Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On teaching Physics

On Teaching Physics : A Letter from a Grown-Up Student to his
Veteran Teacher
Tirtha Pratim Das
Fr. A. Wavrail,
St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata
Dear Father,
It is a real pleasure to share my thoughts and beliefs with you since you have seen me from
my childhood and have witnessed my every evolution, both physical and intellectual, very
closely. I shared with you how did I enter the world of physics out of bewilderment and
ecstasy, and how am I evolving continuously with my ideas and thoughts. Let me , first of
all, send you and all the respected Fathers and Teachers my warm regards on the auspicious
occasion of Teachers’ Day, before, on this auspicious occasion I once again share with you
some thoughts regarding the knowledge development of the students and the role of modern
teachers in the same.
Any branch of knowledge, may it be science or humanities, demands something common in
order to bloom into totality, regardless of the contents and the view it takes towards reality.
That common thing is a set of trio, which Buddhists call ‘Buddha, Sangha and Dhamma’. If
you happen to visit any Buddhist monastery you can listen to their chants “ Buddham
Saranam Gachhami (Taking recourse to Buddha), Sangham Saranam Gachhami (Taking
recourse to Sangha) , Dhammam Saranam Gachhami (Taking recourse to Dhamma)” .
These prayers are of great relevance to any branch of knowledge and realization. I will
elaborate the same in connection with physics.
Towards proper realisation of physics, we require Buddhas, which mean ‘enlightened
teachers of physics’. An enlightened teacher of physics should be like a magician; wherever
you catch him in whatever position, may it be on the road, may it be sitting quietly on a
park-bench, or in a restaurant, and ask him about a concept, he would be able to answer it
lucidly. If a layman asks him about the mystery of this Universe, what makes the planets
revolve round the Sun, he would answer with his usual ease and his exquisite lucidity and
smile. That makes a magician in physics. Such an enlightened person would know lots of
mathematics , the ins and outs of the toughest theory of differential geometry or tensor
calculus, but, that knowledge would gift him the realization that how dispensable they are.
Really an enlightened teacher can avoid gamut of mathematics and explain the toughest
theory of physics to a layman like a magician; each and every word of him would carry
immense energetic dimensions which is equivalent to thousand lines of mathematical
equations; his popular lecture, which contains no mathematics, can make people visualize
what’s going on in the arena of the tiniest of the fundamental particles as well in the
gigantic vastness of the remotest galaxies.
These kind of teachers have a great impact on their students. Not only at the time when they
deliver lectures at classes, but also when a student studies on his own. I myself used to
imagine , when I used to study any topic of physics on my own, that my subject teacher is
present in front of me and explaining all these to me, even if I was alone in the room. I
imagined the topics to be coming out from his mouth. It used to give me convenience. This
psychology of a student associates the dependability of his/her teacher with his/her own
understanding, which, in turn, blooms into realization.
There was a time when I was a teacher, teaching Physics and Mathematics, along with
electronics engineering. I told my students on the last day with them (before I left to join
the Indian Space Programme) in a lecture session that all my efforts in teaching, at their
level best , could impart 50 % of the understanding to them. They were wondering why was
I telling them like that, only 50 % ? Then I explained, there is a second phase , which will
fetch you 25 % more understanding. What is that ? That is sharing of understanding and
discussion among the fellow-mates . When you discuss the ideas in a group that you have
learnt, a positive feedback prevails and that eventually strengthens the understanding,
enhances the power of expression, and when one expresses an idea, he himself listens to his
own words which , in turn, offer more meaning to the subject. The last 25 % will come as a
blessing; one day all of a sudden you discover yourself enlightened, nothing is hidden to
your intellect, to be more precise, the limited domain of ‘intellect’ also vanishes, you bloom
into totality which is beyond words, mind or intellect.
This is the concept of having Sangha, i.e. group. It is very much necessary to have a
Sangha in order to share the same ideas , breathe in the same air of environment. This
sometimes gives rise to even a new school of thought. This was exactly what we used to do
during our M.Tech. course at Calcutta University. During M.Tech. we had to study
different subjects at immense depth, and the teachers had the time pressure to complete
their respective syllabi. You can imagine what happens when one has to devour food
without crunching , and the same thing would have happened to us, the entire batch, unless
one of my friends, Mr. Tilak Nandi came out with a bright idea.
We had a famous canteen at the Rajabazar campus of the Calcutta University, where we
used to visit regularly to get refreshed. At that time the M.Tech. course was going on at full
pace. Six of us found ourselves, one afternoon, at the canteen table, with 7 UP drinks. It
was Tilak who gave this idea.
“What about forming a group of teachers among ourselves and re-teach our fellow-mates
all the subjects in a capsule form that we have come across in M.Tech. ?”
“Sounds good ! But there are so many subjects. How many volunteers would you expect to
get ?”
“That will not be a problem. We can chalk out a plan first. I am sure the rest of the class
