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Monasteries Of The Future







see also: TEDx

This talk was delivered on 11.11.2011 in Szopronbanvalva


When we are assembling today in this wonderfully renovated monastery (>), I feel this place is talking to us. The story is not only about the Paulines and the Carmelites who inhabited this monastary for centuries. The story is about a way of life that once upon a time was an important reality and has gradually lost significance through the centuries.

The story is about a deep desire to live our life in wholeness (>). It is about a place that manifests our desire as human beings to be in resonance with something from within that we feel is constantly drowned out by the noise of the world. An external constraint, a closed space created to unfold inner freedom. But this retreat is not just a refuge, it is every once in a while of utter importance for society at large.

Since 20 years I am working with an increasing number of friends on a project called Global Villages (>). Its the infinite idea that global information flows have the potential to spark an unprecedented renaissance of the local. Its what McLuhan called the law of retrieval (>): any new medium has the potential to retrieve and revive formerly obsolesced patterns, so history is never linear, but very often recycling. Think for example how email brought back traits of written personal correspondence which was obsolesced before by the telephone.

We use villages as a symbol for the local, but in fact the local is a rich ecosystem which consists of landscape, farms, villages, small towns, early industries. But more than that. Historically, we see centers of wealth and power, the castles and palaces, and we see centers of spirituality and knowledge. Often these forms were mixed. In European history, wee see a period dating from the 8th to the 12th century where the monastery was the prevailing focal point of a local renaissance after the collapse of the Roman empire.

Hermits, Anchorites, Cenobites

The tradition was older, though. Some people opted out of their regular lives in the very moment shortly before and after Christianity became the state religion of the empire. These became the famous desert fathers, like Paul and Anthony, depicted later in the influental Collationes Patrum (Conferences (>)) by John Cassianus. Their goal was to keep the original energy alive and to keep their heart clean and they saw no other way than the refuge to the desert. This refuge is seen as heroic fight against inner demons which represent chaos, the prize of this fight being the ability to establish divine order and the spirit of creation. (>)

From this very beginning, Western monastic history is unfolding as a constant interplay between the goal of individual growth and the felt necessity to do this within a protecting and protected community. The wall became a substitute for the desert, but what happened inside the wall was to be a long and complex evolutionary development. The main points of contention were the role of work, the rhythms between individual and community life and the degree to which certain amenities were allowed or being considered destructive. The ideal of hermitage was never completely abandoned, the rule of Benedikt for example sees it as the ultimate ideal after a long training in community.

But very soon after the first congregations of the hermits in upper Egypt emerged around the famous abbot Pachomius and his first rule - they called themselves cenobites, the ones living together - monasteries not only protected and supported their members, but assumed roles for their environments. They started with healing and caring for the sick and the elderly, they started to educate youth.

The Golden Age of Monasteries

The decay of the western Roman Empire, the barbarian migration, the rise of Islam were factors that led to a more and more important and different role of monasteries. Starting from Lerins near Cannes monasteries became institutions that evolved into an ambigous character: the dormitory replaced the cell, monks were recognized as part of the clergy, the monastery became a place of higher education and of higher internal discipline. What had started as a retreat from the world ended as an ever growing social assignment. This was echoed from the north, especially Ireland, where monasteries were a priori more a social service to the tribes - often voluntarily christianised druids. When they decided to "globalise" their service (>), they were the catalizers of the first medieval renaissance of the 8th/9th century. They also brought the love for books and the art of brewery into the monastic world.

Again it was the work of a monk of different nature that built on all that and gave form and place to one of the most important developments in history. Bonifatius was Anglo Saxon and missionary. He catalyzed the idea to revitalise Roman Law and Legitimity in the Franco-Karolingian world, including the idea of (theocratic) Empire. His ideas fell on fertile ground: for several centuries, the monasteries became the spearheads of internal colonisation, the development of feudalism in Europe. The Benedictine Rule became a law backed by worldly powers. Monasteries were endowments and foundations of regional lords, they became equipped with enormous wealth, eventually had armies of servants and often enough even real armed forces. They became the centers of popular piety, often with enormous churches. The monks spoke Latin and Greek. They started engaging in poetry and music and even laid the foundation to western musical notation. Monasteries started discovering architecture, astronomy, painting, sculpturing and carving. Abbots became travelling political consultants and leave their daily work to the prior.

