How To Study The Concepts And Categories Of Traditional Chinese Philosophy

Fundamentally speaking, the study of the concepts and categories of traditional Chinese philosophy requires the scientific analytical method of Marxism. Merely to pose the concepts and categories used in the history of Chinese philosophy is contrary to the goal of our study. For that will not uncover the laws governing the development of philosophical thought, nor will it help us better to understand the laws of the struggle between materialism and idealism, or to improve our theoretical thinking; in particular, we will be unable to recognize the characteristics and level of traditional Chinese philosophy. To achieve our goal, it is necessary to use the scientific analytical method of Marxism to: 1) analyze the meaning of the concepts and categories, 2) investigate the development of those meanings, 3) analyze the systems of concepts and categories of philosophers or philosophical schools, and 4) study the similarities and differences between the concepts and categories of Chinese and foreign philosophies. It is only on the basis of such an analysis that it is possible to advance the study of the history of Chinese philosophy along a scientific path.

Analysis of the Meaning of Concepts and Categories

The advancement of one or of a pair of concepts (categories) marks the level of man's understanding of the world, yet it is up to us to make an analysis of the meaning of such a concept or pair of concepts. When ancient philosophers advanced a new concept they did not have as clear and scientific an understanding of its meaning as we do today; this is particularly true of the concepts they used to explain the origin of the world. For instance, Laozi (Lao Tzu) was the first man to advance the

"way" {dao) as the paramount category in his philosophical system. This concept of the "way" he advanced as an antithesis to the contemporary concept of "respecting Heaven." By taking the "way" as the origin of the world, Laozi (Lao Tzu) certainly raised the level of ancient Chinese philosophical thinking. But what was the meaning of the "way"? Laozi (Lao Tzu) himself found it difficult to give a clear definition. He said: "I do not know its name; I call it Dao. If forced to give it a name, I shall call it Great." Therefore he used quite a number of adjectives to describe the "way," such as "soundless and formless," "eluding and vague," and "deep and obscure." Obviously, with the limitations of the objective conditions and their level of knowledge, the ancient philosophers found it difficult to give lucid definitions of the concept of the origin of the world.

Thus it is necessary for us to investigate the meaning of the concept of the "way" in the light of the book Laozi (Lao Tzu)} The term "spontaneity" (zirait) was widely used by ancient Chinese philosophers but each had his own definition. It was Laozi (Lao Tzu), too, who was the first to use "spontaneity" as a philosophical concept, by which he generally meant non-activity. Wang Chong of the Han Dynasty continued this usage when he wrote: "The Heavenly way is spontaneous non-activity." By the time of the Wei and Jin Dynasties, the proponents of non-activity such as Wang Bi and Xiahou Xuan practically took "spontaneity" for the "way"—that is, the primal stuff of the universe. Xiahou Xuan wrote: "Heaven and earth operate with spontaneity and the sage functions following spontaneity. Spontaneity is the way, which originally had no name and Laozi (Lao Tzu) was forced to give it a name."

Even the same philosopher had different definitions for "spontaneity." We can use Guo Xiang1s definitions of "spontaneity" as an example for analysis. He identified at least five connotations for "spontaneity." First, the actions of Heaven and man are "spontaneous." In his Annotations of Zhuangzi (the chapter, The Great Teacher) he wrote: "He who knows the deeds of both Heaven and man is a sage, means knowing the deeds of Heaven and man is spontaneity." Thus, Guo Xiang looked not only at the natural phenomena but also at man's deeds as in a sense spontaneous; in what sense could this be so? Second, "working for oneself" (ziwei) is "spontaneity." Guo Xiang said: "To say that matter is spontaneous means non-activity." He also wrote: "We value this non-activity and matter's working for itself." Then why is "working for itself a kind of "non-activity"? Third, "being self-willed" is "spontaneity." Guo Xiang held that "working for oneself is "spontaneity," but "working for oneself does not mean acting wilfully, but "acting by one's nature," namely, "acting in accordance with one's nature, that is spontaneity, thus called nature (xing)" "According to spontaneity" means "according to one's nature," that is, neither making others succumb to oneself nor allowing oneself succumb to another. Fourth, "inevitability" is "spontaneity." Guo Xiang wrote: "Knowing the reality of destiny one will not seek what lies beyond it, but just to fulfill one's nature." One who "knows his destiny"

will not ask for what cannot be done--this is called "spontaneity." Destiny here means "inevitability." Fifth, "chance is spontaneity." Guo Xiang wrote: "Things are all spontaneous, acting without knowing why or how it should be so." By not knowing the reason of action, "spontaneity" implies "chance." Therefore, when the philosophers were trying to explain "self-generation" they often employed such terms as "suddenly" or "abruptly"—all meaning that things exist without reason, the causality being beyond explanation.

