Buhay, Karanasan, Aral at Turo: A Filipino Hermeneutics of Experience

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José M. de Mesa

Theology begins with an experience of God (cf. 1 Jn. 1: 1-3) and proceeds by way of deepening such an experience through meditative (damdamin) and systematic reflection (isip).  It is a reflection on our experiences in life and of life in the light of our relationship with God..  Anselm of Canterbury spoke of theology as faith seeking understanding: our experience of God that longs for understanding and expression in and through human language.  In its search for understanding, theology can be considered both as a process and an articulation.

Theology is a process by which we bring our understanding and knowledge of God as active in our lives to the level of expression.  Its setting is concrete life.  It reflects on our lived experiences as individual and social persons in the world.  But it does this not only through meditative and systematic study of actual human experiences, but also by co-relating the actual results of this study with the religious tradition that one had opted to follow.  As a process, theology is spoken of as a something to be done continuously.  The phrase doing theology has rightly gained popularity in recent times to highlight this aspect of the theological enterprise.

Theology, however, is also an articulation in language, in a more or less systematic manner, of the experience of God within the context of human experience.  Human interpretation is part and parcel of every experience, including our religious experiences in the world.  We make sense of what is happening by interpreting reality.  In and through human language thought about specific realities becomes possible.

Language is more than a mere instrument or tool of thinking and expression.  We do think with words.  But more than that, language is thought.  This is why language has been considered by the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer as the reservoir of tradition and the medium in and through which we exist and perceive the world.  Thought then is perception.  But perception we should remember, is both affective and rational.  We feel as we think; we think as we feel.  This is how we human beings seek to understand.  As human beings and as christians we need to articulate in language our experiences of God in order to understand them.  As we shall later see more in detail, this articulation is done by taking into consideration both what we feel and what we think about such experiences of God.

Theology, unfortunately, has become overly rational.  Pre-occupied as it was with clear and logical systematization of knowledge of religious matters, it has gradually divorced itself from the affective side of our humanity.  Theology within this way of thinking is not about feeling.  Feelings are best left to the practitioners of spirituality, a discipline subtly regarded as lacking in intellectual (rational) rigor.  Besides, feelings are seen to be dangerous guides in our relationship with God.  They can easily lead us astray.  Theology is a surer master because it provides intellectual clarity and certainty about the faith.  Still people felt that human emotions were important in any form of religiosity as they were in life generally.

Today we are  witnessing significant changes in theology.  One such change is the emerging consensus that theological reflection begins with human experience rather than with doctrinal truths.  Many theologians speak of doing theology from below(human experience as starting point) rather than from above (church doctrines as starting point).  They want to ensure that their articulation of the faith experience has a recognizable reference to human experience.  For them the meaningfulness of a theology to people living in a particular situation takes methodological precedence over doctrinal correctness of formulation (orthodoxy).  Since the meaningfulness is intimately connected with lived-experiences, we will need to undertake an analysis of human experience as part of the theological process.  We shall not do this in general, but within the particular cultural context of the Philippines.


Life is a continuing movement of time and events which affects us personally or socially.  It is likened to the flow of a river -- ang agos ng buhay (the flow of life)  -- in which we are immersed if we live in time.  It is our most fundamental setting as human beings.  Within it we have our experiences as individual persons and as members of a human community.  The flow of life has its seasons: the happy moments and the sad ones, the easy as well as the difficult periods, and the good and the bad times, ang masaya at ang malungkot, ang maginhawa at ang mahirap, and mabuti at ang masama (the happy and the sad, the pleasurable and the difficult, and the good and the bad).  It is never at a standstill.  There is a constant change, like -- to use another image -- a wheel going round and round so that at times we find ourselves on top and at other times down below.  Ang buhay ng tao ay gulong ang kahambing.  Kung minsan nasa itaas, at kung minsan ay nasa ibaba.  (The life of human beings is like a wheel.  Sometimes on the way up and sometimes on the way down).  This is life which is full of variations is our  context as human beings.  We cannot deny it, but we can ignore it.  Worse, we can be in it and fail to profit from the many possibilities it offers us to live life to the full.  Ang buhay nga naman ng tao.  (Such is life.)

To Filipinos life is a gift of God.  Thanks to our indigenous cultural heritage, we have been led as a human community to recognize a good God who, out of His/Her inner goodness, has gifted us with life.  We acknowledge the God of life as well as the life on earth which God has given or, perhaps as we often say, has lent us. Filipinos do not need to argue for or against the existence of God who is related to us.  We  assume it and we reason from this assumption.  In time of need we reassure ourselves that God will take care of us:  May awa ang Diyos (God is compassionate.) -- a popular catchphrase expressing belief in God’s providential care in a variety of situations.  People, who desire vindication as helpless victims of a powerful person or group, depend on the fact that God never sleeps.  Hindi natutulog ang Diyos.  This expression is probably suggestive firstly of a parent (magulang) who lovingly and protectively watches his/her children sleeping, and only secondly of a God who rewards the good and punishes the wicked as well as vindicating those who have been unjustly treated.

