Education, Learning and Teaching: Then and Now

Education, learning and teaching (from MMT02 00:02:41.08 - 00:08:42.80)

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And I think a good place to start is with the source. Where does this teaching come from? Now even with this we start right into what I think is a very significant difference between the way that we regard education, learning and training in our culture and the way that learning, education and training was done in other cultures, notably Tibetan culture, which changed very, very little from well certainly 1100, but probably as far back as 800, until the 20th century when the Chinese invaded. And none of us have the experience of living in a culture which doesn't change appreciably for a thousand years. 
It is far easier for me to read a Tibetan text that was written in eight or 900 AD than it is for me to read a text in English such as Beowulf or Canterbury Tales in its original form, which is extremely difficult. Actually you really have to learn Old English in order to be able to read that. But many of the texts that we study go back a thousand years. They're easy to read. That's how little change there was. 
There are a few other things that come up here. Kongtrul in writing his commentary on The Seven Points of Mind Training often copied almost verbatim what Chekawa had said in the 12th century, and without any attribution or acknowledgement. Today that would be regarded as plagiarism. It gets worse than that. Ingrid, my ex-wife, has been engaged in translating an encyclopedia that Kongtrul wrote, and she found that whole sections of the dzogchen teachings were literally word-for-word repetitions of stuff that Longchenpa had written in the 13th, 14th century, like five, 600 years earlier. Again, without any attribution whatsoever. 
So this is an example of the difference between the way that we regard education and training and learning and the way they did. There was no question of plagiarism. The reason was that in traditional cultures one's development as a human being--development of your potential--was based on the emulation of past examples of perfection. So you always looked to the past, say, "How did they do it?", and then you tried to do it that way. Whereas in our culture, our basis for developing our potential is individual exploration and experimentation. And finding out what works for us. So it's constant experimentation going on and it's very much future oriented. 
And the reason I bring this up, and some of you have heard me talk about this before, it is this difference in perspective, looking to the past, looking to the future, that is at the basis of much of the conflict that is experienced in the world today. Significantly between modernist and fundamentalist approaches. Fundamentalists primarily look to the past. Modernists look to the future. And these are very, very different perspectives and to some extent, irreconcilable. 
So if somebody had said it well before, you didn't try to say it any better. You just took what they said. They'd said it well. That's it! But if we write something and it's well written and somebody takes it and just puts it in their book then we file a lawsuit thing, "You copied us." And we don't usually take it as a compliment. We take it as theft. So we're going to find that again and again as we go through this. This is very much building on what people in earlier times had done.

Note:  I found this passage on education, learning and teaching very powerful. With so little change for such a long period of time, it's not surprising that the recycling of old materials and methods by Tibetan teachers was both common and effective. The other side of the coin is the importance of translating Buddhist teachings so that they become accessible and can be practiced in our modern context, which is so very far removed from the culture where Siddhartha Gautama taught and where Buddhism subsequently developed.

Interestingly, the Buddha lived and taught during the Axial Age, a concept coined by the German philosopher, Karl Jaspers. Jaspers claimed that the spiritual foundations of society were laid simultaneously and independently by individuals who lived during this time, including Plato and Socrates in Greece, Mahavira and Siddhartha Gautama in India, Lao Tzu and Confucious in China and Zarathustra in Persia. Karen Armstrong paints the Axial age as one of profound and rapid change and as the early stage of the evolution of a different type of society. She suggests that we are experiencing another Axial Age today.