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Sunday, June 27, 2021

Life’s Lessons – Who taught me what? (1)

 

Dear friends, it is with great excitement I am starting to write this series of blogs.

I have been fortunate to have had great experiences in my personal and professional lives. I am fortunate to have been born in a family which gave me longevity, open mind, love for learning and great values. I was fortunate to find a partner who taught me many things and gave me “our” (my) family. Many of my teachers were not only knowledgeable in their fields but also were great human beings.  Some of them were upadhyayas (Sanskrit word meaning one who sits next to you and teaches), as in the schools. Some were acharyas (Sanskrit word for one who teaches by doing), particularly in the medical school. A few of them were my gurus (who influences you just by their presence). They were there when I needed and gave me wise counsel.  Many of my gurus were from other walks of life. I have had the pleasure of living and working with great people from whom I learned. In my work, I learned constantly from my young patients and their parents and, also from my students, trainees, and colleagues. Later still, my children taught me many things and introduced me to authors and books I would never have known.  

We can learn a lot of information from reading books. We can do so even better from the Internet. We can learn skills on any subject - from how to cut onions to how to make dangerous weapons - from watching Videos. But we can learn how to think logically, how to make wise judgments, how to develop lasting values, how to work with others, how to listen and how to communicate effectively with sensitivity and compassion ONLY from our interactions with family members, our teachers, our friends, our co-workers, and our children. In other words, we learn life’s most important lessons only by living, observing, and listening.  

That is why Gracian Balthazar (17th century Jesuit priest) said: “Spend the first act with the dead; the second with the living and the third act entirely belongs to you”. What he meant was that we should read as many books as possible (written by authors who are no more) in our early years. During the second part of our lives, we should be learning from people we live and work with. In the final third of life, we should spend time reflecting.

I feel like I have plenty to share with the future generations, which is a common weakness among  elders. What is worse for the younger folks is that we want them to listen to our stories and “wisdom” (bore them, from their point of view). I am no exception.  I will feel like a miser if I do not share what I have learnt over the years. As pointed out by someone wiser than me: “there are two things one cannot take with oneself at the time of death – money and knowledge”.

Life is a lesson by itself. Life is also full of lessons, if only our eyes and ears are open, and we are ready to learn. We must all be life-learning learners. A passage from a book called Subhashita, which is a collection of words of wisdom or an epigram, states:

अनन्तश्च शास्त्रम् बहु विदेतितव्यं स्वल्पश्च कालं बहव­­श्चविघ्नाः     This translates to state that there are so many sciences, there is so much to learn, but the time is short and obstacles are many!

So here I go with a list of several people in my life from whom I learnt and what I think I learnt from them. The list also includes some events and books which influenced my personal philosophy.

            Let me start with two legendary figures. One is Dattatreya and the other is Buddha.  I have written about them in my blog on September 18, 2010 (Time for Thought: Search results for Dattatreya).

Dattatreya is a mythical figure. He is mentioned in Uddhava Gita (Chapter II: Sloka 33-34) as one who considered 24 things of Nature as his gurus. He points out what he learnt from each of these gurus.

1.Earth taught him tolerance and patience. Earth also taught him about giving (plants, river etc.,).
2. Space is wide and limitless like our Atman, the inner self.
3.Fire burns both the good and the bad, gives warmth when it is cold outside, but burns when touched.
4. Water is nice, cool and clear and our mind should be like that.
5. Wind carries bad odor and good smell but is unaffected by them.
6. The moon seems to diminish but not really so. Similarly, our inner self is always there although the body diminishes.
7. The Sun takes in the water and gives it back as rain. We need to take and give with our hands but do not grasp and hold on to them.
8. The Ocean stays at same volume and although it receives all the rivers
9. A boat reminds us of the rafts we need to cross this river/ocean called life
10. A Child has a simple mind without pride or prejudice
11. Young girl removed all her bangles except one so that they do not make noise, teaching the importance of solitude and silence.
12. A Marksman showed how to focus on the target.
13. Elephant is very strong and yet will listen to command.
14. Dog shoed him what  loyalty is.
15. Deer (any animal) taught him how to be satisfied with what is available to eat, not worrying about tomorrow, and how to care for the young.
16. Python became a teacher because it eats only when food is available.
17. He learnt about the philosophy of mistaking rope for a snake due to ignorance, when he observed a snake.
18. He saw Chameleon’s ability to change itself to suit the circumstances.
19. Ant was a teacher because of its tireless work ethics.
20. Mosquito reminded him of bad people who are always hurting others.
21. Bedbug reminded him of people who do bad things and hide.
22. Spider spinning and drawing back its silk reminded him of how this universe manifests from and disappears into Brahman.
23. Bee collects honey from several sources and taught him about learning from several sources.
24.The two wings of birds taught him about the need for knowledge and determination.

Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, is a historical figure whose life has been well-documented. There is an episode in his history about a lesson he gave to Rahula, his son. In the passage, Buddha says: “Rahula, learn from the earth. Whether people spread pure and fragrant flower or discard filthy, foul-smelling material, she receives them all without clinging or aversion. Learn from the Water. When people wash dirty things in it, the water is not sad or disdainful. Learn from fire because it burns all things without discrimination. Learn from the air. It carries all fragrances whether sweet or foul”.

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