The timing of Yogācāra resurgence in the Ming dynasty ( ) - PDF

The timing of Yogācāra resurgence in the Ming dynasty ( ) William Chu Before proceeding to the main thesis of my paper, I need to review some well known facts about Buddhist-Confucian dynamics

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The timing of Yogācāra resurgence in the Ming dynasty ( ) William Chu Before proceeding to the main thesis of my paper, I need to review some well known facts about Buddhist-Confucian dynamics in the late imperial era. The rationalist Song Neo-Confucians known traditionally as the Cheng-Zhu school ( 程朱 ; after the Cheng brothers Cheng Hao 程顥 and Cheng Yi 程頤 , and Zhu Xi 朱熹 ) had asserted the exclusive orthodoxy of their tradition. They repudiated all Confucians who professed syncretistic interest or sympathies toward Buddhism and Daoism, and highlighted the doctrinal incompatibilities between Confucianism and other heretical religions (yiduan 異端 ). To Zhu Xi in particular, Buddhism was irredeemably at odds with the Confucian sagely lineage. Zhu s staunchly purist stance was targeted at those Confucians who heartily professed dual allegiances to both religions. Another group of Confucians, in contrast, headed by Lu Jiuyuan 陸九淵 ( ), that eventually rose to become Zhu s major rival for Confucian orthodoxy, also harbored deep reservations about Buddhism and reiterated the need to vigilantly fend off the latter s spiritual allure. But despite Lu Jiuyuan s self-proclaimed loyalty to Confucianism, followers of Zhu s school often branded Lu an apostate, one who was secretly a sympathizer of Buddhism and, in fact, cherished a much buddhicized interpretation of Confucianism. In the Ming dynasty, Wang Yangming 王陽明 ( ) relented on Confucian exclusivism. Although still upholding the supreme status of Confucianism, Wang saw that the Buddhist training was not diametrical to Confucian enlightenment and could in fact serve as a stepping stone. His unapologetic use of Buddhist Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies Volume 33 Number (2011) pp. 5 25 6 William Chu jargons earned him infamy among his Confucian colleagues, who jeeringly referred to him as the de facto successor to the Chan of the Five dynasties, and as one who reverently upheld the teachings of Bodhidharma and Huineng. 1 Such accusations were not completely baseless, for Wang s teachings were often direct paraphrase of the words of legendary Buddhist Chan patriarchs, as the following demonstrates: 2 The innate conscience knows right from wrong; the innate conscience is also neither of right or wrong. Knowing right from wrong is what constitutes propriety, while being oblivious to (unbounded by) right and wrong and thereby realizing the marvelous, is [what defines] the so-called enlightenment. 良知知是知非, 良知無是無非. 知是知非, 即所謂規矩. 忘是非而得其巧, 即所謂悟. 3 In this case, Wang Yangming summarized his understanding of Confucian morality in verses that were unmistakably appropriated from the Buddhist Platform sūtra. Compare what Wang said with what Hanshan Deqing 憨山德清 ( C.E.) the most prolific Buddhist writer in the Ming wrote, their similarity becomes apparent: [People] do not know that the two opposite polarities of good and evil are in fact dualistic dharmas coming from the outside [of one s innate nature], and have nothing to do with the original essence of our selfnature. That is why those who do evil in the world could at times mend their ways and become good, and good people can also be converted to evil s way. This is sufficient to prove that [worldly] virtues could not be stable or reliable. For that if one did not cultivate goodness all the way [to eventually consummate in enlightenment], what is apparently moral is really not ultimately moral. As for the presently expounded highest good, it constitutes enlightening and illuminating the veri- 1 Cited in Araki (Rushi) 1978: Although Robert Sharf has argued that that the shared terminology of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism might not have been due to deliberate borrowing (see Sharf 2001), in the case of Wang the assimilation of Buddhist ideas and terms was quite deliberate and self-consciously done, as would be made clear in this study. 3 Cited in Araki (Rushi) 1978: 384. Yogācāra resurgence in the Ming dynasty 7 table essence of the self-nature, which is originally devoid of either good or evil. 不知善惡兩頭, 乃是外來的對待之法, 與我自性本體了不干涉. 所以世人作惡的可改為善, 則善人可變而為惡, 足見善不足恃也. 以善不到至處, 雖善不善 今言至善, 乃是悟明自性本來無善無惡之真體. 4 We may recall, however, that Zhu Xi found precisely such Chan teaching of there is neither right nor wrong (wushi wufei 無是無非 ) to be logically and morally reprehensible. Zhu interpreted what might be explained by Buddhists as transcendence from right and wrong as reckless antinomianism, a disregard for conventional morality. He said: The difference between we the Confucians and the Buddhists lies in that, we Confucians have reasonable rules and principled guidelines. For the Buddhists, they have none of these. 