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Introduction to Chinese Philosophy Compiled by Sanjeev Nayyar

December 2000

To most of us living in India, China is some sort of an enigma !n one hand "e are told that India e#ported its culture and philosophy to China some t"o thousand years ago !n the other, "e have the scars of the $ar of %&'2 Today the country is s"amped "ith cheap but (uality Chinese goods $hat is Chinese philosophy all about, ho" did it evolve, "hat "as )uddhism*s impact on China+ , boo- on Comparative .hilosophy by .rof . T /aju helped me find some ans"ers 0ere is an article based on inputs from that boo- Notes tal- about historical and philosophical developments follo" it Do not miss reading them 1eneral characteristics of Chinese philosophy 2C.3 are 4 % C. is neither in"ard loo-ing or out"ard loo-ing It -eeps a balance bet"een the t"o and is more at home "ith man in society than the ultimate problems No problem is probed too deep, pressed to its logical conclusion Chines thought affirms man first and never forgets its commitment to man Confucianism affirms man in society and Taoism man by himself, although Taoism "as inclined to belittle his material e#istence !n the "hole C. is out"ard loo-ing if Confucianism is considered typically Chinese 2 ,lthough a fe" (uestions about the ultimate nature of Tao "ere raised, the in(uiry "as not very thorough and everything is related to 0uman Nature None probed into the mind systematically or deep and "hat "as found "ithin mind "ere good feelings, sentiments, all that "hich contributes to a happy social life They are fe" found in every society and "ere not uni(ue to China 0ence C. is some"hat superficial and unsystematic C., ho"ever, has made a distinct contribution to "orld philosophy It persistently tries to build ethics and even metaphysics on the emotional nature of man but not on his rational nature Neither Indian nor $estern philosophy consider this aspect C. is concerned "ith the immediate life of man, not his past or future birth as is the case "ith Indian philosophy If a doctrine "or-s on building a good state and society, it is not7 "hen it does it is accepted The Chinese adopted Communism hoping that it "ould improve their (uality of life $hen it did not achieve its objective, they adopted the capitalistic model and their success is for all to see C. is more concerned "ith the Good than "ith the )eautiful and less "ith the Truth than "ith the )eautiful It finds the 1ood in normal human life not necessarily in communication "ith 1od but "ith other men It finds 1ood, not by controlling nature but in controlling oneself "ith reference to others There is some mysticism but not of the -ind that "e in India are familiar "ith, a -ind of nature mysticism, concerned "ith human nature only Taoism has elements in it


and )uddhism deepened it but it "as repeatedly brought to the human level in the history of Chinese thought 9 China does not have a well-developed materialistic philosophy. It "as human nature that "as elevated to the Tao of the early Taoists or to the material Tao of the later Confucians They "ere interested in human nature but not in spiritual or material nature This has an important lesson for Indians $e "ere e#cessively concerned "ith the reali:ation of ,tman, in the process "e ignored the "ell being of man, building of state and society, political thought )ecause nature meant human nature, China did not feel the need to develop a method for understanding nature There are al"ays e#amples of men "ith good nature so there "as found no need to study it as good nature "as observed and studied ,ccordingly, China did not develop systems of logic and epistemology The need for both is felt only "hen "e "ant to study more The Chines "ere not interested in the out"ard or in"ard so "hat "as the need to study, probe <or the same reason, there is very little categorization of reality There is some categori:ation of human virtues, of "hich human=heartedness is the highest To the Chinese, reality, is human nature+ )ut as the categori:ation is not carried out methodically and systematically, "e find very little importance attached to categories


