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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 vmair@sas.upenn.edu www.sino-platonic.org

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  • Table of Contents

    I. Introduction

    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

    3.3 Quiet-Sitting

    4. Conclusion



  • -- Buddhist Influence on the Neo-Confucian Concept of the S a w

    1. Introduction

    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 ha