Friday, 25 November 2016

Qualities of a Student

Alex Grey - Metamorphosis

After discussing the matter of teachers, its time to turn to the students. For an effective teacher-student interaction, student’s own abilities and qualities are of prime importance. If a student possesses the required qualities, he benefits from any teacher. We stand firmly on the formula of - fix yourself, do not try to fix the other. The other being a teacher in this case. It is of no use spending all your life trying to get an ideal teacher or running from one teacher to another, if you have not cultivated yourself as a good student.

So who is a "good" student? For our purposes, he is any seeker who has an immense desire for knowledge, happiness and freedom, firstly, and secondly, can learn from anything and anyone in as less time as possible. Thirdly, he also implements the learning practically, i.e. converts himself into a living example of the teachings.

Apart from these three essential qualities, there are many more such as high intelligence, open mindedness, curiosity, patience, attentiveness, logical and critical thinking etc. All these qualities were discussed in fine detail in previous blog articles, so please refer to past articles, if you haven't read them yet. There are ways to sharpen these tools, some of them, and some are innate. These qualities are desirable for anyone, not only for students in particular. But then everyone is a student anyway. Here, we are going to discuss these qualities and some more, especially as applicable to a student, a newbie student in particular. As a newbie student, I've already done most of the mistakes they do, so I will mostly share what not to do.



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Questions? 

The journey on a path of knowledge starts with a question. Those who do not ask do not receive. Some people never question, and accept everything uncritically. Some feel ashamed of asking, and never ask, preferring the pretence of knowing everything. Some are afraid of asking, and prefer to remain ignorant for the fear of ridicule. Some do not ask out of pride, they don't want to be seen as ignorant, so remain where they are, forever. The vicious circle of - not asking, making mistakes, suffering, more close mindedness, hence less questioning - continues and results in an extremely ignorant person, who is hopelessly retarded and is beyond repair. Don’t be that person.

Curiosity is a quality that is innate. I don't know any tricks to make someone more curious, except to start taking more interest in the subject matter. Which is also somewhat unnatural, if you are not interested, you are not interested. So having interest and curiosity is an event of Grace, it happens. They act as the source of energy that drives a student to a teacher. Generally a total lack of knowledge causes one to be disinterested and less curious. You will find that a totally innocent person almost never questions or his questions are very simple. As the knowledge grows, questions grow. The questions stop only after knowledge is gained, they do not stop due to an answer. The answer brings more questions.
The motivators for search are curiosity, suffering and bondage, and these results in the student taking interest in learning and knowledge acquisition. When those motivators are not present, a person remains ignorant. So consider yourself lucky if you have that immense drive to be free from ignorance. The rest will happen naturally.

Effective learning 

A question leads to a teacher and the learning begins. We have discussed the learning mechanisms of the Mind and also who can be a preferable teacher, previously. So we can directly jump to optimization tricks for learning.

  • Intelligence: 
The more intelligent you are, faster you learn. We have discussed some tricks to enhance intelligence before, so please check them. Fortunately, it can be cultivated. Some are innately intelligent, good for them. Still it can be sharpened even more. Path of knowledge demands intelligence, but the knowledge comes via experiences. So knowledge is not denied to the less intelligent people, only the paths are different.

Intelligence is augmented by knowledge. Know more, ask more and learn more. Mere memorization is not intelligence, nor is it learning. Do not become a storage medium for information, use the information. Convert it into experiences. Intelligence is enhanced by staying with intelligent people. Observe how they learn, what tricks they use, what qualities they have and copy them. To know who is intelligent, one must have a certain level of intelligence, else it is often impossible to judge his intelligence. If the person is way too intelligent than you are, you will miss it completely, at most he will appear as a crazy fellow. Such people are not for you then, first get to that level. In any case stay away from stupid people. You will find that your intelligence will start decreasing instead, you will become like them. Some people enjoy the company of people who are somewhat stupid compared to themselves, this gives them a superiority complex and a sense of security and command. Do not be that person. When you encounter a comparatively highly intelligent person face to face, you will tremble in your shoes. This is not a very good feeling, but you will be filled with awe and respect for him very soon and the desire to be like him will follow naturally.

