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Return to the "Manifesto on Behalf of Chinese Culture" introduction page

 

Part 11: Our Hopes for Western Culture and What the West Should Learn from Eastern Wisdom

 

        It cannot be denied that Western culture dominates in the modern world. It also cannot be denied that since the beginning of the nineteenth century the cultures of many nations throughout the world have been influenced by Western culture, and have all worked hard in studying Western religion, science, philosophy, arts, law, and technology. However, in the end, is Western culture in itself sufficient to guide all the cultures of mankind? In addition to Easterners learning from Western culture, might it be necessary for Westerners to learn something from Eastern culture? If so, then what might we hope that they should learn from Eastern culture? And what are the future prospects for world academic learning and thought from this reciprocal study between East and West? These are large questions, and we would like to take this opportunity to lay out our views. . . .

        If Westerners truly wish for their attitudes and their own spirit to advance, or if they truly desire to interact with Easterners, Asians, and Africans in order to adjust human relations and gain world peace, and thus preserve Western culture itself in perpetuity in human society, then we believe that Westerners' spiritual ideals must rise even further. In addition to the adopted Greek and Hebrew spirit and the spirit of the modern West that developed from it, they must study the East's human wisdom in order to accomplish the promotion and advancement of their own spiritual ideal. In this regard, there are five points that can be discussed.

        (1) We think that the first thing Westerners should learn from Eastern culture is the spirit of "affirming the present moment" and the aspiration to "let go of everything." The strength of Western culture's spirit lies in its drive for limitless progress and inexhaustible creation. However, in this state of mind that emphasizes progress and creation, even if they can take a religious faith in God as their refuge, in real life, their thoughts in each present moment are actually empty and lack support. Since these thoughts come one after another, they will always find themselves empty and without support. Because of this, Westerners and Western countries use forward progress and creation in order to fill up their emptiness. And if the strength which gives rise to this progress and creation is exhausted by nature or blocked by external forces and cannot continue, then the individual's life or the life of the state will thereupon collapse. This is why in the West, the elderly are usually desolate and lonely, and why many strong states in the history of the West fell down and perished.

        Chinese culture takes the mind and nature as the source of all value, and thus as soon as people have one thought in awareness of this mind and nature, the values of human life and the universe all completely emerge, satisfactory and complete. Human life settles within this one thought. This is called the human realm of "affirming the present moment without waiting for anything else." The Chinese think that understanding when to advance but not understanding when to retreat is a crisis in life, and this truly is a characteristic of Western culture. If one does not understand when to retreat, then in the present moment, one's spirit is truly left with no place to rest. Westerners can use this life wisdom to provide themselves with a foothold that can increase their sense of security in Western culture itself.

        In contrast, the West has been influenced by the spirit of Greece, which emphasized intellectual cultural activities, and this is expressed by its formation of concepts. This is certainly a necessary condition for achieving knowledge. However, Western scholars who are immersed in the process of accumulating concepts and knowledge may constantly yet unconsciously take the accumulation of concepts as the basis for evaluating the richness of the substance of human life. This may have some intrinsic significance, but the concepts themselves are originally distinct from the substance of human life and have their limitations, thus creating obstacles. If your spirit is constantly burdened with these concepts, then your aspirations will be unable to expand and spread out. This deficiency is first of all manifest in the difficulty of Westerners and Easterners to have genuine and Authentic interactions, because in order to have genuine interactions with others, it is first necessary that our minds be completely empty and become lights directly shining upon each others’ lives. If one has concepts, then these concepts can act as intermediaries, allowing us to interact with others who have these concepts. However, at the same time, they can create obstacles to genuine interaction among people. These sorts of concepts include our predetermined plans and objectives, the abstract ideals by which we interact with others, our abstract criteria, prejudices, and habitual opinions for evaluating others, etc. These sorts of concepts should all be set aside when we wish to have genuine interactions with others. Only upon setting them aside may we in our lives shine upon each other, affirm each other, and truly understand each other.

        This matter appears simple but in actuality is difficult and requires an extremely profound cultivation. There are different steps and levels of skill that can be employed in this effort, and all must be utilized regularly, for only then will our interactions with others be genuine interactions and lead to genuine understanding. These efforts in ordinary times are such that in our everyday life, when we become aware that we have some concepts in our mind, we should transcend them, thereupon releasing them.

