Chinese Philosophy As A Threefold Integration

Regarding the issue of the true, the good, and the beautiful, traditional Chinese philosophy has had three propositions exerting an extended influence over Chinese thinking: namely, the "integration of heaven with man," which inquires into the unity of the world; the "integration of knowledge with practice," the problem of an ethical norm; and the "integration of feeling with scenery," involving the creation and appreciation of artistic works.

integration of Heaven with Man: the True

How to define the two concepts of "heaven" and "man" varies with different philosophers. Nevertheless, the "Way of Heaven" refers to the basics of the universe or the universe as a whole. The "way of man" often refers to the society of man or man himself. The relationship between heaven and man has always been the fundamental issue studied by Chinese thinkers.

Sima Qian called his Historical Records a book that "probes into the relations between heaven and man." Dong Zhongshu described what he said as a branch of learning that "studies how man is related to heaven." He Yan, one of the founders of the metaphysics of the Wei and Jin dynasties, called another founder, Wang Bi, a philosopher "qualified to discuss the relations between heaven and man." Tao Hongjing, the true founder of the Maoshan sect of China's Daoism (Taoism), said only Yan Huan, another Daoist leader, understood that "what he had in mind." was the problem "between heaven and man." The "relationship between heaven and man" has been explained by different theories in traditional Chinese philosophy. For example, Zhuangzi required that a "distinction be made between heaven and man," and Zhuangzi theorized that "those who are ignorant of heaven know nothing about man." Furthermore, the question of "relations between heaven and man" often has found expres sion in the discussion about the relation between "nature" and the "Confucian ethical code." Nevertheless, the mainstream of traditional Chinese philosophy has taken as its main task the demonstration or explanation of how "heaven is integrated with man."

Confucius said more about "human affairs" and less about "the Mandate of Heaven." Nonetheless, he also believed that "what the saint says" is in keeping with "the Mandate of Heaven." Mencius, it can be said, is the philosopher who first proposed the idea of "integration of heaven with man" in a complete sense. For example, he said: "Do with all your heart, know your lot, and understand heaven"; "keep up with heaven and earth above and below." Even though Xunzi advocated that a "distinction be made between heaven and man," his fundamental goal was to "bend the will of Heaven to our use" so that "Heaven" would be integrated with man. Laozi (Lao Tzu) of the Daoist school urged: "Man follows earth, earth follows Heaven, Heaven follows the Way, and the Way follows nature."

Even Zhuangzi who was "ignorant of heaven and knows nothing about man" had this to say: "Heaven and earth live side by side with me, and all things on earth are identified with me." He also said that the superior man can "communicate with heaven, earth, and spirit." Dong Zhongshu preached the idea that "heaven and man respond to each other" and his argument was that the two were integrated. The metaphysics of the Wei and Jin dynasties focused its discussion on the relationship between "nature" and "the Confucian ethical code." Even though Ji Rang (Chi Kang) and Yuan Ji advocated that the "ethical code be overstepped and nature followed," the mainstream of the metaphysics school stressed that the "ethical code" be reconciled with "nature." As Wang Bi embraced the idea that "the intrinsic and the extrinsic are like one," he urged that "the essentials (Nature and the Way of Heaven) be upheld to rule the non-essentials (ethical code and mundane affairs)." In stressing "the intrinsic and the extrinsic are like one," Guo Xiang believed "there is no intrinsic beyond the extrinsic" and therefore concluded that "heaven is the general term for all things on earth."

By the time of the Song Dynasty, the Confucian philosopher Zhou Dunyi noted in more explicit terms: "A saint shares virtue with heaven and earth," and "a saint aspires to heaven." Zhang Zai stated in his West Inscription: "That which blocks heaven and earth is my intrinsic; that which commands heaven and earth is my character." The two Cheng theorized that "the intrinsic and the extrinsic come from the same source" and stated: "In heaven it is destiny, in man it is character, and it is the heart that commands the body. They are actually one and the same." Zhu Xi stated that: "Heaven is man, and man is heaven. The beginning of man is derived from heaven. Since this man is born, heaven rests in him." And he added: "A saint ... is integrated with heaven." Wang Yang-ming said: "The heart is heaven. Stressing the importance of the heart upholds heaven, earth, and all things." "Man is actually one with heaven, earth and all things." "The heart has no intrinsic but takes the response of heaven, earth, and all things as the intrinsic." Later Wang Fuzhi advanced the idea that man moves along with the vaporization of heaven to explain why heaven is integrated with man. Said he: "Destiny is realized by days and character is formed by days." "There is not a day that heaven stops thinking of destiny, and there is not a day that man does not submit his destiny to heaven."

