ON LEARNING, AND TEACHING, THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN EASTERN WAYS, TO OUR WESTERN APPROACH.

Seating Seiza Style

Seiza (正座 or 正坐, literally “proper sitting”) is the Japanese term for one of the traditional formal ways of sitting in Japan.

Zanshin is a concept found in Zen, Budo (Japanese martial arts), particularly Kendo, and in many Japanese arts, such as Ikebana (flower arrangement), chado (the tea ceremony) and sumi-e (ink painting).

Mushin is the essence of Zen and Japanese martial arts. Mushin literally means the “mind without mind”, and it is commonly called “the state of no-mindedness”.

Fudoshin is the ‘immovable mind’, that is, the mind that has met all challenges of life, and has attained a state of complete composure and fearlessness. This state of equanimity is essential in the practice of Zazen and Budo.

Satori. As opposed to what many people think, Buddhist Enlightenment is not a special state of mind. It is simply a return to the original, natural condition of the human mind.

Za-Zen

 

On Learning, Acquire VS Emptying Yourself

You want to be baffle, and challenged as a Westerner? All you got to do it’s try to learn the Eastern Ways!

Culturally  we are programmed differently, each specific country has its ways, particular to the idiosyncrasy of the place, we generally in the West have similar methods, with subtle variances due to the prevalent character in the country you may live, and now with Globalization, pretty much Teaching its being standardized all over, not only in the West, but on the East as well.

However I know for a fact, that True Teaching in the East will never change, and if it ever does, great loss will be the result.

On the West our culture relays on acquisition, you gain knowledge by studying, and reading books, a common problem in the West it’s the student the more aware he is, the more questions he have, nothing wrong with that, but usually he expects an answer from the Teacher, and it should be a rational answer which should satisfy his mind.

On the East the student is taught to listen, rather than to make questions, in general a student attitude it’s more passive, but only in appearance, the fact is he/she has to be more attentive, and try not to lose details, and mimic even if he has not fully understood what he is taught, now do not think the Teacher doesn’t know that, however he knows that by repetition, the student finally will get it, and not only intellectually but in practice, something sometimes lost on our education, where it’s common to graduate from school with a lot of theoretical knowledge, just to be confronted at work by the often heard phrase: ‘Well, someone must have taught you that way at school, but around here you do things our way!’

The way we do things here.

When a student at an Eastern Way Dojo the first thing I learned was to be quiet and do not raise my hand and make stupid questions, if I didn’t want to provoke the teacher’s anger. Now in our culture questioning constantly it’s an easy way to get answers, and save us the problem of figuring things by ourselves.

The Problem With Asking

Many times now day, I am confronted by what I consider silly questions, in our permissive society it’s alright to do silly questions, since there is not a thing as a silly question, to the one who doesn’t know, according to our lore, but my past experience makes me know it’s a cultural custom, and not a good one, but instead of answering what the student believe he is trying to figure out, I rather give an answer that address the whole problem, rather than the details, in other words try to go ahead and give the student what he really needs to know,  rather what he thinks he should learn. If you think this is arrogance, or wrong on my part, my question to you is: Well who is the Teacher here, if you know the answer why do you ask? But if you don’t, please pay attention to what I am saying, or you will lose, because what I am saying it’s more important than your question. Why bother to go to the one who has the answers, and try to impose on him the answers you want to hear? Some students make the habit of arguing with the Teacher, and we may consider that good. Well as I said it’s a cultural habit not necessarily a good one, like having an opinion on matters we don’t really know that well.

We even have a well known ugly saying for that: Everybody has an opinion as everybody has an …….!

In a way, culturally  we are predispose to make a question without giving it too much thought, and ask questions constantly, when if only you will pay attention properly,  or studying the subject at home, really would not be necessary, making a lot of question at class it’s no real substitute for serious reading, and practice.

