A Dialogue on Learning, Schooling, and Enlightenment

Questioner: It seems the book that my daughter uses is a little easy and mainly focuses on literature. I wonder if we could find a subject or topic or series that my daughter would be interested in for a comparatively long period of time. And I also wish she could have the ability to produce her own critical thinking ability.

Answerer: Your daughter’s behavior is perfectly normal. The reason she hinders from continuing is because she has no interest in the subject. We tried exploring TED last time, and, as you can see, she refused to continue learning it. I believe TED is very good, but it’s not for everybody. That said, there are two ways we can approach this. First, we let her direct the learning (as I said, if you want your daughter to find her interest, you have to trust her). This means the result will be abstract. There is no set agenda. Everything that we do will be trial and error. Nevertheless, everything will be completely pure learning. Second, we can direct her to a certain subject, and insist her to finish it whether she is interested or not. She’ll learn things but most of the time the retention (memory) will be very low since it has nothing to do with her interest. Or we can direct her to a subject and keep providing her with something new whenever she gets disinterested. The problem with the second path is there is not always the interest in learning. So to answer your question: critical thinking flourishes naturally when the pupil is curious and is interested in studying the subject. We don’t need to force it.

Q: Not force, but guide. A boy once asked the famous Chinese pianist, Lang Lang, “How could you find interest in the boring practice?” And Lang Lang said, “How could you find interest without boring practice?” If that is force, then we don't need any school.

A: Yes, you need to put in the hours. But some are born to seek by themself. Others, need a guide. Just as there are people who don’t go to school and have found their way. For Lang Lang, it’s probably part of his culture that he found his way.

Q: Tell me, are all your students forced to follow your system?

A: I actually don’t follow any system. I just use a book as a guide because the parents want some progress (vocabulary, grammar, etc.)

Q: Kids are easily driven to quit. And most people need school to guide them.

A: Kids quit easily because they are being forced to do something they don’t want. And when they quit, parents begin to worry.

Q: Then there will be no pianist in the world. Because every kid in the world feels the boredom from practice.

A: I talked to a former student about this a while back. Basically, you have to understand that boredom is part of the equation. There can be no joy without boredom. When you can understand them as one, there is no boredom or joy. The endgame is, however, only the talented one makes the cut. You can put in hours and hours each day, but if you’re not “that good” at playing, you still can’t be a good pianist. If what you meant by persisting boredom is true, then everybody would be a world-class pianist. Because they would just put in the hours and they’ll become famous.

Q: We don't need to be world famous. When one becomes an adult, or an elderly, he or she will surely enjoy the happiness that piano can take him or her. And that is enough.

A: In my opinion, piano is not for everybody, just like TED.

Q: I asked my daughter to continue piano for many reasons. First, she said she likes piano and would like to learn. She took the initiative, not me. Second, though practice is boring, she enjoys playing in the theater very much. She always pushed me to register for the performance in the assembly.

A: Okay, you need to make sure she isn’t doing it because she is afraid of you. That’s more important. If she really enjoys them, then go for it.

Q: She also tried lots of other things, such as Chinese calligraphy, skateboarding, etc. And she had quit a lot as well. I also agreed.

A: Try this: don’t tell her to do anything. Will she touch the piano when she has nothing to do? Only then you will see her true color.

Q: She will! She even reminded me sometimes. Maybe she doesn't like piano, but she likes the feeling when performing in the theater.

A: People do many things for several reasons. Some for pride, others for fame and fortune. But all these are fickle. They are only “temporary happiness”. The true person is the one who enjoys the process as a whole. This person feels alive doing it, so he or she is in another place.

Q: Everybody is different. And also there is no one correct way in the life.

A: Yes, everybody is different, so we cannot simply compare one with the other. Some people need school, others don’t. So we just have to find which one is correct for us. But to say that everybody has to get a college degree before doing something else is not natural to me.

Q: Even temporary happiness makes life whole. And 99.9% of people are very ordinary. We enjoy every small pieces of happiness that life brings to us.

A: Happiness and sorrow are one. If you understand that, then there is no happiness nor sorrow. They are created only in your mind.

Q: I don't understand, and I don't wish to pursue this. We only live once. I hope my daughters could enjoy a very common and simple happiness. I don't want to use their life to search for something special. If my search turned out to be a failure, what should I say to them?

A: To understand is your choice. This is the simplest form. People just make it complicated.

Q: I just follow the common norm and try my best to enjoy them.

