荀子 Xunzi 勸學 Encourage Learning #3








荀子 Xunzi 勸學 Encourage Learning #3

Commentary and Translations


荀子 Xunzi

(PD) Zhao Yong - Egrets Small Birds Willows and Peach Blossoms

(Photo clarity and wording by Larry Neal Gowdy)

Larry Neal Gowdy

Copyright ©2020 January 03, 2020




Two Variations of Paragraph #14


The following are two versions of a draft word-per-word translation of paragraph #14 within 勸學 Encourage Learning. The first version is an example of how the paragraph might be interpreted by an individual who possesses little or no knowledge of ancient Chinese books, but who does have a firsthand understanding of how people commonly behave. The second version interprets the paragraph to be referring to several Chinese classics of literature.


Version #1:

'Learning, nothing convenient {to-in-from-'?'} nearby {its-their] people?

Customs-propriety cheerful-happy follow {and-while-yet} not advocate.

Poetry, calligraphy, reason {and-while-yet} not separate.

Spring autumn appointment {and-while-yet} not invite.

Region {its-their} people {it} get-accustomed-to.

Noble man {it-him} advocate follow respect {use} everywhere-throughout {carry- '!'} all of world {carry}.

Reason say learning nothing convenient {in-from-'?'} nearby {its-his-their} people?'


Without knowledge of ancient Asian history, and by simply stating the words as they were written and by how dictionaries offer definitions, the words are able to be interpreted into a semi-meaningful way that relates to what is real in today's world. People today follow their cultures' customs without having to be told to do so, no advocating necessary, poetry and writing go together, spring and autumn arrive regardless of their being invited or not, and the region's people are accustomed to their customs and seasons. Meanwhile, people of noble character advocate the behavior of respect throughout all of the world, not just the region.

High mountains exist, deep gorges exist, plants exist, colors exist, ice exists, self-observation exists, cultures exist, poems exist, the art of calligraphy exists, music exists, many different skills of hand and mind exist to be learned and honed, and people of noble character exist and can be observed. For what reason would anyone say that they have nothing convenient and nearby to learn?

Regardless that the interpretation is known to be inaccurate, the finished product's underlying concept is worthy of being read, and worthy of thinking about.


Version #2:

'Learning, nothing convenient {to-in-from-'?'} nearby {its-their] people?

Rites, Music, follow {and-while-yet} not advocate.

Poems, The Classic of History, intentionally {and-while-yet} not correspond.

Spring Autumn agreement {and-yet-while} not fast.

Region {its-their} people {it} study.

Junzi {it-him} advocate follow-example respect-honor {use} everywhere-throughout {carry- '!'} all of world {carry}.

Reason say learning nothing convenient {in-from-'?'} nearby {its-his-their} people?'


Since the names and abbreviations of the names of five well-known books were assembled closely, then it might appear likely to have been written on purpose, or else perhaps a very good and clever play on words. Nevertheless, the underlying concepts did not change much aside from the idea of people gaining additional knowledge through reading books instead of learning from the observing of one's own cultural behaviors.


Philosophical Variations of #14


As an example of how an individual's occupational method of reasoning may much too strongly influence an interpretation, the following two philosophical quotes illustrate a fully different point of view as compared to the two previous word-per-word drafts.

Note that the first quote's last sentence is indeed included within Dubs' book, and is formatted within the book to be attached to the previous sentences. Within the original Chinese text, the sentence ought to have been separated and translated to correspond with the topic that follows the present topic. When first reading Dubs' translation, it had appeared that Dubs had fully invented the last sentence because Dubs' sentence had no relevance to the previous sentences nor to the sentences that followed. However, upon investigation, it appears that Dubs had interpreted (jing) to infer "law" instead of the Chinese inference of 'weave, principle, through, thread running lengthwise through woven fabric'. Jing is also used within the title Daodejing, which loosely infers 'way virtue weave'. The concept of jing relies upon the concept of xin ('heart, mind'), and since neither jing nor xin are known to western philosophy, then it is understandable why the applying of western philosophy reasoning into unknown topics could result in Dubs' interpretation. Also, considering that Dubs likely worked with Chinese texts that had no structure of separations between sentences and paragraphs — generally just one long string of Chinese words — then that too helps to explain why the sentence is out of place. It is very common for early translations of ancient Chinese texts to choose words, phrases, and sentences that are out of place: Dubs' translation is not unique.