吾儒所以與佛氏異者, 吾儒則有條理有準則. 佛氏則無此爾. 5 Antinomianism and moral laxity were some of the most denigrating and inveterate polemics the Confucians had historically maintained about Buddhism, Wang was conscious of the danger of becoming labeled as an antinomian or moral nihilist. The strategy he employed to differentiate his own position from that of the allegedly amoral Buddhism was, ironically, also the same one many Buddhists resorted to in vindicating Buddhism of this same charge. Wang Yangming posited a bipartite approach where he would put forth both the need to maintain moral rigorousness and the transcendence from inflexible dogmatism. Wang Yangming described his understanding of the innate knowledge of the good (liangzhi 良知 ) very much in terms of the language of Buddha-nature. He posited the Mind or the innate knowledge as an all-encompassing, ontological basis for both good and evil. Yet the Mind is only functionally actualized when good is cultivated. In the same way, Chan followers had always described the Buddha-nature as having both an ontological aspect and a functional aspect. Example: For 4 Hanshan dashi mengyou ji, vol. iv, p Cited in Araki (Rushi) 1978: 379. 8 William Chu Zongmi 宗密 ( ), the Chan patriarch in the Tang dynasty, the essence aspect of the mind has to be emphasized along with the responsive functioning 6 aspect with the same vigor, if both the transcendent and the responsive nature of the Mind are to be maintained. 7 And ever since Neo-Confucian s attack on the alleged Buddhist amoralism, Buddhists had become especially cautious and vocal when articulating their moral stance, arguing that morality without transcendence is ritualism or mundane Dharma, and that transcendence without morality is false enlightenment. Yunqi Zhuhong 雲棲株宏 ( ) was reiterating this dominant Buddhist doctrinal ethos in the Ming dynasty when he made the same point: Although the mind is originally luminous, yet as one does good or evil deeds, their traces will make the mind soar high or sink to the ground How can one say that evil deeds do not matter simply because the mind in its essence cannot be designated as good or evil? If one is addicted to the biased view of emptiness, he will deviate from perfect understanding. Once you realize that both good and evil are nonexistent, [it is all the more compelling that] you should stop evil and do good. 8 Using unmistakably Chan language, Wang Yangming also explained that at the ontological aspect, the innate knowledge transcends the absolutism and dualism of mundane values; but at the functional level, it is ever discerning about good and evil, and actively pursues good and avoids evil. This two-tiered scheme that validates transmundane wisdom without sacrificing the practical need to defer to conventional virtues 9 was a common Buddhist motif that could be traced back not only to the Platform sūtra, but 6 Peter Gregory s analysis of the historical conditions and mentality that gave rise to this comparable bipartite moral scheme (Gregory 2002: ) contains many interesting parallels to the Ming scenario. 7 Araki Kengō (1975: 45) suggested that the solid wall of principle erected by Zhu runs the danger of curbing the vitality of the Mind. 8 Cited in Greenblatt 1975: David Kalupahana (1992: 60 67) had explained the sustained Buddhist attempts at avoiding absolutism. Yogācāra resurgence in the Ming dynasty 9 also to such early texts like the Dhammapada. 10 Although Wang Yangming might be subverting Zhu s moral absolutism in substantive ways, by bringing such a blatantly Buddhist interpretation into Confucianism, Wang still maintained Zhu s polemic that [Chan] Buddhism is morally degenerate. In other words, even as Wang simultaneously relegated Buddhism and Zhu Xi s intellectual legacy by charging that Buddhism was hopelessly oblivious to and delinquent of secular moral duties, and that Zhu was trapped in inflexible dualistic thinking Wang s philosophical views overlapped with important Buddhist ideas popular in the Ming dynasty. His position was much closer to Chan Buddhist ideology than he allowed himself to admit. 11 Wang Yangming was responsible for still another Confucian transformation that was to prove conducive to the upsurge of Mingdynasty syncretism. One of the most powerful appeals Buddhism had in distracting, if not converting, some of the best minds from the Confucian establishment was its systematic outline of a spiritual mārga the cultivational and soteric technology and its promise of ultimate transformations through the application of its prescribed techniques. In the face of Buddhism s systematic, graduated program of moral and meditative training, many Confucians could not but concede to Buddhist superiority in soteric sophistication. The intricate and elaborate ways in which Buddhists conceived of their spiritual path was the result of the traditional emphasis Buddhists placed on its careful formulation. Robert Buswell and Robert Gimello had explained this emphasis in the following way: [T]he concept of the path has been given in Buddhism an explication more sustained, comprehensive, critical, and sophisticated than that provided by any other single religious tradition Throughout the 10 The Platform sūtra contained the following passage that illustrates such a two-tiered scheme for morality: 無是無非, 無善無惡 用即了了分明 邪來煩惱至, 正來煩惱除. 