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NEWS FROM THE DHARMA REALM

開發兒童智慧 提倡兒童讀經
Exploring Children’s Storehouse of Wisdom—Promoting the Recitation of Classics

信願文及英譯 Written and translated by Xin Yuan

八月三日,臺灣「兒童讀經」教育的發起人,臺北國立師範大學的王財貴教授應邀來到萬佛聖城。七點半晚課之後,王教授就在佛殿為大家做了「讀經與背經」的專題演講。

王教授指出,所謂「經」就是有價值的書,每個民族都有其歷史上共認的「經書」,比如中國的四書五經,印度的吠陀和佛典,西方的聖經都是。在與各民族文化交流的過程中,我們的古人表現出良好的氣度與廣大的心胸。例如,中國古人看到來自西域和尚有智慧,有道德,就虛心向他們學習。沒有妄自菲薄自己的文化,而是努力將異域的文化加以吸收融合。就佛教而言,我們不僅吸收繼承了印度的大乘佛法,而且還創立了自己的宗派。中國文化的主流也由儒道兩家演進為儒釋道三家。相形之下,許多近代中國人在面對西方文化的衝擊時,其反應是很偏激的。他們認為要「西化」就必須打倒「傳統」;東西兩種文化水火不相容,不能並存。

在這樣的思想領導下,民國元年元月十九日,中華民國政府的教育部長下令「小學堂讀經科一律廢止。」同年五月,又下令「廢止師範、中、小學讀經科。」從此兒童啟蒙時不再讀經。白話文的提倡,也漸漸地使中國人喪失了讀古文經典的能力,更不用提瞭解其中的思想了,至此我們民族文化的承傳出現了很大的斷層。

另一方面,臺灣的教育理論因襲美國過甚,其教學方法乃依兒童理解力的發展過程為依據,其重要的一個觀念是:「不應教兒童所不能理解的內容。」

這種理論完全忽視了對記憶力的開發。其實從出生到十三歲是人一生中記憶力發展的最重要階段。舉例而言,諾貝爾物理學獎得主楊振寧博士,小時候就在父親的督促下背會了「孟子」。其中的許多精神思想,如「萬物皆備於我」,對他以後的發展,影響甚巨。

近人胡適之的白話文寫得很好,實則得力於他深厚的古文基礎。他從四歲開始讀古文;五、六歲背四書五經;十一讀「資治通鑑」;十三歲就讀「左傳」了。如果兒童在此黃金階段不能接觸、記憶有價值的東西,並讓其在心中紮下根,那麼寶貴的光陰就浪費掉了,而許多精神文化上沒有價值的東西也會流入,佔據他們的心靈。兒童記憶力強,理解力弱。提倡「讀經」,可謂揚長避短。讓他們記住有用的東西,一時雖不能理解,但將來長大漸懂人事後,即可由腦中拿出來活用。

「兒童讀經」,既可以使我國數千年的文化傳統得以延續,也可以有效地對治現代教育模式所產生出的諸多弊端,從道德到科學不一而足。「兒童讀經」的具體做法又是非常簡單的。老師或家長只要選擇出「有價值的書」,然後導引兒童反覆多念,至會背誦為止。

次日八月四日,應聽眾的要求,風趣健談的王教授,再就同一題目,主持座談會。本來的安排只是到中午為止,可因為聽眾有許多問題,所以臨時又加了下午一場。這樣王教授的行程就塞得滿滿的。有人關心地問他:「王教授,您搭今天半夜的飛機;從昨天晚上一來就沒停過,您吃得消嗎?」他說:「只要是有助於讀經事業的,我累點都無所謂!」王教授有志讓讀經成為自五四運動以來一場最大的文化運動。為此理想,他投人了自己的熱忱與心血,於個人的付出他是在所不計的。

下午的座談會,與會者更多,好幾個聖城的小孩也去聆聽他「說法」。上午的側重點在於一些基本文化的概念與承傳;下午則落實到一些具體的推廣方法。對於在讀經運動中容易碰到的問題,王教授一一加以釋疑解難。與會者還興致勃勃地觀摩參與了王教授的讀經教學示範。

On August 3, upon our invitation, Professor Caigui Wang from National Taiwan Normal University at Taipei, who is the sponsor of the "Children's Recitation of Classics Movement," came to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to give a lecture. After the evening ceremony concluded at 7:30 pm, he gave a lecture entitled "Reciting and Memorizing Classics" in the Buddha Hall.

Professor Wang defined classics as valuable books. In the history of every ethnic group, there are some widely accepted classics. For example, China has the Four Books and Five Classics, India has the Vedic and Buddhist scriptures, and the Western world has the Bible. In the process of cultural exchange with other nations, our Chinese forefathers demonstrated excellent manners and very open minds. For instance, observing that the monks from India were endowed with lofty virtue and wisdom, they sincerely learned Buddhism from them. They did not forget or belittle their own culture, but tried to absorb and integrate other cultures. With Buddhism, for example, the Chinese have not only succeeded in transmitting Mahayana Buddhism, but have also created our own schools of Buddhism. Confucianism and Taoism, which had originally been the two mainstream Chinese cultures, evolved into the three: Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. In contrast with ancient times, facing the challenge of modern Western culture, many Chinese have gone to extremes. They believed that since Oriental and Western cultures are incompatible, in order to westernize our country, we must renounce Oriental culture.

