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-A Reflection on Confucian Concept of Tianren Heyi

Confucianism, like other major philosophical traditions in China, is

known for its perennial concern about anthropocosmic issues, issues that
focus their attention not on cosmos nor on humans alone, but on the
relationship between the two. Among these issues, the relationship
between transcendence and immanence, known in Chinese philosophical
tradition as the relationship between Heaven and humanity, is central.
It can be viewed as the conceptual linchpin upon whichthe whole anth-
ropocosmic vision of Confucianism is hinged. The typically Chinese or
Confucian solution to the issue is the well-known vision of unity (or
union) of Heaven and humanity (rianren heyi), which is often inter-
preted in terms of a state of mind in which a perfect equilibrium,
harmony, or identification between Heaven and the individual human is
achieved. This anthropocosmic vision has aroused some interest in the
Western philosophical world at least since Hegel. Lately, partly because
of the advent of New Confucianism or xinntjia3 in mainland China and
internationally, it has generated considerable controversy not only in
comparative philosophy and religion but in cultural and political inquiries
as well. In fact, this centuries-old vision is both seriously challenged and
fervently espoused among todays intellectual communities, East and West.

JoumalofChinesePhilosophy 22 (1995) 401440

Copyright 01995 by Dialogue Publishing Company, Honolulu, Hawaii U.S.A.

The Issue of tianren heyi

Zhang Hao, for instance, recently warns poignantly against the

negative effect the concept of tiunren heyi may have had upon Chinese
political culture. By stressing too much the divine potential of man,
Zhang argues, the concept could have lent itself to the deification of
man, as in the case of Mao Zedong. At the same time Zhang also tries
to account for the absence of a full-scale socio-political dualism, involving
a separation of church and state in China by the domination in Chinese
history of what he calls a truncated transcendence, a concept of trans-
cendence that was somewhat truncated by earthly involvements and
linkage^."^ Echoing Zhangs view, f i u Shu-hsien believes that too much
emphasis on the lofty but rarely achieved ideal of the blissful state of
tianren heyi could dull ones sensibility for the limitations, flaws, predica-
ments, and absurdities in real human life, especially in the conteMporary
world. Indeed, he observes insightfully, there is an interdependent and
closely related dialectical relationship between transcendence and
immanence, which, he urges, should be carefully examined.
Ln mainland China, most intellectuals seem to be critical of the
concept of riunren heyi Some of them, after experiencing personally all
the social and political turmoils with their agonies, ironies and absurdities,
simply cannot stomach such a perfect harmony implied by tiunren heyi
They feel that the concept, lacking a tragic sense, is too pleasant to be
true and too facile to be profound.6 Others caution that the concept
nurtures a human arrogance and anthropocentrism which should be coun-
tered by a sense of humjhty that can only be evoked in the presence of the
almighty God. Some of them urge an injection into the concept of tianren
heyi certain elements of transcendence borrowed from Christianity.
Still others, steeped in Marxist tradition, maintain that the lyric serenity
of the unity of Heaven and humans is something that belongs to an
agrarian society, and therefore premodern and outmoded. Zheng
Jiadong, a well-known mainland scholar of xinmjia, while acknowledging
the latters achievement in reviving transcendent consciousness and

religious spirit in China, complains that xinmjia blurs the distinction

between transcendence and immanence, thereby idealizing humans on the
one hand and curtailing the uplifting power of transcendence on the other.
He urges xinmjia t o learn from Western religious tradition and place
proper emphasis on the gap and tension between Heaven and
Some comparative theologians and philosophers in the Wesf how-
ever, intent upon enhancing Western intellectual and spiritual tradition,
find the Chinese anthropocosmic vision examplified in tianren heyi
revealing and helpful. David Hall and Roger Ames, who believe that
the Anglo-European culture is in need precisely of the sort of philosophic
enterprise which Confucius valuational thinking represents, pitch Confu-
cius presumption of radical immanence with the Western concept of
the radical transcendent. Charles Hartsshorne, the process theologian,
proposes the concept of dual transcendence, which John Berhtrong
believes, can draw much of its inspiration from Confucianism. Mary E.
Tucker argues that the Chinese concept of tiunren heyi can effectively
counterbalance the ecologically destructive tendency in the modern
The implications of the controversy over rimren heyi as an anthro-
pocosmic vision are, indeed, far-reaching and comprehensive. But the
basic issue underlying the vision is well-focused: the intricate relationship
between transcendence and immanence. To explore the intricacies of
the issue without running into the historical and theoretical maze it can
easily lead to, we choose to focus our inquiry on Mou Zongsans anthro-
pocosmic vision, especially his view of the relationship between transcend-
ence and immanence.
Mou, as arch-philosopher of xinrujia, has aroused significant interest
not only in Taiwan and Hong Kong but also more recently in mainland
China and perhaps in America too. Our objective is t o achieve a sympathe-
tic understanding of how Mou, as a paramount Confucian thinker today,
tries to resolve the issue of transcendence versus immanence in his anthro-
pocosnic vision. Given the complexity and subtlety both of the issue
itself and of MOUSvisualization of the issue, there are, t o be sure, more

