Li Ch'un-Fu's theory of Harmonization of the three teachings

Bartholomew P.M TSUI

Journal of Chinese Philosophy



Copyright @1986 by Dialogue Publishing

Company, Honolulu, Hawii, U.S.A


The importance of Li Ch'un-fu(a)(or Li P'ing-shan)(1185-1231),a scholar-official of the Chin(b) Dynasty,in the discussion of the relationship among the Three Teachings-Confucianism,Taoism and Buddhism-has long been recognized by Japanese scholars such as Takao Giken,Tokiwan Daijo,Nogami Shunjo and Kubota Ryoon about half a century ago,and more recently by Professor Jan Yun-hua in the West(1).While Li in the capacity of an harmonizer(2) of the Three Teachings had been alluded to by these scholars,

his theory of harminization has not been analysed nor has his position as Ch'un-Fu has been better known as a defender of Buddism and this for three reasons.First,Li was presented as such by Yeh-lu Ch'u-ts'ai(c)(1189-1243),the one who propagated Li's major works after the latter's death(3).

Second,the Fo-tsu li-tai t'ung-tsai(d)(A Complete Record of Buddhas and Patriarchs Throught the Ages),by its biased selection of quotations from the Ming-tao-chi shuo(e)(Discussions of the "Plaints on Tao"),Li's masterpiece and the only major extant work,again casts Li in the role of a defender of Buddhism(4).For some time,this material from the Fo-tsu li-tai t'ung-tsai was the only easily accessible record of Li's writings and this succeeded in throwing scholars on a wrong trail.Third,the fact that Li was praised by Buddhists but ignored or belittled by Confucians contributed to the impression that he was a partisian of the Buddhists(5).

However,a close reading of Li's Ming-tao-shuo and a study of his life has uncovered major facets of his thoughts which,while mot destroying his role as a defender of Buddhism,present him as an outstanding figure in the harmonization of Chinese religions.Judging from he fact that all his major works were on the topic of harmonization,we may now safely say that harmonization was not just incidental

to Li's life,but was


an important concern of his mature years. Compared to previous attempts at harmonization, Li's achievement is truly magnificent and unprecedented.(6)The mere size and scope of his writings in this regard far outstrips everybody else's. Li comes closest to having a disinterested motive in a proposal for a theory of harmonization. Whereas previous efforts either had the underlying motive of rendering Budddhism more palatable to the Chinese,or

centered on the identification of the principles of moral life, or aimed at the allocation of the religions to different functions, or drew limited parallels from contents of specific scriptures, Li had the distinction of achieving a unique synthesis in which the Truths(or Tao) of the Three Sages,and the ways to attain them, were seen as identical.

What are the facts which have resulted in this shift of focus? One major fact is the content of the Ming-tao-chi shuo itself. This book is a collection of 216 quotations from the writings of the early Neo-Confucianists with which Li was in disagreement, and the counter-proposals which he provided for each of them. About half of these quotations are anti-Buddhist and Li could correctly be called a defender of Buddhism on account of his answer to these. But what about the other quotations which, having nothing to do with Buddhism, concern mainly with Chinese traditions? Is this fact not an indication that Li had a larger interest than just being a defender of Buddhism? Li's biggest concern in the Ming-tao-chi shuo was to assert and show the identity of the Three Teachings. This he pointed out explicitly in the preface and in the "concluding remark"(7),and whenever possible, he drew parallels from the works of the Three Teachings in his answers. This latter method was extended to his other major books as well. Two of his lost works

were called the Leng-yen wai-chieh(f) and the Chin-kang-ching pieh-chieh(8) (External Commentary on the Suurangama Suutra and the Additional Commentary on the Diamond Suutra). A hasty reader may infer that these were commentaries on Buddhism suutras. In actual fact, we know from prefaces written by Yeh-lu Ch'u-ts'ai that these were not regular commentaries at all but works which drew parallels from Chinese traditions and Buddhist suutras in the style of the Ming-tao-chi shuo. (8)

Second, Li's conversion at the age of twenty-nine, recounted by both Yeh-lu Ch'u-ts'ai and the Ch'an Master Wan-sung(h) (1166-1246), was instigated not by a Buddhist book, but by a piece of writing of Li Ao(i) (died 844),a poineer of Neo-Confucianism.(9).Granted that Li Ao did consult a



Ch'an Master, the resulting piece of writing, the Fu-hsing shu(j) (On the Recovery of Human Nature)(10),was not about Buddhism but about the Neo-Confucian problem of the recovery of human nature. There is no guarantee that Li Ch'un-fu's conversion was not towards a serious pursuit of the Tao such as that undertaken by all Neo-Confucianists. In other words, Li was not so much converted to Buddhism as to an ernestness in the seeking of the Tao.

Third, though convinced of the truth of the Mahaayaana Buddhist teaching,Li was never a strict Buddhist. All the records concur in mentioning that he was an heavy drinker. It shows that Li disregarded the Buddhist 'sila against drinking expected to be kept even by devout lay

followers."(11)Unlike Yeh-lu Ch'u-ts'ai, Li did not take up Buddhist practices such as meditation .Whereas Ch'an histories honoured Yeh-lu with biographies,did not do the same for Li.(12)

Fourth, despite disagreements with the Neo-Confucians in the Mingtao-chi shuo, Li had a lot of praise for them and he urged all scholars to scholars to study their works carefully. In the "concluding remark" Li said:(13)

The difference of opinions between me and these scholars

is "entirely contained in this volume. With the

exception of this book, everything that is contained in

the Ming-tao-chi(14) and all that these scholars have

written . . . .teach about purification of human desires

and the clarification of the Heavenly Principle, .. the

exposition of the teaching of the mind beyond the confines

of language and literature.... They continue

the trans-mission of the lost teaching of the immemorial

past.... The scholar who makes the Tao his pursuit

should first read the books of these scholars and then

he will know that I have laboured in them. If he sees

this book of mine and uses it as an excuse to find fault

with the books of these scholars, then he is

throwing away a piece of jade because of a spot, or giving

up food because of choking.

