- The Buddhist Roots of Zhu Xi’s Philosophical Thought ed. by John Makeham
Chinese philosophy is a neglected subject in Chinese studies. Only a few scholars teach Chinese philosophy courses in major Ph.D.-granting East Asian programs in the US, and most philosophy departments do not offer systematic degree programs in Chinese philosophy. However, in recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in Chinese philosophy, which has resulted in many publications in both English and Chinese. Because Chinese philosophy is an established discipline in Chinese universities, more research has been done there and some of these works by Chinese scholars have been translated into English as well. These efforts testify that philosophy still matters in our understanding of Chinese culture and civilization.
One of the important areas of Chinese philosophy is the rise of the so-called Neo-Confucian movement in the Song dynasty in which Zhu Xi 朱熹 was a central figure in shaping its basic philosophical and intellectual orientation. Although much has been said about Neo-Confucianism from historical and intellectual perspectives as W. T. Chan, William Theodore de Bary, Julia Ching, Tu Wei-ming, Peter Bol, and Yü Yingshih’s works show, it is still barren territory in English-language philosophy. In particular, given the religious environment in which Neo-Confucianism arose, it has long been debated whether Neo-Confucianism relied heavily on the existing philosophical systems developed by Buddhists and Daoists. There is no clear answer to this question because [End Page 303] the current examination of the Neo-Confucian tradition has not yet delved deep into the philosophical realm.
The current volume under review is thus a welcome step towards reevaluating the Buddhist influence on the formation of Zhu Xi’s Neo-Confucian philosophy. Not only will it rekindle interest in philosophical issues among China specialists, it also helps to correct the previous tendency, or even bias, to overemphasize the social, intellectual, and historical aspects. This dominant approach tends to reduce philosophical arguments to a set of ideological dogmas conditioned by their social and cultural contexts, such as the competition for literati patronage.
Consisting of five chapters, this volume is the result of a conference held in 2013 at City University of Hong Kong and supported by the Australian Research Council. In addition to John Makeham’s introduction, five authors have written lengthy articles investigating the role that Buddhism played in Zhu Xi’s thought.
In the Introduction, John Makeham gives an overview of the subject matter, especially the background of Neo-Confucian studies and also recent studies of Chinese Buddhism in the Tang and Song Dynasties, focusing on the Buddhist “sectarian” traditions such as Chan, Huayan, and Tiantai based on the most recent scholarship. In his concluding remarks, he made clear that grasping the significance of Zhu Xi’s philosophical thought “can be achieved only by understanding the Buddhist contributions” to the development of his key concepts.
In chapter 1, John Jorgensen explores Zhu Xi’s approach to the doctrine of tathāgatagarbha (rulaizang 如來藏) through a comparison with Northern Chan. He suggests that Zhu Xi’s philosophy was actually modeled on some of the Buddhist interpretations of this idea, especially the Northern Chan understanding popular in the seventh and eighth centuries. In particular, Zhu Xi’s notion of lucid radiance (xuming 虛明) seems to have been borrowed from the Northern Chan discourse. Hence it represents a Confucian version of “Northern Chan.” This bold claim is fascinating but also question-begging. Even his fellow contributor Stephen Angle criticized John Jorgenson’s claim as an overstatement (p. 157, n. 5). This anachronistic comparison may need an intermediary step to bridge the gap by showing how the Northern Chan discourse actually influenced Zhu Xi. I suspect that the Śūraṅgama Sutra (Lengyan jing 楞嚴經) might be the immediate source for Zhu Xi and his contemporaries’ interpretation of “lucid radiance.” Although this text is only occasionally mentioned in this volume, it was one of the most widely read and commentated upon Buddhist scriptures in the Song...