Four steps

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子曰:「志於道,據於德,依於仁,游於藝。」
Confucius said: “Focus your heart and mind on the Way; act in accordance with virtue; rely on goodness; enjoy the arts.”

A succinct summary of the four key steps required for self-cultivation. The first and most important one is to fully commit yourself to following the right path.

Confucius’s love for the six “arts”, comprising the rites, music, calligraphy, mathematics, archery, and charioteering, is often overlooked. This is particularly the case with outdoor pursuits, which were deemphasized in the “Confucian” education system that emerged a few hundred years after his death in favor of more academic studies driven, in large part, by the need for students to focus their energies on passing the imperial examinations.

Over 2,500 years later, we are still wrestling with exactly the same issues. While physical pursuits are in theory a critical part of a balanced education, in practice academic studies are considered much more important. As obesity rates continue to rise throughout the world, there is a chance that this may change, but history suggests that meaningful change is highly unlikely.

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