Category Archives: What is Learning

Regarding schooling

Even if Sudbury Model is not for everyone, at least it is for the majority. If it is not compulsory, no one will choose the school.

When discussing the role of school in future education, Chris Anderson said that (it is not clear here what he referred to. Probably self-learning ) doesn’t suit everyone. Different people have different ways of learning.

Well, this  is a very common mis-understanding. I will do an analysis below:

Even if it is not suited for everyone, at least it is for the majority. In Sudbury Valley School, all students of various personalities are able to learn by themselves. So self-learning is not just for certain types of children. In our society, we probably see a lot of people who cannot learn by themselves and expect to be fed by the teachers. That is only because they have been screwed up by the school. If you look at children, all of them are able to learn and explore by themselves.

Actually it is the school that is compulsory in nature. If it is not compulsory and everyone has a choice to go or not to go to school, then we are able to see how many people will choose schools and think that school fits the way they learn.

So why Sudbury Valley School cannot spread to the whole society? Even in the states, there are only about 20-40 of SVSs. The reason? It is not that Sudbury model has some problem. It is the social environment that has problems. It is the adults who have deeply rooted misunderstanding of learning/education.
So we need to solve the problems with the adults, make the adults understand what is real learning/education first. The adults need a revolution in their own learning. They have to try and feel what is the real learning. They have to learn what is the best way to learn. Otherwise, when the adults come together to talk about education, they are all talking about other people’s (the kids) learning, and they only know to pass down all the wrong conceptions of learning which are formed from long time of schooling. Generation after generation, this is a bad cycle.

So how the adults learn, how to learn in real life, is what we should focus on when we are working on education.  Without first having a clear understanding of what learning is, there is no way to untangle the myth of education. Learning is relatively simple. Education is far more complex, involving various institutions.

So let’s figure out learning first.


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How will Internet change education?

How will Internet change education? 1. helps self-learners and makes self-learning easier; 2. transforms professionals in various walks into a high quality teacher resource by spending just their spare time; 3. helps individuals build up comprehensive portfolios online, which reflect their learning and skills. All three hinge on one core tech breakthrough: the knowledge engine, which transforms daily experiences into knowledge. And this knowledge engine will be used to build cars, ships, and airplanes in the knowledge age.

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Don’t waste your life on anything including Buddhism

I have been to many Buddhism centers in New York. What I saw is that very often the teachers were the confused ones. The teachers learned a lot of words. So they threw the words at the students. But the teachers didn’t really understand the teaching, and they mixed different things together, just making students more and more confused. (It is ok for the very beginners since they never heard of Buddhism. So it is good for them to hear something of Buddhism that they rarely heard of. But if those beginners come back with the same questions after one year’s practice, these teachers will not be able to answer them.) I guess the worst thing for a Buddhism practitioner is to encounter a wrong teacher. When you feel you are following a wrong teacher, you should leave immediately. Stay away from those lost talkers.

I used to think it was ok for them to follow those wrong teachers as long as the practitioners felt they were learning something. But recently I realized that many students were just wasting their time. If they are learning anything, they are learning it very slowly. Since they wasted so much time learning Buddhism from a wrong teacher, they don’t have time to explore other opportunities of learning. Have they had the time to be exposed to other things especially the wonders of life, they will realize they are wasting their time with the wrong teacher. But since they are trapped with the wrong teachers, they might just waste their whole life without realizing it until it is too late.

Furthermore, when this kind of teachers and this kind of students meet each other, they reinforce each other’s stupidity. It can be quite deceiving because what they are talking about sounds a lot like truth. But it is quite the opposite. Thus it is not difficult for religions to find a large following. (On the other hand, of course, any kind of religion has to make some kind of sense.)

Thus, don’t be afraid of pains of life. Keep expanding your horizon. It is ok for you to stop practicing Buddhism for a while if you haven’t encountered a good teacher and if you are not making much progress anyway. After a few years, you will come back and understand Buddhism more if you have kept on growing and hadn’t wasted your time.

What I said here applies to those teachers as well. You don’t have to trap yourself in teaching Buddhism. You could have learned much more if you didn’t waste too much of your time wasting other people’s lives. It is difficult to do no harm, right? If you are wasting your own life or wasting other people’s lives, you are doing harm as well. How big is the harm of wasting other people’s lives? In my view, it is only second to killing people.

When I was in college, there was a Nobel Prize scholar who came back to campus to give a talk. He said college life is important time of your life because this is the time of your life that you can learn a lot of things. His point was that we should focus on our study in school, treasuring the opportunities of learning in school. I agreed that college ages are the time of life to learn tremendously. But I thought I could have learned much more if I wasn’t trapped in school. It was the golden time of my life and I learned tremendously. But I felt if I was not bound by the school, I could have learned much more.

