Knowledge and learning
Knowledge is a great tool for humans to survive the different life situations, be it personal or professional. But sometimes it could turn out to bethe biggest hurdle for learning. Knowledge belongs to the past. It is a database. The process of learning takes place in the present, in the "now". A prejudiced mind cannot see the situation in its entirety. It can only see the problem in part depending on its biases. The solution to the challenge thrown by the “present” can only be partially met by knowledge, with its tools from the past, however large may be the reservoir. The fact that the problem still remains, is an indication of limitation of the mind, the store house of acquired information.

In the story of Vikram and Betaal, King Vikramaditya had to carry the corpse inhabited by a Ghoul(Betaal), from a tree to hand it over to a sanyasi for a ritual. On the way, Betaal narrates stories to the King and at the end of each story, asks certain questions to him.  Betaal also puts a condition that if the King knows the answer but opts not to speak out, his head would blow into pieces, and if he speaks, Betaal shall go back to his tree.  So, after every story, Betaal asks a question to the King, and the King would answer thinking that he knew the right answer. But the moment he spoke, Betaal would fly back to the tree.

In the last story, when Betaal asks the question, the King smiles and remains silent. He knows that he does not know the answer.  He smiles at himself. He smiles at his ignorance of the answer to the question. "The great wise King Vikramaditya does not know the answer"! He accepts his defeat with grace. His mind becomes calm. In that silence, the king had an insight. He realises that he didn't even know the answers to any of the earlier questions. In fact all the questions were paradoxes. But because the king thought that he knew the right answer, he had to speak every time.  And each time he spoke, Betaal flew back to the tree. The process would then start all over again.

Knowledge,  which  is  the "known", may not  provide  answers  to  the  problem  of  the present, the "unknown". To find a solution to the problem or to take a suitable decision posed by the “present”, one has to have an open mind for unlearning old concepts and learning new ones. The knowledge bank i.e. the mind, needs to create space for the answer to reveal itself. The mind has to be quiet to create that space. Intelligence emerges from a silent mind and not from a chaotic mind. The burden of knowledge can provide only an illusion that "I know" and thus can block all possibility of learning to take place.The feeling that "I know" gives birth not just to ignorance but also to arrogance. The acceptance of the state of "I don’t know" opens the gates to learning.

Learning begins with the acceptance of the situation or of the people. Only an unbiased mind can see the situation as “it is”. An open and quiet mind is required for learning to take place.

Bisweswar Pattnaik

Bisweswar is Vice President, IL&FS Urban Infrastructure Managers Ltd., Mumbai
He likes reading philosophical and biographical writings, loves music and movies; A person who prefers to look at life as it is and not what it should be





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