Dizi Gui (弟子规): The Signs of a True Friend

By Jade Pearce
Epoch Times Staff


Dizi Gui (弟子规) (Standards for Being a Good Student and Child) is an ancient Chinese text for children that teaches moral values and etiquette. It was written during the Qing Dynasty during the reign of Emperor Kangxi  (康熙帝) (1661-1722) by Li Yuxiu.

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.

“A true friend unbosoms freely, advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably.” —William Penn

Most of us have many acquaintances, but few close friends. We keep the friendships that are constructive, and discard the ones that are toxic. But what makes for a real friendship to keep?

The Signs of a True Friend
According to Dizi Gui (弟子规): “Admonishing each other to do good builds up both parties’ virtue. If one does not try to dissuade the other person from doing wrong, it reflects poorly on both parties’ character. When giving and taking, it is of utmost importance to make the terms clear; and better to give more and to take less.”

One of the most important qualities of a real friendship is honesty and candor. We know that real friends tell us the ugly truth that we need to hear, and not the veneeered lies.

This includes encouraging us to be better people, and discouraging us from going down the wrong path. As aptly put in Dizi Gui, “Admonishing each other to do good builds up both parties’ virtue. If one does not try to dissuade the other person from doing wrong, it reflects poorly on both parties’ character.”

A Unique Friendship

During the Southern and Northern Dynasties period, there were two friends named Cui Zhan and Li Gai.

The two men shared a very unusual friendship. They often got together to chat, write poetry, and compose songs. But their meetings weren’t just all about making merry; they were also about learning together and improving each other.

If one friend exhibited any faults, the other friend would unreservedly point it out to him. They were known by people for exemplifying a true friendship.

Finally, one day, Li had to return to his hometown. Cui was deeply saddened by Li’s departure, and in a letter to Li he wrote: “I’ve always had faults of acting too impulsively and drinking too much. But I have had the greatest blessing of your frankness and boldness in pointing out my faults. Now that you’re gone, who will point them out to me?”

When true friends look out for each other and ensure that the other party doesn’t go astray, they build up each others’ character and become better people. The converse is also true—poor “friends” who fail to point out our shortcomings, or even encourage them, are not worth having.

The Story of Two Gourd Halves

Another cornerstone of friendship is being considerate and selfless—making sure we give more than we receive. According to Dizi Gui, “When taking and giving, making the terms clear is most important. Better to give more and take less.”

There is a heartwarming Chinese children’s story about a selfless man named Yang. He was a wealthy man who lived with his family in a small mountainous village, where everyone knew everyone else.

Yang was a kind-hearted man who loved to help people. When poor villagers came to borrow grain from him, Yang always obliged happily. But he refused the villagers’ attempts to pay him back.

Yang’s reasoning was that if the poor villagers returned him whatever food they had borrowed, wouldn’t they be short of food again? But the villagers felt guilty, as to them “a debt owed is a debt that must be returned”.

So Yang came up with a solution. He obtained a gourd and sawed it across to make two cups, one large and one small.

1. The kind-hearted Yang was always ready to lend grain to the poorer villagers
1. The kind-hearted Yang was always ready to lend grain to the poorer villagers
2. To help the villagers, Yang made two cups - one large and one small - by sawing a gourd in half
2. To help the villagers, Yang made two cups – one large and one small – by sawing a gourd in half
3. When villagers came to borrow grain from him, Yang used the large cup to measure it out for them.
3. When villagers came to borrow grain from him, Yang used the large cup to measure it out for them.
4. When Villagers came to return grain, Yang used the small cup so he only took back a small amount.
4. When Villagers came to return grain, Yang used the small cup so he only took back a small amount.
5. Years later, the frail and elderly Yang was protected by the Heavens when caught in a storm.
5. Years later, the frail and elderly Yang was protected by the Heavens when caught in a storm.
6. Yang and his family give their thanks to the Heavens for protecting him.
6. Yang and his family give their thanks to the Heavens for protecting him.

When villagers came to borrow grain, Yang used the large cup to measure it out. And when the villagers came to return grain to him, he used the small cup to measure how much was owed, so he only took back a small amount.

This went unnoticed for a considerable amount of time before the villagers realised what Yang had been doing. From then on Yang was known fondly as “Two Gourd Halves”.

One autumn, when Yang was 80, he hobbled to his wheat field to see how his ripening wheat was doing.

Suddenly, there was lighting and thunder. A storm was coming! Yang knew he was too old to make it home in time, and too frail to survive the storm. He thus resigned himself to die in his wheat field.

Yang was peaceful as he lay in the field. Just then, a sonorous voice rang from the heavens, “God of Thunder, Goddess of Lightning, Water Dragon, listen up! Two Gourd Halves is in his field now, not a single drop of water is allowed to land on his field!”

No sooner had these words been spoken than Yang heard the howling wind and rain descend.

The storm lasted a long time. When it finally stopped, Yang crawled up and found that his clothes were perfectly dry. Not a single drop of rain had fallen on him or his wheat field. However, the wheat in the surrounding fields belonging to others had been flattened into the muddy ground.

Just then, Yang’s children, who had been searching for him, found him in the field. They were stunned by the extraordinary sight that greeted them. After Yang told them what had happened, they knelt down and gave their thanks to the Heavens.

Real friends are selfless and considerate to those around them. And when people are kind and generous to their neighbours and friends, they will one day be rewarded for their actions.

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