25 November 2016

Skill vs Wisdom - Doing Things vs Becoming a Mature Man - DaoDeJing 48

The modern world stresses on acquiring skills to do things whereas the Ancient Chinese places wisdom as the development of character before acquiring of skills. We then better understand the problems of this modern world. DaoDeJing 48
DaoDeJing Chapter 48 Text and Translation:

1 为学日益,为道日损,
Education is about acquiring increasing knowledge of skills.
Acquiring the Wisdom of Dao is about decreasing the desires of self.

2 损之又损,以至于无为;
Decrease and decrease further until one does not do things to satisfy one own desire against the Dao.

3 无为而无不为。
Without insisting on selfish work will lead to doing everything that follows Dao.

4 取天下常以无事,
The way to gain the world is to regular no doing anything against Dao.

5 及其有事,不足以取天下。
If there be any work for self, then one will not be equipped to gain the world.

Skill vs Wisdom
We acquire skill so as to be more productive in doing work. Wisdom, however, is about how can we be a better person. All the knowledge and skill without the right character will only create a bigger threat for the world. Consider nuclear bomb vs swords, which is more destructive? Hence we can appreciate the wisdom of Ancient Chinese that places the development of a character before acquiring of skills. This is also where the modern education system fails. We stress on skills and not character and we wonder why highly qualified and intelligent graduates from the ivy league colleges cheated and create the great financial crisis of 2008-2009. Unless we change, expect more such nasty crimes. Oops! The banks and financial institutions were bailed out. The CEOs left with great pay and bonuses. Only the Icelanders did it right.

The Meanings of WuWei无为 No Action
This chapter teaches us some meanings of WuWei - No Action.
  1. It is not about no action. It is about the decreasing of the something that is against Dao. Lao Zi says the more we have of Dao we will have less of this thing against Dao. The best is there is no more such against. Dao is the righteous way and so the opposite will be sinfulness. More of Dao and less of sins is the teaching here. Hence,
  2. No action actually means no sinful deeds. i.e. no violation of Dao.
  3. Replacing no sinful acts with righteous acts is taught by Lao Zi in verse 3. As long as it is right, do it. Here we see the positive aspect of Lao Zi teaching. This is repeated by Lao Zi chapter 63 and 64 and other places as well. (63 为无为,事无事,味无味。64 是以圣人无为故无败,无执故无失。)
  4. The consequence of doing right and remove wrong will lead to the gaining of the whole world. We know why people who want to conquer the whole world fail. It is because their motives and their methods were wrong. They want to conquer by selfish gains and by force.
Lim Liat (c) 25 Nov 2016

Learning is by Reflection - Mind-mapping & Scientific Methods - DaoDeJing 47

Most learning that is taught is "Monkey see monkey do" kind of rote learning by repetition and memorizing. That is easy but not true learning. Reflection and re-organizing enable learning with meaningful understanding and extension for application all areas. Lao Zi shows us in DaoDeJing 47.
DaoDeJing Chapter 47 Text and Translation:

不出户,知天下;
Never go out the door and yet know all things in the world.

不窥牖,见天道;
Never look out the window and yet see the laws of heaven.

其出弥远,其知弥少;
The farther one travels, the less one seems to know.

是以圣人不行而知,
Hence, the sages don't travel and yet know.

不见而名,不为而成。
See not and yet understand. Not stressing and yet accomplished.

How do we learn?
The most basic level of learning is to memorize. Monkeys see and monkeys do. It is called rote learning. It is purely memory-based learning. Other parts of the brain are not fully engaged. The learning is not digested. The knowledge is captured as a linear list of items. When the list is short, it is ok. If the list if very long, we will soon run out of the ability to retain them for long. We cannot apply the knowledge when the situation is a little different from the items in the list. This is the key that explains why certain students study hard and yet fail while some bright students seem to study little and yet score high in tests.

Reflect and Re-Organize the Knowledge to See the Patterns 
True learning comes from exercising the mind to process the linear lists of facts. We must re-organize the list into a tree or a network of patterns, grouping those that are similars and differentiating the differences and understanding the purpose, parent-child relationships and other aspects such as the 5W1H questions. Once we can see the patterns, we can predict the missing information. We can go up the tree to see the parental groups or down the branches to see the various sub-species. Once you tell me that a Dolphin is not a fish but a mammal, I can immediately figure that Dolphin has lungs instead of gills. Have hair instead of scales. It gives birth instead of laying eggs. You can see the power of a digested knowledge mind-maps.  See my Thinking Frameworks and the series on mind-mapping for the details.

Going Beyond Surface Observations
With that understanding above, we can understand what Lao Zi has written. We are to go beyond what our observations have shown us and understand why they are so. It is the scientific approach to learning things. Once you grasp Newton Laws, we can use it to make all kinds of machinery that do wonderful work for us. Once you grasp Einstein's theory of relativity, we can better understand the universe and know how to send our rocket and spaceship into space. Similarly, when we truly understand Dao, we can apply it not just in our physical world, but for our social and spiritual world as well. 

Lim Liat (c) 25 Nov 2016