邪正俱不用 悟則剎那間. Similarly, the Dhammapada urged the practice of good yet posited that only by being unattached to even what is the good can one truly be called a spiritual aspirant (Brahmin). Compare verse 183 and 412 in Dhammapada, Kaviratna trans. pp. 73 & See some examples of Wang s critical remarks in Chen (Rongjie) 1984: 10 William Chu two-and-a-half millennia of its pan-asian career, Buddhism has been consistently explicit in declaring itself to be, above all else, a soteriology, a method of salvation, rather than, say, a creed. Its unflagging concentration on the path, whether for the purpose of advocating and charting that path or for the purpose of qualifying and criticizing it, has not only led to the careful and detailed delineation of numerous curricula of religious practice and to the privileging of such delineation over other modes of Buddhist discourse. 12 In order to compete, the re-systematization endeavor of the Song Neo-Confucians was to delineate a comparably enticing system of personal cultivation (gongfu lun 功夫論 ) that could outstrip the near dominance Buddhists had always held in this domain. One of the key leitmotifs Confucians had toiled for centuries to configure in its soteriological system concerned a practice known as the extension of knowledge (zhizhi 致知 ). 13 It was one phase of training in a series of graduated steps leading to ever higher spiritual and ethical goals as prescribed in the Confucian classic the Great Learning (Daxue 大學 ). Though vague and abstruse in its language, the text provided a rare indigenous outline of soteric path for the Neo-Confucians, who were in a desperate need to discover something from their own textual tradition rather than appropriating from Buddhism what they supposedly ostensibly lacked. Zhu Xi s canonization and propagation of the so-called Four Classics (which included the Great Learning) very likely have been propelled by such a mentality. Through this act of canonization, he had undoubtedly changed the character of Confucianism in posterity. The fact that the Four Classics were readily and heartily received by fellow Confucians as the sine qua non primers for the tradition very likely had something to do with their usefulness to buttress Confucianism in those most glaringly deficient areas. With the exception of the Analects, all the Four Classics (the Analects, 12 Buswell and Gimello 1992: It should be noted that Lu Jiuyuan was one of the first to bring about this transformation in the Song. In many ways Wang Yangming simply rediscovered and fine-tuned Lu s system rather than having single-handedly invented the many implications of an idealist philosophy. See Chan 1963: ; Liu 1964: ; and Qian 1962: 137. Yogācāra resurgence in the Ming dynasty 11 the Mengzi, the Great Learning, and the Doctrine of the Mean) in fact were only elevated to their revered prominence from relative obscurity after Zhu Xi s unreserved commendation of them. 14 Each of the three newly promoted Confucian texts served an important soteric purpose. The Mencius (Mengzi 孟子 ) discusses the Confucian ideal of sagehood and the actualization of the heavenly virtues. The idea of attaining sagehood as outlined in the Mencius served as a worthy competing ideal to the Buddhist notions of Buddhahood and enlightenment. The Great Learning spelled out the specific praxis involved for that actualization: one sets out to realize the Confucian goal of bringing harmony to the world through a stepby-step self-transformation. The Doctrine of the Mean (Zhongyong 中庸 ) served to explicate the mechanism and principles underlying those Confucian systems of spiritual cultivation: the principle of emotional and practical moderation was advised in this text as the connecting theme for Confucian practice. It also provided much of the philosophical expressions with which Zhu built his metaphysical theories such as that of the heavenly nature and the universal principle 15 metaphysical theories that were in one capacity intended to compete with the elaborately constructed Buddhist cosmology. In the Great Learning, there is a passage on the sequence of stages to be accomplished by those cultivators intent on illuminating the luminescent virtue and bringing harmony to the world. The first two of the stages are the investigation of things (gewu 格物 ) and, as we have previously discussed, the extension of knowledge. As many scholars have noted already, Zhu s understanding of this process was that it is an inductive one. He believed that only through wide learning and unceasing exploration of the na- 14 Mencius was beatified by Zhu himself to become the greatest Confucian sage second only to Confucius (yasheng 亞聖 ). Both the Great Learning and the Doctrine of Mean were excerpts from the Book of Rites by the Younger Zai (Xiaozai liji 小戴禮記 ) singled out by Zhu for their pertinence to his vision of a new Confucianism. 