Ancient Indian Secrets to be an Excellent Student!
Many young parents write to me seeking advises and lessons for parenting – most of them come with general issues, especially related to education. “I am not a role model parent to advise you,” I used to say.
Recently a reader, Jose Pallikkaran, sent me a specific query by WhatsApp message: “Hi Uday, I see all your articles glorify ancient Indian culture. Do they talk anything about modern education? Do they tell how to study and excel in schools and colleges?”
“Education has always been given great prominence in Indian society since the times of the Vedic civilization, with gurukul and ashrams being the centers of learning. Apart from popular Takshashila (Taxila) and Nalanda there were hundreds of universities like Vikramashila, Valabhi, Pushpagiri, Odantapuri, Somapura etc.”
Jose said: “Yes, I have learnt history – from 12th century, the foreign invaders destroyed all universities in India. But I am asking about the hints and tips for students to better their learning. Do our scriptures have secrets for students to excel in the field of study?”
“Yes, of course. Our ancient scriptures talk about six qualities or essential features for a student to excel in class, or any institution, or anywhere in the world. These six qualities are universally applicable…”
“What are those six qualities?”
“Kaaka drushti, baka dhyanam, swana nidra, alpa aharam, jeerna vastram, greha tyagam (or Videsh gaman) – etat vidyarthi lakshanam”
“What’s it Uday? Sounds like some Sanskrit hymn…”
“Yes, it is in Sanskrit.”
“Sounds interesting. Can you explain it in English? I have four children – I want them to follow value based education…”
“First one is Kaaka (crow) drushti (vision). Do you know the specialty of a crow’s vision?”
“Yes, crows have better eyesight than humans. These birds are famed for their intelligence. Crow’s brain is the size of a human thumb, huge relative to its body, putting their intelligence on par with primates and allowing them to solve complex problems,” Adam said.
“Great. I was talking about its vision. Crows have a very wide binocular field of vision and a straight bill which together enable them to position their tools with the high accuracy that is necessary for finding food hidden in otherwise inaccessible places. So our ancestors said that a student needs to look at things rather than just seeing it. Open your eyes; you can see opportunities to learn from each and everything.”
I told him about Dattatreya who acknowledged 24 Gurus in his life – ranging from animals like snake, deer, fish to humans.
“Okay and the second one?”
“Baka dhyanam. Baka = crane or stork. Dhyanam has not an equivalent word in English. But here we can use the word ‘meditation’ for staying focused.”
“Yes Uday, I know. It stands in water on one leg, focusing so deeply on the fish below, that it seems lost in its own world and oblivious to the world, just like a meditating yogi.”
“Right. Only thing is that it is not meditating, it is just focusing on one thing. It stands on one leg in a water body just like meditation waiting for the fish to pass by. His attention towards his object (fish) is one pointed. For that he is patient and determined.”
“Okay, which means a student has to focus like a crane,” Jose said.
“Cranes don’t mind living in marshes or mud. They are warm blooded. They stand on one leg when they are roosting, and tuck one leg up into their body to keep it warm. Also, they stand on one leg to dry their other foot off. These are all qualities that students should follow. But there is much more to it. The one-leg balancing act has to do with a flamingo’s brain. They only turn off one side of their brain at a time when they sleep. Cranes keep half of their brain awake while they sleep, that could explain why they sleep on one leg. The leg controlled by the side of the brain that’s awake stays on the ground to maintain balance, while the other leg and foot get to rest up for a while. The lesson for a student from this is that he should be ready to answer any question even while he falls asleep…”
“Wow! It’s unbelievable that our ancestors knew those scientific facts! Next one is Swana nidra or sleeping like a dog, right? I have heard about it. I have a dog, so I know it takes alert naps (sleep). A dog identifies known or unknown visitors even in his nap as it guards the house. Similarly, a student should be always vigilant, that’s what you meant, right?”
“Further to that, Jose, we know dogs don’t really enter a deep sleep mode like us humans do. Instead of going into shorter periods of deep sleep, dogs lightly nap consistently throughout the day – they get this instinct from their wolf ancestors, who had to sleep lightly so that they could always be on alert for other predators. Wolves couldn’t afford to become vulnerable with deep sleeping – instead they’d nap all day so they could be half awake and ready to jump into action when required. A quality that’s important for the student. Always be alert.”
“What’s the next quality, Uday?”
“Alpa Bhojan: It means eat only a little food, as much as required for keeping the body and mind together. When a person overeats he oversleeps. If the stomach is light, one can easily get up in the early hours of the morning. If you feed your child a large meal, then he/she will experience a dip in energy and also the alertness to study for hours on end.”
“Yes, it always good to eat less for your body too – today’s kids are fat or obese due to eating junk food. According to a new research, adults who consume 2100-6000 calories a day have twice the more risk of developing memory related problems; than other people.”
“Really? Ok. The next quality ‘jeerna vastram’ essentially means simple, low-cost but clean dress. Students shouldn’t see school as a base for showing off their clothing. School is not a fashion place; it is a place for students to enhance their knowledge. It is a place where you learn, not dress to impress. Instead of trying to stand out by buying high end clothes, a student can focus on academic goals and progress. Simple dress codes just give students the right to focus on other things.”
“I understand it perfectly. I wish my children also follow this simple dress code. If school has a uniform it would be better. It will eliminate a possible distraction to the student body. It would allow kids to focus more on what is important. Now let me know about the six and last quality, Uday…”
“Grih tyagi or Videsh gaman. In literal sense it means ready to stay away from home. Stay away from sweet home that is away from comfort zone or homely comfort. It teaches a student to detach from enamoring comforts available at one’s parental residence. Once you start stepping out of your comfort zone, you’ll find it easier to push your boundaries in the future.”
“That’s true Uday, you’ll be more productive once you are out of comfort zone. Comfort kills productivity because without the sense of unease that comes from having deadlines and expectations, we tend to phone it in and do the minimum required to get by.”
“When you are away from home, you deal with life, like a hero! You’re better equipped to analyze. Spot-on decisions come naturally to you. You learn to take risks, you truly grow. Your confidence is upped and you feel an elevated sense of accomplishment like never before!”
“So this was the reason students were sent to Gurukulam in their childhood? I understand that our Indian ancestors were very clever. They said it in a nutshell: You stop wishing and start doing! ”
Student’s life is like tapasya (penance). He/she shouldn’t be lazy and should be always active. Vedic culture has always stressed the importance of education. In a total life span, the first quarter has been dedicated to learning and development of intellect. Hence, the above pointers tell a student to remain agile, mentally sharp, physically fit and concentrate on achievement of the goal.
These essential features are not just for students. We can be an ideal student and learn throughout our life span – there is no end to learning. It teaches you how to be an excellent lifelong learner. This is a way of life for a perfect human being
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