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The Message of the Mind in Neo-Confucianism.

This book presents W. T. deBary's account of the development of certain aspects of Neo-Confucianism, particularly ideas associated with the label hsin hsueh (Learning of the Mind) and their relation to what he terms orthodoxy from the fifteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth century. It thus picks up more or less where his earlier work, Neo-Confucian Orthodoxy and the Learning of the Mind-and-Heart (1981), left off in early Ming. There he focused on key ideas as they came to be accommodated and even co-opted by governments in Southern Sung, Yuan, and early Ming as what deBary calls "an official orthodoxy." In Message of the Mind he pursues his inquiry into the intellectual history of the same two central ideas: the tao-t'ung, which he renders as "tradition" and "Succession to the Way," and implicitly as Neo-Confucian Orthodoxy; and hsin, which he translates as "mind" and "mind-and-heart," along with related terms, particularly hsin fa ("method" and "message of mind") and ch'uan hsin ("transmission of mind").

Beginning with a brief look at some facets of Chu Hsi's thought, deBary stresses the central role in Chu's teachings of hsin as the "embodiment of principle" and its cultivation. He notes that in his preface to the Chung yung, Chu Hsi introduced the term hsin fa, and deBary is adamant that Chu Hsi's sense of the term was, and still is, to be distinguished from its prior Buddhist usage. He also shows Chu Hsi arguing for an unbreakable link between the Mind of the Way (tao hsin) and our ordinary human hearts (jen-hsin). This holistic view of hsin imbued with structuring principles was in contrast to Buddhists' view of mind as "fundamentally characterized by emptiness and nothingless". DeBary's point in all this is two-fold: to keep religious and spiritual cultivation at the center of Chu Hsi's program, and at the same time to fend off any imputation of positive Buddhist influence. The latter defense is not established here, even though we all may accept that Chu Hsi was not a Buddhist; the references to Tsung-mi's earlier critique of some Ch'an teachings serve to remind us of the need for a more nuanced account of the range of Buddhist polemics which were available in the twelfth century as Chu Hsi articulated his explanations of hsin. As for the former claim it is indubitable that hsin was central, both as object of philosophical explanation and of personal moral cultivation, and that twentieth-century textbooks, by apparently dichotomizing the relation between hsin and li, have thereby misled readers who looked no further, but deBary seems to be pushing the pendulum of interpretation too far. In my view, his exposition in places leaves the impression that hsin was the central concept, and that moral self-scrutiny was the primary intellectual method. Of course deBary does not claim this explicitly. Yet readers may find li is sometimes left implicit at crucial points in the discussion, in spite of a smattering of generalizations such as, there were "... none among the Neo-Confucians who doubted that the whole point of this mind was to understand and express Heaven's principles". Similarly, deBary shows that for Chu Hsi, succeeding to the Way "should be achieved by grasping the mind of the sages ... based on a correct reading of the classic texts"; this "scholastic" endeavor was integral, even when shunted aside in later centuries. We are reminded that Chu Hsi walked on two legs, but deBary's discussion tends to lean to one side.

In the three chapters on the development and the rejection of the Wang Yang-ming "school," or what deBary calls the "new learning of the mind-and-heart," he argues that Wang, and Chan Jo-shui among others, were not on their own terms repudiating or abrogating the inherited Ch'eng-Chu teachings involving hsin (and li), but "developing new teachings out of this earlier formulation |by Chu Hsi~ of the learning of the sages ...". DeBary's concern is to stress that Wang Yang-ming and his contemporaries built on Chu Hsi's teachings, not on Lu Hsiang-shan's, and thus their new version of hsin hsueh was continuous with, rather than dichotomous to, Chu Hsi's. (It also was not Buddhistic, although the reader is not told why.) DeBary shows how a handful of sixteenth-century critics of Wang Yang-ming and his followers began pejoratively to call those doctrines hsin hsueh (learning of mind) and hsin hsueh (new learning), and to contrast them with the "true" Learning of the Way (tao hsueh) propagated by Chu Hsi. On the other hand, late Ming defenders of Wang's teachings continued to maintain that concern with hsin had been part of the tradition since the earliest sages. This latter view draws sympathy from deBary, who argues that Wang Yang-ming should be included within the Tradition of the Way (tao t'ung), and that he has been misrepresented in later histories since the Ch'ing. DeBary gives an account of some of the late Ming and early Ch'ing attempts to "save" Wang Yang-ming even as he describes how emphasis on hsin was cast into doubt and Chu Hsi's teachings were reaffirmed. Through a selection of prominent cases, including literati who declined, as well as some who agreed, to serve the Ch'ing, deBary is able to show that "the return to orthodoxy" did not result in "an unthinking conformity", nor did it produce a consensus on which thinkers and which formulations in the past were acceptable as "orthodox." Indeed, as deBary observes, there were "fires of controversy" in establishment circles over who was to be included in the Succession to the Way at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

After sampling the ideas of more than thirty thinkers from Southern Sung to early Ch'ing on issues relating to "the Learning of the Mind-and-Heart," and in effect tracing a proliferation of interpretations, especially in the aftermath of Wang Yang-ming's "mercurial challenge", deBary examines the defense made by Fang Tung-shu (1772-1851) on behalf of Ch'eng-Chu teachings against the assumptions and intentions of the dominant mode of evidential learning (k'ao-cheng hsueh). This is the most problematic chapter of the book. Paying scant attention to the social and political context in the first half of the troubled nineteenth century, deBary portrays Fang as the voice with a timely and relevant moral message, without any regard for the serious, reform-minded thinkers who were Fang's contemporaries. Moreover, scholars engaged in evidential learning, which Fang attacked, are reduced to straw men, trying "to isolate pure, uncontaminated truth in the past". Instead of those scholars, it is Fang who is represented as emphasizing more the importance of "incremental" contributions to learning while simultaneously remaining true to the "defined view" and the "essential content" of Ch'eng-Chu teachings. Somehow, Fang "avoided a narrow fundamentalism" while being one of "the most intransigent exponents of strict Ch'eng-Chu orthodoxy". To illustrate this, deBary resorts to a strange metaphor. "The Sung learning of nineteenth-century Ch'ing China is not, as Fang |Tung-shu~ serves it up, just the original Sung philosophy warmed over, but a recipe |sic~ seasoned by a long Neo-Confucian line of expert scholar-chefs". But how, by what authority or criteria, could a "low status" literatus, viz., Fang Tung-shu, interpret what was "orthodoxy" and be at variance with the learning of such a prestigious, established, and influential scholar as Juan Yuan (1764-1849)? Are we to believe that Fang's ideas were innately right?

Ch'eng-Chu teachings continued to be the object of a "living faith" for some. They remained a living tradition, and deBary's case studies show there was ample disagreement over the "fundamental questions" within the tradition, and even over defining or bounding it. What he does not show is how, or even if, "orthodoxy," in any of the several senses he uses, was determined between the time, say, of Wang Yang-ming and Fang Tung-shu.

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Author:Peterson, Willard J.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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