This semester, I was required to take a class covering a non-Western culture and decided to take Buddhism. I’d always been intrigued by the “your thoughts create your world” mantra from the Buddha, and I figured it might be a neat class to take for self-improvement.
For my homework, I was required to read about the Buddha’s philosophy on teaching. The reading explained that the Buddha was more focused on instilling skills in his pupils rather than feeding them with knowledge.
At first this was confusing. What is the difference between knowledge and skill? Don’t you need knowledge to have skill? A quote from the reading helps distinguish the two:
“The nature of the knowledge that the Buddha was trying to convey to his pupils is more akin to a skill, like knowing how to play a musical instrument, than a piece of information, such as what time the Manchester train leaves tomorrow.”
~Gethin, “Foundations of Buddhism,” pg. 36
As a college student, I have a habit of defining my success by how much knowledge I know. Instead of defining myself by rich character qualities and talents, I define myself by my GPA. And a lot of us do it, and I have a feeling that by the time we graduate, we are going to say to ourselves, “I can’t believe we did that.”
I have a feeling that when we graduate, we are going to go out into the real world ready to brag about our excellent GPA to all of our employers, only to discover that they could care less. Only to discover that employers know better than to think that just because someone has a high GPA means that they will make a great employee. Only to discover that we should have never let our feelings and our self-esteem be dictated by a number or a letter grade.
The Buddha wasn’t focused on how much knowledge his pupils acquired, rather how much skill they developed. News flash — knowing does not make you skilled. Having strong interpersonal skills, charisma, empathy, and kindness makes you skilled.
Knowledge is information acquired through sensory input: reading, listening, touching, etc. But skills, on the other hand, refer to the ability to apply knowledge to specific situation. Success isn’t about how much you know. It is about how you use what you know to kick ass in life.
You could know everything about a sport, but that doesn’t make you any good at it. The same applies to a job. One could know a lot about a subject, but might not have the skills to apply that knowledge to specific tasks.
I would love to live in a world where teachers recognized that to better prepare individuals to meet a desired performance, they don’t need lectures. What they need is practice. I think I am a credible person to say this because, well, I learn much more from my internships (where I put my skills into practice) than from my classes. I’m not saying that class is useless, because it isn’t. What I am saying is that the best way to learn, in my opinion, is not to read about it, but to actually do it.