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Dialogue of Cultures
Toward the Ecumenical Unity
Part IV to End
by Michael O. Billington
In This Article: Introduction (previous page)
Toward the Ecumenical Unity of East and West
The Renaissances of Confucian China and Christian Europe
Lao-tzu, the guru of Taoism, a semi-mythical contemporary of Confucius, said: "That which is looked at but not seen is said to be the invisible ... and can never be fully understood by investigation." Man is immediately reduced to a grovelling beast, incapable of understanding anything beyond the mere appearance of things. Ruled out is any concept such as Plato's Ideas, or Chu Hsi's Principle. What Plato knew to be only the "shadows" of reality are to the Taoists, the limit of our intelligibility. The "Tao" of Taoism (the Way or the Path) is unintelligible by definition. The first sentence of Lao-tzu's writings states that anything that is capable of being expressed is not the true Tao.
By the time of the Neo-Confucians in eleventh-century Sung China, Taoism was pervasive, corrupting even the Confucian literati. The previous T'ang Dynasty had been founded and led almost entirely by confirmed Taoists, while Buddhism spread dramatically across China, developing a new "Chinese" formCh'an, or Zen as it became known later in Japanthrough an interaction with Taoism. Although the two conflicted, the conflicts were more political than philosophical. When Buddhism was briefly banned by the Taoist regime between a.d.: 843 and 845, the motivation is evident in the result: 4,600 Buddhist monasteries were abolished, while tens of millions of mu of land were confiscated!
As reported above, the Buddhist monasteries had become surrogates for would-be feudal lords, using the tax-exempt status and freedom from inheritance regulations to build up the equivalent of vast landed estates controlled by wealthy families.
Without attempting a thorough critique of either Taoism or Buddhism here, I will discuss the method and some of the content of the Neo-Confucian defense of the Confucian worldview against these "heterodox" teachings.
The Neo-Confucians recognized that the mystical and irrational aspects of the heterodox teachings were, in part, embraced by a population which was hungry for answers to questions of a cosmological and religious nature, especially as to the source of life and the disposition of the soul after death. These questions became even more urgent as the social and economic condition deteriorated throughout the T'ang Dynasty. Confucius and Mencius had not adequately answered these questions, although they were addressed implicitly in their writings. But the sweeping influence of Taoism and Zen, and the chaos and destruction they helped bring upon the Empire, necessitated a thorough confrontation and refutation if China were to survive. This was the self-defined task of the Ch'eng/Chu School.
Rather than simply rejecting the concepts proposed by the Taoist and Zen schools, Chu took them, one by one, refuted them, and reformulated the concept, within the Confucian worldview, as advanced by his own discoveries concerning the order of Creation. We will review this in regard to several concepts: the Tao (Way, Path) itself; the use of the ancient Book of Changes (I Ching); "quiet-sitting" and emptiness of mind; and personal enlightenment.
Chu Hsi agreed that God, or the Principle of the Tao, could not be named or expressed in words, but that did not mean man could not know God. He also agreed that worldly knowledge alone could not govern a nation without leading to chaos. Similarly, when the Buddhists argued that human desires were the source of evil in man, Chu did not entirely disagree. But he charged that the Taoists and Buddhists, rather than solving the problem of how to know God, or how to subject worldly knowledge to a higher moral order, or how to subject human desires to a higher moral purpose, instead simply adopted mysticism, empiricism, and asceticism, and denied the existence of such problems, or the possibility of any solutions.
Chu Hsi countered that the infinite God could be known by what He is not:
God [Tao] alone has no opposite. (Further Reflections, 1:69)
He [the Great Ultimate] is not spatially conditioned. He has neither corporeal form nor body. There is no spot where He can be placed. (CTCS 49:11a-b)
But man, graced with a nature which is the same Principle as the Universal Principle of God, and with an intellectual capacity capable of perfection, is uniquely capable of comprehending such an infinite being.
Chu's notion of "investigating the Principle of things to the utmost," discussed above, contains an explicit understanding that there is a "negative" process involved in coming to know God. Chu says that in investigating the Principle of something:
After we understand one layer, there is another layer under it, and after that another.... As we continue to try to understand, we shall reach the utmost. (Reflections, 3:9)
In the same place, Chu quotes Ch'eng I that this does not mean to investigate the Principle of all things in the world to the utmost, nor does it mean that Principle can be understood merely by investigating one particular Principle. Thus, man cannot know God in full, but through an ever-less-imperfect knowledge he can "face the Lord in Heaven all day." (Confucius)
The Book of Changes (I Ching) was one of the classics of the "Golden Age" preceding the time of Confucius. Confucius himself almost never referenced the book. It came to be identified primarily with the Taoists, who used it for divination, and it is still a favorite of occultists in both East and West today. The famous hexagrams were each assigned a meaning, and a text accompanying each provided moral teachings. Used as a Taoist fortune-telling book, the diviner throws a set of sticks like dice, to determine a specific hexagram. The accompanying text is taken as the answer to the problem at hand.
The Ch'eng/Chu school used the teachings from the Book of Changes, while cleverly exposing and ridiculing its fortune-telling aspects. One example will suffice to demonstrate the method of turning the book against the mysticism of the Taoists. When a specific hexagram, said Ch'eng I, "indicates that there will be good fortune, let the subject of divination re-examine himself as to whether his virtue is outstanding, lasting, and correct. If so, there will be no error."
