Friday December 15, 2017

The key to new learning : Keep your cup empty

Relax, kick off our shoes, take a deep breath, shut up and listen...

Source: Wikimedia commons
By Parthak Prodhan, MD
A professor from the nearby university hears about Nan-in, a famous Japanese Zen master from the Meiji era. One day the professor finally decides to make a trip to Nan-in’s village and listen to his words on Zen.

As per tradition, Nan-in receives his guest and goes on to first serves tea. The master quietly pours tea into his visitors cup. However, Nan-in continues to pour tea to the brim, and much more. The professor watches the overflow and he just could no longer restrain himself. “It is full. No more will go in!” the professor blurts out. Nan-in relies “Ah- ha. That is the exact question! When you have come to learn, is your cup empty or full? Like this cup, you may be full of your own opinions and ideas. If full, unfortunately, I cannot teach you anything. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” This Zen story puts forth a simple but profound message.

It is always the perceptual limitations of our own mind that prevent us from seeing the truth. “All the powers in the universe are already ours. It is we who have put our hands before our eyes and cry that it is dark.” -Swami Vivekananda, one of the most influential spiritual leader in Hinduism once said. One will have to unlearn all our preconceived notions and prejudices before one can learn anew.

Related: How Japan worships Goddess of Learning

This becomes ever so important in today’s world as we transition from the linear growth to an exponential growth of human knowledge. The “Knowledge Doubling Curve” indicates that until 1900, human knowledge doubled approximately every century and by the end of World War II knowledge was doubling every 25 years. With this explosion in information  it is predicted that the “internet of things” will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours. The Internet is currently estimated to be 5 million terabytes of which Google has indexed roughly 200 TB or just 0.004% of its total size and several billion petabytes of data storage would be needed to index the entire human brain!! Unfortunately, much of the information one learns in college will be obsolete in just a few years.

So, as the story implies, the key to new learning is to open ourselves to the endless possibilities. Intellectual curiosity is the secret sauce and ingredient for this glorious future. “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day. ” Albert Einstein advised the youth.

As Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher rightly said “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Furthermore, the fact that our optic nerve is 30 times thicker than our auditory nerve is an invitation for a multi-sensory mode of learning.

So, we may have to just relax, kick off our shoes, take a deep breath, shut up and listen, as we open our minds to the endless future possibilities.

Parthak is a board certified doctor (Pediatric critical care)  and teaches at University of Arkansas, Little Rock, USA.

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Are You Thriving In Life? Scientists Explain What Makes a Person Thrive

The study, published in the journal European Psychologist, outlines a 'shopping list' of requirements for thriving in life

Persons thriving in life. Pixabay

London, Sep 10, 2017: Doing well in life, it seems, is not as difficult as we tend to assume when life throws a few tough challenges at us. A new study has found that what it takes to thrive, rather than merely survive, could be as simple as feeling good about life and yourself and being good at something.

Until now and despite plenty of theories, there has been no agreement on what makes a person thrive or on how people can try and ensure they do.

To come up with a definitive catch-all, the researchers pulled together research on what makes people thrive, from studies of babies and teenagers, to studies of artists, sportspeople, employees and the elderly.

“Thriving is a word most people would be glad to hear themselves described as, but which science hasn’t really managed to consistently classify and describe until now,” said Daniel Brown, a sport and exercise scientist at the University of Portsmouth in Britain.

“It appears to come down to an individual experiencing a sense of development, of getting better at something, and succeeding at mastering something,” he added.

“In the simplest terms, what underpins it is feeling good about life and yourself and being good at something,” Brown added.

The study, published in the journal European Psychologist, outlines a ‘shopping list’ of requirements for thriving in life.

Also Read: 6 Reasons Why Green Tea Should Be a Part of Your Everyday Life- What Makes It So Healthy? 

According to the list one has to be optimistic, spiritual or religious, motivated, proactive, someone who enjoys learning and is flexible, adaptable, socially competent, believes in self/has self-esteem.

Moreover, one should also have the opportunity and employer/family/other support. The other requirements in the list include challenges and difficulties are at manageable level, environment is calm, is given a high degree of autonomy and is trusted as competent.

To thrive does not need all the components, but a combination of some from each of the two lists may help, the researchers said.

Thriving has been examined at various stages of human life and has at times been described as vitality, learning, mental toughness, focus, or combinations of these and other qualities.

It has also been examined in various contexts, including in the military, in health and in child development.

“Since the end of the 20th century, there has been a quest in science to better understand human fulfilment and thriving, there’s been a shift towards wanting to understand how humans can function as highly as possible,” Brown said.

