April 10, 2021

Interdisciplinary Discourse

Forum for KU Academics

On Mentors

– Dr. Niraj Poudyal

By mentor, I mean a person who innately, habitually and unswervingly shows me the path towards mokchya, whatever that may mean. A mentor can see his (yes, my patriarchal mind!) dreams realized in the eyes of his pupils. Hopes of mentor’s heart gets teleported to the steps of his pupil. I rarely prefer using adjectives or prefixes in front of words such as god, mentor, mother and capitalism. This essay is one of those rare moments. At least as a demi-mentor myself, I have seen my dreams sparkling in the eyes of my students. When they take a step forward towards mokchya, I feel a tiny bit of my dream fulfilled. An archaic thirst quenched.

I feel that I have failed to learn certain important lessons because of the lack of a mentor (no adjectives here!). I think I have learned basics of quantum mechanics without mentors assuming that books do not fall under the definition. I have failed to write well even with the help of excellent mentors around. This piece can be taken as my best writing ever. I have failed to learn music. Despite having seemingly good mentors, I have failed to learn using my failures to avoid more failures. Repeating same failures has become my way of life. In the absence of a mentor, I have not been able to figure out the prudent purpose my life. I have not been able to make sense of my “spiritual” experience. I am not blaming everything I have not been able to learn on mentors that I do not have.

Do I need a mentor in my life? I don’t know. Probably, I need a mentor to know. I already had many momentary mentors mentoring me on special skills of mathematics and computing, modeling and narration. Sometimes, I wonder about the first mentor, mentor of all the mentors. Having a rubbish life definitely does not require any mentor. In that sense, I feel we are all at least partially mentored for partially rubbish lives we all have.

I do not know about animals other than humans, but humans I know of definitely are capable of judiciously running their lives and their loved one’s lives with or without a mentor. Assuming of course that they did not have invisible master yogis as their mentors. Can human malevolence be sharpened with the help of a ruthlessly determined mentor? Can munificence in our hearts be revealed and enhanced by an inspirational and enlightened mentor? What roles mentors played when their pupils discovered antibiotics that saved billions of dreamful lives or declared non-violence not just as an approach towards life but a sanctified end in itself? Who mentored Buddha or Galileo to search for something beyond their reach!

Let us assume, we need a mentor to have a good life, however we define a good life. What kind of mentor do I want? Actually, I have a dream to have a mentor who can go beyond the concrete wall of numbers I have been trapped into. I want the mentor to be able to make me find and peruse the temporary meaning of my own life. I have already declared emptiness to be the ultimate meaning of life. I am not worried for the ultimate meaning for I already know it. The net meaning or value of life is zero. I need a momentary meaning. In the midst of such a disastrous conclusion, I want my mentor to either change this zero-sum game of my life into a non-zero sum (hopefully positive sum) game or give me a temporary game having some non-zero sum meaning. I want to play this non-zero sum game once and for all; I am scared if it’s not yet too late to play this unknown game.

I will not focus on who will be the most appropriate mentor. I would rather talk about what characteristics I want for the mentor of my dream. Is the mentor going to be him or her? Being an obvious child of a patriarchal upbringing, I have already imagined a he-mentor. A she-mentor is not even in the horizon of my dream full of he-mentors, appropriate and inappropriate.

Do I want long white/dark beard on my mentor? Do I want a young enlightened laughing guru or an old experienced smiling guru? Do I want a guru who is continuously pushing the limits of human physiology by living an austere life, a life full of pain and yet devoid of suffering? Do I want a guru who renounced ignorance after enjoying all that ignorance can offer? Or a guru who was groomed to be a guru since the beginning? Do I want a mentor who had another mentor or should I just go for a mentor by his own making?

I know some mentors who declare taking the burden of responsibility as key to having meaning in life. Is that the type of mentor I want? Should I scrutinize if the mentor himself is applying this principle in his own life? Or just getting a map of such life is enough?

More questions about mentors than answers!! Someone truly said, questions are always better mentors than answers.

I have not even started talking about mentoring yet. Which is more important: mentor or mentoring? Finding a mentor is actually no more than defining a mentor. Adjusting your definition of mentor and mentoring can give you the mentor you are looking for. If I am not able to find the mentor, it only exposes the rigidity of my definition of a mentor. But changing the definition can have wild consequences. I may end up with a tree mentor, a sky mentor, a book mentor or an experience mentor.

Enough with hanging between the conservative rigidity of my definition and the liberal risk of turning everything with an identity into mentors. Mentoring seems to be a much easier and safer task than finding a mentor. Good luck for those who are looking for their mentors.

[The author is Assistant Professor at School of Arts.]

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