On the nature of learning

by Byron Lerner on 2010/09/11

The Taoists believe that there is no right or wrong.  Everything is flawless.  Nothing ever changes; everything stays the same.  It is only our perspective that changes.  Time is always immediately present.  Another way of putting it is that time expires instantaneously, and therefore it never expires.  The present is called the moment because it has momentum.  Still, yet moving like the river.  This relates to taiji as well.

One consistent problem that many students encounter on the path of learning taiji is the desire to ask too many questions.  Most students’  questions are based on the mistaken idea that they already know something and wish to expand on that knowledge.  This belief in learning through intellectual understanding is misguided because the only way to truly learn taiji is through practiced movement, not thought.

The requirement for learning movement is to act like a child.  Closely observe how the teacher is moving and then attempt to replicate that same movement.  Then repeat ten thousand times.  Monkey see, monkey do.  The Zen Buddhists call this beginner’s mind.  Others have referred to this state of mind as the empty cup.  Any beliefs you have about what is correct or incorrect actually prevent you from being able to learn.

When students are attached to preconceived notions, the mind remains closed to new experience.  As soon as students think they know something, they can’t learn anymore.  The very notion of presumed learning is what closes the mind from continuing to learn. This is very difficult for most people to accept because they cling to the idea that they know something.  They don’t like to think that they know nothing.  Almost everyone struggles with this concept because of its apparent paradoxical nature.  The solution is to stop thinking and simply act.  Be like a child.  Cultivate the attributes of innocence, openness, and humility.

An ancient Taoist proverb says that the beginning of wisdom is – “I don’t know.”  Most people don’t allow themselves this stance of “I don’t know” often enough.  However, most of the time when people think they know, they don’t really know at all.  All they know is their past experience, which can never truly describe the present.  Such a way of approaching life allows for little spontaneous reaction, and that’s where true learning takes place.  By allowing oneself to live in the present, one can truly begin to learn.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Khamserk February 4, 2012 at 10:00 am

This is a nice article Byron, I forgot about this one.


Allan Haddad April 18, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Agreed, I like.


Asad Habib August 29, 2013 at 2:07 pm

This is a very deep and beautifull article. Thank you for the reminder.


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