According to Guo Xiang, "spontaneity" has the above-mentioned five inter-connected meanings, of which the last two are most important, that is, "spontaneity" has the meaning of both "inevitability" and "chance." Actually, they are a pair of antagonistic concepts and, from the dialectical point of view, are mutually connected and transform themselves into each other, with inevitability manifesting itself through chance. Guo Xiang used the term "spontaneity" to explain both "inevitability" and "change," precisely because he saw the relationship of mutual dependence between them: that a matter so exists is "inevitable" in one respect because "things emerge by themselves abruptly." In Guo Xiang's philosophical system, things must have these two aspects. From this analysis of Guo Xiang's definition of the concept of "spontaneity" we can see the general characteristics and level of the philosophy of Guo Xiang.

Analysis of the Development of the Meanings of Concepts and Categories

Not only do the meanings of concepts and categories differ from one philosopher to another, at different times they also differ in meaning. Nevertheless, if philosophical thoughts follow one another, it is always possible to discover the relationship of succession between these concepts and categories. The study of their development is extremely important for understanding the laws of the development of man's knowledge. In the following, we will analyze the growth of the concept of qi (often translated as material force, ether, or fluid--/r.) in traditional Chinese philosophy.

Some thinkers as early as the Spring and Autumn period already discussed the impact of qi on man. For example, the Zuo Zhuan mentioned "the six qi" in the medical theory recorded in the first year of the reign of Duke Zhao of Lu (B.C. 541). By the Warring States period, qi became a general concept. People not only believed that the body of man was made of <?/, but some believed that the spirit of man also was made of qi. In "White Heart," "Inner Function" and "Mechanism of the Heart" chapters of the book Guanzi, it was said: "As for essence (jing)> it is the essence of qi"\ "the qi of all things changes and thus becomes life"; "when qi goes to the ground, grains grow; when it goes into the heavens, there emerge the constellations; when it floats in the air, it becomes ghosts and spirits; when it goes into man's chest, the man becomes a sage," and "therefore when there is qi, there is life; when there is no qi, there is death," etc. According to these thinkers, among the "qF there is an "essential qi," the life-giver. When such an "essential qf enters the body of a man, he becomes wise and turns into a sage.

During the Warring States period this unscientific theory of "essential qi" was used to explain man's spirit. If we considered it materialist, it would be a materialist viewpoint with grave defects which, under certain circumstances, were used by idealists and turned into a component part of their system. It could also be utilized by the supernaturalists who transformed it into a basis for advocating "life without end.'" We know that Mencius also talked about qi, and posed a sort of qi called the "qi of vastness" (hao ran zhi qi). The "White Heart" chapter of the book Guanzi mentions the "essential qi" that can give man wisdom and "this qi should not be checked by strength but should be accommodated by power (de)" which is to say, qi itself possesses an intelligence which should be consolidated by moral power. And in the theory of Mencius, his Mqi of vastness is "obtained through accentuating righteousness." Obviously, qi in Mencius' theory has already become spiritual.

By the Han Dynasty, Dong Zhongshu went a step further and moralized and mystified qi which became the manifestation of the will and power of God. Dong Zhongshu held that qi had the power of meting out punishment and award, that there were good and vicious qi and that qi had emotions such as happiness, anger, grief and joy. So qi, though still retaining material appearance, already lost its material substance. Later, during the Han period, there were all sorts of superstitious explanations of qi which were indeed the outgrowth of the viewpoint of Dong Zhongshu.

