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慈祥代天宣化 忠孝為國敎民

On behalf of Heaven, proclaim and transform with kindness. For the country, teach the people to be loyal and filial.

Rules for Being A Student

第七章 餘力學文
Chapter 7: On Learning

清 李毓秀 編 Compiled by Li Yuxiu of the Qing Dynasty
孫秀美 註解 Explained by Jennifer Li
比丘尼恆音 英譯 English translation by Bhikshuni Heng Yin

fang shi qing   qiang bi jing
房間 保持清爽 牆壁 擦乾淨
room to keep neat wall to cleanse

Our room should be kept neat and tidy with the walls uncluttered and clean.

ji an jie   bi yan zheng
桌子 弄整潔 毛筆 硯台 放端正
table, desk to tidy up pen ink slab well arranged

Our desk should be kept in good order, pens and papers well arranged.

mo mo pian   xin bu duan
墨條 研細,磨擦 歪斜的 端正的
ink stick to grind slanted mind not upright

If our ink stick is ground at an angle, it's likely our minds are not upright.

zi bu jing   xin xian bing
恭整的 首先地 有毛病
writing not neat mind first to have problem

If our writing is sloppy and careless, it's because we are absent-minded.





People who practice calligraphy know that, "If their minds are straight, their characters will be upright." Thus, in ancient China calligraphy was considered one of the Six Arts (the six skills an educated person was required to learn). The other five Arts were rites, music, archery, chariot driving, and applied arts. (Some have interpreted this sixth art as mathematics, but I think "applied arts" is more apt. First of all, pure mathematics is academic knowledge and cannot be considered a skill. Applied mathematics is included in applied arts. Secondly, since the pre-Qin period, philosophers have drawn analogies such as making carriage wheels, boats, and ships; painting; and carpentry, indicating that scholars in those days understood applied arts as well as academics. Thus, they must have studied applied arts.) It is a pity that later scholars began to focus purely on academics, valuing the Six Classics but not the Six Arts. Now, only rites, music, and calligraphy--the three less active Arts, are still valued. The other three, which require hand-and-brain coordination, have been scorned as physical activities. As a result, modern-day scholars do nothing but study, get very little exercise, and have no idea of how to live a balanced life. They are pictured as effete intellectuals, "weaklings who can't truss a chicken," and "useless scholars." On the other hand, since calligraphy has been regarded as a tool for cultivating one's moral character and spirituality, and as art also involves a certain beauty, it has had the fortune of surviving until the present.

As a tool for spiritual cultivation, the art of calligraphy involves arranging the desk and chair; setting out the paper, brush, ink slab, and ink; holding the brush; and writing the characters. These guidelines are described in the present verses. The room must be kept neat and tidy, the walls uncluttered and clean, the desk in good order, and the writing utensils well arranged. When the environment is well-prepared, the mind will be calm. With this foundation in place, one then attends to posture: grinding the ink stick evenly, holding the brush neither too tightly nor too loosely. In this way, one's characters will be even and firm at the least, if not beautiful. For calligraphy to be beautiful as art, one must develop one's technique through continuous practice and adjustment. In general, the preparatory work should not be taken lightly. Don't think that diligent practice suffices to produce beautiful characters. If you neglect the daily preliminary work, your characters will be frivolous rather than magnanimous. Their artistic quality will be diminished, and you will suffer an irreparable physical and psychological loss.

Modern parents make the mistake of having lofty expectations that overlook the basics. They consider children who do well in school and are talented to be outstanding. They consider children who don't do drugs or party a lot to be well-behaved. Thus, they slave away doing all the household chores and cooking, but dare not ask their children to help, lest it adversely affect their homework. They even tidy their children's rooms or pretend not to notice the mess. As a result, we have a bunch of ungrateful, frivolous young people. They cannot survive on their own or weather emotional crises. Unused to planning ahead and making decisions, they are neither efficient nor careful in their work. Consequently, they cannot persevere to the end. As an old proverb says, "If you cannot keep a room in order, how can you maintain order in the nation?" Keeping one's room tidy may seem a trivial, personal affair unrelated to important, public matters. Yet, if one cannot even keep one's personal affairs in order, what energy could one have to take care of public affairs? If one handles small matters poorly, how can one handle large matters capably? Doing daily household chores nurtures one's tenacity, perseverance, and sense of responsibility. Efficient performance of household chores fosters management acumen and organizational skills. With such tenacity, perseverance, acumen, skills, and responsibility, one will quite easily find a job to support oneself. When the opportunity arises, one will be able to calmly plan strategies to skillfully tackle national and international issues. How can anyone say that tidying the room is a personal, trivial matter? The Doctrine of the Mean says, "The actions of the cultivated person serve as a path for the world; his practices serve as laws for the world; his words serve as regulations for the world." Such a cultivated person is not one who merely "studies for ten years by the window in the cold." His temperament, character, abilities were forged through a long period of doing routine household chores from childhood onwards.

A person who does not understand how to learn and live is truly poor; poverty has nothing to do with one's natural talent or wealth. A person who learns how to keep his own living space and belongings in order at a young age will be capable of handling all matters in an organized fashion as an adult. He will be able to surmount any difficulty and rise above any situation. As long as a family is happy, though they subsist on plain fare, how can they be considered poor? Genuine poverty is experienced by those who are psychologically starved or confused, who err out of nervousness, and who cannot handle anything well. Socrates, the great Greek philosopher hailed as the Confucius of the West, insisted, "The ordered soul is the only truly happy one, the only one capable of living the good life." Since "Every man is his own ruler," why not teach our children to be neat and organized, so they can take charge of their own lives and be ordered souls?


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