Teaching and Learning

India is an ancient civilisation. A lot of our traditions and customs have been forgotten from the onset of British Invasion. No, I’m not going to vilify the Brits. But there were a few traditions which, I wish, were still present today. The one I am particularly fond of is that of the Guru-Shishya model of learning.

According to the scriptures, life is divided into four phases. Brahmacharya or student phase. Grihasti or the phase where one looks after the household. Vanaprasthan where one is retired and hands over the reigns of day to day functioning to the next generation. And, lastly the Sannyassa phase. The time where one detaches oneself from the material world in preparation for moksha.

With this background, I will go into the details of the Guru-Shishya model. What is this that I am harping about. Well, Guru means teacher in Sanskrit. Shishya means student. Now, during Brahmacharya, the student is sent to the abode of a Guru to learn everything needed to live a good life. The Guru’s abode is called an ashram or Gurukul (kul means household).

Typically, the shishya would offer a small gift or perform a small task to appease the Guru so that he may agree to teach the shishya. Once accepted, the shishya must stay at the Guru’s house. He must help with the household chores as a form of payment for all the knowledge that is imparted over the years.

The Guru will, usually, have a small group of students. It is a personalised form of teaching. Knowledge about the generalities of life are given to all shishyas. These include on how to live in the society, archery, teachings of the scriptures, science, music and arts. This apart, the Guru will specially train shishyas in the field that they excel in.

The reason I am fascinated by this form is due to the flexibility it involves. The shishya is like a lump of clay and the Guru will shape him to be something wonderful. Someone who will be able to face whatever comes up in life. From the mundane tasks of cooking and cleaning to tasks which are life changing. Like meditation and dharma which allow for a fulfilled and enlightened life.

The shishya will be instilled with discipline, on how to behave in society, what is expected out of him, to respect everyone, the young and old, men and women (contrary to popular belief, women in days of yore had the same benefits as men in all spheres of life). This model also involves the flexibility where the Guru, out of happiness to the sincerity or astounding ability of the shishya, bestows upon him some inherent Knowledge which may not be known to the general public.

This tradition is very soul centred. It gives so much more meaning to life. It treats us as a whole. In my opinion, it is important for all of us to be treated as whole. For our physical, spiritual and mental beings need to be honed equally. It’s one thing to be proficient in worldly matters but quite another to be living all of life in the cradle of Supreme Love. The Guru-Shishya model ensures just that. And, I feel all of us could well do with some fulfilment in life in this day and age.

Love and Light.


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