It is this time I mostly refer to when I want to talk about the retrieval of the monastic pattern. Of course all the later reforms and counterreforms, all decay and all diversity is rooted in this ambiguity between retreat and purpose. We learn horrible details when we hear about the methods of punishment for disobedience. We see that even in the year 800 there was corruption and greed, some monasteries were only looking out for rich novices. And yet, for several centuries this ambiguous construction of monasteries showed enormous results.

Maybe it is even justified to see the monasteries as the birthplace of the modern individual. Around the year 1000 the mystics started to bloom and seek a radically individualistic way to god, including the Carthusian retrieval of individual meditation. A new idea of brotherhood emerged, laypersons were allowed to enter the monasteries, double monasteries hosted men and women in cooperation. Berengar, Anselm of Canterbury and Abaelard started to evangelize reason and independent thinking.

So the history of monasteries is colorful and interesting, full of glorious moments and breakdowns. As the 12th century renaissance took place, the center of thought and social impact migrated to cities, universities, academies. And only in the 16th century the age of reason could really prevail.

But what justifies the idea that monasteries would be a pattern whose time is coming up again?

A New Beginning

We can look at history in full details and we see how lines on necessities and simultaneous developments come together, catalyzed by the ideas and visions and passion of Individuals. The monastic age in Western Europe was an age of transformation, of the passing of a great empire, of a power shift. It was an age of innovations in agriculture, and landscaping, of the move of knowledge and technology to areas that were largely wilderness.

Today we have a situation where again the future is open. We know by now, just from the experience of the last three years, and many people of course know it since much longer time, that we are facing a great transformation again. Like in the age of the desert fathers, the empire has overstretched its capacities and is facing the rebound effect. The passing of todays empire might overshadow its historical analogy in speed and drama. The slavery to money and debt and the battles of production have exhausted the capacities of earths ecosystems. The capitalist paradox is that it is too much wealth that brings the systems performance down to zero. The violence following the synchronous 4, the resource crisis and economic crisis, the climate crisis and the political crisis can lead to deadlier wars than ever experienced in history. Millions of people around the globe are protesting, but no one has an alternative to the current system and its disastrous dynamics. People are getting numb by the shere dimension of the issues at stake.

"Today the pressures on the human person are growing and simultaneously many of humanity's traditional support-systems are weakening. There is a need to establish “healing points" of refuge and recultivation, and this will necessitate looking afresh for inspiration at the world's monastic traditions." ( John Orme Mills)

As much as the threatening scenarios are multiplying, the elements of the solution are growing, too. Never before in history was it possible to share the knowledge of the whole world in any single place of this planet. Never before was it possible to solve so many issues locally. Automation has given us the tools to drastically miniaturize production and services, to interact technologically with nature, to build humane ecosystems. Electrical power can be yielded from sunlight and wind like never before, allowing for massive decentralisation of life and an enormous reduction of transportation. We are beginning to fully understand the integrated wisdom of natural ecosystems and we are starting to build organically instead of linear. We are surrounded by thousands of infinite ideas that help us build a new world - and we can share them instantly.

The only problem: if we wait for someone to pay for this, we are being doomed. We need to create the spheres where we can unfold in active doing. We can learn from the monastic tradition that if we believe in our collective power then we easily can let go of the things we thought we needed to keep us alive. The monastic tradition as the building that hosts us today tells us about the power of belief which can move mountains.

Some starting points

I confess I have failed 2 times with bringing a (neo)monastic idea to life, once in Croatia (Mljet) and once in Austria (Neuberg) but this is exactly why am I standing here. The thought must be spread first, even before we look at a particular building or site.

When we were talking about the idea of opening underused monasteries of the catholic church to well - reviewed communities of inspiration and vision in Rome in 2002, I used a metaphor. I said as each one of the catholic orders fulfills a great role in the great family of the church, we need to ask if there is a similar possibility of a concert of cultures and religions, a global family of mankind working for a common goal. At that time, the church reacted negatively to this thought.

But those who want to oppose the growing religious tensions must set a practical example. What if religious communities around the world would engage in knowledge cooperation of various kinds, in simple subjects they could possibly agree on? Fields like technology, healing, arts allow many complemeting visions, views and solutions to be exchanged and assembled. Maybe existing monasteries or wats could engage in also becoming experimental laboratories to live light on this earth, to use the infinite power of nature to replenish and renew itself, to arrange life in flows.

At the same time, we need to look at non-religious intentional communities that want to intensify their work. A good example is the free software movement, that already uses the coming together in physical places to achieve difficult tasks. See the example of a Sprint In A Monastery (>) video

more exampes! there are only 15 minutes!