Life is kaloob (gift), we say.  It is a gift which comes from the depths of the very self of God, the divine loob (most divine inner self) or kalooban.  When we stop to reflect on this belief it is not difficult to see how the whole of creation is part of God’s inner self.  The whole universe and everything in our earth are encompassed by the divine inner self.  They are within the embrace of God’s core (Bahagi ng ka+loob ng Diyos).  In this sense, the word kaloob may also suggest that whoever (or whatever) has been gifted by God in this way participates in God’s most authentic self:  Ka (to be the same) + loob (inner self).

Could this be the reason for believing further that anything which happens in life, whether good or bad, happens because it is the will --the loob -- of God?  If life is regarded as part and parcel of the divine loob, then surely all the events within it form part of the same loob also.  It seems natural to us Filipinos to regard that both swerte (good fortune) and malas (bad fortune) come from the hand of God.  Maybe it is our implicit way of affirming that whatever becomes of life and whatever happens to us in life, life as such will always be linked to the God who gave it.  While this form of reasoning makes suffering, during a time of hardship, easier to bear, it is not entirely free of ambiguity.  Protests again evil, especially when undeserved or directly affecting the innocent, are not unknown among Filipinos.

Life has a beginning and an end.  It is temporary and limited.  The gift which is life is never a possession, but an opportunity to make something of it which is worth our while as human beings.  Filipinos would like life to be filled with experiences of happiness and well-being (maligaya at maginhawa).  But we know it only too well that life can also be characterized by sorrow and suffering (lungkot at paghihirap).  Nevertheless, it is expected in the context of the culture that whoever is born a human being ought to behave as a true human being: Ang dali maging tao, ang hirap magpakatao (It is easy to be born a human being; it is difficult to be truly a human being).  Might this be the culture’s way of implying that true happiness and well-being can be found in being as fully human as possible?

Life is a given, not only in the sense of a gift (kaloob) from God but also from the fact that it is there: surrounding us as a context, being with us as a gift and at times confronting us as a challenge.  Life is a given in our personal and social histories.  We encounter and experience it within the fleeting span of our physical existence on earth.  To be sure, we do not experience life passively.  Our minds are not blank boards on which reality merely imprints itself.  Things happen and human beings try to make sense of what is happening.  While people all over the world most likely do this in similar ways, each culture has it own special way of figuring out events and other realities.  We take a look at the way Filipinos make sense of what happens to them.


Filipinos make sense of life events through pagdanas (to undergo or cope with what is actually going on)  and pagdama (to affectively and rationally sense this event).  The Filipino notion of experience --karanasan -- is very personal; reality must be personally encountered not through thought or imagination, but in an actuality.  Personal involvement (pakikiisa), immersion (pakikisangkot), relationship (pakikitungo, kaugnayan), undergoing something (nagawa) is essential and constitutive.  For this reason experience is most of the time spoken of as the past or on-going in the present.  We either have gone through it (nakalipas, di sa ngayon, di bukas) or are undergoing it.  An obvious aspect of experience worth explicitating is that it is circumscribed by time (nasa loob ng panahon).

If there is one thing true about our indigenous understanding of experience, it is this: we cannot have an experience of a reality which we have not actually undergone, borne,suffered, coped with or weathered (dinanas) for good or ill.  The word karanasan, we note, comes from the root danas.  There is some actual and personal contact with a given reality, whether this be a thing or an event.  To give some examples.

We only have an experience of a path if we have actually walked on it and gone through it.  The experience of a typhoon is not based on having heard a description of its fury, but on having had to cope with one.  To have an experience of pain means that we have actually felt and suffered from pain.  A person has an experience of making a chair because he had actually made a chair and not just watched someone make it.  A mother who had borne and raised children is a person who has experienced motherhood and parenthood (nagawa kaya’t alam na niya). 

This way of understanding experience suggests that the actual and personalengagement in something is paramount.  Experience is personally undergone experience.  In the process of experiencing, reality becomes familiar to the one who experiences it.  The individual gets to know such reality intimately.  Vicarious experience, while not denied, is not as significant as when one actually goes through an experience with personal involvement (napagdaanan).  This is shown in the use of the rather popular expression for having engaged in sexual intercourse,may karanasan (he/she has experience).

Experience has been described as a pangyayari (an event) that is makulay(colorful), makabagbag damdamin (affecting the emotions), di malilimutan(unforgettable) and bumabalik sa isipan (memorable).  Because it is very much felt (nararamdaman), it has an impact on life itself (tumatama sa buhay).  These largely affective descriptions of experience brings to the fore another element which is essential to the Filipino comprehension of experience: pagdama or integrated sensing.  Filipinos appear to interpret what is happening or what is out there by feeling it.