One of Chu Hsi's primary targets was the Zen Buddhist contention that to get to the original pureness of mind, all thoughts must be extinguished, all emotions and desires removed. Chu protested that this eliminates any notion of human creativity, and that this God-given creative power is the very nature of the mind. What they fail to understand, he said, is that the nature of the mind, like the mind of Heaven,
is none other than the production of things; that if one interprets this mind any other way, one will invariably be drowned in emptiness and submerged in quietude, and will fail to attain the proper connection between substance and function, root and branch. (Hitoshi)
Creativity and production are impossible without interaction with the physical universe, which the Buddhists considered unreal, illusionary. But Chu additionally warned against those who argued that Confucian teachings were best for ethical matters of society and government, while at the same time the Buddhists could be followed for their understanding of the transcendental realm of human consciousness. In a passage reminiscent of Plato's Allegory of the Cave, Chu said,
The Buddhists are really in a dream world, seeing only shadows of mind and nature. They have never carefully looked at their genuine mind and nature. Even if they are successful in preserving and nourishing, this is only the preservation and nourishment of the shadows they see. (Further Reflections, 13:15)
He quotes Ch'eng Hao:
The Buddhists devote themselves only to penetration on the transcendental level, not to learning on the empirical level. This being the case, can their penetration on the transcendental level be right? Their two levels are basically disconnected. Whatever is separated is not the Way. (Reflections, 13:4)
Chu went further by emphasizing that although Confucian teachings on ethics were indeed completely opposed to those of Buddhism, the fundamental difference was metaphysical, not ethical:
Those who refute Buddhism today rely upon the distinction between righteousness as the essence of the Confucian Way and self-interest as the essence of the Buddhist Way.... This distinction is rather secondary.... Buddhists take Emptiness as the essence of their metaphysical view.... Their metaphysical view is all wrong, consequently all other doctrines they maintain have to be equally wrong.... We Confucianists say all metaphysical Principles are real, while they say all Principles are empty.
Thus, to Chu, ideas are more real than the ephemeral, material substance of the objects of sense perception.
It is worth noting here that Aristotle was a Zen Buddhist as well as a Taoist! Aristotle rejected Plato's concept of the Ideas, which is a rejection of Chu Hsi's parallel notion that the nature of each created thing is its particular Principle, which participates in the Universal Principle, God. In the Metaphysics, Aristotle says: "To say that the Ideas are patterns and that other things participate in them is to use empty words and poetic metaphors...."
Aristotle's rejection of any nature or meaning in things and affairs other than what can be observed by the senses, is epistemologically equivalent to the Zen teaching that the material world is an illusionthat only the perception by the consciousness is real.
The ultimate goal of the Zen Buddhists was to find "peace" through contemplative enlightenment. Aristotle's view of "reason," his concept of the mind, and his view of the selfish aim of mental activity, are not far removed from the Zen Buddhists, as evidenced by this passage from his Ethics:
The activity of reason, which is contemplative, seems both to be superior in serious worth and to aim at no end beyond itself, and to have its pleasure proper to itself ... and the self-sufficiency, leisureliness, unweariedness (so far as this is possible for man), and all the other attributes to the supremely happy man are evidently those connected with this activity.
Chu did not denounce the concept of "emptying the mind," nor the value of meditation; rather, he redefined them. The process of investigation of the laws of the universe, of the "Principle of things and affairs," necessarily leads to the arousal of selfish desires and a fixation on "things" and "objects," rather than their Principles. This clouds up and obscures the "inborn luminous virtue," the creative process, creating a screen of habits and fixed notions through which reality, true Principle, is distorted.
It is this screen, which Lyndon LaRouche has identified as the matrix of axiomatic assumptions through which one views the world, which Chu insists must be "emptied" from the mind. It must be emptied in full, not in part, since it functions as a whole to prevent the creative potential inherent in the mind from functioning. Said Chu: "Habit becomes one's second nature, causing one to get further and further from his nature." (Reflections, 1:14) Also:
Modern scholars are unable to empty their minds and take a step back to slowly look over the teachings of sages and worthies in order to seek out their ideas. Instead, they directly take their own ideas and force them onto those [of the sages and worthies].... (Further Reflections, 2:62)
Chu was most critical of self-described Confucian scholars who had adopted the various ideologies over the preceding millennium, and could not "empty their minds" of these prejudices to make a creative contribution. The Ch'eng/Chu School argued that the true Tao had been passed on by Confucius to his disciples, and then to Mencius, but with the death of Mencius in 289 b.c., the Way was lost. Significant efforts were made by individual scholars in the intervening years to rediscover the true teachings of the sages, according to Chu Hsi, but none were successful until the Ch'eng brothers. Errors and corrupting influences from Taoism and Buddhism, once introduced in a Confucian form, were passed on in an hereditary manner from teacher to student. As Lü Liu-liang, the brilliant follower of Chu Hsi in the seventeenth century, identified the problem: "Scholars' minds and hearts become like block-prints, and just as errors in the text of the block are reproduced in what is printed, they all repeat the same errors." (deBary, Trouble With Confucianism)
How can one "empty his mind" and at the same time "preserve the mind and investigate things"? Are these not contradictions? Said Chu,
The Zen Buddhists see the mind as empty and possessing no Principle at all, while we see that although the mind is empty, it does possess all the 10,000 Principles completely within itself. (Fu) ("10,000" is used in Chinese to mean "countless" or "infinite.")
