The Eightfold Path

Learning Styles in an Ancient Text

Temple in Began 2018 — photo by Author

I love to learn.

They say that it’s healthy to be a lifetime learner. In my family, we took that to another level. Before the internet, the library was our biggest source of information. We visited weekly and each took out several books to read.

Whenever there was a question or a problem to solve, we would go to the library and look it up. Now that we have the internet, I am astounded that we were limited to such a small amount of information.

I think that’s why I enjoy studying different things and relating them to one another.

Buddhism acknowledges that each person learns in a different way. They present different discussions of the same topic in order to respond to the different needs of each person. This need is said to depend on the persons’ spiritual state but I also believe it depends on their learning style.

This concept of individual learning styles is similar to how Hinduism encourages people to take action based on their ways of acting. Krishna says that an individual should act according to their nature.

It’s well known that different people learn in different ways. There have been a lot of studies to figure out how to approach teaching so you are more likely to reach most of your students.

We ask — what are the different learning styles and what do they mean?

Generally, there are four different styles of learners:

Those that prefer visual information, those that like to hear the lesson, those that learn best by reading or writing and those that are more hands on.

Each of these styles comes with suggestions for ways to make your information easier for them to absorb.

  • Visual learners like charts and graphics. They like to see relationships between different points that you are presenting.
  • Auditory learners like to listen to information — audiobooks are a great resource. They also thrive when they repeat or recite facts as they learn.
  • Linguistic learners love to read and write. They have a pen in one hand and a highlighter in another and aren’t afraid of indexing or marking up their textbooks.
  • Physical or hands on learners absorb things best by doing them. They like to fix things by taking them apart. They do best if they have a chance to role play or move around during the lessons.

There are three more subgroups of learners to consider.

These are Logical, Social and Solitary. As you might expect, the Logical learner uses reasoning and systems to learn, the Social learner enjoys being in a group and the Solitary learner is best when they work alone.

I did a bit of research and found a quiz that provided me with a graph showing my learning styles. It was short and quick, but didn’t tell me much.

The Author’s Learning Styles Graph — learning-styles-online.com

My results are pretty evenly spaced out. It was no surprise to find out that I love to learn in most any way. I was surprised to see that Logical (I use reasoning) and Aural (I use sounds)are my two strongest areas.

I expected to be stronger in my Linguistic learning preferences.

I am a bit of a highlighter freak, I’ll admit.

Writing notes was always the first step for me in school. Even now, I’ll take notes when I’m listening to a podcast or participating in a call online.

If you’re interested in taking the quiz for yourself, it’s easy and could be useful to you.

Buddhist teachings are mainly offered in the Linguistic style of learning, but the written word is used creatively to stimulate many of the other learning styles.

The Dhammapada is a sacred text of Buddhism believed to be sayings of the Buddha. My version was translated from the original Pali text by Gil Fronsdal, a respected Buddhist scholar and teacher. This book is part of the Tipikata, which are sacred Buddhist scriptures.

The words reach out to a wide variety of people and try to inspire them equally.

Temple in Mandalay 2018 — photo by Author

The main essence of Buddha’s teachings are The Four Noble Truths:

  1. Dukka or life is suffering.
  2. Samudaya is the cause of the suffering and it’s cravings for things. That keeps us trapped in a cycle of rebirth and dissatisfaction.
  3. Niroda or the ending of suffering will allow us to attain Nirvana.
  4. Magga or the enlightened path will end our suffering if we follow it.

The Eightfold Path is the enlightened path.

There is a path that delivers a person from the cycle of life, death and rebirth. The eight practices of the path are:

  1. right view,
  2. right resolve,
  3. right speech,
  4. right conduct,
  5. right livelihood,
  6. right effort,
  7. right mindfulness, and
  8. right meditation.

Shwethalyaung, Yangon 2017 — photo by Author

Each chapter focuses on one subject with a collection of verses that relate to it.

The verses give an aspect of the subject from a different standpoint.

When discussing the concepts of Buddhism,the text uses words (linguistic style), but the passages try to convey the ideas using techniques that touch on different learning styles.

One verse explains the concept using images. Another will invoke your sense of smell or touch. Yet another passage will lyrically entice you if you enjoy music or poetry.

Sometimes two verses seem to contradict one other but that’s because they show different perspectives on the same topic. This results in a chapter that is a group of positions instead of a sequentially ordered set of teachings.

— –

In general, this text provides two goals for spiritual life.

Many times the verses switch back and forth between them, almost interchangeably.

The first goal is to attain happiness in this life or future lives. This is attained by following many paths, including; ethical living, watching and disciplining your mind, avoiding hatred, being respectful of others and avoiding evil, violence and anger.

The second goal is liberation from mental forces, attachments and hindrances which bind us to the cycle of rebirth. This is often referred to as an awakening and is the primary goal of a devout Buddhist.

Statue of an Aesthetic Monk, Began, Myanmar 2017 — photo by Author

The words have an energetic focus, where the reader is encouraged to follow a path with vigilance, and a peaceful focus, where the reader tries to attain the state of peace that comes with fulfilling the practice. At times the two moods contrast within one verse.

There are many themes in The Dhammapada, and they are often presented as contrasting pairs. These dichotomies are used to build two sides of an idea such as ‘the fool’ and ‘the sage’.

This duality echoes the Yin Yang perspective of the Tao, another classic text.

The use of contrast comes from an early Buddhist tradition which examines whether something is helpful in your quest or not.

You first determine the effectiveness of an action, and then you look at the optional action. Common comparisons are; merit and evil or demerit, selfish thoughts or selfless thoughts, and the fool and the sage.

One of the key teachings is:

“There is no meditative absorption, for one without insight.

There is no insight, for one without meditative absorption.

With both, one is close to Nirvana.”

Both meditation and insight are needed to come closer to Nirvana.

One or the other is not enough.

While other translations have used the words concentration, wisdom and knowledge instead of insight and meditative absorption , they come fairly close to the spirit of the verse. It also shows how difficult it can be to translate a text.

I found this book to be fairly easy to read, especially when you consider how it uses different Learning Styles to get the message across.

The advice given is sometimes confusing because of the different viewpoints it tries to present, but you can open it at any point and find interesting readings.

I think this is a very accessible and powerful book.

I could relate to the teachings and see the logic of the different perspectives. Although it seems like a fairly simple text at first glance, I found more meanings when I reread a passage.

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