%0 )ecause of a -een interest in human affairs and achievements, China had a strong sense of history and constructed some philosophies of history, besides a fe" doctrines of evolution The Chinese did not regard history as unreal or insignificant The aim of the Chinese mind is universal peace and it interpreted human achievements as progressing to"ards universal peace This statement baffles me The Chinese continue their march to"ards becoming a "orld military po"er, arm .a-istan to the teeth, and aid its nuclear program and >niversal .eace? %% C. considers Man as the highest object of creation, not because he alone can attain salvation as the Indian philosophers thought but because he alone can build up culture and civilization. %2 )ecause of this deep abiding interest in man, culture, civili:ation China could develop good social, political thought as also good life=affirming ethics $hile Chana-ya*s ,rthashashtra has some profound thoughts on foreign policy, defense, governance they "ere "ith the e#ception of a fe" "arriors li-e Shivaji never follo"ed If Indians had a strategic culture, all it had to do "as to convert the @hyer .ass into an impregnable fortress and the country*s history might "ell have been different The ideal of democracy started "ith Confucius and the <rench /evolution seems to have influenced by his ideas, "hether directly or indirectly Aven semantics must have been discovered by the Chinese school of Names China was the first to invent paper, printing, and gunpo"der but could develop none of these for the "ant of

systematic methodology She has to be, therefore, content "ith only so much credit for her inventions as Agypt received for the discovery of geometry )ecause of her humanistic interest, China pushed her in(uiries in political and social thought, rather than in inventions %5 In spite of a deep interest in human nature, it appears that pre=communist Chinese thought vie"ed man as an emotional and social animal but not as a rational animal The thought that the soul in full or in part is immortal never occurred to the Chinese This e plains the lac! of the development of logic and epistemology in Chinese thought %6 ,nother interesting feature is the absence of a definite conception of the spirit, soul in Chinese thought They referred to the spirits of the ancestors, spirits of "ater, mountain and so on but did not thin- of the spirit of the man "otes on Chinese Philosophy #CP$ % In no other philosophy are state and society given so much importance as in the Chinese Ban and society are the preoccupation of every Chinese philosopher C. believes that it is to be tested by the concept of good government 0istory and philosophy are very closely connected unli-e $estern, Indian philosophies 0o" to become a complete man is the (uestion of Chinese "isdom The idle man is one "ith sageliness "ithin and -ingliness "ithout >nli-e the $est, "here .lato*s philosopher became -ing un"illingly, the Chinese sage "illingly became -ing It is his duty to become -ing and set right state and society Bacaulay laid the blame for the <rench /evolution upon some distorted notions of China*s political institutions Man is the same everywhere, provided he is ethically perfect and complete. A(uality of man must be the basis of political and social structure 2"as that one of the reasons "hy the Chinese too- to Communism3 No philosophy in China could ignore this principle If a sage is to be -ing all the administrators must be philosophers The philosopher is a "ise man, since "isdom is obtained from the study of boo-s and training according to their teachings 2Slight similarity "ith Indian thought, concept of @no"ledge as enunciated in the )hag"ad 1eeta3 0ence, there is the famous e amination system of China of which the Civil %ervice of &ngland is a copy. "ature is an important to the Chinese It does not mean e#ternal nature, hills etc, as "e understand it but is something deep "ithin man It is not asceticism in the Indian conte#t but it relates to 0uman Nature 0o" can "e ma-e this life pleasant, happy and useful in itself+ C. did not preach control of nature but control by man of his o"n nature, to live an ethical life , philosophy of !ut"ardness, emphasis control of nature first and then man*s effort by self=control to conform to nature 21ood behavior3 CP emphasi:es man*s self=control "ith reference to state and society and not "ith reference to the Divine, ,mman "ithin The an#iety not to loose touch "ith the human situation reflects itself in the comparative absence of logical development in ancient and classical China C. also

