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Modern Interpretations of Ancient Expressions

【十四、原來葫蘆是這麼掛著的––致知篇 】

14. Chapter on Extending Knowledge--So That's How the Gourds Hang

□    孫秀美    文
By Sun Xiumei

人若不從根本處去衡量,光在末梢上比來比去,要求一種齊頭式的平等, 那是一點也不通事理的。
If a person doesn't evaluate at a fundamental level, but only makes superficial comparisons
hoping for equality, then he simply doesn't understand anything.






回去的路上,又經過瓜棚,望望那個仍然躺 在地上的葫蘆瓜,再舉頭看著頂上的瓜棚,屋廬子忍不住會心地微笑:「原來葫蘆是這麼掛著的!」

Early in the morning, Wu Luzi rushed on his way to the State of Zou. His mind was in such a turmoil that he was almost tripped over a gourd which had fallen by the roadside. Instinctively, he kicked the gourd back under the trellis of gourd vines and grumbled, "You gourd, you're not growing in the right place; what are you lying in the the middle of the road for?" Then he thought about how stupid he'd been! He'd always thought of himself as eloquent and well-learned, with an excellent teacher, but yesterday he'd been stumped by a few words. Obviously, the youth from the State of Ren had an irrational argument, but he hadn't been able to think of a good rebuttal! The youth had asked, "Which is more important: propriety, or food and a spouse?" Of course propriety is more important; even a three-year-old child knows that! However, the youth had asked further, "If you can get food only by following the rules of propriety, and would starve to death if you didn't, should these rules still be followed? Moreover, if you can't marry a woman by following the rules of propriety, while by not following them, you'd be able to marry her, would you still want to follow the rules?" What tough questions! Although it's said that "Starving to death is a small matter, while losing your integrity is a great matter," losing one's life is a serious matter, while overlooking the meticulous rules of propriety isn't exactly "losing one's integrity." Oh! That guy really had some crooked theories! Everyone praises my teacher's unbounded eloquence; let's hear what he has to say about this!

Unexpectedly, after Mencius heard the question, he laughed and asked, "Where's the difficulty? If a person doesn't evaluate at a fundamental level, but only compares two things superficially, wanting to make them come out equal, then he simply doesn't understand anything. Take a look! One-inch cubes can be piled higher than a tower. But how can you say that any one of those cubes is higher than a tower? Furthermore, everybody knows that gold is heavier than feathers. But is this comparison made between a pinch of gold and a cartload of feathers? No, and yet you are comparing eating, which is a big matter in life, to the most trivial detail of propriety. How can eating not appear more important? The difference is simply too great! Similarly, when the great matter of marrying a woman is compared with the minor ritual of meeting the bride and escorting her to the wedding, no wonder the matter of getting a spouse appears more important! You were trapped by his words and forgot that comparisons have to be made at an equal level. If the quantities being compared are not equivalent, the comparison will not be accurate."

Wu Luzi had just wiped away his sweat, and at this point he perspired again. "What's the right way to respond, then?" Mencius smiled gently and said, "You could ask him in return, 'If you have to twist your brother's arm and rob his food before you can eat, would you really go and twist his arm? If the only way you could get a wife would be to jump over your neighbor's wall and embrace his daughter, would you really do such a thing?'"

Wu Luzi grinned, "Good! That will render him speechless! Why didn't I think of such a simple reason?" Mencius said seriously, "Because you didn't investigate the principle at a fundamental level. Since you don't know how to expand upon what you've learned, you don't have an overall understanding of the principles underlying all things. Take drawing a gourd, for instance. If you've never walked under the trellis to observe the gourd vine, you wouldn't know its nature and characteristics, and I'm afraid you'd draw a gourd plant which grows on the ground!" All of a sudden, Wu Luzi covered his mouth with his hand as he recalled the gourd that had almost tripped him.

Mencius continued, "In studying, you must first give up all preconceived notions of like and dislike, of good and bad. Investigate things in a practical, objective manner, and collect extensive data. When something is unclear, carefully inquire until you understand it. Next, you have to carefully analyze the whole picture and discriminate every aspect clearly. Only after you have gone through such screening and refinement will the knowledge you obtain be real. Lastly, you should truly apply the knowledge, and then you'll reach the supreme state of 'knowledge and action going hand-in-hand!' Seeking knowledge in this way, your mind and spirit will come to understand the perfect fusion of principles and facts. When you speak, your words will naturally correspond and connect from beginning to end. Ordinary people think eloquence refers to the ability to speak well, but they only see the surface, not the source. If you don't thoroughly understand the principles, and rely only on your speaking ability, you'll easily be defeated by others."

As Wu Luzi was passing under the trellis of gourd vines on his way back, he glanced down at the gourd which was still lying on the ground, and then looked up at the trellis. He couldn't help but smile in his heart as he thought: "So that's how the gourds hang!"


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