Wrote this today with a new calligraphy pen brush that I bought from Daiso (I just love this Japanese shop a lot!)
This is another favourite word of mine.
學 refers to learning/studying.
This word has a very beautiful etymology.
On the left and right of the top portion, is a pair of hands. But what are the hands holding? It’s holding this thing that is signified by the character, 爻, which refers to two things. (1) It refers to dried grass (乾草), which is used for divination (in imitation of the cracked bones/shells that were used prior to that). (2) It also refers to the Book of Changes (an ancient book that records the changes in seasons and what should and shouldn’t be done). Both of which are associated with religious practices.
In the middle, is the character, 冖, which represents a table.
At the bottom, is the character, 子, which represents a person. But it is not just any person, but a child.
So, what we have is a child, holding the dried grass or Book of Changes, on top of a table.
What’s do all these mean?
Learning (學) is a religious act! St. Thomas Aquinas himself said that when learning takes place, the God’s light of Truth shines into one’s mind, raising the knowledge from potential knowledge to actual knowledge!
But learning not just about simply memorising what’s before you. One of my professors said that if learning is simply about memorising, there’s this thing in the world that does exactly the same task, but even better – a scanner!
Learning involves the study and contemplation of the subject, and being able to apply it in day-to-day life, just as how the ancient Chinese would closely study the Book of Changes (or the dried grass) and use it for the application of their daily life.
But why is a child (子) in the the word? It does not literally mean that learning is confined to children. In fact, the great masters of Chinese philosophy have the title, 子, after their names. E.g. Confucius (孔子), Mencius (孟子), Hsün Tsu (荀子), Lao Tzu (老子), Chuang Tzu (莊子) and more.
Learning requires us to be like little children, who with great inquisitiveness, seek out knowledge for itself, and be marvelled and wondered at the beauty of newly acquired knowledge. When was the last time you went “WOW!” at something that you just learnt? If it had been a long time back, perhaps it’s time to be like a little child once again, and marvel at the beauty of Truth.
A child is, more often than adults, open to what comes his way. As we grow older, we become more narrow minded. As such learning becomes harder as we tend to mis-interpret or simply brush aside things based on whatever biasness we may have developed.
The great masters of philosophy, the ancient Chinese philosophers, and even Plato, Aristotle, and St. Thomas Aquinas, were open to the study of whatever came their way – even fallacious errors! Not that we should subscribe to error, but be open to see what the other side has to say, and see what elements of Truth can be found, thereby, leading one’s self and others to a greater, deeper knowledge of the Truth.