From the historical data of the pre-Qin period and the Han Dynasty, we can see that the concept of qi is closely linked with questions of spirit and form, and thus has much to do with the question of the preservation of health, which often was deemed a means to becoming a deity. In Zhuangzi the "true m2iri\zhenren), the "spiritual man" (shenren) and others were often described as "with the spirit guarding the form to achieve longevity," "drinking dew and breathing the wind instead of eating grain," "unifying their nature and preserving their qi" They made their spirit integrate with their form so that they could accomplish the goal of "keeping their form perfect and replenishing their spirit to be merged into one with Heaven and earth." The Lu Shi Chun Qiu includes numerous discussions of the "preservation of good health" and considers that to "achieve longevity," qi "should be made to flow constantly within the body," and "with essential qi renewed daily, the vicious qi will go and a full life span will be reached; this is called truth." In Huai Nan Zi the preservation of qiy of form and of nature are the same thing; moreover all are linked together with qi. The writers of both of these two books were influenced by the "theory of essential qi" in "White Heart" and other philosophical works. They all thought that "spirit" (jingshen) is also a kind of qi, or "essential qi which can reside or leave the body and that when spirit and body are at one, there will be long life."

Meanwhile, some philosophers of the pre-Qin and Han periods held a materialist view of qi and considered it to be the matter that con stitutes the world. Xunzi held that everything in the universe, including man, was made of qi. He wrote: "Water and fire have qi but no life, plants have life but no senses, birds and beasts have senses but know not righteousness and man has qi, life, senses and also righteousness." The chapter "On Spirit" of the book Huai Nan Zi says that the universe was originally a murky body of original qi without any shape and that later the interaction of the positive and negative forces gave birth to everything, so "the dirty qi became worms and the pure essential qi became human beings." Wang Chong put it with even greater clarity. He wrote: "The merging of the qi of Heaven and earth gave birth to everything," and that was the result of the movement of qi. He said: "When Heaven moves, it gives qi% ... qi comes out and it gives birth to things." In order to oppose Dong Zhongshu's idealist view of qi, Wang Chong particularly pointed out that qi has no will, no aim. He said: nqi is void of ambition, purpose or scheme"; nqi is like smoke and cloud, how can it listen to man's request"? Nevertheless, like the book Huai Nan Zi, Wang Chong took the spirit of man (or the phenomenon of life) as "essential qi." He said: "Man lives because he has essential qi\ when man dies, the essential qi vanishes." An analysis of the contents of the concept qi in the history of ancient Chinese philosophy reveals clearly the development of this concept. The three doctrines, or rather definitions, mentioned above, however, were all merged into the thought of Daoism (Taoism) toward the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty, which we will not discuss here.

Analysis of the Systems of Concepts and Categories of Philosophers (or Philosophical Schools)

Historically major philosophers, in establishing their philosophical systems, have invariably used a series of concepts and categories. Thus the study of the relationships between these concepts and categories is necessary for us to make a thorough analysis of their theoretical systems. The level a philosopher's thought reaches often can be judged by how richly and systematically his concepts and categories reflect the essential relationships between the objects they are meant to reflect. Divergent views in the study of a past philosopher (or philosophical school) sometimes arise from the lack of a comprehensive, systematic study of the system of concepts and categories of that philosopher or school. For example, if we merely take into account Guo Xiang's concepts of "being" and "nonbeing" and their relationship, we might conclude that he was a materialist. But the reason why Guo Xiang's philosophy was the zenith of the Wei and Jin metaphysical school was not that he put forth a view different from that of Wang Bi's on the relationship between "being" and "nonbeing," but that he had a fairly complete philosophical system, an analysis of which reveals that it comprises the following four groups of basic concepts. (Though there are other important concepts in Guo's philosophical system, we will not deal with them here.)

"Being" and "nonbeing": The central topic of discussion among the Wei and Jin metaphysicians was the question of "origin and outcome, being and nonbeing." The philosophy of Guo Xiang might be considered to originate from the discussion on this topic. Guo believed that "being" (the "being of everything") is the only thing that exists; it is constantly present; although being undergoes infinite changes and transformations, it cannot in any instance become nonbeing," and "we say the Heaven and earth constantly exist because there is no time they have not existed." As for "nonbeing," he held that the creator above "being," or "the nonbeing" serving as noumenon, is non-existence, that is, "nothing." Thus he said: "Nonbeing is simply nonbeing, it cannot produce being," and "I venture to ask whether there is a creator or not? If not, how can he create things"? Therefore, from the very beginning, Guo Xiang denied the existence of a "creator" above the being of "everything," or a "nonbeing" which is the antithesis of "being" which as the primal body serves as the basis for the existence of being. However, Guo Xiang's philosophy did not stop here, but went further.

"Nature" and "destiny": Since the existence of things is not based on "nonbeing" as the primal body, then is there an inherent cause for the existence of things? According to Guo Xiang one cannot say that the being of "everything" is groundless. Since things exist, their very existence is the basis for their existence.

