The principal aim of practical philosophy is to allow people to experience the full scope of their nature as intelligent, universal beings, and ultimately to find spiritual and emotional well-being. In the light of this, various principles and practices that support this aim have been adopted by the School.
Not for Profit
It has been found that open-hearted, voluntary service is most conducive to the aims of practical philosophy. Thus, it is an important principle that no one may receive personal advantage, financial or otherwise, either from attending the School or for holding a position in it. Except for a small number of paid office staff, all activities in the School are thus performed on a voluntary basis.
Course fees are used for necessary expenditure such as the purchase of furniture and equipment, rent and maintenance of premises, administration and advertising.
Fees are also kept to a practical minimum, and are not expected to cover capital expenditure—which is made possible by donations, loans and legacies from students with the means to contribute in this way. Because the School of Philosophy is both a charitable and educational institution, the course fees do not include GST (Goods and Services Tax).
Tutors are drawn from the student body and are all themselves students. Practical philosophy is an on-going process of discovery, so it is important that those who are guiding people in this direction are themselves engaging in the same practical inquiries.
Those who take up a tutoring role do not profess any special knowledge or hold any specific qualifications. Their services are offered voluntarily, on the basis of the years of study and enthusiasm they have shown for practical philosophy. The essential principle at work is to pass on to others what has been gratefully received.
All members of the School of Philosophy are students of philosophy. The organisation is thus run and managed by students, for students, in a spirit of goodwill and service.
The School was founded on a spirit of open inquiry, and therefore is not aligned to a specific philosophical or spiritual tradition. The courses offered are open to all people, regardless of background, and are designed to complement and enrich whatever tradition people come from. Course material is drawn from many different traditions, such as the teachings of Platonism, Christianity, Buddhism, Sufism, Zen, Vedanta and Ubuntu—to name but a few.
There is a strong flavour of Advaita Vedanta in the School’s courses, not because of an ideological leaning in this direction, but because this tradition arguably provides the most potent and insightful tools for examining one’s life and one’s relationship to the universe. The interest in Vedanta has been supported by the School’s regular contacts—since the 1960s—with the Shankaracharyas of northern India, Sri Shantananda Saraswati, and his successor, Sri Vasudevananda Saraswati—from whom invaluable guidance in the study and practice of philosophy has been received.
The main working principle within the School is that the ideas and teachings presented should neither be accepted nor rejected, but put into practice and assessed on the basis of practical experience. It is inevitable that, if these teachings are found to ‘ring true’ and prove useful, they may be accepted into one’s worldview, but this is not the aim of the course per se. The real aim is to be free, and, if possible, to learn to see things as they are; and this process can be hampered if one simply replaces one set of beliefs with another.
The classes are and have always been conducted orally and there are no written examinations or certificates. Students are encouraged to test the principles presented and reach their own understanding of these principles through direct experience. Handouts are provided at the end of each session, and, although students are welcome to takes notes, the aim of the course is that the teachings become internalised and not held merely as written information.
As detailed on the continuation courses page, the School’s courses are offered on a term-by-term basis, with the option of pursuing the study of philosophy as long as one wishes. Thus the School provides an Introductory course, which is followed by further courses that explore the subject of philosophy more widely and in greater depth.
Various activities are offered in addition to the weekly philosophy class. Soulful Sunday is offered three times during the year, at which students (along with family and friends) can experience particular aspects of the philosophical teachings in an informal and inspiring environment. As students progress with their studies, Study Days are organised, which provide for more in-depth examination of selected topics over the course of a day. At a later stage, retreat weekends and weeks are also offered.
There are also various subjects other than Philosophy studied in the School, depending on the interests of students.
The Exercise & Meditation
Right from the beginning of the Introductory course, students are presented with a practice called the Exercise. This simple practice involves letting the body relax, letting the mind settle, and connecting with the five senses of smelling, tasting, seeing, feeling and hearing. The Exercise brings stillness and rest to the being, and creates an atmosphere conducive to philosophical inquiry.
The opportunity to take up mantra-based meditation is offered some time in the second or third year of study. This is an even more potent practice that helps to bring about inner peace, harmony and clarity of mind, and also to release finer energy for practical use in daily life. The system of meditation practised in the School was received from Sri Shantananda Saraswati in the 1960s, and it is introduced to students by means of a simple, traditional ceremony.
As mentioned at the top of this page, all contributions made to the operation of the School—from tutoring to cleaning and maintaining the premises—is performed on a voluntary basis, as acts of service.
The concept of Service is very important in the School. The fact that buildings get cleaned and classes are tutored, though useful, is in fact a by-product of a greater aim. True service not only ‘gets things done’, but more importantly it allows people to expand their sense of self beyond the narrow scope of Me and Mine. It has been found by many students that transcending the confines of immediate self-interest is one of the most potent means of discovering spiritual and emotional well-being. Thus, opportunities to offer service within the School are presented as further means to explore practical philosophy, in an atmosphere that is conducive to putting the philosophical teaching into practice.
As students progress from one course to the next, their understanding of practical philosophy naturally deepens and refines. Therefore, like most courses, a regular attendance at classes is necessary if students are to get the most out of the course and not find themselves ‘left behind’. Generally it is preferred that students not miss more than three classes per term. In the event that this is not possible, students are encouraged to repeat a term.