than one interpretation of his position. Our impression, however, is that

in interpreting Mous anthropocosmic vision, too much attention has so
far been paid to the complete fusion of and the perfect harmony and
equilibrium between transcendence and immanence. His vision has too
often been described, together with the Confucian concept of tianren hqyi
as a static state of mind, a spiritual realm devoid of any dynamism and
tension. This bias can lead to a simplistic and one-sided reading of Mous
anthropocosmic vision. To counterbalance this tendency, we try, instead,
to interpret Mous vision in terms of the vigorous dynamism and tension
that are built-in in the very structure of the vision.
The article consists of three parts. The first part deals with the
dynamism implicit in the structure of Mous anthropocosmic vision. It
tries to demonstrate the existence in Mous vision of a dialectical interac-
tion between transcendence and immanence, or how transcendence
becomes immanent and immanence transcendent. The second part focuses
on the tensions that are implicit in the vision. The ever presence of
Heaven in the vision is underscored in connection with the double
meaning of tian (Heaven), Xing (humans true nature)* and ming (fate
or mandate)13. The third part is about the sense of awe and tragedy along
with the anthropocomic tension in Mous vision.
Since much of the controversy. seems to be terminologically
generatedI4, a brief explanation of terms is necessary before going further.
Mou borrows the two terms transcendence and immanence directly
from Kant but uses them in the Chinese philosophical context. He uses
the term transcendence primarily in a broad sense to cover the ultimate
metaphysical reality that is above, outside, and independent of ourselves,
especially our heart-mind (xin) but also of human life arid even of the
empirical world. Immanence is used by him, in contrast with trans-
cendence, t o denote something that is inside our life, resides in ourselves,
especially in our heart-mind and is determined by it. Many scholars use
the term immanent transcendence t o describe Mous view on the issue.
This term, as will be shown later, can be misleading in itself and is justified
only when used as an oxymoron to bring out the dialectical and dynamic

relationship between the two seemingly contradictory attributes.

Mous usage of the term transcendence is, thus, closer t o Robert
Nevilles divinity,l6 but is different from the transcendence defined
by David Hall and Roger Ames, who use it in a much stricter and narrower
formulation. So by definition, Mou feels it legitimate to subsume at
least both Christian God and Confucian Heaven (rian) under the term
transcendence. He says; What I mean by transcendence is God in the
Western context; it is specified as Heavens Will or Heavens Way in the
Chinese Confucian context* Broadly speaking, the issue of transcend-
ence and immanence is essentially the traditional Chinese issue of Heaven
and man seen in the perspective of comparative philosophy or religion.
MOUS anthropocosmic vision as a dynamic process consists of two
parts: (1) how transcendence becomes immanence, or the immanenti-
zation process and (2) how immanence becomes transcendent, or the
transcendentization process. The first part deals with como-ontology, or
bentilun, and the second deals with moral practice, o r gongfulun. The
dynamism of the vision can be seen primarily as the mutual transformation
of transcendence and immanence and is generated by the interaction of
the two seemingly conflicting processes of immanentization and transcen-

The Immanentization Process (I): Descending of Heavens Mandate as

Nature (xmg)

