Reflections on Things at Hand: The Neo-Confucian Anthology

Reflections on Things at Hand: The Neo-Confucian Anthology

Reflections on Things at Hand: The Neo-Confucian Anthology

Reflections on Things at Hand: The Neo-Confucian Anthology

Excerpt

Reflections on Things at Hand is the classic statement of Neo-Confucian philosophy by its leading exponent, Chu Hsi. It brings together the views of the Sung dynasty philosophers who met the challenge of Buddhism and formulated a new Confucian metaphysics. Stimulated by the Hua-yen philosophy of Perfect Harmony and by the psychology of Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism, the Neo-Confucianists went on, under the leadership of Chou Tun-i (1017-73), Ch'eng Hao (1032-85), his brother Ch'eng I (1033-1107), Chang Tsai (1020-77), and Shao Yung (1011-77), who were called the Five Masters of the earlier period of the Sung dynasty (960-1279), to revitalize the teachings of Confucius and Mencius, give their doctrines a more rational theoretical foundation, and develop new methods of moral cultivation and study.

Broadly speaking, there are at least three major doctrines in Neo- Confucianism that are new. The most important is that principle (li) is the foundation of all truth and values. The concept of principle was not prominent in ancient Confucianism. The word li is not mentioned in the Analects. It appears several times in the commentaries on the Book of Changes where we find "general principle," "the principle of the world," "following the principle of nature and destiny," and "investigating the principle to the utmost and fully developing one's nature until destiny is fulfilled." But few modern scholars accept Confucius as the author of these commentaries. One of the two greatest Confucianists in ancient times, Mencius, did speak of li in the sense of moral principles, it is true, but not in the sense of the law of being, and not as a major concept. Although the . . .

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