Pillars of Knowledge 4+1

I recently finished yet another (my third) reading of Roshi Philip Kapleau’s Three Pillars of Zen (Random House, 1980). This well known text is more than a simple introduction to Zen Buddhism, covering many facets of Zen practice and training. It was written almost forty years ago by one of the founding fathers of Zen in the United States (Philip Kapleau started The Rochester Zen Center in the 1960s).

Zen is a Japanese form of Buddhism that  values meditation and a state of mind free from delusions and confusion. Rossi Kapleau taught that Zen was more than a philosophy or a religion based on scriptures, but was also a state of being, attained and maintained through Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment.

While far from considering myself a Zen expert; I always felt that Philip Kapleau was a kindred spirit. I have studied Zen since my early twenties, and after all, was myself born in Rochester, New York. But that is not why I am writing this piece.

Teaching, practice and enlightenment… three pillars of Zen… How might this triad relate to bronchoscopy education?

We know that Teaching/learning, is a two-way street. Knowledge itself is fourfold: cognitive, technical, affective, and experiential. Learning facts is the easy part, increasingly less difficult because of the ready access to technology. We no longer need to retain all facts in our brains, but must instead learn to process information and learn where and how to access the information that will be processed. Technical skill requires practice, and focused practice with clear goals, objectives, and expectations is better than playing around with equipment at a hands-on workstation. By interacting effectively during workshops, case-based discussions, and in the classroom, teachers and learners identify weaknesses, explore strengths, and strive toward a commonly acceptable level of expertise.

Affective and experiential knowledge, however, are less clearly defined. Because we all learn from what we do (hopefully), we learn from our mistakes as well as from our successes. Dr. Benjamin Bloom (Bloom’s taxonomy, 1956) considered affective as the way we deal emotionally with what we learn. This knowledge relates to our feelings, values, and attitudes. Experiential knowledge is often wrongly confused with affective knowledge because it is, in fact, based on our experience…but it relates to a truth based on one’s individual experience…and no two truths  (just like no two individual experiences) may be alike. Acquisition of all four types of knowledge is necessary in our quest for competency.

These four types of knowledge: cognitive, technical, affective, and experiential, could be called The Four Pillars of Education, but do they equate with the three pillars of Zen described by Kapleau? Teaching and practice are obviously essential, but what of enlightenment? Can an educator become enlightened? Can a student become enlightened? If so, how?

I pondered this during a recent meditation in the ancient fortress town of Kotor, in Montenegro. Sitting at the foot of a wall built one thousand years ago, I watched the soft, deep blue waters of the Adriatic Sea wash gently onto the shore below. I knew there was a fifth pillar to the educational process, a pillar that is rarely spoken of, nor easily taught:  It is the pillar of spiritual knowledge. By spiritual, I do not mean religious. Rather, I  am referring to that form of knowledge that comes from deep within the self, from knowing oneself, and from acknowledging that form of knowledge that speaks a universal truth; the knowledge that we are happier when we help others. That is why many of us join the health care profession, and it is why we strive to become the best that we can be.

4+1….you can count them on your hand.