So if you are not learning with your fastest speed, you are wasting your time. When you feel you are wasting your time, just look around and see if there is something else you should do.

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Consciousness/experiences cannot be transfered

In Zen, it is well-known that the masters insist that they have nothing to teach. They insist that their words cannot become the students’. The students have to experience for themselves.

Yes, the consciousness/experiences cannot be transfered from one person to another. You have to experience it yourself.

What I realized after coming to US is that the consciousness/experiences also cannot be transfered from one culture to another culture. Even it is within the same person, for what you have experienced in your native culture you will have to experience them all over again in the new culture. Otherwise, the old experience will just fade away and become not accessible anymore. So you have to rebuild the whole new experience on the new substrate.

I always tell my oversea Chinese friends that it is a battle of life and death living in US, which they cannot totally comprehend. But for our brains, it is certainly a battle of life and death. Although many oversea Chinese try to get by by associating with the oversea Chinese communities, it is certainly very different from living in your native culture. Their consciousness was locked up and cannot keep growing anymore.

I was talking to a friend the other day. He asked me about some of his impression of Chinese. I told him that Chinese coming to US in different time are very different. When they came to US, they were pretty much stuck in the time they came. So the Chinese coming to US 50 years ago were trapped as Chinese 50 years ago. Even China itself has changed over the past 50 years, these Chinese don’t change much. The new generation of Chinese coming here certainly realize those Chinese are very different. So each generation of Chinese immigrants become a museum of that generation. They cannot “melt” (a common word used, but I don’t feel that is an accurate expression) into the western culture. They cannot grow together with their original Chinese society anymore. So they got locked up. For China, it had gone through countless of wars and turmoils in the past 150 years. The trauma and humiliation these wars had caused in the people’s minds are very deep. And it takes many years of peaceful time to rebuild the order of peace, and people can start rebuilding the manners of their society. So people in a society grow together. But the Chinese coming to US a long time ago cannot grow anymore and was locked in that historical period forever. It took their second generation to start making a little change.

In Buddhism, we say there is no time. What happened in the past is not in the past. It is in the present. It is in your memory. So the past is just the space in our memory. We access that space by living the present. So if you are more able to interact with the present, you have more access to the past (the space in your memory).  We are constantly reshaping and restructuring our memory so that our past experience and our knowledge can be more readily available with no thinking. When you are crossing the street, how do you know you need to pay attention to the cars? How is that memory recalled? During an emergence, for example, how to put out a fire on oil? How do you recall your knowledge and reconnect things on the spot? It is reasoning. You have the subject and object. You take the experience of the object as the object. The subject and object are not separated. But when you are trapped in thoughts, the subject and object are separated. Then you are thinking.

Learning, is to constantly restructure our memory so it can be more readily available. When you can connect things at the bottom level, it is much easier for you to hold things together. When you are able to hold all your experience together in your hand, you will feel very good. When you bravely engage with the present space, the emptiness of the present will recall the emptiness stored as patterns in your memory (according to the current brain science, the revoking of memory is based on pattern mapping). Such pattern mapping doesn’t have to be visual to visual mapping. Visual might be mapped to audio and so on.

As in the previous post, our memory is also stored externally in the material culture. By interacting with that external material culture every day, we have access to our memory. Thus living in a community has essential meaning to human being. Being extracted out of that material culture and transported to another material culture means you lose part of your memory. Thus you need to familiarize yourself with the new material culture and have that as your new external storage of memory. By interacting with it day to day, you are accessing your memory stored in it. The ability to interact with this new material culture certainly determines how fast you can build up your new experiences and be able to access that experience from time to time.

Some stuff above is more hypothetic in nature.

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When you walk

When you walk, you are just walking. You are not making any decision. Then the space opens up, and you experience the unlimited space that is beyond any concept. All thinking and concepts are limited space. No matter how wonderful the thinking and concepts are, they are limited and are for the convenience of the human being compared to the unlimited space that you already know. Yes, without thinking, you are already directly connected to this unlimited space.

So Buddhism practice is to first have clear deep experience with that unlimited space which you know it originally. Thus sitting meditation and further walking meditation are important. Thus we need to do sitting meditation every day. Just simply sit down, and get yourself back to that unlimited space that you know originally.

Once you have that experience, and know what you already know, it will be the time to talk about what you don’t know and how you can “learn” of things you don’t know. That is the topic of relative, dynamic and life. As I said, impermanence is the only way for permanence to manifest itself and also have life. Diversity is the only way for equality to manifest itself and also have life.

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Peace: What is peace? How do we build peace in our world?

