An open mind is the prerequisite to gaining knowledge


A young boy of 16 years went to a spiritual master to seek knowledge. The guru was a great enlightened spiritual master who had taken up the life-long task of serving humanity through his spiritual teachings. Upon reaching the ashram and taking some rest, the boy met the master early next morning. The master was a short bearded man with matted hair. He wore a long flowing saffron robe.

Upon seeing the master, the boy was reminded of another bearded swami in traditional saffron attire that he had met 4 years back. The previous man was a fake swami who had cheated his family of a small fortune. After that painful incident, the boy had developed a strong prejudice against all bearded swamis in saffron color clothing. Upon only seeing the sight of his new master, the boy had already determined that the master was fake based on his looks and attire.

The boy started to study under the master. He could not however get rid of the impression that he had about all people in saffron clothes. Whatever the master would say would pass through the boys’s mind as filtered through this prejudice. Let us see some examples of the conversations between master and the boy (disciple)

Master says ” You should do selfless service as it is good for your spiritual advancement”
Disciple hears “This fraud swami wants me to work free for him.”

Master says “Buy the Dhammapada book for the next class”
Disciple hears “Here he goes again, this man has found a way to sell his books for monetary gain”

Master says “ Our tradition highly reveres teachers, just like God.”
Disciple hears “This fraud just wants to brainwash me into being subservient towards him.”

Needless to stay, the boy could not get any benefit from the teachings despite having such a great teacher. Despite the best outward environment, he threw away a great learning opportunity due to his inward environment.

Moral of the above story:
However good the teacher, however good his intention, it is completely up to each one of us to derive benefit from the teachings. Our minds generally hear only what we want to hear. The tendency of the mind is to take any teaching and color it with our own limited beliefs and understanding, and thus the original message can get corrupted if we do not keep an open mind.

While mental prejudice is one hurdle to gaining knowledge, another risk is complete misunderstanding of the message given. Many hundred years back, a number of misinterpretations of what a masters said about the Bhagvat Gita led to a mistaken understanding among a small section of society. This group of people came to believe that their spiritual master had said “Do not keep the Bhagavat Gita at home, for it will bring strife in between family members like it happened between the Pandavas and Kauravas”. Such foolish misunderstandings of the teachers words are common, and the guru cannot be blamed for it.

When the Buddha attained enlightenment, it is said that he completely stopped talking. When disciples asked “Master, why don’t you speak?”, he replied “People who understand will understand without me speaking, people who do not understand will not understand despite my speaking. What is the point of me speaking then?” The disciples said “Master, you are right. However there are some of us who are sitting on the fence between ignorance and knowledge. Speak to us so we can cross over the fence to the side of knowledge”. And thus the ever compassionate Buddha spoke again.

Thus, if we want to benefit from any teaching, we need to be willing to “sit on the fence between ignorance and knowledge”. The prerequisite to gaining knowledge is thus an open mind that is free of prejudice – a mind that takes the effort to clearly understand and if not clarify the knowledge that is being taught.

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