We celebrate Teacher’s day in India on 5th September, a day in which we offer our gratitude to all those who have taught us in life. In Ananda, we had a chance this month to honor this occasion with the ‘Education for Life’ team in Pune, who made a beautiful presentation on some of the principles of the curriculum, taught us some children songs, and had us play some games. One of the members also asked us to think about the qualities of a ‘good teacher’. The answers came from some of the youngest, as well as older members of the audience, and they were all universal principles: someone who is kind, patient, happy, who teaches by example, one who uses humor, who loves the student, and so went the list along these lines. It made me realize how, deep down, every child knows that these qualities are our birthright and our true selves. And that’s what we all appreciate in one another.
For me, when I thought about specific examples of some of my best teachers, I realized I have been very fortunate, as many people came to mind. My Hindi teacher in school was one of such — though anyone who has heard my Hindi might assume she would have been extremely disappointed! (Let’s just say it wasn’t my strongest subject. 🙂 ) There was something about her that made me feel motivated, and thinking about it I realized that it was her spirit and belief in me. No matter how tough things seemed, she would always affirm “You can do it, I have expectations from you, but I know you won’t disappoint me.” And it was this essential spirit that encouraged me to perform and try one more time! We all have had teachers who were the opposite of this.
As I offer art workshops nowadays, I realize one common block that people have is: “I can’t do this!” And, unfortunately, on digging deeper, it usually comes down to “I had an art teacher who pointed out that my art is terrible”, or “someone told me I have zero talent with art, so I have always felt I can’t do it”. How two very simple attitudes can change a person’s life forever either enabling them or paralyzing them!
The Dispeller of Darkness
A good teacher can come from anywhere and it can be anyone in our lives. I feel they are people who help bring forth the best in us, to focus on the higher principles and give us the space to grow into them. And what greater teacher for life could one have than the Guru – ‘the dispeller of darkness’? A divine friend, one who knows us inside out, who is always raising the bar for us, expecting more and better, but also giving us the space to learn from our mistakes. Such compassion we find in the Guru, who is always encouraging us, whispering deep within our being “You can do it”. Ever since I have found Paramhansa Yogananda, this is one tangible feeling I have growing within me everyday: this feeling that no matter how colossal a job I seem to myself, I know I can overcome all obstacles and limitations as long as I have the Guru with me. Even if I practice just a little bit of what he has given me, I know I will have the strength and courage to try one more time! And what greater blessing is there?
The Disciple’s Part
As life-long students, we have to learn to not only ask questions, but also listen to the answers. With the Guru, sometimes the answers are very subtle. We have access to many examples of how Yoganandaji worked with his disciples – stern when he needed to be, sweet and loving at other times, and using humor when required. Swami Kriyananda was also one such teacher: he was always raising the bar for us and encouraging us to keep going forward one step at a time. And he is still doing this. We recently worked on a video capturing the spirit of Ananda India (see below). This project was very impromptu with not too much planning. We began by recording a few thoughts from devotees serving in the Ananda Pune office and asked them to share off the top of their mind what they love the most about Ananda. Words like “Ananda is a place of Kindness”, “Love”, “Harmony”, “Divine Friendship”, “Ananda is Home”, “Everyone is so Happy”, “the spirit of Service”, “Inner Freedom”, “Joy” came forth from their hearts. For anyone walking into Ananda for the first time or for those who have been around for many years, these qualities are tangibles. This is the essence of what makes up our centers, our congregations, and this truly is the spirit of Ananda. These were also qualities perfectly expressed by Swami Kriyananda, and he seemed to bring them out in everyone wherever he went. This is his spirit that flows freely through Ananda.
It is the mark of a great teacher to cultivate these qualities in himself and bring them out in others by example. Swami Kriyananda had to develop the inner attunement with his Guru and was always listening within for the next steps and courageously taking them. Blessed are we to have the example of Swamiji who lived a life of discipleship, and showed us the way to walk. And now each of us must discover how to allow the Guru to come alive within us. Let us grow together as privileged students of the greatest blessing we could ever have.