Pagdama is the way Filipinos make sense of reality, their cultural mode of interpreting reality.  It is the manner by which they read an event or something found in life.  Experience is constituted by pagdanas (having gone through something), as we have seen above, but also by pagdama.  There is no experience without pagdama.  It is tempting to translate pagdama superficially as feeling but this should be resisted.  Pagdama is more than just the feelings at work, no matter how sensitive they are.  It incorporates also the rational component of being human and is in no way opposed to it as an opposite.

Pagdama is integrated sensing in which the affective (damdamin) and the rational (isip) not only are inter-related and mutually affect one another, but are also harmonized in complementarity.  This makes it clear that the Filipino reading of reality is not devoid of any rational or logical element.

Nevertheless, one senses the bias of the term pagdama in favor of giving more weight to the affective-intuitive than to the rational-logical.  The root word dama means feltperceived by the sense of touch or sensed.  Among Filipinos the affective-intuitive tends to be the stronger aspect in pagdama.  Expressions liketangay na tangay ng damdamin (carried away by emotions), feel na feel (really very much felt), may appeal (exudes an emotional appeal), ang dating (the emotional impact), and vibes (feeling in harmony) all point to this tendency.  Events and things that appeal to the emotions are rated positively.  Isn’t a movie that evokes tears a beautiful movie?  And a retreat which makes you cry a good retreat?

Relational concept as magkadamdamin (same feelings), magkabagang (same jaws) and magkatono (same musical pitch) similarly speak of this emphasis in Filipino life.  Because of this inclination towards the affective-intuitive, pakiramdam (sensing the feelings of the other) rather than clear and explicit statements is a  preferred and a very common way of relating with other people.

By translating interpretation as pagdama (integrated sensing) , our indigenous hermeneutics of experience highlights the affective-intuitive aspect of the interpretative act.  The English manner of interpreting, for its part, seems to underscore the rational-logical.  When rendered in Filipino, this latter act of interpretation which focuses on the rational-logical should be translated aspakahulugan (giving meaning) rather than pagdama.  Pakahulugan, however, pays more attention to the isip and is more inclined to the Euro-American cultural way of looking at this matter.

There are obviously cultural differences at work here, and there is really no need to denigrate one perspective in order to uphold the superiority of the other.  They are different.  Each admittedly has its own set of strengths and weaknesses.  It is nonetheless important to remain faithful  to our local way of thinking because it is here that we are trying to make sense of the Gospel and not in the western cultural context.

Because of this proclivity to the affective-intuitive, it makes sense to suggest that  damdamin be rendered in English as intuitive feeling and  isip as rational feeling(or perhaps as a sensual intellect).  Such translation not only gives justice to the two inner-related aspects of pagdama, but faithfully expresses the Filipino’s propensity towards the affective-intuitive as well.  Interpretation in this fashion not only highlights the importance which psychology gives to the emotions, but also calls attention to the elements in our religious heritage which portrays God to be so inclined.  In Jewish scriptures God is said to have passions (emotions).  There is depiction of divine compassion, love, joy, anger, jealousy, repentance not unlike the way many Filipinos talk about God as naaawa, nagmamahal, natutuwa, nagseselos, nagsisisi (compassionate, loving, joyful, jealous, repentant).

Pagdama is not solely damdamin (the affective-intuitive).  It is  also isip (the rational-logical).  Filipino experience does talk justifiably about caution when dealing with emotions.  It  knows about misfortunes  and disasters which have happened due to failure to be reasonable.  Huwag kang padadala sa inyong mga damdamin (Do not allow yourself to be carried away by your emotions).  Gamitin mo ang iyong isip (use your head).  The rational-logical capacity of  pagdama is sorely needed to clarify issues and to determine what practical steps to take towards the solution of problems.  The sudden irruption of emotions, like love and hatred, into the psyche can bring chaos  in one’s life.  They can so overwhelm individuals that they no longer know what to do.  Consider that popular statement taken as a proven fact of life:  Ang pag-ibig, pag pumasok sa puso ninuman, magkakalintikan! (Love is disruptive whenever it enters the heart of a person).


DAMDAMIN   —>        PAGDAMA    <—           ISIP

(affective-intuitive)                                                      (rational-logical)


This is where pagdama (intergrated sensing) plays a crucial role in experience.  It functions as the complementarity of the affective-intuitive (damdamin) and the rational-logical (isip) in a person in two ways.  Because it is integrated sensing or feeling, pagdama brings together the inclination of the damdamin and the tendency of the isip into a unity.  In some instances the affective-intuitive takes primacy; at other times, it is the rational-logical which is dominant.  Maybe, there are just times for one and times for the other.  Whatever the state of the integration is, the result -- pagdama-- is the interpretative element in the experience.  In any case, damdamin will be never totally devoid of isip nor will  isip be totally dissociated from damdamin because pagdama is basically a unity.

