Wednesday, December 30, 2009

how we learn and grow - आचार्यात् पादमादत्ते

one fourth from the teacher, one fourth from own intelligence,
one fourth from classmates, and one fourth only with time.

AchAryAt pAdamAdatte, pAdam shiShyaH swamedhayA |
sa-brahmachAribhyaH pAdam, pAdam kAlakrameNa cha ||

आचार्यात् पादमादत्ते पादं शिष्यः स्वमेधया ।
सब्रह्मचारिभ्यः पादं पादं कालक्रमेण च ॥


this one shloka opens up many facets, related to learning and teaching – be it regular schools or spiritual learning. modern education system, student-teacher relationship, undue blame on teacher or students for below expectation results.

let us look at each of the four parts. one learns from four sources - teacher, self, others, and with time (i.e. experience).

this doesn't mean it is exactly one-fourth from each. that may depend upon individual case - how good the teacher, classmates, own intelligence or environment is.

just like to grow a tree a gardener, good seed, fertile soil and time are needed, so too to learn one needs a teacher, own intelligence, co-students and time (patience, experience).


teacher:
it is important to have a good teacher. but the failure of a student to learn is not totally teacher's fault. this also means having the best teacher doesn't guarantee success! similar reasoning applies in the spiritual world as well. just by having a great guru doesn't ensure salvation, liberation, nirvANa. it simply means that you have a good gardener at hand. but what about the seed, soil and time?

in many countries around the world, an undue pressure is on teachers for any student falling behind. be it ex-president bush's "no child left behind" policy in USA or the quota system and separate yardstick for students from 'backward' (by birth) classes in India. but just lowering the evaluating criteria don't make success - like 100% pass rate in school. it simply lowers the bar.

but even the best teacher can only do so much. there are so many more factors to the success - is the student interested? does s/he have aptitude, ability and time to study? at most, the teacher can do is to provide an atmosphere where curiosity is aroused, and information is available. the larger part of 'education' or learning is how to use the intellect to process available data to reach appropriate conclusions. and to do this for new situations.

a good gardener ensures a better tree.

self:
one of the success factors is one's own intelligence - capacity, aptitude, ability. no one can fight against that, not even oneself! history is replete with people with no resources becoming extremely successful in life, without any teacher! they learnt from their own intelligence, their peers and learning from time - maybe at a faster rate than others who were in more protected environment.

there is no substitute to applying one's own brains. no where. be it knowledge, action or devotion. no one else can pray for your health, you need to learn hygiene and have a good daily routine. no one else can make you win a match, without your own practice. this is so much clear in case of performing artists or sportspeople. no amount of knowing, listening or time will help them if they don't practice - be it dance, singing, painting or any such performing art form or athletes and sportspeople.

and to the most extent this is the most important factor. for people do learn without a teacher also, without good and challenging co-students, as the great scientists of the world are example. they all surpassed their teachers by miles, and the teacher most probably was just a guide along the their brilliant life span of inventions and discoveries.

without the seed, the tree is not possible.

peers:
this part seems to be under or over stressed many times. students either study alone, not sharing anything with rival students who may be competition. or they rely so much on group study that they don't take time to self study and reflection. self study is needed to internalize the concepts and practice.

same goes for spiritual students. too much of group sessions may rob you of being alone with yourself. attending all the sessions in the world won't do the trick if you don't be alone with yourself for some time and do introspection. but always being alone may rob you of others' experiences of success or failure and learning from them. it also makes the journey a bit more enjoyable.

time:
this is the most ignored aspect almost everywhere. only the wise knows that there is no substitute of time, time spent gathering experience. this is what makes theory into practice. when bookish knowledge turns into practical wisdom.

this requires one very important ingredient for success anywhere - patience. dhairya. so much so, that dhairya is considered the single most important quality of the wise. without patience, you can't have respect for others, can't care for others, can't listen to others, can't think that you may not know!

people are impatient, having finished a degree doesn't make the wisest of man. sure, a knowledgeable one. but one should not assume or have pride that "i know everything now. i am the smartest." smartest? maybe. wisest? neah!

being ignorant of one's ignorance is the biggest ignorance!

there is knowing and there is experiencing. a baby, when starting to walk, has to fall and learn to fall properly, even before it learns to walk properly. no amount of teaching/reading can substitute for actual experience.

a consultant engineer was called to repair a factory that was down. he came, he saw, he tightened a screw and charged $1000. the floor manager was furious - how can you charge $1000 for tightening one screw. the engineer replied - $1 for the screw, and $999 for the experience to know which one to tighten.