Here, Chu distinguishes between man's "human mind" and his "Heavenly mind." It is not that there are two minds. Rather, man's original nature comes from God, but as soon as man acts in the world, his free will subjects him to human desires, both good desires and selfish desires. If these desires are not governed by the "original mind"i.e., by Principlethen they will become ensnared in evil. Chu said,
At the moment that we perceive good and wish to do it, this is the first stirring of the appearances of our true mind. But once it does appear it is covered by the natural inclination for worldly things. We must personally and intensively investigate it. (Further Reflections, 5:16)
This "original mind," that of Principle, is what Cusanus distinguished as the "intellect," as opposed to mere linear reasoning or sense perception. Matters which appear as total contradictions to a mind "fettered by what is heard or what is seen" (CTCS 44:13a-b), such as the Aristotelian mind, limited to deductive or inductive reasoning, are no longer contradictory at the level of the creative intellect. Cusanus termed this the "coincidence of opposites" in the Divine Mind, where apparent contradictions are resolved in the absolute infinite (God) and in the relative infinite potential in the mind of man. The Neo-Confucians made the same point, calling God both the Great Ultimate or Universal Principle, in that He contains everything there is, but also the "Ultimate Non-Being," since He preceded Heaven and Earth. At the human level, man is both finite and infinite, his mind both "empty" and full of all Principles of nature.
Chu Hsi mocked any lesser concept of the mind, either the Taoist/Legalist argument that, in order to impose order on the ignorant masses, people must be treated like beasts, or the Zen Buddhist argument that the outside world should be rejected in favor of self-reflection and personal enlightenment. When many Taoists and Buddhists claimed to follow the Confucian tenet to "Hold the mind fast and preserve it," Chu Hsi responded:
"Holding it fast" is another way of saying that we should not allow our conduct to fetter and destroy our innate mind which is characterized by jen and righteousness. It does not mean that we should sit in a rigid position to preserve the obviously idle consciousness and declare that "this is holding fast and preserving it." (CTCS 44:28a-29b)
Similarly, professing a love of humanity, and even carrying out acts of charity, while at the same time refusing to right evil, no matter what the personal consequences, will only lead to serious mistakes even in the intended acts of charity. Chang Tsai said,
Because one hates inhumanity, he will never fail to realize it whenever he does anything wrong. But if one merely loves humanity but does not hate inhumanity, he will be acting without understanding and doing so habitually without examination. (Reflections, 5:35)
The ultimate selfishness of the Zen Buddhists, said Chu Hsi, is that they taught their students that they could become enlightened entirely on their own, without God. Students were told to
concentrate their minds on places totally incomprehensible and unknowable, so that they will one day see by themselves and then get it. But this is simply a case of claiming by oneself that he has it. (Further Reflections, 13:24)
for the first time, always talking about this "sudden enlightenment," but afterwards, to the contrary, they were even more screwed up and out of whack. So it seems that what we call "sudden enlightenment" was at the time a slight comprehension, with a feeling of being completely pure and happy. But after a while, the feeling wore off. How can we ever depend on such a thing? (Further Reflections, 13:23)
Such Zen "enlightenment" came from drowning one's identity in an "all-is-one" soup which fails to distinguish between God and the myriad things and ultimately rejects the existence of God the Creator, and man the creature of reason. Today's radical environmentalists would do well to consider Chu Hsi's rebuke to a Zen-influenced student who said, "Things share the same Material Force and form one body. Only when one is absolutely impartial and is without selfishness can one share their joy and sorrow without interruption." Chu responded,
When have earth and trees been selfish? They are not concerned with other things. Man, however, fundamentally has this concern. That is how he can be absolutely impartial, without any selfishness, and can embrace all things without interruption. (Reflections, 14:19)
"Sudden enlightenment," said Chu, is in fact a rejection of everything real in the universe, and is the equivalent of embracing death as real, and life as an illusion. The Confucian "enlightenment," on the other hand, comes from an engagement in life in all its facets, and its attainment is not an end, but a new beginning. Said Chu,
"Seeing into man's nature" is a Zen Buddhist expression; it means "seeing just once and for all." By contrast, the Confucians speak of "knowing man's nature"; after knowing the nature, the nature still requires a full nourishment until it is exerted to the utmost. (Fu)
True enlightenment, then, is not a sudden, mystical experience, but is the equivalent of the process described by Cusanus as rising to the level of the intellect, whereby man can become an "adoptive son of God," or, what the Confucians call a "sage."
It is only in his attack on Buddhist ideas concerning death and reincarnation that Chu Hsi directly addresses the question of life after death. In general, he follows Confucius and Mencius by insisting that this is at best a mystery, and that man is better encouraged to concentrate on living according to God's will than to dwell on the afterlife. However, as mentioned above in the discussion of the "Western Inscription," where, Chang Tsai said, "In life I follow and serve Heaven; in death, I will be at peace," Confucians considered the disposition of the soul at the time of death to be of the utmost importance, while also expressing a belief in the eternity of the soul through their strong belief in the necessity to offer prayers to ancestors.
But Chu Hsi was forced to become more explicit to counter the Buddhists. First of all, he totally ridicules the notion of the transmigration of souls:
Buddhists say that when a person dies they become a ghost, and the ghost becomes a person. If so, then throughout the world there certainly are a lot of comings and goings without any transformation or creations from anything else. There certainly is no Principle in this. (Further Reflections, 13:12)
To someone who said that Buddhists combine Confucian concern with human affairs and life with concern for ghosts and death, Chu responded:
I say that I don't know whether these matters of humans and ghosts and life and death are one thing, or two things. If they are one thing, then talking about human affairs and the principle of life already certainly includes such matters as death and ghosts and spirits. We need not combine them in order for them to be combined. If you have to make a separate category then there will be a desire to have a division between beginning and end, and between the living and the dead. (Further Reflections, 13:25)
Such references to immortality are repeatedly joined with warnings against succumbing to a selfish notion of "preparing to get into Heaven" while actually ignoring the often difficult task of following God's will in this life. "If you don't cultivate this life but you cultivate the next lifewhy?" (Further Reflections, 13:30) To do so is to mistake death for life, and to thus fail in this life and also fail to achieve everlasting life: "I am afraid the Buddhists will only love the true nature after death. Isn't their intention egoistic and self-interested?..." (Fu 52)
The Zen Buddhists claim to believe in the continued life of the soul after death, but their notion of this is one of escape from the thoughts, desires, and mental activity of this worldin fact, they teach their students to attempt to achieve this state of death-like nothingness as their highest goal. Chu counters this by addressing the eternal, negentropic process of the Creation as the necessary location of man's concentration both in life and in death:
The creative transformation of heaven and earth is likened to a great furnace, in which human and non-human beings never cease to grow and re-grow. This points to the principle of reality, and we need not worry about the cessation of the creative transformation. Now, Buddhists see it as a vast, vacuous and quiet thing, and mistake the "awareness or consciousness" posterior to death of human and non-human beings to be the principle of reality. Isn't this wrong?
