Reply To: Compact Dhamma


I’ve read all the recent posts. Those deal with deeper analysis. I think this kind of approach is quite effective. Also, people who already have a certain level of understanding will get it and make a lot of progress. I could feel that Ven. Lal wrote it very thoughtfully. I appreciate Lal’s efforts in delivering Dhamma. At this point, I just realized it might be too late to introduce what I have done. With the wisdom of hindsight, it was so important for me to proceed with others instead of trying to do everything on my own because there was a limit to the amount of work I could bear. If only I had known that earlier. From now on, I will share my work progress more often.

What has been done so far

I want to tell everyone in the forum how I’ve been so far. Since last year, I’ve been working hard on constructing a Compact Dhamma. In early March of this year, I thought that I finally completed it. However, whenever I thought I was on the verge of last completion to show it to everyone, I found out that the system I created was not a simple form for people to understand, even though Compact Dhamma’s purpose was to provide straightforward explanations for beginners.

Foolishly, every time I met the same matter, I considered it caused by the fact that I had not organized/systemized enough of my explanation yet. So, I cope with it by starting everything from scratch and creating new explanations again and again. I kept setting up a new axiom and proving or demonstrating everything one by one, even basic ones. For this work, I had to study many different areas like advanced mathematics, philosophy of mind, etc, to get some valuable ideas. Sadly, now I have an entirely logical and meticulous system, but no one can understand it because it is too hard.

Though I was able to get a deeper understanding of Dhamma, I couldn’t make any tangible outcomes. Not long ago, I looked back on all my efforts to find out some clues. I remember me at the beginning of this work. At that time, I was interested in two things: (i) using visuals to get across the message and (ii) giving a thorough systemic explanation to get a general survey of it.

I planned a graphic novel and video explaining Dhamma. Shortly, it fell through because I found I was surprisingly bad at drawing. I couldn’t draw even a stick figure. Video making was more difficult. To make a video of fine quality, I had to spend two years just learning the technique. After all, I chose to give up.

Soon, I moved on to another thing. I was starting to formulate a system of Dhamma in Korean so that Korean people could think about it in their native language. This task was not easy either because I always had in mind to share it with everyone in the Forum when it was completed. But translation into English was very difficult for me. I use just one word to say a given concept in Korean. But in English, a lot of sentences are needed. Because there is no concept like 원리 in English. There were a lot of cases like that. I realized that it’s tremendous what Ven. Lal has done, as I was doing it.

So, I decided to set up a system in Korean first and think about how to express it in English later. Then, I became trapped in a spiral of restarting, as I wrote above. That is the main reason why I couldn’t ask questions often in the forum. Thankfully, formulating work has made a lot of progress. I’ll talk about it in detail later.

Literacy and Dhamma

Those trials and errors discouraged me greatly, but they also allowed me to ask many good questions: How can I help people walk the Noble path? Where should I start explaining? How can I explain advanced topics easily? What is a perfect teaching sequence of Dhamma? What is most important in Buddha Dhamma? And now, I can see all the questions converge on one subject: “How to paraphrase Dhamma.”

I was doing it all the time, but I didn’t know exactly what it was. What I was about to do was paraphrase Dhamma so that more people could access it easily. So, I hope we can have some deep discussions about how to teach Dhamma together because it is not only a matter of Dhamma but also a matter of teaching. I think what we’ve been overlooking is that literacy is much more important than we thought in learning and teaching Dhamma.

Literacy is more than the ability to read and write texts. It includes the ability to find what are meaningful questions about a particular topic, to distinguish them from not, to put together information and sum up the meaning, and to conclude by oneself. The attainment of the Sotapanna stage means one can do what I just said without anyone’s help.

Let me explain it with an example. Let’s say John here. He wants to travel to Japan, but he doesn’t know any Japanese. John is not a learning-like person, so he figured out other ways to travel rather than learn Japanese. He decided to buy a very large and expensive book. On one page of the book, English sentences that he wants to speak are written. Japanese sentences corresponding to them are written on the other page. Thanks to the book, John will have a good trip to Japan. But no one will think that John has a lingual knowledge of Japanese, even himself! He could not speak Japanese, not even a word, without the book. If he prepares for the Japanese test, he should study Japanese until he doesn’t need the book to talk in Japanese.

It’s easy for us to see that it is the right purpose to learn something. I saw people apply it to other subjects well, but for some reason, especially when learning Dhamma, they often could not apply it in the same way. Many people who believe that they are trying to live with Dhamma, are doing things that have nothing to do with Dhamma. They just learn how to get used to reading and writing with Pali words, and how to put Pali words into Korean sentences instead of easy words in everyday life. And the more they become good at it, the more they believe they have a better understanding of Buddha Dhamma than before. They follow words, not meaning. They said, ‘We need to live by dhammavinaya’ accustomedly, but only read Tipitaka without understanding, just like in John’s case.

I’m not saying it to blame anyone else. And I don’t believe these people do it because they don’t want to follow Buddha’s teachings either. I’m just describing what really happens to face up to the problem and come up with a solution. I DO believe if we don’t take appropriate measures to the problem of literacy seriously, Dhamma will be distorted again much sooner than we expect.

Any person who learned Dhamma properly should be able to think and choose on their own in their life and ultimately become an Arahant. If someone is learning in a way that doesn’t meet any of it, he/she is making an effort that has nothing to do with Dhamma. We should keep it in mind whether you are learning or teaching. And I don’t think Ven. Lal didn’t point it out. In fact, he has consistently emphasized it.

Surprisingly, we already know a very simple answer to why the whole problem repeatedly arises: Because it is HARD to get critical thinking skills. It is hard to grasp Dhamma concepts truly. In samsara, not knowing something is more natural than knowing something. However, it doesn’t mean we can’t do anything here.

Core Problem and Solution

Let’s come back to the problem that we’re facing now. I was completely mistaken about it before. I thought people had difficulty reading the Pure Dhamma Website because there were too many Pali words in the posts. However, it has nothing to do with using Pali words in posts. The core problem is highly related to the fact that critical thinking skill is not easy to cultivate.

In my opinion, people make wrong efforts because they find it challenging to figure two things out: (a) the meaning of a given Dhamma concept trying to convey, and (b) the meaning of what one understands Dhamma concepts. These things strengthen each other again and again. So I think we(or I) need to start with the most basic level (like what is a worldview, and what is the meaning of learning a worldview) so people don’t get lost in a flood of concepts.

Of course, it is a very laborious task. But I believe we can make it because I’ve already made it.

It’s too late (4:30 AM), so I need to go to sleep and later back. I think I can post the rest tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. 

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