  • Open mindedness: 
Not being open to new knowledge, new ideas and new teachers will keep you ignorant. Hunt for novelty. If you are bored of same old stuff around you, it is a sign of intelligence. Open new avenues. Throw the TV, get the internet. Throw the old dogmatic stuff that repeats itself mindlessly forever, be a seeker. If you have too many beliefs, it will make you narrow minded, you will resist any change. Knowledge means change in your beliefs. Throw away the beliefs. Beliefs are the biggest hindrance to knowledge, we have discussed them extensively in previous articles.

Once you have absorbed whatever your current teacher has to offer, move on, find something new. Knowledge lies at the boundary of known and unknown, so seek out strange stuff, unusual ideas and theories. Fools take refuge in known and feverishly resist the unknown. Don’t be that person.

  • Critical and logical thinking: 
A good student comes with a built in BS meter. If you are a seeker, set your BS meter sensitivity to "Extreme". Open mindedness does not mean an uncritical acceptance of any idea. The only criteria for acceptance should be its usefulness. The idea may be crazy and may appear nonsensical, but if it is useful, keep it. For example, a smart engineer utilizes unknown physical phenomena in his invention, fully knowing that they do not make any sense. A seeker sometimes utilizes information which he can’t make sense of. That’s why he is called a student, not a master. If it results in learning, it is useful.

Any teachings must pass through your BS meter without making it beep. If it beeps, question them, do not reject them in a knee jerk fashion. Rejecting everything just because you think it doesn’t make sense is a sign of close mindedness. If you are learning, many things will not make sense, obviously. So, one must be both critical as well as open minded.
Knowing that something is logically impossible will save your time considerably. You will not pursue it needlessly. However, some things do seem logically impossible at first glance, just question, find out why. With enough knowledge, it may begin to look more logical. Remember that, logic comes later, first comes the experience. Once the experience is there, you can try to fit it in some arbitrary logical framework. Some students make this mistake of rejecting experimentation completely because they think it is not worth, as it seems illogical. Don’t be that person. You will lose an opportunity to learn here.

  • Patience and persistence: 
On the path one will often encounter situations that make him lose all hope. Walking the path is not an easy job. That’s why you are doing it. You will find that the reason is most probably yourself, your beliefs mostly. A good student will patiently analyse himself instead of blaming a teacher or something else. He will find out what’s stopping him, and will correct it. If its the teacher, then just get rid of the teacher, find someone else. But if you get stuck with similar situations everywhere, the problem is you.

Some people give up easily and relapse into a life of ignorance and darkness. They think they are incapable of knowing or learning, its not their thing etc. Don’t be that person. Persist. Go and take a break for some days, months or years, and come back to your path. If you are on the right path, which is of your heart, it will pull you back anyway.

Experimentation 

If a student doesn’t put the knowledge he has gained into practice, it amounts to nothing. If you have a huge amount of “knowledge” regarding stuff you are never going to use, well, then its as good as ignorance. You have wasted time and effort. It reminds me of schools, they feed children with useless stuff and they come out of schools as dumb as they went in. The issue is not the quality of information the school feeds, but the failure to put that information into practice.

When you practice, you convert the information into knowledge. Only an experience can bring knowledge and so one must experiment.

A good student learns fast and immediately puts that into practice. The only way to know if something works for you is to do it. If it fails to work, question it, take your experiments to your teacher, ask for an explanation. Some people don't practice and hence never become adapts. Don’t be that person. Merely intellectual knowledge is going to do nothing for you.
A good student experiments, and a smart student experiments smartly. Do not experiment with unknown stuff without any supervision. That’s why we have teachers. Some people simply read stuff and experiment on it. It can be dangerous. The smartness is in figuring out what can be dangerous. If you can't, just ask. For stuff that you are sure of, go ahead and experiment.

