From November 1939 to February 1940 Dr. Montessori ran the First AMI Montessori Training Course in India. The lectures were transcribed and set into galleys overnight and distributed to the students every day. The lectures were edited into The Creative Development of the Child Vols 1 & 2 in 1999 at Kalakshetra Publications, Chennai. This is an edited excerpt from a lecture delivered on the course in 1940.
The Child and God
How can we offer the child a fixed basis for religion such as we have in mathematics? How can we give the real idea of religion to the child in such a manner that it does not clash with other religions? How can we give the child the abstract idea of God? How can we reconcile the idea of the goodness of God, with all the pain and misery in the world, both among human beings and animals? Is man the creature of God or the creature of the Devil? Is he born in the world only in order to kill others? If we go into this kind of abstraction based on the persuasions of others without materialisation, we can never agree on the facts.
We can materialise religion and God, just as we can materialise mathematical formulae. God has placed enormous powers in the hands of man in order that plenty of work may be carried out in a human being’s lifetime.
When I was very young, I was told, as small children are told, that God was everywhere. Although I could not see Him, He would always protect me. He was always at work, and knew all that was happening around me. When I was of reasoning age, I did not believe this, and I started studying it along scientific lines. They say that study along scientific lines will destroy religion, because what religion says is scientifically untrue. However when I understood religion for the first time, I understood the truth of it.
Nothing in this world is wasted. In the end everything goes away because it has to go. When we do what we think we want to do, we merely act according to the will of God. This sounds very vague. It is said that God has no hands, no eyes, no mouth and no organs, yet He does everything. If He has no means with which to work, He must have someone who works for him. So I presumed that God has many machines working for him. These are of three kinds – some are inanimate, some are animate and some others are intelligent. The inanimate machines are the properties of nature – the water, the minerals and so on. To the animate machines, He has given certain instincts. The instinct of the crow, for instance, leads it to the special task of its life. Crows are voracious eaters. The more voracious they are, the cleaner the environment! In carrying out this task, the crow obeys the will of God. In obeying the will of God, the crow does something for the maintenance of the universe in which it lives. Each animate being has its allotted task. The intelligent machines are human beings. To us, He has given, not any set laws or distinct instincts, but the possibility of doing anything. Common and simple rules are given to all the three forms — to be born, to grow, to do the allotted work, to reproduce similar beings to work in the world, and to die. Not a drop of energy is wasted. After death everything is absorbed by the earth in the form of manure, in the form of carbon and other chemicals.
God is goodness personified and glorified. To each living being, He has given perfect freedom, the same chances of life. When the eggs of a fish are laid, they all have the same potential. When they hatch they all have the freedom of the waters. Whether they live or not, greatly depends upon themselves. God has given to each living being the instinct of self-preservation and self-protection. So He has taken all the possible precautions to defend that life. If that life is lost, it is either the fault of that individual, or of those who had the care of that being. He has caused some beings, when they reproduce, to feel mother love. The birds and mammals love and protect their young ones. However the fish which lays millions of eggs, and leaves them floating about in the waters, has no love for its young. Why is this so? It is because, the fish need no love. If each one of the eggs hatched and lived to become a fish, there would be no water but only fish. So out of the millions of eggs that are laid, only a few become fish, the others perish. In the case of the birds, almost all of them live, because the parent takes care of them.
If we study life we see that there are certain things which are painful. Once, after a severe earthquake in Italy, a man was pinned down his arm caught under the debris. He could not extricate himself, but he was eventually rescued. When he visited us and told us about his experience, of the horror and the pain that he had suffered, I was a child of ten years then, I felt that if only I had been there, I could have lifted up the stone, and helped him out. Suddenly, I smelt something burning. It was his own hand. It was so paralysed that he had no feeling in it. This made a great impression on me. Once a mother who saw a child suffering said — “How can God be good? Look at this child! How the poor little creature suffers! ” Whenever there is any danger, the child’s instinct of self-protection acts like an alarm bell warning him of the threat to his existence. If we do not experience pain, we cannot protect ourselves.
Each living being, even tiny little creatures, are given safeguards. This protection is not only given in the physical field, but also in the moral field through fear. If it was not for fear, how many of us would be here? If we saw a car coming at us on the road, and our instinctive fear did not make us move away from it, a great many of us would be dead. If we did not run away or hide from danger, the chances of living would be very remote. Even the characteristic considered to be the weakness of the individual, has been given to him to protect his life, so that the species has a chance for survival.
It has taken me a whole lifetime to realise why some animals kill other animals. Why should death be the rule among animate beings? Each being has a reason for its existence — a task to accomplish in its life. It is difficult to realise what this task is. If a fish laid 60 million eggs, if all the eggs hatched into fully grown fish, in three years there would not be a drop of water left in the oceans. So there has to be some check. The hunger which is the driving force of the other creatures of the ocean, causes the eggs to be devoured. In eating the eggs, these creatures are carrying on their part of the work in the world. Each being in working selfishly for its own gain acts as a check to the other. This check is its task.
In Holland they once closed the Zuider Zee1 because they wanted to reclaim some land. By closing off the sea all the salt-water fish died. The mosquitoes came in such numbers that they had to call in the fire brigade to destroy them. The mosquito nuisance was so great because there was no check on the millions of eggs that were laid by the mosquitoes. They multiplied in huge numbers. The fish which would have killed the mosquito eggs were all dead, the sea water having been shut out.