“Part of the reason for a lack of consensus is the research so far has been narrowly focused. Some have studied what makes babies thrive, others have examined what makes some employees thrive and others not, and so on. By setting out a clear definition, I hope this helps set a course for future research,” Brown added. (IANS)


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National Book Trust (NBT) Chairman: Nurturing Creativity and Innovation in Children at an Early Age are Much Needed

How should current school curriculum be modified for an overall development of Children?

Nurturing creativity and innovation in children
Nurturing creativity and innovation in children. Pixabay
  • Education should work in the direction of expanding the horizon of knowledge children
  • There is a need to shift educational learning for school goers from content mastery to competency mastery
  • To compete with the children worldwide, they need to have an understanding that is beyond books

New Delhi, August 21, 2017: There is a need to look beyond the world of text books and inculcate in children qualities like empathy towards society, humanity, sensitivity towards other human beings and nature.

Baldeo Bhai Sharma, Chairman of National Book Trust (NBT), talked about nurturing creativity, innovation in young minds for nation’s economic and spiritual development.

He was speaking at the FICCI’s first-ever Children’s Publishing Conclave called ‘Scrapbook’. Mr. Sharma said that it is crucial to observe and spot the creativity in children. To not just bound them to the school curriculum. The Supplementary books in school should teach them about the life lessons, that they should be good human beings. Such books will help them in the developing a good and positive personality; it will also strengthen their thinking and imaginative skills.

ALSO READ: 11 Facts about Education System Around the World: Do they prove to be Beneficial for Children?

In the conclave, he talked about how brave soldiers can inspire kids to be like that when they grow up and fight for their country someday. If not, even then such books will inculcate a feeling of patriotism in them. According to ANI reports, Mr. Sharma (pointing towards NBT’s efforts) said, “‘The Veergatha’ series had been introduced by NBT, which talks of the great acts of bravery by Indian soldiers.” The first series has a set of 5 books in English and Hindi, they are written so as to inspire the young minds and evoke feelings of patriotism in children from an early age.

Children are sometimes overburdened with books.  UNESCO encourages learning in mother tongue, especially at the early stage.  Sharma said that education should work in the direction of expanding the horizon of knowledge in a child and he agrees with UNESCO that teaching a child in mother tongue should be encouraged to retain cultural values.

Dr. Hrushikesh Senapaty, Director of NCERT, said: “There is a need to shift educational learning for school goers from content mastery to competency mastery, where competencies should be classified into character, intellectual and social.” He stressed upon the need to make the classroom environment vibrant where teachers would play the role of a facilitator- will provide them with an opportunity where they can develop and strengthen their competencies as well as communication ability. He added, “The Indian education system is moving from knowledge construction to knowledge processing with the help of technology, enabling children to explore, innovate and create.”

ALSO READ: Ragas for Preschool Children: Combining Classical Music with Fun Exercises

Appreciating FICCI’s initiative, Dr. Senapaty said that the goal of this publishing conclave is to produce content which is rich in quality and is innovative. It will enable them to learn in a collaborative environment. He added, “Indian children have performed well when they follow a prescribed school curriculum but to compete with the children worldwide, they need to have an understanding that is beyond books and focus on skills like building their applied knowledge.”

Children should explore, innovate and create
Children should explore, innovate and create. Pixabay

Ms. Urvashi Butalia, Chairperson, FICCI Publishing Committee and Director, Zubaan, said that the conclave focused on:

  • promoting book reading amongst young minds
  • government and children’s publishers- enhance learning outcome in educational space
  • policy advocacy- nurture collaboration between schools
  • addressed- gender misrepresentation in children’s books
  • concerns- children’s content in school books
  • implementing theory of multiple intelligence on children’s content- enhance learning outcome
  • changing role of technology in children’s content and its impact on K-12 (kindergarten (K) and the 1st -12th grade) education

Dr. A. Didar Singh, Secretary-General, FICCI, said that this platform will help to explore possible collaboration between children, content creators, offline and online service providers, publishers, technology disruptors, schools, teachers, parents, and policymakers. The conclave focused on the important aspects like learning requirements of an individual child, crucial role publishers can play to address it.

The conclave also had some interesting workshops for school children. The workshops had activities like creative writing, story-telling and received appreciation from the young minds.

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Teachings from a Spiritual Teacher Can Bring Enlightenment Within

The role played by a spiritual teacher in guiding a student towards the goal of human birth

Teachings from a Spiritual Teacher
Teachings from a Spiritual Teacher. Pixabay
  • We live in utter ignorance of our true nature, of the relationship 
  • There is a feeling of love or devotion which can naturally arise within the teacher and the student relationship
  • Enlightened masters can make us go out of the tunnel of darkness which is of ignorance into the sunlight at the end that is knowledge itself

August 11, 2017: A spiritual teacher plays a crucial and a lasting role in the life of a human being. A spiritual teacher’s role is unique in a way that the goal is not to transmit knowledge or to develop a sense of understanding but to somehow bring about recognition in the student of the student’s own pre-existing nature.

