Somadeva Vasudeva is one of the most brilliant teachers I was ever lucky enough to be supervised by. So it’s a real treat to see him explain part of what made every class with him such a mind-expanding experience:

The very best teachers will go even beyond this and try to teach their knowledge as a mode of being (etena kartṛrūpaṃ jñānam upadiṣṭam). This means that the student learns how to “be” a scholar, how to relate to the subject matter. In a sense this always happens, but the best Sanskrit teachers know they are doing this and will therefore instill something that I realize now is perhaps the most important thing one can learn to study Sanskrit: niḥśaṅkācāra, an attitude of “fearlessness,” a “shedding of inhibitions”. I am finding it difficult to find adequate descriptors of this intimately personal experience that does so many things: it lets you pick up and read a text no matter how intimidating it may seem at first, it makes you approach texts with an open mind free of (too many) preconceptions, it helps keep the scholarly ego (abhimāna) in check (for a scholar some abhimāna is not a bad thing), it lets you make mistakes and correct yourself, it puts all else in perspective.

I still regret that, through my own failings, I absorbed only the faintest shadow of what Somadeva – not to mention other teachers – could have offered. But even that was something very, very special; now I have a slightly better idea of how he managed it.

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