I never got really good at Math, and now I realize why? First the subject never interested me, second if I didn’t understood, never made an effort to consult my book, or a fellow student who did, and third, I never really practiced  to master all those equations, what I did not learnt on the spot listening to the Teacher, didn’t care to make up for, consequently never got good grades on Math, I was a math slacker!

Asking questions the Proper Way

A Western Teacher Experience on the Value of Struggle

In 1979, when Jim Stigler was still a graduate student at the University of Michigan, he went to Japan to research teaching methods and found himself sitting in the back row of a crowded fourth-grade math class.

“The teacher was trying to teach the class how to draw three-dimensional cubes on paper,” Stigler explains, “and one kid was just totally having trouble with it. His cube looked all cockeyed, so the teacher said to him, ‘Why don’t you go put yours on the board?’ So right there I thought, ‘That’s interesting! He took the one who can’t do it and told him to go and put it on the board.’ “

Stigler knew that in American classrooms, it was usually the best kid in the class who was invited to the board. And so he watched with interest as the Japanese student dutifully came to the board and started drawing, but still couldn’t complete the cube. Every few minutes, the teacher would ask the rest of the class whether the kid had gotten it right, and the class would look up from their work, and shake their heads no. And as the period progressed, Stigler noticed that he — Stigler — was getting more and more anxious.

“I realized that I was sitting there starting to perspire,” he says, “because I was really empathizing with this kid. I thought, ‘This kid is going to break into tears!’ “

Struggle

But the kid didn’t break into tears. Stigler says the child continued to draw his cube with equanimity. “And at the end of the class, he did make his cube look right! And the teacher said to the class, ‘How does that look, class?’ And they all looked up and said, ‘He did it!’ And they broke into applause.” The kid smiled a huge smile and sat down, clearly proud of himself.

Stigler is now a professor of psychology at UCLA who studies teaching and learning around the world, and he says it was this small experience that first got him thinking about how differently East and West approach the experience of intellectual struggle.

“I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you’re just not very smart,” Stigler says. “It’s a sign of low ability — people who are smart don’t struggle, they just naturally get it, that’s our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity.”

No janitors needed

In Eastern cultures, Stigler says, it’s just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. Everyone is expected to struggle in the process of learning, and so struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle.

“They’ve taught them that suffering can be a good thing,” Stigler says. “I mean it sounds bad, but I think that’s what they’ve taught them.”

Granting that there is a lot of cultural diversity within East and West and it’s possible to point to counterexamples in each, Stigler still sums up the difference this way: For the most part in American culture, intellectual struggle in schoolchildren is seen as an indicator of weakness, while in Eastern cultures it is not only tolerated but is often used to measure emotional strength.

It’s a small difference in approach that Stigler believes has some very big implications.

Struggle!

 

Stigler is not the first psychologist to notice the difference in how East and West approach the experience of intellectual struggle.

We on the West focus on being smart, clever, meanwhile in the East focus more on hard work, and the challenge of trying to go beyond our limitations, in other words, the teaching resembles more a Dojo attitude like in Martial Arts, you go there to train hard, despite your lack of ability, or skills, hard effort, constant practice makes the miracle of achieving good technique, the habit of practice and hard work it’s imbued on you, like a second nature, and you learn that if there is no pain, there is no gain.

This in turn build confidence, and self assurance, and what’s more teach you the valuable lesson that constant struggle it’s the key to success.

Ironically, my general experience was that; the more natural skills the student had the less persevering he seemed to be, some quitting and giving up the practice, moving to other things, those who lacked natural abilities, but went on fighting their clumsiness, persevering without giving up went to achieve a remarkable transformation, and a formidable inner strength, lacking on those who left.

Soji-cleaning-dojo

In the West we have the Armed forces, who rely on hard struggle and practice to achieve it’s goals, however our general perception it is:

‘Yes, the military is only for losers and garbage people. The people that join are too stupid to succeed anywhere else. Many people go on with their lives after high school to make 6 and 7 digit salaries while most of those in the service could not even succeed at selling Amway or generic perfume in parking lots! The military, like prison is nothing more than a dumpster for incompetent and non-motivated people. The military is nothing more than a government run day care center and it’s so called benefits are no different than welfare.’