A far fledged vision

Many of you might be familiar with the novel "The Glass Bead Game" by Hermann Hesse. In this novel which is set to describe a 23rd century reality a neomonastic tradition has successfully re-established a public education system after a so called "Age of Feuilletonism" that resembles our age.

What is interesting about this novel, is that science, art and spirituality merge in an interesting proposal. The glass bead game is even superior to mathematics and music. (>) "It is a game that encopasses all contents and values of our culture, it plays with them as, say, a painter - in the great age of the arts - might have played with the colors on his palette. All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras; and all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values - the Glass Bead Game player plays all of that like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its register are almost beyond number. Theoretically the whole content of the world in all details relevant to insight and understanding could be recreated with this game.“

This is a concept of almost religious reverence. The goal of the monastic life, to get in touch with the essence of creation, is achieved by the combination of science and play.

I want to point to an ongoing development in the intellectual world that in a very exciting way seems to fulfil Hesses prophecy. Recently Christopher Alexander published his book "The Nature Of Order" in which he claims that science so far has been unable to understand the nature of life and the nature of a living, evolving universe. By understanding that there are laws of spontaneous, self - organizing order, that even without the presence of a master controller this universe is constantly and intelligently designing and redesigning itself, we come to a point very similar to what religion was looking for. We understand that humans can either be a destructive force or join in to a development that is much older and greater than us. We understand that we are players and we can aply the rules correctly and start to really take care the living reality around us. This is the key to oneness, wholeness and ataining the best possibility of our self. So the Glass Bead Game might just become reality.

Annex: My Monastery Speech in Rome 2002

The living spirit of monasteries

I would like to offer you some speculations about the future of monasteries within and outside a possible Open Monastery network.

While an architect has just shown us the immense richness of the historic heritage of monasteries, we feel that these buildings talk to us today, as witnesses of times of turbulence, of dreams, of determination. Even far outside the religious world, there is an increasing interest in the message conveyed by the language of architecture. The message, as we have seen, is not a simple one: it talks from the ground of the soul, heart and spirit of men and women asking for the meaning of their lives as well as from the forces that bind us together in social organisations. As sociologists, we know of the importance of values and ideas, of symbols and rituals in general social life; no society can survive which is not incarnating these values in visible reality. So the monastery has been very often appropriated or even usurped by the external society as an incarnation of ideals that bind society together, but could only be lived by a few. This paradox is by no means constrained to the world of Christianity.

However, the incarnation of today’s societies values seems to be the very opposite of monastic values. In fact we see today an adoration of wealth, of ego, and of the art to celebrate individual independance. Society seems to have forgotten the monasteries.

What has brought us together here is the fact that the monastic heritage and new values in society may meet very soon again. Maybe the prevailing monadic and individualistic lifestyle, the ideas of single living, of non-commitment, are rather a sign of transition, of change, of searching, than a sustainable reality. We see the harbingers of those new associations in intentional communities, ecovillages, non governmental organisations, new ways of cooperation via the networks. But we also feel a different attitude in people. I met the interest that I have mentioned in the scientific world. Not one scientist to whom I have shown the wonderful images of Mljet rejected the idea of working in a monastic community for some time; most of them showed active interest and even a sense of longing and belonging. Most of them regretted the fact that this was an impossible dream but they were not aware of the fact that 20 years ago even this dream was impossible for the many.

So we might as well go one step further and talk about possibilities. This is why we are here. We are here to become aware of invisible lines that associate the past and the future. We are also very well aware of the present, we are aware of the spiritual renewal in monasteries that are alive and meeting the challenges of the time. But this living spirit may well inspire much more than we see. There can be mutual reaffirmation between developments that in earlier times met each other with hostility. What we experienced as the message from Assisi one week ago is that there is a larger agenda. This agenda encompasses a global society as well as the free choice of the individual to learn, to compare, to find out and to manifest its values and yet the importance to consider steadfast values and age-old wisdom in this choice.

I offer, as a starting point and frame of reference, to consider the Monastery as a medium, as an extension of man which allows us to sense, experience, communicate, act and exist in a certain way. Marshall McLuhan has outlined that human beings do not exist in this world barely with their body, mind and soul; the way they connect to each other, to the world and even to themselves is largely influenced by additional structures which guide and augment their attention and their perceptions.

