A Different Kind of Learning

Humans are the “mother” of all learners.  No other species comes close to being able to learn like us.  With the most complex brain and nervous system on the planet, we can do everything from creating a poem to walking on the moon.  Truly, we are a wonder and miracle of the life process – yet seldom do we ever come close to realizing this fantastic fact.


We’re also the best creatures when it comes to any type of learning.  Unlike most other animals that are “hard wired” with an extensive repertoire of instincts programmed into their DNA, we humans are much less behaviorally programmed.  In other words, we are not dependent on our genes for the way we behave.  Rather, our behavior is determined by our extensive childhood learning and the culture in which we are born.  Yes, some things are coded genetically to help us survive as an individual and as a species, but a lot of our survival depends on our ability to learn new things quickly and adapt to an ever changing world.  Thus, our ability to adapt to our environment through learning is the key feature that sets us apart from every other living thing on this planet. This is particularly important when our world and the things in it constantly change in ways that could never be predicted by any type of genetic coding.

Learning can take may forms aand


There are various ways and different levels of learning things.  Some are simple and some are very difficult and labor intensive.  For example, learning the family members of your new neighbor might simply require a few repetitions of their names.  On the other hand, learning to skate backwards when ice skating will take a lot more “learning” than watching your instructor demonstrate this skill to you a couple of times.  We all know from experience that some learning is easy and some is hard.  Whether easy or hard, what you’re learning is the determining factor of its difficulty.


One of the hardest types of learning deals with the development of skills, attitudes, and points of view.  This is because learning such things is not like learning a bunch of dates on a history exam. Rather,learning skills,attitudes and ways of perceiving the world  this something that has to be incorporated into you at a deeper level.   This requires changes in your mind and behavior that are more complex than simple learning tasks.   Learning new attitudes and beliefs is even more challenging, for now you must change what has already been learned.  These beliefs, ideas, and attitudes may have been repeated and reinforced in our minds countless time for years or even decades.  Undoing this is extremely difficult and it requires that we learn in a deeper and more powerful way.  This is why trying to change people’s attitudes about ideologies, race, religion, and numerous “in-grained” beliefs is so difficult.  Changing people at their “core” is not easy and frequently fails.



Contrast simple types of learning with more complex types such as learning to play tennis.  In tennis, you not only have to learn how to hold the racket but must learn how to swing it so that is properly hits the ball and lands in the other side of the court.  Learning this skill means a lot of practice.  Practice in swinging the tennis racket.  Practice holding the racket properly.  Practice watching the full trajectory of the ball.  Practice on how hard to hit the ball (when you can).  All of this “stuff” needs to be learned if you want to play tennis.  Learning tennis is something you practice a lot and work with its many elements from different perspectives until it “grows” on you.


So…. what’s all this got to do with Buddha and his teachings?  Simple.  Knowing what the Buddha said is not the same as doing what the Buddha taught or making his teachings a part of you at some core level of your being.  Knowing and doing ain’t the same.  Even doing something that you think you should do is different than doing something that originates from your “soul” or inner core.  This means that simply learning what Buddha said is not going to make you a little Buddha.   Learning his teachings can be the first step, but it is not what you need if you want to “practice” his teachings from the “inside out.”  I guess it’s like watching a video of someone playing tennis and then expecting to go out on the court and play a few games when the video is over.   Learning to be like Buddha doesn’t work this way.  I think you need to “work” and “re-work” his teaching continuously within you until it becomes you.  This is hard –very hard.  But I believe it is the primary way that Buddha’s teaching truly become your and resonate with your true Buddha Nature.


So where does this leave us?  Simple memory learning gives us the facts of Buddha’s teaching (the stories, anecdotes, doctrines, and sutras).  But how do we take this information and move it to the next level of our learning and understanding?  In other words, how do we incorporate his teaching into our gut – into our being?  This I think is THE big challenge of learning “the way of Buddha.   Basically, how do you make his teachings yours?  How do you take his knowledge and wisdom and make it a part of you without it being simply a “cognitive exercise” or a “Simon Says” activity?   How do you make his perspectives and understandings a genuine part of you?  How do you get this stuff down in your gut so you can say that you understand his teachings at a truly “gut level?”   This is the real and authentic goal of true Buddhism.  This is also the rub….this is the problem….this is the challenge!!


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Introduction to John’s Zen site

Welcome to my site!!

In this blog I plan to discuss the teachings of Buddha and explore how we can apply his wisdom and insight into our personal lives.   As Americans or “Westerners”  living in the 21st century, we have access to a huge amount of information about the world that was unknown during Buddha’s lifetime.  The sciences of  psychology and biology have provided us new insights into how we experience the world and perceive “reality.”  Although these disciplines provide us new insights into the workings of our world,and minds,  fundamentally each person living today must deal with reality no differently than people who lived thousands of years ago.  The key issues of life, death, aging, happiness, pain and suffering  are ubiquitous to us all.  Although today we may be influenced less by rigid religious and cultural doctrines, we still have the same challenges (and maybe even more) of living and applying Buddha’s teachings in our day to day lives.

In this blog, I will be looking at what Buddha said in a way that is not bound by the cultural “baggage” that has grown up around the many traditions of formal Buddhism.   I think Buddha was essentially a “scientist” of his time.   He didn’t have microscopes, telescopes, MRIs and all the other instruments that scientists have used to make their many “discoveries.”   Instead he had only one instrument…..the instrument of instruments  — you guessed it, the human mind.  Not just any mind, but one highly focused, open, inquisitive, and rational.   By turning his mind onto itself, he discovered and realized the true reality in which we live.  Our world is the world of our mind.  It create our reality.  So I think Buddha’s teaching are fundamentally all about the mind and our understanding and relationship to it.  It’s from this perspective that I view Buddha as probably the greatest scientist that ever lived.  After all, the underlying element of all “things science” is observation.  And Buddha was unequaled in applying this skill to the workings of the human mind.  Like Buddha, I think that understanding the mind is the key to understanding our perception of reality.

I also think that we are unbelievably lucky to be alive at this time and in this place!!  It blows my mind to realize how much knowledge, information, and wisdom we have access to.  We can read the wisdom and insights of some of the greatest humans that ever lived by simply picking up a book or surfing the web.  We are the only ones in the history of our species to have this capability — the ability to peer into the minds of some of the greatest people who have ever lived on this planet.  Their words and thoughts are available to anyone.   Imagine all the world’s best minds at your fingertips or the point of your cursor.  The greatest and wisest people in history can now be our personal teachers…. if we so desire.   What an honor and humbling experience to have access to such knowledge and wisdom!    I think it’s truly a wonder that we now have the means and capability to access this all this knowledge and wisdom.


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