Such familiar involvement with reality allows a person to know whether this reality is real or not.  Totoo ba? (Is it true?)  The question of truth is raised as a question of reality being real or fake.  Is it real that fire is hot?  Is it real a typhoon can be very destructive?  Is it real that to fall in love is wonderful?  Is it real that one can survive brokenheartedness?  Is it real that God wills everything that happens in life, including events which bring death, suffering and misery?

Our concept of experience is very real-istic in this sense. We  insist that genuine experience of reality must be by way of undergoing, bearing, suffering, coping with and weathering it.  It is almost as if we, Filipinos, were looking, smelling, hearing, tasting and touching reality to find out whether it is real or not.  We listen to reality so intently  that there is no longer any need, as it were, for reality to assert itself.  Put differently, is not pagdanas (going through something) and  pagdama (integrated something) our indigenous way of saying that reality is objective insofar as it is not merely subject to our arbitrary interpretations?

Moreover, it is also possible to regard the affective-intuitive as implicit interpretation and the rational-logical as the explicitation of such implicit interpretative element in experience.  Damdamin and isip are not to be thought of in term of exclusivity (either-or) or of antithesis (one against the other), but rather as a movement in the interpretative process: from implicit interpretation (damdamin) to a  consciously explicit manner of interpreting (isip).  Isip explicitates the implicit grasp of reality by the damdamin.  Both have their contribution to make to human interpretation.  Damdamin provides affective strength.  Isip makes possible intellectual clarity.


Life is a journey in time; the longer we have journeyed, the more we are, through our experiences, acquainted with the reality which is life.  Experiences teach.  They proffer lessons for the future.  Among the elements mentioned about experience in the Filipino context is its capacity to teach (nagtuturo ng aral; may leksiyon) and our possibility to learn something from it (may natututunan).  And the lessons which experiences teach become some sort of a chart for the future (nagsisilbing gabay para sa haharapin).

Experiences, as perceived by the Filipino culture, teach (may aral) in a very personal way.  They do so through what we personally undergo, bear, suffer, cope or put up with, or weather (dinanas).  The insights into life which are gained in this way are not theoretical at all.  As we earlier noted, there is an element of familiarity towards reality involved in karanasan (experience).  But getting accustomed to reality does not happen all at once.  Similar to the process of getting to know the inner self of another person, grasp of what reality really is takes time.  This is why age is an important factor and even a value in knowledge about life.  The longer the time, the more chances of being taught by and of learning from experiences.  If it takes time to genuinely know and understand another person as a person, it is not any different in deeply comprehending what life truly is.

The longer the time we spend here on earth, chronologically speaking, the more numberous the possibilities of gaining a better understanding of the many different aspects of life and of life as a  totality.  We can speak of getting used to reality.  Sheer repetition of experiences -- both similar and different -- contribute to this familiarity.  We get to kow life; we begin to have a real feel for it.  As we do, we gradually refine our way of interpreting it.  The interpretations of reality which we began with may be strengthened, weakened, modified or completely altered by subsequent experiences.  For this to happen, one must live for a certain period of time.

Age is important.  But not only age is important.  Commensurate with age must be the quality of personally gained knowledge and skills which one has gained over that period of time.  People who are experienced in life this way are referred to asmay pinagkatandaan (literally, they have gained something in and through age), whereas those who are advanced in years but have remained ignorant and stupid are called walang pinagkatandaan (literally, they have gained nothing in and through age).  They are quite often compared to children who have lived only for a short time and, therefore, are not expected to have gained maturity and wisdom: para silang mga bata (they are like children).

Similarly, young people who brag about their ability and knowledge are warned by old people that they should be humbler about what they can do and what they know of life, Papunta pa lang kayo, papauwi na kami.  (You are still on the way to your destination; we are already returning from there). They are  reminded of what time does not only to human beings, but to other created realities as well.  Without time, the earth cannot get the physical configurations it has; without time, plants and animals will not reach their full maturity; without time, people will never know what it is to grow up and mature and to live up to an old age.  Because old people have had many experiences from which they were expected to have learned (nakapulot ng aral) they have the authority to give instructions or to teach (magturo).  Their instruction arises from experience for it is the latter which gives breadth and depth to the former.  Anyone who teaches without experience is not going to be credible.

In this journey called life, older people are, at least, presupposed to have had more experience of life than those who are still young.  They are expected to remember because they have learned (may napulot na aral) from their many life experiences.  Otherwise, they have grown chronologically older retrogressively --tumatanda nang paurong.  Instead of showing that they remember (nakakatanda), they exhibit a movement towards non-remembrance (malilimutin), a  characteristic of a child.

Being old signals experience, and experience wisdom.  For the indigenous culture, the standard arises, at least initially, from chronological age.  The young may have enthusiasm and dreams, but the old have experience and wisdom.  We do refer to parents, whose task it is to initiate children to life, as people who are already of age (magulang).  And the supreme god of the ancients has been referred to, among other names, as Malaon (the one existing for so long a time).