Now, what our Confucian sages and worthies call "to go back in fulfillment and die in peace" is none other than not to miss the Principle of Heaven man has received, so that he can die without any regret or shame. (Fu, 51)
The role of Wang Yang-ming, and the character of his thought, is summarily expressed by an incident in the world-historic year 1492. While Columbus was conducting a crucial experiment to confirm the Renaissance hypothesis on the geographic nature of the world, Wang Yang-ming, a twenty-year-old student from a leading Mandarin family, decided to carry out his own experiment to test what he perceived to be the fundamental thesis of Chu Hsi's Renaissance worldviewbut in quite a different manner than the great Columbus project.
Wang considered the following: If the nature of all created things is Principle, such that each individual Principle participates in Universal Principle, and if each Principle is intelligible to man due to his own Heaven-given Principle (characterized by his power of reason), then, thought Wang Yang-ming, it must be possible to discover this Principle in some particular thingsuch as the bamboo in his father's garden. So he and a fellow student sat down in his father's garden, gazing at the bamboo. After several days, his friend fell sick, and Wang followed suit after several more days "effort," having failed to discover the true Principle of bamboo!
His conclusion? Chu Hsi was obviously wrong. Wang became a dedicated Taoist, dropped out of society, studied Zen Buddhism and wrote "beatnik" poetry. Later, this incident contributed to his "sudden enlightenment," when he realized in a dream that there is no reality inherent in the entities in the physical universe, but only as objects of man's consciousness. This obvious Zen Buddhist notion became the basis for his "reform" version of Confucianism, mislabeled by historians, unfortunately, as a second "branch" of Neo-Confucianism.
This sounds very much like a parody of Voltaire's disgusting Candide, in which Voltaire mocks Leibniz through the story of a young student who attempts to confirm a ridiculous materialist interpretation of Leibniz's notion that the world created by God is "the best of all possible worlds." But Wang Yang-ming was totally serious about this incident, and later reported it had taught him that
there is nothing in the things in the world to investigate. The effort to investigate things can only be carried out in and with reference to one's body and mind."
The parallel to Aristotle's rejection of Plato's Ideas as "empty words and poetic metaphors" is obvious, as is Wang Yang-ming's Aristotelian contention that only what the mind perceives through sense perception is real.
The fact that such thinking was tolerated within Confucian scholarly circles, and, in fact, became predominant, demonstrates the rapid moral and cultural decay after 1435. Although he called himself a Confucian (primarily on the grounds that he supported involvement in political affairs rather than dropping out to find a personal Nirvana), Wang is nevertheless credited with responsibility for a revival of Zen Buddhism, which had received a severe setback under Sung Neo-Confucianism. And although called an unfortunate aberration by Wang's apologists, the later development of total moral depravity in one faction of his followersthe "Wildcat Zen"was, in fact, the necessary result of Wang's immoral atheism.
Wang claimed to base his ideas on Mencius, who had asserted the innate goodness of man, based on the creative powers of the mind which reflect the lawfulness of the entire universe. Wang turned this on its head, saying that since the mind contained every Principle in the universe, it was unnecessary for man to go beyond examining his own mind!
Wang's specific philosophic construct was rooted in Ch'eng Hao, the Ch'eng brother who was sometimes quoted by Chu Hsi, but was also often criticized and corrected by Chu in his anthology of Neo-Confucian writings. Despite his inclusion among the founders of the Neo-Confusion school, Ch'eng Hao was essentially an atheist who, like Deists in the later West, viewed the human mind to be the same thing as the mind of the universe, while believing that man's life was predetermined by the "quantity" of Material Force with which he was endowed.
This aspect of Ch'eng Hao's teaching was adopted by a contemporary of Chu Hsi named Lu Hsiang-shan (1139-1192). Lu also argued that Principle is not the nature of the mind, but is the mind itself, thus making the mind one with the universe. This atheistic rejection of any power greater than man (except, perhaps, a mystical Taoist "Non-being" completely unknowable to man) is the common thread running though this "School of Intuition," so-called. Lu Hsiang-shan is explicit on this:
The theory that Principle is due to Heaven whereas desire is due to man, is, without saying, not the best doctrine. If Principle is due to Heaven and desire due to man, then Heaven and man must be different.
Lu, like Wang Yang-ming later, accused Chu Hsi of demanding too much of mere man, who is incapable of any transfinite conceptions, and thus will only get confused by all the study and investigation of things.
Wang Yang-ming's contribution to this worldview was contained in two slogans: the extension of "innate knowledge," and the "unity of knowledge and action." Wang blatantly equated his notion of "innate knowledge" with the Buddhist notion of "original state." His purpose was to counter Chu Hsi's interpretation of the "Great Learning," where Chu called on man to "investigate the nature of things to the utmost." Wang attacked this, saying that the words in the "Great Learning" meant only to "rectify the mind." Wang wrote,
Extension of knowledge is not what later scholars understood as enriching and widening knowledge. It means simply extending my innate knowledge of the good to the utmost. (Yang-ming ch'üan-shu, [Collected Works of Wang Yang-ming] 26:1b-5a, as translated in Tu Wei-ming)
To know this good, to "rectify the mind," meant simply to return to the pure, unblemished "innate knowledge," in which case whatever one does will be automatically good.
