Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Art(s) vs. Science

In early 2014 I signed up for an on-line university course from Coursera on "Buddhist Meditation and the Modern World". It was meant to start in 2Q2014 but was subsequently delayed for almost twelve months.

I had a fine and rewarding experience taking another Coursera course on Android programming which lasted for most of 2014, and found the material extremely useful.

I've done other online courses on Exercise Physiology, Learning How To Learn, and on a variety of IT-related subjects. I'm in the middle of a course on Advanced Data Structures using Java at the moment.

I was excited about the course on Buddhist Meditation, and when it finally became available I jumped in with both feet. I've had a fairly modest meditation practice of my own for about five years now. Simple stuff, set a timer for 12 minutes, sit cross legged with eyes shut and try to concentrate on the flow of my breath without letting my mind wander, and when it does wander bring it back to the breath.

I expected he Buddhist Meditation course to be all about practice. Getting closer to Satori, enlightenment, whatever it is ... I can't name or describe it but somehow feel I know it anyway.

Godself, Alex Grey

Instead it seemed to be a bunch of recorded lectures or lecturers talking to the camera about Buddhist history, the various branches of Buddhism, books written and public advocates thereof, and arguments for and against. Opinions no doubt vary, but to me they had managed to describe a forest without mentioning a single living tree. Lots and lots and LOTS of facts, but not a single direction telling me how to get off the Wheel of Karma and stop it from crushing me beneath it, how to free myself from attachments and desire, etc. etc.

It seemed to me like the difference between being able to describe the Eightfold Path word for word, and sing it note for note ... and actually going beyond the words and living that path.

Others may have found the course fascinating and got exactly what they were looking for from it. I don't wish to denigrate them or the course staff. It just wasn't even close to what I was hoping to find.

I'm way more of a science geek than an artist. My Dad is a retired philosophy professor, but I'm not overly interested. Logic and mathematics form part of philosophy, but they are at least as much if not more involved with the sciences.

I like transformational art and music as much as anyone, but I'm a science guy, not an arts guy.

Maybe it's the academic thing - some academics (and teachers) do have a way of taking subjects which should be intrinsically fascinating and finding ways to present them which manage to leach all the fire and light out of them, leaving desiccated, skeletal remains of a subject that was full of life. Picking over such as a student is a tedious and soul-destroying activity. But a GOOD teacher who understands and loves his subject, and can inspire that love in his students ... these people deserve everything we can offer them and more.

I HATED history at school. It was horrible. Boring as stale dogshit, to quote Hunter S Thompson. But podcasters like Dan Carlin with Hardcore History and Daniele Bolelli with History on Fire can make it come alive, totally compelling and captivating.

Hardcore History's "Wrath of the Khans" is far and away the best piece of historical exposition I have ever heard. You are left in awe at the character and exploits of Ghengis Khan and his relatives and descendants.

Not sure what my answer, or even my point, is with this rant. I'm following Sam Harris ("Waking Up") and Dan Harris ("10% Happier") now for my directions on meditation. And their advice isn't long or complex. You just have to execute. The practice is way more important than the handbooks or instructional videos.

 Avalokiteshvara, Naljor Creations