"Only through tranquility will one obtain a deep and wide perspective on all matters" (寧靜致遠)
18 X 67cm in Standard Script (隸書)
Original Chinese text of Admonition to His Son (誡子書):
“夫君子之行，靜以修身，儉以養德。非澹泊無以明志，非寧靜無以致遠*。夫學須靜也，才須學也，非學無以廣才，非志無以成學。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！” *Note that the phrase has multiple Chinese interpretations, for details please see here.
Translated English text of Admonition to His Son (誡子書):
“Here is the path that a righteous and virtuous person should follow: applying tranquility to mature one’s mind and pursue frugality to cultivate one’s character. If one is not modest and not free from materialistic ambitions, one cannot recognize and comprehend one’s true aspiration; if one is not tranquil and does not possess a peaceful mind, one cannot realize and obtain a deep and wide perspective on all matters*. Learning requires a tranquil and peaceful mind, while talents require persistent learning to be fully developed. Without learning, one cannot realize one’s full potential; without a genuine aspiration, one will not achieve genuine learning and develop one’s thought properly. Procrastination does not encourage one to focus on working hard faithfully; impetuousness does not help in cultivating one’s mind and character. As time passes by quickly, one’s aspiration drifts away with each idling day; like a withering leaf, one becomes disconnected and makes no contribution to the world. Eventually, one is trapped and niched in one’s own petty dwelling, and can only lament on squandered days that can never be reclaimed. ” (translated by KS Vincent Poon, Aug. 2016) *Note that the phrase has multiple Chinese interpretations, for details please see here. Zhuge Liang is often admired today as a symbolic figure of wisdom and integrity in East Asian societies. He served as the prime minister and chief military strategist for the Shu Han Kingdom (蜀漢) during the Three Kingdoms period of China (三國時代, 184-280). Although appointed to such a high and prestigious position in the government, it is evident that his pursuit of a meaningful life was not a materialistic one, as suggested by this particular piece of writing, Admonition to His Son, illustrated above. His modesty and reluctance to hold earthly powers were also demonstrated by the fact that Liu Bei (the ruler of the Han Shu Kingdom) had to visited Zhuge Liang three times before Zhuge agreed to help Liu in ruling and expanding Liu’s territories (“凡三往，乃見” <<三國志 . 諸葛亮傳>>
"Only through tranquility will one obtain a deep and wide perspective on all matters"
On the importance of tranquility in traditional Chinese culture and Christianity
Zhuge Liang, perhaps one of the wisest men in Chinese history, warned his sons that focusing on materialistic rewards will ultimately cloud one’s mind and bury one’s true aspiration in life, thereby eventually squandering one’s life. To clear one's mind and augment perceptions of all matter, obtaining a state of tranquility is essential, since it is central to fostering effective learning, and hence, developing talents to the fullest. This type of philosophy is consistent with the concept of “Silence in absolute stillness (寂然不動)" espoused by
the Chinese classical text I Ching (or Book of Change, 易經)’
in which it argues that "if you can achieve silence in absolute stillness, you can feel the true nature of the universe“寂然不動，感而遂通天下之故”"
. Surprisingly, practising tranquility to transcend to a higher state of mind can also be observed in the Catholic Church, wherein the Catholic Trappists believe that silence is absolutely necessary to hearing God's words and so one should observe silence as much as possible (1
On the relationship between tranquility and education
It is apparent that tranquility is central to learning and developing one’s character, according to Zhuge Liang’s writings in the Admonition. The quality of being tranquil is often not stressed enough in modern education, which is currently focused mostly on superficial and abstract objectives like “preparing students for the future job market” and “better student achievement”, but not on character education. At the fundamental level, education is first about developing character (or “bringing up” , as in Latin ēducātiō -"A breeding, a bringing up, a rearing", or, as in Chinese 教育 - “teaching and rearing”), and establishing working or technological skills, which is known as “training”, comes second. It is, therefore, more appropriate to describe today’s schooling as “training” rather than “educating”.
From my teaching experience, under today’s education system, it is very common to observe students learning superficially without a very deep introspection of the learning at hand; their learning is often short-lived and very few can retain and apply the new knowledge to better themselves. One argument to explain this short-lived learning among students is that the current curriculum contains so much material that students do not have the time to digest and absorb the materials in depth. This can certainly help explain the phenomenon but I believe the main culprit is the extraordinary distractions in and outside of school; specifically, the acceptance of using mobile devices in the classroom as well as the popularity of digital social media. Some may argue such electronic devices may enhance the classroom experience but the reality is that they offer more of a temptation to stay off course in learning rather than a tool for learning. Indeed, recent research has indicated that the usage of these devices in the classroom lowers student achievement (2). It is, therefore, clear that students who do not recognize the importance of tranquility and focusing on the task at hand will not be able to learn effectively and achieve their full potentials, as argued by Zhuge Liang long time ago.
On tranquility and the society as a whole
If a considerable proportion of the population is unable to maintain a tranquil and critical mind, the society will suffer as a whole. Those who do not possess a tranquil mind are often reckless, hasty, and operated by a clouded mind which ultimately results in reduced analytical skills, believing and delivering arguments without facts, and the inability to distinct between right and wrong. The ramifications can be serious as it can lead to skewed judgements which often lead to injustice, discrimination, and unnecessary division within a society. Such deleterious effects are beginning to show in today’s rather rowdy and information-overloaded society where many have the habit of making up their own conclusions just by glimpsing the headlines without even reading the fine contents and process the information with a tranquil and critical mind. This can be extremely dangerous as these people will easily be influenced by biased propaganda, especially in a totalitarian society where information is controlled by the government. A democratic society, where information is allowed to flow freely with minimum filter, offers more resistant to this type of brainwashing; however, it is still up to the individual to be critical and verify each piece of information that is being published, especially in today’s digital age where misleading and fabricated facts are rampant in the Internet and social media.