What is learning? Learning, in my view, is a journey of self-discovery about what it means to be human. As human beings, we are at once and at the same time a person with four selves - a personal or individual self, i.e. a self that we call it our own; a collective self or a self by which we share in common with other human beings; a transcendent self or a self that extends beyond our human world; and a relational self or a self by which we derive our personal consciousness through our contacts with other human beings, with the world of plants and animals, and with what is beyond these worlds.
To learn is to seek about how we are related to all that is relevant to our existence, and about how we are relevant to all that is related to us. The Ta Hsueh, in this regard, is a good companion and starting point for this journey, a journey that takes us into our relationship with others, and others in their relationship with us, in the endeavour to realize the essence of our human existence, which is Tian Ren He Yi, Harmony of Heaven and Human.
The 大 學 or TA HSUEH is a short text with a profound description about the steps one should follow to realize the ideal human being and human society. Ta Hsueh can mean, on the one hand, Adult Learning. It can also mean learning to be a great person. This is the meaning adopted here.
For Malaysian Chinese Muslims, the Ta Hsueh can be a useful guide to understand Islam in a uniquely Chinese way as its contents are surprisingly, Islamic in every sense of it.
My translation of the text below is undertaken against the background of the Confucian thought of the Song and Ming dynasties ( 宋明道学理学家思想), as well as the hikmah school of thought in Islam (伊斯兰心启家思想).
(1) The way of learning so that one may attain greatness (as a human being) lies in the following:
(i) It lies in bringing into light what are already the illuminating virtues in the heart
(ii) It lies in oneness of heart with the people
(iii) It lies in firmly abiding in the highest good
(2) Only when one knows he has abide firmly (in the highest good), can he have constancy (of the heart); when one has constancy, only then is he able to be serene; when one is serene, only then can he be at peace with himself; when one is at peace with himself, only then is he able to reflect; when one is able to reflect, only then is he able to arrive at things.
Things have principles and purposes, or functions; affairs have endings and beginnings i.e. destinations and intentions; in knowing what comes first and what comes after, namely, the sequence of things, one has modelled himself on the Way.
(3) In times of old, those desiring to bring to light the illuminating virtues in the hearts of the people, first put the country in order; in desiring to put the country in order, they made sure their family is in consonance; in wishing to bring consonance in their family, they cultivate their persons to be upright humans; in order to cultivate their persons, they regulate their hearts until the hearts do not waver; in order that their hearts do not waver, they made their intentions sincere; in order that their intentions are sincere, they refine their sense of knowing; refining the sense of knowing lies in seeking out the realities of things.
When the realities of things are known, one’s knowledge becomes insightful; when one knows things insightfully, one can make one’s intentions sincere; when one’s intentions have become sincere, one’s heart can become rectified; when one’s heart is rectified, one’s personality can be cultivated; when one’s personality is cultivated, one can bring harmony into one’s family; when one’s family is in harmony, one’s country can be put in order; when one’s country is in order, peace will prevail in one’s society.
(4) From the Son of Heaven i.e. Emperor right down to the ordinary people, each and every person made self-cultivation the root of their human engendering. If the root is in disorder, regulation of things can never happen. It is never the case that one who is a person of substance takes things lightly and behaves petty, and one who is petty and takes things lightly is a person of substance.