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The Dartmouth
April 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Zen and The Art of a College Education

Caddyshack is a great movie. It is not great because it is merely funny, for there are many movies that are simply funny. Caddyshack is great because it is applicable to everyday life.

Here is but one example. Ty advises Danny, "The Zen philosopher Basho once said that a flute with no holes is not a flute, and a donut with no hole is a danish." Sounds pretty simple so far, but here's where things get interesting.

This summer, I was working in the Philadelphia area and decided to go to South Street on my day off. While browsing through various stores, I came across a book with Zen sayings. Basho was quoted on the back. If I hadn't just viewed Caddyshack, I might have passed right over the book; instead I bought it. Now, that book is sitting right here in front of me, stocked to the brim with pithy wisdom.

This wisdom applies to many of the discussions we have while at Dartmouth. For instance, there has been much discussion in these pages during the past few days over what constitutes a liberal arts education, and specifically, whether or not a science distributive is necessary or beneficial to the student. This discussion is welcome. We are here to grapple with ideas, to be affected by ideas, and to infect others with ours.

The wisdom of Basho, playfully proferred in Caddyshack, applies wondrously to our situation at Dartmouth. The Basho quote on the back of the Zen book which I purchased in Philadelphia reads, "Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought." Consider that. What are you doing at Dartmouth? What are you seeking?

Each of us may have a different reason for being at Dartmouth and a different idea of what constitutes a liberal arts education. While Won Joon Choe's broadside against science courses may strike many as misguided or excessive, it is yet another example of the power of ideas. Ideas lead to action.

Put simply, ideas have consequences. While ideas build up, they also destroy and undermine. For some reason, we don't always take ideas seriously. Historically, we can trace the influence of past ideas on future actions. Many scholars have traced the influence of the philosophies in German universities during the early part of this century and the incredible effect these ideas had in leading to the Holocaust.

Ideas can seem very abstract and irrelevant to "everyday life." Consider what kind of life you would live if our nation did not recognize all humans as equal. The idea of the fundamental equality of all persons is a relatively new idea; it was accepted for a long time that some are wholly superior and some are wholly inferior. We rely on the idea of human rights. Where does this idea come from? What guarantees our rights?

On the one hand, consider Caddyshack. Why is it so important to win a round of golf? What does it matter if Danny sinks the final putt? It probably doesn't matter at all.

On the other hand, consider your life. What are you seeking? What ideas and ideals do you live by? It's all that matters.