A Gurukul For Gurus

A great teacher does not take sides, he brings sides together; a guru is someone who gives us a vision of the whole

10/12/2018 1:49:33 AM
written By : Debashis Chatterjee Print

We all owe it to them – this fast vanishing breed, we call gurus. I am not talking about the ones that show up on television but the ones that work away from spotlights. I had several in my life. The one that lingers most in my memory rarely explained anything. He just lived the teaching. He was a ‘substitute teacher’, which meant that he could walk into any class when the regular subject teacher was absent. He would impart lessons that sometimes had nothing to do with the subject yet everything to do with the real subject – the student/ he was truly expressive – when he frowned he frowned with his full face and when he laughed you could see almost all of his surviving teeth including the gold fillings including his decaying molars. 

He could make the most mundane lessons magical. His chemistry classes were an audio-visual treat. He would bring a complex chemical reaction alive using imagery as deft as a painter’s brush strokes. A lot of teachers do not understand the impact that their words have on the lives of their students. The words of a teacher have a potency that can shift the trajectory of a whole generation’s life. One such expression that hit hard was something that this teacher used often, “Devote your life to matters of consequence.” Something that was not a matter of consequence for him was excessive analysis. “Do not live too much inside your head”, he would say. If a student did not understand a particularly complex lesson, he would find ways to recast the lesson so that the students understood. 

My guru believed that learning was largely about instilling confidence of the student in his or her own ability. To the best of his students he would throw the most challenging problems. The more they racked their brains to decode the problems, the more they grew in confidence as learners. I realised that a brain that was dulled by the predictable was not suitable for learning. Predictable patterns, predictable events put the brain on sleep mode. Great teachers have uncanny ability to awaken those dormant aspects of our brain by asking the most unexpected questions. They teach us that this awakening happens not in the length of our answers but in the depth of our questions. One such question that I can spend a lifetime pondering on is: If livelihood is for life, what is life for?

One thing that my guru taught me to see was the unity of life: “If all the oceans of the earth dried up you will see one landmass in a seamless unity and not different countries.” An average teacher divides learning into an either/or universe: either socialist or capitalist, art or technology. “Look at a bamboo tree and observe that it is the most artistic piece of technology that draws water like a pump without polluting the environment. In a bamboo art and technology come together,” he would say. A great teacher does not take sides, he brings sides together. A guru is someone who gives us a vision of the whole.

My most learningful moments with my guru were delightful moments. Most teachers don’t seem to remember that delight, ananda, is the core of the learning process. Those are the Eureka moments that liberate the mind. All learning is the pursuit of happiness that lies buried in ourselves. He would often quote Arthur Schopenhauer, the German philosopher, who very aptly said: It is difficult to find happiness within oneself but it is impossible to find it anywhere else.

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