At times, however, we notice that age is not only considered chronologically.  When old people begin to lose their maturity and wisdom because of physical deterioration, they are regarded as people who return to their childhood.  They become forgetful (malilimutin, ulianin).  Rather age seems to be more connected to wisdom than to the years spent on earth.  The old person is one who has attained wisdom whatever his chronological age may be.  A young person who speaks with wisdom and compassion, for instance, is spoken of as parang matanda kung magsalita (he/she speaks like an old person).  Inspite of the small number of years he has lived in this world, he/she had already gained the wisdom equivalent to another who had lived much longer.  Are we not reminded here of a child who lived long ago speaking before older (and presumably wiser) people and eliciting from them amazement (cf. Lk. 2: 46-47)?

The decisive factor in being regarded as experienced then (whether in terms of may pinagkatandaan or parang matanda) seems to be the possession of dunong or wisdom rather than mere longevity of existence.  They who have learned from their experiences in life (may napulot na aral) and remember those lessons well enough (nakatatanda ng mga aral na napulot) to use them as inspiration and guidance are wise (may dunong; marunong).  Older people are justifiably supposed to be wise in general for reasons  already cited earlier.  But young people are not automatically or totally excluded from being so considered provided they give evidence of wisdom.  But what is wisdom (dunong) according to the indigenous culture?


Dunong  is defined by one Filipino dictionary as knowledge, wisdom, erudition, learning, knowledge gained by study, or scholarship.  Another says that it is thekaalaman ng wasto at totoo kasama ng makatwirang pasiya o kuro-kuro tungkol sa isang gawa o kilos (knowledge of what is right and what is true coupled with a  correct judgment or opinion regarding a certain action or behavior) or anumang nagpapakilala ng malaking kaalaman (anything that shows wide knowledge).  A third one largely repeats what the first two have already given but adds understanding and wide knowledge. 

When we attempt to understand what dunong is both from what we have seen earlier and from what the dictionary definitions imply, it refers, first of all, to personal knowledge drawn from experience and vicarious knowledge gained through study (not necessarily in a formal way as in school).  To be wise --ang pagiging marunong -- is to have wide knowledge and understanding.  But given the stress which the Filipino notion of experience has on what one actually goes through, knowledge gained through personal involvement is favored over that obtained vicariously.  Having learned how to row a boat by actually rowing a boat many times is a different and a preferred kind of knowledge from learning how to row a boat theoretically (either through study or observation).

The first is learning through practice, an on-the-job training or a hands-on experience; the second is learning from the experience of others.  This latter manner of learning is quite often regarded as learning in theory.  While the culture gives primacy to the first type of knowledge, the second one is not looked down upon.  One has only to note the high value that Filipinos give to schooling and the obtaining of a diploma to give evidence of this.

The culture has terms for these two differing, but complimentary learnings: pagsasanay (getting the experience or training oneself) and pag-aaral (learning from others, studying); the former emphasizes the importance of personal knowledge, the latter puts forward the usefulness of vicarious knowledge.  We recall how the element of having undergone or felt a reality in experience is important to Filipinos.  It is what we have actually gone through or put up with that counts primarily in experience.  Personal knowledge does not only provide information; it offers us a sure guide for what we have to do.  When a person prepares for a sports competition, for example, he is said to be in training (nagsasanay) not studying (nag-aaral).  Accumulating information theoretically (pag-aaral) is secondary within this scheme, but it is not without its value for Filipinos.  Even an athlete needs to study what others have done or are doing to make sure he is not missing out on something already discovered.  Study can help us to become attentive to the multi-faceted realities of life.  It provides us with important information as well as a much needed theoretical framework for making sense of things in our actual experiences.

A further characterization of the two is that pagsasanay highlights the given in experiences, while pag-aaral focuses on the freedom a person has to accept, reject or modify knowledge or information being offered.  The first kind of learning, because of its nature, is something imposed on us.  Because of its impact on us and our feelings, it sort of forces us to accept it as it is.  There is no calm consideration of whether we should look at it in one way or another.  Hardly is there room for exploring other ways of viewing the experience, as it were.  Experience is undeniably there and has to be  accepted.  On the other hand, the second type of learning, because theoretical, leaves much more room for free consideration of alternative ways of looking at the reality concerned.  For this reason, it may well be possible to investigate other perspectives and ideas related to a given reality as well as to compare them with one another in terms of advantages or disadvantages.  This latter sort of learning (aral) is able to give breadth to experience.  For depth, however, pagsasanay is the type of learning we need to look towards.

Those who are san‡y (experienced) have learned through repeated experience of the same reality.  Either they have learned because they have gone through the same or similar situations, or in their desire to learn, they have done the same thing over and over again, experimenting by trial and error as well as trial and success.  Not only have they become accustomed to this reality, they have truly learned and retained their learning through repeated experience of it.  This they do not forget because it is difficult to forget what you have grown familiar with: ito ang kanilang pinagkatandaan, ito rin ang kanilang matatandaan (they have grown old with this experience and have learned from it; they will remember this experience).