Also note that Knoblock's translations appear to have been formed from texts that used simplified Chinese script instead of traditional Chinese script. Regardless of how well an individual is able to speak modern Chinese, if the individual does not have access to the traditional characters then it is expected for the individual to misinterpret numerous words. Many of the words and concepts within Xunzi fully rely on the traditional and earlier scripts. Considering also that Knoblock's era had at best a relatively crude word processor (e.g. WordPerfect®), the task of assembling his book would have been very laborious as compared to today's standards.

Without the presence of ancient Chinese scripts, as well as without xin, no translator is able to discern what numerous ancient Chinese words infer. Similar to some ancient European symbols carved into boulders, and popularly used today within some ideologies, no one without xin is able to interpret what the symbols imply. If an individual has no xin, then the individual will be unable to so much as explain what ancient Chinese numbers imply. The absence of xin is very strongly evidenced within today's mathematics.

Also, Dubs and Knoblock were college teachers, and their occupations did indeed influence how the words and ideas within Xunzi were interpreted.



#1: "In studying there is nothing better than being intimate with a worthy teacher. The Rites (Li) and Music give principles and no false teaching. The Odes and History tell about the ancients, and are not familiar. The teaching of the Spring and Autumn is suggestive rather than expressed. Associate yourself closely with the teacher; familiarize yourself with his teaching; reverence it as universal and common to every age. Hence it is said: in studying there is nothing better than being intimate with a worthy teacher. According to the laws of learning there is nothing which gives quicker results than esteeming a worthy teacher." (The Works of Hsüntze, Homer H. Dubs, Ph.D., publisher Arthur Probsthain, London, 1928.)




#2: "In learning, no method is of more advantage than to be near a man of learning. The Rituals and Music present models but do not offer explanation; the Odes and Documents present matters of antiquity but are not always apposite; the Annals are laconic, and their import is not quickly grasped. It is just on these occasions that the man of learning repeats the explanations of the gentleman. Thus, he is honored for his comprehensive and catholic acquaintance with the affairs of the world. Therefore it is said: "In learning, no method is of more advantage than to be near a man of learning." (Xunzi - A Translation and Study of the Complete Works, John Knoblock, ©1988, Stanford University Press)



In previous paragraphs Xunzi had written about the firsthand learning from mountains, deep gorges, blue from green, ice from cold water, and the many other methods of learning. In another section, Xunzi had very clearly stated that junzies are not teachers. Western philosophy has no knowledge of what self-learning might be, and since western philosophy also does not know what a junzi is, then a philosophical translation is indeed limited to what knowledge is available from within western philosophy.

Nevertheless, since the philosophical translations repeatedly claimed that "teacher" or "man of learning" exists within the original texts, then a curiosity arises and fuels the questioning of why philosophical translations see what other people do not see.

(xue) = learning, study.

(mo) = do not, no, none, no one, nothing.

便 (bian) = convenient, easy, handy, ordinary, plain.

(hu) = almost, at, depends, from, in, is-as, similar, to. Used as a particle for: affirmation, after adjectives, calling, consideration, estimation, exclamation, interrogative, order, request, rhetorical question, used in the middle of a sentence to be a pause.

(jin) = approximately, close, close to, easy, immediate, intimate, near, near to.

(qi) = third-person possessive pronoun: her, his, its, their.

(ren) = character, human being, man, people, person, personality.




It may appear plausible that the original Chinese word that the philosophical translations interpreted to imply 'teacher' is 便 (bian). However, except for the radical that infers 'mark, rap, strike, tattoo, (sometimes included within ideas of violent beatings that leave marks on the skin, such as a teacher hitting students with a stick)', which is an element within some words that reference 'teachers', there is no hint anywhere else that suggests that the sentences speak of teachers.

An example of the radical is within (jiao) which infers 'instruct, teach, teacher's pointer, teaching', plus has the radicals that imply 'interactive movement' + 'child' + 'hand' + 'stick' (hand holding stick)'. An example of bian from Daodejing: 'not speak {it} teacher-pointer(instruct)'. Surely bian was not interpreted to imply a 'teacher', but Dubs had interpreted jing to imply 'law', so, perhaps bian was also given a misinterpretation.