Fifth,Li considered himself to be in the company of Confucianists. Again,in the "concluding remark" he said, "Since we, as Confucianists,are without the partialities of Taoist priests and Buddhist monks, therefore I have poured out my heart and have painfully presented the correct view



that the teachings of the Three Sages do not become extinct." Li's insistence that he was a Confucianist won at least a certain acceptance by other Confucianists for an account about him was included in volume 100 of the Sung-yuan hsueh-an.(K)

From the above five points, it is clear that Li Ch'un-fu was not a partisan of the Buddhists, and that it is quite probable that he sincerely believed in the identity of the Three Teachings and that he did not propose this out of any ulterior motive.

Turning now to the substance of Li's theory we propose to examine three topics, namely, Li's view of Chinese traditions, parallels of the Three Teachings and Li's two essays on the mind. The main source of these investi-

gations is the third version of the Ming-tao-chi shuo. (15)


In Li's replies to Neo-Confucianists he accuses them of misunderstanding the sages' teachings. Like Han Yu and some other Neo-Confucianists he complains that the pursuit of Tao ceased after the time of Mencius. It is quite probable that although Li and Neo-Confucianists make the same complaint, they base it on different understandings of Chinese traditions and different evaluations of the latter's history. Li's view of the Chinese tradition of Tao is scattered in passing in the Ming-tao-chi shuo, but a summary is found in his preface. The tradition of Tao began with the mythical Sages who were already divided into two camps. But their clear division was firmly established only with Lao Tzu and Confucius. Nevertheless, the two camps are complementary. Li says in his preface:

The minds of Fu Hsi, Shen Nung and Huang Ti(1) are seen

in the great Book of Changes; that of Yao, Shun, Yu,

T'ang, Wen and Wu(m) are seen in the Book of Poetry and

the Book of History. .. . Then, there appeared Lao Tzu,

who wandered beyond the bounds of the material

universe.....There appeared Confucius, who wandered

within the bounds of the material universe....

Nevertheless, (Lao Tzu and Confucius) praised each other

and recommended each other....


Then,Li narrates how this pergect condition deteriorated and finally how the true teaching was lost.He says:

Chuang Chou(n)...followed the flow of the stream ...Meng

Ko(o).. went against the flow...They(complemented each

other)like two halves of a tally ...It is a pity that

with the passing away of these four Sages,Lieh Yu-

k'ou(P)was eclectic and lost the truth;Hsun Ching-

tzu(P)mixed things up and was nit pure;Yang Hsiung(R)and

Want T'ung(S) usurped the he title of sagehoodThe Tao

of the Sages was like a thread and has not been

transmittled for one thousand and five hundred years..

The recovery of this lost teaching depends on the secret study of Buddhism by recent Chinese scholars(16).Li himself does not merely stand on the side buy actively participates in the process of recovery.He says:

When the books og the Buddha arrived from West...their

sublime sayigs and wonderful teachings were(found to

be)completely complementary with the minds of our ancient Sages. ...The Confucian philosophers secretly appropriated his teaching(and used it)to verify(the truth of )our books..Feraing that they may diverge again on the point of unification,I have noted down those opinions(of the philosophers)which do not match that of

the Sages,calling them the Discussions of the"Collected Plaints on Tao."

Who are considered Chinese sages in Li's writings?Like Han Yu,Li mentions the sage Kings Yao,Shun,Yu,T'ang,Wen and Wu.But unlike Hsn Yu,Li adds to the top of the list of kings the still more ancient figures of Fu Hsi,Shen Nung and Huang Ti and he claims that their minds are seen in the Book of Changes(17).Lao Tzu is considered the equal of Confucius and complementary to him.Chuang Tzu and Mencius are regarded as sages,too,in his has never been any doubt about the status of Chuang Tzu.In addition to many passages in which the sagehood of Chuang Tzu is implied,Li actually defends him in section 7(18).Mencius is explicitly mentioned as a sage in sections 201 and M2(19).However,he is considered


second best in one instance. In section 104 where human nature is being discussed, Li thinks Mencius has fallen to second place for his teaching that human nature is good. (To Li, human nature, like the Buddha nature, is beyond good and evil.) The place of Lieh Tzu is ambiguous. In many sections, he is said to have the same teaching as the other sages.(20)In section 6, his work is said to contain the Book of Huang Ti(t). Perhaps this is one of the reasons why he is considered a sage? Obviously, Li was not altogether pleased with everything in the book of Lieh Tzu. The preface condemns him for distorting the truth. Hsun Tzu has never been approved by Li. In section 35, Li considers the ancient philosophers Kung-sun Lung, Hui Shih and Teng Hsi(U) heretics. In Li's estimation, none of the later

scholars achieved sagehood.

It is evident from the above examination of Li's view of the history of Tao that he held a theory of harmonization of the Three Teachings. Li exalted the Taoist tradition to the equal of the Confucian such as no pure Confucianist would have done. He drew a parallel of Taoist sages and Confu-cian sages. Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu were counterparts of Confucius, Mencius and Hsun Tzu. He held that the lost teaching of Tao was re-discovered with the help of Buddhist writings. Not only that. He held that what was good of comtemporary Neo-Confucianism was secretly borrowed from Buddhism. How Li came to such a conclusion is the result of how he interpreted certain parallels in the concepts of the Three Teachings. We shall see these in the following.


To support his contention that the Three Teachings are the same, Li draws parallels of certain key concepts from them. Li's implicit argument is that since the details of each of the teachings are identical, the teachings themselves must be identical. We shall discuss, as suggested by what is available, the parallels in five headings.

A. Structure of the Absolute

Li writes in section 12:


What Lao Tzu means by "Constant Non-Being"(21) is the

same as what the Buddha means by the"Absolute Void."It

is not an emptiness which denies the laws of Karma .What

Lao Tzu meansby "Constant Being"(21) is identical with

what the Buddha means by "Wonderful Existence." It is

not a being which obstructs form. Non-Being does not mean

the complete absence of being. Being does not mean the

complete affirmation of being. "Void is identical

with Form, and Form is identical with Void."(22)

Li says in section 23:

"What is above form is called Tao; what is within form

is called tool."(23) Is this not the same as Lao Tzu's

saying, "Constant Non-Being, Constant Being," and

Buddha's "Absolute Void and Wonderful Existence"?