Pagsasanay is like a canal which running water had gradually dug through constant erosion or a path which had been made by the many times people have passed through the same place.  It gives knowing and understanding reliability.  Natuloswhich means insight provides an imagery of a sharp point (as a wooden stick) stuck into the ground to provide a stable post or marker.  Such is learning from pagsasanay.  This kind of learning gives people not only sure knowledge gained through lived-experiences, but also a real confidence about that knowledge.  They do not just know; they really know from repeated experience.  They have stable or reliable knowledge that we can trust.  As time-tested knowledge, it inspires confidence.

Dunong (wisdom) is also acquired by learning from others, by accumulating information and gining insight regarding a given reality.  Why is this so?  First of all, life is so rich that there is no one who can possibly go through all human experiences.  Besides, the limits imposed by space, time and resources somehow restrict what one can experience in this world.  But through communication and exchange we are able to know and learn from the experiences and discoveries of others vicariously.

Secondly, life is interconnected.  To live is to live with others in relationship.  No person is an island, as a popular idiom puts it.  Indigenous wisdom expresses it through the word kapwa to refer to another person.  The term highlights human bondedness.  Although this truth is probably acknowledge by most people, different cultures will give it their own peculiar interpretation.  For instance, while the English language needs to speak of an other or an other person thereby emphasizing difference, Filipino prefers to describe that other individual as someone who is fundamentally the same.  Kapwa is not accurately translated as the other personbut by that person who is the same as I am.  Hence, vicarious experience is valid experience because we all are the same human beings.  Nothing truly human can ever be foreign to human beings whoever they are.

Formal education provides this kind of opportunity to many people.  Through the information which have been amassed through the efforts of so many people here and in other countries by actual experience and theoretical study, others can learn.  Knowledge is passed on through various ways and in different forms.  But while the formal educational system easily comes to mind when we talk about learning, we should not forget the other possibilities of learning: keen observation of reality and diligent listening to the experience of others.

A local shoe-repairman in Metro Manila said that he learned how to repair shoes by carefully observing someone else do it.  He just sat quietly by a person who repaired shoes and took mental notes about the right procedures and appropriate techniques in repairing shoes.  His attentiveness and diligence paid off.  He now earns his keep by repairing shoes.  It is also possible to learn shoe repair through a careful study of a good book on the subject.  This sort of knowledge, however, is ineffectual unless put into actual use.  When used habitually, it becomes experienced learning (pagsasanay).  When it is , the experiential feel of repairing shoes clarify what the theory is saying.  At the same time the information given by the book is either affirmed, improved or revised.  Thus such information becomes experience-tested knowledge; it takes on this characteristic over a period of time.

Without  pagsasanay the possession of theoretical knowledge, however, may lead to arrogance rather than wisdom.  At times the appellation marunong(knowledgeable) is used of someone who is merely clever in outwitting another for self-interest.  On the other hand, kasanayan(actual experience) bereft of kaalaman (knowledge) may lead to bigotry.  Being san‡y (experienced) may make us so confident of what we know and how we see reality that we begin to assume there is no other alternative way of conceiving it.  Instead of breadth of understanding, narrowness of perception becomes normal.

The combination and integration of kasanayan (actual experience) and kaalaman (knowledge, information) is dunong (wisdom).  Dunong is insight into life and reality: a being able to know life from the inside, as it were, and yet at the same time seeing possibilities beyond its inner confines.  Insight is tunay at malinaw na pag-uunawa (a real and clear ynderstanding of something).   A wise person is someone who has both depth (san‡y) and breadth (maalam) of human experience.  One becomes wise because one has been formed (nasanay) and informed (may kaalaman) in an integral manner.  He or she has insight.

Formation without information is blind.  Such training can easily turn into an activity without a clear understanding of why particular things are done, or why they are done the way they are done.  Worse, the information may be detrimental rather than helpful.  By the same token the acquisition of information without formation is inadequate for human living.  Study in this way becomes merely the accumulation of information which mostly remains ineffectual.  As an educational pattern, people graduate from schools without having been properly trained for the profession they have studied.  Things learned theoretically without the accompaniment of formation are easily forgotten.  It can also be aimless since the deeper questions -- such aswhat is knowledge for? -- which are important for life are set aside.  Values which give soul to the use of information will then be absent.

Formation (pagsasanay) and receiving of information (pag-aaral or pagtuturo) together constitute the path to wisdom.  These two-fold learnings are the lessons (aral) drawn from life as it proceeds with its course (=agos ng buhay).  Present educational systems widely used in schools acknowledge this through the pattern of lecture and exercise, input and exposure, theory and practice, or explanation and drill.  This path to wisdom is one that requires that we actually walk along it and that we be patient because the journey through it takes time.  Dunong (wisdom) is not quickly acquired, and we should acknowledge the clue provided by the phenomenon of the wisdom-tooth, the back tooth which usually comes only after twenty years of age. 


