The Religious Thought of Chu Hsi

The Religious Thought of Chu Hsi

The Religious Thought of Chu Hsi

The Religious Thought of Chu Hsi

Synopsis

Recognized as one of the greatest philosophers in classical China, Chu Hsi (1130-1200) is known in the West primarily through translations of one of his many works, the Chin-ssu Lu. In this book, Julia Ching offers the first book-length examination of Chu Hsi's religious thought, based on extensive reading of both primary and secondary sources. Ching begins by providing an introduction to Chu's twelfth-century intellectual context. She then examines Chu's natural philosophy, looking in particular at the ideas of the Great Ultimate and at spirits and deities and the rituals that honor them. Next, Ching considers Chu's interpretation of human nature and the emotions, highlighting the mystical thrust of the theoretical and practical teachings of spiritual cultivation and meditation. She discusses Chu's philosophical disputes with his contemporariesin particular Lu Chiu-yuanand examines his relationship to Buddhism and Taoism. In the final chapters, Ching looks at critiques of Chu during his lifetime and after and evaluates the relevance of his thinking in terms of contemporary needs and problems. This clearly written and highly accessible study also offers translations of some of Chu's most important philosophical poems, filling a major gap in the fields of both Chinese philosophy and religion.

Excerpt

The scholar Ch'ien Mu, an authority on Chu Hsi and now deceased, told me around 1970 that he liked the philosophy of Wang Yang-ming better in his youth and that of Chu Hsi better as he grew old. I think he said so to many people, as I heard it repeated in Japan by Okada Takehiko. At that time, when I first met Ch'ien and afterward Okada, I was in my midthirties and finishing my study of Wang Yang-ming. I wantd very much to discover a short-cut to learning and wisdom. I am now past sixty and beginning to appreciate Ch'ien's remark. Although Yang-ming remains my hero, I have gained a lot of respect for Chu Hsi.

In fact, I have been interested in Chu Hsi for over two decades, having first presented a paper on him (later published) at Columbia University's University Seminar on Oriental Thought and Religion (1973). I realized even before then that I would not really understand Wang without also tackling Chu. I also discovered that, despite all their differences, they shared a similar spiritual vision, as well as a love of wisdom. Chu has left behind mountains of publications, quite appropriate for a man of such huge intellectual curiosity and boundless energy, but a legacy of thought not easy for a beginner to understand quickly. I have therefore taken some time to study him. I have chosen mainly to focus on his religious thinking, concentrating on the issues that Chu himself dealt with, including the Great Ultimate, the spirits, religious rituals, and his philosophy of human nature and personal cultivation. I cannot, of course, ignore his disputes with Lu Chiu-yüan nor his involvement with, as well as departures from, Buddhist and Taoist ideas. In order, however, to focus my attention better on the central questions, I have refrained from discussing in detail his life, his scholarship, and his political ideas, except when the point at issue demands some reference.

In discussing Chu's religious thought, I have to deal with philosophical, as well as religious and historical, data. I follow mainly the method of textual exegesis, within a broad historical-cultural framework. And I have sought not just to repeat or translate what the texts say but to offer a religio-philosophical interpretation in order to shed light on them. I have read widely Chu's own writings and Classified Conversations, focusing on what contains religious interest. I have also learned much from the writings of some of his predecessors and contemporaries and from many secondary materials published in Chinese and Japanese, as well as in English, French, and German. However, Chu himself wrote so . . .

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