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  • Buddhist Apologetics in East Asia: Countering the Neo-Confucian Critiques in the Hufa lun and the Yusŏk chirŭi non by Uri Kaplan
  • A. Charles Muller
Buddhist Apologetics in East Asia: Countering the Neo-Confucian Critiques in the Hufa lun and the Yusŏk chirŭi non, by Uri Kaplan, Leiden: Brill, 2019, viii + 273 pp.

Scholarly discourse on the content and background of Confucian-Buddhist debates, polemic, and apologetics has occurred in fits and starts over a period of decades, despite the seminal role of this discourse in the development of the intellectual history of China, Korea, and Japan (and no doubt Vietnam, if a study were undertaken to take account of the situation there). Modern Western academic treatments of this phenomenon began within the landmark volumes on Neo-Confucianism published by de Bary and others during the eighties and nineties. Since the attack on Buddhism was an integral part of the development of the Neo-Confucian project, most of the major figures in the Neo-Confucian movement assailed Buddhism in writing at one point or another. Since no sustained work on the Buddhist responses was done during this period, for a time awareness of this issue in the West was received mainly in terms of the Neo-Confucian polemic, and not in the context of any kind of Buddhist response. Elizabeth Morrison's 2010 monograph, The Power of Patriarchs (Brill), contained a solid discussion that not only elaborated the response by the Song Chan monk Qisong (1007–1072), but also contextualized well the nature and background of Chinese Buddhist apologetics—and apologists on a broader scale. Morrison's work focused on the situation in Song China. My own work, Korea's Great Buddhist-Confucian Debate (University of Hawai'i Press, 2015), attempted to shed light on the philosophical background that framed the Chinese/Korean Neo-Confucianism/Buddhism debate, but did not thoroughly investigate the historical development of this debate from its earliest origins, or attempt to summarize the major representative works in China, Korea, and Japan. [End Page 173]

In Uri Kaplan's Buddhist Apologetics we have the first thoroughgoing, complete effort to explicate the content and character of the back-and-forth between (Neo-)Confucians and Buddhists, from their first encounters before the Tang, through the Song, and into Koryŏ and Chosŏn Korea. He also briefly introduces the Japanese Edo-period manifestations of this debate. Kaplan takes as the centerpiece of his work two well-known and influential works, one from China (Hufa lun 護法論; T 2114; rendered as "In Defense of the Dharma") and one from Korea (Yusŏk chirŭi non 儒釋質疑論; HPC 7.252–278; rendered as "Doubts and Concerns Between Buddhism and Confucianism"); these he translates and annotates with a skill, erudition, and faithfulness deserving of accolades. He supports these translations with a substantial, well-organized, and well-argued introduction, which provides what is by far the most magisterial discussion of East Asian Buddhist apologetics to be submitted to date, one which I suspect will not be surpassed for some time to come.

The introduction starts with a discussion of the earliest Chinese Buddhist polemics, foregrounding the all-important Buddhist notion of karma treated through early inter-traditional works such as the Hongming ji (T 2122). Part 2 then moves into the origins of the Neo-Confucian critique of Buddhism, starting from the rather simplistic diatribes of Han Yu (768–824), expanded by Ouyang Xiu (1007–1072), and then developed in philosophical sophistication through the writings of Neo-Confucian founders Zhang Zai (1020–1077), Cheng Hao (1032–1085), and Cheng Yi (1033–1107), culminating in the Neo-Confucian synthesis of Zhu Xi (1130–1200). As I tried to point out in my own work, there was a considerable philosophical/semantic quagmire involved in these discussions, since most of the philosophically interesting disputes were rooted in the difference between Buddhist and Confucian system-based interpretations of such key terms as mind (心), emotions (情), nature (性), essencefunction (體用), and so forth. Kaplan then shows how this discussion was transferred to Korea, where Koryŏ and Chosŏn Neo-Confucians revived Zhu Xi's arguments, culminating in a final comprehensive summary of the Neo-Confucian arguments by Ch...


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