25.8 C
星期四, 18 4 月, 2024
HomeThe Analects of ConfuciusThe Bitter-Sweetness of Reading Yang Jiang - 杨绛《读书苦乐》

The Bitter-Sweetness of Reading Yang Jiang – 杨绛《读书苦乐》

Listen to this article


The Bitter-Sweetness of Reading Yang Jiang

Reading and studying regularly calls for a painstaking effort, whether it is meant for passing an exam, writing a thesis or pursuing an academic degree. T’ao Yuanming, a famous scholar in Jin Dynasty, who doted on reading, might probably feel baffled if he were living today and had to take exams for getting into universities or graduate programs or to score well in such tests as the TOEFL. I’m afraid he might fail the exam in Political Economics, as the result of his motto “staying content with superficial reading”.

I was “cudgeled” for a couple of times, being reprimanded for reading “to seek spiritual indulgence.” At the time, I had to bow down my head and confess my sin, and I have to admit as well that I’ve never made any painstaking effort in reality. Nevertheless, “enjoying reading” doesn’t mean seeking indulgence, whose truth can only be shared with like-minded people, but goes beyond those without similar experiences

I would compare reading to visiting friends — in the spiritual rather than physical sense. Visiting a well-respected teacher or paying homage to a renowned scholar doesn’t necessarily require appointment in advance and we won’t feel as if we were disturbing him. Opening the book is like getting into the door uninvited; and turning a few pages, we may find ourselves in his study. Besides, we can go visit him as frequently as we want and at any time we wish. If we fail to get the pith of his argument, we can just leave without saying “good-bye” or turn to someone else for help, and come back to challenge him. We can get close to the host and listen to every word he has to say, no matter where he resides, at home or abroad, what a person he was or is, a contemporary or a man of the past, whatever field he specializes in, or whether he is talking about a serious subject of importance or simply chatting plus cracking jokes. We can sit in, in due reverence, and listen as Confucius’ disciples recount their master’s legacy of teachings, or playfully ask Mencius, who likes to prattle about nothing but kindness and justice, whether or not he would become a pious Marxist preacher, should he live in our time. We can stay by the side of Socrates at his execution and listen to him talking to his friend, or harbor doubt as we ponder the truth of Discourse by Epictetus, a Stoic Philosopher. We can indulge ourselves in the anecdotes and amazing tales of the past, and appreciate the profound nouveau theories of our own age or hear sensational arguments meant to shock the world. In a nutshell, we can bang the door shut —closing the book that is —the minute we find anything disagreeable or distasteful, and leave forthwith. No one will blame us. This is the kind of freedom we can hardly expect other than from the books.

For Hu Gong (or Master Gourd), a master herbalist in ancient China, a magical gourd of his contains the entire world. Likewise, every book, be it a novel, a play, a biography, or a book of traveling notes, of journals, and of even essays or of poems, contains a world of its own, with its own sun, moon, and stars and its own live characters between heaven and earth. There is really no need trotting all the way to places and paying admission fees, merely to view imitations or vivid “substitutes”, when we can simply open a book and find ourselves in real situations and meet real characters for a close contact.

Despite the ancient saying about books being like a vast ocean, the distant world of books could be actually deemed as close as a next-door neighbour, which is not merely an idealistic metaphorical assertion. For in the world of books there are no longer any barriers. The Buddhist notion of “One Buddha- world” is extremely enormous. But what about the extremities of the world of books? It consists of “the present realm”, “the past realm”, and “the future realm”, encompassing everything in each of the three great realms, across whose borders we can go back and forth with great ease. We can read and experience all we care to read and experience, and learn from masters any time we want, without venturing outdoors at all. Who says that book-lovers are near-sighted, inflexible and indifferent to worldly affairs! In the world of books, we can enrich our experience and get to know all kinds of people from different times and places. Those who visit the world of books frequently can at least rid themselves of some ignorance and gain a certain degree of wisdom.

It is a pity that our physical body, invisible as we visit the world of books, is after all confined to this mundane world. Without the insight of Buddha, who takes in all the human wisdom accumulated over thousands of years at one glance, we have to comfort ourselves by what Zhuang Zi has said: “Human life-span is finite whereas knowledge is infinite.”  We are but insects with a fleeting lifetime (not even the insects the Monkey King turned into with his hairs), crawling our way into the world of books, pausing hither and thither, becoming speechless with exultation when we accidentally bump into a much-admired person or hear a few soothing words or occasionally find an answer to a pending question. I wonder if this sense of “joy” can be called “seeking indulgence in pleasure”.










Rate this post
Create International Study Opportunities For All Youth


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisment -

Most Popular

Random University

Flag Counter

Recent Comments

Translate »