On the path, you are mostly going to experiment on yourself, your mind and sometimes body. Know clearly that you will not remain the same as a result. It is of import to know the consequences in advance. If you have no clue what it can do to you, better not do it. Some students experiment indiscriminately - drugs, rituals, mantras, energy manipulations, occult stuff and what have you. Don’t be that person. The Self is here and now. If you feel the need to go to extremes, you are doing something wrong.
There are some who run after experiences of strange kind. You need the experiences of right kind, not the strange kind. If an experience pushes you forward on your path, it is of the right kind, the rest is waste. When you devote your precious time seeking strangeness, it is just your Ego looking for entertainment, a “new” kind of fun. Anyhow, you will find that you encounter strangeness as you progress, which is nothing special, it is just new experiences that break old beliefs. Just acknowledge and move on.

Sharing is caring 

A student shares the knowledge he gains with all. Well, not all, only those who are somewhat interested. What is the advantage? Firstly, its a joy to share stuff and secondly others are more likely to share their own knowledge with you. If not knowledge, as you need to get it by your own experience, they would at least share their way of getting it. Knowledge is amplified by sharing, just like happiness and freedom.

Now, some become careless and share stuff that must not be shared, like some secret techniques. These are secrets for a reason – they are either dangerous or can be misused and utilized to gain powers or cause harms. Usually, mother nature ensures that a person operating from Ego does not get the required knowledge, but sometimes strange things can happen. If you think you must share, try to gauge the consequences and consult your teacher. If you have no teacher, then you are the teacher, and its your responsibility to act wisely, like a teacher.

Some try to share their knowledge with people who are not yet ready. Don’t do it. An ignorant person is under heavy load of beliefs, and if you try to uproot the beliefs, which you will if you share knowledge, it can cause harm to that person. Well, if he bothers to listen to you. Usually the beliefs will ensure that he will escape your crazy talk and will not see you again, but if you insist and employ force to “show him stuff”, it can backfire. Believers get angry very quickly when you show them their mistakes or stupidity, and can turn dangerous. Some beliefs are like tumours, they have deep roots and removing them suddenly can damage the organ. The organ is believer’s mind, do not mess with his mind.

Arguments

Sharing is cool, but don't overdo it. There is a difference between sharing knowledge and pushing it down the throat of an unwilling listener. That'd be arguing. Some students become overenthusiastic when they learn something of value and thinking that they must now fix everyone's ignorance around them, they impose their “knowledge” on anyone who happens to show his ignorance. Needless to say, no one likes it. Arguments result in more heat than light and the ignorant party may close down even more.

Why is that? Why can't people see your point and stop acting like a stupid? Because you are challenging their Ego instead of arousing their curiosity. The Ego erects walls of beliefs around itself and any threat to it is perceived as a threat to survival. The result is flaring up of Egoic tendencies - fear, anger and hate gushes out of an ignorant person when faced with an argument. Of course it always fails to achieve what you are after, which is enlightening the other about something. Do not underestimate it, it is more difficult than you think. People will not like to change even a bit of their thinking. Arguments are anything but a transmission of knowledge.

When a person or in this case a student argues, it comes out of his Ego. Either he is trying to show off how much he knows or perceives the other as a fool or inferior. So it is only natural that the other also reacts from the Ego. The results are disastrous. Personal attacks, fights, bitterness, broken relations and if the arguers are stupid enough, murders.