A: But then you don’t know what true happiness is... what if the “common norm” doesn’t lead you to the answer? This is the reason, I think, why 99.9% of people are mediocre.

Q: We are! You know, mediocre doesn't mean unhappy.

A: Of course not. The choice is always yours to make. In the end, the guider must know where to go before he or she can guide his or her children. Until then, it’s merely someone else’s words — a theory.

Q: Sure! But comparatively, a common way is a safer way.

A: Define safe.

Q: I don't want to use their life to take a risk, such as homeschooling. Of course, it’s not safe at all in China, to say the least.

A: I can’t say what is safe for me is the same definition as yours. But I’ll be a father soon and I know I won’t put my son through the same route as everybody else. As you said, everybody is different. To me losing 1,000 yuan is a big deal. For other people, it’s small change. It wasn’t hard making the decision because I know what’s going on in schools inside out. Also, I would not let other people teach my kid knowing that they probably have no idea what life is. I told my wife the same thing and she agreed. I don’t see why doing something that is out of the ordinary is “risky” for some people. For me, if you do something that is different, it tells me that you have an independent state of mind.

Q: Then your kid won’t be able to have friends and socialize.

A: He will make friends with the right people from all ages and in the right environment. Again, some children are more introvert than others. You can’t push someone who is naturally quiet to socialize. If you do, he or she will be timid. When you look at your daughter’s level, she is fit to study in 3rd or 4th grade level. But the school system won’t allow that. If you remember what I’ve said in the past, school is slowing some people down.

Q: Maybe in academic she could pursue slightly higher. I’m more worried about her level of thinking and maturity. She’ll also have difficulty making friends with her classmates.

A: The problem is the environment — that includes her friends.

Q: Yes.

A: So that’s another problem with school. If she is surrounded by mature friends, then she’ll be mature as well.

Q: Maybe. But people must learn to work with others.

A: Work with others in what way? What if you don’t like this person or this person is making you unhappy? If you force yourself because you believe in the dogma “you must learn to work with others” then you’ll be depressed. You work with like minded people.

Q: At least you should know how to restrain yourself.

A: Many people who choose this route are depressed. Look, it’s all about self-awareness. One has to know oneself before one can learn to work with others.

Understand: Everybody is different. What we — as parents — think is important for our children may or may not have any future bearing in their life. That said, we must first know where to go in order to guide our children. However, we cannot decide which path they must take.

AWAKENING

Being awake makes you free. The more you are awake, the more you are free like a cloud in the sky.

A cloud has autonomy. It has no fixed form. It constantly waxes and wanes.

One moment it looks like a sheep, another moment it looks like a tiger. One never knows.

One moment it glides to the west, another moment it glides to the east. One can never predict.

 

It is absolutely free,

Unrooted anywhere in Earth.

It is not attached,

Hence, it clings to nothing.

Nor it is obsessed to anything,

So it has no illusion.

 

Awakening is the beginning of seeing Reality.

A Simple Advice

Shuhan. 

Shuhan. 

I like planting seeds. Whenever I engage student in a dialogue, it is usually done to implant an idea (or ideas) and let that idea(s) take root. And that’s what Shuhan and I, conversed, midway through reading “Who is J.K. Rowling” yesterday.

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As you can imagine, many 7-year-olds are easily influenced by others and have trouble creating their own identity. So I’d like to know how far I could take Shuhan’s desire and turn it into reality. Here is, essentially, what we discussed:

 

William: What do we know so far?

Shuhan: Well, Jo (J.K. Rowling’s nickname) always liked to write. She’d write every day. She didn’t like her job but she’d always write when she’s not working.

W: Many writers have similar beginning struggles in life. They’re always afraid their work may not be well received by readers. They’re always worried that they can’t earn any money by writing. So many writer wannabes end up working at jobs they hate. But for Jo, she kept writing. She kept following her heart. How many years did it took her to publish the first Harry Potter book?

S: Seven years.

W: If you think about it, seven years is a lifetime (writing the first draft, proofreading it, and then rewriting it over and over again). She didn’t write it because someone told her to write imaginative characters. She didn’t write because her teachers assigned it as homework.

S: Actually, her teachers were not very good.

W: Yes. She spent seven years because she wanted to write. Nobody pushed her to write. Not her parents. Not her teachers. She did it because she followed what her heart always longed for.

S: I always want to be a writer.

W: If you want to take Jo’s advice, then start writing. If you want to write because your heart guides you in that direction; because you are a creator; because nobody pushes you to write, then you are a writer.