As far as traditional Chinese philosophy is concerned, the major philosophers, either materialist or idealist, all talked about the problem of "integration of heaven with man." By analyzing their theories, we can roughly arrive at the following conclusions: First, in traditional Chinese philosophy, the concept of "integration of heaven with man" gives expression to the idea of observing things in their entirety. It is a direct description rather than a detailed analysis; we can call it a directly perceived "overall concept." Second, in traditional Chinese philosophy, the basic argument for the idea of "integration of heaven with man" is, "The intrinsic and the extrinsic are like one": unity of the ways of Heaven and man is "both the intrinsic and the extrinsic," the Way of Heaven serving as the intrinsic and the way of man the extrinsic. This can be termed as an "'absolute1 concept of unity." Third, traditional Chinese philosophy does not see the "way of man" as something rigid; what is more, it also sees in the "Way of Heaven" liveliness and unending vitality. "Heaven moves along a healthy track, and a gentleman should make unremitting efforts to improve himself." That human society should move forward and man should improve himself is due to the necessity of keeping up with the development of the "Way of Heaven." This can be called the unlimited "concept of development." Fourth, in traditional Chinese philosophy, "Heaven" is object and the "way of man" must be brought in line with the "Way of Heaven." However, "man" is the heart of heaven and earth; he should install a heart for heaven and earth. Without "man," heaven and earth would have no vitality, rationality or morality. This can be called the "humanistic concept" of ethics. The above-mentioned four concepts comprise the total implication of the idea of "integration of heaven with man" in traditional Chinese philosophy.

Integration of Knowledge with Practice: the Good

The problem of "knowledge and practice" is an issue of the theory of knowledge; in traditional Chinese philosophy, however, it poses even more a problem of ethics and morality. If, in traditional Chinese philosophy, a question of the theory of knowledge had not been linked to the question of ethics, it would have been difficult for it to be passed down as a part of traditional philosophy. Therefore the problem of a theory of knowledge is often also the problem of ethics. This is why the philosophers advocated that man not only should seek "knowledge" but must also pay special attention to "conduct" (practice).

What is the "good"? The criterion for the "good" can vary, but, according to traditional Chinese philosophy, unity of "knowledge" and "practice" must be regarded as a prerequisite. From the history of Chi nese philosophy we can come across many different explanations about the relationship between knowledge and conduct. In History Classic [Chapter 1, "On Destiny"] it was said long ago that "it is not difficult to know but difficult to put it in practice." Later the two Cheng advocated: "Knowledge precedes practice." Zhu Xi was of the opinion that "knowledge and practice each give rise to the other." Wang Fuzhi theorized that "practice precedes knowledge," and Sun Zhongshan advanced the idea that "to know about a thing is more difficult than to do it," and so forth. Taking things as a whole, however, the concept of an "integration of knowledge with practice" actually has run through traditional Chinese philosophy from beginning to end.

Starting from the time of Confucius, the "agreement of one's words with one's deeds" has always been used as an ethical criterion to differentiate a gentleman from a villain. Confucius said: "A gentleman feels it a shame not to be able to match his words with actions." Mencius stressed "intuitive knowledge" and "intuitive ability." Even though he regarded the four factors including the "sense of pity" as inherent, he thought it necessary to "foster and enhance" benevolence, righteousness, rite, and wisdom, which had already become moral codes. As they could be acquired only through moral practice, he advocated that "a noble spirit be cultivated." Zhuangzi stressed "practice" as the purpose of seeking "knowledge"; at the same time, he also admitted the guidance "knowledge" provided for "practice." He said: "One who practices it knows it. One who knows it is a saint." As a saint, therefore, one must "integrate knowledge with practice."

By the Song Dynasty, the Confucian philosopher Cheng Yi, regardless of his opinion that "knowledge precedes practice," argued in terms of morality and self-cultivation that "one who knows but cannot practice is one who does not truly know." Therefore Huang Zongxi noted: "Mr. Cheng already had the idea of integrating knowledge with practice" (Academic Files of the Song and Yuan dynasties, Volume 75). Zhu Xi inherited Cheng Yi's theory that "knowledge precedes practice," but he stressed in particular that "knowledge and practice are mutually dependent" and "efforts on knowledge and practice should be pushed forward side by side." He reasoned: "In terms of sequence, knowledge precedes; in terms of importance, practice is more important." Therefore some people described Cheng and Zhu's as "a theory of integration of knowledge with practice with emphasis on the latter." Even though "knowledge" is the foundation of "practice," "knowledge is shallow when knowledge has just been acquired and yet to be put into practice." "When one personally experiences it, his knowledge will be deeper, different from what he knew before." That Zhu Xi stressed "practice" resulted because he basically regarded "knowledge" and "practice" as an issue of morality. This is why he remarked: "Wherever the good is, one must practice it. Having practiced it for a long time, it will become identified with oneself. Having identified with it, it will become a part of oneself. Failing to practice it, the good remains the good, and oneself remains oneself; they have nothing to do with each other."