Interestingly, one reference suggests that 便 (bian) might be the original character within the bronze script (bian), and thus used with the inference of 'person', plus 𠓥 'whip', thus inferring 'to whip'. Modern interpretations of suggest definitions of 'a lash, a whip, slash, to flog, to whip', plus being a reference to an old term of implying an ancient iron weapon. Regardless of how either form of bian is interpreted, both suggest a violent form of teaching someone a lesson.

The more plausible reason for the philosophical versions choosing "teacher" and "man of learning" is within how the interpretations rearranged the original Chinese sentence structure into an English sequence structure: 'No-one convenient {to-in-from-'?'} nearby {its-their] learning person?'. However, typically, when a text's sentence speaks of an individual being a specific type of person who does a specific thing, then the term would be (zhe) meaning '-ist', as in 'learning person-ist'. The 'person-ist' word zhe is not present in the current sentences. Present in the sentences is the word (ren) meaning 'people, person, human' etc.. Ren is also used in the 'Region {its-their} people {it} learn' sentence.

As is used throughout the book Xunzi, three examples are from paragraph #12: 'author {person-ist}... Poem {person-ist}... Propriety-Rites {person-ist}...'. The previous histories of sentence structure and usage of zhe within all known ancient Confucian and Dao books, does not mandate that the present sentence must also follow identically, but there is no known reason why not to. If ren (person) is forced to imply zhe (-ist) in the first sentence, then ren (person) ought to also imply zhe (-ist) in the 'region people' sentence'. Rearranging the first sentence within the attempt to force-fit the philosophical idea that learning is only possible by a teacher teaching, the force-fitting results in the whole of the paragraph being incoherent.

At present, nothing is able to be found within the original text that suggests the idea of a "teacher", nor a "man of learning".

It is not uncommon nor unexpected that all individuals will see meanings in sentences that some other people do not see. Philosophers see philosophy, religious people see religion, scientists see science, superstitious people see supernatural magic, Nature-based reasoning sees Nature-based logic, and teachers see teachings. The reasoning and knowledge applied within one's own occupation or ideology will very likely be applied to the reasoning of how ancient Chinese sentences are interpreted.

However, regardless of how an individual might unintentionally interpret words relative to their own occupations and personal ways of reasoning, if the finished translation is still incoherent and contradictory, then either the translation is wrong, or else the book's author was himself incoherent. All bets are on the translations being the ones that are wrong.


3rd Draft Variation of Paragraph #14


As an additional contrast to the Xunzi sentences, the following is a smoothed and abbreviated version #3 of paragraph #14 that temporarily toys with the philosophical idea that the first words of the paragraph could possibly infer the requirement that learning is only possible from a teacher. Note that all of the sentences have had the words force-fitted with an attempt to conform with the "teacher" idea, but all of the sentences still remain incoherent.


Version #3:

'Learning, no-one advantageous nearby (to learn from)?

The book of Rites, the book of Music, the principles and laws are not explained.

The book of Poems and the book The Classic of History intentionally do not correspond.

The books of Annals agree but are not inviting nor fast to read.

All sides of the books' (teachings) people try-repeatedly.

Junzi explains, then (the books' teachings) are respected everywhere throughout all of the world!!

Therefore (why) say learning no-one advantageous nearby (to learn from)?'


Within the forced and philosophically slanted version #3, still the underlying concepts point to the angle of self-learning that includes reading books, while only referring to a junzi as an individual who helps to explain many additional 'points' (corners) which, allegedly, enables a person to better respect what the books' words point to.

Also, why would it be assumed that no one on earth is able to comprehend a book without a teacher explaining the book? And, since Xunzi very clearly states in another section that a junzi is not a teacher, then why would a philosophical translation of paragraph #14 knowingly and purposefully contradict what Xunzi himself had written?

