This thesis focuses on the Neo-Confucian thinker Zhu Xi’s (1130-1200) study of Four Books, investigating his idea of shi li (real reason) and its relation to li (rites) with an approach of hermeneutics of classics....[ Read more ]
This thesis focuses on the Neo-Confucian thinker Zhu Xi’s (1130-1200) study of Four Books, investigating his idea of shi li (real reason) and its relation to li (rites) with an approach of hermeneutics of classics.
Zhu Xi's idea of shi li involves two indivisible sides: the real reason as ben ti (original substance) and the realization of the real reason which is understood as the gong fu (cultivation) for enlightenment . The reason for Zhu Xi to use the term “real reason” instead “reason” or “reason of heaven” is that the extension of the word “reason” is too vague and loose to make a distinction between the Confucian reason and the Buddhist’s reason of “emptiness” or the Daoist reason of “nothingness”.
According to almost all neo-Confucians, rites are understood as the embodiment of shi li. In this regard, Zhu Xi criticizes the two Cheng Brothers’ disciples’ idea of “the replacement of rites by reason” in his works of commentary and discrimination on the topic of “ke ji fu li” (to restrain oneself and return to rites) in the Analects. He points out that the idea of “the replacement of rites by reason” puts too much emphasis on the reason and undermines the importance of the practical function of rites. In other words, they think that if someone understands the reason, without additional effort, he will have the result of the cultivation of rites spontaneously, which makes people neglect the study from the groundwork of rites and thus makes no difference from the idea of Buddhism. Zhu Xi thinks the gong fu of “to return to rites” is more subtle and basic than “to restrain oneself”. Buddhism only stresses on the latter but not on the former, therefore, according to Zhu Xi, its end-result is void.
The combination of shi li and rites constitutes a criterion to distinguish Confucianism from Buddhism and Daoism.
Zhu Xi regards the elementary education as rites for children’s basic learning. He compiled a book called Elementary Education and considered its content as an important part of his entire theory of Neo-Confucianism. He thinks that the elementary education is the very beginning of learning to be a good man, the base of the great learning and the logical starting point of his systematic study of the Four Books. Both elementary education and great learning incorporate the practice of rites.
Zhu Xi practices rites all the time in his life, therefore the practice of rites forms his moral life. It is obvious that the idea of rites play a role as important as that of reason in Zhu Xi’s thought. On the first hand, the rites and the reason cannot be separated as two things. The reason is a principle and the rites are its usage. On the other hand, according to Zhu Xi’s explanation of the ancient rites, the rites (including elementary education and great learning) are understood as the root and primacy of self-cultivation. The two main gong fu of Zhu Xi’s theory, jing (reverence) and qiong li (investigation of things) are secondary and supplementary to the ancient rites. Jing is supplementary in terms of its function in overcoming the shortcoming in the practice of the ancient elementary education. The target of the investigation of things should be the rites, not any abstract idea. The continuity of reverence and the investigation of things are entirely parallel to the continuity of the rites for children and those for adults, i.e., the elementary education and the great learning.