Specifically, the basis of their existence is their own "nature": "Everything has its own nature and every nature has its limit." The "nature" Guo Xiang meant is "the reason that things are what they are" which has the sense of "necessity." Thus he said: "Each gets what he deserves by nature; there is no avoiding it nor adding more." He also said: "Things have their own nature, so the wise stays wise till his last day while the dull goes on being dull till his death, neither able to change halfway." As for "destiny" Guo Xiang defined it as "inevitability"; as he put it "destiny means things all act spontaneously without anything acting on them," and "being aware of the impossible." Obviously, his "nature" and "destiny" are two concepts he employed to prove the point that "being" alone exists and that "nonbeing" as creator or primal body is absolutely non-existent.

"Self-generated" and "self-sufficient": The "nature" of things is the basis for their existence, but how does this "nature" originate? Is its emergence with some purpose, or condition? Guo Xiang said: "Things exist by themselves without a source; this is the way of Heaven" and "the emergence of things is just out of their own accord." If the "nature" of a thing is not "self-generated," then it must be given by others or intentionally produced by a creator. Yet this thing becoming this thing and that thing becoming that thing is not something else making this or that thing emerge and exist, nor even making itself emerge and exist; therefore "self-generation" can only be produced "unexpectedly," "abruptly" and "spontaneously" by itself. Were there any reason or purpose for the emergence and existence of a thing, it would inevitably lead to the admission of the existence of an initiator. Then what is the relation between one "self-generated" thing and another "self-generated" thing?

Guo Xiang held that everything is "self-generated" and its existence is "entirely in keeping with its own nature" and therefore is "self-suffi-cient" (wudai). On the one hand, "self-sufficiency" is possible because "things produce themselves"; "things produce themselves without relying on anything else." On the other hand, anything can be "self-sufficient" as long as it "conforms with its own nature," and "is content with its own nature," "for when satisfied with its own nature, a giant roc does not despise the sparrow and the sparrow does not covet the heavenly lake and both are quite satisfied. Thus, big or small, all live in complacence." So, to insist on the premise that one must recognize that it is "self-gener-ated" and "self-sufficient."

"Self-transformation" and "mutual indispensability": To support the concepts of "self-generated" and "self-sufficient" requires the solution of another question. Suppose everything exists by itself, this being this and that being that with one differing from another, then are not all the things related? Suppose all the things are relative, then are not they limited? Suppose they are limited, then are not they "insufficient" (you dai)? To answer this question, Guo Xiang advanced the concept of self-transformation" (duhua). By self-transformation," he meant that everything emerges and generates independently, hence "self-sufficiency" is absolute. If we try to seek the cause and basis of the emergence and generation of things, ostensibly we can pursue this question infinitely, but ultimately we can come only to the conclusion of "self-sufficiency." Thus he said: "If we try to find out what a thing relies on and what is the cause of its creation, there will be no end and finally we will come to self-sufficiency and the working of self-transformation will be obvious." In his "Annotations on (Zhuangzi's) Qi Wu Lun" Guo Xiang cited an absolute example. He said that the bodily form, the shadow and the penumbra are all beings of absolute independence, for "thus throughout the realm of things, there is nothing, not even the penumbra, which is not "self-transformed."

If one thing does not exist independently, then everything else is not independent, which will inevitably lead to the existence of a primal body (or creator) above "everything," serving as the basis of their existence and inevitably recognized as "a cause of creation and generation." Although things exist independently and self-sufficiently, as long as everything fully realizes its "nature," brings it into full play and "the wise stays wise till his last day and the dull goes on being dull till his death," then the ideal realm will be achieved where "Heaven and earth are not so long-lived but live along with me, and things in the world are not divergent, but the same as me." Relating this way to every other thing has the greatest function; that is, "the greatest function of mutual indispensability is the perfection of self-transformation." Seen from another angle, everything is indispensable as long as it exists. Guo Xiang said: "A man, though only seven feet tall, possesses the five constant virtues; thus this mere body is provided with everything in the universe. Therefore none of the things in the world can be dispensed for one day. With one thing lacking, the living will not have means to live; with one law lacking, the living cannot fulfill their natural life-span." Thus, everything existent is rational, inevitable and not mutually exclusive. This view appears to contradict the doctrine of "self-transformation," but it does not. According to Guo Xiang, everything that exists is rational, inevitable and not mutually exclusive precisely because, as the condition for the existence of everything else, everything fully and absolutely brings its "nature" into full play, creates itself and generates self-sufficiently.