Nevertheless, the original last sentence mirrors the first sentence, thereby negating the 'junzi' idea of his being the 'teacher', because, if the junzi is the one explaining the books, then, obviously, apparently, logically, the junzi was present, of which, his presence would void the original first and last sentences' words inferring an absence of having someone nearby to learn from. Unless most all villages and towns had numerous junzies walking the streets (which is implausible regardless of era), then the forced paragraph fails to convince, and would still fail because the junzies would be nearby. Confusing? Yes, because the whole idea of a teacher being spoken of in the paragraph is confused.

Further, the first sentence could be purposefully rearranged to infer something like 'Learning not easy {to-in-from-'?'} intimate {its-his-their] person?', and then have the last sentence read like 'Therefore, say learning not easy intimate?' (i.e. learning not easy personally), but the conflicts of logic merely continue to compound. Just because learning is not easy for some people, the concept is still incoherent with the last sentence.

Within philosophical versions, the underlying concept is that everyone is severely retarded and are unable to think and mentally grasp anything whatsoever without their accepting a teacher to be their master. Upon the surface, it appears that the versions are claiming that teachers are as if supernatural beings that somehow attained divine revelation to write the first books that all following teachers recite from. Simple logic states that someone had to first know something before the knowledge was written into books. If someone were able to discover knowledge on their own, so as to then write books about the knowledge, then the knowledge was acquired without the assistance of a teacher, and immediately the philosophical interpretations again fail.

The idea of all learning only being possible from a teacher, is very common, and very useful to comment on because it directly relates to the topics within Xunzi. About forty years ago a known Ph.D. professor wrote of prodigies, and the teacher stated (paraphrased): 'prodigious intelligence cannot occur without the extensive and prolonged presence of a master teacher, i.e. education', which much too closely mirrors the above philosophical translations of Xunzi. The topic of intelligence is perhaps the very least known thing to all of science, western philosophy, and academia: none are able to describe emotions, thoughts, consciousness, dreams, reasoning, sensory perceptions, memories, consciousness, xin, jing, de, nor anything else that relates to the mind — including how height, depth, width, speed, counting, perceptions of time, and all other similar topics are self-learned — and yet many teachers still believe that they are the sole source of all knowledge, as well as the source of prodigious intelligence. Happily, Xunzi did not bow to the false beliefs, and instead spoke of self-thinking, which is another topic that cannot be learned from a teacher.

The first chapter of Xunzi is about self-learning, not about the 'tiny person's ear-to-mouth' memorizations of teachers' words.

For the moment it is useful to jump to the fifth paragraph of the chapter titled 脩身 Cultivate Life. A very rough draft of the first sentences: 'Goal idea dried-meat(teacher's pay) then arrogant wealth valued. Way-dao righteousness heavy, then light 'high rank of nobility'. Inside examine-reflect {and} outside content easy-light {carry}.'

If other paragraphs and chapters point towards inner values and self-learning, then why interpret #14 to fully ignore all inner values and learning (and thus only permit memorizing 'ear-to-mouth' knowledge)? Regardless of whether the first book of Xunzi is authentic, a forgery, or unduly modified by teachers, still an individual's interpretations ought to at least attempt to retain a coherence of logic, and not so pointedly contradict oneself sentence after sentence.

"We shall in vain interpret their words by the notions of our philosophy and the doctrines in our school." The quote is from Locke, a philosopher who believed that all knowledge is derived from sensory experience. Locke's statement and idea are semi-valid, but just because a philosopher might sometimes make a semi-valid statement, it does not mandate that western philosophy is itself valid.

The king has no clothes, and western philosophy has no qualifications.


Sum


A fourth variation of paragraph #14 was considered to be included here, but the wording was much too close to the final version. It can be said that a coherent translation of paragraph #14 follows Xunzi's other patterns of phrasing thoughts, and the final words all have good meaning, while nothing contradicts.

Interestingly, is that paragraph #14's words mirror a central topic that is written about in numerous other articles on this website, as well as the articles that were on the older website. If it had not been for one of Xunzi's sentences having a specific word which defined all of the others, then confidence of a 'occupationally-free' interpretation would not be high. Both frustrating and humorous is that the word not only does not have a valid dictionary definition, even the topic itself has no known descriptions even from the people whose occupation is the topic.

Prolonged and dedicated inquiry found the answer.

From the second paragraph of 勸學 Encourage Learning: 'learning inquiry {it} great'.