        This wisdom of releasing is called the wisdom of emptiness [śūnyatā] or the wisdom of liberation [mukti] in Indian thought. In Daoism, it is called the wisdom of emptiness or the wisdom of nothingness. In Confucianism, it is called the wisdom of "being completely empty," or "being without intentions, without certainty, without fixedness, without self," or "being unbiased and impartial [12]." By utilizing these types of wisdom, one can look at all of the experiences and affairs in daily life as well as all ideal affairs as if they have become transparent and without obstruction. From this, even though you can as usual employ your concepts of knowledge and ideals, you can also act without being attached to them. If you lack attachment, then even though you have these concepts, you can transcend them, for they are not clear. This sort of knowledge can make a millionaire feel penniless, make a great politician wonder "how are the undertakings of the great sage kings Yao and Shun different from floating clouds in the great void?" [13] make all great scientists and philosophers close their mouths and shut up, make all preachers feel that they have no teachings to give to others [14], and make all diplomats feel that they are as useless as transient travelers.

        This wisdom of detachment that is expressed in Indian philosophy and religion, in Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist thought and demeanor, and in Chinese literature and arts, is truly worthy of study by those in the West. But they must first let go of the concepts of their cultural tradition, getting rid of what they already understand, admire, and perceive. Only then will they be able to understand the infinite flavors of these ideas. The basis of this is to be found in the ideals of "affirming the present moment" and "the entirety of things in human life are all equal." This is the first point that Westerners should learn from Eastern culture.

        (2) The second point that Westerners should learn from Eastern culture is a sort of "rounded and spiritual wisdom." The wisdom of detachment described above is negative, while this rounded and spiritual wisdom is positive. "Rounded and spiritual" is a term from the Changes that is contrasted with the term "square and wise [15]."

        We can say that in Western science and philosophy, the universal concepts and principles that are grasped with the intellect's reasoning capacity are straight. When they are connected to each other, they can form a square. These universal concepts and principles are abstract, and so when they are applied to concrete things that have various aspects, they will certainly neglect and disregard some aspects. They cannot curve around the special characteristics and individual natures of things. Since we need the ability to so curve around, it is necessary that our wisdom become the sort of wisdom that is able to follow the particular and individual changes of things in their meandering fashion. The application of such wisdom does not start with holding up universals, but rather takes universals and blends them into particulars in order to observe the particulars, causing universals to be guided by particulars. However, these universals that have been fixed by these particulars become universal again through man's consciousness. And still people must not stick to this, but again blend into the particulars to achieve emptiness. Because of this, one's spirit can advance further, changing its tendency to hold on to universals, so there is only the flow and movement of a ubiquitous rounded and spiritual wisdom as it follows the winding course of things. Thus it can change its tendency to hold on to universals. This is like a straight line extending in one direction and immediately turning round until it has become round, coiling and revolving around the center of concrete affairs. This is a rounded and spiritual wisdom. Or, as Zhuangzi says, it is a "spiritual release" or "spiritual encounter [16]."  Or, as Mengzi says, "Anywhere a gentleman passes through is transformed. He preserves the spiritual. He flows with Heaven above and Earth below [17]."

        The term "spiritual" here does not refer to God or the spirit of God. Rather, it refers to an ability to stretch or extend. If we merely employ universal abstract concepts and principles to look at things, then there will be parts of these things that we harmonize with and parts we do not. Where there is no harmony, there will be stagnation. Where there is stagnation, the spirit of the mind cannot extend itself. If one is able to take universal and abstract concepts and principles, and is able to change them just when one is about to stick to them, and also has the wisdom that flows along with the roundness of things, only then will there be nowhere that the spirit of the mind cannot extend itself. This is called a rounded and spiritual knowledge.

        This sort of wisdom, however, is not merely dialectical wisdom, but is rather closer to what Bergson called "intuition [18]."  Dialectical wisdom takes some universals to establish concrete particulars. After observing their limitations, there emerges a relatively more concrete universal that can be used to observe things. The "universals" here emerge one by one in front of human consciousness. This sort of rounded and spiritual understanding will take and transform the beginnings of these universals in the mind itself, before they have fully emerged.

        Thus, before consciousness, there was only the flow and movement of a ubiquitous rounded and spiritual wisdom as it followed the winding course of things. This is similar to what Bergson called "intuition." However, Bergson's "intuition" was merely his own individual philosophical viewpoint. Chinese people can employ this well-rounded and spiritual wisdom everywhere to understand natural life, observe the transformations of Heaven and earth, appreciate and praise the demeanor of living personages, and even use this wisdom to observe the changes of social customs and fortune of various eras. And they can use this wisdom as a foundation for their academic discussions with others and respond to and answer smoothly and without set patterns, giving advice accordingly, like the spreading out of the sounds of Heaven.

