How to be a good student: Lessons from the Brahmasutras

Writings such as the Brahmasutras are focused on explaining the spiritual aspects of life. Such discussions are of little interest to those who are young (e.g., in school or university). However, these ideas can easily be applied to all students. Given below are some of these ideas from the Brahmasutras.

The Brahmasutras define the necessary pre-requisites for students embarking on a spiritual journey. If these are interpreted literally, it is obvious that no person is qualified to start the journey. So they have to be interpreted as potential capabilities of the students.

1. Nitya-anitya-vastu-viveka or the ability to discriminate between the eternal and the non-eternal entities. For a student this can be narrowed to just Viveka or the ability to distinguish. The exact ability will depend on the topic being studied. A student of mathematics will require the ability to distinguish between what statements are true and what are false while a person undergoing cricket coaching will require the ability to distinguish a good and a bad ball.

2. Ihamutraartha phala bhoga viraga or true detachment (as opposed to giving up but still having suppressed desires) which is very specific to spirituality. Again it can be interpreted in a very narrow way to mean that there are many things that one should study because that is what is required without worrying about whether they will help or hinder in future jobs. Focusing on topics that are only directly useful could lead to pain especially when the requirements to be employable change. The detachment is from being unduly concerned about the utility of the subject in the immediate future.

3. Shatsampati consists of a collection of six general virtues.
3.1 Sama meaning control of mind. This issue is clear — a disturbed mind cannot learn.
3.2 Dama or control of the external senses. Always reacting to the external world will make one a nervous wreck. One must be able to filter relevant inputs and react only to them.
3.3 Uparati or having a quiet disposition. Every student needs to reflect on what they have been taught. While reflecting, it is best if the student is in tranquil surrounds.
3.4 Titiksha or endurance of mental and physical pain. All students do find certain topics hard and need to be resilient. This will enable them to master difficult topics. Practice is often painful but the only way to learn difficult topics.
3.5 Sraddha or trust in the words of the teacher and the scriptures. One needs to trust that the teacher and the books used to teach has valid material. Second guessing the quality of the teacher or the books will prevent any learning.
3.6 Samadhana or deep concentration. Without appropriate concentration, mistakes will creep in and the quality of learning will suffer.

4. Mumukshutvam which means the intense desire for liberation. While a student may not be focussed on liberation, there has to be intense desire. All successful people, have had the intense desire to master their art. This intense desire will enable one to have the strength to endure pain, reflect on their actions, and deep concentration.

In a similar vein the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad states that the student must follow the three steps, viz., Sravana (listening), Manana (comprehension and reasoning) and Nidhidhyasana (deep contemplation), of learning. The student could apply the 4 characteristics outlined above to these three stages. For instance, proper Sravana requires Samadhana. Without it, students will not pay attention to the lessons/lectures that are being delivered. Similarly, without Mumukshutvam one cannot conduct Nidhidhyasana.

It would be interesting to see how the assumptions in different pedagogical ideas relate to the observations in these ancient scriptures.

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