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Teaching And Learning In the Indic Tradition
Ashok Vohra, Teaching And Learning In Indic Tradition, January 15, 2018: The Times of India
(The writer is former professor of philosophy, Delhi University.)
In Indic tradition, teaching and learning are regarded as the noblest of all pursuits. An Indian is cajoled all his life to learn from others irrespective of their sex, class, caste or creed, and to teach what he has learnt to those who do not know. The process of learning and teaching, in Indic tradition, is dialectical in the sense that one is taught to respect his teachers, mentors and scholars by taking their teachings seriously and having shraddha, faith, in them.
Varnashrama dharma, which has been prevalent in one form or other, shows the significance of education in Indic tradition. The child is initiated into the formal educational system quite soon after the upnanayana – acceptance as a pupil by the teacher – ceremony at the age of eight. It was essential for every individual to observe brahmcharya and devote himself to studies in the first quarter of his life. Assuming that a person shall ideally live for 100 years, it was ordained that a major portion of first 25 years would be devoted to acquiring formal as well as informal education.
Seers and teachers in Indic tradition, while imparting their knowledge to the students, tell them: “I have seen; I have realised; and you also can see; you also can realise.” The idea behind this assertion is that the knowledge being imparted by the teacher is not only bookish or theoretical knowledge; it is also something of which he has direct experience.
Seers ask pupils to accept what is being taught to them as a hypothesis to begin with, but the pupils are asked to authenticate it with their own experience. It is not that importance of reason, like the scientific temper of which it is a synonym, was unknown to India’s thinkers. They accept only those doctrines that stand the scrutiny of analysis, tests of proof and satisfy intellectual understanding. Nothing is regarded as the gospel truth; therefore there is no place for dogmatism here. Only that has to be accepted as knowledge which stands the scrutiny of reason, the experience of the teacher and the taught.
Classical literature of India, namely the Upanishads, Bhagwad Gita, Mahabharata and the Bhagavata too lay emphasis on reason as the source as well as foundation of all knowledge. However it asserts that in case experience and logic contradict each other, experience has to be given priority. History of Indic thought is a history of relentless spirited debates and rigorous discussions which are strictly logical, even in the Western sense of the term.
The education imparted thus was both para and apara vidya – knowledge leading to emancipation and the knowledge required for dealing with arts and crafts, and day-to-day affairs of the world we live in.
When we have attained vidya, we have samata and unshakeable calm. That is why Krishna says in the Gita, 5.18, “The learned ones, the ones endowed with vidya, look with equanimity on a learned person, a cow, an elephant and a dog as well as an eater of dog’s meat.” Again in 3.26 and 27 he emphasises that “The vidyaavan, the enlightened person, acts without attachment. He does not create disturbance in the beliefs of the ignorant.”