In many schools, emphasis is placed on informational knowledge learned by reading textbooks or listening to lectures, memorizing the material, and taking tests. However, when one wants to become an adept or practitioner in the field, it involves more practical lessons. Doctors need to learn how to perform surgery or medical procedures. It is not enough to memorize medical books. Teachers need to learn how to teach and make students become masters of the subject, not just give lectures. Driver’s education is not just reading the driver’s manual; one has to practice taking the car on the road and learning how to maneuver it. It is similar when it comes to the subject of spirituality.
Many feel they understand spirituality because they can read books or listen to lectures on the subject. They may even be able to give good talks on the subject to others. This story from an Indian tradition gives insight into what true learning is.
In ancient India, during the time of the Mahabharata, the five Pandava brothers went to their teacher for their lesson. The teacher sat with them and gave them their day’s lesson. He said, “Today’s lesson is to speak the truth. Always be truthful.”
After the lesson was over, he dismissed his class and told the students to go and memorize it.
The next day, four of the students returned to class. One of them, Yudhistira, did not come.
The teacher asked, “Where is Yudhistira?”
The other four boys explained that he is learning his lesson.
The next day, the four boys came to class and Yudhistira did not come.
When the teacher asked, “Where is Yudhistira,” they replied, “He is learning his lesson. This continued for the next few days.
Finally, after a week, the other four boys said to the teacher, “We don’t understand what is going on. You told us to memorize the lesson that said, ‘Speak the truth and always be truthful,’ which we did in one day. This blockhead has taken a week and still has not learned the lesson. What is wrong with him? Why can’t he memorize this one sentence in one week?”
Finally, Yudhistira showed up to class on the seventh day and announced, “Teacher, I have learned the lesson.” For one week, he was practicing telling the truth in a variety of situations and had mastered the skill of never speaking a lie.
From that day on, Yudhistira never spoke a lie.
This story illustrates how we should truly learn spirituality. It is not only memorizing the teachings of the saints and Masters. We must take each point and live it in our daily lives. Spiritual education means living the teachings in each aspect of our lives.
For example, we all know we should not get angry.
We talk about the importance of nonviolence. However, we must learn to practice nonviolence in a variety of situations that arise in our daily life. We should not just be nonviolent when we are in a temple or place of worship. We should be nonviolent in our home, our work, with our friends and neighbors, and in every aspect of our life.
It is helpful to make an honest assessment of ourselves. If we are trying to be like Yudhistira and practice the teachings in our daily life, we will be successful. If we are like the other four students who only memorized the information of the teachings, then it will take longer to change or improve.