It may be some truth that the people with less resources, and education go into the armed forces to try to find a chance in life, but the discipline and habits acquired there are important for success in life, as to why some of them end as losers, there may be other factors as well, but one of them may be in the fact they never got a proper education, when they went through school before joining the armed forces.

And I am not an apologist for the military, in fact care little for the use our country does with it, to defend the country it’s one thing, invading poor, far off places to do profit for the few, a total different matter.

However, I know the value of discipline, and struggle. This bring the idea for a further post on discipleship, and the value of an education under a qualified Spiritual Master, or guide, where constant struggle, hardship and perseverance are a given.

Seating in Meditation

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About theburningheart

Blog: KoneKrusosKronos.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Buddhism, Critical Thinking, Cultural Attitudes, Eastern Ways Vs Western Ways, Education, Holistic View, Human Nature, Learning, Philosophy, Social Criticism, Teaching, True Teaching, Uncategorized, Zen and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to ON LEARNING, AND TEACHING, THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN EASTERN WAYS, TO OUR WESTERN APPROACH.

  1. kethuprofumo says:

    I guess the roots of Western or, better to say, American Educational system belong to the Social Darwinism as well as many other modern evils, dear Mr. Brigido. Before the French Revolution the Western (European) society worked as hard as the Eastern and had many traits in common in comprehending struggle, respect to Teacher, etc.

    • theburningheart says:

      Yes, the Enlightenment wasn’t as good as most people think, that, and the dismissal of Metaphysics created a materialistic and disenchanted view of the world.that engulfed the world slowly to our present condition, I talk a little bit on my post on May 2015 : Malebranche, Suarez, Ibn Arabi. Thank you for your comment Maria, 🙂

      • kethuprofumo says:

        Well… believe me the Enlightenment is only the top of the iceberg, dear Mr. Brigido. It’s the consequence of other hidden & very destructive events. The thread leads to Martin Luter & others alike.

      • theburningheart says:

        Well, yes there many Historical reasons from the past, and they all collide on our present to give us the state of affairs we live in. Thank you for your response, Maria. 🙂

  2. HAQQ says:

    Another great post that needed to be written and more importantly, read and digested. Well done.

  3. Informative post with wonderful presentation. Thank you.

  4. anne leueen says:

    Very interesting and thought provoking post. You have covered some important topics here and I shall think more about them. I am particularly interested in the concept of ‘struggle’ and the difference between how it is perceived in the West vs the East. I am retired now and my passion is riding horses. Many people are regarded as “natural” riders because they can sit well on the horse and execute the movements without too much struggle. Others have difficulty and do struggle. At some point as the ‘natural’ rider progresses either to jumping higher or more difficult courses or in dressage to riding more complicated test patterns struggle is encountered. Struggle is inevitable. Success depends on the rider being able to form a bond with the horse ( a different species) and to understand how to communicate with it. If this cannot be achieved there is endless struggle and the horse will struggle too leading to a bad outcome. Sometimes the most talented horses are the most difficult. This is the opportunity for the rider because if they can communicate with this type of horse and the horse learns to trust them that horse will give 100% and the rewards will be huge. Thank you for your post. I enjoyed it and will think more about it.

    • theburningheart says:

      Anyone who struggles and succeed on any endeavor, learns that there is no gain, if you do not put the utmost effort on the matter at hand, and yet on some activities, many fail to see the connection, and most rather have something for nothing, never learning the lesson that hard work, and repeated practice, are not only the key to obtain goals, but the foundation of building character, and strength.
      I am no expert on horse riding, but it’s no difficult to see, as you mention, that there is a need for the horseman to work hard in developing that bond with the horse, through repeated practice. Thank you for your interesting comment. 🙂

  5. J.D. Riso says:

    Thank you for this fascinating essay. There is so much power in answering your own questions, in teaching yourself, even if it takes so much more time and effort. I’ve done this since I was a child, for various reasons. I used to wish that I had someone to go to for satisfactory answers, but now I’m grateful for the struggle.

