The Value of Studying

[15:31] Confucius said: “I have spent a whole day without eating and a whole night without sleeping in order to think— but I got nothing out of it. Thinking cannot compare with studying.”
The Analects of Confucius (trans. Professor Charles A.C. Muller)

As mentioned in a previous post, Confucianism is called the “teachings of scholars” or “religion of scholars” in Chinese language and by extension its neighbors. This is not to imply that it is a religion for smart people, on the contrary. Confucius himself said in the same chapter of the Analects (Prof. Muller translation):

[15:39] Confucius said: “In teaching people, there is no discrimination (of class, type, etc.)”

The teaching instead is founded on a desire to learn and to better oneself, even when it means someone else correcting you. Confucius placed heavy emphasis on learning classic teachings, and the “soft arts” as a means of cultivation, but also as a means of emulation. Confucius teaches over and again in the Analects the importance of observing others and then turning inward to correct oneself accordingly, or to avoid the same bad habits in oneself. But one cannot do this by thinking alone; one should immerse themselves in learning.

I suppose this is why Confucius teaches that it is better to study than to think about problems. Thinking and worrying implies a kind of arrogance and/or self trust, but a Gentleman in the Confucian sense must always be humble, receptive to learning, and be willing to review one’s ideas and thoughts against an objective and respectable source. In a more practical sense, it probably also breaks one out of cyclical thinking that is both unhealthy and just wasted energy, as is implied in the text. :)

P.S. I am reminded of the writings of the Buddhist monk, Kenko, in the Essays in Idleness. He said something similar which leads me to wonder if my concerns about which path to follow are somewhat moot.

About Doug 陀愚

A Buddhist, Father and Japanophile / Koreaphile.
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One Response to The Value of Studying

  1. Patrick Sweeney says:

    The problem seems to be that much is done for some other purpose…What a shame…We should study to study. Learning for the sake of learning. A kind act for the sake of kindness. Seeking no pay-off, or pat on the back, no outcome. Just simply doing what needs doing. Why is this so difficult?

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