आचार्यात् पादमादत्ते पादं शिष्यः स्वमेधया ।
कालेन पादमादत्ते पादं सब्रह्मचारिभिः ॥
( Source -महाभारत, उद्योग पर्व )
आचार्यात् पादम् आदत्ते पादं शिष्यः स्व-मेधया ।
कालेन पादम् आदत्ते पादं सब्रह्मचारिभिः ॥
A student learns one-fourth from his teacher, one-fourth from his own intelligence, one-fourth with the passage of time and one-fourth from his peers.
This description of the learning process has become more relevant with passage of time. Each part of the verse is profound. One learns from four sources – teacher, self, peers, and with time (i.e. experience). This doesn’t mean that it is exactly one-fourth from each. That may depend upon individual case – how good is the teacher, classmates, own intelligence or environment is. To grow a tree, an expert 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). Now, Let us look at each of the four parts.
आचार्य : Firstly, the teacher is not just an instructor or ‘adhyapak’ (अध्यापक ), but is referred to as an ‘acharya’ ( आचार्य )– someone who is to be emulated. That is, learning by being in the presence of role-models. 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 or nirvana. It simply means that you have a good gardener at hand. But what about the seed, soil and time?
There are so many more factors to the success – is the student interested? Does s/he have aptitude, ability and time to study? At the most, what the teacher can do is to provide an atmosphere where curiosity is aroused, and information is made available. The larger part of ‘education’ or learning is how to use the intellect to process available data to reach appropriate conclusions and apply the same under different situations.
The job of a good gardener is to ensure that the tree grows healthy and safely.
स्वमेधा : Own Intelligence. The verse mentions learning emanating from ‘svamedha’, i.e. innate intelligence in every being. We all have an innate intelligence that needs to be honed and brought out. It is reflected in the capacity, aptitude, ability of the student. History is replete with people who without any resources, went on to become extremely successful in life, that too in some cases without any teacher. They learnt from their own intelligence, from their peers and learning from time – maybe at a faster rate than others who were in more protected environment.
There is no substitute for applying one’s own brains. 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.
Without a quality seed, a healthy tree is not possible.
काल : Time. This verse emphasizes learning as a life-long process i.e. you learn with time. Learning does not end at graduation – we keep learning from experience throughout life. This is the most ignored aspect almost everywhere. Only the wise knows that there is no substitute for time. Time spent gathering experience converts theory into practice I.e. applied science. That is when bookish knowledge turns into practical wisdom.
This requires one very important ingredient for success anywhere – patience. So much so that patience is considered the single most important quality of the wise. Without patience, one can’t have respect for others, can’t care for others, can’t listen to others, can’t think that he may not be knowing that subject. We find many people being impatient by their very nature. Finishing a degree from a college doesn’t make one the wisest of men. 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 or reading can substitute for actual experience. A consultant engineer was called to repair a particular vital machinery in a factory that was down. He came, he saw, he tightened a screw and charged Rs.100000/-. The floor manager was furious. He asked, “ how can you charge Rs.100000/- for tightening one screw”. The engineer replied – “ Rs.100/- for the screw, and Rs. 99900/- for the experience to know which one to tighten “.
सब्रह्मचारिभिः Peers — The last portion of the Shloka talks about learning from peer interactions. This is learning from being with linspired co-learners. This part seems to be under or over stressed many times. Students either study alone, not sharing anything with rival students who may be in 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. Heard of स्वाध्याय ?
Same is true for spiritual students also. 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.
The above idea of learning establishes that you need to be in the right learning environment for learning to happen – teachers who are also mentors, reflective exercises, immersive experiences, and the right peer group. The Indian thought on education across time has reiterated the same ideas. It goes against the ‘Tabula Rasa’ theory — absence of preconceived ideas or predetermined goals; a clean slate. —- that learning happens outside-in. It is more of an ‘inside-out’ process.
Swami Vivekananda famously said “Education is the manifestation of perfection already in man”.