Traditional Chinese philosophy often advocated "practicing the Way (Dao)." This idea perhaps had a twofold implication: One was to "take the Way as the intrinsic/' another to practice the "intrinsic way," namely, to earnestly practice the "intrinsic way" one advocated. Therefore this is not merely an issue of understanding. As for Wang Yang-ming's theory of "integration of knowledge with practice," naturally we all know about it; however, our understanding about it seems not to be totally correct. By quoting his remark, "practice begins once an idea is struck upon," people often describe him as "ascribing practice to knowledge" and "taking knowledge to be practice." In fact, Wang Yangming did not equate "knowledge" with "practice" completely. The remark that "practice begins once an idea is struck upon" was made in the context of morality and self-cultivation. Immediately after that, he added: "If the idea is no good, we have to overcome it. We have to overcome it thoroughly and thoroughly so that the no-good idea will not lay hidden in our hearts." He also said: "A close and solid knowledge is where practice lies, and a conscious and precise practice is where knowledge lies. Efforts on knowledge and practice were originally inseparable. Only scholars in later ages split them into two and lost the essence of knowledge and practice."

In regard to the relations between knowledge and practice, Wang explained clearly: "Knowledge gives the idea to practice, and practice is the efforts made of knowledge. Knowledge is the beginning of practice and practice is the end result of knowledge." From the angle of the theory of knowledge, Wang Yangming could be suspected of "including practice in knowledge." In the perspective of morality and self-cultivation, however, emphasis on "integration of knowledge with practice" had a positive significance.

By the time between the Ming and Qing dynasties, Wang Fuzhi advanced the idea that "practice precedes knowledge" and "practice can also gain knowledge." However, he still stressed "integration of knowledge with practice" when addressing the issue of ethics. He opined that "knowledge and practice complementing each other is use and the two progressing alongside is achievement." He criticized Wang Yangming's idea of "integration of knowledge with practice" and called Wang "ignorant of the fact that they each have their own use and complement each other." Nevertheless, Wang Fuzhi, too, was an advocator of "integration of knowledge with practice." He said:

In calling someone engaged in pursuing knowledge and practice we mean he devotes himself to the pursuit of knowledge and makes every effort to practice. Because of his devotion and efforts, achievements can be made and divided. Since achievements can be made and divided, an order of succession can be established. Since an order of succession can be established, the antecedent and the subsequent can complement each other. From knowledge one knows what is being practiced, and from practice one practices what is being known. Thus it can be said the two progress alongside and therefore make achievements."

That knowledge and practice can progress alongside arises because the two, in the final analysis, are a moral issue. According to Wang Fuzhi's opinion: "A wise man is one who knows the rites. A man of ritual is one who practices knowledge. In practicing knowledge, all rituals will be properly performed; in knowing the rites all essentials will go to the mind. Thus one will improve oneself with each passing day and there will be no end to it." A saint "combines his intelligence with sincerity. He practices what he knows and what he practices becomes his knowledge." This is how traditional Chinese philosophy envisages that a man should behave himself.

Now prevailing in the study of traditional Chinese philosophy now is a viewpoint which asserts that "since the Song and Ming dynasties the neo-Confucianists, when discussing knowledge and practice, often mixed up this issue of theory of knowledge with the issue of ethics." It insists that this is where the limitations and mistakes of Chinese ancient philosophers lay. In this regard two questions deserve to be discussed.

First, neo-Confucianists since the Song and Ming dynasties, as a matter of fact, did not regard knowledge and practice merely as an issue of the theory of knowledge. They thought the issue important precisely because it was related to morality and self-cultivation. The final purpose of their discussion of relations between knowledge and practice was to improve moral cultivation. Therefore it is out of the question to assert that the neo-Confucians confused the issue of the theory of knowledge with that of morality. Second, as an issue of morality and self-cultivation, the theory of integration of knowledge with practice and the viewpoint of unity between knowledge and practice cannot be said to be without positive significance. Ethically, knowledge and practice cannot be separated into two ends; what is necessary is that "knowledge be integrated with practice." The remark made by Wang Yangming that "knowledge is the purpose of practice and practice is the work of knowledge; knowledge is the beginning of practice and practice is the end result of knowledge" can be seen as the best summary the Chinese ancient philosophers ever made about this issue.

