Learning without Teaching. This was one of Reverend Daiko Matsuyama’s messages from Zen that resonates with my approach to education. Matsuyama, head priest of Taizoin Temple in Kyoto, part of Myōshinji temple complex associated with the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, visited Stanford this week and talked about Zen monastic life in Japan and his path to becoming a monk.
He explains that Zen is an action, not a philosophy. The essence of Zen cannot be discovered by simply reading philosophical books, as is popular in the West, but instead must be realized through the application of its basic, active principles to one’s daily life. This way of learning is experiential – rather than teaching through reading sacred texts and lectures, learning is seen as occurring through practice, through the body, through the senses.
After his lecture, we went to my “mindfulness classroom,” where we were joined by Masa Yamamoto, from Dentsu, who is a student at Stanford Business School, and presently taking my class Heartfulness, and Taka Fujita of Nozomi.
I explained how my students are hungry for finding meaning and purpose in their lives, but are accustomed to an educational system that emphasizes active teaching and passive learning. I emphasize educational design, by setting the environment for learning, with principles similar to Zen, believing that synergistic learning occurs naturally if the right conditions are created. Students are challenged to both willfully and intentionally act and also be willing to let go and receive.
Matsuyama shared his observation that mindfulness in Silicon Valley is utilitarian, focused on achieving an outcome, a product, whereas Zen has no purpose of achieving anything but clarity. To me, the mainstream culture of individualism and the value of achieving happiness through getting more and more permeates mindfulness in the Valley and at Stanford. My form of mindfulness, which I call heartfulness, brings the focus to acceptance, to compassion, community, and service.
Matsuyama’s explanation of Taru o shiru is highly relevant for the high flyers in the Silicon Valley. It means to be content with what you are and what you have. One way people try to increase happiness is to gain more, while the Buddhist way is to want less. Acquiring new things is exciting and makes you happier for a moment, but humans are greedy and once we get something we want more and happiness lessens.
My disillusionment with mindfulness here draws me to Japan where I sense great possibilities for a more heartful way of being. I believe that the spiritual foundation of Zen gives mindfulness great potential to truly transform lives and society. This a belief he and I share and are developing and spreading around the world.