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had pantheism, atheism and materialism li-e the Indian but "ithout the metaphysical depth and logical subtly of the Indian <ung thin-s that the absence of scientific development in ancient China "as due to the fact that the Chinese "anted to -no" and control the mind unli-e the $est "ho "anted to -no" and control nature The lac- of mathematics and logic are for the same reason )ut ancient India offers a contrary e#ample Indian philosophy is in"ard and more interested "ith the control of the mind than is ancient China )ut logic and syllogism are important parts of Indian philosophy, "ere systemati:ed by 1autama, the author of the Nyayasutras, as early as 600 )C In spite of great developments in logic, in ancient India, science and logic did not develop as "ell as in Aurope That is because it "as applied to the In"ard unli-e the $est, there "as out"ard motive and interest Ci-e in India, unli-e the $est, a number of schools of philosophy developed and gre" simultaneously In China all schools "ere motivated by the search for an ideal, but the ideal "as model man, state and society There "ere si# main schools 'in= 'ang Schools 2the cosmologists 4 originated among official astronomers, "ho observed the heavens and seasons and became cosmologists, major figure Tsou Den 4 5rd century ) C 3, the (u school 2the literati 4 teacher members of the Binistry of Aducation3, the Mo school 2the Bohists had its origin among the 1uardians of the temple, founded by Bo T:u lived bet"een 592 and 2;& ) C 3, Ming School 2the school of names "as started by the Binistry of Ceremonies "hich had to do "ith titles and positions3, the )a School 2the legalists sprang out of the Binistry of Eustice and emphasi:ed strictness in re"arding and punishing, founded by 0an <ei T:u, 5 rd century )C3 and the *ao-*e School 2the Taoists 4 "as started by official historians, "ho became hermits after observing the rise and fall of dynasties, fortunes of the people and learned to hold on to "hat "as essential in man3 Confucius belonged to the Eu school and "as born in 88% )C The object of C. "as to ma-e the state strong, man and society happy and stable, and the ruler an ideal one, the various Chinese schools analy:ed human nature for this common end If they studied Cosmology it "as to meet this objective $hen this did not happen, the thin-ers in the 1overnment "ould attribute failure to the inade(uacies of the philosophy of the advisors In no other country "as philosophy and institutional life as "ell connected The period 200 )C to %000 ,D mar-s the blending of various schools "ith each other and )uddhism <rom %000 to %&00 ,D indigenous schools tried to dominate Confucianism, impacted by )uddhism and other philosophies became the dominant philosophy $hat started, as a philosophy of practical life became a religion subse(uently+ >nder the influence of )uddhism, both Confucianism and Taoism became some -ind of religions Chan says, FChinese philosophy is tantamount to Neo=Confucianism G Since %&00, China is strongly influenced by the $est China has become communist and Bao Tse=tung advocates Bar#ism The four boo-s "hich every Chinese student reads are %3 The Confucian ,nalects 23 The )oo- of Bencius 53 The 1reat Cearning 63 The Doctrine of the Bean Confucius is regarded as the first teacher but is seen to represent the Chinese outlooon life It is said that he did not compose but compiled the si# classics, "hich are %3

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Di or the )oo- of Changes 23 Shih or the )oo- of !des 53 Shu or the )oo- of 0istory 63 Ci or /ituals 83 Dueh or music '3 Chun Chiu or Spring and ,utumn ,nnals The Chinese did not start "ith any scripture corresponding to the Hedas $henever they needed an authority to support their vie"s, they referred to some legendary emperor and attributed their vie"s to him Confucius 2born 88% )C3 "as a traditionalists "ho felt that the misery in China during his time because the people "ere not follo"ing venerable traditions 0e said, any man could be superior man if he is noble, unselfish, -ind and just Confucius understood duties in terms of customary rites 2Ci3, sacrifices, manners and eti(uette Ci originally meant sacrifice7 its meaning "as e#tended to include every courtesy that characteri:ed the conduct of courtesies *o observe +i became a duty and is li!e ,harma 0ere lies the similarity bet"een his thoughts and Sanatana Dharam Ci originally meant sacrifice and "as later given the meaning of ritual, proprietary, moral and political duties Dharma too "as originally associated "ith sacrifice $hat the Hedas ordained, the performance of sacrifices "as a duty, "hich came to mean Dharma Ban*s dharma is "hat sustains the "orld and Ci is "hat sustains man, state and society 0e emphasi:ed righteousness 2yi3 and human=heartedness 2jen3 The "ord rational "as absent7 perhaps reason did not interest Confucius The practical aspect of Een consists in regard to others The positive bit is Chung i e do to others as you "ould li-e them to do to you and the negative bit is Shu Chung and shu "ere later interpreted as the doctrine of golden mean and harmony Confucius recogni:ed the importance of @no"ledge for he reali:ed that "ithout it one cannot become a superior man 0e "ho does not -no" Bing cannot be a superior man and ming means the total e#istent conditions and forces of the universe Their interest lies only in the study of human relationships and not in a scientific study of the >niverse Confucianism reminds me of the Hedic period at that time, over emphases on sacrifice If you "ant to read about the conditions during the Hedic period, go to the essay /eligious Development in India Confucius stressed the importance of music in education7 belief in a pre determined fate In a number of "ays his thoughts are very similar to Indian thin-ing around and before that time Dang Chu 2660 to 5'0 )C3 "as in a sense a naturalist Instead of calling the pure happy nature of man by the name spirit or atman, he calls it nature To call it by nature is part of Chinese tradition, "hich "as more interested in things human than in thing material Dang Chu felt that it could be achieved only by shunning desires 2Indian concept3 and leading a life of purity Bencius 2592 to 2;& )C3 is one of the greatest follo"ers of Confucius is associated "ith the doctrine that all things are completely "ithin mind 0e introduced meditation "hich is absent in the teachings of Confucius There is a peculiar similarity bet"een the doctrine of Mencius and Mimamsa The la" of @arma governs the "orld, "hich is dependent on the duties of man Duties include sacrifices to gods and duties to family, society <or Bencius also man*s duties include duties to spirits, family, state and society

