大學, The Great Learning, is the first among the Ruist canon of Four Books. After Zhu Xi (1130-1200), 大學 is treated by the Ru tradition as the primary introductory text, so we can understand its significance accordingly. The following is my new translation of the text, attached by audio commentaries on crucial verses. In my translation and commentary, I follow the version of 大學 after Zhu Xi’s compilation and annotation .
The Way of learning to be great consists in manifesting the bright virtue, loving and renewing the people, and abiding in the highest good.
Only after knowing what to abide in, can one feel settled. Only after having felt settled, can one become tranquil. Only after having felt tranquil, can one become content. Only after feeling content, can one begin to deliberate. Only after deliberation, can the end be attained.
Things have their root and branches. Affairs have a beginning and an end. To know what to put first and what to put last will lead one near the Way.
If someone of antiquity wished that all people under heaven would manifest their bright virtue, one would first bring order to the state. Wishing to bring order to one’s state, one would first align the family. Wishing to align one’s family, one would first cultivate oneself. Wishing to cultivate oneself, one would first rectify the heartmind. Wishing to rectify one’s heartmind, one would first make the intentions genuine. Wishing to make one’s intentions genuine, one would first attain the knowledge. The attainment of knowledge consists in the thorough investigation of things.
Only after things are thoroughly investigated, may the knowledge be attained. Only after knowledge is attained, may the intentions become genuine. Only after intentions become genuine, may the heartmind get rectified. Only after the heartmind gets rectified, may the person be cultivated. Only after persons are cultivated, may the family get aligned. Only after families get aligned, may the state be ordered. Only after states are ordered, may there be peace throughout all under heaven.
From the Son of Heaven down to the common people, all must regard self-cultivation as the root. It is impossible when the root is disrupted, yet the branches can be in a good shape. There has never been a case when what lies deeper is treated carelessly, yet what lies on the surface can thrive.
The Announcement to Kang says : “(Wen) succeeded in manifesting his virtue.” The Taijia says: “(Tang) contemplated the bright mandate of Tian.” The Canon of Di says: “(Yao) succeeded in manifesting his lofty virtue.” These sage-kings all dedicated themselves to shining forth their virtue.
The inscription on the bathing tub of King Tang’s says : “If being truly new for one day, renew yourself day after day, and further, renew yourself every day.” The Annoucement to Kang says: “Uplift new people.” The Classic of Odes says: “Although Zhou is an old state, its mandate gets renewed.” Therefore, it would be nowhere for an exemplary person not to try their best.
The Classic of Odes says: “In the thousand square li of the capital district, people find their abode.” The Classic of Odes says: “See the twittering yellow birds! They find their abode in the verdant corner of hill.” Kongzi says: “When the birds find their abode, they come to know where to abide in. Why are humans not as wise as those birds?” The Classic of Odes says: “So profound and solemn is King Wen! With his uninterrupted shining virtue, he reverently abides.” As a ruler, he abides by being benevolent. As a minister, he abides by being dutiful. As a son, he abides by being filial. As a father, he abides by being loving. While interacting with his countrymen, he abides by being trustworthy.