These structures are our creation as much as they create us, in the sense as they provide us with the framework of what we think the world is, how we are aware of it and how we can act in it. McLuhan's discovery was that most of our human artefacts in this understanding serve as media of our apprehension and appropriation of nature. They influence our understanding of the world, our way of thinking and acting to an extent that reminds us of the Platonic Allegory of the Cave. Each medium comes to existence with the promise to help us break free from the fetters imposed by previous media, to bring us to a higher form of perception, to create a renaissance and a new mind. But each medium creates new fetters and invisible chains of sensory biases by its very nature, as it inflicts pain and breaks cohesion.

In McLuhan's Theory of Media, there are four questions to be asked about media who are most useful and sufficient to understand their dynamics. He starts with the observation that each medium enhances and intensifies something. On the other hand, this comes always at the cost to displace or render obsolete things that previously were at much higher attention. But interestingly enough, through this process a historical dialectic is enacted, which means that each medium retrieves qualities which were previously obsolesced. By its very means and through its own full development any medium comes to a point of dialectic where it produces the base and the need of change. This change might, however, revive elements of the past without returning to it.

These properties of media are not only applicable to the things we usually consider as media but also to the more complex structures, edifices, systems in which we embed our lives. They enact a historic dynamic of constant obsolescense and retrieval, a spiral of development. There is no narrow notion of historical progress in this, the spiral could also be an apocalyptic one. Maybe the fascinating thing about McLuhan is that he leaves the two possibilities open. But we understand how much media can create and enact dynamics and also why they come to an end. In our context we can say that it was maybe the very development of the monastic culture that led in an indirect way to the antitheses of the monastery, the modern city. The rationality, science, the progresses in technology that were born in Europe’s monasteries increasingly led to a new clustering of power and the need for further accumulation, an age of discoveries, a new renaissance and so on. And the historical dynamic did not stop there. But what is interesting is that we feel today that through the very development of the urban culture that was the birthplace of industry, modern science, electricity and the new media, a new quality of ubiquity is achieved which holds the potential for the retrieval of elements of monastic culture. I reported this first as a growing emotional romanticism. Allow me to now to draw several lines which I feel call for such a retrieval from a maybe more reflected point of view:

1. First, the dynamics of the prevailing civilization is unsustainable; with almost no historical parallel today's economic development is increasingly producing a globalized, uprooted, dispossessed population. Advances in technology and global competition cause losses of jobs and a profound crisis of work. Still people are flocking in masses into overcrowded cities, in the same time rural areas face severe population drain. Economic disintegration hits peripheral areas and causes epidemic pillage and war, thus accelerating the imbalances. Traditional ways of subsistence (farming) do not work any more when even the local markets are flooded with the surpluses of agrobusinesses, while enormous amounts of fertile land are lost each day on this planet. Monasteries since early times have been a traditional refuge and alternative for those with no future; they have turned hopelessness into creative action. Creative action in the time of global affluent markets might also mean to find ways of subsistence and survival for those left out or wanting to escape the warfare economy. Monasteries found ways to integrate and to inspire, to heal, balance and reconcile.

2. Communal Living has always existed as an alternative or expansion to family. In the period of economic expansion the family model became the prevailing one and community lifestyle was obsolesced. Nowadays the so-called single lifestyles reflect the fact that many people prefer other choices in life. Maybe deeply embedded in those choices are potential cultural communities, asking for manifestation. Monasteries have always created a ground for choices; the individuality of orders was linked to a particular calling and made them as different as individuals, although united by a common cause and purpose. Some engaged in deep scientific thinking, others in an inward quest towards the divine, others in practical activities, manifestation of human skills, the healing of the sick, and the teaching of the poor. Maybe there are just crystallizing points needed to attract the human atoms in new and unprecedented ways.

3. The omnipresent media overload has saturated us with information, causing a deep lack of knowledge and a hunger for wisdom. The constantly bombarded senses of the Global Village inhabitants call for retreat - being "disembodied" in cyberspace requires a counterbalance. There is a new relevance for working with earth and nature and an awareness of groundedness. Monasteries have always helped us to stay in touch with our inner self, with the essential. They created an atmosphere of silence, concentration and non- disturbance that would allow us to experience our spiritual reality. They shielded their population from the omnipresent noise and pollution of irrelevant and redundant masquerade - and simultaneously allowed for depth of feeling and thought, caring for healthy routine and balance of mental and physical.