This anarchistic conclusion rested also on Wang's second slogan, "the unity of knowledge and action," which claimed that no prior knowledge of a particular action is necessary, or even possible, before doing it. This pragmatism of Wang Yang-ming has been referenced by all modern-day empiricists to attack any attempt to revive the Neo-Confucian Renaissance notion of the power of reasonfrom the disciples of John Dewey in their attack on Sun Yat-sen, to Mao Zedong's "On Practice," to Deng Xiao-peng's "pragmatic" transformation of the Chinese population into a vast unemployed army fueling the new colonial free trade zones.
The ridiculous nature of Wang's "concept" is well captured in the passage,
I cannot tell you any more than a dumb man can tell you about the bitterness of the bitter melon he has just eaten. If you want to know the bitterness, you have to eat a bitter melon yourself. (Tu Wei-ming)
Wang's "sudden enlightenment" came in 1508, after he had been whipped, imprisoned, and exiled, following a confrontation with the "eunuch dictator" of his day. Depressed in his exile in Guizhou Province, and frightened of death, he had a sarcophagus constructed for himself. He sat upright in front of the coffin, and swore that he would "quietly wait for the commands of Heaven." During this process of this death worship, he achieved "sudden enlightenment"which confirms Chu Hsi's point that Buddhists "mistake the 'awareness or consciousness' posterior to death ... to be the principle of reality." (Fu)
Such atheistic irrationalism must necessarily lead to a Nietzschean sort of glorification of the unrestrained will. Wang's rejection of any external criteria for truth was, in fact, the basis for the fascist-like "Wildcat Zen" movement in the dying days of the Ming Dynasty. This group argued for the overthrow of all conventional moral precepts, considering anything that emerged from the unrestrained mind to be the "innate, pure mind," beyond questions of good and evil. Drunkenness, orgies, "art" consisting of paint thrown on paper, and similar debauchery characterized this sect. Li-chih (1527-1602), the most renowned spokesman for this school, proclaimed the "three religions [Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism] to be one," a syncretization which continues to plague China to this day. Natural law was violently rejected in favor of pure moral relativism:
Yesterday's right is today's wrong. Today's wrong is right again tomorrow. Even if Confucius reappeared today, there is no way of knowing how he would judge right and wrong. So how can we arbitrarily judge everything, as if it were a fixed standard? (Ts'ung shu, VIII, in deBary, Learning For One's Self)
Li-chih, not surprisingly, favored Legalism as a way of controlling the bestial massesprovided that the Legalist Emperors were in keeping with his own concept of the heroic (Nietzschean) superman, who would honor the unrestrained, innate nature of fellow supermen like himself! Like Mao, he considered the Legalist tyrant Ch'in shi-huang to be the "greatest Emperor of all time" (Ts'ung shu, II, in deBary, Learning For One's Self).
But it was in the first seventy-five years of the following Manchu (Ch'ing) dynasty, that the collaboration between Renaissance Confucianism and Renaissance Christianity reached the point of a nearly successful global ecumenical alliance, going so far as to include the very real possibility of the evangelization of China. The first Ch'ing Emperor appointed the Jesuit missionaries as teachers to educate the Crown Prince, and thus the young man destined to become the Kang Hsi Emperor in 1661 was educated simultaneously in Confucianism and in the Christian moral and scientific teachings.
Kang Hsi emerged as a staunch advocate of the Ch'eng/Chu school. Wang Yang-ming had been generally discredited, blamed for the moral decay and collapse of the Ming Dynasty. Although many of the leading Neo-Confucian scholars of the Ch'eng/Chu school refused to support the new "foreign" dynasty from Manchuria, Kang Hsi did not suppress their work because of political differences, but encouraged and sponsored all those furthering the teachings of Chu Hsi and the Sung Renaissance. Historian W.T. deBary has credited the work of several such "anti-Manchu" scholars for the fact that the "Ch'eng/Chu teaching emerged as something more than just an examination orthodoxy; it grew into an active intellectual force both inside and outside the court." (deBary)
Kang Hsi was at the same time increasingly encouraging the Christian missionaries, both in expanding their scientific work and teaching, and in their expanding proselytizing efforts among the Chinese elites and among the common people. This culminated in 1692, when Kang Hsi decreed that the Christians were to be granted full rights to travel throughout the Empire and to convert those who so desired. Although he never himself adopted Christianity, he affirmed that the Lord on High of Confucianism was in fact the One Creator, the "ruler and the Lord of heaven, earth, and all things," and confirmed other aspects of the Jesuits' understanding of Confucianism as being consistent with the teachings of Christianity. This came in response to a mounting effort back in Europeaimed at disrupting the potential cultural and economic alliance of Europe and Asiawhich insisted that Confucianism must be denounced as a pagan heresy by the missionaries and any potential converts. This conflict became known as the Rites Controversy.
To understand this conflict, it is essential to examine the advances being made by Neo-Confucian scholars during the Kang Hsi era. Professor deBary has made a major contribution to this effort through his recent uncovering of the work of Lü Liu-liang (1629-83). Although, as Profesor deBary notes, Lü has been generally ignored by scholars both East and West, it is clear that he played the leading role in advancing the work of Chu Hsi in light of the revelations of the Christian teaching. Lü was himself interested in Western medical science conveyed to the East by the Jesuits, and made contributions of his own in this area. Lü's study of the European Renaissance developments in astronomy led him to insist on such studies for all students of moral philosophy, and he wrote a preface to a book by an associate on the Western Calendar. Several aspects of his philosophical writings reflect a similar study of the Christian theological ideas, which Lü then develops within the context of the Neo-Confucian teachings of Chu Hsi.
