Monday, September 03, 2007

Daoism on Instructing / Teaching

In honor of all the schools opening the day after Labor Day, today's writing is "Instruct" from p. 194 of Everyday Tao: Living with Balance and Harmony by Deng Ming-Dao.



The correct teaching is like flowing water.
Flowing water should nurture, not destroy

Many teachers think only of themselves. They want to be admired. They are like a dangerous and raging river.

Other teachers are pious, but so love their own learning that they cannot bear to make it accessible, even to their students. Great knowledge, they say, can never be compromised. They are like a river too wide to cross.

The best teachers think only of the student. They bring out the best in the student, regardless of their own inclination, and work to convey knowledge in a way the student can absorb. They are like a life-giving stream.

Those who are teachers in Tao therefore uphold this ideal. It doesn't matter if the teacher is famous for a certain subject; if the student doesn't need that, the teacher will teach what the student needs. It doesn't matter if knowledge is infinite; the teacher will begin the student on the path to exploration so that he or she is never left confused and lost. It doesn't matter if the time grows long; the teacher is patient and nurtures the student through all the stages of the student's learning.

The teacher who brings out the best in the student is the greatest master.

I'm sure we all know people who can be described by this writing.

A person who is like a dangerous and raging river:
I belong to a couple of email discussion lists, and know of a couple of message boards where people can post messages about the I Ching. Posting to them, there is a fellow who is brilliant. A true genius. However, his posts are so far over the heads of the rest of us, it isn't even funny. When asked to explain his ideas, he becomes belligerent, telling people they aren't too bright, otherwise they would see "the obvious" as he has. When he isn't rubbing people the wrong way, he's putting down everyone in sight. He's been banned from more than one list because of this. This is sad, because here is a person who could be a great teacher. Unfortunately, he himself will probably be his only student because his only concern is to impress people, not help them understand "the obvious."

A person who is like a river too wide to cross:
Then, there are other people who tell you just enough about a topic to whet your appetite, then can't say another word because they would be "giving away secrets." It's not even a case of drawing you in for money, wanting you to sign up for their course or buy their book. They just plain won't say another word because, now that they know they have you hooked, they aren't sure you are "worthy" to accept the knowledge and use it in a right and righteous manner! The most interesting thing about them is that when you finally stop asking them to share their knowledge, they wonder why you stopped asking!

Teaching, or "Instructing," is an interesting topic with several avenues to explore beyond looking at what others may offer us. Do you realize that, whether you are alone or with others, you are teaching every single moment of every single day?

More often than any other method, even formal education, you teach others through your actions and words. If you say one thing and do another, it generates mistrust. After all, how do people know where you stand, or where they stand with you, if your words do not match your deeds?

Actions speak volumes. For example, I consider all life to be sacred. As a result, when I discover an insect inside the house, I carefully capture it and put it outside. One time, my husband, who does not consider spiders to be something he cares to cozy up to - in fact he usually squashes them - saw a spider ambling across the television. He got up, coaxed it onto a page of newspaper, and put it outside! I was delighted, not to mention rather stunned. I've told him - nicely of course - how beneficial spiders are to the ecosystem, and that we shouldn't kill them. While he agreed with that ideal in principle, his behavior was still to "squash the spider" whenever one appeared in the house. When he returned from letting out the spider, he said, "See, I'm learning!"

Many people will say they believe that spiders are beneficial, but when they find a spider in the house, they usually go the route of squashing it. They do not live their words. What sort of thing are these people teaching you about themselves? What sort of thing would you teach people about yourself if you behaved this way? You would be teaching confusion and mistrust.

What we often don't stop to think about is that, as far as teaching goes, we are our own Master, our own "life-giving stream." We ourselves are probably the most important life-giving stream we will ever encounter. Every habit you have ever acquired - good or bad - is a lesson you have taught yourself. Everything you say to yourself, whether it is encouraging or discouraging, is a lesson in how you see yourself.

It's very true that if you respect and like yourself, others will like and respect you, too. To allow your life to resemble a life-giving stream rather than a too-wide or a raging river, be very aware of the lessons you teach yourself. When you teach yourself positive things, you will teach others beneficial things, too, and they will learn favorable things about you; that you are trustworthy, a good and loyal friend, someone who is kind, nurturing, and compassionate.

Finally, the famed psychologist Carl Jung believed that our dreams have much to teach us though the lesson is sometimes difficult to see. Recurring dreams are the most potent - they definitely have something to tell you. The key to dream interpretation is to look at the symbols in your dreams and determine what they mean to you. Dream dictionaries may be fun, but the symbolism found in them may not be the same as your experiences with the symbols you dream about. To identify the symbolism, you may need to delve deeply into your past.

For a while in the early 1990s, I had a recurring dream in which I walked through a house in which every room had two doors. I wandered from room to room, entering each room through one door and leaving through another, until I arrived back where I started, which was always in the kitchen. The symbolism on that one is pretty easy to see: I wasn't finding nourishment (food) in the normal places (the kitchen), but I was just going in circles searching for the right kind of sustenance.

The final occurrence of the dream had a very different ending, and the last piece of that puzzle settled into place. The end of the final repetition of the dream saw me enter a small room, quite abandoned, dark (the window was boarded up), and dusty. Against the wall was a trunk - the old-fashioned kind with the rounded lid - and it was quite securely locked! So, what was the meaning of that?

Well, it told me the end to my wandering was near, and that I would find at the end of the road something quite old. (When I was young, there was a trunk like that in my mother's attic. In it were very old books. They were my aunts' old school books and weren't all that old, but as a child, I found them very ancient and fascinating!) Shortly after that final dream, I began my study of the I Ching - a very ancient book indeed!

Here is the final link to the symbolism in the dream - and it may seem like a coincidence, but it speaks volumes to me - almost from the beginning of my study of the I Ching, I have kept my I Ching coins in a small box that is shaped like a trunk with a rounded lid just like the trunk in the attic.

So, to learn what your dreams are trying to teach you, look into your past and your personal symbolism. I'm sure you will discover something valuable to you.

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