From this analysis of Guo Xiang's system of philosophical categories, we can see that his philosophy finally arrives at the doctrine of "self-transformation," and the concept of "exalted being" (chongyou) is merely a bridge to "self-transformation."What is more, in Guo Xiang's system, only after the establishment of the doctrine on "self-transformation" can one support "sublime being" and a relatively thorough refutation of a "nonbeing" above everything as the basis of the latter's existence.

If we want to know whether a philosopher is a materialist or idealist, or the characteristic of his philosophy, its ideological relations with its predecessors and successors and its place in history, we must first make an analysis of his categorical system.

Analysis of the Similarities and Differences Between the Concepts and Categories of Chinese and Foreign Philosophies

A comparison between the categorical systems of Chinese and foreign philosophies will undoubtedly enable us to have a better understanding of the characteristics and level of traditional Chinese philosophy. Because of the breadth of this topic and the limited study conducted by this author, we can make only a rather superficial comparison here between Wei and Jin metaphysics and the Buddhist doctrine of Prajna introduced into China in that period.

The central theme of Wei and Jin metaphysics is the question of "being and nonbeing, origin and outcome." Therefore "being" and "non-being" are two basic categories in the Wei and Jin metaphysics. The Buddhist Prajna doctrine also discussed the question of "being" and "nonbeing" (or the "void," kong), hence Dao-an said: "Of the twelve books, Vaipuliya is most copious and its doctrine on the void of being and non-being is similar to the teachings of Laozi (Lao Tzu) and Zhuangzi, thus the doctrine of Mahayana has been easy to spread in China." The concept of the "void" (or "nonbeing") of the Buddhist Prajna school is actually different from the "nonbeing" advocated by Wang Bi and other Chinese metaphysicians, despite their apparent similarity. The Buddhist concept of original nonbeing, or Tathata in Sanskrit, has the meaning that "all the different dharmas are in their original nature void and empty" and that all things have no original actual forms. Wang Bi and other metaphysicians also talked about "original nonbeing" by which, however, they meant that everything "is based on nonbeing as its origin." Although the two concepts of "original nonbeing" cannot be considered to be entirely different, they do have vast differences in meaning. In Wei and Jin metaphysics, Wang Bi's thought succeeded the doctrines of Laozi (Lao Tzu). In his philosophical system, the category "nonbeing" is one and the same thing as "the way" or "principle"; as he said: "The extreme of greatness is nothing but the way!.. . though it is important that it has nonbeing as its phenomenon, yet it cannot do without nonbeing as its noumenon"; "nothing exists without principle, everything operates according to its own law." Obviously, the "nonbeing" used by Wang Bi is not the "void" or "non-existence," but the "substance" of a thing. The "original nonbeing" of the Buddhist Prajna doctrine on the void only means that "all the different dharmas are in their original nature void and empty." They held that everything is void of nature, but created through the association of hetupratyaya. From this one can see that the Buddhist Prajna School in its discourse on the void refers not to "substance," but to "non-existence." As for the content of "being," the Wei and Jin metaphysicians usually referred to "universal being," namely, all sorts of actually existing things whereas, on the other hand, in the translation of Buddhist scripts, terms denoting different meanings of "being" (existence) were all translated into the term "being."

After its introduction into China, Buddhism first attached itself to Daoist necromancy during the Eastern Han Dynasty and then to Wei and Jin metaphysics. The various schools of the Prajna doctrine formed by Chinese monks during the Eastern Jin period generally still used metaphysical thought to explain the teachings of Prajna until the arrival in China of Kumarajiva whose translations of Modhyamikasatra. Satasastra and Dvadasa-mikaya sastra of the Mahaprajnapramitasastra provided Chinese Buddhist with the material for understanding the true meaning of Buddhism Monk Zhao's On No Real Non-Existence is more or less close to the original meaning of "neither being nor nonbeing" of the Buddhist Prajna doctrine.

A comparison and analysis of the Chinese and foreign philosophical concepts and categories can thus show their characteristics and level of development as well as the impact of foreign culture on indigenous traditional culture and the process of a foreign culture being assimilated and becoming a component of the culture of the country (nation, or region) into which the foreign culture was introduced.

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