First, as previously quoted, Lü Liu-liang made explicit that the God of the Universe was, at the same time, a personal God for every human being, since "everyone has his own self, and therefore there is no one on whom the responsibility does not lie." Lü extended this notion of responsibility to include a sense of the "sins of omission." He ruthlessly attacked Wang Yang-ming, whose idea of "innate knowledge," he said, subverted Principle by restricting it to something wholly contained in the mind, and thus ignoring the universal nature and necessity of Principle, of God's Will, especially in matters of state. For the sage, said Lü,
(W)hen he stands at court, there is no way he can keep silence. If something is done contrary to the Way, he can only withdraw from participation in it. To keep silence is what base officials and unworthy scholars do. (All quotations from Lü Liu-liang are taken from de Bary, Trouble With Confucianism)
Lü also explicated the question of scientific method in a manner that comes closer to the Platonic method of Christian science than any other Chinese scholar. The knowledge obtained from the "investigation of things and the extension of knowledge" is not the mere collection of empirical facts, but, said Lü: "In what Chu Hsi said about 'the method of advancing in the Way,' the 'method' was definitely meant as the real business at hand."
This method was understood by Lü to lie in the continually improving capacity to hypothesize equivalences between the process of development in the physical universe and the creative process of mentation in the mind. Said Lü,
What the sage (Chu Hsi) spoke of in relation to the investigation of things and the extension of knowledge was the point of thorough penetration where there is integral comprehension, as the Principles in things and affairs meet, through inquiry and discussion, with Principles in the substance of the mind.
Another aspect of Lü's teaching, which directly affected the emerging "Rites Controversy" of the day, was his discussion of the rites themselves. The European enemies of China in the Rites controversy referrred to the rites as a mere collection of ceremonial acts, which displayed belief in magic, or ghosts, or animism of some sort.
For Lü, however, the rites were not mystical rituals of a Taoist sort, but the embodiment of the Way. In this sense, Lü argued that institutions should be governed primarily by rites, that is, by moral standards by which man honors the principles of propriety and respect for others. Lü wrote:
Rites derive from Heaven, emotions from the mind and heart. Rites are always joined to human emotions, but this must mean to be in accord with the norms of the highest excellence in human emotions.... Whether to set rites forth clearly so that emotions attain their proper fulfillment, or (contrarily) for the emotions alone to be relied upon, allowing Heaven's principles to be overruledthat is the essential difference between orthodoxy and heterodoxy.
Leibniz studied translations of Confucius, Mencius, and Chu Hsi done by Father Longobardi, one of the Jesuits who opposed the acceptance of Confucianism as a complementary worldview to Christianity. Leibniz analyzed the Confucian and Neo-Confucian texts, while also criticizing Father Longobardi's analysis and interpretations, as well as those of a Franciscan critic of Confucianism, Father de Sainte Marie. It is clear in reading Longobardi's and de Sainte Marie's quotes from "Confucian scholars" of their own time that they were working with followers of Wang Yang-ming!
Although we must assume that they knew of the fierce disagreements between the different currents, they apparently ignored them, accepting the covert-Buddhist notions of these contemporaries as representative of Confucianism in general. Leibniz was not personally acquainted with the work of Wang Yang- ming, but he nevertheless easily recognized that the quotations from these Fathers' associates were totally contradictory to all the fundamental concepts in the classics of Confucius, Mencius, and Chu Hsi. With his typical sense of humor, Leibniz wrote:
The authority that Fathers Longobardi and de Sainte Marie ascribe to Chinese moderns is only a scholastic prejudice. They have judged the later Chinese school as the medieval European school (with which they are preoccupied) would have us judge them, namely to judge the texts of the divine and human Laws and of ancient authority by their own interpretations and commentaries. This is a defect rather common among philosophers, lawyers, moralists, and theologians. (Leibniz, #39)
Although Leibniz saw through this obfuscation, others did not. In the hands of the enemies of the Renaissance, such false readings of "Confucianism" provided the justification to crush the entire evangelization project. After a protracted battle in Europe, both within and outside the Vatican, a decision was made to issue Papal Bulls demanding that Christian converts denounce the Confucian Rites, and ordering the Jesuits to desist from their "accommodationist" policies. Emperor Kang Hsi, stunned by the ignorance displayed by the dicta from Rome, was finally forced to retract his open invitation to the conversion of his realm to Christianity. He explained that to denounce the Confucian Rites was to denounce the entire moral basis of Chinese civilization, which served as well as a civil code for the peace and development of society. The damage wrought to both East and West by this tragic development is incalculable.
Within China, this failure contributed significantly to the slow but certain collapse of the Manchu dynasty following Kang Hsi's reign. The subsequent Emperors not only rejected the Christian doctrines, pointing to the absurdity of the dictates from Rome, but, not coincidentally, also turned away from the Neo-Confucian teachings of Chu Hsi. Various schools emerged within Confucianism, mostly based on Wang Yang-ming's empiricism, while Taoism and Zen Buddhism again flourished. By the next century, the potential to adopt the science and economy of the Christian Renaissance was lost, and China fell easy prey to the genocide of the British opium warriors and colonial looters, from which it has yet to recover.
To conclude this study, a particularly nasty piece of disinformation concerning Chinese philosophical history, that of the senior British China scholar Joseph Needham, must be refuted. In his multi-volume encyclopedic study, Science and Civilization in China, Needham constructs a representation of the Neo-Confucian school of Chu Hsi and its relationship to Western philosophy, which turns reality on its head.