Under such a guideline, on January 19 in the first year of the Republic of China (1912), the Minister of the Education Department issued an order to abolish the "classics recitation curriculum" in all elementary schools. In May of the same year, another order was issued to abolish the "classics recitation curriculum" in all elementary, middle, and normal schools. From then on, young children were no longer taught to read the classics. Meanwhile, with the promotion of colloquial Chinese, Chinese people gradually lost the ability to read the classics, much less understand the ideas in them. As a result, there has been a gap in the transmission of Chinese culture.

Being too rigid in following American educational theories, the Taiwanese teach children according to the development of their faculty of understanding. One important concept is not teaching children what they are unable to understand. This theory totally ignores the exploration of children's faculty of memory. Actually the golden period for the development of the memory is from birth to thirteen years of age. For example, the Nobel Prize Laureate Dr. C. N. Yang memorized the whole text of Mencius in his youth under the guidance of his father. In his later career, Dr. Yang benefitted enormously from many of the ideas in that book, such as the idea that "everything is complete within oneself."

In modern times, Dr. Shizhi Hu had a good command of writing in colloquial Chinese because of his deep learning in classical Chinese. He began to learn classical Chinese at the age of four, memorized the Four Books and Five Classics at between ages five and six, read Zizhitongjian [a political history of China] at eleven and Zuozhuan [commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals] at thirteen.

If children are not given valuable literature to memorize in their golden early years so that it can become deeply ingrained in their minds, then that precious time will have been wasted, and their minds will be occupied by other material of little spiritual or cultural value. Young children have strong retention power but are still weak in understanding. That's why reciting classics is appropriate for them. Once they have memorized something useful, although they may not understand it immediately, as they grow older and understand more, they will be able to retrieve it and apply it in their lives.

"Children's recitation of classics" not only serves to perpetuate the Chinese culture with its history of several thousand years, but also cures many weaknesses of modern education, from moral education to the sciences. The practical method of teaching children to recite classics is very simple. Teachers or parents just need to select some valuable books, then have the children recite them over and over until they have memorized them.

On the next day, August 4, at the request of the audience, Professor Wang, a witty and eloquent speaker, held an informal discussion on the same topic. Although the discussion was supposed to end before lunch time, the audience still had so many questions that another discussion session was scheduled in the afternoon. His schedule was certainly packed. Someone inquired in concern, "You are taking the midnight flight tonight, and we've kept you busy ever since you arrived last night. Can you take it?" He said, "As long as what I do helps promote the recitation of classics, it doesn't matter if I get tired or not." Professor Wang hopes to make "recitation of classics" the largest cultural movement after the May Fourth Movement. In order to realize this goal, he has devoted his enthusiasm and energy without regard for his personal well-being.

Even more people attended the afternoon session, including many children. In the morning session, Professor Wang had focused on some fundamental concepts of culture and its transmission. In the afternoon, he spoke more on the concrete steps of teaching the recitation of classics. He answered questions one by one. Using the audience as a class, he gave a demonstration so that everyone could get the feel of reciting classics.

Professor Wang's emphasis on memorizing classics is reminiscent of the Venerable Master Hua's repeated instructions to memorize Sutras. Through memorizing Sutras, cultivators can reduce their random thoughts, increase their concentration, purify their bodies and minds, and unfold their wisdom. The Venerable Master said, "The approach is to daily review the Sutra text you have memorized. Don't be greedy to memorize quickly or to memorize a lot. Review daily, and skill will arise from your familiarization with texts. From skill, efficaciousness results. Take care not to discard what is near you and seek something far away. If you get caught up in superficialities, you will not be able to deeply enter the treasury of Sutras and unfold your wisdom... In studying, there are three aspects: eyes, mouth, and mind. You should use your eyes, mouth, and mind and concentrate all of them on the text. There are also three places: on the road, on the pillow, and in the bathroom. These three places are perfect for memorizing Sutras. Whoever uses this method will be able to memorize Sutras very well. You all can give it a try."

The Venerable Master instructed that elementary school students at CTTB should memorize the Three Character Classic and the Rules for Being a Student. Many teachers in Developing Virtue Secondary and Instilling Goodness Elementary Schools have had firsthand experience in teaching children to memorize classics, so they strongly share Professor Wang's feelings in many respects. Realizing the difficulties of teaching Chinese in this country, many Chinese parents pay close attention to any information on the topic. No doubt, the visit of Professor Wang provided them with an opportunity to learn and exchange ideas. Since teachers in Developing Virtue and Instilling Goodness Schools can design their own textbooks, Professor Wang believes this is an excellent place to spread the idea of reciting classics. If teachers work on it persistently, good results can certainly be expected. As a result of this visit, many of the children here are more excited than ever about reciting and memorizing classics. Some teachers even want to use this approach to teach American students next semester.

Prof. Wang's visit also marks a high point in the study of how to revive traditional Chinese culture. The true value of our culture can be appreciated in the following quote of the Venerable Master: "Now I want to travel among all the nations with these Eight Virtues of filiality, fraternity, loyalty, trustworthiness, propriety, righteousness, incorruptibility, and a sense of shame, using this elixir to save the souls, lives, and inherent natures of all young people throughout the world." In order to spread the Eight Virtues in China and all over the world, literature that conveys the Tao Way is extremely important. Therefore, there is limitless significance in teaching children to read classics.

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