The immanentization process refers to the process of how Heaven

(rian) is internalized and becomes embedded in humans true naturdxing)
and heart-mind(xin). Historically and philosophically the process seems
to include two steps. The first step is what Mou calls the descending of
Heavens Mandate or Heavens Way as (human) nature. It is epitomized
in the famous opening sentence of Zhongyong: What Heaven mandates
(rim ming) is nature (xing). Mous interpretation of the sentence is the
key to understanding the first step of the immanentization he visualizes.
Central to his interpretation is the concept of the so-called youhum yishi,

which can be rendered roughly as a profound sense of concernedness,

a concept Mou borrows from his friend Xu Fuguan.
Drawing hls textual inspiration largely from the Book of Documents
(Shujing) and the Book of Odes (Shijing), Mou believes this typically
Chinese ethos of concernedness was conceived much earlier than
Confucius and can be traced back to early Zhou dynasty. Witnessing the
vicissitudes of dynastic fortune, the founders of the Zhou dynasty believed
that Heavens Mandate does not stay unchanged; it follows only where
morality resides. Should the new dynasty wish to keep Heavens
Mandate, it was believed, the king must revere morality (jingde),
keeping himself in constant alert and adhering conscientiously to morally
good practice. The emphasis on moral effort instead of Heavens Will
throws the major burden of dynastic survival and flouishing onto humans
themselves. Not Heavens Will but its realization by humans becomes the
decisive factor. This shifting of focus paves the way for Heavensdesceni!
into human nature. Meanwhile, it also nurtures a sense of extreme
cautiousness and conscientiousness, known as the sense of reverence
Qing), which escorts Heaven, as it were, on its way descending into
human nature. Thus, Mou summarizes:

In Chinese thinking, Heavens Mandate or Heavens Way

descends step by step and pours itself into man and becomes
his subjectivity via a sense of reverence born from the sense
of concernedness. Therefore, [unlike Christians who are
inspired by a sense of Dread and surrender themselves com-
pletely to God], we Chinese d o not project our subjectivity
onto God. What we do is not self-negation but self-affirma-
t ion. O

Confucius, Mou emphasizes, liberated the concept of Heaven from

the dynastic concern of the ruling kings and expanded it into a concern
for the destiny of humans, morally and culturally. Indeed, for Confu-
cius it actually implied a deep concern for the destiny not only of man-

kind but of the cosmos as well. What the sage is concerned about, Mou
points out, is not that myriads of things do not sprout and flourish, but
that they d o not each and all find their own proper niches in the sprouting
and n ~ u r i s h i n g . ~ ~Like the Buddhist great compassion, and the
Christian universal love, the Confucian sense of concernedness, saturated
with a pervasive pathos, is essentially a cosmic feeling.24
More important, the sense of concernedness implies or presumes a
profound sense of responsibility which in turn is typically moral in nature.
Therefore, the cosmic Sen= of concernedness also imbues both Heaven
and human nature with a pervasive moral significance that is unique to
Chinese philosophy. For this reason, Mou concludes, it is from youhuan
yishi that the major distinguishing feature of Confucianism ultimately
stems: its emphasis on subjectivity and morality, both of which reside
inside us and tend to work for immanentization. The Western tradition,
on the other hand, emphasizes objectivity and religiosity, both of which
stay outside or above us and tend t o work for transcendentization.
In addition, Mou argues that with the descending of Heavens
Mandate into human subjectivity, a process of depersonification of Heaven
occurs. This is inevitable, because, he says,

With [Heavens Mandate] transformed into the bright sub-

jectivity of their own, humans no longer have to appeal to
Heavens Will at every turn of their life. All they need to do
is to affirm and rely on the illuminating subjectivity Heaven
has ordained [in their nature] .

In other words, by taking over Heavens function as a personified agent,

an overlord or supervisor of human life,26 the Heavenly-ordained human
nature helps Heaven shed its attributes as a personal agent and transform
it into an impersonal metaphysical reality. The metaphysical reality
that eventually evolves, Mou asserts, is precisely the twll-known cease-
less process o i generating and generating (sheng sheng buxi) in Yyrhg,
or the profound and penetrating force that incessantly generates change,

