Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Idioms and Attainments

3000 disciples of Confucius chanting 'all men are brothers', a quote from the Analects (论语, ca. 479-221 BC)...
...once, I was shelf-reading a textbook called 'religion' in a college bookstore - I was curious how it's taught here. to my surprise, Confucianism was listed as one of the religions...if I don't mistake, religion by definition concerns 'the cause of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies'. Confucianism has nothing to do with it. it's rather a one discussion between Confucius (chinese call him Kong Zi 孔子) and his disciple Fan Chi (樊迟), according to the Analects, Confucius expresses his take on gods as '敬鬼神而远之', which left chinese an idiom Jing Er Yuan Zhi (敬而远之), meaning: stay at a respectful distance. considering his era (551-479 BC) when worshiping was a passion a norm, his view was quite an alternative...chinese respect and learn him more as a very wise human being, rather than a perfect saint.
...what the disciples are holding are the Analects carved on bamboo strips. papermaking has traditionally been traced to china about 105 AD. before that, words were recorded in all sorts of medias, including ceramics, oracles, silk, and bamboo strips. legend has it that when the major thinker Hui Shi (惠施) in the Warring States Period (5th-211 BC) was to give lecture, his 'books' (carved on bamboo strips) filled five horse wagons. that left chinese another idiom Xue Fu Wu Che (学富五车, literally 'knowledge fills five wagons') to describe a learned man. once said, if being cast away, there is one book she'd bring with her - the dictionary of idioms...chinese idioms (Cheng Yu 成语) are a set of traditional idiomatic expressions, most of which consist of four chinese characters. they are derived from ancient literature, often a philosophical story or a poem. to learn them is to learn ancient contexts and the moral behind the stories. - indeed, very interesting. they made chinese language capable of expressing sophisticated meanings concisely. there're 5,000 to 20,000 idioms (depends on dictionaries), among which over 100 were from the Analects.
share Confucius' own account of his progress and attainments that we often compare with ours (at birthdays) -
三十而立 四十不惑 五十而知天命 六十而耳順 七十而從心欲
at thirty, I had planted my feet firm upon the ground.
at forty, I no longer suffered from perplexities.
at fifty, I knew what were the biddings of Heaven.
at sixty, I heard them with docile ear.
at seventy, I could follow the dictates of my own heart; for what I desired no longer overstepped the boundaries of right.
(to be continued.)
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