GURU (TEACHER) — AN ADULATION

1. Almost a month and a half after the auspicious festival of “Guru Purnima” (which this year fell on Wednesday, 13th July as per the English Calendar) — a day traditionally devoted to expressing our love, affection and appreciation for our teachers and Gurus and just about two weeks before Teachers’ Day (5th September — the birthday of the sage, philosopher, eminent educationist, visionary and our ex-President Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan) it is the right time to remember the role that teachers, elders and Gurus play in the lives of everyone generally.

2.(a) The term “Guru” traditionally reflects to a religious and spiritual teacher. While mostly associated it with Hinduism, it refers to spiritual teachers in Buddhist, Jain and Sikh religions also. There could be and in fact there is invariably some discussion of the differentiating factors between “Guru” and a “Teacher”.

(b) However, for our limited purpose here, I shall use the term “Guru” and “Teacher” interchangeably, without any religious undertones — as the fountainhead of knowledge, storehouse of wisdom and who guides impressionable minds through the labyrinthine, often tenuous, treacherous and invariably manically criss-crossing pathways of life.

3. Being the son of a teacher (nee a saint) whose was venerated for his intellectually gargantuan achievements and literally worshipped for his Godlike persona and having a sister who, admittedly and, by her own admission, was not in the same league as Pitaji intellectually but who made her own mark in her chosen career as a teacher by her infectious charm, gracious conduct, childlike demeanour which made her develop an intimate bond with her students and which more than made up for the shortcomings, if any, in her intellectual capability — something which in my childhood days I personally witnessed and having been brought up in a household and environment surrounded by teachers and having been personally blessed to have the most understanding, worthy and admirable teachers at all stages of my academic and professional life, I can surely write and say a thing or two about teachers and their everlasting, and abiding influence.

4. Verse 16 of the Advayataraka Upanishad explains and analysis the word “Guru” as follows:-

गुशब्दस्त्वन्धकारः स्यात्‌ रुशब्दस्तन्निरोधकः ।
अन्धकारनिरोधित्वात्‌ गुरुरित्यभिधीयते ॥ १६॥

5. As per the said verse, the word “Guru” is composed of two syllables “Gu” (गु) and “ru” (रु), which stand for “darkness” and “light that dispels it”, respectively. Thus a Guru is the one who “dispels darkness and ignorance” and one who delivers a disciple from ignorance, is the source of wisdom, enlightenment and, of course, knowledge. Here a quote, which emphasizes the true role that teachers can play in a ward’s life, attributed the Dr Radhakrishnan also seems relevant:-

“True teachers are those who help us think for ourselves”

6. In the familiar cyclical patterns of human life, one can always, discern the role that Gurus play in influencing the direction that life will take. Undoubtedly, as a toddler it is parents and close family that lay the foundation for what is to unravel later in life. Subsequently as an infant/tiny-tot when a teacher’s word is like the gospels truth to the more enquiring, even argumentative stage of adolescence and teenage, where the contours of the mind begin to take shape to the later stages of life when the course of the career you choose and the trajectory it takes is determined by the Gurus/mentors and role-models that you encounter, the role that teachers play in amazing phenomena that is life is undeniable and cannot be undermined. Be it as educators/mentors/role models/thought influencers/character builders, all successful teachers have the absolutely amazing, admirable, yet uncanny ability, to determine the path that your life will traverse.

7. Growing up one has also been privy to and being influenced by the couplets of the 15th century poet and Saint, Sant Kabir specially the ones extolling the virtues of and glorifying Gurus. Among the most widely referred to and quoted verses are those which refer to Gurus as being rated higher than God and as the mine of nectar who would cleanse our bodies of poison. Another couplet goes as follows:-

गुरु कुम्हार शिष कुंभ है, गढ़ि गढ़ि काढ़ै खोट।

अन्तर हाथ सहार दै, बाहर बाहै चोट॥

8. The above couplet sums up the delicate balance, nee subtly calibrated approach, that Guru’s play in a disciple/students life. It equates a Guru being akin to a potter and a disciple being the unbaked/raw pot (utensil). Just as a potter pounds the pot from the outside while supporting it from the inside with the palm of his hand, a Guru also gently, caressingly works at the perceived faults of his wards to iron out creases, correct flaws, and develop his capabilities to the optimum while simultaneously supporting him in times of stress.

9. Another one of his less quoted but equally, if not more topical, couplets which I reproduce below was discovered by me recently:-

सब धरती काजग करू, लेखनी सब वनराय।

सात समुद्र की मसि करूँ, गुरु गुण लिखा न जाए॥

10. The above couplet in its essence talks of the vastness of virtues which a Guru (Teacher) possess. A meaningful translation into English comes out as follows:-

“If I were to cover the entire surface of the earth with a parchment (paper);

If I were to convert all the wood that is available in the forests into a quill (pen);

If I were to use all the water of the seven oceans and make ink;

And use these immense resources to start writing on the virtues of a Guru, they would still fall short, for such is the vastness, depth and extent of the virtues a Guru possesses.”