also will welcome our idea because they also find difficulty in absorbing what are being
taught in class.”
“Well, get a piece of paper…… Lets chalk out.”
That was the beginning. We six of us split up the entire M.Tech. course in different relevant
parts, and we assigned six of us to take up some subjects to teach. Some took Lightwave
technology and photonics, some took Digital communication, …… I myself took Advanced
mathematics and Quantum and Solid State devices.
We announced the idea in our class. The response was joyous. Everybody welcomed this
idea because they themselves wanted to clarify their doubts, and being peers, we could
understand our own difficulties in understanding, rather than an experienced professor. We
started the course during vacation.
During long vacations, the students used to get a month of holidays, while the teachers had
to come to the institute. They were astonished to see that at the top floor of the Institute of
Radiophysics and Electronics building, where the M.Tech. students used to attend their
classes, a group of students with full strength, attending some lectures on a regular basis.
They used to peep and got amazed to see either me or somebody else offering a class on an
advanced topic which they have taught us, and the attendance in the class was full.
This immensely helped us in understanding our own subjects. Another idea came out from
me. I asked to my friends…
“Why stopping here ? Why don’t we prepare very good quality notes on each and every
topic and distribute to all of us ?”
“You mean to all of us ?”
“Yes. To all of us. The benefit should go to al of us.”
“I understand your point. But, who will make the notes of so many subjects ?”
“We will not invite all to prepare the notes. Only selected persons who show interest in
respective fields would take the responsibility to prepare the notes on respective topics. And
the work should move in a project mode….. there should be a part chart, the work should
be time-bound.”
It happened . I was told to take the responsibility to communicate between the students who
were making the notes, ask them regularly about their progress and estimate the time
required to complete this project. I myself made notes on Advanced Mathematics, Quantum
and subjects like that.
Within a month or less, we assembled our notes.
It was a thick collection of all the knowledge we were supposed to acquire during M.Tech..
It was written by a group of enthusiastic students who learnt their subjects with respect,
who used to feel excited about their subjects. Their enthusiasm and excitement got reflected
in the quality notes. Some of them also solved previous years’ question papers. This gave
rise to an excellent compilation. That was, however, hand written. Now I think, had it been
computer-typed, we could have compiled it in a very systematic manner and could have
made it available to the next generation students.
We set, in our Institution, an example of Sangha. We learnt so many things out of this
project. The spirit of team work, project management, teaching, etc.. Later , when I became
a teacher few months right after that, I used to tell these stories to my students. They used to
find it bewildering, because, unfortunately the feeling of Sangha was not among them
except at the time of writing the examination, which , again, I used to prevent. I could not
blame them, because, they have not witnessed any such example of Sangha in front of them
which they could have taken as their role model.
There is another advantageous outcome of having Sangha. Being in a group always
cultivates fellow-feeling, which is based on some common interests and thoughts, which
bind everybody together. Each individual in the group starts strongly believing about the
ideologies prevailing in the group. Like, a group of physicists forming a school of thought
will have a strong belief on their ideas. They will be proud of their identities of belonging to
that group , which, in turn, will give them strong confidence on their own knowledge and
abilities. This is Dhamma.
These three points viz. Buddha, Sangha and Dhamma define a triangle which hold
collectively the base of becoming a master in any branch of knowledge. Here , at this point,
whenever I look at the present scenario of studying science and engineering, I find, to my
great agony, that, everything is in dearth.
You can very clearly identify a vicious cycle here which causes this sustained problem. A
great fraction of the teachers are not themselves motivated about their subjects, they
themselves do not feel excited about what they teach. As a result, the students also never
feel the life in the subject and it seems to be a dry stuff. They can not correlate whatever
they learn with their everyday lives, the teachers also don’t think of the real life examples
of the basic physics they teach. The result is catastrophic, because the students start
thinking that whatever they are being taught is something alien, which is a stand-alone
knowledge, which is no way connected to the real life, and hence got only exam-related
I describe this situation catastrophic in true sense of the term. As they don’t get the flavour
of a subject, that carries no meaning to them, which, in turn, results in to the inability to
correlate different subjects. One can not expect of discovering the undercurrent of unity of
different branches of knowledge unless he can appreciate the energetic current in a given
subject. The outcome is to become like a mule, who can carry knowledge as a luggage,
without really having even mere access to it. They receive degrees, diplomas and
certificates, it becomes a very funny comedy of their lives, a tragedy too, at the same time.
As the knowledge becomes void, there is no point in telling about ‘realization’, which is the
next step to knowledge. So, we can never expect such students discussing the topics among
