Friday, May 16, 2008

Rational Choice Theory and Teaching

Rational Choice Theory is the basis of much of economic and sociological theory. The theory is highly suspect in most choice situations. 

Much of Buddhism is presented and taught on the basis of RTC. Just look at the expositions in Jewel Ornament of Liberation, for instance.

If RTC is bunk, what do you do when teaching?

My sense is we need to move the emphasis to learning and away from teaching.

In other words, the primary task of the teacher is to create situations and environments in which people learn and build:
1. the possibilities and viability (addresses willingness) of venturing into the mystery
2. skills they need to do so
3. capacities they need to do so

What they do, then, is not up to the "teacher". The teacher has done his or her job.

What the teacher should not do is explain or try to convince the student that this is a good idea!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Buddhism and Science

The so-called debate between science and religion is better viewed as a conflict between modern and traditional cultures, the former looking to individual exploration and agency as guides, the latter relying on examples of past perfection as guides. 

Buddhism, it can be argued, was (is) the first modern religion. While in its institutional forms, it echoes the values and processes of traditional cultures, at its core, it's about individual exploration. As Buddha Shakyamuni said just before he died, "I've shown you a way. Work out your own freedom."

Recently, David Brooks, a columnist for the NY Times, wrote:
First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships. Second, underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions. Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when they transcend boundaries and overflow with love. Fourth, God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is.

Here, in a nutshell, is the core of the tension. Traditional cultures hold their own religions and institutions special and sacred while modern cultures see these religions and institutions as particular expressions of universal principles. Traditional cultures object to the undermining of their specialness. Modern cultures object to the privileged status of a particular formulation in a pluralistic world.

You can read the whole of Brook's piece here.