We human beings, like everything else, are just like simple objects, which have both inside and outside. Deep inside of us is an inner core. On our outside, we have an outer layer that is in touch with the outside world. Various forces are acting upon us through the outside layer and are transformed into various signals and passed through to the inner core. The matter of the outer layer, according to my personal experience, is like fluid. It flows naturally and responds to the outside like a mirror in a very spontaneous way. The inner core, however, seems to be of a matter that when overworked becomes very sticky and it sticks itself to whatever it touches. When you see a table, the concept of table will arise in your mind, which traps you and drags your mind preventing it from following the flow of the outside world.

The inner core is shaped by the signals and forces passed through the outer layer. Though the inner core carries out certain functions based on the signals from the outside world and is important to us as human being, the inner core by itself is never able to figure out the truth. Many problems of our world can be attributed to people’s tendency to acknowledge the inner core unconditionally, and attempting to figure out the truth by the inner core itself. Every concept has two sides. So they will start fighting with each other. One concept leads to another concept. They begin fighting among themselves. This drives the person crazy. He becomes mad. That is why we have wars. Cultures that are obsessed with this inner core, acknowledging it unconditionally, have caused conflicts and great harms around the world.

Understanding this root of violence, we should realize that violence can never be overcome by the force of violence. Only the force of peace can dissolve force of violence.

Thus it is important to go back to the nature, realizing we are part of the nature, that is where we come from, and that is our source. By fully in touch with the outside world with all our senses (which compose our outside layer), we can get out of the grip of the inner core, and our mind can start flowing and reflecting like a mirror again. Realizing the inner core, which we often culturally mistake as our identified self, is by every means connected and shaped by the outside world, is the base of love. Without love, we probably cannot live even for one single day. The fact that we are still living in this world means that we are in love with this world.

The whole universe never changes and never moves.  Just as in our sitting meditation, we are able to feel the absolute stillness. As the world goes faster, it has to split into small parts. There are greater forces applied to those small parts, and it relies on the response of those small parts to follow the flow. When those small parts can follow the move of the whole, there is no time and there is peace. For  example, when playing sports, you need to put greater emphasis on the parts of the body that are involved in that sports, such as legs in soccer. As the game becomes faster, you need to make your legs stronger and more skillful in its following and interacting with the space.  When you can follow the flow, you feel of no time. When activity is very slow, you can feel total harmony with the bigger environment, and the consciousness can reach very far. When the activity gets faster, because of our limitedness, we have to focus on the specific parts that are involved, and thus we are not able to pay attention to things far away. For example, in martial arts, if it gets faster and more people attack you, you will have greater difficulty to focus on things far away, and dodging the arrows that enemy shoot at you. 🙂  Thus playing and fun are essential for us to be able to follow the flow of the moving world.

Our world manifests both absolute and relative. Absolute is the absolute stillness. It is the thing that never changes. Relative is the relative dynamic evolving process. This process is the activity of living. Thus this is what life is about. It is the thing that never fixates and is always evolving. To obtain the peace in our world, it is not enough to just understand the absolute. It is also important to understand the changing and evolving aspect of our world. I guess this is a lesson the east can learn from the west.

To understand the relative evolving process, we need to understand the peaceful forces that cause the evolving process. To understand this is the same as to understand what life is about. These forces are the same forces that acted upon our outer layer and shaped the inner beauty of our core.

So what are the outside forces that shape our inner core? I would say briefly that they are beauty, fun, and love.

We are often awed by the beauty of the outside world, and we strive hard to create beauty in our lives and in our minds. The beauty of the nature is such a powerful force that drive people for their whole life. We perceive the beauty of the outside world through various senses in our outer layer. The emptiness manifests itself as various senses of beauties that we can perceive with our senses. It is beautiful because it contains both absolute and relative within itself. It has the absolute stillness which never changes. It has the dynamic flow, which never fixates and is always evolving. Through our ears, we perceive the emptiness and beauty of sound. Through our eyes, we perceive the emptiness and beauty of light. All these senses of beauties shape how our inner core perceives as beauty of emptiness. And it shapes how the inner core considers as beauty in the human world. The inner core manifests its understanding of beauty through literature, music, arts, and so on. That is the beauty of the human world.

Fun is our body being able to interact with the outside space, and being together with the outside world. By being able to follow outside world, we can have peace. To be able to follow the outside world, the related part of the body has to truly enjoy its interaction with the space. Having a very good sense of humor is a manifestation of understanding of emptiness. Thus to have a good sense of humor requires a deep understanding of emptiness. That is why humor can dissolve anything and connect people together, making them realize their common humanity even if they had been on ill terms in the past.

Love is realizing the inner core, which we often identify as our self, is actually shaped by the outside world, and thus we are one with the outside world. Manifesting this oneness with outside world, with other people is interpreted as love in every culture. Thus as we are interacting with the outside world every day, we are receiving love every day.