11. This couplet was brought to my knowledge recently by a friend who was a senior in school and an academician and teacher of repute himself while we were discussing and extolling the virtues of some of our revered teachers. It in essence talks about how even if all the various elements and resources that our Mother Earth has to offer are employed, they would still be insufficient to write about a teacher’s virtues whose expanse is limitless, vast and unimaginable.

12. Growing up we were repeatedly exposed to and have personally seen the fact of teaching being one of two noblest of professions and being closest to God, (the other of course being medicine-Doctors )– having the duty to dispel darkness, spread wisdom and dissipate ignorance. This profession in its purest and most unalloyed form, powered by a messianic and missionary zeal indeed has the said role in society.

13(a) People across all fields have invariably referred to and paid glowing tributes, in no uncertain terms to personalities who have played determining roles in their lives. Legendary Basketball stars Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Michael Jordan are forever effusive and forthcoming in their appreciation for coaches John Wooden and Dean Smith, respectively, for the roles that they played in their lives. Batting legend Sachin Tendulkar never fails to publicly acknowledge his appreciation and admiration for and debt of gratitude towards coach Ramakant Achrekar who guided him to a stellar cricketing career.

(b) Traversing a different field, it was only Prof G.H. Hardy, the legendary Cambridge Professor who discovered the genius of Srinivasa Ramanujan — a self taught Indian mathematician enabling him to unhesitatingly come out with not just some but a series of path-breaking mathematical formulae. India’s Late President Dr Abdul Kalam publicly and multiple times acknowledged the role that teachers played in his life — whether it was Muthu Iyer and Siva Subramanian Iyer in School, Prof Thothathri Iyengar in College, Prof Srinivasan at University and of course Dr Vikram Sarabhai and Prof Satish Dhawan in ISRO in shaping his career and his being hailed as “India’s Missile Man”. Infosys Co-founder and visionary N R Narayana Murthy is on record acknowledging the lasting impression that some of his primary and secondary school teachers have had on his life.

14. In fact talking about the influence of teachers, the book “Coach Wooden and Me : our 50 Year Friendship On and Off the Court” by Kareem Abdul Jabbar depicts the influence that legendary coach John Wooden had on the Basketball star and indeed generations of players. Two lessons one on life, one of them disarmingly simple and the other conveying a decisive message have stayed in my mind from the book which is a veritable encyclopaedia of information, anecdotes, life-lessons and tributes. The first is a quote attributed to Coach Wooden and emphasized frequently:-

“Failing to prepare is;

Preparing to Fail”.

15. The above quote emphasizes somewhat disarmingly the need to be adequately prepared (which preparation could take multiple forms and have diverse dimensions) in whatever task you have been destined to deliver or have voluntarily chosen to perform.

16. The other is the disarmingly simple “Tug and Snug” lesson which was the first lesson that he taught all budding basketballers before going on to teach them the techniques and strategies of the game and which in the words of Kareem Abdul Jabbar was the secret of UCLA’s (the team which Coach Wooden was in-charge of) success. Simply put “Tug and Snug” was a way of putting on your socks which in Coach Wooden’s own words was as follows:-

“If you do not fill up your socks tightly, you’re likely to get wrinkles in them. Wrinkles cause blisters. Blisters force players to sit on the side line. And players sitting on the side lines lose games. So we are not just going to tug, we are going also to make it snug

17. The “tug and snug” lesson was in the words of Coach Wooden the primary lesson to be learnt by budding Basketballers. Simply put it was a way of tugging and snugging your socks properly — which would avoid blisters whereby the risk of not playing because of blisters would be almost eliminated — a lesson and practice amazingly simple yet so profound and far-reaching in its impact. Kareem Abdul Jabbar goes on to acknowledge how sticking to this habit neither he or any of his team-mates missed any practice or game because of blisters.

18. While doing so he used to quote the following proverb attributed to Benjamin Franklin:-

“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,

For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,

For the want of a horse the rider was lost,

For the want of a rider the battle was lost,

For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,

And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”

19. Before closing reproduce below an extract from the best-seller “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom which is an enthralling memoir about a series of visits he took to his former Sociology Professor Morrie Schwartz who was slowly dying from ALS, a progressive nervous system disease. An engaging account of the time they spent together, in the following extract Prof Morrie Schwartz delivers the most abiding lesson that sustains in the recesses of the brain:-

“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and how to let it come in. We think we don’t deserve love. We think, if we let it in, we’ll become too weak. But, a wise man named Lenin said it right. He said, “Love is the only rational act.”

20. In the above words the teacher in Professor Morrie Schwartz rightfully summarises and lays down clearly the important of the purest and most unadulterated emotion, which is love.

21. My tribute to all the teachers, professionals as well as academic and mentors who have been more than an abiding influence in my life. The world is honoured by your sheer presence, enriched by your experience and enlightened by your knowledge and wisdon.

PS:- I have purposely not posted this blog to coincide with either “Teachers’ Day” or “Guru Purnima” just to emphasize the need to be forever and always grateful to our Gurus and Teachers. It, in no way, undermines the significance of the two momentous and epochal days.

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