Updated: 17/04/2005; 19:35:41.
Alexander's ZEN Diary
This Weblog is about meditation: what leads people to it, the effect it can have on the quality of your life, and about some of the difficulties and misunderstandings that can arise in evaluating your practice. It is for anyone who might be seriously considering taking up some form of meditation practice, and who might like to talk to someone with experience before committing himself / herself.

09 February 2005

Learning How To Learn

    I had intended to put down some thoughts about meditation next, but the topic that has constantly popped up in my mind over the last week or so is the process of learning how to learn. In everyday life, much of learning  is regarded as a process of the accumulation of a body of facts, theories and relationships about aspects of life as we currently understand it. The big problem with this paradigm is that it is completely open-ended. There is no limit to what we could attempt to learn or synthesize to create new bodies of knowledge, whereas there are limits to how much the human brain can absorb and regurgitate within the confines of one lifetime.

    We see it happening already. There increasingly arises the necessity for specialialisation and for multi-disciplinary approaches and so on. For example, within the field of mathematics, there are groups of mathematitions whose specialisations are so deep and confined that they can hardly talk meaningfully to members of other groups except in a generalised way. As a model for human endeavour this may serve us well for some time but sooner or later we will have to see clearly the limits of intellectual knowledge; ie knowledge as a body of discrete notions, rules, inter-relationships btween entities and so on.

    In trying to make sense of the universe in which we live, we need to learn that there are other ways of learning. We sometimes talk of some forms of knowledge as being arrived at by more 'intuitive' methods than others. What does this mean? It has been taken to mean that, inter alia, we have arrived at some fact or theory without going through a process of logical development as a series of steps. Everybody has had this happen to them at one time or another although some may not be very conscious of it happening, either at the time or later.

    Early in our practice of Soto Zen, we come across the admonition to do zazen in order to become enlightened: ie to awaken to our true nature. The implication is that through meditating we will get something that we often feel we somehow lack. Thus we put the cart before the horse in confusing cause and effect. Later we are told that we meditiate for the sake of meditation itself. Or, to put it another way, meditation is what the enlightened mind does naturally of its own nature. In fact, in a genuine awakening, there is a clear realisation that nothing is gained and nothing is lost. There is simply a complete change in the way phenomena are seen, and a profound sense of gratitude and humulity.

    Through the process of meditation, in which we learn to stop clinging to anything, we gradually learn that every experience of life is valid of itself; that there is no such thing as an ultimate truth, which when we finally grasp it,  we will have somehow 'arrived' at enlightenment. This is not a process of accumulation. This is a process of experiencing or unfolding of an eternity of awakening to what is. Enlightenment encompasses all. Our sense faculties are only able to give us snapshots of what is. Each snapshot is like one facet of a multi-faceted jewell or an individual frozen snowflake  in a blizzard. Each facet is unique and, it is not 'the whole truth'. The 'whole truth' cannot be experienced in the conventional way.  Each facet of the jewell is simply a momentarily opened window on our experience of mind. Sitting in meditation, we see a continuous interwoven and interrellated succession of facets which, as we learn how to handle them, become the fabric of our meditation practice. Indeed, if we understand the meaning of the four noble truths, if we sincerely wish to make our practice the core of our lives, if we can trust in ourselves that we lack nothing that we need to undertake a deepening lifetime study of our illusary of separateness then, we can enrich our understanding of what we call 'life', we can let go of all the desire, all the clinging and all the grasping after the things which turn out to be ephemeral, impermanent and of no lasting refuge. We can let go of the pain of longing for something instead of being content within the realm of what is; of what is right here and right now: and of what has always been right before us, whether we could see it or not.

     Notice that although I set out to talk of learning how to learn, which I had (erroneously in one sense) assumed would be a different topic, I have still ended up talking about meditation. As we deepen our practice, you may well find that this kind of thing happens more and more. It is a direct pointer to the fact that all appearances are indeed interrelated, and whatever arises for you in your practice, no matter how trivial it may seem at the time, is not in fact so trivial. For those who have the eyes to see and the trust in their meditation practice, everything is teaching all the time. There is nothing in our lives that is insignificant. It is our insistence that we can only learn in the conventional way that closes our options and leads to a seeming dryness and sterility in life.

    Despite the many inadequacies of language, it can and does give us clues to the kind of lifestyle which is neither dry nor sterile. There will still be much to do in our training because the enlightened mind sees everything as an opportunity to learn about the miracle of ordinary, everyday life. If we cannot find enlightenment here and now, we will never find it anywhere else.

7:57:25 PM    comment []

© Copyright 2005 Rev Alexander.
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