For Whom Do We Study?
(Clearwisdom.net) Many teachers nowadays tell their students over and over, "You should be responsible for yourself so that you can get good scores and be able to attend a good university so you can find a good job and lead a decent and stable life." Considering this, on the surface this advice encourages students to accomplish goals that appear to concern only the student but have, in actuality, much broader implications. Your study, attention to detail, and efforts all affect not merely your university registration, but also a future good job opportunity and a comfortable life; those are the goals that you really study for.
So, will you be as motivated to continue with new studies when you have achieved your primary study goals? However rich you are, however high your social status in life is, and however outstanding your physical and mental acumen might be, you will have problems and conflicts where you experience hardships and miseries. Then, do your studies offer anything to help you know how to face and solve those problems?
Let us look at ancient Chinese culture and education. What was education like during the Xia, the Shang, and the Zhou dynasties? All eight-year-old children, whether they were the children of kings or noblemen, civil servants or common people, were allowed to go to elementary school. The courses in elementary school taught the behaviors and basic courtesies of everyday life, such as watering plants and cleaning, dealing with everyday affairs, give-and-take in a dispute, and similar situations. They also had to study courtly music, archery, how to drive imperial vehicles, literary characters, and arithmetic, among other subjects. At the age of 15, those who were better students would attend a university to take up studies concerning "searching for the utmost truth," "correcting one's mindset," "cultivating oneself," and "governing people." This entailed explorations into the inherent functions of things, experience in the use of ones mind and body, practice in becoming a highly principled moral person, and profound comprehension of righteous human behavior. For the sake of the proper governing of a state, one would thus utilize the results of one's studies to deal with relationships among people, to deal with relationships within the feudal lord's domains, and to deal with the relationships among rulers, the ministers, and the common people.
Our traditional Chinese culture derives from that period of time, and our schooling basically derives from the system of that time. A history of five to six thousand yearswhat a long time that is!
The Great Learning was written by Zeng Zi. Master Zeng was a disciple of Confucius. The first sentence of the book pointed out the goal of study: "The Way of great learning involves manifesting virtue, changing the people, and abiding by the highest good." It means that the paths and goals of great learning are to eliminate postnatal notions and desires, to connect oneself to the pure inborn morals that initially engendered oneself, and to maintain a daily process of self-innovation and self-upgrade by creating daily a brand-new ego. One does this until one reaches or attains that realm when one has grasped the most profound morals and rules of all things and phenomena; namely, the utmost goodness and principles that naturally and initially permeate every single thing.
That was the goal that the ancient people wanted to attain through their study. They didnt study the world beyond themselves, looking outward, but looked inward, which is just opposite of what today's people do. Please think about it, everyone: What is the difference between looking outward and looking inward? Does what we learn in class today play a significantly instructive role in our everyday lives, in how we consider questions and get along with others? There is a distinction. Many modern people consider the ancients scientifically ignorant and fatuous, but what the ancients viewed as the goal of education was infinitely more complex than today's view. The realm reached by ancient people through tranquil meditation is just now being touched on by our present studies in quantum physics, quantum biology, and the unified theory of the universe.
Here is one example. Many are familiar with the two Chinese characters yu and zhou that together mean "universe." The interpretation of these two words is from ancient times, "yu" refering to all ages, from ancient to the present, and "zhou" referring to the ten directionsfour cardinal plus top and bottom. Yu means "time;" zhou means "space." The universe we inhabit is a four-dimensional time-space location, intersected by time and space. These conceptsof which the ancients were awareare still relatively new in modern science. Dont rashly dismiss the knowledge of our ancestors.
A means of probing into basic principles is closer than one imagines. Confucius said, "The Dao is not far from people." Actually, the means to study anything is more available in everyday life than in books. So, which road/approach to take? Confucianism pointed out one possible path, which was to cultivate oneself, to harmonize the family, to govern a state, and then to enable the whole Earthly world to be at peace. To put it more clearlyit means to assure a proper relationship between oneself and the family, the state and the whole world. That is a gradually enlarging network, the gradual ascension of the rungs on a ladder; each larger network builds on the preceding smaller ones, and the center of the entire network is oneself. It is therefore most crucial and most fundamentally important to cultivate oneself.
The primary relationship to be secured was the relationship with parents and siblings; this led to the establishment of the most traditional, Confucian principle of filial piety and respect for parents and siblings, meaning "the father shall be merciful, the offspring shall be filial; the older brother shall be amicable and the younger brother shall be deferential." This is what is meant by "harmonization of family." The families in the past were large ones. Usually four or even five generations lived together, with many brothers and sisters. So many things needed to be considered, such as everyday life, the fields and business, income and expenditures, etc. Furthermore, one also had to deal properly with the handling of relationships and communications among relatives and neighbors; one had to deal with the things in the society to ascertain the relationships between the Heavens, Earth, deities and ancestors; and one had to fast and make sacrificial offerings on time, and so on.
To assure harmony among all family members in the distribution of all profits, one had to learn to control one's ego, desires, and emotions, and to look inward when confronted with conflicts, which is just as Zeng Zi described, "I practice three daily periods of self-examination." One needed to purify and rectify one's mindset, treat people with compassion, accumulate moral virtues, correct each wrongdoing, and tolerate nothing incorrect. Only in this way could a family be harmonious.
Someone once said, "Filial piety is at the root of all goodness." It is hard to imagine how a person ignorant of knowing how to show respect and love for parents, how to show deference to older brothers, and how to foster offspring could be a person with virtue, integrity, and natural concern for others.
If a person can genuinely harmonize with and enjoy his family, make everyone in the family content with his or her own role, and have others rely on him but is free of personally taking care of everything, this person's status is bound to exceed his position in the family and spiritually even be able to set himself outside the family. Only in this way can he treat the family as a whole body while putting every family member in an agreeable mindset and satisfying their wishes, tolerating their behaviors, and influencing their thinking. The person can then follow the course of nature and take care of things in a timely fashion. None of this is possible without sincerity, kindness, and tolerance; without taking the middle way and eliminating biased behavior.
The happiness of cultivation is first achieved in ones family. Furthermore, it is not enjoyed only by oneself, but shared with all family members.
(To be continued)