Guru Purnima Musings: On Teachers Who Encourage Balancing Faith And Rationality Through Free Will And Critical Inquiry

Dr Subhash Chandra Pandey

Jul 14, 2022, 01:52 PM | Updated 01:52 PM IST

The gurus.
The gurus.
  • Blind faith must increasingly be supplemented with critical inquiry and exploration.
  • Otherwise, we will create minions that will be quickly overwhelmed by robots.
  • I genuinely believe that nurturing sincerely inquisitive minds is necessary for our well being and progress. Closed minds bring little good.

    On Guru Purnima, three years ago (16 July 2019), I shared my thoughts on how to learn from everyone and everything in life through constant questioning and evaluation, effectively being one's own guru.

    The 16 July 2019 post:

    On the auspicious day of Guru Purnima, I would like to recall the story of Lord Dattatreya and his 24 gurus from Shrimad Bhagvatam that made a deep and lasting imprint on my mind as a child.

    It prompted me to be my own ‘super guru’ learning from a multitude of gurus all around. After all, a good teacher distills the knowledge and wisdom for his disciples and you can go around soaking truths and lessons like a big dry blotting paper. Here is the story in brief.

    To the devout, Lord Dattatreya is considered as among one of the Vishnu’s 24 incarnations. He was born of Rishi Atri and Devi Anusuya. Once King Yadu asked Lord Dattatreya a reclusive sanyasi happily wandering in a forest about the secret of his happiness and the name of his guru. He replied: "My bliss and contentment are the fruits of self-realisation. Soul (Aatmaa) alone is my guru, yet I have gained the necessary wisdom from the whole creation via 24 gurus who are the following: the earth, air, sky, water, fire, moon, sun, pigeon and python; the sea, moth, honeybee, elephant and honey thief; the deer, the fish, the dancing girl Pingala, the kurari bird and the child; the young girl, arrow maker, serpent, spider and wasp…”.(Srimad Bhagavatam: Canto 11: Chapter 7: Slokas 33-35)

    He then goes on to explain what valuable life lessons he learned from each of them.

    What I learnt and imbibed from this childhood memory was as follows:

    It is very inspiring to be observant of environment and learn from everyone and everything.

    To be one's own guru, one needs to maintain utmost curiosity and to keep eyes and ears open.

    The story also inspires us to not be judgmental about anyone.

    God has given us one tongue and two ears for a reason. Listen more and intently too.

    I don’t judge. I don’t dwell upon what one does or says. I try to step into another's shoes and see the world from his perspective and angle, then come out and draw my own lessons.

    I am for self help and personal development. One can learn from a wide variety of people, take what works, discard what doesn’t, and create a tailor made education that suits him.

    Never look to a teacher or a person of influence as a replacement for your own judgement. Trust yourself.

    You can learn from successful people as well as from those who fail. Failure is often a better teacher giving lasting lessons. Sheltered life has its limitations.

    The beauty and universal nature of this story from Shrimad Bhagvatam can be fathomed from the following quotes from different cultures:

    "Appa dipo bhav"... Be your own guiding light, says Lord Buddha.

    “When the student is ready the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready... The teacher will disappear.” ― Tao Te Ching

    “I do not teach anyone I only provide the environment in which they can learn”. — Albert Einstein

    Because we cannot blindly trust everything on Internet, some quotes may or may not be authentic. So many of Albert Einstein and A P J Abdul Kalam quotes have been discovered to be fake. But to me message matters more than the messenger. I never shoot the messenger.

    It will be a great service if our education system can simply whet the curiosity of students to observe and explore rather than merely cram and obey. Macaulay's army of minions is no doubt needed but…

    I admit I may or may not be right.

    It may be very taxing to keep questioning all the time so life is all about balance. Faith can be imposed and faith can also be a conscious choice. Bhakti marg is least cumbersome, easy to follow.

    When parents decide what is good for children and the children trust the parents, they can avoid the agony involved in making decisions and enjoy what is given to them. Likewise, it is a blessing if one can have an omniscient guru able and willing to help find all the answers needed. Faith in a competent and trustworthy guru makes life so easy.

    Should a guru expect total surrender, encourage blind faith, stop questioning? I think no.

    While a disciple may choose not to question, a guru should not discourage him from questioning. Guru should show the way and let the disciple choose to walk. Guru should help the disciple to ask right questions and seek answers and discourage blind faith.

    Lord Krishna’s concluding remarks to Arjuna (Bhagwad Gita, 18th chapter 63rd Shloka): I have thus explained to you the secret most of all knowledge. Fully deliberate on this and then do whatever you consider desirable to do. इति ते ज्ञानमाख्यातं गुह्याद्‍गुह्यतरं मया । विमृश्यैतदशेषेण यथेच्छसि तथा कुरु ৷৷18.63৷৷

    He does not ask for unquestioning obedience, total surrender. The decision on what action to choose is left to Arjuna's own free will. There is no compulsion to follow any particular course.

    The way knowledge is exploding, we find many teachers out of sync with contemporary knowledge. Everybody needs to unlearn and relearn on a continuing basis. Sum total of knowledge is beyond a single individual's lifetime to absorb. We must be modest to acknowledge the imperfection of our knowledge.

    Our curriculum and pedagogy require fundamental restructuring. Rote learning must give way to joy of exploration. Memory — ability to cram and recall — cannot be the sole criterion to judge intellectual achievement. Written answers cannot be the sole criterion to judge the abilities of various cognitive faculties. Rote and blind faith must increasingly be supplemented with critical inquiry and exploration. Otherwise, we will create minions that will be quickly overwhelmed by robots.

    This piece was published on the author's Facebook page.

    Get Swarajya in your inbox.