Quora answer: Is gaining knowledge the main purpose of education? Why, or why not?

Feb 18 2014

Classically the purpose of education is to build character and to instill virtue and knowledge acquisition was seen as one means to this end. Our idea about what education was for has changed over time to emphasize knowledge acquisition. But actually as has been mentioned on Bloom’s scale acquisition of knowledge is just the beginning. One must be taught what to do with it once acquired, i.e. how to refine it. Unfortunately, academia does not bother to teach us as well how to make it useful in life, and that is why there is such a disconnect between the Logos (Academia) and the Physus (Industry). Many of us end up working in Industry for which we are ill prepared by an academic training. It seems that neither Academia nor Industry are interested in character or virtue. In fact, it appears that they are positively detrimental to “success” in either sphere.

 

My own take on it is that one must engage in education of oneself because one is not going to get what one needs in educational institutions these days for the most part. This self-education is often called now spirituality. They revolve around how to acquire not just knowledge but wisdom, insight and realization, and other higher qualities that serve to refine character and instill in oneself virtues. Since religion has failed in this regard due to unreasonable clinging to superstition and dogma which tends to undermine itself, what is left is spirituality as a way to appreciate how higher forms of self-refinement are possible and attainable.

 

Once you understand that knowledge serves wisdom and wisdom serves insight and insight serves realization and that these are emergent levels beyond knowledge, and that givens, data, and information are necessary prerequisites but not sufficient, then one begins to appreciate the magnitude of the problem one faces when one considers how one might educate oneself. In this education we learn about the building of the various socially constructed levels of understanding such as facts, theories, paradigms, epistemes, ontoi, existences and absolutes and this teaches us that knowledge itself and the ability to understand it transforms in our society and culture and its tradition. Knowledge is the most stable of all things in experience, and it is for this reason that it is emphasized in education. It is a stable foundation on which to base our further pursuit of character and virtue. But eventually on realizes that character and virtue are by-products and are not the goal itself. Very few ever realize what the goal is which is some wisdom, some insight into the nature of existence, some realization of how to embody one’s insights into ones own nature as a human being within ones social context and historical milieu. The problem is that even if one absorbs spiritual traditions one realizes that they cannot be taken as they are but transformed to be relevant to ones own life and the historical context in which one finds oneself. In effect one must really absorb multiple deep rooted spiritual traditions in order to compare and contrast them and to get a sense what the essence of spirituality itself is about beyond its manifestation in any given tradition, and really what one wants is that essence beyond all embodiments because that is what answers the fundamental human need and is applicable to all contexts and all historical periods or cultural and social milieus in which one might find oneself. It is that which gives nurture to the human spirit and buoys the soul in inevitable adversity. Here in line with the dual nature of the essence of the human being in most cultures and traditions there is the difference between what is breathed and the breathing itself. The spiritual tradition is what one breaths in, but the breathing process itself is what is within oneself that is dynamic in its seeking the nondual character of the foundations of life, consciousness, and the social.

 

Eventually one realizes that all the various foreign nondual spiritual traditions point back home and are only there so one can see that the kernel of ones own tradition, no mater how dualistic is fundamentally based on nonduality itself despite all the attempts to suppress it in every conceivable way in our own somewhat disconnected tradition. And this is perhaps the most surprising facticity of all. Because spirituality which I take to be synonymous with nonduality is ubiquitous, i.e. is literally everywhere and in everything at its core, it is also built in to the kernel of the Western Worldview despite all the attempts to rid the worldview of any vestiges of the nondual by continual violence over the centuries and ages. In fact all the major traditions have had their nondual moment of transformation and they dealt with it very differently. Confucianism had Taoism, Hinduism had Buddhism, and the West had Islam. The west fought nonduality to the death and attempted to kill it off within its borders in every way possible, but because nonduality is a feature of existence at its kernel it cannot be gotten rid of and is in fact only intensified by this act of superficial exclusion. By looking at China and India we can understand the transformative effects of realizing the nature of the nondual within a tradition, and we can catch on to what the West has missed so far but what is stored up for it even more powerfully when it is finally unleashed.

