So, is learning easy or not? I can’t tell you. But I do have a good piece of Chinese article to share with you. I’ve translated it into English, so happy reading and learning!

On Learning

By Peng Duan-shu (1699–1779), translated and edited by Weque Radney

Are things around us easy or difficult? No matter how difficult one thing is, you can do it if you give it a try. Vice versa, you will make the thing more difficult if you do not give it a try. How about learning? Is learning easy or difficult? No matter how difficult the concept is to understand, you can handle it easily if you try to learn it. On the other hand, easy concepts will become difficult if you do not try to learn it.

I am innately fatuous, which makes I cannot catch up with the most; I am mediocrely talented, which cannot be compared with others. Every day, I am perseveringly improving myself; nevertheless, I have forgotten my fatuity and mediocrity. Even if I am more talented and have more abilities than the others, but I do not exert it, there is no difference compared to a normal person who we can find anywhere. The knowledge of our great Confucius was passed on by his not very clever student—Zeng Shen. Looking from this way, why are cleverness and fatuity still immutable?

There were two monks at the frontier of Sichuan, one of which was poor, and the other one was rich. “I want to go to the South China Sea, what do you think?”, said the poor monk. The rich one asked, “By what virtue do you go there?”. The poor monk, however, said, “I will only need a water bottle and a bowl for holding the rice.” The rich one said, “In recent years, I wanted to hire some ships which would take me to the downstream of Chang Jiang, but there was not a success. By what virtue do you go there!” After a year, the poor monk came back from the South China Sea and told the rich monk his experience there. The rich monk was ashamed by this.

The poor monk arrived at the South China Sea, which was miles away from Sichuan, yet the rich monk could not make it. If one is determined in learning, isn’t it the same to the poor monk?

Thus, cleverness and agility can be both relied on and not; one relies on cleverness and flexibility but doesn’t; put effort into learning actually ruins oneself. Fatuity and mediocrity can apparently limit someone, but not at all. Only if one is able to get rid of the limit of fatuity and mediocrity, thus work indefatigably, can one achieve oneself.

The original Chinese version

為學一首示子姪

天下事有難易乎?為之,則難者亦易矣;不為,則易者亦難矣。人之為學有難易乎?學之,則難者亦易矣;不學,則易者亦難矣。

吾資之昏,不逮人也;吾材之庸,不逮人也。旦旦而學之,久而不怠焉;迄乎成,而亦不知其昏與庸也。吾資之聰,倍人也。吾材之敏,倍人也。屏棄而不用,其與昏與庸無以異也。聖人之道,卒於魯也傳之。然則昏庸聰敏之用,豈有常哉?

蜀之鄙有二僧,其一貧,其一富。貧者語於富者曰:「吾欲之南海,何如?」富者曰:「子何恃而往?」曰:「吾一瓶一缽足矣。」富者曰:「吾數年來欲買舟而下,猶未能也。子何恃而往?」越明年,貧者自南海還,以告富者,富者有慚色。西蜀之去南海,不知幾千里也;僧之富者不能至,而貧者至焉。人之立志,顧不如蜀鄙之僧哉?

是故聰與敏,可恃而不可恃也;自恃其聰與敏而不學,自敗者也。昏與庸,可限而不可限也;不自限其昏與庸而力學不倦,自立者也。

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