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Rules Versus Ingenuity

孫秀美 文 By Guoxiu Sun
法今 英譯 English translation by Fajin

父親對兒子說:「遺子千金,不如傳子一藝。我所以有今天的成就,是善於經商的結果,你就跟我學做生意吧!」兒 子跟父親學做生意,亦步亦趨,凡有指示,無不照做;若無言說,絕不過問。人人稱讚:「有子承繼衣缽了!你這做父親的可以享福了!」父親笑一笑,「是嗎?那 就讓他試一試自己做生意囉!」

父親躺在病床,叫兒子來吩咐:「你替我跑一趟生意吧!趁著天快冷了,把夏天收購的皮裘賣個好價錢,再低價收購 一些紙扇、夏布之類的熱季衣物到南方去,等明年夏天天熱就可以賣個好價錢了!記得在秋天以前回來,順便在嶺南收購一些茶葉。嶺南產茶,便宜,咱們北方茶價 高,又逢冬,準可以賺一筆。」兒子賣了皮裘往南方走,什麼地方可以購紙扇、夏布呢?父親沒有說,沿途經過幾個大城,幾番猶豫,還是沒停下腳步。終於來到父 親提到的廣東嶺南。雖然是在嚴冬季節,嶺南也還是比江北的春天暖和;雖然人們不穿夏布衫,也不用紙扇了,價錢可也不便宜。兒子硬著頭皮下一大批紙扇、夏 布,就等著夏天來賣。可是嶺南天說熱就熱了,沒等到夏天來臨,大街小巷,早已是人人身著夏布衫,手搖紙扇了!他按照父親教的規矩,等到了夏天才來賣這些東 西,怎麼會有好的銷路呢?挨到天又涼了,只好以低於成本的價錢全部批發給另一商人,按著父親的指示,趕快買了茶葉趕回家去。父親看看虧了不少,嘆口氣: 「你不是做生意的料子,去跟木匠師父做學徒吧!」

木匠拿著墨汁教他量直;拿著一頭繫在鐵釘上的線團,教他怎麼畫圓;教他怎麼鋸木頭,怎麼打磨表面;做出了一批 批漂亮實用的車輪子。然後師父說:「你的手工也很細了,就讓你自己試著做一張大圓桌子吧!」他拿了規矩量啊量,碰到了木頭分叉處的硬地方:「師父沒教我錯 開這硬塊,鋸掉它!」於是桌子圓是圓了,那一角的紋理卻總瞧不順。師父看看成果:「話說是做的圓桌,也不是一成不變的。你硬切下一角,結果紋理不對,釘子 又釘不進去,變得翹起來了!」「師父沒有指示……」師父說:「你若會用心,我沒說的,你也可以舉一反三;你若不用心,我怎麼說也教不會你。你還是回去 吧!」

父親看見兒子回來,問明經過,便說:「即使你的師父可以樣樣告訴你,狀元老師不見得能有狀元學生。孟子說過: 『梓匠輪輿,能與人規矩,不能使人巧。』你的師父說得對!凡事要自己用心去觀察體悟,師父只能教給你規矩和原則,卻不能教你如何才能巧妙。沒聽人說:『師 父領進門,修行在個人』嗎?」你怎麼能期望一輩子都有人指點你怎麼走路啊?」


The father said to his son, “Leaving a fortune to one's son is not as good as teaching him a trade. The reason I'm so successful now is because of my skill in business. You ought to learn how to do business from me.” The son studied with his father, following in his footsteps and doing exactly as he was instructed, but without meddling in any matter that his father did not mention. Everyone praised them, saying, “Now that you have a son to carry on your trade, you, the father, can relax and enjoy yourself.” The father smiled and said, “Is that so? Then I'll let him try his hand at business.”

Lying on his sick bed , the father summoned his son and instructed, “I want you to go on a business trip for me. Since the weather is starting to get cold, you can sell the fur coats we bought in summertime for a good price. Then buy some paper fans and summer clothing at a low price and go south, and when the warm summer comes you'll be able to sell them for a good price. Remember to come back before next autumn, and buy some tea leaves on the way in Lingnan. Tea is cheaper in Lingnan because it's grown there. When the price of tea is high in wintertime, we can make a good sum.”

The son sold the fur coats and headed south. Where could he purchase paper fans and summer clothes? His father hadn't said. Along the way he passed through several cities and felt indecisive, but didn't stop. When he finally reached Lingnan, the place his father had mentioned, although it was in the middle of winter, it was still warmer than springtime in Jiangbei (north of the Yangzi River). Although people weren't wearing summer shirts or using paper fans, their price was not cheap. Nevertheless, the son went ahead and bought a large quantity of fans and summer cloth, which he planned to sell in the summer. But the weather in Lingnan turned warm even before the summer came, and soon all the people were wearing summer shirts and using paper fans. But the son followed his father's instructions and waited until summer to sell those things. By that time there was hardly any demand for them, and so when the weather started getting cold again he could only sell them to another merchant at a lower price than he had paid for them, and, following his father's instructions, quickly buy some tea leaves and head home.

His father, seeing that his son had lost a substantial amount of money, sighed and said, “You aren't cut out to be a businessman. Why don't you go and study with the carpenter.”

The carpenter showed him how to make a straight line with the ink cord. He showed him how to draw a circle with a ball of thread whose one end was fastened to a nail. He taught him how to saw wood, how to polish the surface, and how to make beautiful and useful cart wheels. Then the carpenter said, “Your work is pretty fine. Why don't you try your hand at making a large round table?” So the young man took the T-square and the compass and measured out the wood. When he reached a hard knot in the wood, he thought, “My teacher didn't tell me to work around knots; I'll just saw it off.” So although the table was round, that edge was not very smooth. When the master carpenter examined his work, he said, “Although I told you to make a round table, that's not an inflexible rule. Since you insisted on chopping off that knot, the pattern of the wood is not good and it's not possible to put nails there, so that part juts out.”

“But teacher, you didn't tell me about this…”

His teacher said, “If you knew how to reason, even if I didn't say anything, you should be able to figure out what to do from my instructions. If you don't use your own mind, then no matter what I say I wouldn't be able to teach you. I think you'd better go home.”

When the father found out why his son had returned, he said, “Even if your teacher could teach you everything, it's not for sure that an outstanding teacher could produce an outstanding student. Mencius said, ‘The carpenter and the cartwright can teach people how to use the compass and T-square, but they cannot give people their creative skill.' What your teacher said was right. In everything you do, you have to contemplate and understand with your own mind. Your teacher can only give you the tools and guidelines; he cannot teach you how to be clever and skillful. Haven't you heard the saying, ‘The teacher leads you in the door; you yourself have to do the practice'? How can you expect someone to tell you how to walk at every step in your life?”

1. The basics can be taught verbally, but genuine understanding must be achieved in the mind.
2. Stubbornly sticking to the rules and not following the rules at all are both extremes. Going too far is just as bad as not going far enough.


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