Again he says in section 212:

(This-worldly phenonmena of) heaven and earth;

the myriad things, human beings, the sun and the moon

all belong to the realm of the within form.' As for

the 'above form,'who talked about it? . . . How can there

be 'another object' when one reads Buddha's saying

'The Form is identical with Void,"and Lao Tzu's saying

"They are together called the Mysterious."(24)

These parallels are put in schematic form as follows:

Item 1(section 12)

Taoism Constant Non-Being Constant Being

(Lao Tzu)

Buddhism Absolute Void Wonderful


Item 2 (section 23)

Taoism (a)Constant Non-Being (b)Constant



Buddhism (a) Absolute Void (b) Wonderful


Confucianism (a) The 'above form' (b) The within

I Ching form'(26)

Item 3(section212)

Confucianism The 'above form' and the 'within form'

I Ching

Taoism They are together called the

Loo Tzu Mysterious"(27)

Buddhism Form is the Void (28)

In these parallels Li wants to deal with the structure of Tao, the ultimate or the Absolute. These show a dual structure which is expressed Non-Being, Being, Void and Existence, the 'above form' and the 'within form'. How are we to understand the relationship between these two terms in each of the sets? Li wants them to be interpreted according to the Buddhist identity of the Absolute with the phenomenal made possible by the establishment of the twofold truth. In section 12 (item 1), we find these passages: "It (Absolute Void) is not an emptiness which denies the law of Karma." "It (Wonderful Existence) is not a being which obstructs form. Non-being does not mean the complete absence of being. Being does not mean the complete affirmation of being." Then, Li adds a formula from the.Heart suutra: "The Void is identical with form and form is identical with Void." In other words, we are to understand that the two parts of the structure are not impediments to each other. Li's intention is even more clearly seen in section 212 (item 3) when he emphasizes the oneness of the two parts of the twofold structures. In other words, the Chinese concepts should be interpreted according to the Buddhist twofold truth.

B. Production of the universe

Li says in section 13:

That which is referred to in Confucius' saying, "In the I Ching,


there is the Great Ultimate which produces the Two

Forms"(29);In Lao Tzu's saying "There was something

formless yet complete,that existed before heaven and

earth"(30) in Buddha's saying, "The Void is produced in

the Great Awakening,like a bubble that emerges from the

sea"(31);in "The Tao, which produces heaven and

earth"(32), is the "mother of the ch's(pneuma)"(33); and

that which is its own root and origin is this very mind


Again he says in section 22:

Confucius knows that "In the system of Changes there

is the Great Ultimate which produced the Two Forms."

Lao Tzu knows that "There was something formless yet

complete, that existed before heaven and earth." Lieh

Tzu knows about the "beginning of Chaos."(34) They all

refer to the "small object within the entire

universe."(35) How could Master Chang know about this?

What object is referred to by Confucius' 'Great

Ultimate,' Lao Tzu's '(something) formless yet

complete,' Chuang Tzu's 'Tao' and Lieh Tzu's 'Chaos'?

Since these four philosophers lived in the same

universe,they must be referring to the same entity.

Scholars were at a loss for one thousand and five hundred

years. The Buddhist scriptures came to the East. The

'Suurangama suutra says, "The Void is born within the

Great Awakening, just as a bubble emerges from the ocean.

Worldly realms, countless as dust particles, are all

produced from the Void."(31) (The Absolutes are) none

other than this Mind, is it not so?

Again in section 108:

Confucius said, "Heaven and earth come together, and all

things take shape and find form."(36) Chuang Tzu said,

"Heaven and Earth were produced together with me. The

myriad things and myself were united into one."(37) The

Buddha said,'The Bodhi and the Void arise from the

self-nature and are identical with each other."(38)

Then, before the Two Forms were differentiated,


there existed "an object formless yet complete,"(30)

which, from itself, gave birth to Heaven and Earth. How

can Heaven and Earth produce myself? The transformation

of the Mind gives rise to the Void; the transformation

of the Void gives rise to Heaven and Earth; the self and

the myriad things are produced together.

The parallels in these passages can be put into a schematic form as follows:

Item 4(section 13)

Taoism There was something formless yet complete,

(Lao Tzu) that existed before Heaven and earth.(39)

(ChuangTzu) Tao produces heaven and earth.(40)

Confucianism In the I Ching there is the Great Ultimate

(I Ching) which produces the two forms."(41)

Buddhism The Void is produced in the Great

Awakening,like a bubble that emerges from the


Item 5 (section 22)

Confucianism The Great Ultimate

(I Ching)

Taoism Formless-yet-complete

(Lao Tzu)

(Lieh Tsu) Chaos

(Chuang Tzu) Tao

Buddhirm Void (Reality)(43)

All these five are identical with the Mind.

Confucianism "Heaven and earth come together, and all

things take shape


(I Ching) and find form."(44)

Taoism Heaven and earth were born at the same time

(Chuang Tzu) as I was, and the ten thousand things are

one with me.(45)

Buddhism Bodhi and the Void arise from the self-nature

and are identical with each other.(46)

Item 4, 5 and 6 talk about Tao, or the Ultimate or the Absolute in their capacity to produce the universe.In some Mahaayaana Buddhist theories,the universe is a manifestation of the mind. If this is the case and if the

Chinese teachings are identical with the Buddhist, then the Chinese Ultimates,namely, the Tao of Chuang Tzu, the Great Ultimate of the I Ching (and hence of Confucius), the "Formless-yet-complete" of Lao Tzu, the "Chaos" of Lieh Tzu, are each the ultimate source of the universe and are identical with Mind. This is exactly what Li says in section 22 (item 5). The conceptions of the production of the universe therefore provide Li with an occasion to interpret Chinese concepts by means of Buddhist teachings; then these conceptions are regarded as evidence for saying that the Three Teachings say the same things.

Li's identification of the Mind-with the Chinese Absolutes also provide a key to the understanding of his two essays on the mind, which are some-times known as Chung-kuo Hsin hsueh(v) (The teaching of the mind in China). Li thinks that the most sublime concept in Buddhism is that of the mind. In section 14, the appearance of the cosmos is regarded as the manifestation of the Bhuutatathataa: Hence, by implication,the mind is identified with the

Bhuutatathataa. If Confucianism and Taoism teach the same truth as Buddhism, which, in Li's opinion, is correct, then there must be a teaching on the mind in China,.too.(47) This is precisely what Li attempts to show in his two essays on the mind. It will be noticed that Li, who ordinarily quotes Buddhist writings liberally, refrains from quoting anything from those sources in these essays.The intention is to show that the Chinese teaching of the mind is an exact copy of the Buddhists'. With the foregoing identification of the mind with the Chinese Absolutes, it will be clear why in the second essay on the mind Li starts off with the quotations on the "Formless-yet complete" and the "Great Ultimate."


