Buddhist Influence on the Neo-Confucian Concept of the .Buddhist Influence on the Neo-Confucian...
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Number 10 June, 1989
Buddhist Influence on the
Neo-Confucian Concept of the Sage
by Pratoom Angurarohita
Victor H. Mair, Editor Sino-Platonic Papers
Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305 USA firstname.lastname@example.org www.sino-platonic.org
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Table of Contents
2. Sagehood as an Attainable Goal
3. Cultivation of Sagehood
3.1 Elimination of Desires
3.2 Extension of Knowledge
3.2.1 The School of Principle
3.2.2 The School of Mind
-- Buddhist Influence on the Neo-Confucian Concept of the S a w
Buddhism is generally thought to have been introduced
into China around the Eastern or Later Han period (25-220
I . E . ) , and reached its higest growth during the T1ang Dynasty
(618-906 I.E.). It continued prospering in China until
around the eleventh century. Thus, there is no doubt that
the influence of Buddhism on Chinese life and thought was
tremendous. However, in the course of time, some Chinese
scholars, who were deeply concerned with the Confucian sense
of this-worldliness and social responsibility, arose to pro-
test against the Buddhist emphasis on other-worldliness and
an illusion of phenomena, and wanted to bring people back to
early Confucianism. This movement became known as Neo-
Confucianism. Emerging in the Sung Dynasty (960-1280 I.E.)
as a strong intellectual movement, Neo-Conf ucianism became an
effective mechanism for circulating and preserving the
Confucian doctrines of loyalty, social responsibility, and
conformity to a traditional way of life. Through this school
of thought, Hencius became the greatest sage after Confucius;
the Four Books and the Five Classics constituted the
intellectual focus of scholars over seven hundred years.
There are three lines of thought that can be traced as 1
the main sources of Neo-Confucianism. The first is Confu-
cianism itself. The second is Buddhism, via the medium of
the Chlan sect, for of all the schools of Buddhism, Chtan was
Pratoom Angurarohita, "Buddhist Influence on the NeeConfucian Concept of the Sage"
the most influential at the time of the formation of Neo-
Confucianism. The third is the Taoist religion, of which the
cosmological view of the Y in-Yang school formed an important
element. The cosmology of the Neo-Confucianists is chiefly
connected with this line of thought. 4
Since Buddhism had become an intimate part of Chinese
intellectual life for several centuries, it was impossible
for the Sung reformists to replace Buddhism entirely by their
new philosophy. While using concepts found in the Confucian
Classics, the Neo-Conf ucianists interpreted them in the
Light of Buddhist understanding. To limit the topic of
study, this paper will examine only the influence of Buddhism
on the Neo-Confucian concept of the sage, focusing on sage-
hood as an attainable goal and self-cultivation. The study
of the concept of the sage in Neo-Confucianism will show not
only the Buddhist influence, but also the development of the
concept from early Confucianism.
2. Saqehood as an Attainable Goal
The Neo-Confucian concept of the sage was thoroughly
described in the Reflections on Thinss at Hand (Chin ssu lu)
of Chu Hsi (1130-1200 I.E.). The second chapter of the book
begins with a quotation from Chou Tun-i (1017-1073 I.E.):
"The sage aspires to become Heaven, the worthy aspires to
become a sage and the gentleman aspires to become a worthy."
This passage explicitly shows the possibility of achieving
sagehood. It is presented as something that can be attained
Sino-Platonic Papers, 10(June, 1989)
t h r o u g h p r o p e r c u l t i v a t i o n .
T r a d i t i o n a l l y , e a r l y Confuc ian i sm had a lways p l a c e d a n
emphasis on t h e r o l e of sagehood b u t i n t e r m s of s a g e s of t h e
p a s t . The s a g e s as t h e y a p p e a r e d i n Confuc ian o r t h o d o x t e x t s
were c o n s i d e r e d s a g e - k i n g s o r ideal r u l e r s , t e a c h e r s of
a n t i q u i t y , o r i g i n a l s o u r c e s of t h e Way ( T a o ) , t r a n s m i t t e r s of 3
t h e o r thodox s u c c e s s i o n and a l s o models of v i r t u e . I n this
s e n s e t h e Confuc ian s a g e s were l o f t y f i g u r e s who s t a y e d f a r
away from o r d i n a r y p e o p l e . Consequen t ly , t h e s t a t e of sage-
hood was u n a t t a i n a b l e f o r most p e o p l e . R . L . T a y l o r t h o u g h t
t h a t V h e idea t h a t saqehood was someth ing t h a t c o u l d be
c u l t i v a t e d and s o u g h t a f t e r t ook t h e c o n c e p t of sagehood o u t
of t h e p a s t making i t a g o a l one c o u l d r e a l i s t i c a l l y a s p i r e 4
toward^.^ Thus, it would seem that sagehood a c q u i r e d a new
c o n n o t a t i o n i n Sung Neo-Confucianism.
Even though t h e i d e a that sagehood became a n a t t a i n a b l e
g o a l w a s a s t r o n g emphas is i n Sung Neo-Confucianism, i t had
a l r e a d y been ment ioned i n t h e works of Han YU (768-824 I . E . )
and L i Ao ( d . ca. 8 4 4 I . E . ) , who were c o n s i d e r e d t o be f o r e -
r u n n e r s of Neo-Confucianism i n t h e T ' ang Dynasty.
Han YU and L i Ao combined t h e D o c t r i n e of t h e Mean's
d e f i n i t i o n of t h e s a g e as "a m e t a p h y s i c a l a b s o l u t e , [ a n d ] as 5
a s p i r i t u a l h e r o a t one with t h e u n i v e r s e , " w i t h t h e
Mencius ' n o t i o n of human n a t u r e as o r i g i n a l l y good. Then
t h e y p r e s e n t e d a new image of t h e s a g e as a s p i r i t u a l f i g u r e 6
who had i d e n t i t y w i t h common p e o p l e . T h i s r e i n t e r p r e t a t i o n
of t h e c o n c e p t of t h e s a g e w a s d e r i v e d f rom the fundamen ta l
i d e a that men a r e equa l and have a b i l i t i e s t o d e v e l o p
Pratoom Angurarohita, "Buddhist Inf