Chu Hsi and Neo-Confucianism

By Wing-Tsit Chan | Go to book overview

22

Chu Hsi on Buddhism

CHARLES WEI-HSUN FU

IN A PREVIOUS PAPER, "Morality or Beyond: The Neo-Confucian Confrontation with Mahāyāna Buddhism," I made an observation that the Neo-Confucian confrontation with Sinitic Mahayana is "perhaps the most interesting and significant case of ideological 'love and hate' in the whole history of Chinese philosophy and religion." 1 In continuation with the main line of my philosophical investigation and reasoning there, I wish, in this essay, to examine critically Chu Hsi's critique of Buddhism, Ch'ana (Zen) in particular.2 Very few Neo-Confucian representatives in the Sung (960-1279), Yüan (1277-1368), and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties had studied Buddhism as hard and seriously as Chu Hsi did, nor had any of them attempted a genuine philosophical attack upon Buddhism as thoroughly and devastatingly as he did. 3 He often compared his Neo-Confucian mission of defending the Confucian tradition against Ch'an Buddhism, which he regarded as the most attractive but dangerous heterodox teaching, to Mencius' (372-289 B.C.?) vehement refutation of Mo Tzub (fl. 479-438 B.C.) and Yang Chuc (440-360 B.C.?). 4 And he often deplored the fact that a great number of Confucian students and scholars in his times had been one by one drawn into Ch'an Buddhism, which tended to overshadow the Confucian Way in philosophy and practice. 5 Professor Ch'ien Mud remarks, "Chu Hsi had a very clear and true understanding of Ch'an. All the distinctions subsequently made by the Ming Neo-Confucianists originate in Chu Hsi's own distinction.... Chu Hsi began to study Ch'an at the stage of puberty, but his realization of the shortcomings of Ch'an was so deep that he naturally felt that he could no longer abide in it. To him belongs the great credit of keeping China from turning into a Ch'an nation." 6

In his letter to Chiang Yung (Chiang Yüan-shih,e 1124-1172), Chu Hsi admitted that he himself had been attracted by Buddhism (and Taoism) for more than ten years but that "I have begun to find the principal direction I should take after my acquaintance in recent years with those who know the Way." 7 He also said elsewhere that he had begun to take a profound interest in Ch'an at the age of fifteen or sixteen, and that he had gradually realized the shortcomings of Ch'an after he met his teacher Li T'ung (Li Yen-p'ing,f

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