Enhanced Self-Awareness, the Classics, and Human-Oriented Instruction
—Lin Gufang on the Traditional Chinese Academy
The Shuyuan [书院], or academy, played a pivotal role in the history of Chinese culture. Taipei Lecture Hall is operated according to Lin Gufang’s three primary directives: Instruction for enhanced self-awareness, instruction in the classics (applying the knowledge of the ancients to modern situations), and human-oriented instruction, all of which compensate for the deficiencies of the modern education system. Concurrent instruction in Confucian thought, Buddhism and Taoism ensures that Chinese tradition will play a role in the future of mankind.
I paid a visit to Taipei Lecture Hall Director Lin Ku-fang at the end of September to find out more about the Lecture Hall’s aim and methods.
The Shuyuan [书院], or academy, is a learning institute unique to China, originating in the Tang dynasty and flourishing in the Song, influencing educators as far as Japan and Korea. The Bai Ludong Academy set a precedent for the lecture-hall style of teaching, while Ying Tianfu Academy is known far and wide as the origin of Fan Zhongyan’s famous quote exhorting leaders to prioritize the welfare of the people, and worry about their own fortunes later.
The traditional Chinese acadamy served a purpose similar to its modern-day counterpart: providing the venue and facilities needed for lectures, research and archiving. In addition to the above, the Shuyuan also housed altars to Confucian sages and other sainted persons of note from the local community.
Located inside historic Zhongshan Hall, Taipei Lecture Hall is operated according to Lin Gufang’s three primary directives: Instruction for enhanced self-awareness, instruction in the classics (applying the knowledge of the ancients to modern situations), and human-oriented instruction, all of which compensate for the deficiencies of the modern education system.
The Lecture Hall is a tranquil place where people can come and experience the aesthetics of life with zero interference from the urban jungle. Lin believes that Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism are all relevant to human existence. One should not be discarded in favor of another; they should be allotted equal time for study and contemplation. This is the only way to ensure that our heritage is carried forward into the future.
As for the right instructor for the job, Lin Gufang has very strict standards. They must be over the age of 50 and meet all criteria in four different categories: Self-refinement, Life, Art and the Classics, which also happen to be the subjects offered at Lecture Hall, with an emphasis on the people, not the events, that make it happen.
Lin seeks out instructors based in Taiwan, mainly by way of online channels. Taipei Lecture Hall offers combined instruction in Buddhism, Zen, Chinese philosophy and the fine arts. Most courses are three months in duration; some are longer, while others are only two sessions in length. No expectations are imposed on the students; the learning experience is entirely organic.
When I asked him what the main source of inspiration for Taipei Lecture Hall was, Lin said it was as if a light switched on in a room that had been dark for thousands of years. As director of the Lecture Hall, Lin is now in close contact with some of the wealthiest and most influential people in Taipei, but he dismisses all of this as inconsequential.