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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.