a force only Heavens Mandate possesses (Wei tian zhi ming, yu mu bu

yi), the famous saying in the Book of Odes as Mou paraphrases it. This
process according to Mou, is nothing less than creativity i t ~ e l f . ~
As a result, Mou contends, the way Heaven mandates is best
interpreted and visualized is not as a personal God who, like an emperor,
issues an order and assigns a status to humans, but as a stream of creative
transformation (shenghua zhi liu) that flows around the universe. When
it flows into an individual entity X, it forms the nature (xing) of X;
when it flows into Y, it forms the nature of Y, he says. The uniqueness
of humans lies in the fact that they can absorb this creative cosmic sub-
stance and make it the substance of their true nature, whereas all other
things in the universe cannot. As humans true nature comes from the
same cosmological source as Heaven, it acquires an ontological status and
possesses a universality and necessity that are absent from the empirical
nature of humans born as biological or natural beings. Thus Xing, in the
mainstream of Confucian tradition, is not an empirical concept denoting
a class or a natural species, as Xun Zi (330-227 B.C.) sees it, but a meta-
physical or ontological concept that acquires its essence from the cosmic
stream of creativity. So, like Heavens Mandate, Xing is also creativity
itself. Mou accordingly advocates the essential unity of humans true
nature and Heavens Way and says:

This creativity itself when settled in the individual human

being is humans true nature. When seen from the perspective
of the c o m i c process of Great Transformation, it is Heavens
Way. It is humans true nature when viewed subjectively and
Heavens Way when viewed o b j e c t i ~ e l y . ~ ~

The first step of the immanentization process-the descending of

Heavens Mandate into human nature -is thus completed.

The Immanentization Process (11): the Verification of Tian and Xing by

Xin and the Trinity of Tian, Xing, and Xin

Although the immanentization process has invested human nature


with Heavens morally creative power, this creativity, Mou stresses, still
appears obscure and abstract t o humans, because it has not been
intimately and vividly felt by humans themselves. Strictly speaking, it
has not found its way into the deep recess of humans heart-mind. In
other words, the transcendent is still not immanent enough: it is still
something hanging up half way in the air and remains aloof t o
humans. To make Heaven thoroughly immanentized, the creativity now
constituting the substance of human nature must be personally experi-
enced and existentially verified by humans themselves, by the individuals
heart-mir~d.~ If the first step of immanentization is for Heaven to
descend into human nature; the second step is for Heaven and human
nature to be entrenched in the individuals heart-mind. This momentous
step was first taken by Confucius and later developed by Mencius.
Mou believes there are two basic concepts [or sets of concepts] in
Confucius thinking: (1) humanity (ren) and ( 2 ) Heaven and nature (tian
and As mentioned earlier, the concepts of Heaven and nature
(xing) were much older than Confucius. It was part of a long, deep-
seated tradition in which Confucius was brought up. Confucius central
concern and greatest contribution, Mou contends, lay elsewhere: the
exploration of the vision based o n the concept of ren.
By way of ren, Mou emphasizes, Confucius opened up a new dimen-
sion of spiritual life-the vast realm of human subjectivity scarcely
explored before. However, given the tremendous role Heaven played in
Confucius time and judging from what he said about Heaven in the
Analects, it is reasonable to assume that while he was exploring the
meaning o f ren, he had a strong, deep-rooted, though seldom discussed,
yearning for transcendence. Heaven formed the backdrop that loomed
large in his exploration of the vision of ren Confucius, Mou argues,
is indeed using ren t o achieve spiritual communication with Heaven.l
Mou characterizes Confucius ren b y quoting the Book ofChunge:
Ren takes the pervading of sensibility as its nature and the soothing of
things its function He sees ren as the ceaseless expansion of ones com-
passion and pathos until it pervades the myriads of things in the universe;