Thus to build the peace in our world, we need to build a society in which every individual can do what s/he likes to do, e.g. pursue her/his art of life. Everyone is unique. Everyone must have something in the world that s/he is the best at. Diversity is the relative thing. It is the nature of life. Equality is the absolute. Equality manifests itself as diversity in the relative thing of life. To achieve equality, we have to encourage our individuals to greatly develop themselves, which is itself the activity of life. The activity of life, is to perceive the force of beauty, to play with this beauty of emptiness and interact with the outside space, and thus to receive love and manifest love. Thus life is to pursue art. Life activities are to learn/grow, to play, and to create.

To create is to grow as life demands enriching itself and creating new lives.

This essay is a general description of what is peace and how to build peace. As to more specifically what we can do to build peace, for me it is my efforts in changing the way people learn and the way how people organize and cooperate with each other. But I will not cover these in this essay.

One extra note on the function of our inner core. One important function of the inner core of our human being is memory. Because of memory, we are able to hold the past and the future together. As life is an dynamic evolving process, we need to grow and figure out the relative of things, which is to tell the difference. To tell the difference is also one important function of our inner core. This is the importance of learning. So learning is an essential part of life. Thus in this relative dynamic evolving living process, we will have confusion. But we need to remember in the absolute there is neither the past nor the future. There is only the present. The necessity of knowing the relative of the past and future is to enable us to be able to better follow the flow. Since we are in a living process, we have no choice but to follow the flow. To follow the flow we need to understand the relative of the dynamic evolving process, which in the human world translates to understanding our history, our current conditioning in our current society and culture, and how we go to the future. If we can be at now, our mind can follow our body instead of being somewhere else. Then you can have peace. In peace, the power of inner core will allow us to follow and creatively engage in the flow of the world.

So the function of the inner core for the purpose of learning is legitimate, and is an essential part of living as a human being. But as said above, when the brain is overworked, it becomes very sticky and attaches itself to whatever it is in touch with, and thus slows you down, exhausts you or drives you crazy. We also need to keep in mind that the relative, no matter how rich it is, is very limited compared to the absolute. Thus it is always important to have access to the unlimited absolute and have it as the source. That will be your base of peace. Indeed, the relative is just the manifestation of the absolute.

I feel the eastern cultures traditionally have played down this relative part of reality. It might because they fear of losing clarity of the understanding of the absolute. As the east meets the west, it is time for us to learn how to sort out the relative of life and build the richness of life, at the same time not to forget the absoluteness of our still and never changing source. Indeed, the absolute and the relative are inextricably bound to each other and they should serve each other.

Now let me bring this a little into our current context of war and peace. It is my understanding and a shared understanding with many people in other countries that the greatest strength of America lies in the relative lack of wars in the continent of America. The long time peace that Americans have enjoyed have built up a strong force of peace within people’s hearts. Even people here may not realize this themselves, it is easy to tell if you compare people here to people in other countries. There are many subtle differences. The few wars that did happen in this continent or wars that America was involved actually did have a traumatic effect on American psychology, as you can find that in the literature and films. The two wars (Civil War and WWII) actually transformed America from scattered, more individual states centered country to a country that has a stronger national identity, from which the corporate and the capitalists are able to have a tighter control of the nation, and thus America loses its essence to the war. 911 further drags America away from who she is. No matter what rhetorics people have for going to war and no matter what noble causes they are trying to serve, they didn’t have the deep experience of the forces of peace. It is because of realizing this power of peace, MLK came to the understanding that non-violence includes not using violence in self-defense. Violence can never be overcome by the force of violence. Only the force of peace can dissolve force of violence.

Whatever people say of the big success and transformation of China, to me that success mostly can be attributed to the peace that we are lucky enough to enjoy for the past 30 years. As I grew up in China, I could feel the functioning of peaceful forces in people’s hearts which gradually settle down the social order from chaos and make people’s hearts warm to each other again. So for me I feel the most important thing for my country (and thus for the world) is to enlarge those peaceful forces, making them functioning more smoothly. One way to do that is to open up more, and engage with the diversity of the outside world. That is the peaceful force that will cause the greater diversity in China (the greatest diversity is that each individual can pursue her/his art of life according to her/his uniqueness.)  and enrich life. That is why I think the culture communication among people at the bottom level is the most important thing among people of different countries.

A little commercial for myself. This essay is just one way I can use to present my understanding of peace. There are many aspects of peace that will be too big to be covered in one essay. You will  have to read my other articles to get to know more the complete picture of how I understand what is peace and how to build peace. 🙂

Note: this essay is more about the big picture of peace. For fine tuned techniques to deal with peace in various situations on a daily basis, I will cover them in other posts.


Filed under Chan/Zen, Creativity, Cross Culture Communication, Essay, Featured Essays, Grassroots, Natural Learning, Open Project, What is Learning

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education

Read of Mark Twain said this from this wikipedia entry of Autodiadic, which has an entry to John Taylor Gatto.

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