Chinese Idioms: The Honour and Dignity of the Teaching Profession 道尊

AUGUST22-SEPTEMBER4_36_lowresEpoch Times, Singapore Edition (Issue 493, Aug 22 – Sept 4, 2014)

By Jade Pearce
Epoch Times Staff

You may have once heard your parents or grandparents recounting how, during their time, teachers were treated with great respect. Parents always respected the teachers’ decisions, and teachers were considered to have very high authority.

Respecting teachers and education has been a valued principle in our society. And in traditional Chinese culture, education is considered to be very important and is greatly emphasised.

This concept is embodied in Chinese idioms such as “the honour and dignity of the teaching profession” (师道尊严shī dào zūn yán) and “respect the teacher and
the principles taught” (尊师重道 zūn shī zhòng dào).

The idiom “the honour and dignity of the teaching profession” or 师道尊严 arose from The Classic of Rites, one of the Chinese Five Classics of the Confucian canon.

In the chapter Record on Education, it is stated that:
“The hardest part of learning the Tao is respecting the teacher. Only when there is respect for the teacher can there be respect for the Tao, and only when there is respect for the Tao can the people know how to respect learning.”

In ancient China, the Tao or the Way was considered the truth of human life and the universe, and following the Tao was considered the noblest aspiration in life. A teacher of the Tao is thus someone of great honour and dignity.

The ancients considered respecting the teacher and respecting the Tao—or the principles taught—to be inseparable ideals. Only when the student respects the teacher can he see the importance of the principles, knowledge, and skills that his teacher imparts to him.

This is why respecting the teacher has been such an ingrained value in traditional Chinese culture.

Tang Bohu Underestimates His Teacher’s Skill
One of the most notable painters in Chinese art history is Tang Bohu of the Ming Dynasty. From a young age, he enjoyed literature and art, training under the famous master painter Shen Zhou.

After a year of training, Tang’s painting ability had greatly improved. His paintings showed remarkable talent and style, and he became quite well-known in the region.

Tang started getting a little full of himself, and thought that his paintings were just as good as his teacher’s. In fact, he felt that there was nothing more he could learn from Master Shen.

So making an excuse that he had to look after his mother, Tang said to Master Shen that he would be returning home sooner than planned. Tang even brought out some of his paintings and asked his teacher to critique them—a veil for showing off his painting skills to his teacher.

But Master Shen knew what Tang was really thinking about. He did not try to force Tang to stay, nor did he look at Tang’s paintings. Instead, he invited Tang into his room for a farewell meal.

There was a window in the room, and the view outside was very beautiful. Master Shen asked Tang to open the window to let some air in.

Tang tried to open the window, but try as he might he couldn’t. So he asked Master Shen, “Is the window bolted shut?” Master Shen smiled and said, “Take a closer look before you open it.”

Tang rubbed his eyes and, upon looking closer, he realised that the “window” was actually a painting by his teacher. Master Shen had painted it so realistically that Tang had mistaken it for a window.

Feeling very ashamed of himself, Tang said, “Teacher, please forgive me for being so shallow and conceited. I am willing to study under you for another 3 years.”

From then on, Tang changed his arrogant attitude and diligently followed Master Shen’s instruction. Both Tang and Shen eventually became two of the “Four Masters of Ming dynasty”—a group of painters that had a huge influence on the Chinese painting world, both during that period and beyond.

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