrimage to Badarinath.”
10. Listening to music. “Draw the bow backwards” “Go deep”. Meditation.
11. Discipline. Tanzan & Ekido. “the rail ticket” story. Introduction to meditation.
12. Meditation. What music, what words, what art? Nourish the mind. “Sound of one hand” Zen Flesh. Shoju and the brazier.” Zen Flesh.
After two years students continue by choosing one of two options:
1) Join the Philosophy with Meditation Programme. This is for students who decide to take up the practice of mantra-based meditation from the Advaita Vedanta tradition which suits our active and busy lifestyle and has been found to be so beneficial by our students. Meditation is an integral part of the programme of 'Advaita' Vedanta Philosophy.
2) The alternative is to join our New Horizons Programme which covers many interesting and diverse topics that are all related to Practical Philosophy. All of these subjects are drawn from aspects of ancient and modern wisdom which will stretch the student but are aimed at finding balance in our lives for those who do not want to practice meditation whilst studying philosophy.
Our students are offered residential retreats both in the school's beautiful country properties and also on Zoom. These residential retreats really help to make the study very practical. The Zoom retreats which have been happening since the Covid lockdown have proved to be popular and are attended by students from all over the UK and beyond.