Learning Requires Consistency and Perseverance

In ancient times, people emphasized practice when learning and promoted tireless effort, with a stress on being diligent and consistent. They did not encourage studying hard for one day and slacking off for the next ten days. In other words, they believed that one needs to be strict with oneself and not slack off. When one makes his/her best effort, he/she will achieve the goal. It is just like the old saying "read the book one hundred times, and you will naturally understand its meaning." The following are two stories about ancient people's approach to studying.

During the Dong Jin Dynasty, the famous poet Tao Yuanming was a noble and knowledgeable scholar. A young man asked him, "I admire you because you are so knowledgeable. Would you tell me the best way to learn?" Tao Yuanming said, "There is no best way. If you work hard, you will make progress. And if you slack off, you will lag behind." He took the young man by the hand and guided him to a field. He pointed at a small sprout and said, "Look carefully, can you see that it is growing?" The young man stared at it for a long time and said, "I did not see it grow." Tao Yuanming asked, "Really? Then how could a little sprout become so tall later on?" He continued, "In fact, it is growing every moment. However, we cannot see it with our eyes. It is the same principle for learning. Our knowledge accumulates little by little. Sometimes we don't even know it. But if you consistently do it, you will make great progress."

Tao Yuanming then pointed to a knife-sharpening stone next to the stream and asked the young man, "Why is the concave side of the stone worn down like a saddle?" The young man answered, "It is because people use it to sharpen knifes day after day." He then asked, "Then on exactly which day did it take this shape?" The young man shook his head. Tao Yuanming said, "It is because farmers have used it day after day. Learning is the same. If you don't do it consistently, [to maintain your knowledge level] you will go backwards." The young man finally understood him. He thanked Tao Yuanming. Tao wrote the following for him, "Learning diligently is like a sprout in the Spring. It grows although we can't see its daily growth. Slacking off is like [not using] a knife-sharpening stone. One will lose if he can't study consistently."

Gu Ye Wang of the Nan Dynasty was a famous historian. His knowledge spanned many fields. Many people came to him to ask questions. One time, the son of his friend Hou Xuan asked him, "You have read many scriptures. I want to ask you whether there is short cut in studying." After thinking for a moment, Gu Ye Wang pointed to a leafy tree and said, "If you want to know the short cut, you need to look at this tree." Hou Xuan looked at the tree from top to bottom three times but could not find anything unusual. He then asked, "I am too blind to see anything. Please guide me." Gu Ye Wang said, "With its root system, the tree can grow tall and strong. With its thick and strong trunk, the tree can grow thick leaves. Only with a noble goal and firm belief can one have a bright future. Take the tree as an example, the tree progressively grows one ring every year. One needs to be diligent. Take one step forward at a time. This is the key."

Since then, Hou Xuan calmed down to study. He improved rapidly. His friends asked him, "You are so familiar with those books that you can recite them from back to front. Why are you still reading them?" Hou Xuan said, "There is no shortcut in studying. One has to take one step at a time. I still have not enlightened to many principles and deep meanings in those books. Therefore I need to review them to learn something new each time." Gu Yan Wang taught the children, "A small tree likes sun because it wants to grow into a big and strong tree. For a person, his goal of life is to become a good person who will benefit his people and his country. It is important to have goals. When it comes to learning, it is important to be consistent and never give up under any circumstances."

Ancient people believed that learning was also a process of improving their morality. The key to learning lies in the will to work hard and perseverance. Studying consistently is the best way to learn.

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