themselves, except about how to downsize the syllabi during preparation for the
examination, and how to further divide that downsized syllabi among themselves in order to
create a sangha (!!) at the examination hall.
One day one of my students asked me :
“Sir, in real life we all have to work in groups. Nobody will be lone travelers, as you
yourself tell. Then why do you refrain ourselves in ‘consulting’ each other during
(This poor fellows did not have the slightest idea that it was called cheating.)
I replied , “Well. Suppose, you work in an organisation, in a big project. You are attending
a meeting. Or, imagine, your team is handling the most difficult part of the project. What
would you do ?”
“Why, we will discuss among ourselves.”
“Right you are. But suppose, in your team nobody has learnt anything, everybody relied on
‘consulting’ during exam when they were students. So individually all of them are big zeros.
Now, what sort of consultation would you expect to handle the project ? Moreover, in a
meeting, when you are asked something by the chairman, would you start ‘consulting’ with
somebody else , or try to answer on your own ?”
I continued: “Team spirit gets its meaning only after each individual of the team is capable
of standing on his own feet, as a stand-alone entity. This calls for becoming self sufficient.
More knowledge, more power. Once you are confident with your own subject, you can
distinguish between a show-master who bluffs people and the person who really knows and
hence can manage a group, become a leader. Then comes your team spirit.”
Another thing which renders knowledge suffering from leukemia is its
compartmentalization. The student of physics does not show interest in biology or history
or sociology. He doesn’t pay interest any more, as he ‘grows’ further, to the other areas of
physics barring one or two (that is called ‘research’), get still ‘focused’ by isolating himself
from the rest of the world. I am not against focusing, neither I disagree in going to enough
depth of a subject, but that should be done only with some minimum foothold on the other
subjects. Otherwise, there is no completeness. I really pity those ‘physicists’ who can not
see the thermodynamics in ‘history’, quantum statistics in ‘sociology’, statistical mechanics
in ‘economics’, particle physics in ‘neuroscience’, so on and so forth. What is the use of
that knowledge which doesn’t promote oneself to ‘realization’ ?
So, there is neither Buddha, nor Sangha. In absence of these two, there is no faith in one’s
own subject (I have heard people saying “That what ‘physics’ says, but in real life
…………”), and hence no Dhamma. All the three pillars are absent, where does knowledge
stand ? This is the root of the problem in almost every branch of knowledge today.
For these, I never blame the students. It is us who have failed in inducting them to the right
Whenever these poor fellows themselves get selected for teaching by the virtue of their
certificates, you can easily assess what will they teach to their students and what, in turn,
will they pick up. Likewise, generations after generations, we are diverging to more and
more chaos, which, ironically, is a law of physics by itself (law of entropy, the second law
of thermodynamics). If you want to bit the chaos, get ordered, you have to supply energy
externally to the system in form of your right intention and enthusiasm.
I tried to tackle the problem in some different way when I was a teacher. I had to offer both
theoretical and practical courses on Electronics at undergraduate level. The faculties had to
conduct class tests in regular intervals; and the marks were added to their public
examination marks. In order to prevent them from cheating , I announced to offer an open
book exam. I knew people feel irresistible affinity for things which they are prohibited to
do; if I officialize copying from books, the charm of ‘consulting’ will be killed. And I
wanted that.
I announced “You may keep any book open, even I won’t mind if you keep my lecture notes
also open while you write this class test.”
They could not believe first. Later they realized I was serious about that. Then I added
“However, my questions will not be straight forward like ‘state so-and-so law’. I will ask
conceptual questions which will call for a deeper understanding of the topics I have taught.
So, even you keep all of the materials open while you write, it will not help if you have not
They agreed. They understood that they were going to experience something very
interesting. In order to prevent them from helping their friends at the time of exam., I made
a further announcement. “And I am not going to call it an exam., rather it is a competition.
The first three scorers will be awarded.”
It worked. Nobody showed their answer paper to their friends, nobody discussed in the hall,
although they were feeling a bit uneasy to consult books openly (they all were habituated to
do the same secretly). After my announcement, they started preparing for my exam in a
different way, and to my utter surprise, all performed well in that exam., although the
questions were very conceptual.
Something more interesting happened during practical exam.. It was very boring of the
examiners to individually take the viva-voce exam of about 90 students in a class (5 or 6
such classes) . It was monotonous and the students were also managing to escape taking the
advantage of the intellectual tiredness of the examiners. I adapted a different technique.
Instead of taking the interview of a single student at a time, which was taking lot of time, I
gathered eight of them together for the test. All were surprised how could I take the test of
the eight at a single stroke.
I grouped them into two. Four students facing the other four, all sitting. “Now, group1, you