and in the course of the expansion ren brings warmth and life to myriads
of things, producing an &-embracing nourishing and soothing effect.
Like tian, ren is self-generating and does not depend upon anything else
for its continues expansion and development. This is why Mou also
characterized ren as creativity itself, a moral creativity that soothes
myriads of things.33 The intentional meaning of ren, Mout argues, is
thus the same as that of Heaven. Although Confucius seldom talked about
Heaven and hujan nature, they are implied in ren, because, by making
Heavens import concrete, clear and down-to-earth to the individual, ren
is a personal verification of the existence of Heavens Way in ones
nature. y,
Confucius ren was later developed by Mencius into his famous
four beginnings, or original heart-mind (benxin). An analysis of the
four beginnings shows that this original heart-mind, Mou maintains, is
moral in nature and therefore is a moral mind, or moral conscioua-
ne~s.~ Both concepts of moral good itself and that of moralit!y
itself acquire their intentional meanings directly from the lived-
experience of the operation of the active and activating moral mind.
Indeed, to be truly autonomous and self-sufficient, morality must not be
established from without. It must be established from within, i.e. by
resorting to the innate moral consciousness Without moral conscious-
ness, the moral implications of the Heavenly-endowed creativity in human
nature would remain obscure, empty, and even irrelevant to humans.
Even God as the Highest Good, Mou contends, must be verified subjective-
ly by humans moral consciousness before becoming relevant to them.
In Mods eyes, the crucial import of Mencius theory of human
nature being good is to confirm, or rather to make explicit, in a
subjective way the morality and moral good that are humans true nature.
If Zhongyong and Yizhum specify human nature from an objective
cosmological approach, Mencius specifies it from a subjective moral
approach. By way of the former Heaven descends into human nature;
by way of the latter, both Heaven and human nature find its sensorium
right down in the human heart-mind. The concept of Xing, verified by

xin, was for the first time firmly and formally established in the Con-
fucian tradition. The oneness of xin and Xing was once for all established
without doubt. This, Mou believes, was the major achievement of
M e n ~ i u: s~~
However, Mou maintains that although Mencius successfully estab-
lished the oneness of xin and Xing, his wording seems to suggest that
there is still a small gap between Heaven on the one hand and xin and Xing
on the other.37. In other words, the trinity of xin, Xing, and rim3,
a more elaborate expression for riunren heyi is not fully established by
either Confucius or Mencius, although it is, according to Mou, definitely
implied by both. To that degree, the process of the immanentization of
transcendence is not yet completely realized. It was up to the Neo-
Confucians of the Ming-Qing period, or rather their authentic line,
Mou maintains3, to fulfill the mission.
Mou believes that the major theme for the Neo-Confucians is
to inter-penetrate the Analects, the Mencius, Zhongyong, and Yizhuun
and make them one, by which Mou essentially means the inter-penetra-
tion of Heaven, human nature, and heart-mind, the trinity of riun, Xing,
and in.^' This integrative effort is best illustrated by Cheng Haos
thinking. Cheng (1032-1085)was considered by Mou as the Neo-Confu-
cian thinker who forged the paradigm of Confucian Perfect Teaching
(yuanjiao), the paradigm of interpenetrating and making [all the mani-
festations of Tao] into one (tong er yi hi).''^^ Cheng is known for his
saying Tao is the one root, by which he means Tao is the one root
with different manifestations. The one root refers to the ontocos-
mological reality that is moral creativity or cosmic creative transformation
itself. It is called by different names in different realms:

It is Heavens Way when we are talking about the on-moving

natural order of the comos. It is Heavens Mandate when we
are talking about the profound ceaseless functioning that has
a determinate direction and continuously endows. It is the
Great Ultimate (ruqi) when we are talking about the ultimate
consummation to which nothing could be added .... It is the

substance of Xing (xingfi) when we are talking about the in-

dividual entity, the transcendent ground for the moral
creativity of the individual human being or that which enables
the myriads of things to have their own nature. It is the sub-
stance of xin (xinti) when we are talking about the illumina-
ting consciousness (mingiue) that is autonomous, self-deter-
mining, and self-orientating, a process of ceaseless moral puri-
fication that constitutes the existential moral decision and
implements moral behavior in a concrete and authentic
wa ~ . ~ ~

In short, it is Heaven when vieewed objectively and in totality and xin and
Xing when viewed subjectively and individually. The trinity of heart-
mind, nature and Heaven (xin, Xing, and r i m ) is thus fully achieved and
the immanentization of the transcendent eventually realized.

