Sunday, May 21, 2017

Tools, Teacher, Process and Practice

As defined by on-line dictionary, a scholar is a learned or erudite person, especially one who has profound knowledge of a particular subject. It also refers to a student or pupil who is still learning and is expected to complete his pursuits. However, the generally accepted meaning of the word scholar refers to someone who has attained a high level of mastery over a particular subject. Of course, there are a few personalities who have mastery over many subjects. They are a class by themselves and deserve highest respect from the communities.

Google translation gives "Pandita" (पण्डित) as the Sanskrit/Hindi equivalent of the english word "Scholar". Who is a Pandita? What are his characteristics? When can a person be called a Pandita? Is there any definition of Pandita in Indian texts? What should be the vital components of learning to make a person a scholar or pandita? What are the important stages of learning? Can we get a clear-cut definition of the word Pandita somewhere? Is there any modren learning method that corresponds to ancient definition of this type? These questions are indeed worth pondering over.

The definition of a Pandita is available in many ancient Indian texts in different places. Saint Jagannatha Dasa (1728-1809) who lived in Maanvi town of Raichur district of Karnataka is an acknowledged scholar in Sanskrit as well as Kannada languages. He is an important member of the "Dasa saahitya" that propagates Vaishnavism. His "Harikathamrutasaara" is a scholarly work that deals with various aspects of life and teachings of the "Dwaita School of Philosophy". It is spread over 32 sandhis (chapters) containing 988 verses in Kannada language. There are many sanskrit works that have commentaries in sanskrit and other languages. This is a rare Kannada work that has many commentaries in Kannada as well as a commentary in Sanskrit. In the sixth verse of the third chapter of this work, titled "Vyaapti Sandhi", he gives a clear definition of "Pandita" (scholar) and the stages that one has to pass to reach that level. He defines four stages that a person has to pass through before becoming eligible to be called a scholar or pandita.

What are these four stages for a person to cross before being called a scholar? They are defined as Vidyaa, Buddhi, Siddhi and Prasiddhi (विद्या, बुद्धि, सिद्धि, प्रसिद्धि). Translated to English, they correspond to Tools, Teacher, Process and Practice. What are their characteristics?

  1. Vidyaa or Tools is the first stage for a scholar that comprise of collecting all the necessary tools to start his pursuit. What are the tools for a scholar? They comprise of necessary books and allied study material. There is no use in collecting all the tools unless the pupil makes some effort to get familiar with the tools so collected. He should necessarily do some amount of work with these tools so that he can use them when required in the next part of the studies. It is not proper to search for the tools when he sits before the teacher to learn. Preliminary work done before attending classes helps the student scholar to quickly pick up the thread when a reference is made by the teacher. This is the same as pre-class study or pre-read practiced in the present system of learning and training.
  2. Buddhi or Teacher is the second component of scholarly pursuits. Mere amassing of learning tools and pre-class study would not be sufficient to open up deeper thoughts and inner meaning of learning. In order to have a clear understanding of the tools and their usage, a proper guide who is well-versed in the subject and its multiple dimensions is required. A teacher or trainer does this job. It may be noted that a teacher is even today referred as "ಬುದ್ದ್ಯೋರು" (Buddhyooru) in rural Karnataka. The combination of Vidyaa and Buddhi can now lead to the next two stages.
  3. Siddhi or Process refers to the completion of learning efforts before the teacher. This involves the joint efforts of the student/trainee and the teacher/trainer. There is an element of face-to-face learning here. The word siddhi is commonly used to denote completion and culmination of something. (Some medicines are called "Siddhoushadas" and another common usage is "Mantra siddhi). This Siddhi or Process is the same as In-class study as practiced in the present day teaching/training.
  4. Prasiddhi or Practice is the fourth and final stage in a student transforming into a scholar or a pandita. The word "Prasiddhi" is commonly used to indicate "Fame". In fact this is actually the second meaning of the word Prasiddhi. The first meaning of this word is "Attainment or Accomplishment". This is the ultimate test of a scholar or pandita. At this stage he will be able to quote, explain, answer, perform, demonstrate and show the real learning or training he has received. This is akin to the post-class activity or repetitive exercises used in modren teaching/training.
We have all experienced ourselves as well as we know from the experiences of our youngsters that many students study very hard when the examinations approach and leave no stone unturned in their preparations. Yet, when answering the question for which they have prepared so hard, in the examination hall, they forget the answer and suffer emotionally. They many times remember the answer as soon as papers are handed over to the invigilator and come out of the examination hall. Why does it happen? At the same time we know many who can quote and bring in the learning precisely when the need arises without even preparing for such situations. The secret for both these situations is in Siddhi and Prasiddhi, meaning the learning process and practice thereafter. This underlines the need for giving due importance to learning process followed by repetitive practice of the application of knowledge and skills. In essence, Siddhi and Prasiddhi explains these quite well. 