He acknowledges the Ch'eng/Chu school to be the most important school in all of Chinese history, and, in the false guise of his own construction, the one with which he personally identifies. Subsequent scholars and analysts may disagree with his preference for this school, but to my knowledge, no one has questioned his historical characterization of it, which is a grossif cleverly constructedfraud, and continues to damage clear thinking on China's future and its role in the emerging world crisis.
Needham acknowledges Chu Hsi's role in transforming Chinese thought, and also the crucial role of the Ch'eng/Chu school in the explosion of scientific and cultural development in the Sung Dynasty. He also points emphatically to the fundamental epistemological agreement between Leibniz and Chu Hsi. From there he departs into a flight of fantasy whose effect is to equate this Renaissance Christian/Confucian worldview with its opposite, the bestial Social Darwinist, Aristotelian philosophical hedonism of the British Empire, distorting both Leibniz and Chu Hsi to that purpose.
In Volume II of his Science and Civilization in China, Needham concludes a chapter on Sung Neo-Confucianism with a section called "Chu Hsi, Leibniz, and the philosophy of organism." "Organism" is the positivist school developed by the Cambridge "Apostle" Alfred North Whitehead, who is Needham's professed mentor, and, in his view, the seminal figure in discerning the great truths of so-called modern science, meaning the atheistic pseudo-science of British empiricism.
Whitehead's circle at Cambridge, the "Apostles," included Bertrand Russell, with whom, through a ten-year collaboration, Whitehead co-authored the monstrous Principia Mathematica, whose sole purpose was to combat the influence of mathematician Georg Cantor's notion of the transfinite. ("On the Subject of God," LaRouche) Russell went on in the 1920's to play a crucial role in the formation of the Communist Party of China, including spreading the ideological structures of those other spokesmen for "organism," Marx and Engels!
All previous interpretations of Neo-Confucianism ... lacked the background ... of modern organicist philosophy.... Whether it is necessary to endow the universe, or some creativity "behind" the phenomenal universe, with "spiritual" qualities ... is a question which is perhaps outside the field of philosophy, and certainly outside that of natural science.
To ascribe such a view to Chu Hsi is certainly inconsistent with Chu's concept of Principle (Li) as First Cause, without parts, the Creator of the universe; or with his notion of jen (agape) as the spirit of that Creation. Needham deals with this by translating Li, not as "Principle," but as "Organization." Equating Li with Plato's Ideas, he says, is "entirely unacceptable," especially since the Idea of man to Plato was the soul, but, says Needham, "the great tradition of Chinese philosophy had no place for souls." Says Needham,
I believe that Li was not in any strict sense metaphysical ... but rather the invisible organizing fields or forces existing at all levels within the natural world. Pure form and pure actuality was God, but in the world of Li [Principle] and Ch'i [Material Force], there was no [God] whatsoever.
As to the existence of jen, Needham mocks an earlier scholar for being "carried away by his theistic tendencies" by referring to Chu Hsi's insistence that Love (jen), Righteousness, Propriety and Wisdom are endowed in man by Heaven. According to Needham, jen was not the boundless love of God through which he created all things, endowing them with His own creative natureas, in fact, Chu Hsi explicitly arguedbut rather it was merely an excretion of biological entities at some undefined point in their random evolution; or, as Needham calls it, "emergent morality."
Rather than seeing all men created in the image of God, Needham ascribed to Chu Hsi his own racist view that only certain men (the British, perhaps?) had evolved to the point that their "high-level qualities" would "emerge."
This, then, serves to justify Needham's other primary fraud: that Chu Hsi synthesized Taoism and Confucianism. Just as he falsely claims the efforts of St. Thomas Aquinas to combat the influence of Aristotle on Christian Europe to be a synthesis of Christianity and Aristotelianism, so he accredits Chu Hsi with the synthesis of "the two greatest indigenous schools of Chinese thought," Taoism and Confucianism!
This argument rests on an overt distortion of Chu Hsi's concept of God, in order to equate the "natural world of the Taoists and the moral world of the Confucians." Recall here, that Needham is ignoring Chu Hsi's repeated rejection of the idea that one can take "Taoism for metaphysics and Confucianism for moral ethics," insisting instead that there is only one universe.
Needham simply lies about Chu Hsi's concept of the Tao (Way or Path). He says,
In general, it is clear ... that Chu Hsi's doctrine of Li and ch'i had reconciled the divergent uses of the term Tao by the ancient Taoists and the Confucians. The Tao of human society was now seen to be that part of the Tao of the cosmos which makes itself manifest at the organic level of human society, not before, and not elsewhere.
But this totally contradicts Chu Hsi's insistence that Universal Principle is the Tao, and that it is a single entity with "no parts," that is, "not spatially conditioned," and that it existed "before Heaven and Earth." Here it becomes almost humorous, as Needham adds a footnote that "in Chu Hsi's writings there are polemics against the Taoist conceptions of the word [Tao], which rested on complete misunderstandings of Lao-tzu (the founder of Taoism)."
Needham's "discovery" is that the source of Leibniz's "organism" is in fact in China, and in Chu Hsi in particular. Thus, the leading spokesmen for a Renaissance humanist worldview in the East and in the West, whose lives were spent in a battle to crush the evil effect of empiricist dogma utilized by oligarchical powers, are adopted by their enemies as the source of empiricism!