We have spoken of aral in terms of the lesson from life gained both from personal (kinasanayan) and vicarious (nalaman) experiences.  This is understanding the term as a noun.   Aral (study) is, however, also to be understood in its verbal form in this context --as pag-aaral (to study).  Most likely because of the presence and wide influence of formal education, pag-aaral has largely been regarded as formal study in school -- elementary, high school, college and graduate school.  Schooling has its own contribution to learning.  As a system it is an institutionalized way of collating knowledge and experience as well as passing it on to many others who wish to profit from them.  The wealth of such information can broaden one’s perspective on life.

Pag-aaral is also the formal endeavor and the process to accumulate the necessary information and skills to assure oneself of a promising livelihood and career.  This has its own place in human life.  Furthermore, in a context of widespread poverty and where physical survival and well-being is a real burning issue, an instrumental view of pag-aaral is to be acknowledged and respected, not to be demeaned.  Study is a practical means (an instrument) to an end: a good and stable job and, perhaps, even a fulfilling profession.

There is more to life, however, than the means to assure the basic necessities of life.  There is humanness: ang pagkatao at pagiging makatao (the process of being and becoming human).  Life is a much bigger proposition than an aspect of it, no matter how important and urgent.  Against this consideration as backdrop, pag-aaral (studying) is not just a study to obtain a lot of information, broaden our knowledge, and gain practical skills.  It is acquiring an insight into what life is really about, understanding life broadly and deeply.  The primary as well as ultimate object of pag-aaral is not training and knowledge; it is life.  Through pag-aaral we become attentive to the lessons of life as gained from personal experiences and from the experiences of others.

As such pag-aaral is a discerning kind of attentiveness to and a judicious remembering of life for the sake of humane living.  It is  attentive to lessons that life proffers.  Perhaps, the contemporary Pag-aaral is a discerning kind of attentiveness to and a judicious remembering of life for the sake of humane living. use of pagtutok sa isang bagay (to steadily pursue a given thing) expresses this attentiveness.  Study is a consistent (and even persistent) effort to pursue what life essentially offers.  But its being heedful is a discerning sort because it wants to know clearly in the midst of life’s ambiguity and to understand humanly.  And pag-aaral is remembering because it is a deliberate effort to bring back to memory the lessons which have been gained from experiences in order to serve as guide.  Memory is that which sustains, preserves, enriches and retrieves the karanasan (experience) which brought forth aral (lesson).  Pag-aaral (the act of studying) activates or unleashes the power of memory.  But this remembering is judicious because it wants to call to mind not just anything or just about everything, but what is truly life-giving.  Pag-aaral is at the service of life.

Filipino has a number of words for the activity of remembering: ala-ala, gunita, and tanda.  While they may roughly mean the same, each seems to connote something specific.  Ala-ala is related to the general collection of memories.  Gunita and tanda are used when something specific is being recalled.  But while gunita is the common word for a deliberate and conscious effort to recollect specific events that have been forgotten, tanda represents the kind of remembering which focus on memories which serve, as reference points (palatandaan) for someone.  In the very popular television series, Maala-ala  Mo Kaya? (Would You Remember?), the host quite often shifts to the phrase tandang-tanda ko pa (I still particularly remember) when referring to specific recollection in the whole narrative.

Tanda means a mark or a sign to indicate something.  This marking of past experiences and taking note of their significance imply two things.  First, the recollection of past events is done because of the lessons which have been learned (aral na napulot): Tandang-tanda ko pa ... (I remember very well...).  Such events, therefore, are not only specific, but they are also personally significant.  Tanda has a  vital link with personal knowledge gained from experience.  Events remembered in this way are personally marked, colored or set apart.  Second, because memory serves as a reference point in this context, these events are easily recalled; they are never far from consciousness unlike those in gunita.  When people remember in the manner of pagkatanda they can refer quickly to the said events because these occasions have marked (in the sense of characterized) their lives.


Turo (instruction, teaching) is the explicit hanling on of wisdom which is drawn from life and given for the sake of life.  Like the acquisition of wisdom through pag-aaral, turo is done in basically two ways: the way of training (pagsasanay) and the way of information-explanation (pag-aaral in the sense of theoretical study as we have seen earlier).

The first is making students do what they have to learn -- a hands- on approach or on-the-job training.  In the movie entitled Karate Kid the master taught the movements of the discipline to a teenager by making him do chores which simulated the very movements necessary for karate.  This is experiential teaching.  The instruction is given primarily by making the recipient of the lesson (aral) do what he/she has to learn.  Pagtuturo in this manner is also giving the necessary freedom by allowing the students to make mistakes from which hopefully they would learn.  Basic principles are enunciated, but the learners are asked to put them into practice not only discover their applications and to realize their implications, but to also really understand the meaning of those principles and to test their reliability.  Through this way of experiential teaching learners are gradually introduced to the importance of learning through personal experience and to the necessity of depth of learning.