C.The structure of reality and

the Hua-yen dharmadhaatu

Li says in section 62:

The "above-form" is identical with Lao Tzu's "Constant

Non-Being" and the Buddhist "realm of the noumenon."(48)

"Transform them,and fit them together'; 'stimulate them

and set them in motion''(49) is identical with Lao Tzu's

"They are together called the mysterious," and the

Buddhist "realm in which noumenon and phenomenon

interfuse without impediment to each other."(48)

"Raise them up and set them forth before all people on

earth,"(49) is identical with Lao Tzu's "The gate of all

wonderful (things" and the Buddhist "realm in which all

phenomena interfuse without impediment to one


Again in section 117:

Lao Tzu's saying,"'Constant Non-Being,' 'Constant

Being.' 'They are together called the mysterious, the

gate of all wonderful (things)"'; Confucius' saying,

"The 'Tao' and the 'tool'; 'change' and 'continuity';

'the field of action"'(49) are identical with the

contemplations of the dharmadhaatu.

Again in M1:

The Ch'an Master Tu Shun established the four

dharmadhaaru. They are called the noumenon, the

phenomenon, the nondifferentiation of phenomenon and

noumenon, and the nonimpediment of phenomenon and

phenomenon. Is this not the same as Po-yang's saying,

"Constant Non-Being; Constant Being;they are together

called the mysterious; the mystery of mysteries, the

gate of all wonderful (things)," and Chung-ni's words,

"The 'Tao' and 'objects,' 'change,' 'continuity' and

'field of action'"?

Representing these passages schematically, we get the following:


Item 7 (section 62)

Confucianism (a)The 'above-form'

(I Ching) (b)The 'within-form'

(c)Transform them and fit them together;

stimulate them and set them in motion.(50)

(d)Raise them up and set them forth before

all people on earth.(51)

Taoism (a)Constant Non-Being

(Lao Tzu) (b)Constant Being

(c)They are together called the mysterious.

(d)The gate of all wonderful things.'"

Buddhism (a)Realm of the noumenon

(Hua-yen) (b)Realm of the phenomenon

(c)Realm in which noumenon and phenomenon

interfuse without impediment to each other

(d) Realm in which all phenomena interfuse

without impediment to one another.(53)

Item 8 and 9 (sections 117 and M1) The structure is the same as above.

In these sections, Li sets out the exact equivalence of the four dharmadhaatu of Hua-yen with writings in the I Ching and Lao Tzu. The quotation from I Ching can be seen as a condensed summary of the Way. It talks about the structure of reality when it divides the universe into the 'above-form' and the 'within-form,'and the operation of the Way among the people with the two phrases "Transform them and fit them together; stimulate them and set them in motion," "Raise them up and set them


forth before all people on earth." Thus the entire Confucian program is identified with the four dharmadhaatu of Buddhism and the phrases taken from the first chapter of Lao Tzu. The implication is that the Three Teachings are identical in all respects. It must be said that while there are elements of resemblance in the structural parts of a and b, the similarities in c and d are at most tenuous.

D. Cultivation for sagehood

Li says in section 42:

The 'mind' and 'outward manifestations' of the Ch'an

people are the same as the within' and 'beyond' of Chuang

Chou. It is (again) similar to the (I Ching's) saying,

"The sages having, by their possession of these (three

virtues), cleansed their minds, retired and laid them

up in the secrecy (of their own consciousness). But

their sympathies were with the people in regard both to

their good fortune and evil."(54) ... Take a simpler

analogy: The 'mind' of the Sage is like the moon in the

sky. His 'outward manifestations' are like the moons

in water. They are both identical and not identical.

They are either similar or different.

Again in section 70:

The cessation referred to by Buddhists is exactly the

same as that 'stillness' which was taught to Yen Yuan

by Confucius in the phrase "The empty chamber gives rise

to brightness. Fortune and blessing gather where there

is stillness."(55)

Again in section 111:

Mencius' saying, "Do not take the side, nor hold on to

the middle" is identical with the Hua-yen's saying,

"Neither this shore, nor the other shore, nor mid-



Li says in section 207:

When it is "without thought and without action,"(57) it

means Tao. "When acted on, it penetrates forthwith to

all phenomena and events in the universe"(57) means

righteousness. This corresponds to Chuang Tzu's saying,

"He dwells like a corpse and sees with dragon vision;

remains silent like a deep pool and sounds like

thunder"(58);and Lao Tzu's saying,'Which of you can

assume such murkiness, to become in the end still and

clear? Which of you can make yourself inert, to become

in the end full of life and stir?"(59) and Buddha's

saying, "The first appearance of clear water represents

the initial suppression of intruding impurities. The

pure water obtained after the removal of mud represents

the permanent cutting off of fundamental ignorance. All

the changes and manifestation (of the Enlightenment) are

not related to impurities but are in accord with the pure, wonderful virtue of Nirvana. "(60)

These sections can be put into the following schemes:

Item 10 (section 42)

Buddhism (a) mind

(Ch 'an) (b) outward manifestations

Taoism (a) wandering beyond the world

(Chuang Tzu) (b) wandering within the world

Confucianism (a) The sages having, by their possession

of these (three virtues), cleansed

their minds, retired and laid them up

in the secrecy (of their own


(b) But their sympathies were with the

people in regard both to their good

fortune and evi1.(66)


Item 11 (section 70)

Buddhism Cessation

Confucianism The empty chamber is where brightness is (from Chuang Tzu) born. Fortune and blessing gather where

there is stillness.

Item 12 (section 111)

Confucianism One should not take one extreme, nor hold Mencius on to the middle.(69)

Buddhism (He) dwells neither on this shore, nor on

the other shore,nor in mid-stream.(70)

Item 13 (section 207)

Confucianism There is no thought and no action. (That (I Ching) is Tao). When acted on, it penetrates

forthwith to all phenomena and events in

the universe. (That is righteousness).


Taoism He dwells like a corpse and sees with (ChuangTzu) dragon vision;remains silent like a deep

pool and sounds like thunder.(72)

(Lao Tzu) Which of you can assume such murkiness,

to become in the end still and clear?

