TREATISE ON ZANDTAO
3I’s and an i
This one is going to be fun. It has actually been quite hard to start this, it hasn’t flowed yet it is so important because it explains so much. The problem is that the Path is not the main purpose of learning in our learning institutions - I will use the word academia for these learning institutions, and as a consequence as I have said we have to unlearn much that has been passed on through them before we can experience the Path.
The main reason is the emphasis we have placed on intellect – the small i. Now a book that goes into this aspect so clearly is Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance [B12]. One interpretation of part of this book is that he attempts to teach true learning, comes up against the establishment, and goes mad in the process. And then he comes out of the other side – hitting bottom? Throughout the book [B12] he discusses the Church of Reason, and what he describes in that is much of what I went to get at with 3I’s and an i.
Now much of this chapter is going to hinge on definitions. I remember one interesting discussion with an intellectual that failed. He was interested in transcendence so we started a discussion. In the end he said that I did not define intellect appropriately and lamely walked away from further questioning. Sadly he had not seen the importance of the way I assigned the definition of intellect, and so never saw the way his definition eschewed transcendence. And immediately I start this chapter I am into academic nit-picking – ascribing definitions. Aaaggh! This friend never transcended to oneness because of the separation that the intellectual ego wanted, and one vehicle of that separation was to hide behind definitions. Whilst assigning agreed meanings to words is a fruitful process in the world of communication, it has nothing to do with the Path. All that definition does is restrict Being.
A definition of intellect is a description of faculties or abilities of the mind – I could have used reason not intellect but I liked to have an i in “3I’s and an i”. So intellect has characteristics of reasoning, logic, deduction etc. Most significant in intellect is the ability to prove objectively. Together this description (definition?) provides an enclave for academia that shuts out anything that cannot be proved by intellect and any disturbing influence that Being might have. When you add to this human aspects of careerism and profiteering, we can begin to see how academia functions and how Learning doesn’t.
I was a maths teacher, a teacher of logic and reason, but funnily enough it was mathematics which brought home to me the limitations of reason. And that was through problem-solving. I am going to try not to get too technical, and apologise if it comes across that way. Now school students have great difficulty with problem-solving, and whilst some of this is because they lack motivation there were many motivated students for whom problem-solving was a no-go area. Let us try to examine how this develops, and here I am only discussing motivated students of which there are far too few. I would teach a particular skill, and these motivated students would sit down and do 20 – no problem, they can imitate the logic. This was intellect. But the exam questions never remained as just simple skill reproduction, they became “word problems”. So the next stage was to try to reduce the “word problems” into the language of the maths skill so that they could imitate the skill that I had shown them. Now this proved impossible for most. Many of these students became successful at passing the exams by hard work because they did many of these word problems – doing all the past papers – and then when it came to the exams they could imitate – and pass. Is this shameful on my part as a teacher? In some ways, yes. I failed to teach true mathematicians but mostly I am not ashamed. What could I do best for my students? Get them exam passes and hope that they see there is more to life, I doubt if many did.
But what was required to solve these “word problems”? Here is a problem-solving technique. Look at the question, and note down the information you know. Note down possible areas of maths learning that could apply to the problem, and then ask yourself can you find the starting point? If you can find the starting point then logic and technique can solve the problem, but without the starting point the students could go nowhere. And this is the issue of problem-solving and why maths is such a good way of showing what is really important. Without the starting point students can do nothing, no matter how good their skills and techniques in reason or intellect, if you cannot start you cannot start. They lacked the Intuition. It was Intuition that started the problem, not intellect, not the skills, but Intuition – the first of the I’s.
Now I tried to help the students get an Intuition. Once you have recorded the suitable information, concentrate. Try to clear the mind of all other thoughts and focus on the problem. Not in harsh way with forehead screwed up, but gently focus on the problem with a clear mind and see if the Intuition comes. Or I could say see if they had an Insight – the second of the I’s, and for many of you you can see in this process of finding an Intuition – an Insight – meditation. And that is exactly it. These mathematical Insights come from a process of meditation, where the mind is completely calm and the starting point just comes to you. To me it seemed so obvious to see that Learning was much more than imitation or intellectual skills when teaching this problem-solving in maths.
Now there is one skill that my academic friend included in intellect that I have not included. And I am going to describe something that happened to me to try to illustrate this. At university I studied maths, and within maths this subject here and that subject there, bogged down in the intricacies trying to imitate all the feats of logic my lecturers threw at me. Then copy these feats and pass my exams to get a degree. After I left university I escaped the world of logic, and got involved with people from the art world, they welcomed a mathematician amongst them but spent a lot of time teaching me that things were not “black and white”. I thrived on this counter-intellectualism, and started to think more and more of the pattern of maths until I realised one time in discussion with them that the many branches of maths were isomorphic – the structures of the maths in the different areas had the same patterns. If you ask me to explain this now I can’t – I just remember the Insight. But it was fascinating. What have I described here? An examination of pattern – synthesis. But this is not an intellectual skill, this is not a skill of logic and rationale. What happens with synthesis? The various aspects of your work is compartmentalised, the logical steps of the processes are listed, and the mind is cleared. Then suddenly there is an Insight, and the intellect claims this calling it synthesis. Far from it, it is Insight. Now my academic friend claimed that synthesis was defined as intellect, and as it is an ability that is often used by intellectuals in their work one can understand how it is included. But by including this aspect of Insight and Intuition in intellect we miss the point, intellect needs to transcend in order to have Insights or Intuition. By defining intellect as including this synthesis my friend lost the opportunity to transcend – the very purpose of our discussion, to seek this transcendence, to find Insight, to be Intuitive.
So how does this synthesis happen? The mind is calm and clear, all the different journeys into logic and rationale have been carefully recorded, put in their place, so that they are not disturbing the calm of the mind. And then there is Insight, this is just Insight meditation – Vipassana. What is the process of this meditation. Sit calmly. The mind is racing around on this and that thought, but we focus on the breath and we calm down. After doing this regularly we focus, there is clear mind, and an Insight comes. Please note that the Insight is the result of the process of calming, clearing the mind – transcending. And what do we transcend? From the conceptual mind to the non-conceptual mind, the non-conceptual mind that accepts Intuition. Our minds become clear and it is as if a channel has been opened up in this clarity, and in a state of Oneness we can accept the Insight. We have managed to connect to our inner selves to achieve an Insight. But once we have experienced the Insight, what does it look like? I come back to something this academic friend said “my blog was intellectual”. My first reaction when I heard this was anger, but being a good Buddhist I let it melt away. Definitely not true! My blog was not intellectual. What I often did in meditation is that if I had an Insight I would write it down, and then later sit down and blog the results. So what does Insight look like? On paper insights are concepts, intellectual ideas. So the Insight itself is just a thought so that is not important, what is important is the process of Insight. Through meditation we are calming the minds in the hope of connecting with Being, in that Oneness we can maybe have an Insight. And what is Intelligence? The third I is the ability to connect with that Oneness, Intelligence again is a process. That person is Intelligent, usually means that person is intelligent, intellectual, because s/he has been successful in an academic institution – Ph D, professor or whatever. But that is not Intelligence, that is the ability to follow what other academics want, to agree that wisdom is what academia delivers, rather than the True Wisdom that comes from living on the Path.
For me Insight is the essence of meditation and core to understanding this treatise. Good luck with it.