    • theburningheart says:

      Even an answer would not satisfy, or provide a deep, or lasting knowledge, since what we really need it’s to put into practice the knowledge, as a traveler I am sure you asked for directions to a particular place, but how many times the directions were hard to follow? But once you got there you realize it was simpler, or the mistake you did, along the way, and the many variants of such situation, like returning to the same place twenty years later, and finding the place had changed on the meantime?
      Like acquiring a skill, you may try to watch someone doing a craft, art, or a particular body training discipline, but you not will be able to obtain good results without, your own hard practice, and knowledge of the subject.

      Thank you for your comment, we appreciate it. 🙂

  6. anthroponaut says:

    Sorry about the misplaced ping. I was only writing a post about struggling, an idea I got after reading your post. I’m quite new to WP, so I don’t know why that ping got to your blog before I posted the post, but anyway, sorry. I’m not trying to spam or steal readers, I was only writing a post.

    • theburningheart says:

      Well managing a blog successfully it’s quite a job, you could say, a struggle if you want, from what I read in your blog you want to lead a struggle free life!
      Well, things do not work quite that way, however the first step is stop struggling with your own mind about the struggle idea, you follow me?
      Hard work just get harder when we have the wrong attitude, moods are just attitudes, the first thing to do it’s get rid of the attitude, that hard work it’s a struggle, does this make sense to you?
      Set yourself small goals like wakening up early, go for a walk, come home and do some clean up, and then go look for a job, it’s not the hard work that make you sick, or get you in trouble, but the feebleness of mind that make you lazy, good habits require practice, and struggle, period.
      So get on with it! 🙂

      • anthroponaut says:

        Wow, you’re really wise. Thank you for the answer.

      • theburningheart says:

        I will even suggest to you, find a reputable Dojo where the emphasis it’s in discipline, and learning the Art, not in competition, and ego building, not an easy endeavor in today vicious environment.
        A good Sensei should be able to teach you discipline, hard effort, and struggle, as a character building discipline, and later in life you will laugh at your existential struggle, period! 🙂

  7. John says:

    Very interesting! There are so many culture in the world, and When you visit a other country you must respect theirs culture. Especially when it´s country who not yet have a “real” civilisation.

    • theburningheart says:

      Well, yes we have to respect other cultures, ‘weltanschauung’, maybe what you are trying to say it’s they do not understand, or practice our ways, either because, their lack of means, since now day Western capitalistic, and technologically driven, style civilization seems to be the model everybody follows, including China. However they posses their own culture, based on their own values, based on their own interests, and I should add History, who we may not share, maybe they are limited to their means, or predilections, and we limited by our own prejudices, and views. There is no such thing as civilized, and savage peoples, only different cultures. 🙂

  8. lwbut says:

    Not having much experience in eastern learning other than that gained by watching movies (eastern and western made) i am not able to offer much useful comment on that subject and found your definitions enlightening.

    As for western teaching/learning i think it is important to clarify what it is they try to teach or expect their students to learn. I believe there are two distinct ‘schools’ if you’ll pardon the pun. Goal oriented learning – where the object is to gain information/knowledge of a thing or subject, and self oriented learning where the idea is to learn how you learn and how to apply what you have learned to the greater good. In my experience the former is the main goal of our western school system while the latter is largely left to the student to figure out with varying degrees of success.

    love.

    • theburningheart says:

      What you are saying there’s theoretical learning, and practical learning, I agree, in our Western ways, save by few countries who are aware of such gaps, and have programs to remedy such thing, as internships after schools as a way to bridge the gap, like our medical doctors. Unfortunately many other professions do not, and have to gain their experience on the course of their work, at our expense when they make a mistake, and you need to call a lawyer!

      Thank you for your comment. 🙂

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