Zen as a Research Ethic

I have a Zen calendar on my desk for 2012. It has such gems as: “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it” (Helen Keller)

The more I look at the calendar, the more it relates to everything I think about.

I read “To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees,” (Paul Valery) and I think of the Charles Goodwin paper I cited in a recent post about Professional Vision. He talks about ways of seeing as kind of coding structures, inculturation, or ways of foregrounding certain parts of what we see. Truly, being able to see deeper than that requires shedding that inculturation and observing more closely. As researchers, we often become so deeply incultured into our way of thinking, that we lose sight of our research goals. As survey researchers, we can easily fall into the pattern of first asking “who should we survey?” and “what should we ask?” before taking more time to consider whether a survey is even an appropriate methodology for the specific topic of focus. Of course, not this action based on praxis is not limited to survey researchers. Far from it! Every person, every field, every community of practice, every language has a way of thinking. And often instead of seeing or observing, we quickly begin to navigate our networks of inculturation.

These two are similarly meaningful in my interpretation:

Zen is not to confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen is just to peel the potatoes.” (Alan Watts)

If all beings are Buddha, why all this striving?” (Dogen)

These are a reminder to boil things down to what they simply are and not try to describe them as what you want them to be. In survey research, this comes up often in the process of reporting research results. If I know that I intended to measure something about Project Based Learning or STEM education, it is easily for me to begin to frame my findings by my intentions. But that is not true to my findings or my methodology, and it doesn’t make for good research. I can’t say that 10% of my respondents were using project based learning methods in the classroom if I asked about the number of group activities they conducted. I must simply say that 10% were using group activities (daily/monthly/occasionally- whatever the answer choices were)

In this way, my Zen calendar not only provides something to think about in a larger sense, but it keeps my research anchored.


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