        This wisdom has spread throughout Chinese literature and arts, including the Analects, the Mengzi, the New Accounts of the Tales of the World, and the various recorded sayings of Chan Buddhism and Song-Ming Confucianism [19].  However, it is only after we are able to deeply immerse ourselves and swim in Chinese culture that we finally can deeply and completely understand it.

        Westerners also need this rounded and spiritual wisdom; for only with it can they genuinely come into contact with the different nationalities and different cultures of the world without any barriers or separation. At the same time they can use empathy and respect in meeting them, in understanding their life interests, spirits, and moods. It is also needed if they wish to move beyond the perspective of the limited sphere of their rationality, knowledge, religious belief, technology, industry, historical categories, and the humanities as determined by their own traditional culture, and then come to recognize genuine concrete spheres of life and connect and respond to everything in the spheres of the human world and the worlds of history and the humanities. Only then can Western scholars move beyond their individual scholarly work and self-created boundaries and at any time have genuine conversations and happily engage in mutual understanding.

        (3) The third point that Westerners should learn from Eastern culture is a feeling of mildness and compassion or empathy. Westerners' loyalty to ideals and spirit in the service of society, and passion and love towards others often is something that Easterners cannot match, and this is extremely precious. However, the highest feelings amongst humans are not limited to enthusiasm and love. The will to power and desire to possess can all permeate into the enthusiasm and love amongst people. In order to keep this will to power and desire to possess from penetrating, Westerners mainly rely upon a feeling of modesty molded by their religious beliefs and an understanding of their accomplishments as glorifying and serving God and arising from His grace.

        However, man's will to power can also make use of God as a support, lending confidence to the idea that one's own actions are those that God approves of, thus giving free rein to them in moving forward. Man can also selfishly wish to possess God, as in times of war and conflicts with others, praying to God for help. In these situations, the Way of God and the demon in man's mind can arise and develop together. Therefore, Christianity teaches forgiveness of one’s enemy in order to get rid of this malady. However, a perfect forgiveness of others could also become a complete renunciation of the world in which one merely seeks the path to one’s own individual blessings. Getting rid of this malady of renunciation requires again emphasizing love and enthusiasm.

        This completes a circle in which this love and enthusiasm can again give rise to the will to power and the desire to possess, and this problem lacks a definitive resolution. Such a definitive resolution can only come from cutting off the will to power and the desire to possess at their roots, which lie at the beginning where one expresses enthusiasm and love to others. In order to cut off these roots, love must truly be joined together with respect. One of the implications of love and respect being truly joined together is our feeling that since the love that we have towards others originates in God, its source is in God's inexhaustible love, so the respect that we have towards others should similarly be inexhaustible. This sort of respect is like the respect that one has towards God. This is what is meant by the expressions "the benevolent man serves his parents as he serves Heaven" and "when managing the people, do so as if you were managing a great sacrifice [20]." It does not allow us to engage in the reflection that we alone believe in God and understand God's love while our adversary does not. Such a thought allows us to feel that the other person is on a lower level than ourselves, and as such our respect for others will certainly not be sufficient.

        Genuine respect toward others must be an absolute, unconditional, and true respect that understands that "people each have their own objectives." If we have this respect, then the love between people will be displayed through rituals, and the enthusiasm of this love will be restrained within and become warm and gentle virtue. And the deepest love between people will transform into the feelings of benevolence and compassion. This is connected to the Buddhist idea of empathy.

        Compassion and empathy are not the same as normal love. Normal love is merely the feelings of our own life and spirit directed towards others as we look upon them as if they were ourselves. This position of regarding others like we regard ourselves can get itself mixed up in the dregs of a desire to possess others. However, compassion and empathy arise from a type of unsettled feeling or mutual internal vibration between our own genuinely existing spirit and that of another. In this there is also naturally a genuine feeling of sympathy among people, and this forms a stream of these feelings which spread out and flow back into people. These feelings on the one hand flow out of us while on the other hand can also be swallowed up by us. Insofar as this flow returns to us, touching us, it is then able to rinse away the mixed up dregs of possessive desires in the inflow of these feelings. There is a very subtle truth in this.

        To put it into more philosophical words, if the love that Westerners emphasize truly transforms into compassion and empathy, then it is necessary that God, as the religious source of this love, is not merely seen as one who transcends all human spirits, as one who links all human spirits together and unifies them, and as one who is the object of our prayers. Rather, it is necessary to treat Him as being located deep within our mind and penetrating through our flesh, displaying Himself in all direct emotional and empathetic interactions among all genuine existing life spirits. However, we cannot provide a detailed discussion of this problem here.