4. New scientific discoveries have increased the quest for the spiritual roots of our existence. With the discovery of the role information plays in life, with the increasing granularity of physics and with our awareness of how much we create our own realities by beliefs, the old materialist worldview is too simple to survive. We increasingly feel the world is created and we become inquisitive about the creator. There is widespread interest in religion again, this time deliberate and with the careful curiosity of a maturing child that discovers that choices made by parents were not necessarily bad, but they need to be seen in a new light. His or her judgement is not any more based on pure belief - not even the belief in science -, but by the listening to a subtle coherence of sources from different origins. One of the sources, maybe not the least important one, is the inner self or conscience or still small voice, which we almost have unlearned to listen to. Monasteries are media that allow us to travel inward and improve our communication with the self. They do so by applying old wisdom, which is validated by today's scientific findings. The routines and rituals in Eastern and Western monasteries are an important element of this move beyond time. They have a healing quality and support our growth into wholeness. But this starts with the knowledge who we really are apart from the outer changes of life. What is persistent, what is our identity, where can we relate ourselves to infinitely?.

5. But our wholeness includes the appreciation of the fact that we are linked with our environment. Since one generation there is an increasing appreciation of the fact that there are limits to growth, that the current dynamics of civilization endangers the very ground on which everything is built on. While for some time the vastness and complexity of our planet allowed ignoring the need of profound change, the global effects of human actions are now pandemic. The ecological crisis calls for profound change and solutions. But we lack solutions that take into account the needs of human beings. Ecology itself is in a crisis because it really is called to deliver alternatives that are practicable and applicable, not just call everybody to slow down and resign. Monasteries have always been places of cultivation. They have invented and supported ways that allowed people to live more sustainable. Their gardens were places of experimentation, not bound by daily necessities, but by the need to create a dialogue between the realm of possibilities and the practical realities of locations. They have often supported creative ecology, the one that includes the human beings and leads to a better cooperation with and appreciation of nature. The monastery gardens of the 21st century might be filled with permaculture, sophisticated landscapes, plant societies. They might reflect the incredible progress in healing knowledge that is waiting to be applied.

6. But not only our physical surrounding needs cultivation badly. The disproportion between the productivity and effect of our activities and the disastrous result in general is even much greater when it comes to information, media and culture. The very sphere that is the repository of all our creations, the common ground of all our collaborations, is in the same danger as our natural environment. It is true that with the advent of the electronic media we now have a vast ocean of human knowledge and opportunity at our fingertips. It is true that the Internet has created a potential door to access this "library greater that any repository of all monastery libraries of the past", anywhere, from everywhere. At the same time this has created an opportunity for old tendencies of greed, command and control to fulfill their dreams. McLuhan called it "Narcissus as Narcosis" that haunts the new media. The superficial anarchy and the isolation of the wired customer and citizen makes them an easy prey for corporations and totalitarian dreams; as McLuhan puts it, "the extension of himself by mirror numbs his perceptions until he becomes the servomechanism of his own extended or repeated image." The possibility to repeat and flood the world with copies meeting this need seems to be the ultimate goal of the media-industrial complex. Corporations are flooding the world with gadgets and gizmos, but also securing that they create affection and dependencies. To tighten the grip, they have invented "intellectual property" as a means to control and charge human activities like the old feudal barons did with the humans that had to cross "their" land. The inherent notion of common heritage is systematically destroyed with the decline of the nation state. The buying power of software giants expands to acquire the most valuable "real estate", the cultural commons that hold identity and orientation of consumer communities. Monasteries have in history played a significant role in preserving and spreading cultural assets, in creating order and refining the sphere of culture. To do things "ad maiorem Dei gloriam" included their exposure to those who understood their true value. Digital media offer four new modalities that call for a lot of diligent authoring to make their full potential available to society. A. multimediality which means that all media can interpret each other in a new way, B. unlimited duplicability which means that every copy can be changed to something original, C. retrievability which means that all content can be connected to meta-content, and finally D. ubiquity which means that this active participation in the library work can happen everywhere. These four modalities require enormous efforts while there is currently none. This effort can only be realized in the framework of an open system and a global vision of cultural community. Maybe it will start by creating small islands, an archipelago of firm ground in the ocean of ill-related and strategically biased information, but these islands can be linked to each other and finally create continents on which a global culture can grow. In this respect, the visionary proposal of Kim Veltman's SUMS (System for Universal Media Searching) is a taste of things to come. It is a collective notebook of mankind with the embedded ability to interpret every bit of information in meaningful context using all media without getting lost, multiple perspectives without confusion, connections without overload and the potential for the active participation of many. The tool is in the making; the workroom must be created. The Monastery as a cultural workroom is weaving a virtual continuum from scattered fragments of knowledge.