Which of you can make yourself inert? to

become in the end full of life and


Buddhism The first appearance of clear water ('Suurangama represents the initial suppression of

Suutra) intruding impurities. The pure water

obtained after the removal of mud

represents the permanent cutting off of

fundamental ignorance. All the changes

and manifestations(of the

Enlightenment)are not related to

impurities but are in accord with the

pure, wonderful virtue of Nirvaana.(74)

These rections concern parallels of cultivational methods. Again,


Buddhism provides the key to understanding. In section 42, the relation between the mind and outward manifestations is said to be that of both identity and difference, a formula used to indicate that the noumenon and phenomenon are not impediments to each other. Section 70 points out that cessation in Buddhism does not impede function and that this is he cessation taught also by Confucius. A Buddhist formula is again used to determine the meaning of a passage from Mencius in section 111. The most striking observation about these parallels on cultivation is the presence of the dual aspects of tranquility and activity, the internal and external, in all three traditions. Furthermore, these two aspects are not impediments to each other. The Sage dwells unfeeling like a corpse and yet sees with the clear vision of a dragon. He may remain profoundly silent and yet roars like thunder.

E. Miscellaneous

Li writes in section 26:

This teaching comes from (a phrase in the I Ching),

"Going back to the beginnings of things and pursuing them

to the end, we come to know the lessons of birth and

death."(75) Chuang Tzu clarified it further. He said,

"Life is a companion of death, and death is the beginning

of life."(76) It is impossible to find whether life is

the beginning or death is the beginning. Lieh Tzu also

said, "He who dies here, how do you know he will not be

born in the other place?"(77) "All creatures come out

of the mysterious workings and go back into them

again."(78) If this is not samsaara, what is it?

This section can be schematized as follows:

Item 14 (section 26) On samsaara

Confucianism Going back to the beginnings of things and (I Ching) pursuing them to the end, we come to know

the lessons of birth and death."(79)


Taoism The living is the companion of death, the (Chuang Tsu) dead is the beginning of life.(80) All

creatures come out of the mysterious

workings and go back into them again.(81)

(Lieh Tzu) The one who dies here, how do you know if

he will not be born there?(82)

It is obvious that the purpose of these parallels is to show that samsaara is also a Chinese teaching.

Li writes in section 180:

The Buddha first established the vehicles of re-birth

into the heavenly and human realms by preaching the five

'silas and the ten good deeds; then he practised the path

of the bodhisattva by means of the six paaramitaas and

the ten thousand practices. The Three Principal

Relationships and the Five Constant Virtues are all

contained there.

The paragraph can be schematized as follows:

Item 15 (section 180) Moral rules

Confucianism The Three Principal Relationships and

Five Constant Virtues.(83)

Buddhism The five 'silas and the ten good deeds,

the six paaramitaas and ten thousand


By these parallels, Li means to show that Buddhism also possesses moral rules.

In section 104, Li equates the Confucian concept of human nature with the Buddhist transcendental Absolute. Li writes:


This (teaching) is referred to by the 'Surangama sutra

when it says,'The beginningless Bodhi and Nirvaana are

the originally clear and pure substance whose

cnsciousness is penetrating and originally

illuminating ..:."(85) Again, this object is the same

as 'the beginningless clinging-mind, which is the cause

of the funda-mental root of birth and death, and regards

itself as the selfnature."(85) It is neither one nor

two. It is neither the same nor different. It is neither

identical nor separate.

This parallel can be represented diagrammatically as follows:

Item 16 (section 104) On human nature

Confucianism Human nature(86)

Buddhism The beginningless Bodhi and Nirvaana are (Suurangama the originally clear and pure

suutra) substance.(87)

The beginningless.clinging mind, which is

the cause of the fundamental root of birth

and death, and regards itself as the


Here the Chinese concept of human nature is said to be identical with both the "Bodhi and Nirvaana" and the clinging-mind. This is possible only because human nature is conceived of as beyond description. Li thinks that for Confucius, human nature is beyond good and evil. That is why Li said Mencius was wrong when he said that human nature was good. To Li,what was referred to by Mencius was only on the level of 'practice' (hsi(w)) in Confucius' scheme. If Confucius' concept of human nature is beyond good and evil, then it is the same as the Buddhist Absolute which is like-

wise beyond good and evil, or identified with both the "Bodhi and Nirvaana" and the clinging-mind.

Li says in section 204:

"(the Sage) takes part in the thousand ages and achieves simplicity in oneness."(89) These are words of Chuang Chou.... As for


the 'contemplations of the dharmadhaatu,' is

ten thousand, ten thousand is one.

Representine this passage schematically:

Item 17 (section 204) Hua-yen totality and Chuang Tzu

Taoism He takes part in ten thousand years and (ChuangTsu) achieves simplicity in oneness.(90)

Buddhism One is identical with ten thousand; and ten

thousand is identical with one.(91)

The intention of this parallel needs no comment.

Li says in section 152:

Do they also know that K'ang-ts'ang-tzu saw with his ears

and heard with his eyes?' "Aniruddha is blind but sees,

Upaanaanda is deaf but hears. . . .

Mahaakaa'syapa . . .succeeded long ago in rooting out

the organ of intellect thereby realizing perfect

knowledge which did not derive from the thinking


This parallel can be represented diagrammatically as follows:

Item 18 (section 152) Supersensory powers

Taoism K'ang Ts'ang-tzu sees with his ears and hears

with his eyes.

Buddhism Aniruddha who is blind but sees, Upaanaanda who

is deaf but hears. . .. Mahaakaa'syapa...

succeeded long ago in rooting out the organ of

intellect thereby realizing perfect knowledge

which did not derive from the thinking



Lastly, Li says in section 17:

What Chuang Tzu refers to as the Heavenly Man, the Perfect Man and the Spirit Man are in fact other names for the Sage....Finally, when the Buddhist books arrived, (we learned about) the teachings of the three bodies of the Buddha; the dharmakaaya, sambhogokaaya and nirmaanakaaya. . . . The Ch'an people also teach the Five Positions.