are a group of engineers who use analogue filters in your work. These people (group 2)
have come to sell digital filters to you. Group 2, you use your salesmanship and technical
expertise to convince them that the digital filters are superior to the analogue ones. Group
1, you are going to purchase digital ones from them; before that ask the ins-and-outs of
their products. No, start your conversation !”
They started. It was unbelievable, all were boiling with enthusiasm. From their discussion,
so many points came out, which , otherwise, in conventional ways of examining, would
have taken the form of some text-bookish questions like “What are the advantages of
Digital Filter ? What are the differences between ………. Blah blah blah” Students
memorize most of all these answers without understanding, and even if the teachers
understand that the student is memorizing only and have not understood, he is bound to
give marks because, after all he could answer the question. In this conversation, which was
an extempore dramatic version of group discussion, the spontaneity of each individual
indicated their respective understandings. I arranged similar things for other groups of
eight also: “ Okay, you eight are the electronics lecturers of this college. You are the head
of the Department. Discuss among yourselves how to set up a laboratory in the college for
Basic Electronic Circuits.” Like this, so many.
The students went on discussing, the examiners did not have to talk much, eight students
were examined at a stretch, proper evaluation was also done. Above all, when all the
candidates were examined, the Class Representative (CR) came to me
“Sir, it was nice of you to conduct the exam in this innovative way. It was never boring. We,
when sitting as audience watching the other students playing different roles, enjoyed as if
we were watching a drama. It also helped us a lot to get out of the exam tension. When we
ourselves had our respective turns, we felt like acting in a movie. Smart of you, Sir!”
Good recognition. Not only recognition, the main thing is that this innovation,
unconventional way of thinking, touched the hearts of the students which they will never
forget. If some of them become teachers, they will also dare to be innovative. This will pay
forward to the next generation of students.
I still cherish those days. So thought of sharing with you. Everything will change, the mode
of teaching, contents, …. But the basic thing that will never change its fundamental form is
the relation between the teacher and the taught. It will continue to ooze its fragrance.
Take care of your health. My warm regards to all the respected Fathers and teachers.
Warmth for the juniors.
Yours Lawrencianly and Xaverianly,
Tirtha Pratim Das
How I wonder…. How you are …
Scientists are those who always look towards Nature with the exclaimed eyes of a child, always amazed to
discover Her hidden treasures, without attempting to conquer Her, but to realize Her in totality with great
care and tenderness. They bear the spirits of the ancient philosophers in their hearts, the eternal fire of urge
to probe to the intricate details of the Universe, existence and participation of human mind in every part of
this endless Cosmic dynamism. Sir Chandrashekhar Venkata Raman, born at Trichinopoly on November
7th, 1888, also lit the sacred fire of eternal questions in his heart.
Sir C.V. Raman, in 1907, came to Calcutta as an officer in the Finance Department of the Government of
India. In his spare times, he started research in the Indian Association for Cultivation of Science (IACS),
present Kolkata. In 1917 under the invitation of Sir Asutosh Mukherjee, Raman joined the newly founded
Science College of the Calcutta University as its first Palit Professor of Physics and continued his research .
Attracted by Raman’s fame a legendary group of brilliant and dedicated students from all parts of India
gathered at Calcutta and started their scientific career, which included S.K. Mitra, K.S. Krishnan, K.R.
Ramanathan, L.A. Ramdas, S. Bhagavantam, K. Banerjee, to name only a few. It was in this laboratory, in
association with K.S. Krishnan, Raman effect was discovered on February 28, 1928 for which Raman
received the Nobel Prize in 1930. The 28th day of February is celebrated as National Science Day.
The journey of a thousand miles started with a single step …….the child of Nature, always amazed to
discover Her hidden treasures, asked to himself, How does sea water appear blue ? The search for the
answer opened the wormhole of a new Universe of immense scientific and technological possibilities.
Blue is the Ocean………..
Every system in this Universe, whether in macroscopic or microscopic scale, exhibits non-linearly to an
extent depending on their properties , over a certain range of the input variable(s), as the system-properties
themselves are ‘changed’ because of the input variable(s).
When electromagnetic radiation passes through a medium (like sun-light traveling through sea-water), it
interacts with the molecules of the same. The fundamental question thus arises here “Does light change the
properties of the medium through which it propagates ?”
Without taking resort to the elegant theory of Quantum Electro Dynamics (QED), which offers a very
accurate picture of interaction of radiation with matter, it can be simply visualized that the incident photons
(quantized electromagnetic radiation) interact with the electron cloud of the molecules during their passage
though the medium. The electric field (E) associated with the radiation changes the electric dipole moment
(P) of the electron-cloud according to the relation
P =αE
The proportionality constant α is termed as polarizibility, which is a measure of the ‘deformability’ of the
electron cloud due to the electric field. Higher the value of α , more deformed is the electron cloud for a