 

I call this unleashing of the transformative power of nonduality within the kernel of the Western tradition itself the Homeward Path, it is when everything comes back to roost which was avoided during the violent suppression of nonduality throughout its history. It is when the our dominant earth destroying worldview turns inside out. And this has very profound implications for education, especially self-education within our tradition. Self-education in our time in our place boils down to seeing the nondual everywhere within and underlying the duality and nihilism that plagues every aspect of our tradition, and thus gaining access to the meaning of things which everything bears within itself for us, including ourselves. I would venture to say that this is the heart of all education, especially self-education in which as Bateson says one does not just learn, but learns to learn, and learns to learn to learn, and learns to learn to learn to learn etc. Learning is essentially to replace ignorance with knowledge, but also to replace folly with wisdom that flows from spirituality oriented toward the nondual, but also to replace obdurate and opaque darkness of the soul with insight, and finally to replace the chaos at the kernel of ones self with the realization of how to embody what one has learned concerning the ultimate nature of existence rooted in comprehension of one’s own nondual nature.

 

Now this appears to be something difficult and complex and basically impossible but actually because existence is everywhere the bedrock underneath the veneer of Being, and because existence can always be seen nondual either as emptiness of Buddhism or void of Taoism, then it is merely a matter of seeing through the illusion of Being to the bedrock of existence that is necessary in every case. In Islam for instance, the nondual heresy of the Western tradition, this is called fitra. Instead of original sin every baby is born with an inner knowledge of nonduality which they embody purely and originally without any obscurities. So we know directly this from our always already lost origin in existence. In Buddhism that is called prajna. Getting back to that insight is what enlightenment is all about. Or from the point of view of Taosim we are already one with nature and if we realize the void within ourself that is the same as that within nature then we are purified completely as described by Lao Tzu. Knowing the difference between illusion and reality, between truth and fiction, between identity and difference, between presence and absence and acting on the understanding of those distinctions in every situation is the embodiment of this nonduality as the ability to make non-nihilistic distinctions. Knowing how to make non-nihilistic distinctions in life is what gives rise to character and virtue as a side effect of embodying nonduality. Of course, this is not easy. But it is possible for human beings to approximate, and to the extent we do approximate it we display in ourselves wisdom, insight and realization based on our knowledge.

 

Education is self-education and self-education is taking the homeward path to wisdom, insight and realization, which is making our own the resources embedded in our own tradition that give access to spirituality. This is the only way to transform ourselves and our dominant nihilistic worldview that is in the process of destroying the earth and ourselves, and all other species directly. To stop this process at its root, in ourselves, is character and is virtue in our time. But as Zizek says we are just so lost in ideology, because we think we have gotten beyond it, that all of this is obscured in every way possible. For what is most important we don’t even know how to frame the questions, less well have sources for the answers. So the true roots of self-education are lost, and for that reason education itself has gone completely astray as it merely enforces one side of the most fundamental dualism in the worldview which is that between logos and physus. What is nondual between these is the nomos (order). We cannot expect the enforcer of a duality to lead us to nonduality. And that is why we have to engage in self-education. Self-education means learning the traditions of spirituality so that character and virtue are motivated by something deeper. But when we get into that very depth we realize that it was all around us from the beginning and part of our nature as a birthright. All the dualism and violence of the West cannot suppress it no matter what lengths it goes to, even the destruction of the earth will not suppress it. As long as there are human beings it is possible for them to see though illusion into the inner nature of existence, their own existence and that of all things. And many people do glimpse this in their lives at special moments of insight that brings wisdom. But we are just so caught up in the dualistic illusions generated by our culture and society that generates the nihilism of our worldview. Ultimately, education itself must be educated as to what is profound and ultimate, and we do that in our self-education. And this transformation of education in ourselves is the real purpose of all education.

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