However, arguments can serve useful purposes. Argumentation is an art and a skill. Ask any good lawyer. It takes years of practice to cultivate good enough arguing skills. It then becomes a Debate, a technique to gain knowledge. But I don't recommend that a student take up argumentation as his life goal. You need to learn only a few tricks that can come handy when you find yourself accidently trapped inside an argument. Here are some thumb rules:
  • Rule number one, do not argue.
  • Rule number two, do not argue. If the person has not seen your point just after your state it, then perhaps he will not see it even after hours of arguing. In other words, he is not worthy, not at this time.
  • If you still feel that urgent need to argue, become aware of it, it is an impulse. See if it is really needed. Is it a waste of time? Is it worth? Does the other really need it or will even comprehend it? What are the consequences? Etc.
  • Address the idea, not the person. Remove personal words from your statements (such as “I”, “me”, “mine”, “you” or “your”). Pose the matter in third person format. Make it light and something impersonal. When you see the other attacking you instead of your statements, its time to leave.
  • Define all key words. Most of the arguments arise out of misunderstanding of meanings of words. A student, especially one of philosophy, uses very precise words. You will find that ignorant people have no clue about the meanings of words they use, or why they use them. Ask the other to define his stuff first. If you do this, the argument will be over in a few seconds most of the time.
  • Turn the debate into questions. Keep digging till you find the source of belief of your opponent. Once you know that, just point it out and leave. If you find that the source is opponent’s direct experience, then you must ask for a way to get that experience. Experience it and see where the problem is, usually the problem will disappear and so will argument. If you can’t experience what the other is telling you about, you have nothing to debate about.
  • Instead of imposing your view, gently suggest it. If the opponent is open, he will take a hint, if not, leave.
  • If the opponent imposes his view forcibly on you, he is surely not interested in making you enlightened about it, he is Ego in action, trying to prove his survival superiority. Now is the time to bow out humbly and assure him that you will surely look into the matter. Of course, you don’t have to.
  • If the opponent starts avoiding the topic, changes lanes suddenly, or laughs it off, you know he is in a cognitive dissonance. Leave here.
  • If the opponent is right, ask for more. Ask your questions and benefit from the debate. Turn the argument into a learning opportunity. The best way to avoid an argument is to ask the opponent to teach you, and if he has anything of substance or just BS, you both will know very soon.
  • Similarly, if someone is bent on arguing, offer to teach. Teaching is a good way of learning, you will know if you were right or not as soon as you start teaching, if it is BS it will not stand for more than a few minutes.

Receiving mode

When you desire knowledge, you need to switch to a receiving posture. Not only not argue with a teacher, request for teachings and be grateful. Doesn’t matter if the teaching is useful or useless, you need to acknowledge it. May be next time something useful will come up from the same teacher. So do not dismiss the teacher right away. No teacher likes to teach when the student is adamant about his own views and beliefs. Do not question as if you know the answer. The questions should not be unnecessary questions, first make an effort to find out the answer.

Do not ask for something you are not ready for, such as advanced techniques. Do not offer to pay for such. Its just a bribe, teachers may not like it. If something is beyond your comprehension, listen quietly. Ponder on it for a few days, discuss with fellow students, and if it fails to make any sense, ask the teacher to explain. Many teachers will be happy to fall back to basics for you. It is a huge mistake to blame the teacher for something which you cannot understand. Perhaps you need to find a simpler teaching if you can’t understand any of it. If you find that no one in your group understands anything, perhaps its better to find a new teacher.
Do not try to gain the favour of teacher by hook or crook or engage in feet licking behaviour. This is not a way to show respect, this is cheapness. When you embody the teachings and it has effects as expected by the teacher, you have paid your respect. There is no better way to thank a teacher.

Do not ask for advice on personal stuff, such as whom you should marry and what you should name your child, which jobs to take and where to live. You are going to an ocean, take at least a bucket with you, don’t go there with a spoon. A good teacher will advise you about seemingly unimportant things like diet and places, if they are really important for that practice.