given electric field. However, this linear relation no longer holds when the polarizibility itself becomes a
function of the electric field and the medium exhibits optical non-linearity.
What happens inside the medium to make it optically non-linear ? The degree of freedom of a molecule in a
medium is a function of a number of factors like the number of atoms in the molecule, the molecular
geometry, type of the bonds, the Coulomb interaction between atoms and molecules, etc.. Accordingly, the
molecule can vibrate at certain specific modes. The corresponding frequencies of the vibration modes (the
states of vibrating molecules) define the vibrational energy levels of the molecules. When photons pass
though such molecules of the medium, they can interact in three possible ways as discussed below.
First, some of the incident photons can interact with the electron clouds of the molecules so that the
molecules acquire the necessary energy from them (photons) to support a vibration mode. In this case the
energies of those scattered photons decrease by the amount of the vibrational energy of the molecules. This
is an example of inelastic scattering of photons with a red shift (frequency of the scattered photons
decrease). The spectroscopic signatures of these energy-transitions are known as Stoke’s lines.
Secondly, some of the photons can acquire the vibrational energy from the vibrating molecules in the
medium. Thus the energy of those photons increase by the amount of the vibrational energy of the
molecules. This, again, is an example of inelastic scattering of photons with a blue shift (the frequency of
the scattered photons increase). The spectroscopic signatures corresponding to these energy transitions are
known as Anti-Stoke’s lines.
The third possibility is that the photons interact with the molecules without any transfer of energy. The
energy of the scattered photons remain same as that of the incident photons. This, however, is an example
of elastic scattering (also known as Rayleigh scattering) of photons.
It is notable that unlike the third case, in the first two cases of inelastic scattering , the building blocks of
the medium (the molecules) either gained or lost energy, leading to changes in their optical properties.
These two cases, therefore, represent the non-linear optical phenomena, collectively known as the Raman
Effect , after the discoverer, Sir C.V.Raman.
What is the probability that an incident photon would undergo a Rayleigh or Raman scattering ?
Semiclassical treatments assume the molecules of a medium obeying the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution
and using electromagnetic wave picture of radiation one can derive the probability of each scattering process. However, the path integral method using Feynman propagators offer a more accurate description.
Only 1 part in 107 photons undergo Raman effect, the majority undergo Rayleigh scattering. The best way to determine this probability experimentally is to compare the optical intensities of the spectroscopic lines corresponding to Rayleigh scattering (unchanged frequency), Anti-Stoke’s scattering (blue shifted) and Stoke’s scattering (red shifted). Among Raman-scattered photons, very less numbers undergo Anti-Stokes scattering, because such scattering requires interaction between photons and already vibrating molecules, and at room temperature the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution predicts very less number of molecules
already in the vibrational state.
Technological Applications of Raman Effect
There are several applications of Raman effect in technological regime, some of them are mentioned below.
The list, however, is not exhaustive.
Remote Thermometry
The ratio of the intensities of the Anti-Stoke’s and Stoke’s lines is a measure of temperature. It is therefore
possible to ‘sound’ a remote target by electromagnetic wave and analyse its Raman spectra to obtain its
temperature very precisely. This method, as compared to the conventional black-body-radiation technique,
offers more signal-to-noise ratio.
Non-Destructive Testing (NDT)
By simply illuminating the sample by a laser beam and analyzing the Raman spectra, it is possible to
extract the information regarding a sample, without destroying it.
Real-Time Monitoring of Chemical Reactions
Chemical reactions can be monitored by elegant Raman spectra technique which is non-invasive and real
time. The scattering time is typically 10-14 s and hence continuous, real time, non invasive monitoring of
chemical reactions is possible.
Stimulated Raman Scattering (SRS) in Optical Fibres
In this technique, energy from a high frequency radiation is transferred to a low frequency radiation to
amplify it. This technique is used towards Erbium Doped Fibre Amplifiers (EDFA) technique to amplify
the transmitted optical signal though the optical fibre by ‘pumping’ optical power from a higher frequency
Other applications of Raman effect are in bio-medical instrumentation for gas monitoring in anesthetic and
respiratory systems ; study of crystallography, etc.. In other words, this non-linear optical phenomena
pervades almost every field of technological interest, thereby proving it to be a very important
instrumentation principle in different regimes.
Resolution on the National Science Day
On the National Science day, we take the oath to realize our participation in this Cosmic dynamism as a
part of Nature, to have a crystal-clear mind , where the image of the Universe finds itself undistorted,
unperturbed….which answers the eternal queries of mankind with the simplicity of a child. We will keep
our signatures in this Universe on the screen of time and ink of energy, for our descendents to re-discover
our joyous participation in this endless dynamism.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Education: for a Transformation