This parallel is shown schematically as follows:

Item 19 (section 17) Three bodies

Taoism The heavenly man,the accomplished man,the (Chuang Tzu) godly man.(95)

Buddhism dharmakaaya, sambhogakaaya, nirmaanakaaaya

The Five Positions (of the Tsao-tung sect)

On the whole, Li's purpose in drawing up the parallels is to show as much as possible that the Three Teachings are the same. They are the same most importantly with respect to Tao or Ultimate or Absolute, which has a dual aspect, the correct understanding of which is brought about through Buddhist teachings. Secondly, parallels are drawn on matters concerning cultivation. And Lately, parallels are shown to exist among many other tenets of the Three Teachings.


As mentioned before, Li's two essays on the mind give a re-interpretation of Chinese teachings by means of Buddhist principles. The effect of this attempt is to show that China also has a teaching. on the mind, which parallels

the Buddhist teaching. Although Li does not mention the Buddhist half of the parallel, he must have the Buddhist teaching in mind, for his essays would not be intelligible otherwise. These essays can therefore be considered as comprehensive parallels of the Chinese traditions and the Buddhist teaching.


A brief analysis should serve to bring out Li's intentions.

The essays are entirely made up of quotations from Chinese writings. Many of these quotations do not follow one another in a logical line of thought but are put there to suggest concepts the inter-connection of which is left to the reader. The first essay begins by suggesting that the mind is the Absolute, the origin from which the universe is produced. The idea that the mind can produce the universe is not found in Chinese traditions, so this is a new interpretation brought in from Buddhism by Li. Next, Li says that the transformation of the myriad things is governed by the law of transmigration. The insistance on transmigration is again a Buddhist emphasis. Out of this transformation emerges man. If this man retains the truth, he becomes a sage whose characteristic is transcendence over the limitations to which ordinary beings are subjected. The Tao that this age possesses is also beyond our comprehension. Furthermore, this Tao cannot be expressed. The sage appears ignorant and yet he is clear like a dust-free mirror, clean

as unadulterated water.

The second essay begins with the identification of the mind with Lao Tzu's 'Formlessly Fashioned' and the Great Ultimate from the I Ching. This Being is unlike other beings. It produces and yet is not itself produced;it transforms and yet is not itself transformed. It cannot be seen or heard and yet it is that by which things are seen and heard. Then Li quotes a passage from the first chapter of Lao Tzu which contains the terms 'Constant Non-Being' and 'Constant Being:' In sections 62 and 117, this passage is equated with the four dharmadhaatu in Hua-yen teaching. It is a concise statement of the various stages at which Tao or Mind or Absolute shows itself. Then comes a passage from I Ching which Li equates with the previous passage. Then, he narrates the degradation of Tao so that now distinctions between good and evil are made. The characteristics of a man who possesses the Tao then come into discussion. Many of these quotations show a dual aspect of tranquillity and motion, substance and function, nonaction and action, non-assertion of the will and yet the accomplishment of the deed. Finally, Li says, "The non-speech also speaks. It talks about everything and yet it says nothing. The non-knowledge also knows. It knows everything and yet it knows nothing." What Li means to show is transcendence of Tao over conceptual knowledge, a line of thought compatible with the Mahaayaana Buddhist truth.


The message of these two essays is clear: China also has a teaching of the mind and it is identical with that of the Buddhists. The authentic meaning of the Chinese sages has been lost and it is only Li who, with the help of the Buddhist teaching, is able to restore it. Thus the true Tao is not the property of any one religion. It belongs to all three. This is Li's theory of the .'harmonization' of the Three Teachings. He did not go out to harmonize them. He simply found them to be identical.


As evidence that the Three Religions teach the same things, Li presents the parallels. An evaluation of Li's theory of harmonization therefore depends on the acceptibility of these parallels. In order to form an opinion on

whether Li has succeeded in drawing the parallels among the Three Teachings,we have to make an observation on the Chinese sources he refers to. We notice that the Confucian sources are largely limited to the I Ching, and especially to that part called the "Appended Remarks."(97) References to Lao

Tzu are limited to a few concepts. Now, these two books are not systematic, discursive treatises but each is rather like an assortment of unrelated pithy remarks, the exact meanings of which are in considerable obscurity. Confronted with a reading of Buddhist meaning into these Chinese terms, the

critic, if he happens to disagree with Li, is unable to say why Li is wrong with respect to the Classics. The critic cannot appeal to tradition either, for Li maintains that scholars since the time of Mencius have misunderstood the Tao. The 'advantage' of this obscurity of the I Ching and Lao Tzu is that Li can in good conscience maintain himself to be a good Buddhist, Confucianist and Taoist at the same time.

On the other hand, the disadvantage of the obscurity of these Chinese Classics is that the parallels cannot force conviction. It is very well to say that the 'Constant Non-Being', 'Constant Being', and The above form' and the 'within-form' could have all the intricate meaning associated with the terms 'Absolute Void' and Wonderful Existence,' but is this interpretation probable? How do we know that 'Transform them and fit them together; stimulate them and set them in motion' means the same a 'the Realm in which noumenon and phenomenon interfuse without impediment to each


other'? Some of the parallels are drawn up on the basis of the flimsiest resemblance, for example, the comparison of the three bodies of the Buddha with Chuang Tzu's "heavenly man, and accomplished man and the godly man' in item 19. These two sets of 'bodies' arise from totally different contexts, serve totally different needs and contain imcomparable meanings. Again, take the comparison in item 6. Aside from a vague resemblance in that they all somehow talk about the production of the universe, there does not seem to be anything in common among the quotations. Many of the other parallels suffer from,this kind of weakness.

The strongest argument against Li's case is perhaps a lack of an explicit doctrine of emptiness (suunyataa) in the Chinese tradition. Without this doctrine of emptiness, the Buddhist concept of truth cannot be established. If the doctrine of 'suunyataa is missing in Chinese traditions, then Li's interpretations of the Chinese parallels are improbable. If the 'suunyataa doctrine is denied in Chinese traditions, then Li's parallels are impossible. Li's interpretations fall into the 'improbable' category.

In conclusion, with respect to Li's parallels, while they could not be proven to be in error, they do not force conviction either. For one who is already convinced of the Buddhist truth, Li's interpretations are possible and one can in good conscience be an harmonizer. This is Li's success. For one who is not a Buddhist, Li's parallels are improbable. But, considering the difficulties of building any theory of harmonization, Li certainly has invested a great deal of thought and ingenuity.