        (4) The fourth point that Westerners should learn from Eastern culture is the wisdom of how to perpetuate its culture. As we have already said, Chinese culture is the only one in the world that has both a long history and a conscious awareness of its length, and it is due to the fact that the Chinese people have been consciously aware of its length that it has then had this long history [21]. Modern Western culture is without a doubt extremely splendid and magnificent. However, how can it avoid declining and falling in the same fashion as Greek and Roman cultures? Already, there are numerous people worrying about this. We think that culture is the expression of every nationality's spiritual life. In accordance with the laws of nature, all expressions consume and exhaust strength. There is no naturally existing strength that does not wane when consumed. The strength of man’s natural spiritual life is also like this. In order for it not to wane, people must have a sensibility created by an historical consciousness that goes back through the former ages and down through future generations. This sensibility must be used to interact with the underlying source of life in the universe that resides in the depths of human minds and in the depths of Heaven, earth, and the myriad things.

        In the West, the underlying source of life in the universe is called God. From the perspective of Western religions life, people can to some extent come into contact with this underlying source of life in the universe. However, most religious life merely relies upon prayer and faith to come into contact with God, and, in the end, His relationship to humans is unavoidably transcendent and external. People only think of His eternality and thus are not yet able to directly obtain a sensibility created by an historical consciousness that goes back through the former ages and down through future generations. Furthermore, if we approach God as the underlying source of life in the universe by means of prayer and faith, this means that we come into contact with Him only through our transcendent minds or spirit, and does not yet mean that we have directly come into contact with Him with our existing self. If we wish to do this, we must still exert much effort.

        The starting point of this effort lies in ensuring that all of our outwardly directed actions do not merely follow along a natural path, but rather on occasion go against this natural path and return to the underlying source of life in the universe and then return and fulfill nature. This is precisely what we have earlier [in Part 4] called the root wisdom by which Chinese history and culture perpetuate themselves. This wisdom is not merely a theory of Chinese philosophy, but rather penetrates through all aspects of Chinese literature, arts, and rituals. Based on this wisdom, Chinese people always strive to have surplus in every aspect of their cultural life. This is the way they use to come into contact with the underlying source of life in the universe. This is the way by which they preserve their human life force and ensure that it is not dissipated or exhausted to too great an extent. And this is a way that goes against the natural paths by which we exhaust ourselves in expression.

        Looking at it from this perspective, there exists a great problem inherent in modern Western culture's striving for efficiency and speed. Using Chinese people's earlier, fairly relaxed and unhurried attitude to deal with the present world is admittedly in many ways unsuitable. However, the contemporary Western world makes everyone scurry around. Even if men all ride rockets to the stars, and one can fly to other planets, they will in the end sink into the emptiness of outer space. This is not the way for human cultures, including Western culture, to perpetuate themselves. In the end, there will come a day when Westerners will realize that only God is eternal without a longstanding history and culture, and that if men cannot live and work in peace and contentment here, they will also not be able to do so amongst the stars.

        By that time, Westerners should be capable of developing a sensibility that goes back through the former ages and down through future generations, and they will come into contact with the underlying source of life in the universe based on this sensibility. In their daily life they can everywhere strive for the goal of preserving their life-energy, and with this sensibility they can truly come to understand the importance of the notion of filial piety, of having children and grandchildren to preserve their ancestors and continue their lineages, of inheriting their ancestor’s behests, and of seeking to preserve and continue their culture in order to truly perpetuate this culture and history. However, this question is also not one that we can discuss in a detailed fashion in this essay.

        (5) The fifth point that Westerners should learn from Easterners is the feeling that "everyone in the world is one family [22]." We admit that humanity is now divided into many countries, and all non-democratic nations need to walk down the road to democracy. However, in the end, humanity must come to feel that everyone in the world is one family. Therefore, modern humans, in addition to being citizens of a single country, must at the same time have a feeling of unity with everyone in the world, and only then will the world truly reach the day when we are all one family.

        With regard to this point, Easterners generally possess an abundance of this feeling. Chinese people from the beginning have been fond of talking about all under Heaven and the state under Heaven. The philosophies of Confucianism, Daoism, Mohism, and Buddhism all contributed to this feeling. Mohism emphasized impartial caring, Daoism emphasized that people should forget about one another's differences, and Buddhism emphasized having feelings of mercy and love toward all things. Confucianism taught that it is possible, on the basis of the mind of benevolence and its capacity to be universal and all encompassing, to "take the world to be one family and the middle states to be one person," to believe that "people can all become like the sage kings Yao and Shun," and to believe that "within the four seas, for thousands of generations in the past and for thousands of generations into the future, sages all have the same mind and the same Pattern [23]."  Confucianism's emphasis on benevolence and Christianity’s emphasis on love have similar aims because Christianity also teaches that love should be extended to all people.

