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Good Teaching Inspires Flowering of the Mind

28th September, 2005

We are not born knowing how to live. Knowledge comes with learning. To make the learning process a source of joy, teachers need to believe that "to teach is to learn twice". However, it is good to remember that no teacher is without fault, and there is no such thing as a perfect master.

The very concept of a perfect master is limiting to students. When students are made to think that the teacher is perfect, they not only become oblivious to the teacher's inevitable faults, but, worse, they copy these faults, thinking them to be correct actions.

Students then become disillusioned with the teacher when the faults become apparent. The best approach is to be aware of the teacher's faults and emulate only the good things. Teaching T'ai Chi, I have come to realise that people are receptive to criticism and advice much more than we believe them to be.

The resistance is to force, when 'knowledge' is thrust on a student. Knowledge has to be imbibed, not imposed. Hearts are like flowers; they remain open to the softly falling dew, but close up in the violent downpour of rain. To impart knowledge to someone, you need to treat a person as he could be, and not as he is.

You have to go over to where he is standing, take him by the hand, metaphorically speaking, and then guide him. You must create a state of mind that craves for knowledge, a mind that is full of interest and wonder. You don't shout at him or call him an idiot when he makes a mistake.

Instead, you start at where he is, and work from that position. Only then you can create an urge in him to know more. By the same token, students who expect their accomplishments to be acknowledged should not get discouraged by the teacher's lack of verbal reassurance.

Rather, they should channel their disappointment into a resolve to build an inner strength that does not require the approval of others. If the art being taught is to continually evolve to higher and higher levels, each generation of students must surpass its teachers.

Nothing is more heartening for a teacher than seeing his students progress faster than he did. By being generous, the teacher also progresses at a faster rate than if he had kept his skill to himself. Freely sharing knowledge with others has two distinct advantages.

By helping others to improve, you can contribute to the growth of the art and to the growth of others. Also, by sharing knowledge, you improve your own understanding as you attempt to teach others and are challenged by their questions. Often the teacher-student relationship gets marred by emotional entanglement.

By maintaining a distance, the teacher helps himself and the students see things with a balance. When students are trained, it is essential for the teacher to leave the students alone, for without his absence they cannot develop themselves. In the words of Swami Vivekananda, "Plants always remain small under a big tree".