7. Beyond the preservation of existing cultural heritage and its restatement and rendering in the expanded and augmented possibilities of digital media, there is another agenda created by digital media. It is also related to the qualities of new media in regard to the modality of duplicability. I am talking about the change in the system of production towards “Napsterism”. While “Fordism” and “Toyotism” relied on centralized production with assembly lines and various degrees of production, they contributed to the emergence of a new way of production where the factory is not the center any more, rather the decentralized and sharply anti-industrial omnipresence of intelligent automatic devices. Fordism started this by analyzing production in an algorhitmic way and integrating the whole production process into a logistical scheme. Toyotism partly replaced the human labor by assembly machines, partly made it invisible by decentralizing the production process of parts, leaving only the final assembly to the factory – the logo and the brand becoming the real product. In Napsterism, a decentralized network of people owning their means of production – their brain and their computer – are mediated by networks to share and develop for their own use. There is widespread argument around the question if this can also be a form of production. The success of Open Source Software has indicated that the self-supplying “prosumer” society might be a valid option. If this proves true, a completely new sense of "work" is arriving. Work that we do for ourselves inherently strengthens and expands the creative power of all people with whom we share, in a kind of “cooking pot economy”, all our intellectual developments. Still everyone is responsible for the realization of these ideas, models, algorithms. Monasteries could play a decisive role in virtual networks reactivating quality work. A retrieval of the Benedictine motto “ora et labora” could mean the contribution to a network of resilient, autonomous, value driven communities, which share the qualities that enable them to unfold their originality. This endeavor would cross the cultures, cross-fertilize the abilities of men and women all around the globe and setting them free in front of the menace of economical and political dominance by the global elite. The task is not an easy one; the tools provided by the designers of the “information society” fall short in regard to these demands; and this is no incident. Neither is there a standard design language for material production of any kind, nor are there tools for synchronous telecooperation. All this is unwanted in a society where monetary power is still fiercely defending its dominance over the production process with the myth of supply; and the myth is not broken yet. Statistics tell us that the differences in wealth and income have grown in breathtaking ways. Terror and unrest are reminding us of that fact. Could a force of peace bring the power of virtual global cooperation to the places where it is badly needed? With a fraction of the costs of war the technology to empower the monastery workshop embedded in virtual cooperatives all around the world, can be the forerunner of truly decentralized production.

8. All these developments will only happen with a deep change in value systems and the ability to break free from monadic to monastic. The change is “in the air” as it was a thousand years ago, and there is the feeling that new foundations and orders might be the appropriate reaction of the owners of monastic traditions to the new challenges. But the choice might be different; instead of creating alternatives merely inside the church, a new dialogue could take place between the churches, the civil society, the world religions, responsible businesses, political decision makers, the keepers of cultural heritage, the world of science and the people. The theme could be how to bring the spirit of monasteries to life all together. We badly need it as a birthplace and repository of values that the whole society can draw its energy and vitality from.

I want to conclude my speech with an allusion to Hermann Hesse's “Glass Bead Game ”. He is imagining a future society that entertains not only impressive monasteries, but makes them the center of a whole country, a pedagogical province named Castalia. In the center of this vast collection of schools, teacher seminars and research institutions is a spiritual activity that carries a strange name, namely the “game of glass pearls”. Of course this mysterious game, only vaguely described by Hesse, in its very nature is an artful activity. It encompasses the whole sum of knowledge and consists in composing a “fugue” (the German meaning deriving from “fitting together”) of meaningful combinations of pieces of knowledge that were originally represented by glass pearls. In the time described by the novel the game is blooming and people even do not need the glass pearls any more to arrange the particles – evolution theory would call them “memes” – to create new and yet known combinations. The players use a common language, a code, and they gather in periodic congregations to watch amateurs and masters playing the game. Much more attention is paid to the game than to the particular educational results of the pedagogical province. What is interesting for me is that one could easily and intuitively match Hesse’s theme with the Internet, although he had not even an idea about it. And second, that in a way Hesse’s society is aware that all education is grounded in the living spirit, which is playful and creative and not bound to the limits of the immediate usefulness. Let me conclude with the hope that there will be awareness of living spirit again.