In Australia, there were no rabbits at all. Someone who went to Australia carried two little pets and left them there. They multiplied in such incredible numbers that the Government of Australia had to make special laws, and call in the army, and the farmers who killed about 15 to 20 thousand rabbits a day in order to control the pest! As there were no wild animals, no carnivores, in Australia to check their increasing numbers, the rabbits yet continued to multiply until they became a real danger to all other living beings. They dug burrows all over the country and devoured all the things that they could find. The land was so full of burrows that water ran into them and all the lakes became dry and famine resulted. So finally the Australians imported wild animals that could eat a large number of these rabbits.
What is true of the animal world is also true of the vegetable world. The farmers in Australia in order to protect the crops in their fields from kangaroos, planted a kind of thorny fence of cactus around their fields. It was such a quick growing plant, that in ten years a whole province was covered with it. New laws had to be framed by the government to destroy these plants. It became a pest. Even if it was cut, the spines took root and spread very quickly. Finally zoologists were asked to investigate the matter to find out what insects or animals would eat the plants. The zoologists found a Mexican insect that could eat these plants, which were received in Australia with relief. In five years, the pest was well under control.
When we study the work carried out by each little insect, we understand the wonderful cosmic task that it performs for God. We see that by working towards its own selfish ends, it preserves the equilibrium in the world. It does its part of the work, and thereby gives pleasure to God.
There is another point of view. Who could be a greater inventor than God? Who could invent a bicycle which when it became old would leave two or three bicycles? The animals which are the creations of God’s work, when they can do no more work, leave two or three little replicas of themselves to carry on. Can anyone be a greater economist? Can anyone invent a machine which generates no waste? All animals, and all human beings, are formed of the same elements. When a creature is dead, the microbes begin to work, and dissolve its body into the component elements. When these microbes are at work, we say putrefaction has set in. A nasty smell is emitted. After these microbes have done their work, a new kind of microbe that lives without oxygen begins to work. These nitrogenous microbes gather all the rotten stuff left by the other microbes, and separate them into the different elements of which everything is composed — carbon, nitrogen, and so on. So even after the creatures work is finished and after it is dead, nothing is wasted. The air gets the oxygen, the earth gets the carbon, each in their purest form, from the elements that composed the body, and thus supply the means for the other forms of life.
It has been calculated that only 3% of the water that remains in this river2 after supplying all the vegetable life on the river banks, flows into the sea. So there is always some water left in the river as a reserve for the plant life in the summer season. The water does not flow into the sea because the river is checked by the force of the waves that continuously shovel up sand on the beach, thus making a bund. The force of the river during the summer is not sufficient to cross the bund to reach the ocean. During the rainy season, there is plenty of water in the river, and it attains a greater force than the waves, so the water crosses the bund to flow into the sea. This does not happen in the summer because if all the water flowed into the sea, the vegetable life around the river basin would perish.
We, who are materialists, have certain animal instincts, such as the greed for power, for possession. When our animal instincts are uppermost, we are no more the souls of God that we are represented to be. Even these human beings have some checks in their lives. Even when we function as animals we carry out the task for the upkeep of the world.
Abyssinia3 was unconquered for many thousands of years. It was a very powerful country with a glorious past. Nothing seemed to shake its integrity. Then what happened? The people did not change with the growth of their civilisation. Their civilisation was not sufficient for the distribution of property and the elimination of slavery. They had gold and other riches, but they did not reach the level of civilisation that the other countries had reached. We all know what happened. The Italians decided to civilise Abyssinia. Due to the greed of another country, all the lands in Abyssinia that were not used, began to be used for cultivation. People began to work in an organised manner, and to produce many more machines and useful articles. Abyssinia is now on par with all other countries. If one set of people do not work by their own free will, others who are more powerful do it for them. The moral basis for work for human beings should be along the lines on which our intelligence guides us. Materialists do not use their intelligence clearly in the construction of moral work. They are guided by the animal instincts of possession and greed. They destroy religion and work against the forces of moral construction. They use religion to suit their selfish ends. In our religion, we say that we have one God. We have a symbol — the Cross. We say our prayers and have a mode of greeting. In certain other countries, like Germany and Russia4, they say that they have no religion. In Germany, they have their own organisation, their own group which they worship. The Russians have created a new form of worship. The psychology of religion however is the same for all.
We find innumerable such examples by which God has found the means of keeping the balance in the universe. When we begin to understand the working of this universe, then everything assumes a meaning. We begin to see into the how and why of things. Each being has a certain task to do, a rule to obey. Evolution therefore takes place only along these set lines.
1The Zuider Zee was formerly an arm of the North Sea, penetrating into the northwestern Netherlands. It is now almost wholly reclaimed. In the 13th century the sea broke over the dune-edged coast, flooded the lowlands behind it, and formed an inland lake. The Zuider Zee remained very shallow (nowhere deeper than 12 metres) and received the River Ussel. In 1918 the Dutch Parliament decided to reclaim the Zuider Zee to provide a new province for the country. The work began in 1923 and the enclosing dam, the Afluitdiik was completed in 1932, transforming the Zuider Zee into a fresh water lake, the Usselmeer.
2The river described here is the Adyar River which runs along the Theosophical Society in Adyar, Madras even today. Dr. Montessori’s residence in the Theosophical Society at that time overlooked the river and its estuary.
3Ethiopia, formerly known as Abyssinia was invaded by Italy under the leadership of Mussolini in 1936. The Italians ruled Ethiopia till 1941.
4At the time of this lecture Nazism and Communism had found wide support in Europe. The National Sozialistische Deutsche Arbei-terpartei (hence the popular contraction Nazis) was founded in 1919. It gained ground rapidly after 1928 due to weak governments, economic distress and popular resentments. Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933.