26 Confucius said anyone could be a superior man, provided he "as noble, virtuous and s-illful In India too, the "ord ,ryan "as given a philosophical meaning $hile it had a racial meaning earlier, by the time of )uddha it meant anyone "ho "as noble hearted Hedic religion "as called ,rya Dharma <or )uddha the ,ryan "as one "ho follo"ed the eight=fold path, for Bahavira, the ,ryan "as one "ho follo"ed the path prescribed by him and observed ahimsa, vegetarianism 28 +ao *zu is amongst the most famous *aoists. 0e placed nature above everything else and urged man to reali:e it The reali:ation is possible by leading a simple and pure life, ta-ing life as it comes "ithout any high ambitions and aspirations The Tao is simplicity itself and can be attained through simplicity of life Tao 2universal nature3, te 2individual nature3, human=heartedness, righteousness 2yi3 and rituals 2li3 are the five ideals in the descending order of importance ,ccording to Tao life is to be here itself, in the family, state and society 2' ,ccording to Taoists, the -ing has to be a sage 0e must not try to do anything, but allo" nature to ta-e care of all The Tao itself "ill "or- spontaneously The -ing must act through non=ruling Inspite of its laisse: faire teachings, Taoism "as made the basis of totalitarian philosophies of China The Tao is the absolute, it is the totality of all that there is !n one hand, Taoists political philosophy is anarchists, because the ruler rules not by ruling and allo"ing the subjects to act according to their nature !n the other hand is totalitarian, because the Tao is one and absolute and "or-s through every person 29 'in-yang school. Din stands for the mother goddess and Dang for the father god To this school belongs the doctrine of -u .sing or five elements. They are fire, "ood, metal, earth and "ater In India "ood and metal is replaced by air and ether "hile the 1ree-s had only four elements The Chinese man "as an agricultural animal hence metal and "ood, the 1ree- man "as a rational, political and trading animal "hile the Indian "as a rational and spiritual animal 2; /evival of *aoism = <rom the end of the 0an dynasty in 220 ad to 8;& ad, "hen the Sui dynasty succeeded in unifying China, there "as a period of constant "ars among the Si# dynasties It "as during this period of confusion that )uddhism made great strides and offered a great appeal, (uite similar to Taoism It is sometimes called Neo= Taoism It "as divided into the /ationalists and the Sentimentalists <or both life is lived according to the Internal nature To the former this internal nature is reason "hile to the latter it is impulse Important teachers of the rationalist*s "ing believed that Tao is found every"here and it is $u Averything causes itself and nothing is produced by another 2Sounds li-e the cause and effect of Hedanta3 To allo" things to follo" their nature is to allo" them to undergo change and to do so is "u="ei 2nonaction3 !ne must not imitate ancient sages for they belonged to different times, in short lets flo" "ith the tide rather than fight it The sentimentalists also believed in living according to ones nature but this nature is reason They preached that emotions are to be calmed by reason

