GPT Weekly Reflections [16 June 2010]: A Teacher’s Humility by Ananta Ram das
My doctoral advisor once surprised me with a peculiar revelation. He was a man in his mid seventies who had studied mathematics education for the gifted in over forty countries and who was known for his sharp intellect. One day he called me into his lavish office at Columbia University, reclined in his chair and said, “When you enter a classroom, always think there might be one or two students who are more intelligent than you. Identify them and nurture their talent.” He paused for a few seconds and continued, “See, you are more intelligent than me.” He made a longer pause, then leaned forward and said with a smile, “I can confess this because I’m old and don’t feel threatened by you.”
As an educator with 13 years of experience in diverse settings, these words are present when I teach. I’m always looking for those students worthy of specialized instruction. However, I confess that until recently I felt a certain discomfort when I considered these words from a devotional angle. I simply could not reconcile them with the role a guru or teacher plays in our tradition. My perspective changed when I came across this passage during our family Bhagavatam readings.
This incident proves that the siksa- or diksa-guru who has a disciple who strongly executes devotional service like Dhruva Maharaja can be carried by the disciple even though the instructor is not as advanced. [.] The conclusion is that a disciple or an offspring who is a very strong devotee can carry with him to Vaikunthaloka either his father, mother or siksa- or diksa-guru. [.] The Krsna consciousness movement is spreading now all over the world, and sometimes I think that even though I am crippled in many ways, if one of my disciples becomes as strong as Dhruva Maharaja, then he will be able to carry me with him to Vaikunthaloka. (SB 4.12.33)
This evidences that - even in spiritual life - a disciple can be potentially or factually more advanced than his teacher. Certainly, as teachers, we do not want to foster in students the idea that they are more intelligent than their teachers because this might create a disrespectful atmosphere. However, this humble attitude should be embedded in the minds of the teachers. An arrogant teacher is contrary to the kind of teachers the Gurukula Project Team advocates. Srila Prabhupada’s humility must guide our actions.
Besides the teaching situations described above, where neither the teacher nor the students have erred, this humble approach can be extended to relations among devotees with different gurus. In a Vaisnava community with contending parties and a plurality of gurus, it is common to have friendly relations with disciples whose gurus might have behaved contrary to Vaisnava etiquette. Yet, it is better to avoid talking about those issues and instead pray for our friends to follow Dhruva Maharaja’s example. In that way they can extend their mercy toward their preceptors. After all, that should not stop us from collaborating in this preaching mission with a spirit of compassion and humility.