We can trace the rise of the appreciation for the mind as the essential characteristic which separates man from the vital world of the animal kingdom by the famous dictum expressed by the Western philosopher Rene Descartes: “I think, therefore I am.” When we look at the history of Western education of the last couple of hundred years, in particular, we see an over-emphasis on intellectual, mental education and training. This is defined as “getting an education”. While there are elements of physical education and to some degree vital or aesthetic elements, it is clear that the mind is the focus. If we look to the East, we also find that Buddhism in particular has a strong focus on development of the mind and its systematic training. Historically, when we look at the educational background in Upanishadic India, there is also a recognition of the central role of the mind in the life of humanity.
Sri Aurobindo elucidates on this subject: “The idea of the necessity of general education means the recognition by the race that the mind and not the life and the body are the man and that without the development of the mind he does not possess his true manhood. The idea of education is still primarily that of intelligence and mental capacity and knowledge of the world and things, but secondarily also of moral training and, though as yet very imperfectly, of the development of the aesthetic faculties. The intelligent thinking being, moralised, controlling his instincts and emotions by his will and his reason, acquainted with all that he should know of the world and his past, capable of organising intelligently by that knowledge his social and economic life, ordering rightly his bodily habits and physical being, this is the conception that now governs civilised humanity. It is, in essence, a return to and a larger development of the old Hellenic ideal, with a greater stress on capacity and utility and a very diminished stress on beauty and refinement. We may suppose, however, that this is only a passing phase; the lost elements are bound to recover their importance as soon as the commercial period of modern progress has been overpassed, and with that recovery not yet in sight but inevitable, we shall have all the proper elements for the development of man as a mental being.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 8, Civilisation and Barbarism, pp. 75-76