2& .hilosophically "eo Confucianism 2%'58 to %9803 to be richer than the earlier schools "hich must be attributed to ) It gave Taoism and Confucianism more content and a "ider outloo- )ut "hat ) did not have a distinct philosophy for this life, the life of a householder in society and politics )uddhists ideas "ere assimilated to Chinese ideas 50 Contemporary *hought 0 China has become communist, "ith Bar#ism as interpreted by Cenin and Stalin has become the official philosophy of the nation Bao hated Confucianism The ne" philosophy that Bao Tse=tung preaches is a philosophy of action, an activism along the lines of Bar#ism, "hich appealed to him as a philosophy of a dynamic life, the aim of "hich is to change the "orld, a rationalistic activism in "hich the life of -no"ledge and life of action cannot be separated 12. 3uddhism #3$ a$ ,s a philosophy Taoism had much in common "ith )uddhism but as a religion they "ere opposite in China ) entered China in the first century a d via Central ,sia During 220 to 2;0 ad it became an authori:ed religion, )uddhist la" "as translated into Chinese During 620 to 8;& ad the Doctrine of .ure Cand developed and promised happiness in another land to the misery stric-en people The importance of happiness on earth and body diminished )eing a foreign religion, ) suffered at the hands of the Taoists and Confucians 0o"ever, ) had become immensely popular by then b$ )eing sublime and logical, ) became complimentary to Taoism and Confucianism >nli-e these t"o, ) "as a highly developed religion and catered to the religious needs of the Chinese In addition, ) "as not a revealed religion but a religion based on the philosophy of human nature, and the Chinese being naturalistic by temperament, could find something not completely alien to their "ays of thought c$ China assimilated )uddhism through its Taoistic concepts It "as east to e(uate Tao "ith Tathata, understanding both as nature, human nature to the Chinese Tathata "ould be interpreted as Tao, Nirvana 2non movement3 as $u $ei 2non action3 The )uddhist middle path "ould be the 1olden Bean of Confucius There "as a tradition in China by "hich )uddha became the disciple of Cao T:u 2famous Taoists refer 28 above37 the implication being that ) "as not foreign to China d$ ,lthough the religious te#ts "ere the same, ) in China became different from the ) in India It "as assimilated by the Chinese by blending it "ith its pragmatic humanism ) had been born in India "hen the ,ryans "ere at their pea- The ,ryanised "ay of life meant a life of peace, compassion and nobility The Chinese adopted this noble life because it offered them a "indo" to escape from the turmoil and misery in China at that time e$ T"o Indian scholars contributed to Chinese ) The first "as @umarjiva 2566 to 6%5 a d 3 born in Tur-estan and )odhidharma 26;' to 85' a d 3 f$ The important deviations that ) under"ent in China may be noted The Taoists doctrine of "u "ei "as identified "ith the Nirvana of the )uddhists, )uddha "as called the disciple of Cao T:u and a certain bodhisattva "as reported to be an incarnation of Confucius Thus, "hile assimilating ) the Chinese made it a system built up of Taoist and Confucian elements The techni(ues of meditation

are to be used to attain sageliness and not )uddhahood The sage need not give up the "orld 2unli-e the mon-s in India3 but could live "ith family Thus the Chinese reaction in general "as to humani:e, naturali:e and sociali:e ) g$ !n the "hole it "as Bahayana ) that attracted the Chinese particularly those schools that are more positive then negative h$ Chinese ) "as later divided into Ten schools ,lmost all the schools preached that anyone could attain )ud=dhahood The highest ,dhi-ari for the Chinese is the sage, interested in "orld affairs, not the )uddhist mon- So later there "as a tendency to reduce )uddhahood to sagehood, since the central concern "as for the $ay rather than for the /eality i$ The Tao, Tathata and )rahman are the three ultimates of Chinese philosophy, ) and Indian Hedanta The Tao is the $ay of the processes of the "orld and so is Tathata but the )rahman is )eing and so is not a part of the "orld <or this reason it "ould not appeal to the )uddhists The Chinese "ished to follo" a "ay of life that is in harmony "ith the ultimate "ay of the universe but they did not conceive a static being Amail feedbac- to esams-ritiIsuryaconsulting net