S: So write because I want to, not when someone tells me to write.

W: Tell me, do you read Chinese poetry?

S: Yes, I do.

W: Now, do you think those poets wrote poems because they were homework? Or because their parents told them?

S: No.

W: You’re right. So whether you’re reading Chinese or American poetry, poets write because they want to write. They’re born to be writers. They’d go out in nature, see the clouds, and the birds, and the trees, and the rain, and they’d express their imaginations and words on paper.

S: Do you write?

W: I try to write every day. But now, I don’t plan my writings anymore. I just follow my heart. If I want to write that day, I just write. Due to the nature of my work, usually my writings have something to teach. They have lessons embedded in them. Otherwise, there’d be no purpose for me to write.

S: I see.

W: I don’t care how many people will like them. I don’t care if they’ll make any money. I just sit and write. So in say, five years from now, I’ll have a lot of words and pages. Then all I have to do is string them together with a single purpose in mind (remember: everything has a purpose). And maybe, just maybe, I’ll publish them into a book.

S: Hmm...

W: So... will you do it? Will you start writing every day because it is what you want to do?

S: ???

Understand: Children always gravitate toward something. Follow that, and they’ll show you something you’ve never seen before.

 

10 Reasons to Quit Your Job

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1. You don’t need one

People get a job for stability. But companies are not loyal. They don’t care about you.

Nassim Taleb says, “The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.”

I’m adding one: stability is an addiction. So please, don’t be an addict.

 

2. Jobs make you depressed

“Nine to Five” is a myth. It doesn’t start at 9. It doesn’t end at 5.

I asked a friend once, “How many hours a week do you work?”

“Between 50-60 hours,” he said.

“I thought your contract was for 40hr/wk?”

He laughed.

Depression is highest in people who are fully overworked. We are simply not made to work 60 hours a week. Archaeologists figure that our paleo ancestors “worked” around 12 hours a week.

And then they would do other things to keep up with their foraging and hunting skills.

Why is your job depressing?

  • Being bossed around by people you don’t respect.
  • Meetings.
  • Office politics.
  • Corporate regulations.
  • Spending 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. getting ready for work, commuting to work, working, commuting back, and too exhausted to move when your back home.
  • Business trips.
  • Relocations.

I’m sure there are others.

 

3. You hate your boss

Every time you create $1 in value, and you have a boss, who has a boss, who has a bigger boss, who has a board, who has shareholders... so how much of that dollar do you keep?

I hope you know the answer.

 

4. Jobs are going more and more obsolete

Amazon’s new checkout-free store, Amazon Go, is a new kind of store.

When you walk in, your phone beeps. When you pick up a bottle of milk, your phone registers. When you’re finished, you simply walk out. Then your phone automatically logs into your Amazon account and buys the milk in your basket.

They have 10 locations (as of this writing) spread over Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Where did all the cashiers go?

Wait, there’s more. JP Morgan has outsourced hundreds, if not thousands of legal decisions to AI. Why talk to a lawyer when AI can out-speed 10,000s of legal precedents in a micro-second. Tax and Accounting firms have downsized their teams, and instead, opted to AI. Why keep more accountants on a company’s payroll when AI can out-smart, out-productive, out-cost, and pretty much out- everything else?

Goodbye 90% of lawyers, accountants, cashiers.

 

5. The great shift

Every time someone writes a new line of software, a job is lost.

This is not a bad thing or a good thing. It’s just a fact. An example: when digital music started, music store died.

You may argue, “But Alibaba has created many new jobs.” And how many retail stores have been closed down because rent prices are increasing and they’re losing customers since it’s cheaper to buy online?

Robert Chase, founder of Zipcar, said, “When self-driving cars are everywhere, 90% of the auto industry will disappear.”

With 90% of the auto industry going away, the car insurance industry will collapse. The oil industry will tumble and turn upside down. The real estate industry will change. And so on.

 

6. Millionaires don’t have jobs

They have incomes.

According the IRS, the average millionaire in the United States has at least five different sources of income.

A job, which is basically from 6 a.m. (wakeup) to 9 p.m. every day, is only one source of income. And pays you less than 1% of the value you create.

Guess what?

Selling an app is one source. Being an entrepreneur is also only one source. This highlights the importance of freelancing and part-time work in the gig economy.

 

7. Now is the gig economy

The gig economy consists of taking up short-term, flexible, temporary work that can be completed according to your schedule. And thanks to the advancements in technology, it’s now easier than ever to scout one.

