Saturday, May 16, 2015

Questions, questions...

I read a fascinating article in Swarajya magazine the other day by Sanjoy Mukherjee (the content is behind a paywall), on Prashnopanishad and on questioning. Apparently the story goes that the students asked 6 questions, one after another and after one question was answered, they asked the second one and so on. Each question took them to a higher level of consciousness and so on from which they never turned back. That got me curious about the Prashnopanishad.

(From the wiki page)
The opening verses of Prashna Upanishad describe students who arrive at a school seeking knowledge about Brahman (Ultimate Reality, Universal Soul).[13] They ask sage Pippalada to explain this knowledge. He does not start providing answers for their education, but demands that they live with him ethically first, as follows,[13]
तन् ह स ऋषिरुवच भूय
एव तपसा ब्रह्मचर्येण श्रद्धया संवत्सरं संवत्स्यथ
यथाकामं प्रश्नान् पृच्छत
यदि विज्ञास्यामः सर्वं ह वो वक्ष्याम इति ||

To them then the Rishi (sage) said:
Dwell with me a year, with Tapas, with Brahmacharya, with Sraddha (faith),
Then ask what questions you will,
If we know, we will tell you all.
—Prashna Upanishad, 1.2[13][14]
This preface is significant, states Johnston,[5] as it reflects the Vedic era belief that a student's nature and mind must first show a commitment, aspiration and moral purity before knowledge is shared.[15] Secondly, the method of first question by the student and then answer is significant, according to Johnston,[5] as it reflects an interactive style where the student has worked out the question for himself before he is provided an answer, in contrast to a lecture style where the teacher provides the questions and answers regardless of whether the student understands either.[16][17] The three ethical precepts emphasized in this verse of Prashna Upanishad are Tapas (austerity, perseverance, fervour), Brahmacharya (chastity, self discipline) and Sraddha (faith, purity, calmness of mind).[16][18][5]
The second interesting part of the answer is the implicit admission by the teacher with "if we know", that he may not know the answer, and thus acknowledging a sense of skepticism and humility into the process of learning.[5][19]

(From the wiki page)

And I found this site which has explanations and links to the questions in short and I was quite fascinated by it. Still digesting that site and the explanations it has to offer.

But connecting it back to learning experiences, how would it be if we structured an entire learning experience on questions? Just questions? From an organization development standpoint, what would that look like?

PS: I had this approach tried out in part recently and it is still WIP because the project stopped midway due to time constraints...but the facilitators were happy because we said just come and we will ask you questions and you need no more preparation. 

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