In the Indian tradition there is no concept of Sabbatical. Learning is a continuous process. Hinduism and the path of Vedic culture are made up of a variety of customs, ideas, and philosophies. It incorporates a wide range of approaches for allowing people to advance and understand various streams of knowledge like scriptures, philosophy, commerce, governance, medicine, arts and performing arts and the ultimate goal of achieving spiritual knowledge and attaining the ultimate Truth.

Everyone is allowed and encouraged to question existing dogma and knowledge and to reach their own conclusions. The Vedic path encourages a person to increase understanding and to recognize the fact that no single person or prophet has any exclusive claim over the ultimate goal of achieving Brahman or Absolute Truth.

This freedom of expression has given rise to many variations of philosophical thought or schools of religion, but all emanating from the great stream of consciousness  of sanatana-dharma, which is the universal spiritual knowledge and practice that is the essential teachings of the Vedic literature.

priestThe Brahmin student, Brahmachari, used to begin the learning process at a young age after an initiation ceremony when he was endowed with a sacred thread. Then he spent his time totally within the ambience of his Guru or preceptor…usually in the teacher’s home or in a hermitage. Even the King’s sons were sent off to live with the Guru to learn, to imbibe, to watch and absorb the essence of a good life, values and rules of behaviour.

Once the initial education was done, the student entered into the state of the grahastha or householder and used his knowledge to perform the rituals and practices that brought him income. He also took on students and another link in the chain of learning was forged. However, he continued his own studies and his priesthood was jacked up with various qualifications like Archakar (temple priest), Swami (Priest), Purohita (performer for domestic ceremonies) and Rtvij (performer of seasonal ceremonies), Acarya or Upadhyaya (Spiritual teacher); Ganapaadigal who could perform special fire rituals and Dikshitar who had the highest degree. The Sage or Rishi was an evolved soul who had achieved great spiritual powers through penance and rigorous prayers.


The learning process was a lifelong one as an individual moved on from learning one Veda to the other, one Purana to another, one Upanishad to another. The learning was never done. There was no sabbatical per se. You could stop the learning process and make a living based on your existing knowledge.

This learning cycle was in existence until the British brought in their system of structured education that was book learning and creating a data base of Western systems and curriculums.

Today, youngsters are taking the sabbatical or gap year adapted from Western practices. This gap year they feel will help them to decide on the stream of education that they should take up. Of course, this gap year is restricted to the affluent sections of society. In the middle class world a break from education or career is a luxury and considered to be dangerous as well..higher education admission processes and employers will look askance at breaks in education in India as the urge to be part of the rat race, to finsh the education and start earning is more the norm, a real necessity.

Buddha tried for six years continuously to know what the divine is, and it cannot be said that he left anything undone. He did everything that is humanly possible, even some things which seem humanly impossible. He did everything. Whatever was known up to his day he practiced. Whatever methods were taught to him, he became a master of them.

He went to all the gurus that existed in his time, to everyone. And whatever they could teach, he learned, he practiced. And then he said, “Anything more, Sir?” And the guru said, “Now you can go, because all that I could give you I have given, and I cannot say, as I say in other cases, that you have not practiced. You have practiced. This is all that I can give.” Buddha said, “I have not known the divine yet.”

With each guru this happened. Then he left all the gurus. Then he invented his own methods. Continuously, for six years, he was in a struggle of life and death. He did everything that could be done. Then, at last, he was so tired of doing, so deadly tired, that one day when he was taking his evening bath in the Niranjana River near Bodhgaya, he felt so weak and so tired that he could not come out of the river. He just clung to a root of a tree and a thought came to his mind, “I have become so weak, I cannot even cross this small river. How will I be alive to cross the whole ocean of the world? I have done everything, and I have not found the divine. I have only tired my body.”

He felt that he was on the verge of death. At that very moment he felt that he had done everything, and now there was nothing to do. He relaxed, and new energy came upon him because of his relaxation. All that was suppressed through those six years flowered. He came out of the river, he felt just like a feather, a bird’s feather — weightless. He relaxed under a Bodhi tree.


It was a bright full moon night. A girl named Sujata was used to coming to pay homage daily to the Bodhi tree. She has come with some sweets.

Buddha was sitting under that tree..tired, pale, bloodless, but relaxed, absolutely unburdened — and it is a fullmoon night with nobody around. Sujata felt that the deity of the tree had come in person to receive her homage. Had it been another day, Buddha may have refused. He had not rested in the night, nor had he eaten any food in his hectic search for enlightenment. That day, he was totally relaxed. He took the food, and he slept. This was the first night after six years that he really slept.

He was relaxed with nothing to do and there was no worry. There was no tomorrow even, because tomorrow exists only because one has to do something. If one has not to do anything, then there is no tomorrow. Then this moment is enough.

Buddha slept, and in the morning, at five o’clock, when the last star was fading away in the horizon, he woke up from his sleep. He saw the world with no mind, because when you have nothing to do there is no mind. The mind is just a faculty for doing something. With no mind, nothing to do, no effort on his part, indifferent to whether he was alive or dead, he just opened his eyes, and he began to dance. He had come to that knowing to which he could not come through so many efforts.

Whenever someone would ask him how he achieved, he would say, “The more I tried to achieve, the more I was at a loss. I could not achieve. So how can I say I have achieved? The more I tried, the more I was involved. I could not achieve. The mind was trying to transcend itself, which was impossible. It is just like trying to be a father to yourself, just trying to give birth to yourself.”

So Buddha would say, “I cannot say I achieved. I can only say I tried so much that I was annihilated. I tried so much that any effort became absurd. And the moment came when I was not trying, when the mind was not, when I was not thinking. Then there was no future because there was no past. Both were always together. Past is behind, future is in front; they are always conjoined. If one drops, the other drops simultaneously. Then there was no future, no past, no mind. I was mindless, I was I-less. Then something happened, and I cannot say that this something happened in that moment. I can only say that this was always happening, only I was not aware. It was always happening, only I was closed. So I cannot say I have achieved something.”

Buddha said, “I can only say I have lost something — the ego, the mind — I have not achieved anything at all. Now I know that all that I have was always there. It was in every layer, it was in every stone, in every flower, but now I recognize it was always so. Only I was blind. So I have lost my blindness; I have not achieved anything, I have lost something.”

So maybe, a sabbatical brings you to that point of mindlessness and then you are energised to move on to the next level of enlightenment.

The seven other bloggers who write regularly are, in alphabetical order, Ashok, gaelikaa, Maxi, Rummuser, Shackman, The Old Fossil and Lin at Dun-Na-Sead to the LBC.

About padmum

You could call me Dame Quixote! I tilt at windmills. I have an opinion on most matters. What I don't have, my husband Raju has in plenty. Writer and story teller, columnist and contributer of articles, blogs, poems, travelogues and essays to Chennai newspapers, national magazines and websites, I review and edit books for publishers and have specialized as a Culinary Editor and contributed content, edited and collaborated on Cookbooks. My other major interest used to be acting on Tamil and English stage, Indian cinema and TV. I am a wordsmith, a voracious reader, crossword buff and write about India's heritage, culture and traditions. I am interested in Vedanta nowadays. I am now an Armchair traveller/opinionator/busybody!
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6 Responses to Sabbatical

  1. rummuser says:

    Saadhu, Saadhu, Saadhu.


  2. Maxi says:

    You have given me a gift in the story of Buddha. Thank you, Padmini.
    blessings ~ maxi


  3. padmum says:

    MaXi…the stories are meant to be shared….bless you!


  4. Dun-Na-Sead says:

    I found this incredibly beautiful and touching, and educating, Padmum. Thank you.


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