The Transcendenthation Process: Gongfu and the Trinity of Tian,

Xing,and Xin

As a religiophilosophical tradition, Confucianism consists of two

parts: como-ontology (bentdun) and moral practice Cgongjiulun). The
problem of how the transcendent becomes immanent, which starts from
Heaven and goes through human natureto human heart-mind, focuses
more on coxnoontology and is largely the concern of Zhongyong and
Yizhuun; the problem of how the immanent becomes transcendent, which
starts from human heart-mind and finds its way through human nature to
Heaven, focuses more on moral practice and is largely the concern of the
Analects and the Mencius The former addresses the problem of how
Heaven descends and becomes embedded in humans; the latter addresses
the problem of how humans ascend and become unified with Heaven.
The former tries to fmd an immanent anchorage in humans for Heaven,
the latter tries to find a transcendent anchorage in Heaven for humans
Mou defines gongfu, or moral practice, in terms of xin and Xing.
Gongfu, he sayq refers to the endeavor to realize self-consciously in

ones own life the substance of xin and Xing. 43 In Confucian tradition
the gist of gongfu is best represented by Mencius famous formulation:
He who fully realizes his heart-mind (xin) knows his nature (Xing). He
who knows his true nature (Xing) knows Heaven (tian). This formula-
tion, starting from human heart-mind through human nature upward to
Heaven, seems to show that gongfir is in effect the very same process of
the verification of tian and Xing by xin, as mentioned earlier in this
article. Paradoxically enough, the verification process, which is then
visualized as part of the effort to pull Heaven downward, as it were, and
make it closer to humans heart-mind, namely the immanentization
process, now turns out to be only the same process of gongfu, which is
visualized as an effort to lift humans heart-mind upward and makes it
closer to Heaven, namely the transendentalization process.
The paradox, however, is solved in the eyes of some Neo-Confucians,
because they contend that gongfir (moral practice) is benti (ontological
reality) and benti gongfu. In other words, the process of human moral
practice is essentially the very same process of cosno-ontological creative
transformation, and vice versa. The two processes always go hand in
hand, because they are, according to Mou, the same process of moral
creation, but manifest themselves respectively in the subjective realm of
the individuals inner life and the objective realm of myriads of things.
This, indeed, is the very essence of the principle of the trinity of tian,
Xing, xin mentioned above.
Our anaiysis seems to show that ~0;s anthropocosnic vision is
not a static state of mind in which transcendence is embedded in imman-
ence, nor a simple balance or identifkation of immanence and transcend-
ence. It can perhaps be best visualized as a mutually intertwined, dynamic
two-way traffic: the immanentization process that goes from tion down-
ward through Xing to xin and the transcendentization process that goes
from xin through Xing to tian The two processes occur simultaneously
and both culminate in the trinity of tian, xmg, xin. This trinity,
even if seen as the culmination of the two dynamic processes, is bound
to be also dynamic and fluid. It is, indeed, packed with mutual interac-

tions and transformations, constantly shifting its emphases and changing

its forms of manifestation according to different realms that ar focused on.
This, indeed, is what Mou means when he says that the hallmark of the
authentic line of Neo-Confucianism, as distinguished from the line
represented by Zhu Xi (1 130-1200), is to consider the metaphysical
reality not as merely being but at the same time as activity.45
The trinity of Tian, Xing, andxin, like the Trinity in Christianity,
is perhaps the most intriguing problem in Confucianism and has exercised
the minds of generations of Confucian thinkers. However, the present
authors would like to argue that in spite of the fusion of the three
constituents of the trinity, analytically speaking, each still retains its own
independent meaning in its own realm. Otherwise, as Mou argues, there
will be no fusion t o speak of.&
First of all, it is important to note that when Mou says, after Cheng
Hao, that xin, Xing, tian are one, he does not mean that the three are
identical in the sense that they are three entities that are always one and
the same thing at any time and under all conditions. They are one only
in the sense that they are all manifestations of the one and same onto-
cosmological reality, which according to Mou, is moral creativity itself.
The are one only because they inter-penetrate and flow into one
another (row) and form one ceaseless stream of Great Transformation.
With each retaining its own meaning in its own realm, they become one
only through the ceaseless process of the individuals moral effort, i.e.
gongfu, which in the last analysis is precisely the same ceaseless onto-
cosmological transformation process. Indeed, the trinity has never
been achieved except in the very process of incessant creation, continuous
interaction and inter-penetration, both ontocosmologically and indivi-
d ~ a l l y . ~ This is why the concept of tong er w e i y i is regarded by Mou as
the key concept that represents the major theme the Sung-Ming Con-
fucians worked on so laboriously.