coming to the education system, we have to see if the environment is conducive to applying one's own brains or is it mere memorizing the facts? does it encourage sharing of knowledge among students? does it provide good teachers? and does it try to turn knowledge into wisdom? are we just passing exams or internalizing knowledge to convert it into wisdom for the greater good of the society, much more than mere selfish ends.

on the spiritual side, we need to be constantly aware of the role and limitations of a guru, and the role and importance of one's own active participation. there is an over emphasis on having a guru, and on just having a guru! if we don't apply our own brains, we can be a vegetable for all that matters.

talking about the guru, praising the guru, even praying to the god, the ultimate guru, chanting with the whole group - none of this will help, if we don't use our own intellects, our own chetan tattva to understand, experience the truth.

what does it mean in devotion? just uttering the name of god will not help. when it is said so, it is meant that when you utter a name the associated thoughts come to your mind. and when can they come? only if you know them, have dwelt on them earlier. so, if a tanzanian with no knowledge of lord raama's story is simply to told to say the word 'raama' 10 times a day, it won't help him at all. only if he is told the details of raama's story and his character, his value system, his decisions in critical situation, and he is interested in it, remembers the dharma points from the story - only then will mere utterance of the word 'raama' bring forth all the associated things to the forefront of memory and be of some benefit.

so, spend time to ponder upon the bhajan you sing, lord that you praise, why should you praise kRiShNa?, why is his character great? god doesn't mind your inquisitive nature, nor should a true guru. it shows your active participation.

it is also very easy and enticing to drown in the praise of the guru, to forget that the journey doesn't end there! all others are merely our helpers. don't let that be overshadowed by stellar personality! ultimately, we have to cross our paths on our own.

others' truth can't be yours unless you go through it.

and that takes guidance, participation, sharing and experience - guru, self, study-friends and time.

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and now the language aspects of the shloka -

AchAryAt = from teacher
AchArya = teacher. one whose conduct (AcharaNa) is worth following. i.e. one who practices what one preaches! just by following whose conduct you can learn is an AchArya.
AchAryAt = from AchArya

pAdamAdatte = one fourth is got
pAdam + Adatte
pAdam = foot. a cow has four feet, a shloka has four parts. pAdam here means one-fourth, as a foot is one-fourth of the total feet of a cow.
datta = given
Adatta = come to one as a giving (someone gave to us)

shiShyaH = student [gets]

swamedhayA = by self intelligence
swa = self
medhA = intelligence
medhayA = by intelligence

sa-brahmachAribhyaH = from co-students
sa- = along with, co-
brahmachArI = student, seeker of truth

kAla-krameNa = with passing of time
kAla = time
krama = sequence
krameNa = (in) with sequence [of time]

cha = and

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8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent explaination. Keep up the good work. Thanks for the wonderful article!!!

Regards,
Dr. Bharath

Anonymous said...

awesome!

steve said...

I enjoyed your explanation of this sloka very much. I have been studying Sanskrit with a Swami from India twice a week for six years and still find the language very challenging. I think it might take a lifetime to learn it. Steve NYC

tambraparni said...

Good commentary on an excellent sloka. Please publish more and more such Neeti Slokas with meaning.
Tambraparni

Harsch Kumar Lall said...

Eye opening. Insightful. Happy to understand the power of ancient education registered in sanskrit.
However just quoting from a shlok, this world is not going to buy this idea-as they need references which are part of proven scientific study. In this case first they will conduct a study to validate the claim and then accept it, but then they will publish it by their name as they have done a study.
Sanskrit and ancient knowledge will lose significantly here because this knowledge is not coming to light in context of present time which is working on facts and facts based findings.
I hope you understand me and will do something to break that pattern.
thanks and accept my warm regards for doing such wonderful explanation.
H K Lall

Harsch Kumar Lall said...

Eye opening. Insightful. Happy to understand the power of ancient education registered in sanskrit.
However just quoting from a shlok, this world is not going to buy this idea-as they need references which are part of proven scientific study. In this case first they will conduct a study to validate the claim and then accept it, but then they will publish it by their name as they have done a study.
Sanskrit and ancient knowledge will lose significantly here because this knowledge is not coming to light in context of present time which is working on facts and facts based findings.
I hope you understand me and will do something to break that pattern.
thanks and accept my warm regards for doing such wonderful explanation.
H K Lall

Vimal Kumar said...

May I know from which ancient text these lines came from?

Unknown said...

Great one! applies to all the times!!

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