In learning Chinese characters, many people say, "They are hard to write and also hard to understand." When studying Chinese culture, they complain that the principles are obsolete and outdated. Actually, not only are Chinese writing and culture not difficult to learn and understand, they are are in fact very interesting. They are artistic, amusing, and very methodical. What evidence is there for this? Please read on.
This feature is called Modern Interpretations of Ancient Expressions. It aims to take commonplace Chinese characters, idioms and principles and cook them up in the more appetizing sauce of modern language. These contemporary interpretations of the Chinese classics will appeal to the palates of both the elderly and the young, allowing more people to savor this refreshing food for the spirit.
I. The Son Carries his Old Papa
-- A Story of Filiality
"The bandits are coming!" Everyone was running and shouting in panic. Working in the field, John threw down his hoe and ran off as well. After a few steps, he immediately thought of Papa. Rushing home, he lifted Papa onto his shoulder and went out. The old man was too old to walk. His eyesight was poor so John always had to carry him wherever he wanted to go. Now John carried him to hide in a cave at the foot of a hill.
They had been in such a hurry to escape, and now they could find nothing to eat in the cave. Fortunately, John still had his packed lunch with him. He opened it up, and with utmost respect offered Papa one bite after another. After finishing it, Papa was thirsty and scolded, "Are you trying choke me?" Not daring to argue, John felt around in the dark. Suddenly he heard the "Drip, drip, drip" of water coming from above. It was leaking in through a crack from the stream outside. Carefully, John climbed onto a rocky ledge, sticking closely to the wall, and stood firm at a protruding spot. Patiently, he collected the drops of water in a piece of broken tile that he had picked up. When the tile was filled with water, he descended again, being careful not to slip. The pain of getting hurt is no big deal, but it would be a serious matter to harm the body his parents had given him and cause them worry. If he broke an arm or leg, or killed himself, who would take care of Old Papa?
After drinking the water, Papa said he was tired. Since the ground was cold and hard, John had to sit leaning to one side so Papa could rest against his body. Afraid of disturbing his father, he hardly moved. Soon his legs grew numb and his body became stiff. As Papa kept complaining about how uncomfortable everything was, John started feeling really frustrated! However, he recalled his mother on her deathbed, telling him to work hard and take good care of his father. If he went against her wish, how could she rest in peace underground? Besides, Papa is old, and it is fitting for the son to be filial to his father. By the way, isn't "a son carrying his old papa" the meaning of filiality? Thinking about this, John became very excited. Isn't the word "filiality" (孝) made up of the word "son" (子) with the word "elder" (老) above it? (Note: For the sake of appearance, the lower part of the word "elder" (老) is omitted in the word "filiality.") Thus we know it is the most natural thing for a son to serve his father. "When I was little, before I could walk, didn't my parents hold me all the time? They patted me, carried me and fed me, and their faces looked so loving and happy! Now it's my turn to carry them and nurture them, and I should be also respectful and compliant. Otherwise, wouldn't I seriously hurt their feelings and fail to repay their kindness of raising me?"
Thinking about this and looking at his father who slept restlessly with an angry look on his face, John thought sadly, "Although it was not my fault, I should be resigned to what happened." His deceased mother once said that when he was delivered, he did not come out head-first as normal kids do and that almost killed her. Fortunately, experienced Aunt Lily was there to help her have a successful delivery! He felt pain every time he reflected on this, and resolved, "I must comply with my parents and not cause them any more worry and suffering. I'll accept their scolding even if it is unreasonable, as long as they do not become upset. If a baby emerges head first, it is called a smooth delivery, just as water flows smoothly from high to low places.
The word 'smooth' or 'compliant' (順) is a pictograph composed of the words for 'river' (川) and 'page' (頁). The word 'river' looks like flowing water and the word 'page' resembles a head. These two things comply with what is natural. As a child, isn't it natural for me to comply with my parents' wishes? If children only know to feed their parents, and do not know to respect and comply with them, how is it different from feeding a dog or cat?"
John felt calm now, and his frustrations were gone. He reflected that he ought to be more considerate. Just then, there was an uproar outside. The bandits had gone and everyone was returning to their homes. John happily carried his father on his back and with firm resolve walked back to his house.
From the story, we learn that it is part of human nature for us to treat our parents with filial compliance. Following this nature, we can all be filial children and let our parents enjoy the latter part of their lives in peace. Being filial includes at least:
1. supporting their lives, so our parents can depend on us.
2. having a respectful attitude, so our parents feel comfort.
3. complying with their wishes, so our parents do not feel obstructed.
4. caring for their health, so our parents are free of worry.
5. exhorting ourselves to be virtuous, so our parents enjoy honor.
Don't you agree?
About the Author:
Upasaka Sun Gwo-syou graduated from the Chinese Department of the Teachers' （Normal） College in Gau-syung, Taiwan. She came to the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in 1991, and is currently working as a volunteer teacher. She teaches a Chinese class in Instilling Virtue Elementary School and Developing Virtue High School, and a course on the Confucian Analects at Dharma Realm Buddhist University. Upasaka Sun is concerned about young people, and teaches with enthusiasm. She devotes great attention to selecting teaching materials and designing the content and goals of the curriculum.