Ancient scholars certainly had teachers. A teacher is one whopasses on the truth, imparts knowledge and solves puzzles. Man is not born withknowledge. Who can deny that he has puzzles? These would remain unsolved,should one refuse to be instructed by teachers.
The men born before me surely know the truth before me, so Irespect them as teachers, whereas those born after me may also know the truthbefore me, I likewise respect them as teachers. It is the truth that Iendeavour to learn. Must I know beforehand whether my teacher was born earlieror later than I? Therefore, no distinction should be made between the noble andthe humble or between the young and the old. Where lies the truth, there is ateacher.
Alas, it is a long time since the admirable tone ofrespecting teachers ceased to pass on! How hard it would be to expect a man tobe free of puzzle! Sages in olden times outstripped by far the ordinary people.Nevertheless, they had teachers and asked them questions. Nowadays themultitude, though much inferior to sages, are ashamed of being instructed byteachers. As a consequence, sages become more sage, and ignoramuses moreignorant. The wisdom of the former and the stupidity of the latter — are theynot all caused by this?
Loving parents may select teachers to instruct theirchildren. But when it comes to themselves, they feel it a disgrace to be taughtby them. How wrong they must be! The teachers of their children only show themhow to read a book sentence by sentence, not to be mentioned in the same breathas those whom I refer to as passing on the truth and solving puzzles. For lackof reading skills, one seeks the help of teachers, while for unsolved puzzles,one acts contrariwise. It is indeed learning the lesser but giving up thegreater. I do not see its wisdom.
Physicians, musicians and multifarious artisans are notashamed of learning from each other. But among the gentlefolk the talk aboutthe teachers and pupils would invite laughter from a gathered company. Whenasked about the reason, they would say, “The one is equal to the other inage and knowledge.” To be instructed by a man of low social standing isregarded as a disgrace, and by a man of high official rank as a flattery. Alas,it is only conceivable that the noble tone of respecting teachers is lost andhardly retrievable! Physicians, musicians and artisans are refused to betreated as equals by gentlefolks, yet these turn out to be less intelligentthan those. Is it not strange?
Sages have had no constant teachers. Confucius once learnedfrom Tan Zi as well as from Chang Hong, Shi Xiang and Laozi, though Tan Zi andhis like are not on a parity with him in wisdom. Confucius says: “Out ofmy two fellow-travellers one must be qualified to be my teacher.” Hencepupils are not necessarily inferior to teachers, and teachers need not alwaysbe superior to pupils. Some may know the truth earlier or later than others andeach has his own professional specialty — that is all!
Li Pan, aged seventeen, is fond of ancient classical writingsand have studied all the six arts and their commentaries. Not restrained by thecurrent practice, he has learned from me. As I commend him for his being ableto follow the old ways, I am writing this essay “On Teachers” forhim.