… perhaps during those impending college years that I was so looking forward to, I would decide “what to be when I grow up.”
When I was a kid, I naturally had different—and significantly simpler—assumptions about how the world operates than I do today. Based on my upbringing and education, I had the impression that at some point in my life, perhaps during those impending college years that I was so looking forward to, I would decide “what to be when I grow up.” Logically this decision would take into account things like enjoyment, aptitude, and economic factors. There were a few options that I was considering, mostly involving technology—maybe engineering or aerospace—but whatever my choice, I was confident that my grown-up life would be a great success.
In hindsight, perhaps I was just a bit overconfident. But I was certainly determined, and over the years I’ve found that determination counts for a lot. When my grandfather—a man of few words—dropped me off at college, he told me, “work hard.” So I did. I chose my path, and years later found myself with a Bachelor’s degree in Music (see enjoyment, above) and Physics (aptitude), working in an administrative position at Apple Computer (economic factors). And as my grandmother used to tell me, “you’ve made your bed, and now you have to lie in it.” So I did that too. Live and learn.
… often we see that there are a few key decisions that led us here: “I’ll work hard,” “I’ll study this,” “I’ll take this job,” “I’ll marry this person.”
All of us choose a path in life. And if we retrace that path to see how we arrived at our current situation, often we see that there are a few key decisions that led us here: “I’ll work hard,” “I’ll study this,” “I’ll take this job,” “I’ll marry this person.” What’s most difficult is actually seeing into the causes and conditions of each of those decisions—seeing where they will lead—and making the right decision, doing the right thing, at that critical point. This ability to deeply and systematically understand cause and effect is what is meant by “wisdom” in Buddhist thought.
There is a growing segment in education that is beginning to take to this more broad-minded approach, to consider content and pedagogy that place considerations like enjoyment, aptitude, and economic decision-making factors into the context of a more systematic understanding. This movement is embraced by DRBU, but it is by no means limited to our institution. A recent article posted on the Harvard Crimson reports that “Ethical Reasoning 18: Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory is Harvard’s third most popular class.” Why so popular? These Chinese classics “offer startlingly relevant insights into how to think about making choices, including career choices, from a broad perspective.” They help students “think about things holistically” and are “liberating for students contemplating career choices.”
… philosophy as a discipline … of “how to live a good life—meaning a correct and honorable life, but also a fully human, satisfying, flourishing one.”
Just weeks before the Harvard article went live, the Los Angeles Review of Books published a story on Sarah Bakewell’s latest bestseller How to Live. A reflection on Michel Montaigne’s life and writings, the book attempts to recharacterize our understanding of philosophy as a discipline; framing it as a system of self-examination, self-discipline, and virtue; of “how to live a good life—meaning a correct and honorable life, but also a fully human, satisfying, flourishing one.” The Review also reflects on the interpretive tradition of Pierre Hadot, renowned classics scholar and author of Philosophy as a Way of Life. Bakewell’s new book honors Hadot’s contribution to the study of the Western classics as a set of methods, rather than doctrines, for living the examined life—the life worth living, as Socrates would say.
… that there is value to be found in classic texts that goes beyond theory and doctrine, that touches something lived and breathed, that speaks profoundly to the human condition, and that provides insight into a deeper, more connected purpose.
Hadot’s concerns reflect the sentiments of the classics revival in education—that there is value to be found in classic texts that goes beyond theory and doctrine, that touches something lived and breathed, that speaks profoundly to the human condition, and that provides insight into a deeper, more connected purpose. I even suspect, in part because of my own experience, that the students at Harvard aren’t just concerned for their careers. Rather, in the midst of our materialistic, hyper-stimulated information society, perhaps many of them notice a lacking that Hadot addresses when we writes that “we have forgotten how to read: how to pause, liberate ourselves from our worries, return into ourselves, and leave aside our search for subtlety and originality, in order to meditate calmly, ruminate, and let the texts speak to us. This, too, is a spiritual exercise, and one of the most difficult.”
This was exactly my concern when, having fulfilled my childhood dreams and landed myself a “great job,” I decided to drop everything to go live at a Buddhist temple and study at a startup university. I knew that there was something unfulfilled, something that I needed to reconnect to that was more profound than pleasure or money. And I had a sense, through my growing interest in Buddhist practice, that my answers were somewhere in the Sutras—so that’s where I went to look.