Considering Four Inventions From the Perspective of Cultivation

Wang Haotian

PureInsight | July 19, 2010

[] There are four major inventions from ancient China that Chinese people are particularly proud of: papermaking, printing, the compass, and gunpowder. These inventions played an important role in the progression of civilization. Their deep, long-lasting impacts have probably surpassed all other discoveries. In addition, these inventions served as a bridge that connected China with the rest of the world.

Looking back in history, these inventions could have happened due to blessings from heaven or due to various coincidences. In fact, they not only functioned as a foundation that upheld human civilization, but also served as a carrier that introduced the divine culture, especially that regarding cultivation, to other nations. Therefore, these inventions must not have occurred by accident, and there must have been deep reasons behind them.

Among these four inventions, papermaking and printing started during a time when Buddhism began to spread in China. Both printing material and technique were needed to print the Buddhist scriptures. In the thousands of years since these two inventions first appeared, countless numbers of books were passed on from generation to generation, which helped to preserve traditional Chinese culture in a systematic way. Various scriptures, regardless of whether from Buddhism, Taoism, or Confucianism, were preserved throughout history despite wars and disasters, and guided people morally.

Gunpowder originated from alchemy and was also used in Chinese medicine. As time went on, it played a more and more important role in wars. According to teachings from various religions in the East and West, as well as in the cultivation community, people have [accumulated] sins. To prevent mankind from degenerating too early, heaven arranged wars to reduce people’s karma. The massive destructive power of gunpowder and its accompanying suffering reminds mankind of the importance of obeying heavenly laws and maintaining moral standards; otherwise, degeneration of moral values, as well as fatuous rulers, could lead to destruction or elimination. This also implied that the true and wise way of ruling a nation resides in valuing virtue and improving the moral standard.

The discovery of the compass comes from ancient cultivators who, after reaching certain levels in cultivation, were able to somehow connect their human bodies with nature and the universe. The compass (also known as sinan—directing south) was derived from magnetism, which was considered by many cultivators as a power that kept nature and cosmic bodies in order. In addition, south was considered the highest level among various directions. As a result, many palaces, temples etc. were built facing south. This also implied that, no matter if cultivating or ruling a nation, one should remain clearheaded and not lose their way.

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