Beneath the conservative, “old-school” verbose of this ancient classic, one can still find gems of wisdom that remain surprisingly relevant to our modern society. A new lesson is covered in each issue.
In traditional Chinese culture and thought, education and studying are considered an utmost priority. The ancients further emphasized the need for complete concentration and focus in one’s studies. “Studying requires the presence of three things: one’s heart, eyes, and mouth must all be present,” according to Di Zi Gui.
Additionally, one should be systematic in one’s studies. “When you’ve just started reading one book, don’t yearn for another. When the first book hasn’t been finished, don’t start another.”
Whether it was centuries ago or in this day and age, staying focused in our studies will always be a significant and realistic challenge, particularly for children. To top it off, we live in an era full of distractions – television shows, video games, handheld devices, the Internet, and a host of other temptations threaten to destroy our efforts to focus.
If you’ve currently hit a point where you can’t concentrate as well as you’d like, we hope these stories from ancient China will inspire you and help you recharge!
Living on a Diet of Plain Porridge
There are many stories of historic Chinese scholars who went to great lengths to make themselves focus while studying.
One such person was Fan Zhongyan, a prominent literary and political figure during the Song Dynasty. As a student, Fan spent his days and nights studying. For five years he never slept in a bed. And in the winter, he would splash ice-cold water on his face to stay awake.
Since his time as a young student, Fan ate only plain porridge seasoned with salt, vinegar, and preserved vegetables three times a day. For several years he kept up this diet.
When others took pity on him and tried to give him some delicacies, Fan declined. “I am already so used to eating plain porridge,” he explained. “If I start enjoying delicacies, I worry that I will lose the ability to focus in my studies!”
Fan maintained such concentration in his studies that once, while studying, the Emperor Song Zhenzhong made a detour through the city he was in. Everyone excitedly ran off to catch a glimpse of the Emperor, but Fan continued to shut himself in his room to study.
When his classmates returned, they laughed at Fan for missing the opportunity to see the Emperor. Fan replied, “If I can see the Emperor in the future, that wouldn’t be too late either!” Fan later obtained the highest degree (jinshi) in the Imperial Examinations, and during the palace examinations, he finally caught his first sight of the Emperor.
Tying One’s Hair to a Beam
Another person who went to great lengths to focus was Sun Jing, a famous Confucian scholar of the Jin Dynasty. As a young boy, Sun loved to read and study. But because he had to do hard labour for a living, the only time he could study was at night.
Exhausted from a hard day’s work, Sun often ended up falling asleep at his desk, and would wake up feeling horrified at having wasted another night.
Sun thus began tying his hair with a string to the beam above his desk, such that when he nodded off, the string would jerk on his hair and the pain would wake him up.
If you thought Sun’s method of self-torture was extreme, it was actually relatively tame compared to what the famed strategist of the Warring States Period, Su Qin, did to stay focused.
We live in an era full of distractions – television shows, video games, handheld devices, the Internet, and a host of other temptations threaten to destroy our efforts to focus.
Studying requires the presence of three things: one’s heart, eyes, and mouth must all be present. When you’ve just started reading one book, don’t yearn for another. When the first book hasn’t been finished, don’t start another.