Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Bringing Enthusiasm, Energized Engagement - & WISDOM - back into Academia

“I’m struck by how suppressed the life energy of many students in my current undergraduate class seems to be. … I keep sensing something is somewhat missing: perhaps the ‘primordial confidence’ …

Students are not given much opportunity to attend to their inner lives, to explore their unfathomable riches, to plummet the depth, and to be nourished deeply by such engagements. Yet, it is only through such engagements that energetically charged awareness deepens and expands, connecting self with cosmos, and fully reconciling us with life and universe.

The self is unable to nourish itself with awareness and energy when its attention is continuously siphoned out: attention is needed to access awareness and embedded and embodied energy. The result of the continual drain of attention while knowledge is being accumulated is that we may be knowledgeable but are not intelligent, in the sense of being wise. Jiddu Krishnamurti also talks about our capacity to be aware as intelligence and points to the relationship between that and knowledge. He writes, ‘Intelligence uses knowledge. Intelligence is a state in which there are no personal [conditioned] emotions involved, no personal opinion, prejudice or inclination. Intelligence is the capacity for direct understanding’. For Krishnamurti, intelligence is not an intellectual realization or a constructed assimilation of thoughts and ideas, conventionally known as knowledge, but is a capacity to be aware, sensitive, and clear; is a capacity to love, to act, and to be present to transformation of life from moment to moment.

Similarly, David Geoffrey Smith distinguishes wisdom from knowledge, showing that the former requires, as its precondition, the ‘essential unity between thought and emotion,’ and points out that such unity requires the discipline of mindfulness or contemplation. (The Chinese character usually translated as ‘mind,’ ideographically shows this unity, and should be translated as ‘heart-mind.’) Smith further illuminates the aims of education in various Eastern wisdom traditions:
'In Taoism it involves finding ‘the stillpoint’; in Buddhism, returning to your ‘original face.’ The practice of Way – and here the key word is practice, as one never quite reaches the goal completely, finally – leads to an awareness of how the smallest details of life play into the largest consequences and effects, and that it is therefore highly important to maintain vigilance over the details of one’s conduct, because how we get to her, today, depends on what happened yesterday, or indeed the moment just passed.'

The greatest educational challenge today is not downloading more, better, sophisticated knowledge and skills into students but helping them to cultivate the unity of heart and mind (and let’s not forget the embodied nature of this cultivation) through the work of awareness, and bring this unity fully into all contexts of their personal, communal, academic, and professional lives. The challenge is to infuse knowledge with awareness or mindfulness of which love and sensitivity are a part, and the result is, in short, wisdom. Can our schools, from kindergarten to university, be institutions of wisdom?”
       Bai H, Cohen A, Culham T, et al. “A Call for Wisdom in Higher Education. Contemplative Voices from the Dao-Field.” in:
       Gunnlaugson O, Sarath EW, Scott C. eds. “Contemplative Learning and Inquiry Across Disciplines.” State Univ of New York Press 2014.


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