In fact, Leibniz explicitly and repeatedly attacked such a view, and in his book on Chinese natural theology, he directly rejects any attempt to read such a false interpretation onto the Chinese texts. Leibniz writes,
Perhaps some Chinese assume that a primitive composite has resulted from the primitive form, or Li, and from the primitive matter, or Ch'i; a substance of which the Li is the soul and the Ch'i its matter. They could comprehend this substance under the name (Supreme Ultimate), and the entire world would thus be conceived of as an animal, life universal, supreme spirit, a grand personage; the Stoics speak of the world in this fashion. Among the parts of this grand and total animal would be the individual animals just as for us animalcule enter into composition of the bodies of large animals. But since one does not find this error explicitly in the ancient Chinese authors, it should never be attributed to them, all the more so since they have conceived of matter as a production of God. God will not combine substance with matter, and thus the world will not be an animated being, but rather God will be an intelligentia supramundana; and matter, being only an effect of His, will never be coeval with Him.
It would be hard to find a more precise description of Needham's beloved "Organism," or a more total rejection of such a view both for himself and on behalf of the Neo-Confucian scholars.
Needham's admiration for Taoism stems from his own oligarchical view, consistent with his Marxist leanings, that a ruler must be evil in order to impose order. Needham states explicitly in his chapter on Taoism that the Taoist superiority over Confucianism is their "definitive rejection of ethics from the scientific world-view now in the forging." Benevolence (jen), said Needham, has no place in science nor in government. "Ultimate benevolence," he claims, "may require temporary non-benevolence." His favorite passage from Lao-tzu, about which he says he is often "irresistibly reminded of the third and fourth lines," begins:
This scholar's typically Maoist attack on Chu is that he is full of "contradictions." These contradictions are: "Heaven and mind are rational but also perceptual, supernatural but also natural, a priori but also empirical, and they encompass morality but also the cosmic order." In other words, Chu's "error" was to recognize the "coincidence of opposites" in God, and man's potential to participate in the transfinite through reason.
Wang Yang-ming is credited by this mainland scholar with correcting Chu's "error," by moving from "external Heavenly principles ... to internal, nature, feelings, and even desires....[H]uman nature is man's natural passions, needs, and desires." This "advance" gets closer to Mao himself, who used Wang Yang-ming in his assault on Chinese civilization, while establishing a new Legalist-Taoist regime, overthrowing entirely the view of the individual as sacred, endowed by Heaven with jen and Li (Principle).
Sun Yat-sen attempted to save classical Confucian teaching in conjunction with the fruits of Christian science and moral philosophy. He specifically rejected Wang Yang-ming's theories, recognizing the coherence of such degeneracy with the evil philosophy of the British enemy. His efforts must be renewed today, in keeping with the principles that governed the Christian Renaissance and the Sung Neo-Confucian Renaissance as the ecumenical basis for world development and peace.
Ch'eng I (1033-1107), who, together with Chu Hsi contributed his name to the "Ch'eng/Chu School," as Neo-Confucianism is generally known in Chinese;
and Chow Tun-i (1017-73), another teacher of the Ch'eng brothers.
Perhaps the best demonstration of the power of the passage interpolated by Chu Hsi into the Confucian "Great Learning"in which he wrote, "to extend our knowledge to the utmost, we must probe thoroughly the Principle in those things we encounter"can be found in the hysterical reaction it provoked in British Wesleyean missionary and scholar James Legge, whose late nineteenth-century translations of the classic Chinese texts are still standards today. Legge was in the employ of opium dealer Joseph Jardine, and, among other things, helped train at least one key leader of the fanatic pseudo-Christian Taiping Rebellion, which was used by the British to force the Chinese government to capitulate to their opium dealing and "free trade" colonialism. In other words, Mr. Legge was a polished example of the Aristotelian/Hobbesian/Taoist/Legalist worldview that characterized British imperial policy.
According to Legge, "Chu Hsi takes [the passage] to mean 'exhausting by examination the principles of things and affairs, with the desire that their uttermost point may be reached.' We feel that this explanation cannot be correct, or that, if it be correct, the teaching of the Chinese sages is far beyond and above the condition and capacity of men. [emphasis added] How can we suppose that, in order to secure sincerity of thought and our self-cultivation, there is necessarily the study of all the phenomena of physics and metaphysics, and of the events of history?"
Legge painfully constructed a counter-interpretation: "When self-knowledge is complete, a man is a law to himself [empahsis asdded], measuring, and measuring correctly, all things with which he has to do, not led astray or beclouded by them. This ... is the only view into any sympathy with which I can bring my mind." Clearly a mind which has obscured its inborn luminous virtue!
In the aftermath of the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and the end of the nightmare of the Cultural Revolution which had wracked China for the ten years preceding Mao's death, there has been a most welcome resurgence of Confucian studies. This "Confucius Project" will certainly play a crucial role in shaping any future policy on the mainland, as well as in Taiwan. However, we must stop and ask the questionwhich Confucianism? Because, as is true in the history of Christianity, there have been many schools within Confucianism.
Although it is the renewal of the school of Neo-Confucianism associated with Chu Hsi that is essential if the current threat of a holocaust and dismemberment of China is to be avoided, much of today's "Confucius Project" is, unfortunately, not directed at this result. Instead, there is an effort to motivate a "Greater China" movement, uniting Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and mainland China, behind the very "free trade" and libertarian policies that have brought the Western world into the current collapse.
In order to add a "Confucian" garb to this I.M.F. policy, a degenerate school of pseudo-Confucianismwhich, in fact, represents Taoist and Zen Buddhist ideologyhas been put forward as the necessary "pragmatic" policy alternative. This is the Ming Dynasty school of Wang Yang-ming, a "covert Buddhist" whose atheism and pragmatism have been perceived by the Western financial institutions and their agents as useful ideological tools to cover up and accomplish the looting and dismemberment of Chinaincluding the open support of Western finance for the continued dictatorial control of China's "pragmatic" Communist Party.
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