As explained by Harvard Business School: “Unshackled from managers and corporate norms, people can choose assignments that make the most of their talents and reflect their true interests. They feel ownership over what they produce and over their entire professional lives...”

Drive for Uber/Grab/Didi. Host on Airbnb. Buy from Alibaba, then sell on Amazon. Build subscribers on YouTube/Instagram. Get hired to design a book cover from Freelancer/Fiverr.

The gig economy is growing every year. Can you replace your monthly salary from it?

I did.

 

8. You’re losing your productivity

People work 2 hours a day TOPS in most 8-hour shifts. The rest is spent on meetings, chatting with co-workers you don’t like, breaks, commuting, doing nothing. You’re losing more than 30 hours every week.

30 hours a week for 50 weeks is 1500 hours. Do you know what you could do with 1500 hours? Build a business, write a book, travel around the world, acquire new crafts, be with family, whatever you want.

Productivity is not about sitting behind a desk so you can get a promotion.

Productivity is about using time to make a better you.

 

9. You sold your dream

If you love your job, stay. If you are working at your passion job, terrific. People are envious of you.

Unfortunately, many people don’t feel the same as you. They want to jump ship and and figure out life. I did that — twice.

Many people are on the treadmill of school, college, job, job, job, retirement, death.

Many people focus more on money than freedom.

Life is short. So obtain your freedom, pursue your passion, and start living your life.

 

10. Don’t quit your day job just yet

A year before I quit, I had started something on the side.

I built it up while I still had my full time job. I had to navigate so many things. Particularly how to provide what kind of service the market needed.

I had to learn how to balance a double-life. I had to work in the morning and work some more at night.

I had no rest. I had to work seven days a week.

Today, I don’t have a job. I have incomes. A little from here and a little from there add up to something greater than what I normally need.

Are you ready for the gig economy? Make sure you are when the shift happens. It won’t be too far in the future.

On the Vanity and Falsity of Religion

Q: Why do people subscribe to religion?

A: You have to ask them.

Q: Is it wrong for them to subscribe to religion?

A: There is no right or wrong.

Q: Is it bad for them to subscribe to religion?

A: There is no good or bad.

Q: Do you subscribe to religion?

A: No.

Q: Why not?

A: I have no interest in formalities. I do not need any doctrine. I do not follow anybody.

Q: Is that how you view religion?

A: Why does this matter?

Q: I wish to know your point of view.

A: In all accounts, there is the absolute and the bastardized. There is the immaculate and there is the artificial. It can be said that at one time religion was immaculate. But whether it was or not, this is not what it is not today.

Q: What is it today?

A: Bastardization, rituals, artificiality, and cunningness.

Q: But isn’t religion a gateway to god?

A: Religion has nothing to do with god.

Q: Would you kindly explain?

A: The moment you seek god, you seek an idea. What’s worse, the word god has become a wishing well; and religion: a social club. The idea of god has turned mankind into beggars. If god was seen as someone who does not have the power to give mankind an object of desire, no one would give him the time of day.

Q: Some claim that religion brings them peace.

A: Peace is derived from within. Not from external objects and images

Q: What about prayers?

A: What about them?

Q: Do you pray?

A: No.

Q: Why do people pray?

A: Out of habit and fear.

Q: Would you please elaborate?

A: If one is taught to pray from a young age, she will pray out of habit. Prayer is not done for the well-being of the object one prays to. It is done for the well-being of the one who prays. Prayer is also done out of fear. The fear of losing possessions or the fear of punishment if one does not pray; in other words, a cry of self-pity.

Q: What is it that you do?

A: I seek the Truth.

Q: Do you think spirituality leads to the Truth?

A: No.

Q: Why not?

A: Spirituality is as depraving and polluted as religion.

Q: But spirituality has nothing to do with religion.

A: It replaces one object of devotion with another.

Q: In what way?

A: Spirituality is a series of concoctions and prescriptions that are merely half-truths. It is a circus of people conversing in spiritual psychobabble using ineffective jargons like meditation and mindfulness.

Q: Why do you think this has happened?

A: Because humans are forever interested in formalities and fashion. Truth seeker is as rare as  a needle in a haystack.

Q: Should people seek the Truth?

A: There is no should.

Q: Would they be better off if they did?

A: Not if it was done by following a teacher, by way of a doctrine or a prescription. One must have the desire for the Truth within his bones. Only then will he not stop until he finds it. Not because he should, but because he has no choice.