The Boy and the King

There was, once upon a time, a young boy from a remote village, who came to the city to earn his living. He found himself employed in a small hotel situated in a lonely location at a side of a big highway, where, the owner of the hotel had provision to offer lodging to only a single boarder. The owner used to stay in the city and used to visit the hotel once in every month. The young boy had to take care of the hotel as well as cater to the needs of the guest whoever used to stay there. When the owner used to visit the hotel at the beginning of the month, he had to report all the happenings to him.

In his first week of service, the young boy has to serve a business man who was on his way to a remote city. The businessman was tired and had to spend the night there. The young boy offered him food, water to take bath and looked after his well beings. However, the businessman behaved very rudely with him in spite of all the hospitalities the boy offered to him. The poor boy withstood all the insult, did his best to do his duties until next day morning when the businessman checked out of the hotel and threw some money to his face.

The next guest was a saint. He was on his way towards a sacred place and in between he decided to take rest . He did not want any room or luxurious bed, simply satisfied by whatever was offered by the boy and , in the next morning, he also left. He did not have anything to offer, but a ring which looked very much different from usual.

Next week he was horrified. The guest to the hotel was a wounded dacoit. Horrified, he tried to do his best this time also to do his duties. He protected all the arms and the other belongings of the dacoit, offered him good food , treated his wound which was bleeding. The dacoit slept well and next day he offered the young boy a gold coin as gift before he left.

In the fourth week, he received a strange guest. A well built man, handsome, with saintly looks , well dressed and a sign of big wound in his arm. The boy offered a warm welcome treat to him also. By this time the young boy was habituated to treat with equal responsibility and care all types of people, he has offered the same care for the saint, the businessman and the dacoit. Each time he used to serve a guest, he was dedicated in his duties, regardless of who it was. But in the fourth week of this month, this guest resembled none of the previous guests in attitude. In fact he was a mixture; the serene and blissful eyes and smile like the saint, the expensive cloths like the businessman wore and the wound exactly in the same location as the dacoit had.

The strange guest understood that the boy was perplexed. He ordered him to come back to his room after half an hour. The boy, extremely puzzled, came back to the guest’s room after half an hour and found the businessman whom he catered to in the first week. The only difference was now he was smiling, the rudeness was never seen any more. He offered the boy some money again.

Next, he asked him to go back and come back again in another half an hour. When he returned, with utter surprise, he discovered the saint there, the businessman was no longer seen. The saint, again with a serene smile, showed him the similar ring, which the boy got in the second week.

Upon asked again, the young boy, puzzled and amazed, came out and re entered the room after another half an hour. This time, as he guessed, the dacoit was there. He asked the boy to apply some more medicine to his wound which was nearly cured by the time. The boy did and the dacoit laughed heavily. Finally he offered him another gold coin.

The young boy was asked to vacate the room and re enter after ten minutes.

He re entered. With bulged eyes, he saw the same strange guest, with saintly eyes, rich cloths and wounded hand was sitting there. He said, ‘my boy. Its me , the same person, who accepted your offering in the past three weeks as a businessman, as a saint and as a dacoit. I am the king of this kingdom.’

The boy was shocked! He has treated the king for the last one month! The king requested the boy not to tell about his royal presence to the owner when he comes back in the next month. He may tell the owner about the businessman, the saint and the dacoit. Finally, the king offered the boy lots of gold coins and left the hotel.

In the next month, the owner came. The young boy narrated him everything , except the incident of the king. He handed over all the money he earned that month. The owner was astonished and gifted the boy with a gold ring.

The owner used to invest the money to improve the hotel. It was more decorated, more luxurious, was still single roomed to cater to a single guest only. In the next week also, the king came to see and offered him more gold coins.

In the third week, the king asked the boy “ Who are you ?”
The boy thought….what a question to ask…. He had been seeing me since last couple of months. He replied “ I am your servant , your Excellency”.

The king smiled.

Every month the king used to visit and the boy used to treat him with the same care. The king used to ask him the same question, “Who are you ?” to receive the same answer “ I am your servant , your Excellency”.

However, there was a change in the boy also. The young boy, who came from the village to earn his living, now became more confident, fearless and royal in his attitude with remarkable aristocracy , yet gentle and polite. The owner seemed to be surprised by his aristocracy, yet, he did not tell anything. The income of the hotel shot up with voluminous money offered by the king.

