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Bookeducation: Richard Basch’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Dr. Shruti Shankar Gaur

I picked it from the old shelves; the book was still warm as it was twenty years ago when I had read it as a schoolgirl. This time I read it as an adult, through the reviewer’s glasses. After putting it down, all I could say was, “There’s so much to learn”.  Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach leaves a permanent mark on the soul. It is a simple story with profound wisdom. It is the story of dreamers, of people who follow untrodden pathways, who love discovering and evolving self, eventually inspiring millions to follow.

For most Seagulls, life consists simply of eating and surviving. Flying is just a means of finding food. However, Jonathan Livingston Seagull is no ordinary bird. For him*, flying is life itself. Against the conventions of seagull society; he seeks to find a higher purpose and become the best at doing what he loves”.    

Educational Implications

The book urges to discover the ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ within us. “Life is the unknown and unknowable.” The only way to achieve the unknowable is through Education. Education is a medium to attain knowledge, peace, harmony, and sustainability. The book helps us unfold the profound wisdom that knowledge can be attained when we have a deep desire to learn, harmony & peace is witnessed when we are attuned with self and when we follow our dream we are able to sustain every obstacle with ease.

 Yet, true knowledge, peace, harmony, and sustainability remain a utopian dream, for just like the Seagull story, we, humans banish anything new that questions our beliefs/ traditions/ existence. Jonathan faced the same trials; for when he learnt to fly at two hundred fifty miles per hour shattering the age-old gulls’ belief that ‘A Seagull can’t fly more than seventy-five miles per hour’. His happiness knew no bounds. He wanted to share it with the entire gull clan that ‘it’s possible for a gull to fly as fast as he/she* can think’. Result: He was banished from the clan on the pretext of being irresponsible. Jonathan’s disappointment is apparent in the following lines: “Who is more responsible than a gull that finds and follows a meaning, a higher purpose for life? For a thousand years we have scrabbled after fish heads, but now we have a reason to live – to learn, to discover, to be free! Give me one chance; let me show you what I’ve found”.

 We need to ponder: Are we behaving any different from the gull clan? Are we accepting or willing as an individual/ parent/ teacher/ student to embrace new ideas, learn fresh perspectives specifically from the younger generation? Do we instill in our children/ students as parents/ teachers to question every belief? Do we teach our children/ students to enjoy their own company? Because it is when you are synchronized with your true being that you learn/ evolve/ grow far beyond the bounds of culture/ tradition into the ‘Unknown’ termed as ‘Bliss’ by the mystics. The same happened with Jonathan, abandoned by his own clan, HE WAS FREE, he learned to enjoy his own company and was learning at God Speed the one thing he loved most: ‘Flying’ and he experienced bliss.   

Teacher plays such an important role in one’s life. In Chiang, Jonathan found his teacher and Chiang his true disciple. We all play the role of a teacher in our lives be it to our students/ children/ siblings et al. If we are open even those younger to us can be our teacher and we the disciple. So what we bestow as teachers? In the book, Chang gave the wisdom he had acquired through the ages. He told Jonathan to pursue perfection. Perfection was not a numerical to be achieved. He explained perfection as, “You will be able to touch heaven, Jonathan, in the moment that you touch perfect speed. And that isn’t flying a thousand miles an hour or flying at the speed of light. Because any number is a limit and perfection doesn’t have a limit. Perfect Speed my Son is, being there. And Heaven means to be one’s unlimited true self while experiencing perfection”. It is imperative that every teacher motivates his/ her disciple to achieve greatness because mediocricity is a crime. And before we teach, we must practice.

To be a good teacher we must be a good student first. Jonathan Livingston Seagull was a good student as he had a burning desire to learn.  He followed what he preached to his students, “Never stop learning and practicing and striving to understand more of the perfect, invincible principle of all life”. It was on his way to discovering self, that he realized his true calling as an instructor (How much he had wished to have someone teach him during the early years!!!). He realized the only way to work on kindness and love; the two traits Chiang had asked him to work upon, were through teaching and helping younger gulls with the deep desire to fly. As Jonathan Livingston Seagull instructed his student, “Myanard Gull, you have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now and nothing can stand in your way. It is the law of the great gull and the Law that is”. Knowledge isn’t true knowledge if it doesn’t set you free. “It is right for the gull to fly, that freedom is the very nature of his being, that whatever stands against that freedom must be set aside, be it ritual or superstition or limitation in any form. The only true law is that which leads to freedom”. The freedom denoted is the freedom to pursue excellence in accordance to one’s being. Formal Education System is anything but freedom. Students/ teachers/ schools are bound by syllabus/ rules/ regulations. Here, we do not imply that discipline shouldn’t be harnessed. Freedom means to evolve the consciousness of every being to the state where outward boundaries/ discipline doesn’t apply but one follows freedom and performs duties persistently.

The book further describes Jonathan’s quest to teach the clan. Jonathan too tried to help fellow gulls. He returned to the clan. But were they ready/ willing to absorb his words of wisdom? Who is termed as Genius? If what one says makes sense and is innovative or can be proved scientifically, he will be labeled as a Genius else he is a crazy person. Nicholas Tesla, one of the most intelligent man to have graced Earth oscillated between being a Genius and a Madman all his life. Similarly, if you develop followers who worship you blindly instead of comprehending what you say, you will be raised to being a God. But if by chance you become a threat to the institution, civilization, society you will be christened as a Satan.  Be it Socrates or Christ they all had to face the music. “Jonathan sighed. The Price of being misunderstood, he thought. They call you Devil or they call you God.” Jonathan urged Fletcher to go back to the pack. Fletcher questioned Jonathans’ belief by reminding that the clan tried to kill them a few minutes ago. “You have to practice and see the real gull, the good in every one of them, and to help them see it in themselves. That’s what I mean by love. It’s fun when you get a knack of it.” Jonathan was ready for the next journey as he evolved to higher consciousness for he could witness every gull as pure love instead of their physical appearance/ nature/ beliefs/ actions. Thus, teaching us as parent/ teacher/ student or more importantly as human to acknowledge the other human beings as human only irrespective of the race, religion, gender, caste, creed, language, color or disability. A must-read, the small blue book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull grows and linger upon even years after you have read it.

*as mentioned in book

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