Do not try to eat up all the time in a session, others don’t like it, keep it sweet and short. If you need more, ask for extra time after the session in person. That’s why we need a teacher who can devote time for individuals, rather than someone who broadcasts his teachings. Do not try to answer every question, even if you know the answer, others need to come up to your level too, let them guess it. Do not push yourself forward, stay humble and gentle. Do not engage in deception, politics and Ego games. I guess this is kindergarten advice, but I’ve seen even the grown up students do all this. To be in receiving mode means to avoid all such acts and behaviours.

Surrender

This is the quality of uncritical acceptance of teaching based solely on a living faith. We have discussed living faith before, so please check it out. So now after strictly recommending critical thinking and smart experimentation, am I changing my tune? Yes, I am. I think of surrender as an advanced technique of very fast learning. Other methods are too slow and need an extensive use of intelligence and Mind.
So does it mean a student should not use his brain/mind? When you are just starting, what else do you have, surely use it. Mind is the initial way to arrive at some solid knowledge and to dispel the ignorance. However, you will soon find that the Mind has limits. Soon in this case can be months or years. Once you arrive at the edge of Mind, change your tune. Experiences have no limits.

If you are lucky enough to have a good teacher, you will find that 8 out of 10 of his teachings make perfect sense to you, and say, he can show you via direct experience 5 out of those 8. Now, you have some reason to accept the remaining 3. Just be patient, those 3 will turn into a direct experience sooner or later. However, if you simply start acting on those 3, you have saved years of time, perhaps. If its going to take a few days or months, better to wait, but if it takes years, its too slow. Better to act now and reap benefits.

Usually a teacher is a good indicator of how well his teachings are going to work. If he is a happy and free fellow, chances are more that he knows his stuff well. You can invest some faith here and see how it goes for your own self. If he is sad, depressed, angry, busy collecting donations or chasing his female students, you should take a hint, and uncritically leave. Living faith is just that, it has solid basis, but you don’t really know. It is a short cut, use it wisely.

What about the 2 remaining teaching out of 10, of which you have no clue? Some of you must have had such experiences, coming from the same teacher, some teachings of his are gold and a few odd ones sound like total BS. There can be two possibilities – either they are really BS or you are not well equipped to convert them into experience and thus knowledge. What to do? Living faith comes handy here. If you are sure that your survival is not at stake, go ahead and act on them. If it can cause survival issues, your Ego will act as a wall, and you will not be able to go there anyway. Note that faith comes with time and long term relation with your teacher. Do not jump to faith simply because I say so.

Morphing into a teacher

Somewhere on the path, a time comes when a student has enough content that makes him spill and overflow. This is the natural urge to teach others. I have no tricks to offer here, I’m just a student, but here are some observations.

Teaching others is a job of very high responsibility. It can’t be stressed enough. A teacher totally transforms a student, changes him in every possible way. When you teach, you are playing with a life, it is not a small thing. This also affects his relatives, parents, partner, children, friends and co-workers. This affects his behaviour, likes, dislikes, job, profession and lifestyle. In short, you are juggling a hundred variables here. What can go wrong?

It is not recommended that you treat a student like a guinea pig, a lab rat. A teacher needs to know what will be the consequences, he should be able to take that responsibility. It is not a doer doing the teaching, but that happens when the teacher has relinquished the doership. People start teaching much before that. There is no such thing as a universal teacher’s manual, which one can follow. Usually a teacher will simply follow his own teacher. He is given small teaching assignments, and the teacher of the teacher oversees him for a few years. When he is convinced, the newbie teacher is let loose in the wild. This is the familiar and traditional Permission to teach.

With traditions breaking and disappearing, it is not surprizing to find teachers teaching without permissions or a backup support. Although nothing can be said about the quality of their teaching based on that. The teacher can be brilliant, or may not be much. As I said, lineages are not a guarantee. So what is the solution if you feel like teaching but have no backup? I guess, its better to start small, teach a few, teach fluffy light stuff, observe how they react, where you need to improve etc. With a good experience your confidence and effectiveness will increase. Teaching is also a learning experience, and hence from this angle, a student remains a student even if he is teaching.

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