Friday, June 15, 2007

The Great Learning (Da Hsiao)

Known as one of the four Confucian books, The Great Learning or Da Hsiao in pinyin could be a required reading for those who want to learn more about ancient Chinese thoughts or doctrines. The thinnest of the four books, it comprise of only seven paragraphs of the thoughts of Confucius and ten chapters of commentary by his student, the Philosopher Tsang.

Despite its thin size, the book remains important, so much so that the Chinese called universities, an institution for higher or great learning, Da Hsiao.

The teacher of Zhu Xi said that “the Great Learning forms the gate by which first learners enter into virtue” and that “learners must commence their course with this, and then it may be hoped they will be kept from error.”

Wise words, just like the thinness of the book, a degree from a university provides a good starting point, a stepping stone to a lifelong journey of learning and cultivation to be a better person. A degree will also enable graduates to adequately provide for and regulate their family to be good citizens. Is it not that self cultivation, family, state, and the people form the basis of Confucian studies?

In the course of our studies or further studies, if we investigate things, our knowledge becomes complete. If our knowledge is complete, our thoughts become sincere. When our thoughts are sincere, our hearts are rectified. With our hearts rectified, we are cultivated. If our persons are cultivated, we can regulate our families. When families are regulated, the states will be rightly governed. If states are rightly governed, the whole country is made tranquil and happy.
[Paraphrase of P 5, The Text of Confucius – Da Hsiao, Legge]

If readers think that ancient thoughts do not apply to current times, carefully study paragraph 5 of the Da Hsiao and ponder.

If we look at the prevailing war in Iraq, no one in the right frame of mind or at peace would have approved the sending of troops to start an unrighteous war, had things been properly investigated? (Think Weapons of Mass Destruction and the repeated requests by United Nations for further investigations)

Since things were not properly investigated, knowledge was incomplete, which led to insincere thoughts. With insincere thoughts, hearts were ramified. Therefore families cannot be regulated (dissent abounds, even within the party), states cannot be rightly governed (Think events before and after Hurricane Katrina, US military hospitals), and the country cannot be made tranquil and happy. (Think US / UK)

Therefore the Great Learning starts off with this: What the Great Learning teaches, is to illustrate illustrious virtue; to renovate the people; and to rest in the highest excellence.
[P 1]

Things have their root and branches. Affairs have their end and beginning. To know what is first and what is last will lead to what is taught in the Great Learning. (Think cause and effect)
[P 3]

From the son of Heaven down to the mass of the people, all must consider the cultivation of the person the root of everything besides. It cannot be, when the root is neglected, that what should spring from it will be well ordered.
[P 6 & 7]

To understand the depths of humanity is not easy for students, made much more difficult for those who wish to be known as good rulers who can make their countries tranquil and happy.

Like in any university, it all starts with the proper investigation of things – better known as – diligently do the necessary homework or research! (Think of your Yi, Confucian, Daoist and/or Buddhist studies)

Only then can we become more knowledgeable and sincerely learn from our teachers, the wise, and the ancients. Not forgetting the accompanying self cultivation, to be a better person!


gar said...

Maybe the great learning is that humanity isn't capable of obtaining the message for peaceful survival.

in peace,

Allan said...

Well, the ancients were hopeful that rulers, being human, can be or learn to be benevolent to the people. If a ruler is kind, his people will uphold justice. And their state can prosper. People from neighboring states will look up to him. (Think King Wen)

For comparison, if a ruler is not benevolent, there will be injustice to the people. (Think Chou Hsin of Shang) There will be dissent and the people will have many occasions to grieve. Unrighteous high officials or eunuchs would pander to the ruler’s every whim and fancy. Soon there will not be any just person or Junzi left holding high office. Who would want to advise or serve such a ruler except the Xiao Ren – those without scruples or honour? The righteous would retire from office to tend to their self cultivation, away from the maddening crowd, so to speak. (Think Prince Wei)

King Wen cultivated virtue and encouraged the good to advise him, while Chou Hsin dissipated energy and state resources, harmed or killed good and just officials who dared to remonstrate. (Think of the frightening quote: “You are either with me, or with the enemy!”)

In his final hour, Chou Hsin acted like an 'ostrich', thinking that he still held the Mandate of Heaven and therefore no harm could befall a ‘great’ ruler. Surely like many unkind rulers down the ages in China and the world, he had failed to grasp the essence of the Great Learning! Therefore how can a state with such a ruler be tranquil and happy?