The family precepts by Sima Guang 司馬溫公家訓 翻譯 英譯 Translation - Vincent's Calligraphy

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The family precepts of Sima Guang
司馬溫公家訓
68 X 45cm
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The family precepts of Sima Guang
(司馬溫公家訓)
69  X  35cm in Regular Script (楷書)

Historical information
Sima Guang (司馬光, 1019-1086) was often considered one of the greatest historians in Chinese history.  His most outstanding acheivement was his completion of Zizhi Tongjian (資治通鑑) which documented the history of ancient China between BC 403 to AD 958 with great detail and references (1,2).  In addition to his remarkable scholarly achievements, he was also known in history as a highly respected yet frugal officer in the Northern Song Dynasty of Emperor Shenzong (宋神宗).  He was a traditionalist in his times, and was so fervently against governmental reforms (see New Policies (新法)) proposed and implemented by Wang Anshan (王安石) that he resigned all his official posts as a sign of protest to Emperor Shenzong.  The fifteen years that followed, wherein he held no formal government position, he successfully compiled his great work Zizhi Tongjian.  Eventually, he was reappointed to the position of high Chancellor in the high court after Emperor Shenzong died in 1085. Unfortunately, he died about a year later in 1086, due probably to over-exertion in completing Zizhi Tongjian (3,4).  He was buried carrying the title "Duke of Wēng" (溫公) which was decreed by Emperor Zhezong (宋哲宗), the successor of Emperor Shenzong (5).

Text Translation
積金以遺子孫,子孫未必守

Accumulate wealth for your descendants, your descendants may not be able to defend and manage it.
積書以遺子孫,子孫未必讀。
Accumlate books for your descendants*, your descendants may not be able to read and comprehend them.
不如積陰德於冥冥之間,為子孫長久之計。It is therefore wiser to do and accumulate good deeds so that your descendants may somehow benefit from them in the future.
此先賢之格言,乃後人之龜鑑。
This is an adage passed on from the ancient sages, and should be observed by everyone in the present and future generations.
*In this context, "Accumulate book" may include the meaning of passage of knowledge.
(translated by KS Vincent Poon Dec. 2015)

Personal Comments
Most parents want the best for their children.  Many focus on two areas to protect their children's well being and broaden their prospects: wealth and knowledge.  According to Sima Guang, both are not important.  Extreme wealth in the family often cultivates immature offsprings who likely will lose the family fortune quickly.  How about passing on your knowledge? Assuming your children are still listening to you, they do not necessarily understand the significance of the knowledge and apply it correctly.  Ultimately, they have their own lives and choices, and parents have no control over their prospects whatsoever.

So what can parents do? Focusing more on doing good deeds themselves.  I believe this is beneficial in two ways: first, parents will set a good example of good character for children to learn from; second, according to Sima Guang, those good deeds may eventually bear fruit that may somehow benefit your offspring in unpredictable ways.  Note that the second point above is an extension of the "cause and effect" (ie. Karma (因果/業)) concept in Buddhism where causes (or doings, ) are interlinked closely with results (or fruits, ).

A very good copy of the precepts can be found inside the 400-year-old Japanese Buddhist Temple, Dannohorinji (檀王法林寺), Kyoto, Japan (6).


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