Volume 5 - Issue 04 APRIL 2007
GUIDE TO A HAPPY LIFE FOR YOUNG CHILDREN – THE CHINESE WAY
Not knowing what it means to be dutiful to parents and respectful to teachers, a child would grow up not listening to or respecting anyone. Ironically today, many parents listen to the child instead of the other way around. Additionally, teachers are afraid to teach and discipline children because they are fearful of violating the children’s legal rights and being sued by the parents.
Currently, we live in a tumultuous world where the relationships among people, between people and their environment, parents and children, husbands and wives, and employers and employees are disintegrating. Parents do not act like parents. Children do not act like children. Our minds are polluted and our family system is disintegrating, as evidenced by an ever-increasing divorce rate. Soon, the planet Earth will no longer be fit for us to live on. We are fearful of our future and of the future of our children.
The book is based on the teachings of Confucius, and have been taught for ages, as the core of Chinese culture. The stress is on affection between generations so that grandparents, parents, children etc., are tied by bonds of love, so that there is no gap, mentally and culturally. Later, when Buddhism was adopted in China, the concept of love and affection was further extended. Outside the family, the child was expected to treat every male and female of the parents’ generation as if they were the child’s own father or mother. Considerable stress was laid on following the teachings of the ancient sages and saints and offering respect to them. All individuals were expected to love all, and cultivate love and compassion. This, the ancients of China firmly believed, was the way to improve the quality of their cultural and spiritual life.
We now consider the contents of the various Chapters. Chapter 1 deals with how the child ought to be dutiful to its parents.
COMMENT: In the Chinese tradition, it was the duty of a child, if necessary, to advise their parents from doing wrong. Sometimes, parents are misguided while children are far more honest; in all such cases, it was considered essential for the child to guide the parents than the other way around!
When my body is hurt, my parents would be worried. If my virtues are compromised, my parents would feel ashamed. When I have loving parents, it is not difficult to be dutiful to them. But if I can be dutiful to parents who hate me, only then would I meet the standard of saints and sages for being a dutiful child.
When I am drinking, eating, walking or sitting, I will let the elders go first; the younger ones should follow. When an elder is asking for someone, I will get that person right away. If I cannot find that person, I will immediately report back, and put myself at the elder’s service instead.
Notice how detailed the instructions are. Such detailing is needed so that the term ‘rightful conduct’ becomes a detailed practical manual, easy to absorb and follow. Otherwise, each person would adopt his or her own version of rightful conduct and that could cause all kinds of problems. In this context, it is pertinent to mention that in ancient India, Emperor Manu laid down similar rules and they are collectively referred to as Manu Dharma.
The rules comment on what a young person should do if that person is riding a horse and crosses an elder who is walking down the road from the other side. It is interesting that even today, in Prasanthi Nilayam when an old student or a villager is riding a bicycle crosses a teacher or a senior and respected elder, that person would alight from the cycle and mount it again only after the elder has crossed! Shows how similar the customs are in distant lands and how they have survived in some measure to this day!
Let us continue and see what more advice ancient Chinese had for their children.
I will get up each morning before my parents; at night, I will go to bed only after my parents have gone to sleep. When I realise that time is passing by me and cannot be turned back, and that I am getting older and older year by year, I will especially treasure the present moment.
COMMENTS: Ancient Chinese valued time very much. They had a proverb which said, “A unit of time is as precious as a unit of gold but you cannot buy back one unit of time with one unit of gold!”
When I get up in the morning, I will wash my face and brush my teeth. After using the toilet, I will always wash my hands. I must wear my hat straight, and make sure the hooks of my clothes are tied. My socks and shoes should also be worn neatly and correctly. I will always place my clothes and hat away in their proper places. I will not carelessly throw my clothes around, for that will get them dirty. It is more important that my clothes are clean, rather than how extravagant they are. I will wear only what is suitable for my station. At home I will wear clothes according to my family traditions and customs. When it comes to eating and drinking, I will not pick and choose my food. I will eat only the right amount. I will not over-eat. I am still young, I must not drink alcohol. When I am drunk, my behaviour would be ugly.
COMMENTS: The dress that ancient Chinese wore had hooks; there were no buttons then.
I will always walk composed, with light and even steps. I will always stand up straight and tall. My bows will always be deep, with hands held in front and arms rounded. I will always pay my respect with reverence. I will not step on a doorsill or stand leaning on one leg. I will not sit my with my legs apart or sprawled out. I will not rock the lower part of my body while standing or sitting down.
COMMENTS: In ancient China , people paid their respects to other by bowing, holding one hand over the other which is closed, or by prostrating themselves on the ground.