Integration of Feeling with Scenery: the Beautiful

This is an aesthetic issue which Wang Guowei made a thorough discussion in his Random Talks about Poetry. He said: "Realm is the top quality in poetry writing. Having realm, a poem is naturally of a high quality and carries famous lines."

What does "realm" mean? Wang explained that "realm does not refer to scenery alone. Delight, anger, sorrow, and joy are also a realm in man's heart. Therefore a poem that can depict true scenery and true feelings can be said to have realm. Otherwise it should be said to have no realm." Obviously the term "realm" refers not only to scenery but to "sentiments" as well. In J idling Manuscripts Discussing Poetry Ye Jiaying made a very perceptive explanation about Wang Guowei's "realm theory." According to Ye:

The generation of realm depends entirely on our sense of perception. The existence of realm depends entirely on what our sense of perception can reach. Therefore the outside world cannot be called realm before we can reproduce it through the function of our perception sense. Judging by such a conclusion, the theory of realm as advocated by Wang, as a matter of fact, can be traced to the same origin as the theory of interest by Canglang and the theory of romantic charm by Yuan Tingzhi.

Du Yentu, after Wang Guowei, also said in his Questions and Answers on the Methods of Painting: "Landscape painting is no more than portraying feeling and scenery, and feeling and scenery is realm." This is why Wang Guowei remarked: "When people in the past discussed poetry, they divided the verses into those describing scenery and those depicting feeling. They did not know all verses describing scenery depict feeling." Obviously, Wang Guowei regarded as top-grade creative writings literary pieces that "integrate feeling with scenery." However, this aesthetic viewpoint of "integration of feeling with scenery" did not start with Wang Guowei.

Generally speaking, it was in the period of the Wei and Jin dynasties that the theory of China's literature and art truly became independent as a branch of learning, and by that time the idea of "integrating feeling with theory" already emerged. In Introduction to the Grades of Poetry ZhongRong states:

The four-characters-to-a-line poems, they can be useful if they imply more in fewer words and model on works of literary excellence. However, the problem is they often involve a lot of words but connote little contents. Therefore few people learn to write them. The five-characters-to-a-line poems occupy the primary position in writing and stand out as the most savory among a variety of genres, thus winning the praise of being popular. Isn't it because they are the most detailed and truthful in narrating events, conjuring images, expressing feelings, and portraying things? Therefore there are three approaches to writing poetry: First, implication; second, comparison; third, narration. The idea that there is more to the poem than the words state is what we call implication. Citing things to indicate one's intention is comparison. A direct account of the happening, thus embodying the idea, is narration. Take the three approaches into consideration and choose the most appropriate, enhancing it with charm and force and polishing it with color so that those who read it will find unlimited savor and those who listen to it will be stirred. This will be a poem of the top grade.

A "masterpiece," a "superb work," should "express feelings and portray things." This was the forerunner of the idea of "integration of feeling with scenery." Xie Zhen, one of the later seven scholars of the Ming Dynasty, said in Four Seas Poetic Discussions: "Writing poetry rests on feeling and scenery. Neither can work without the other or conflict with the other." He also said: "poetry is the tool for the portrayal of feeling and scenery. Feeling melts inside, running deep and long; scenery shines on the outside, stretching far and wide." In Poetic Discussions from the Ginger Studio, Wang Fuzhi put it in an even clearer way: "In name feeling and scenery are two things, but in fact they are inseparable."

Those skillful in writing poems have unlimited chances to hit upon good ones. In an ingenious piece there is "scenery in feeling and feeling in scenery." "Feeling is generated from amid scenery and scenery is generated from amid feeling. This is why we say scenery is the scenery of feeling, and feeling is the feeling of scenery." "Once feeling is integrated with scenery, witty expressions are readily available." This last sentence perhaps constitutes the basic proposition for China's traditional theory of art and literature, manifesting its basic view on "beauty." In the traditional thinking in China, what is beautiful has always been linked to what is good. "The substantial is called the beautiful" refers to a spiritual realm in which one has a noble enjoyment. Having listened to the music of "Wu" (nothing, e.g. the silence that follows sound), Confucius commented: "It has all the beautiful but not all the good," and after listening to the music of "Shao" (few), he remarked: "It has all the good and also all the beautiful." Only music that "has all the good and also all the beautiful" can be regarded as the highest and most ideal music. This applies to music and should apply to other arts as well. An art that "has all the good and also all the beautiful" is designed to elevate man's spiritual realm and help him derive therefrom the highest enjoyment of beauty. Because of this, the creator of artistic and literary works must be one who has "realm" and his works must "integrate feeling with scenery."

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