Preface and Chapter one

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擊蒙要訣序

Author's Preface of Key to Breaking Folly's Hold


P1. 人生斯世 非學問 無以爲人

People are born in this world, but without learning, they cannot be fully human.


P2. 所謂學問者 亦非異常別件物事也

So-called learning is not something unusual or extraordinary.


P3. 只是爲父當慈, 爲子當孝, 爲臣當忠, 爲夫婦當別, 爲兄弟當友, 爲少者當敬長, 爲朋友當有信

It just runs as follows: as fathers, be benevolent; as children, be filial; as ministers, be loyal; as a husband and a wife, be separate; as brothers, be fraternal; as youngers, respect elders; as friends, be faithful.


P4. 皆於日用動靜之間 隨事各得其當而已

All these things lie in the way of living while working and resting in daily life, and it is only about the way one gets what he deserves according to his work.


P5. 非馳心玄妙 希覬奇效者也

It is not about driving mind to something esoteric or expecting outstanding results out of it.


P6. 但不學之人 心地茅塞 識見茫昧

But people without learning have their mind cluttered by thistle-like desires and their mental vision beclouded by ignorance.


P7. 故必須讀書窮理 以明當行之路然後 造詣得正而踐履得中矣

Therefore, they must be engaged in reading books and exhaustively investigating the principle and thus, after clarifying the way one should go, they will be able to get correction and put it into practice precisely.


P8. 今人不知 學問在於日用 而妄意高遠難行

People these days do not know that learning is simply part of everyday life but vainly think on something lofty, distant, and hard to practice.


P9. 故推與別人 自安暴棄 豈不可哀也哉

So they pass up the opportunity for someone else and are content to do violence to themselves and throw themselves away. How can we not lament this?


P10. 余定居海山之陽 有一二學徒 相從問學

When I decided to reside in the southern area of Haesan, one or two students followed me and asked questions about learning.


P11. 余慙無以爲師 而且恐初學 不知向方

I felt ashamed of myself as an unqualified teacher, but at the same time was afraid as well that those beginning students might not know the direction [if I don’t teach them].


P12. 且無堅固之志而泛泛請益 則彼此無補 反貽人譏

Moreover, without a firm will, if they hang around and ask for more, there would be no reciprocal benefits to one another, but it would rather incur the ridicule of others.


P13. 故略書一冊子 粗敍立心飭躬奉親接物之方 名曰擊蒙要訣

That was why I briefly wrote a piece of booklet and roughly described in it how to make up one's mind, behave oneself, serve parents, and treat others. Its title is the Key to Breaking Folly's Hold.


P14. 欲使學徒觀此 洗心立脚 當日下功

I would like to let students look at this, by which their minds may be cleansed and their decisions firmly made, and proceed to set to work on the very day.


P15. 而余亦久患因循 欲以自警省焉.

And yet at the same time, I also have long been worried about myself if I may be subjected to the debilitating effects of routinization, and hence want to alert myself with it.


丁丑季冬 德水李珥書

In late winter of the year of the Ox (1577),

Written by I 珥 of the Deoksu Yi clan




立志章 第一

Chapter 1. Making a Resolution


1.1. 初學 先須立志 必以聖人自期 不可有一毫自小退託之念

A beginning student, first of all, should establish a firm intention to pursue learning and promise himself to become a sage. He should not hold any slightest idea of excusing himself to shrink back, considering himself incompetent to do so.


1.2. 蓋衆人與聖人 其本性則一也

On the whole, ordinary people and sages have the same original nature.


1.3. 雖氣質 不能無淸濁粹駁之異

Although material nature, or temperament and character, cannot but have differences from one another, such as difference between purity and turbidity, or fineness and coarseness,


1.4. 而苟能眞知實踐 去其舊染而復其性初

nevertheless, if one is able to truly know something and puts it into practice, removing the old corrupt practices and restoring the original nature, or potential,


1.5. 則不增毫末而萬善具足矣

then, without adding the slightest bit to it, all goodness will be equipped in him in its fullness.


1.6. 衆人 豈可不以聖人自期乎

So how can an ordinary person not promise himself to become a sage?


1.7. 故孟子道性善 而必稱堯舜以實之曰 人皆可以爲堯舜 豈欺我哉

That was why Mencius discoursed how the human nature is good, and, whenever speaking, always made laudatory reference to Yao and Shun, and proved it by saying that all men can become Yaos and Shuns. What is the use of deceiving me [by saying so]?


1.8. 當常自奮發曰 人性本善 無古今智愚之殊 聖人 何故獨爲聖人 我則何故獨爲衆人耶

A student always must exert himself and say, "If human nature is originally good and there has been no difference across the ages between the wise and the foolish, how come then a sage could become a sage by himself, while I have become merely one of the ordinary men by myself?"


1.9. 良由志不立, 知不明, 行不篤耳

This is truly just because his intention to pursue learning was not firmly established, his understanding was not clear, and his deed was not earnest.


1.10. 志之立, 知之明, 行之篤 皆在我耳 豈可他求哉

Establishing the firm intention, understanding clearly, and being earnest in deed all depend solely on me, so why seeking a remedy in others?


1.11. 顔淵曰 舜何人也 予何人也 有爲者 亦若是 我亦當以顔之希舜爲法

Yan Yuan said, "What kind of man was Shun? What kind of man am I? He who exerts himself will also become such as he was." I also should take as a model Yan's wish to be like Shun.


1.12. 人之容貌 不可變醜爲姸 膂力 不可變弱爲强 身體 不可變短爲長

As for one's countenance, it is impossible to transform an ugly look into a fair one. As for one's strength, it is not possible to turn a weak man into a strong one. As for one's body composition, there is no way to change short limbs to long ones.


1.13. 此則已定之分 不可改也

These physical traits are one's predetermined lot, so they cannot be changed.


1.14. 惟有心志 則可以變愚爲智 變不肖爲賢

As for one's mind and will, however, it is possible to change the foolish to the wise and turn degenerate persons into virtuous ones.


1.15. 此則心之虛靈 不拘於稟受故也

This is because these are mental traits, which are empty and spiritual, and thus are not restricted by the physical endowment.


1.16. 莫美於智 莫貴於賢 何苦而不爲賢智 以虧損天所賦之本性乎

There is nothing fairer than being wise and nothing nobler than being virtuous. What kind of problem is there that would prevent you from being wise and virtuous, which leads to ruin the original nature endowed by Heaven?


1.17. 人存此志 堅固不退 則庶幾乎道矣

If one keeps this purport in mind and firmly resolve not to draw back, he will come closer to the Way.


1.18. 凡人自謂立志 而不卽用功 遲回等待者 名爲立志 而實無向學之誠故也

In general, people used to talk to himself that he established a firm intention but end up quitting an immediate application of diligent efforts. The reason he put it off and waited around was that, though he seemed to establish a firm intention, but in reality he did not have the sincerity to pursue learning.


1.19. 苟使吾志 誠在於學 則爲仁由己 欲之則至 何求於人 何待於後哉

If I set my own mind sincerely on learning, then the strength to practice humanity will come from within myself, and hence as long as I want to practice, I will be able to make it. So why seeking in others? Why waiting until later?


1.20. 所貴乎立志者 卽下工夫 猶恐不及 念念不退故也

The reasons why it is important to establish a firm intention is that it makes one immediately set to work and fear if he may come short of it, and furthermore always make sure [himself] that he should not shrink back.


1.21. 如或志不誠篤 因循度日 則窮年沒世 豈有所成就哉

If one, whose determination is not truly sincere, adheres to routine and idles away time, then, until his time on earth is over, how can he have anything achieved?