Ideals and Values/Respecting and Teaching your Classmates

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Vishal Agarwal

We cannot necessarily choose our classmates. So we have to deal with them till the academic year ends! In this chapter, we will study two stories from the Hindu tradition. In the first story, we see how Prahlada teaches good values to his classmates. In the second story, we see how a student whom all of his classmates thought of as a dull boy turned out to be the most brilliant, and the favorite of his Guru. This story illustrates that we should never think of other students as dull or uncool. Perhaps, they have some special qualities that you are not aware of!

The Story of Prahlada, one of the best Bhaktas of Bhagavān Viṣṇu Prahlada, son of an Asura called Hiranyakashipu and Kayadhu, was Bhagavān Viṣṇu’s bhakta. Hiranyakashipu was a very evil king. He did not allow anyone in his kingdom to worship Bhagavān. He said – “No one should worship Viṣṇu because he is my enemy. If anyone wants to pray, he should worship me.” But, his own son Prince Prahlada was different from other children of his age. He spent the whole day thinking and singing of the Bhagavan’s name, in addition to being a very good student. In his school, he would collect his classmates together and teach them:

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Life is short. We do not know if we will live tomorrow. And human birth is very difficult to get. We could have been animals or plants too! Therefore, we should not waste our lives as human. Right from the childhood, we should start worshiping Bhagavān Viṣṇu. Always try to hear stories of Viṣṇu, sing His praises, remember Him, serve His feet, worship Him, love Him as a friend, ask Him to protect you, and totally leave yourself in His hands. See Bhagavān Viṣṇu in everyone. Love and respect everyone because Viṣṇu lives inside us all. Bhagavān does not care whether we are rich or poor, ugly or handsome, learned or illiterate, wise or foolish. What He really cares for is whether we are truthful, loving, honest towards others and whether we love Him or not.

Prahlada had a profound and a positive effect on his classmates. They saw that although his own father, the King, was an evil man, Prahlada himself followed a very virtuous life. Therefore, they were influenced by his good teachings and grew to be good human beings themselves.

Story: The Favorite Student of Śankarāchārya Adi Śankarāchārya[1] is considered one of the greatest philosophers of Hindu Dharma. He taught us that the same Brahman or Supreme Being is the basis of the entire creation. Śankarāchārya attracted numerous intelligent disciples for studying under him. But one of his disciples named Totaka (also called Anandagiri) was a particularly dull-witted student. He never spoke a word in the class, and always appeared to be someone who never understood anything. And yet, Śankarāchārya would never start teaching his class before Totaka was seated in the classroom. Totaka himself never seemed to be interested in knowledge and spent his time doing menial tasks like washing clothes, cooking or fetching water. One day, Totaka did not arrive on time and the other students prodded their Guru, “Sir, why don’t you start teaching? That Totaka does not understand anything anyway. So why should we all wait for him.” But the Guru asked them to wait. When Totaka arrived, Śankarāchārya said to him, “You are late. So as a punishment, let us hear a summary of all that I have taught from you in a few words.”

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Totaka bowed to his teacher humbly, and spontaneously composed a hymn called ‘Totakāshtakam’. The hymn, in a mere 8 very beautiful verses, explained the entire philosophical teachings of Śankaracharya. When the other students heard the dull-witted Totaka recite such a profound hymn, they were humbled. They had thought Totaka to be a fool, but now they understood why their Guru had a soft corner for him. Totaka eventually became one of the four major disciples of Śankarācharya.

This incident is a lesson for all students to respect their classmates and peers because everyone has some special quality even though he or she may appear to be very uncool and simple. We must never tease or bully others.


What are the constructive ways in which you can deal with a classmate who bullies you all the time? If your own friends bully someone else, how will you reform them?

Notes & References

  1. He lived in 7th-8th century AD.