- The Unlikely Buddhologist: Tiantai Buddhism in Mou Zongsan’s New Confucianism by Jason Clower
Is Mou Zongsan, an important twentieth-century Confucian scholar, relevant for Western readers? Jason Clower gives an affirmative answer in his book The Unlikely Buddhologist: Tiantai Buddhism in Mou Zongsan’s New Confucianism: Mou could at least offer, from a different perspective, inspiration to Westerners on issues relating to morality, happiness, and the relationship between value and being. Clower chooses to introduce these issues from the vantage point of Mou’s reading of Tiantai Buddhism, for he finds Mou’s extolling of Buddhism intriguing, given his strong Confucian affiliation, and attempts to offer an informed account of Mou’s (Tiantai) Buddhist studies.
The book is divided into seven chapters. The first states the author’s aim in studying Mou’s interpretation of Tiantai Buddhism, together with an introduction to Mou’s times and his objectives, as well as the New Confucian agenda; the second focuses on Mou’s “two-level ontology,” the philosophical framework that underlies his philosophizing; the third and fourth present Mou’s interpretation of Buddhist philosophies in the light of Tiantai Buddhism; the fifth and sixth explicate Mou’s assessment of Buddhism. It is only in the final chapter that Clower attempts an appraisal of how Mou uses Buddhist philosophy.
Investigating Mou’s philosophy, which encompasses the philosophies of China, Buddhism, and the West, has always been a daunting task, and Mou’s somewhat obscure terminologies and convoluted argumentation add to the difficulty. Against this background, Clower’s informative exposition of Mou’s buddhology is a commendable achievement. Together with his adept use of analogies and more mundane examples to drive home many of Mou’s ideas, he allows readers interested in Chinese and Buddhist philosophies yet unfamiliar with Mou to be initiated more easily into his system of thought without losing sight of his limitations. Readers also can get at least a glimpse into a sophisticated reading of Buddhism by a great philosophical mind of modern China that offers them a novel and controversial perspective for understanding Chinese Buddhism.
Unlike many critics of Mou, Clower exhibits sufficient intellectual sympathy with Mou’s project and tries to clarify what may sometimes seem mysterious and confusing in many of Mou’s terminologies and concepts. His “defense” of Mou against Fung Yiu-ming’s criticism is illustrative of this, and serves to introduce readers to a [End Page 1075] common misunderstanding about Mou’s paradoxical method. Clower is right in saying that, for Mou, non-discriminating and discriminating methods are not mutually exclusive, as the former presupposes the latter.
In his attempt to explain Mou’s purpose in undertaking an in-depth study of Chinese Buddhism Clower makes two sound observations. The first regards Mou’s intention to solve the problem of the Confucian “perfect good.” Clower’s reading of Mou’s exposition of this problem is lucid, though it could have been more comprehensive had he included a discussion of the theoretical difficulties Mou encountered. In this respect, Mou’s main problem lies in his concept of existence, or, more precisely, phenomenal existence, which in Mou’s discourse is considered a fabrication of the discriminating human mind acting on the basis of a noumenal reality. Mou was reticent on the problem of the relationship between the one and the many—that is, how the same noumenon can take on different forms in the discriminating mind, as well as the problem of why phenomena are necessary if they were simply conjured up into existence by the discriminating mind. Whether these difficulties arise out of Mou’s resorting to the Kantian phenomenon-noumenon distinction and the Tiantai notions of the momentary thought and Threefold Truth to explain the necessity and transformability of existence is a question Clower should have addressed.
Clower’s second observation is that Mou found the Tiantai Perfect Theory useful in resolving the intramural disputes among Song-Ming Neo-Confucians. Undoubtedly, Mou’s ranking of the various...