Learning (學 Xue)

xue

Wrote this today with a new calligraphy pen brush that I bought from Daiso (I just love this Japanese shop a lot!)

This is another favourite word of mine.

學 refers to learning/studying.

This word has a very beautiful etymology.

On the left and right of the top portion, is a pair of hands. But what are the hands holding? It’s holding this thing that is signified by the character, 爻, which refers to two things. (1) It refers to dried grass used for divination. (2) It also refers to the Book of Changes (an ancient book that records the changes in seasons and what should and shouldn’t be done). Both of which are associated with religious practices.

In the middle, is the character, 冖, which represents a table.

At the bottom, is the character, 子, which represents a person. But it is not just any person, but a child.

So, what we have is a child, holding the dried grass or Book of Changes, on top of a table.

What’s do all these mean?

Learning (學) is a religious act! St. Thomas Aquinas himself said that when learning takes place, the God’s light of Truth shines into one’s mind, raising the knowledge from potential knowledge to actual knowledge!

But learning not just about simply memorising what’s before you. One of my professors said that if learning is simply about memorising, there’s this thing in the world that does exactly the same task, but even better – a scanner!

Learning involves the study and contemplation of the subject, and being able to apply it in day-to-day life, just as how the ancient Chinese would closely study the Book of Changes (or the dried grass) and use it for the application of their daily life.

But why is a child (子) in the the word? It does not literally mean that learning is confined to children. In fact, the great masters of Chinese philosophy have the title, 子, after their names. E.g. Confucius (孔子), Mencius (孟子), Hsün Tsu (荀子), Lao Tzu (老子), Chuang Tzu (莊子) and more.

Learning requires us to be like little children, who with great inquisitiveness, seek out knowledge for itself, and be marvelled and wondered at the beauty of newly acquired knowledge. When was the last time you went “WOW!” at something that you just learnt? If it had been a long time back, perhaps it’s time to be like a little child once again, and marvel at the beauty of Truth.

A child is, more often than adults, open to what comes his way. As we grow older, we become more narrow minded. As such learning becomes harder as we tend to mis-interpret or simply brush aside things based on whatever biasness we may have developed.

The great masters of philosophy were open to the study of whatever came their way. They were open to see what the other side has to say, and if there was any merit to their arguments worth learning.

Contemplation

I just realised that the Chinese word for “contemplation” is 默觀 (moguan)

Though there are several phrases for the word, “contemplation”, in Chinese, this term stands out as the most meaningful one.

默 (mo) refers to being silent and still.

觀 (guan) refers to studying, observing, and at the same time, refers to looking with one’s eyes.

These two words come together to form a beautiful understanding of contemplation:

To contemplate is to be still and silently study and observe the Way, the Truth (and the Life), that is, the Tao (道).

In so doing, one comes to “see” (觀) the Truth with the eyes of one’s mind. This thus leads to a clear understanding (ming 明) of the Tao.

One’s Words Should be Substantial

言之有物 (yan zhi you wu). One’s words should be substantial.

This applies to both writing and speech. This was something the professor for the History of Chinese Philosophy taught us on our first lesson.

I must admit that I am indeed very guilty of just blabbering lots of nonsense, especially when I talk. But I think there is great wisdom in the above phrase.

In my first semester, one professor mentioned that in the digital age, we take our words for granted. Very little thought goes into the sentences that we construct thanks to the invention of the backspace key. We write something, we don’t like it, we delete the character(s) or word(s), and we start again: perhaps until we are satisfied.

Without much thought spent on the idea that we wish to convey in the sentence, the words have been expressed. This is very much different from the way people used to write in the past. They thought carefully and deeply about the subject and had great clarity of mind such that a page (and even more) could be written or typed out with no error whatsoever.

Even in speech, we are often in a hurry to say something. Before seriously pondering on what it really means, the implications, validity of the statement, etc., words flood out of our mouths like the Merlion. And more often than not, we end up with regrets over what had been said.

There is a proverb that I heard in the past that goes along the lines of: The man of wisdom is one who speaks few words. In the sense that the wise man knows when and what exactly to say, while the fool is one who blabbers away.

言之有物. What an important lesson to learn!

Contentment (樂)

tumblr_l6tnhb45yl1qcp6tio1_400

樂 (乐) has always been understood to mean joy or happiness.

Most people would never link 樂 with trials, tribulations, and difficulties.

However, later Confucians have a saying: You can cry and have sorrow, and yet still have 樂.

There seems to be a contradiction. But, I soon found greater depth in this word when attending a talk on Confucianism.

To the Confucians, 樂 does not mean joy. Rather, 樂 means contentment. While I may be going through a tough time, I can still be experiencing 樂 (contentment).

Holding on to 樂 is very important because it is essential in keeping one’s mind clear like a clear mirror or still water. By being detached from things, one can then be content with life, and be able to respond calmly to things/situations.