Zhuge Liang

誡子書

夫君子之行,靜以修身,儉以養德。非淡泊無以明誌,非寧靜無以致遠。 夫學須靜也,才須學也,非學無以廣才,非誌無以成學。慆慢則不能勵精,險躁則不能冶性。年與時馳,意與日去,遂成枯落,多不接世,悲守窮廬,將復何及!

An Exhortation Letter to My Children.

Be calm.
Then you can cultivate yourself.
Be frugal.
Then you can nourish your virtues.
This is the way to become a noble-person (君子, Junzi).

Not living a pure and simple life
— you cannot make certain your will.
Not having a quiet and peaceful heart
— you cannot reach afar.

Being learned
— this requires one to be quiet.
Being talented
— this requires one to learn.
Without learning
— your talent cannot be broadened.
Without a firm will
— your learning cannot be accomplished.

Being lazy and lax
— you will not strengthen your spirit.
Being narrow-minded and impetuous
— you will not build your character.

When your age increases with time,
Your mind will fade along with your days.
Your body will wither like a houseplant.
Most likely,
you will be unable to handle your own affairs in the world.
You will just stay in a drab room beset with foul moods.
What else can you do then?

Commentary:

Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮, 181-234 C.E ) was the prime minister of the state of Shu (蜀) in the Three-State period (220-280 C.E) of China. Because of his great accomplishments in politics, military skills, technologies, social management, philosophy and literature, Zhu was commemorated heartedly by later generations of Ru.

This “Exhortation Letter to My Children” was composed at Zhu’s old age. Through plain but profound words, Zhu emphasized the importance of living a simple life for one’s self-cultivation in order to become a learned and talented Ru. Also, he admonishes his children to start this process as early as they can in case the inevitability of aging would not allow them to do so.

Through this letter, we find that the Ruist emphasis upon the “simpleness” of one’s life is all about “focusing,”: focusing upon the right thing, learn and do it persistently, and then, you will be good at it. In Song and Ming Ruism, this Ruist method of self-cultivation urging one to be continually focusing and mindful towards what is right and worthy is nicely captured by one character “敬” – “reverence.”

Translated and Commented by Bin Song; Edited by Andy Linscott.