15 See Zhu Xi s exegesis on this part of the Book in Chen (Rong) 1984: 12 William Chu ture of external things would the seeker arrive at a universal principle which pervades them all. 16 He considered Buddhism s introspective and subitist quest undertaken in the mind ground to be too introverted and perfunctory to generate any concrete, reliable, generalizable knowledge. By collapsing what should otherwise be a thorough investigation of the myriad phenomena into a single, idealist principle, Buddhism appeared to Zhu to be oversimplifying a serious learning process and too complacently engrossed in the self. One of Zhu s supporters in the Ming expressed this distaste toward Buddhism s allegedly reductionist approach to investigating things: Some practitioners had only heeded to the aspect of the oneness of principle while overlooking the aspect of its divergent ramifications. In the case of Buddhism, even its professed oneness of principle [that it so favored] differed from the one principle that was advocated by the [Confucian] sages. 學者或只理會這 理一 處, 便遺了分殊. 如釋氏之學, 則連所謂 理一 者, 非聖人之 理一 矣. 17 This was where Wang Yangming introduced yet another important revolutionary modification of Zhu s epistemic approach. While Zhu Xi claimed to have applied his mind in search of the principle amidst the various phenomena and things 以吾心而求理於事事物物之中, 18 Wang braved the antithetical position. Wang sug- 16 Zhu Xi s logic was that, The so-called nature is the myriad principles scattered in various places. This is what makes it the nature [of all things] 性是許多理散在處為性. Cited in Qian 1962: 117. Therefore only by a tireless investigation into various things would the principle be revealed. Zhu s conclusion was that, As for our attempt to extend our knowledge, [the key] lies in searching to the limit of things and thereby fully reveal their principle This is the reason that the beginning-leveled teaching of the Great Learning always required the apprentice to pursue the investigation of all things without exceptions under Heaven, basing on principles that one had already comprehended, in order to extend it to its utmost limit. 言欲致吾之知, 在極物而窮其理也 是以大學始教, 必使學者即凡天下之物, 莫不因其已知之理而益窮之, 以求致乎其極. Ibid., p Cited in Araki (Rushi) 1978: Cited in Sun, Liu and Hu 1995: 280. Yogācāra resurgence in the Ming dynasty 13 gested that the Way of the sages is already endowed in my nature. Those who directed their search for the principle in objects and phenomena are misled 聖人之道, 吾性自足, 向之求理於事物者誤也. 19 Wang thought that a deductive and introspective extension of knowledge could avoid the pitfalls of becoming inevitably fragmentary and aimless as was the case in Zhu s externally-directed system. Instead of looking outward, Wang felt that nothing other than the mind provides a more direct access to the universal principle, and that understanding the mind itself would suffice to meet the qualification of investigating things and extending knowledge as stipulated in the Great Learning. 20 Very few Confucians dared to suggest a rearrangement or bypassing of steps on this prescribed sequence, yet Wang Yangming was ready not only to place the process of rectifying the mind before the investigation of things, thereby reversing its traditional order, he altogether relegated the whole idea of graduated, step-by-step practices as an inferior approach to the recovery of the original mind. In such a manner, Wang also seemed to evince the same loathing to externally-directed investigation and entertained the possibility of a direct, sudden realization of this process in very much the same way the mature Chan school would. Wang s antithetical position to Zhu in this regard was a paradigmatic case for those who are studying the sudden versus gradual polarity in religious studies. 21 It was fashionable for Buddhist exegetes to brandish their knowledge of literati culture by writing commentaries for the Confucian Classics. The interesting point was that, Wang s interpretation of the cultivational outline in the Great Learning as a subitist and introspective path was strikingly similar to the way Buddhists had interpreted the Confucian text. This is not to downplay the important, though at times subtle, differences between Wang s understanding of the Mind and that of the mainstream, Ming-dynasty Buddhist; but for our purp
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