1.C.f. Takao Giden, "Kindai ni okeru Dobutsu nikyo no tokucho

(The characteristics of Taoism and Buddhism in the Chin

Dynasty)" Shinagaku, V, no. 1 (1929),137-151.(X)

Tokiwa Daijo, Shina ni okeru Bukkyo To jukyo dokyo

(Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism in China) (Tokyo,

1930),pp. 397-408.(y)


____"Kin no Ri Heisan sen Meido shuusetsu ni tsuite(On the

Composition of the Ming-tao-chi-shuo by Li P'ing-shan of

the Chin Dynasty)"in Hattori sensei koki shukugo kinen


Nogami Shunjo,Ryo Kin no Bukkyo(Buddhism in the Liao and

Chiu Dynasties)(Tokyo,1953),pp.209-220.(di)

Kubota Rayoon,Shina Judobutsu sankyo shiron(A Discussion

of the History of Confucianism,Taoism and Buddhism in


____Shina Judobutsu koshoshi(A History of the Interaction

of Confucianism,Taoism and Buddism in China)(Tokyo,1943


Jan Yun-hua,"Li P'ing-shan"Sung Biographies,Muchchener

Ostasiatische Studien,Band 16,Ed. by Herbert Franke


_____"Li P'ing-shan"and His Refutation of Neo-confucian

Critism of Buddhism,"in Development in Buddhist Thought:

Canadian Contributions to Buddhist Studies, Roy


2.The term "harmonization"(t'iao-ho)(ac)is generally used

to cover three kinds of attitudes towards the

religions.One of these is that religions are

complementary.They have the same goal but

their practices are different.Though different,the latter

are appropriate for different circumstances and are

complementary to one another.Another usage of the term is

designate the amalgamation of selected elements from the

Three Religions and so claiming that they are one.The third

attitude is one in which the actor takes such an

interpretive stand that the teachings of the Three

Religions appear identical .Any of the harmonizers may

promote a combination of these attitudes,sometimes with

a predominance of one.Li's thinking tended towards the

third attitude.What unites the three attitudes together

so that they are designated by the same term
"harmonization"is perhaps a vague notion that an

harmonizer is one who chooses to emphasize the oneness and

downplays the difference,of the religions.It will be noted

that harmonization is always a conscious attempt at

oneness and hence it is not the same as syncretism or


3.Yeh-lu wrote prefaces to Li's three major works:The

Ming-tao-chi shuo,Leng-yen wai Chieh(ad)(An Interpretive

Commentary of the Leng-yen Suutra)and the Chin-Kang-ching

pieh chieh(ae)(An Commentary of the Diamond Suutra

According to Outside Sources)in Ch'an-jan chu-shih

wen-chi(af)(The Collected Writings of Layman Ch'an-

jan),Szu-pu t'sung k'an so-pen(ag),pp.146,127-129 and 131

respectively.Both Yeh-lu and Li had Wan-sung as their

teacher in Buddhism,and the former's good opinion of Li

was probably influenced by Wan-sung.The role of Yeh-lu and

Wan-sung in propagating Li's works can be surmised from

Yeh-lu's Leng-yen wai chieh hsu.A study of Yeh-lu can be

found in Igor


de Rachewiltz,"Yeh-lu Ch'u-tsai(1189-1243):Buddhist

idealist and Confucian Statesman,"in A.F Wright,et

al.,ed.Confucian Personalities(Standford,1962),pp.189


4.For example,of the 19 sections quoted by Nien-chang(ah)

(1282-1342?),author of the Fo-tsi li-tai t'sung tsai,

Taisho shinshuu daizokyo(Hereafter abbreviated to T)

2036,eighteen are directly about Buddhism.The Ming-Tao-

chi shuo,Li's extant major work,exists in three versions:

1.Published in the 28th year of Meiji(1895),Kyoto.

2.Published in the 3rd year of Teiwa(1683),Tokyo.

3.Hand-written version kept in the Peiping Library(China)

.Date unclear.

The last is a complete version with all the sections

intact.Sectioning in this paper follows the order of this

last version.A new edition with numbered sections is under

preparation for publication.

5.For example,praise of Li found in the Fo-tsu li-tai

t'ung-tsai,T2036,699c,lines 13-19.The belittling of Li

can be found in Sung-yuan hsueh-an,ch.100.

6.Some of the noted previous harmonizers are:Sun

Ch'o(ai)(300-380),Shen Yo(aj)(d.514),Yen

Chih-t'ui(ak)(c.531-591),Li Shih-Ch'ien(al)(525-

590),Wang T'ung(am)(584-617),Po Chu-i(an)(772-


Chang Shang-yin(aq)(1052-1132),Li Kang(ar)(1083-1140).

7.This is the last section in the Ming-tao-chi shuo.

8.This is deduced from Yeh-lu's prefaces to Leng-yen wai

chieh and Chin-kang-ching pieh chieh,in Ch'an-jan chu shih

wen-chi,pp.128a,131b respectively.

9.Yeh-lu a account is found in his prefaces to the Ming-

tao-chi shuo,Wan-sung's account is found in his preface

to Ch'an-jan chu-shih wen-chi.

10.Extant,found in Li-wen-kung chi(as).

11.C.f.W.Pachow,A Comparative Study of Pratimoksa


12.Yeh-lu's biography is found in Wu-teng Hui-yuan hsu

lueh(at)The Abbreviated Supplement to the confluence at

the Origin of the Five Lamps,first roll)HTC V.138,

p.431aff and Chi-teng-lu(au)(Continuation of the

Record of the Lamp,first roll),HTC,v.147.p.361 bff.

13.See note 7 above.

14.A work,no longer extant,containing quotations from the

early Sung Neo-Confucianists.It is this book that Li

discusses in his Ming-tao chi shuo.

15.See note 4 above.

16.See also sections 152,182,M1.(M denotes the nine

miscellaneous essays("cha shuo"(av)attached to Ming-tao

chi shuo.

17.These figures appear in I Ching,Ta Chuan(henceforth

abbreviated to ICT),II,2,p.64. Unless specified,all

references to the I Ching are from Wu-ching tu-pen(aw)

(Selections from the Five Classics)(Hong Kong:Chi Ming

shu chu,1970)


18.See sections 2,22,26,90,201and M1 for the implied

sagehood of Chuang Tzu.In this self-portrait,Li

considers himself a disciple of Chuang Tzu.See Kuei-

ch'ien-chih(ax)(A Record of Retreat into Hiding,by Liu

ch'i(ay)),chih-pu-tsu chai ts'ung shu(az),ch.1.p.6a.