There is an interesting background to the verse 6 in chapter 3 of Harikathamrutasaara referred above. As the verse covers the vital stages of learning and transforming a student to a scholar or pandita, there is a practice of starting "Aksharaabhyaasa" (starting learning process of a child) on the first day by reciting this verse before actual starting of learning in some families, especially in North Karnataka. It is further believed that the four forms Lord Mahavishnu presides over the four stages; Aniruddha for Vidyaa, Pradyumna for Buddhi, Sankarshana for Siddhi and Vasudeva for Prasiddhi. These forms are worshipped on the first day of learning with the fond hope that the child would evolve into a scholar or pandita in due course.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

I Suck Your Blood

Some four decades ago, a group of friends decided to go to Mercara (Madakari) for a weekend outing. The days spent in the Westren Ghats of India are indeed memorable. The morning part of the picnic was a wonderful time with visit to Abbey falls and playing in the river waters below the waterfalls. At lunch time one of the group members made a reference to a very old tree standing in the nearby forest. The group suddenly decided to go over there after lunch. Nobody knew the exact location of the tree but youthful enthusiasm does not care about it. We walked around for nearly two hours and finally saw a very big tree in the forest. The tree was standing tall on the banks of a small rivulet. The land around the tree was wet and slippery. Those who had come with sandals were able to remove them and hold in the hands and manage. Those with leather shoe and socks were finding it difficult to maneuver in the slippery surroundings. There was not much to see except the big tree and the other smaller trees around it. It was getting dark and time to get back before we lost our way in the forest. 

One of the group members suddenly observed that there was a black spot on the leg of another in the group. Someone in the group shouted "Jigane". Jigane is the word for "Leech" in local language, Kannada. Naturally others also checked their feet. All those who had removed footwear had leeches clinging to their feet and legs. Those wearing shoe and socks were fortunately spared. We ran from that place to the nearest dry area and helped each other to get rid of the leeches. When we checked later with the guest house manager, he said that there was nothing to worry and leeches are not poisonous. He also said that it is always advisable to go in the forest with the feet covered. 

To be immortal and live forever is probably a dream for all living beings, especially humans. The two cousin groups, Devas and Asuras also wanted this and desired to find a solution. They were advised that by churning of the milky ocean (Ksheerasamudra), they can obtain nectar by drinking which they can become immune to death and live forever. Churning the milky ocean is a long story. Many items and valuables came out of the churning. In the end, Lord Mahavishnu himself took the form of "Dhanwantari" and emerged from the milky ocean with the nectar. Mahavishnu took another form now, one of Mohini, the most beautiful female of all times, mesmerized all and ensured that only Devas got the nectar. 

Lord Dhanwantari did not bring nectar alone with him from the milky ocean. He carried his Shanka (Conch) and Chakra (weapon in the form of a Disc) in two hands. Nectar (Amruta) was held in the third hand. What did he carry in his fourth hand? (Please observe the picture of Lord Dhanwantari given above closely) He carried a Leech in his fourth hand! Leech is called "Jalauka" in Sanskrit, the name coming from the word Jala or water as they live close to watery lowlands. Thus Leech came from the milky ocean along with nectar. Hence Leeches are used in therapy for treatment of certain diseases and bodily ailments. They are used to suck bad blood from the blood vessels and help flow of good blood in affected parts of the body! 

Dhanwantari is credited with beginning the practice of Indian form of medicine, known as Ayurveda. Dhanwantari is worshipped by practitioners of Ayurveda as well as those believing in the Indian form of worship and medicine. There are pictures of Dhanwantari showing him holding books instead of Leech, but the one with Leech in the hand is said to be the original one. "Dhanwantari Jayanti" is celebrated every year on "Dhanteras" day or "Dhana Trayodashi", a before "Naraka Chaturdashi" during Diwali or Deepavali festivities. There are many temples dedicated to Lord Dhanwantari, especially in Kerala and Tamilnadu, where Ayurveda is practiced in large measure. The temple in Thottuva in Ernakulam District (picture given above) is believed to be more than 1000 years old. Fresh unboiled milk and butter are offered to Lord Dhanwantari here. There is a Dhanwantari temple inside the famous Srirangam temple where a herbal decoction is given as prasadam to visitors. Another Dhanwantari temple can be seen inside the Kanchi Varadaraja Perumal temple also.  

Many patients develop accumulation of blood and blood clots in lower limbs. Leeches are used to suck the infected blood from the blood vessels of patients with such disorders. This method provides an excellent way of removing blood clots and improving blood circulations. Ayurveda practitioners say that this is very useful for diabetic patients where surgery may result in complications due to delay in healing of surgical wounds. Leech saliva is also used nowadays in cancer treatment. It is said that it has now found way into beauty treatment as well!  

Leeches can suck blood up to ten times their weight. One full eating for the leeches sustain them for several months. It is also said that they drop off on their own once they had their full meal of blood. The leech bites heal quickly and aid in therapy due to this quality.

Many scriptures and Puranas explain how big and diamond-hard Jalauka (Leeches) suck the blood of sinners in the hell, as punishment to the way in which they harass the poor and weak in this world. There is a more humane way in which the Jalauka also suck blood from humans as a part of treatment and therapy, in this world!