The boy felt a big change in him. He used to listen from the king about his kingdom, the politics, the responsibilities of a good leader etc.. He used to give his opinions also to the king. The king also used to discuss several matters of his kingdom with the boy. The boy was wise enough to answer the king , many times the king implemented the decision of the boy. The boy felt a tremendous importance bestowed to him and he was trying to shoulder it with the confidence he gathered during the last year.

After one year, the king asked him “Who are you ?”
The boy replied “When I don’t see you, I feel that I am your part. When I sit with you, talk to you, I feel that you and me are inseparable. I am You.”

The king smiled and replied “Yes, my boy, you are the king….. you and me are inseparable !”

The boy was offered to go to the capital of the kingdom to participate in the royal work, but he gently replied “ My employer has entrusted me the work of looking after this hotel. If I go with you, sir, it will be a breech of trust. I should be here to look after his hotel and report to him in the next month.”

Then the king laughed and asked the boy to go out for a while. After some time , he was called in.

The boy was surprised to see his owner sitting there. He was laughing “My boy, am I not your owner ? “

The boy was speechless. The gentleman continued “ I am the king of this kingdom. I was the owner who employed you. I was the businessman, saint and dacoit. I love taking different make-ups while I look after my kingdom.”

The boy was bewildered ! He was employed by the king himself ! That ‘owner’ was the king in disguise !

The king told “You be here, my boy ! Remember, you are the ‘king’ , my own reflection. Be a king of your ‘self’, let the royal aristocracy be reflected in all the works you do. Work like a king with your head held high. Your livings will be taken care by the royal stores.”

Vedanta : An Approach to the Wholeness

The boy in our story, in his first month of service, served all the guests with equal care. While some of the guests resembled ‘Satwaguna’ (like the saint), some resembled ‘Rajoguna’ (like the businessman) , some resembled ‘Tamoguna’ (like the dacoit). It also resembles different forms of Gods being worshipped by mankind; Shiva, Vishnu, Durga, Kali, etc.. Mankind worships all with equal veneration, like the boy who served all the guests with equal care. That is called Bahubad (the sense of worshipping different forms of God).

Next, when the boy came to know about the one-ness of all the guests, he got acquainted with the king, he felt himself to be the servant of the king. Similarly, mankind, at some point of time, feels the one-ness of all the apparently different entities and considers that unique entity as the Supreme power, the Almighty. Almighty is considered as the master, mankind being the servant of that Supreme. That is called Dwaitabad.

Next, the boy coexisted with the king for long and acquired kingly gestures. It is common in mankind also. If one spends time with strongs and braves , he acquires strength. The boy’s attitude became royal. He started , in his gradual transformation, to feel himself as a part of the king himself , and not a simple servant. Mankind, after the feeling of Dwaita (or duality, me and you the Almighty) starts feeling himself as a part of the ultimate. That is Bishita-Advaitabad.

The presence of the king helped him to nurture the confidence which was already present within himself. The king did not ‘inject’ any confidence or aristocracy externally to the boy; he only helped him to grow those qualities inherent in him. The small village boy, became the King ! He attained the ‘state’ of royal hood . Mankind, after attaining the state of Bishishta-Advaitabad, at some point of time, realizes the one-ness of himself with the Ultimate. He is no longer a part of the Ultimate, he becomes the whole through realization. This is Advaitabad.

Promotion from Bahubad to Advaita is a transformation which one experiences as the canopy of darkness is made to remove from his eyes. It comes through education, the process of discovering one’s own treasures within himself and discovering, in course of time his own presence pervading throughout the Universe.

The Vedas, our old texts, are divided into two parts, Karmakanda and Jnankanda. The former discusses about different rituals and processes, while the latter is dedicated to the intellectual probing of the Ultimate. The précis of the Jnanakanda , forming the last part of the Vedas, constitutes Vedanta. The Vedanta tells about one-ness and describes how the formless uniqueness has divided itself at lower dimensions to apparently different forms.

Education and the Oneness of the Whole

All our ancient texts have advocated the lesson of searching for the undercurrent of unity in diversity. Like all the rivers flow through different paths and find their confluence in the same ocean of infinity, the lessons taught by our texts focus on the fundamental truth of the oneness. Education, as perceived by the intellect, is the realization of and the appreciation for the deeper communion in apparently different streams leading to the same ultimate.

Education, therefore, is not an entity to be injected externally; rather, it unveils what is deeply stained in the mind of mankind. That is intellect. Man, as son of eternity, bliss and joy (Amritashya Putra) is gifted with intellect, regardless of his materialistic status. Education removes the obstacles that subdue the inner spirit, thereby making one realize the joy of enlightenment. Once enlightened, the lotus of intellect blooms to completeness and stretches its petals facing towards the eternal light.