19.M2 stands for the second essay in Miscellaneous Essays.

See note 16.

20.Sections 6,22,26,75,78 and M1.

21.Lao Tzu,ch.1.

22.Praj~naa-paaramitaa hrdaya suutra,T251,848c.


24.Lao Tzu,ch.1.

25.In Chinese these terms are:ch'ang-wu(ba),ch'ang-



26.The last two terms are:shing-erh-shang(be),hsing-erh-


27.T'ung wei chih hsuan(bg).

28.Se chi shih kung(bh)


30.Lao Tzu,ch.25.

31.Suurangama suutra,T945,130a,lines 21-22.

32.Chuang Tzu(hereafter abbreviated to CT):A Concordance to

Chuang Tzu (Cambridge:Harvard University Press,1947,

1956),ch.6,p.16,line 30.Subsequent references to Chuang

Tzu are from this edition.

33.Ibid.,line 32.

34.Lieh Tzu,"T'ien-jui,"p.4.All references to Lieh Tzu are

from Yang Po-chun,(bi)Lieh Tzu chi shih(bj)(Collected

Commentaries of Lieh Tzu),Hong Kong:Tai ping shu chu.

35.Ibid.,p.19.The "small object"refers to the mind.


37.CT,ch.2,p.5,line 52.

38.'Suutrangama suutra,T945,118b-c.

39.Yu wu hun ch'eng Hsien t'ien-ti sheng(bk).

40.tao sheng t'ien sheng ti(bl)

41.I yu t'ai-chi shih sheng Liang i(bm)

42.Kung sheng ta chueh chung ju hai i ou fa(bn)

43,In Chinese these terms are:Tai-chi(bo),hun-ch'eng,hun-lun(bg),tao(br),kung(bs).

44.T'ien-ti yin-yun,wan-wu hua shun(bt).

45.T'ien-ti yu wo ping sheng,wan-wo yu wo wei i(bu).

46.Hsing chueh chen kung hsing kung chen chueh(bv).

47.Li identified Tao with the mind.In section 68,he

says,"For the sage there is no Tao aside from the mind

and there is no mind aside from the Tao."Sheng jen hsin

wai wu tao tao wai wu hsin).(bw)Again,what Han Yu

called"the transmission of Tao from Confucius through his

disciples to Mencius"Li called"the Transmission of the

teaching of the mind."Li says in section 3,"In the I Ching

there is the teaching which says,"Investigate Principle

to the utmost and to


fully develop one's nature until destiny is fulfilled."

This is Conficius' teaching of the Mind..It was

transmitted to Mencius through Yeb Tzu(Yen Hui),Tseng Tzu

and Tsu Ssu. Mencius said,"He who has exhausted all his

mind knows his nature.Knowing his nature,he knows


48.The four dharmadhaatu of the Hua yen school.C.f.Chu

Hua-yen Fa-chieh Kuan-men(bx)(Commentary on the

Introduction to the Contemplation of the dharmadhatu of

the Hua-yen school)T1884,684b.


50.Hua erh ts'ai chih,t'ui erh hsing chih.(by)

51.chu erh ts'o chih t'ien-hsia chih min(bz).

52.chung Miao chih men(ca).

53.Li fa chieh(cb),shih fa chieh(cc),li shih wu ai fa chieh(cd),shih shih wu ai fa chieh(ce).


55.CT,ch.4,p.9,line 32.

56.The exact wording is in Vinalakiirti suutra,T475,555a.

C.f.Avatamsaka suutra,T279,106c.


58.CT,ch 11,p.26,line 15.

59.Lao Tzu,ch.15.

60.'Suurangama suutra,T945,122b-c.



63.Yu fang chih wai(ch).

64.Yu fang chih nei(ci).

65.Sheng jen i tz'u hsi t'ui ts'ang yu mi(cj).

66.erh chi hsiung yu min t'ung huan(ck).


68.hsu shih sheng pai,chi hsiang chih chih(cm).

69.Pu ch'u i p'ien i pu chih chung(cn).

70.Pu tz'u an,pu pi an ,pu chung liu(co).

71.Wu ssu yeh,wu wei yeh,tse tao shih yeh,kan erh sui t'ung

t'ien-hsia chih ku,tse i shih i(cp).

72.Shih chu erh lung chien,yuan mai erh lei sheng(cg).

73.Shu neng cho i ching chih hsu ching,shu neng an i tung

chih hsu sheng(cr).

74.ching shui hsien ch'ien ming wei ch'u fu k'o ch'en fan

nao chu ni ch'un shui ming wei yung tuan ken pen wu ming

i ch'ieh pien hsien pu wei fan nao chieh ho nieh p'an ching

ching miao te(cs).


76.CT,ch.22,p.57,line 10.

77.Lieh Tzu,"T'ien-juui,",p.4.

78.CT,ch.18,p.47,line 45.

79.Yuan shih fan chung,chih ssu sheng chih shui(ct).

80.Sheng che ssu chih t'u,ssu che sheng chih shih(cu).

81.wan-wu chieh ch'u yu chi,chieh ju yu chi(cv).

82.ssu yu tzu che,an chih pu sheng pi(cw).

83.san kang wu ch'ang(cx).

84.wu chieh shih shan,liu tu wan hsing(cy).

85.'Suurangama suutra,T945,108c,lines 4-7.


87.wu shih p'u t'i nieh p'an yuan ching ching t'i(da).

88.wu shih i lai sheng ssu ken pen yung p'an yuan hsin i wei

tzu hsing(db).

89.CT,ch.2,p.6,line 78.

90.ts'an wan sui erh i ch'eng ch'un(dc).

91.i erh wan wan erh i(dd).

92.'Suurangama suutra,T945,123b-c.

93.K'ang Ts'ang-tzu erh shih erh mu t'ing(de).

94.A-na-lu-t'o wu mu erh chien,P'o-nan-t'o-lung wu erh erh

ting....Mo-k'0-chia-yeh chiu mieh i ken yuan ming liao

chih pu yin hsin nien(df).

95.t'ien jen ,chih jen,shen jen(dg).

96.tsao tung wu wei(dh).

97.The "appended remarks"is traditionally attributed to

Confucius but was probably composed in Han Dynasty.



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