Stories from Ancient China: Confucius on the Benefits of Studying

Confucius (551 BC-479 BC) asked Zilu (542 BC-480 BC), one of Confucius's well-known disciples, "What is your favorite hobby?" "Practicing the long sword," Zilu answered. Confucius said, "That's not what I asked. I thought with your capability, plus studying, no one could ever catch up to you."

Zilu asked, "What are the benefits of studying?" Confucius said, "A king could not handle his state affairs well if there weren't any ministers that dared to speak their mind. If a man does not have any friends who offer guidance, he has deficiencies in his moral character. While riding an untamed horse, one cannot throw away the whip. One who uses a bow and arrows cannot do without calibration tools. Only when one can draw a straight line on a piece of wood can he cut it straight. People can reach the realm of a saint only by being willing to take advice against doing wrong things. Learning diligently from one's teacher and asking questions if he has doubts, one will face nothing that could prevent him from succeeding. On the other hand, if one gives up kindness and integrity and despises honest people, one is not far from committing crimes and facing prison terms. A wise man cannot afford to not study.

Zilu said, "The bamboo grown in the southern mountains is straight as can be without any human intervention. If one makes arrows by cutting this type of bamboo into smaller pieces, the arrow can pierce the skin of a rhino. Why should one [with great inborn quality] need to study?" Confucius answered, "Isn't it true that the arrow can penetrate even deeper if one mounts feathers at the tail and sharpens its head?" Zilu bowed to show his respect and said, "I sincerely accept your teaching."

Original source: from works of Liu Xiang of Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - 202 A.D.)

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