One of the many questions that the Yaksa asks Yudishtra in the Mahabharata is about who is learned in the Vedas. Yudishtra answers that only he who has studied under an Acharya can become a scholar. These days when there are many aids to learning, it may seem to us that a teacher is not really necessary and that we can get what information we want from books. But there are many things one learns by practice and not by pouring over huge tomes. Available material for study does not give all the little details.
One example is about how the pavitra — the ring made of kusa grass and worn on the fourth finger on special occasions — should be made. All that is specified is that it should be according to proper dimensions. But what those dimensions are is not stated. A Vedic scholar’s help is needed to get the measurements right. There are many such nuances which one can get only by studying under a scholar and not through self- study, said V.S. Karunakarachariar, in a discourse.
Yaksa wants to know who attains a high position in life. Yudishtra replies that the one who is hard working is the one attains a high position. A word may have a meaning which lies hidden until we think about it from different angles and arrive at the possibility of a different interpretation. How can such interpretation be possible, if we do not take the trouble to think? Thus there is no substitute for hard work.
How can a man have good company always, asks Yaksa. Courage is the best companion a man can have, says Yudishtra. How does a man’s intelligence blossom? It shines only when he has been an understudy to a person well versed in a subject. He learns by observance and by keeping his eyes and ears tuned in to receive every bit of information that comes from the expert in the field.
Thus what Yudishtra says in effect is that a man should have an Acharya from whom he should learn. A man should be courageous, for he couldn’t ask for a better friend than courage. He must practise what he has studied. He must be in the company of those from whose association he benefits and who enable him to add to his knowledge. Yudishtra’s answers are significant, and should be studied by everyone.