When the Student is Ready the Teacher will Appear

Vivek Sakpal

Published in Issue – I, June 2013


It is widely said that the quote is a Buddhist quote. There are some people who argue that Buddha never quoted such a statement. There are also multiple references to this quote in Zen Buddhism, hence for the time being even if we consider that this is a quote from Buddhism and proceed with understanding it.

The vocabulary need not be understood in its literal meaning of being a student and teacher. Here in the teacher can be in any form, any shape, need not even be human. The student can also be a newly born child or a person on deathbed.

As it is usually spoken that learning is a never-ending process this quote can be seen on similar lines.

Let us try to understand the depth of this quote.

In our life, many times we come across many problems, difficulties and we also end up finding solutions and way out form them. Yes, many have experienced, others, if not, may have not taken notice of it. Life along with problems also offers you the opportunity to learn things. In many difficulties we learn form elders, friends, and people we know to deal with issues, problems. It won’t be good to go on elaborating the same with experiences hence analyse a story taught to us in school days.

The story goes such that a brave king is fighting a long battle, with time he realises that he is on loosing end so he runs away letting his soldiers die. He hides himself in a cave where he notices a spider weaving its cobweb. The spider attempts and fails, he tries again, again fails, this is repeated multiple times. The spider keeps doing it over and over. Failing and attempting till the cobweb is ready. The king feels and learns, if a small spider can’t give up, how and why could he being such a big king gives up on his duty. He decides to go back to the battlefield and fights till victory.  Schoolteachers enforced moral of the story on the students.  “Try and try till you succeed”. This is fair enough as a lesson to be learned.  As students we blindly learn what the teachers teach and never give a thought beyond our rational and curious mind.

Revisiting this same story in later part of life I realised, there was one important lesson that my teacher never taught. When the king was in need of some will power to fight back, he learned it then and there. Nature the world’s best teacher taught him. Also important is to realise that the king was ready to learn. Had the king never wanted to learn, in spite of looking at the spider he would have never learnt the lesson. He might have even attacked the spider and killed him thinking it’s poisonous.

One important thing we can learn from this story is that when the student is ready the teacher will appear.

Now let’s see another viewpoint.  Most of us in our life try to be teachers. We keep teaching (giving suggestions, opinion, options etc) to anyone we come across. We may not be doing it in personal interest most of the times, we also see some benefit the receiver may get from that but still, many a times, we end up in disappointment.

The prime reason is we fail to see that the student is not ready to learn. We become teachers, mentors, guru, or guide. But the student is missing. First and prime most aspect in learning is student.  The focus and energy should be resourced to develop the student aspect of learning, self-learning.

In Buddhist era the mode of teaching used was also on these lines. It was called Sharmanik, where in there is a set of students and a teacher. The students are free to learn in the guidance of the teacher. Whenever there is doubt the teacher / guru is there to answer him. Classical example of this mode of learning is Questions by King Milinda, where King Milinda keeps on asking questions and gets the answers. As a student he keeps on asking questions and keeps on learning till he is fully satisfied with his queries. We need to promote this attitude, like King Milinda, in ourselves and also in others, to seek, to question, and also to find answers for all the questions that arise in our minds.

In Hinduism the story of Eklavya is well known. It’s also looking from social point of view where a tribal student is deprived of knowledge and is discriminated on ethnic grounds. But as a student Eklavya was ready. He went ahead to learn from statue of a guru. Basically he just wanted some kind of guru, so he used a statue. His major learning came from his practice and may be his ethnic background. Being a tribal there are high chances that he may have been exposed to high level of archery since childhood looking at his parents, village hunters around. As a child they must have taught him basics. The accuracy he possessed needed practice and hence he used a superficial guru, who never taught, but the student did learn form him.

For the movement of the depressed class what needs to be cultivated is being a student. One has to learn how the law is specially crafted for their social justice and welfare. There should be a lot of discussions and debates on these. It is only when one becomes a student of these topics, they find answers to social justice and empowerment. Glorification and making idols of great leaders may not help. Not everyone can be an Eklavya and learn from the statues of great visionaries like Ambedkar, Phule, Shahu, and Buddha. But by reading their literature, discussing it, and understanding it only shall help the movement.

All are students and all are teachers. A one way shall lead to a dead end. Lets stop being only teachers and come out of the illusion that one knows something to a good extent. Ignite the student in yourself and others. The answers (teacher) shall follow.

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