I will always lift the curtain slowly and quietly. I must leave myself ample space when I turn so I will not bump into a corner. I will hold empty containers carefully as if they were full. I will enter empty rooms as if they were occupied. I will avoid doing things in a hurry, as doing things in haste will lead to mistakes. I should not be afraid of difficult tasks, and I will not become careless when a job is too easy. I will keep away from rowdy places. I will not ask about things that abnormal or unusual.
COMMENTS: In ancient China, curtains were made of bamboo strips woven together.
When I see others do good deeds, I must think about following their example. Even though my own achievements are still far behind those of others, I must aim at getting closer. When I see others do wrong, I must immediately reflect upon myself. If I have made the same mistake, I will correct it. If not, I will take extra care not to make the same mistake.
When my morals, conduct, knowledge, and skills seem not as good as those of others, I will encourage myself to be better. If the clothes I wear, and the food I eat and drink are not as good as that of others, I should not be concerned.
If criticism makes me angry and compliments make me happy, bad company will come my way and good friends will shy away. If I am uneasy about compliments and appreciative of criticism, then sincere, understanding, and virtuous people will gradually come close to me.
If a person has a shortcoming, I will not expose it. If a person has a secret, I will not tell others. When people are being praised and approved of, they will be encouraged to try even harder. Spreading rumours about the wrongdoings of others is wrongdoing in itself. When the harm done has reached the extreme, misfortunes will follow. When I encourage another to do good, both our virtues are built up. If I do not tell another man of his fault, we are both wrong.
Whether I take or give, I need to know the difference between the two. It is better to give more and take less. What I ask others to do, I must first ask myself if I would be willing to do. If it is not something I would be willing to do, I will not ask others to do it. I must repay the kindness of others and let go my resentments. I will spend less time holding grudges and more time paying back the kindness of others.
When I begin to read a book, I will not think about another. If I have not completed the book, I will not start another. I will give myself lots of time to study, and I will study hard. If I devote enough time and effort, I will thoroughly understand. If I have a question, I will make a note of it. I will ask the person who has the knowledge for the right answer.
COMMENTS: Students were expected to read a book again and again till they have understood it in full.
I will keep my room neat, my walls uncluttered and clean, my desk tidy and my brush and inkstone properly placed. If my ink block is ground unevenly, it shows I have a poor state of mind. When words are written carelessly, showing no respect, this shows my state of mind has not been well. My books should be classified, placed on the bookshelves, and in their proper places. After I finish reading a book, I will put it back where it belongs. Even if I am in a hurry, I still must neatly roll up and bind the open bamboo scroll I have been reading. All missing or damaged pages ought to be immediately repaired. If it is not a book on the teachings of the saints and sages, it should be discarded and not even looked at. Such books can block my intelligence and wisdom, and direction. Neither be harsh on myself nor give up on myself. To be a person of high ideals, moral standards and virtues are qualities we can all attain in time.
COMMENTS: In ancient China, a brush was used for [calligraphic] writing. The ink was prepared by grinding an “ink block” against the inkstone, using water for dilution. “Scroll” or “juan” means a bamboo scroll. It is an ancient book, in the form of a scroll made of bamboo slips with knife-carved or painted Chinese characters. Such books were used before paper was invented.
Our purpose in presenting the above is not only to draw attention to the fact that values formed the backbone of all ancient societies but also to stress that the ancients everywhere recognised that the inculcation of values must start at a young age. This, of course, is something that Swami has been always stressing, which is why for decades the Sai Organisation has been running programs like Bal Vikas, EHV, etc.
We do hope that parents, teachers and Gurus involved in developing values in children would read what we have offered here. And having done so, would some of them at least, please write how Swami has been teaching these very same lessons [and many more] over the years? We particularly welcome Bal Vikas Gurus the world over to contribute articles that would take this theme further.
ACKNOWLEGEMENTS: The book Guide to a Happy Life from which we have presented several extracts, is published by Pure Land Books, 57 West Street, Toowoomba, Queensland 4350, Australia, and was kindly made available to us by Brother Wee Lin of Singapore , to whom H2H expresses many grateful thanks. We mention once again that we have taken the liberty of quoting extensively from this beautiful book because the Publishers, in keeping with ancient tradition, have generously welcomed reproduction and distribution, provided it is done free.
POST SCRIPT: After we prepared this article, we received from Bro. Billy Fong of Malaysia, a mail attached to which was a long text. That attachment not only contained the text we have reproduced, but also carried comments on how these teachings were imparted to children in Malaysia as a part of their educare/EHV programs. A book entitled The Traditional Chinese Di Zi Gui, and its Relevance to the Sathya Sai Educare Programme was also placed at the Lotus Feet during the Chinese New Year Day Celebrations. Jai Sai Ram!
- Heart2Heart Team
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Vol 5 Issue 04 - APRIL 2007
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