The Individual Self

There won’t be any room for darkness, once one can see the light of bliss wherever he looks at. There can neither be sorrow, nor joy when one’s ‘self’ extends beyond the bodily boundaries and embraces the universe. That state of unruffled-ness is a manifestation of immense potential energy, parts of which are manifested kinetically in the form of dynamism in every corners of the Universe. My small bodily ‘self’ starts feeling its existence even in the distant galaxies light years away, my ‘self’ is felt as the dance of the ocean waves, eruptions of volcanoes, tremble of the leaves , in every atoms and every star-constellations. ‘I’ become the Universe, when I am educated.

If one can split his brain in two parts, a part which is the observer (Drashta) and the latter the observed (Drishya), he can perform an experiment every time he goes to sleep. One can monitor with the Drashta part how does his sense (Drishya) gets gradually diluted to make him sleep. Gradually, this dilution of sense happens to the Drashta part as well, in the process of which he can feel how does the bodily self gets absorbed to infinity. This is like a ball of salt getting dissolved in water; form becoming formless. This experiment requires some practice, but once mastered, one can enjoy the sense of becoming as vast as the Universe.

When a block of glass is as clear as a crystal, it does not reveal itself. If, on the other hand, there be any optical inhomogeneity in the glass block (say, a lump with a different refractive index than the surroundings) , it is seen as a different existence. Similarly , ‘self’ is confined to the bodily boundaries and is manifested as an ‘individual’ because of the inhomogeneity of one’s life’s rhythm as compared to the rhythm of the Universal wholeness. This is like an insoluble lump of sand grains in water. This ‘inhomogeneity’ is the root cause of ‘aham’ or ‘bodily confined individual self’. Compare this with a novice singer in a chorus song, who can not sing in consonance with the others and hence, his voice is audible as the odd tune out.

The Universal self

The yogis speak of pranayamas to tune one’s own rhythm to that of the infinity. The pranayamas ensure the stability of the inner clock (established through the periodicity of rhythmic respiration) which helps in discovering the macrocosom imploded into the bodily boundary itself, or in other words, exploding the inner self to the Universal self.

If one submits his individual ‘self’ to the Universal ‘self’, he loses his small identity, he is promoted to Samadhi. The vastness overrides his small ‘self’. In a prolonged Samadhi, one does not live for many days (our texts say, 21 days), because ‘life’, in limited sense, is defined as the act of retaining one’s individual existence, fighting against all the forces of nature. Physicists and engineers may compare it with the concept of an engine in thermodynamics drawing energy from a source and giving up to a sink. The vastness always tries to override and engulf the individuals, it is ‘life’ which fights back, retains its individuality as a bubble in the waveful of ocean. When ‘life’ terminates, as if the bubble collapses, its individuality is again dissolved in the infinite vastness.

Education refers to having a feeling of the vastness. The ‘self’ , like a lyre, whose strings are tuned to the tune of the vastness, can resonate in all tunes and hence can become great teachers. A great teacher is the one, who can suit all types of disciples, with different states of individual selves. A great teacher can lit the candles of all his disciples from the light of his own heart, which, he himself has lit when he has tuned himself to eternity. From Samadhi, he comes back to the material or earthly level to share his spiritual treasures with his students. Yet, he has a limitation to share the ‘seed’ of all realizations, to whatever extent he preaches as a gifted orator, the ‘seed’ of all knowledge still remains ‘intangible’ or ‘inexplicable’. The teacher himself might have perceived ‘that’ in his highest spiritual state (may be as a scientist, a dancer, a musician or as a saint) , but as soon as he comes out of that state to reach his students, he can not bring ‘that’ fire like Prometheus. That ‘seed’ of all knowledge is referred to as Brahmojnana, the Atmodarshan, knowing one’s own self integrating from the limit of the body to the infinity.

This seed of knowledge, Atmodarshan, was the one, which young Nachiketa wanted to learn from Yama, as described in the Kathopanishada. The lesson refers to the eternal question of every intellect and its eternal answer; Who am I, and Why ?

Upanishadas tell very beautifully about a truth regarding education. Regardless of the intellectual strength of the teacher, the student can be imparted only fifty percent of the knowledge. Among the rest fifty percent, twenty five percent is acquired through discussion with the fellow mates. And the last twenty five percent? That is the seed of all knowledge, Prana of the structure of knowledge, which comes to oneself though introspection and meditation; in the process of which one is transformed to the realization of the Advaita ; he becomes the knowledge personified. Every education waits for this completeness, when the candle in the heart of the individual is lit from the fire of the unique ultimate !

(Written in October, 2008)