In Response to Stephanie’s “What’s up with philosophers and reading?”

(Stephanie’s article "What’s up with philosophers and reading?" can be found here)

“And the day came

When the monk shaved his head,

Burned his books,

And mediated beneath the bodhi tree.”

This is by-and-far one of my favourite quotes of all time. I truly wish I could give you a source to credit it to, but I can’t, even after trying to find it again after about nine years. I read it once in a small poetic manual on Buddhism that I also cannot seem to find anymore. If any of you can ever give me a source for this quote, I will happily buy you lunch!

To me, this quote is speaking to a notion of practical experience that we cannot gain from reading. On the surface, I think that this quote is suggestive of Plato’s esteemed value for higher-order thinking illuminated by “The Good”. But personally, I think it is more in line with Lock and Rousseau in their advocacy of concrete and practical experience. This quote is personally appealing because I interpret it to present a point where book learning ceases to be useful or meaningful anymore and it is only through practical experiential learning that we can continue learning beyond a barrier that book learning will not carry us past. Thus, at some point where we can learn no more from our books, we must leave them behind (and in the Monk’s case, other material possessions that tie him or her to the world), and we must go out and apply our learning in a practical fashion.

I have learned that this is a pretty big part of Constructivism in Educational Psychology and the development of Deep Learning, as noted in the graph bellow:

With this in mind, it is my opinion that reading is great, but, it can also become a handicap. I think it is profoundly useful in learning, but, I think that it serves as an end unto learning in ways that are practical in our world. Thus, I suppose I take a significant departure from Plato, and I file myself alongside Locke and Rousseau. I think that learning should serve an end where-by we can express ourselves in this world through it, and we can better our lives by it. Albeit, I think that the private internal world is incredibly important and an end unto itself, as is the ephemeral and sometimes invisible, or entirely personal, world of faith and religion (OMG I LOVE YOU SØREN KIERKEGAARD!!). However, I think that the objective world around us is the plane upon which they intersect, and must engage with one another through. Thus, without practise of some kind, I believe that one’s knowledge will remain incomplete.

So, at some point, we will have learned all we can from the books we read. When that time comes, we will have to leave them behind, and engage our knowledge with the world around us so that we may be able to continue our journey of learning.

– Nathan


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