This is a much more nuanced thing than simply teaching someone a skill. It is not that a spiritual teacher never provides spiritual knowledge but that in itself is not the goal.  A student can have knowledge of the broad spectrum of spiritual principles, and yet can still not have truly recognized those principles as being inherent in his or her own being. So spiritual teachers may teach a lot or may not teach anything and it depends on the need of the student in that particular moment in order to experience the deeper recognition of his or her own true nature.

The author of the book ‘God is No Laughing Matter’ Julia Cameron says, “it is one of the gifts of great spiritual teachers to make things simple. It is one of the gifts of their followers to complicate them again. Often we need to scrape away the accumulated complications of a master’s message in order to hear the kernel of what they said.”

If you are lucky enough to learn from such a gifted spiritual teacher, then there are bright chances of success in all endeavors of life – worldly matters and spiritual. There is a feeling of love or devotion which can naturally arise within the teacher and the student relationship which is the immense gratitude that arises when the student sees the truth. Ultimately, every experience is our teacher and with the presence of fullest realization there is gratitude for all of the existence, there can also be a natural deep appreciation for the apparent person who has pointed you to that truth.

ALSO READ: Spiritual Awakening Series in Chicago with Sister Shivani and Brahma Kumaris

It is said ‘mahat sangha tu durlabho agamyo amoghas cha’– it means that it is an extremely rare occasion and difficult as well to gain the company of spiritual people; and even if we come in the same space they occupy, it may not be possible always to recognize how great is their stature.  Sometimes, even a person living with such great masters is unaware of their power.

The influence of such a Mahatma is “amogha” (fruitful) and infallible whether one recognizes their greatness or not; it is just not possible to come in contact with a person like that, and not be affected by their being. There are two ways in which come in contact with them- first, you come in close contact or second, you hear them from afar, his influence will sooner or later reach you. Perhaps, you won’t be able to notice a visible change immediately, but one thing is certain that, sooner or later, there will be a noticeable influence of that person in your life.

ALSO READ: Indian Gurus: Preaching Spiritualism or Business?

Presently, we live in complete ignorance of our nature- our true self,  we are unaware of the relationship that is there between an individual with the world, and finally with the ultimate Creator. This ignorance can create incorrect notions due to which we are not able to understand the world, make mistakes and as a result of these mistakes and ignorance suffer from anxiety, fear, and unhappiness.

Enlightened masters can make us go out of the tunnel of darkness which is of ignorance into the sunlight at the end that is knowledge itself; they have the power to transform the way we view the world. When we start studying about the scriptures and scriptures itself, what we discover is that there is something ‘Absolute Reality’, it exists. We understand that God also exists.  Then, we slowly get acquainted with the enlightened person and their characteristics, realize their importance. We can not truly appreciate the great character of a person like that until we get to meet such a spiritual teacher and try to observe his nature from a close distance.

Such sadhgurus are the ones who show us the way, the way to reach the goal of human birth – moksha. They are the ones who give authenticity and meaning to the scriptures. They have access to reach the heights of divinity; they reveal that no karma on its own can be great or small; it is our motive and our attitude behind the actions we undertake. This makes the karma great or small.

ALSO READ: International Yoga Teacher Wai Lana’s “Alive Forever” Film and Music Video

There are different types of people who approach a guru- A bhakta (devotee) has- love, reverence, devotion. But, not all devotees become sishyas (disciples).  They do love him, respect, and revere the guru, but they also wish to learn Vedanta (a Hindu philosophy based on the doctrine of the Upanishads) from him.


There are some pople who listen to gurus, get inspired from them and thus offer to volunteer their time as a Sevak. Service over time takes the form of devotion– the Sevak with time becomes a bhakta.  In due time, the bhakta transforms into an avid student and a disciple – he inculcates a desire to study Vedanta for full time.

When a person becomes:  a devotee who is steeped in bhakti yoga; a Sevak who performs selfless deeds that is karma yoga and at the final stage a sishya gets fully dedicated into learning Vedantic study which is jnana yoga – he reaches the goal; his journey is thus complete.

The greatness of a guru is not only in trusting the right person for the right job or path but to also be able to encourage or inspire the ones who lack the adequate capability and to one day enable them to produce marvelous results.

A true spiritual teacher is there to simply serve your own recognition of your true nature. The result of his or her functioning in this capacity is the degree of one’s own depth of realization. The rest is relatively unimportant unless it serves this simple but subtle goal.

– by Kritika Dua of NewsGram. Twitter @DKritika08

NewsGram is a Chicago-based non-profit media organization. We depend upon support from our readers to maintain our objective reporting. Show your support by Donating to NewsGram. Donations to NewsGram are tax-exempt.
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