Pagtuturo in the sense of giving information-explanation culled from many different sources is aimed at broadening personal perspectives.  Alternative perspectives give a fuller view of reality which is only accessible through human interpretation.  We are liberated from the temptation to absolutize our judgment regarding reality.  Our individual outlook is happily relativized.  One can recall at this point the rather humorous tale of four blind men holding on to different parts of an elephant and expressing their limited view of reality as absolute.  Here instruction is seen as sharing of the knowledge (aral na napulot) which had been acquired through other people’s experiences.  In a way the solidarity of peoples is somehow expressed in the educational process.


Since memory (pagtanda) plays a major role in pag-aaral, it is worth our while to take note of the importance of narrative in handing on the lessons of life in both ways of transmission (pagtuturo).  If experience is the basis of the instruction, inevitably whoever transmits or attempts to hand on the lessons which have been gained in experiences will tell stories --incidents, conversations, development of relationships, changes in society, discoveries made, ideas imagined due to certain circumstances.  Tandang-tanda ko pa... (I remember very well ...)  It is  stories which give life and color to human exchange.  In more ways than one human beings are storytellers and storyhearers: we like to tell stories and we like listening to them  Maybe we are that simply because we are human beings.

Considering this, the handing on of aral (lesson of life) through turo (instruction) can be best served if the power of the narrative is recognized and utilized.  Stories instruct through recalling of humanly significant events which enlighten and inspire in their own way.  They do not preach and much less do they impose.  Rather they allow the listeners to make up their own minds and to get the lesson which they themselves discovered in the stories.  Stories allow people to make free decisions.  One of the world’s greatest teacher, if not the greatest --Jesus of Nazareth --taught mainly through stories called parables.  By speaking of God narratively he invited people to learn from what is present already in their experiences (makapulot ng aral).

Acknowledging the power of stories, and even recognizing their primacy in effective instruction, in no way implies that no other way is possible.  Instruction does encounter situations when a more systematic explanation or elaboration (paliwanag) is required for the lesson to be grasped.  Concrete examples may be necessary to clarify a certain point being explained (pagsasalarawan).  A teacher may have to provide the logical arguments for espousing a particular view rather than another (pangangatwiran).  In order to recall easily valuable lessons which have been learned by the community through experience, short easy-to-memorize statements may be formulated, popularized and taught (mga kasabihan).  And to ensure that values will not be lost people enunciate and make certain norms mandatory in the community (mga batas).  We see in these examples how turo is handed on to present and future generations apart from narrative.


The capacity for remembering the valuable lessons of life is the key to wisdom.  This potential presupposes that a person has already attained a certain age and has gained wisdom through experience, both personal and vicarious.  The images associated by the culture for this facet of life are telling. Some speak of the absence of wisdom in a child who neither has had as yet the chronological time to live nor the chances to gain experience and learn from it.  Others liken those who are chronologically adults, but are still like children, for their inability to learn the lessons offered by experience.

On the one hand, bata ka pa (you are still a child), wala ka pang-alam (you don’t know anything yet), may gatas pa sa labi (you still have milk on your lips) and inosente pa (you are still innocent; no experience) are phrases that speak of the lack of experience and, therefore, of wisdom.  The child has not yet come of age; there is nothing to remember as yet.  On the other hand, expressions likeparang bata (you are like a child) or isip bata (you think like a child), walang pinagkatandaan (you have not learned anything despite your age) and evenulianin (forgetful) refer to an old person’s lack of capacity to remember the lessons of life.  He/she is unable to have an experience-tested basis to guide his/her new decisions.

In both cases the lack of memory remains the obstacle to the gaining and maintaining of wisdom.  Whether the aral that could have been gained is non-existent due to sheer lack of experiences as a child or the aral was never really interiorized and personalized that it was quickly forgotten,  the result is the same: the absence of wisdom.  In the first instance, the reason is that experience and lessons of experience are still ahead of the person.  In the second, there is somehow some deterioration of partial wisdom that had already been gained.

What we remember of past human experiences, whether our very own or those others sheds light on present-day situations.  It provides guidance as to how we shall assess new experiences and respond to their challenges.  We are not left in the dark; there is light from the lessons of life.  Memory will help us consider what we need to affirm, negate or purify in our new experiences.

Life, experience, learning and instruction -- buhay, karanasan, aral at turo -- are what is implied when lowland Filipinos talk about experience.  In explicitating these elements and spelling out meanings  they suggest, we come to a better understanding of Filipino experience.  This knowledge will, hopefully, lead also to a better grasp of our experience of God in the Filipino context and of theology as a whole.