Thursday, April 14, 2011


by Scott Bradley

I have just begun reading Fung Yu-lan's A Short History of Chinese Philosophy and will share here occasional thoughts that emerge as I continue. In his introduction he states that the Chinese have not traditionally cared much for religion but have rather attempted to fill that need with philosophy. Religion always seems to creep in, but if we look, for an example, at that greatest of Chinese philosophers (at least in terms of influence), Confucius, then his point seems valid. Confucius had nothing to say about God or heaven or hell. His was a philosophy of life. And it became the way of the majority of the Chinese people for nearly two millennia.

This 'need' that required filling is what Fung calls "higher values". These are other than those which mere intellection can provide. They are rooted in something we call the 'spiritual'. They also transcend, he says, mere morality. He does not say what this means exactly, but for me it means a morality rooted in the heart, not in the law.

This is where philosophical Daoism came into conflict with Confucianism, however. For a morality rooted in the heart is a morality nonetheless. Thus Confucianism tells us how to behave.

The Daoists believed those roots did not go deep enough; they did not tap into the very spring of life itself. It is this spring to which Zhuangzi refers (I believe) when he speaks of the Heavenly Reservoir, the Numinous Reservoir, and the Numinous Platform. "That is what allows the joy of its harmony to open into all things without thereby losing its fullness, what keeps it flowing on day and night without cease, taking part everywhere as the springtime of each being.

Connecting up with This, your own mind becomes the site of the life-giving time." (B. Ziporyn; 5:16) Tapping into the very life-giving flow, morality, not to mention "higher values" naturally arise.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.


  1. where can I found more articles about daoism vs confucianism?

  2. Feng's "The Hall of Three Pines" is also quite interesting, an account of his own life as a contemporary Chinese philosopher (who was interested in neo-Confucianism combined with Western elements.)

    And I would recommend JeeLoo Liu's "An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy" which covers the I Ching through Buddhism.

    Hall of Three Pines:

    Intro to Ch. Phil.:

    And an observation: Confucianism is making a big sanctioned comeback in China, probably because of the damage done to traditions in the past 60 years. And there is a lot of activity by young people in the Buddhist and Taoist temples (not always easy to tell the difference) today. I must say however that when I was in Beijing last year, the most peaceful place was the Confucius temple; the Buddhist Lama temple around the corner was overwhelming.

  3. And of course, Chuang Tzu is a crucial Taoist vs. Confucian text.

  4. Finally, there is the modern classic "Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China" by A.C. Graham. I haven't read this one thoroughly, it's been on my to-read shelf or a while.

  5. @XSZ--Visiting your site, I see a photo of Wang Liping. Have you studied with him? I cannot read your site (Romanian?) but would be interested to hear your observations.

  6. @XSZ--Found the translator button.

  7. A blog that discusses both Taoism and Confucianism is The Useless Tree.


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