        However, Christianity says that all men have original sin, and Christians base themselves on the will of God, something imposed from above for the sake of the salvation of man. Confucianism, in contrast, believes that human nature is good, that people can achieve sagehood and harmonize with the Virtue of Heaven on their own. This is one conflict between the two. However, even though these religious doctrines have their differences, they are not mutually exclusive, and each has its value to humanity and its culture. In cultivating in people the feeling that everyone in the world is one family, though, we believe that instead of relying upon Christianity we should rely more upon Confucianism. This is because Christianity is an institutionalized religion organized into many sects that cannot be easily harmonized. Christianity also has the concepts of Heaven and Hell, and heretics and nonbelievers may go to Hell. Even among the different sects of Christianity there will never be equality, and there is a division between those who are a part of one's own Church and those who are not. The former can go to Heaven, while the latter may go to Hell. In this way, Christianity’s love, even though it seems to be unconditional, still actually has one condition, namely that "you believe in my doctrine." This truly is an extremely significant problem.

        According to Confucian thought, people all have a nature allowing them to achieve sagehood and harmonize with the virtue of Heaven. Confucianism has no organized church and does not require that people worship Kongzi, because people all have the ability to become sages just like him. This is why Confucianism is not antagonistic to any other religion. Confucianism has a concept of Heaven and earth but lacks a concept of Hell and thus a Hell in which to place those who do not believe. Confucians believe that "the myriad things are nourished without harming each other, and the various Ways are traveled in parallel without conflicting with one another [24]." If humanity truly wishes to have the feeling that the whole world is one family, then the Confucian spirit is truly worthy of study by everyone in preparation for the future world in which the whole world is one family. In addition, the East also has the Buddhism and Brahmanism of India, which have the same ideas about the possibility of achieving Buddhahood and achieving oneness with Brahman and can cultivate in us the feeling that the whole world is one family [25].  These sorts of Eastern thought are connected to Eastern literature, arts, and rituals and deserve to be researched and studied by Westerners.

        The points raised above about what Westerners should learn from the East are not an all-inclusive list, for they can certainly be supplemented. What we talked about above were things that Western culture must learn from the East if it wishes to accomplish its present-day objective of leading the world, complete its own upward development, and ensure the survival of its own culture. This is not to say that there are not even the seeds of these ideas in Western culture. However, we hope that the seeds already present in Western culture can, through the study of Eastern culture, come to flower and bear fruit.

 

 


 

 

[12] The first two phrases are from Analects 9.8 and 9.4. The third is from Cheng Hao.
 

 

[13] This appears to be a reference to a saying by Cheng Hao, found in the third chapter of the Er Cheng yi shu.

 

[14] This saying is attributed to the Chan Buddhist monk Deshan Xuanjian (782–865) and is recorded in the collected sayings of his student, Xuefeng Yicun (822–908), Xuéfēng zhēnjué chánshī yǔlù (雪峰真覺禪師語錄).
 

 

[15] Changes, "Great Appendix," I.11, translated slightly differently in Part I, Selection 9.
 

 

[16] Zhuangzi ch. 11 and ch. 3, respectively.
 

 

[17] Mengzi 7A24.

 

 

[18] Henri-Louis Bergson (1859–1941) was a French philosopher and Nobel laureate in literature famous for his argument that intuition and immediate experience are more important than science and rationalism when it comes to understanding reality.

 

 

[19] A New Account of Tales of the World (Shìshuō xīnyǔ 世說新語) is a fifth-century collection of stories about Chinese scholars and artists. For examples of the sorts of "recorded sayings" the authors have in mind, see Selected Kōans, in Part II, Selection 18; Zhu Xi, Categorized Conversations, in Part III, Selection 32; and Wang Yangming, A Record for Practice, in Part III, Selection 43. —Eds.

 

 

[20]For the quoted phrases, see the Rites, "Questions for Duke Ai," and Analects 12.2.

 

 

[21] This was discussed in a section of the Manifesto not translated here.

 

 

[22] This is found in numerous early texts including the Rites.

 

 

[23] The first phrase is found in the Rites, “Evolution of the Rites.” The second is from Mengzi 6B2. The third appears to be a paraphrase of a passage in Lu Xiangshan's Collected Works.

 

 

[24] Mean 30.

 

 

[25] In philosophical Hinduism (which the authors here refer to as "Brahmanism"), Brahman is the unitary underlying reality of the world. Upon achieving enlightenment, one achieves (or recognizes) one's unity with Brahman. Buddhists (particularly Theravadan Buddhists) would deny the co-authors' assertion that their view is similar to that of Hinduism. —Eds.

 

 

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