Conversation with the Self: The Story of Eklavya

The story goes like this:
Eklavya wanted to learn archery from the best teacher there ever was- Dronacharya. Dronacharya refused to accept Eklavya as his student. Eklavya returned to his home, built a statue of Dronacharya and practiced archery in front of it. Arjuna found out about Eklavya and was impressed by his superior skills. Dronacharya had promised Arjuna that he would make him the best archer in the world. An upset Arjuna returned to Dronacharya and told him about the superior skills of Eklavya. Dronacharya confronted Eklavya and inquired about how he learned archery. Eklavya confessed that he practiced everyday in front of his statue and thus learned everything from Dronacharya himself. Dronacharya reminded Eklavya that he should pay “Gurudakshina” (fee) to him. Eklavya immediately agreed to it. Dronacharya asked for his right hand thumb (one of the essential fingers for archery) and Eklavya immediately cut it and submitted it to Dronacharya.
End of the story.

Usually this story is used to teach a few important lessons such as:
1) Eklavya achieved greatness by devoting himself to his guru and practicing everyday. 2) Eklavya did not hesitate to cut his finger in order to fulfill his duties as a student.
3) Dronacharya kept his word at all costs.
Fair enough. Though I feel that most of the people have missed a very critical aspect of the tale.

How did Eklavya manage to learn archery to such an extent that he surpassed Arjuna without any guidance? Eklavya had no one to educate him whether his methods were right or wrong. Yet he was able to achieve similar or better results as compared to Arjuna who had the guidance from Guru Dronacharya, the best teacher and one of the most knowledgeable person of the skill.

While researching about the story, I came across several view points that Eklavya spied on Dronacharya and technically “stole” the knowledge. I do not feel that this is fair enough assumption. Archery could not be that simple to learn. To me a more convincing explanation is the Art of Introspection. Without anyone’s guidance, the only person who could point the mistakes of Eklavya would be Eklavya himself. This process of critically analyzing our own thoughts/action is in fact defined as introspection.

There are very few people who would be brutally honest to others at all times. Often things which should be said are left unsaid because they might be harsh or tiresome. Often these are those things which would benefit the listener the most. Shying away from it benefits none. Thus, the reaction of your surroundings may not be a true feedback of your thoughts/actions. An “honest” introspection can prove to be a wonderful way of assessing your own actions/thoughts.

I stressed on the word “honest” because often we end up committing the same mistake we are trying to avoid: sugar-coat things and not be brutally honest with ourselves. Mostly because it is the easier thing to do as it lifts the morale and the situation does not seem so bad. What it actually does is hide or underplay the real problem. In my habit, I have started to see introspection as an “honest/brutal” conversation with our own mind. If I feel something does not make sense, then I do not try to convince myself or give excuses to me that it does. There are arguments back and forth, sort of conversation, before a final conclusion is agreed upon between me and the mind.

This has worked wonder for me in two ways. Firstly, deep introspection allows me to exactly narrow down to what the problem is. This happens automatically because I have all the sufficient first hand information about myself to make an accurate assessment of the situation with all 100% honesty. This increases the scope and speed of improvement in my actions/thoughts. Secondly, it gives me some clarity and control over the thought-process along with a fresher perspective of things/situation (sort of second opinion to a situation). This is important because often in the heat of the moment I would end up assessing a situation in completely wrong way. Without introspection, I do not think that there is any mechanism to understand that the immediate assessment was a wrong one.

All of this relies on two things: deep and honest introspection and benefit of doubt to others. The first necessity is fairly self evident. Giving “benefit of doubt” to other people becomes important when behavior or actions of someone else becomes the part of introspection. This is because you definitely not know what are the intentions/mindset of the other person. And sometimes the bias could be so strong that again we end up interpreting things the wrong way, which is not desirable. So playing the devil’s advocate is important unless you have the convincing evidence stating otherwise.

Hope this helps the readers. Would like to hear your experiences about it as well.

Good bye.

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