The Song-Ming Confucians made the Analects the Mencius,

Zhongyong, and Yithuan inter-penetrate one another and

become one (long e r y i zhi). Their main purpose was t o fully

demonstrate the pre-Qin Confucians teachings of moral
fulfillment, t o provide the transcendent ground that accounts
for the possibility of our self-conscious moral practice. This
transcendent ground is, directly speaking, the substance
[or reality] of [humans true] nature (xingfi). But at the
same time it also penetrates (tong) the profound and cease-
less metaphysical reality and becomes one with it (er weiyi).
In this way, the ceaseless purification of our moral behavior
is brought about and a thorough grasp of the c o m i c process
of ceaseless transformation is achieved.48

The message of the trinity of tian (metaphysical reality), Xing

(substance of nature), and xin (ceaseless purification as moral practice)
is obvious in this passage. Perhaps less obvious, but equally essential, is
the dynamic picture conveyed in the passage by the concept of inter-
penetrating and becoming one (tong er weiyi). However, the dynamism
of the picture is unmistakable when Mou exalts the superb way Liu
Zongzhou (1578-1646) expresses the hardly expressible spiritual realm of
perfection and fusion ~ m r o n g ) ,which is often taken to be typical
of tianren heyi What Liu intended t o do, Mou explains, was t o fuse and
make into one the numerous and fragmented concepts that had
proliferated in centuries of analytical explanation.

The way he did it is straight away retract inward and upward

what is below-the-form [or empirical] and have it tightly
drawn into what is above-the-form [or transcendent] , and
simultaneously what is above-the-form is completely im-
manentized and tightly sucked into what is below-the-form.
In this way he managed to put across his message in a roll-

it-all-up-in-one-stroke way ~ i g u n d i s h u o.]

What Mou appreciates most in Lius remark is what he calls the spirit of

tightly mutual drawing and sucking between the above and the
be lo^,"^' which unmistakably captures a vision that is thoroughly
dynamic. It is in the dynamism intrinsic to the concept of rongerweiyi
that the anthropocosmic tension we are going to discuss, i.e., the
tension between Heaven and humans, is hidden. An important clue to
the existence of the hidden tension is Mous repeated assertion of the
indispensable presence of Heaven in his anthropocosmic vision.

The Ever Presence of Heaven as Principle of Objectivity

It is noteworthy that Mou typically characterizes Heavens Way as

being 60th transcendent and immanent, which leaves room for mutual
interaction and tension, and seldom characterizes it as immanent trans-
cendence, which tends to convey a more static picture. Heavens Way
is high above and has acquired the significance of transcendence. But
when pouring into a person, it resides in him and becomes his true nature
and then it is also immancent, he says.53 Heavens Way, Mou seems to
suggest, does not stay in one place. It can be seen as shuttling between
immanence and transcendence or inter-penetrating both a t the same time.
In fact, as Tu Wei-ming puts it, The deeper you dive into your inner
resources, the more transcendent you can become. This is what Mencius
means when he says dig the well until you get to the fo~ntainhead.~
Commenting on Confucius saying that a profound person has three
awes (He is in awe of Heavens Mandate, in awe of the great person, and
in awe of the sages words), Mou points out that for Confucius a whole-
some personality must firsf of all be in awe of Heavens Mandate. In
other words Mou adds, one can never achieve a great Personality if
one lacks a Sense of transcendence, a heart-felt piety, reverence and faith
for the t r a n s ~ e n d e n t ~To
~ ensure and sustain ones sense of transcend-
ence, Mou stresses the ever presence of Heaven in his anthropocosmic
As mentioned earlier, Mou believes that one crucial function of ren
intended by Confucius is to achieve spiritual communion with Heaveas

Way from afar. This communion, according to Mou, takes two forms:
transcendent and immanent. The transcendent form is developed by
Confucius in the Analects Mou argues that, for Confucius, Heaven,
comparatively speaking, had the flavor of a religious personal God.
Instead of pulling Heaven down, Mou says, Confucius pushed it a bit
away.56 While Confucius was practicing his ren, Mou adds, the
Heaven he communicates with had a dual meaning: In principle it was a
metaphysical reality; but in his feelings it was a personal God. When
Confucius knows Heaven, as the master once claimed, through practi-
cing ren. Heaven also responds by knowing him. Only Heaven knows
me! Confucius once exclaimed. A kind of tacit mutual understanding
resulted between the two, which Tu Wei-ming expands into what he calls
a faithful dialogical response to the transcendent.* If Heaven can be
seen as conducting a dialogue with humans,- the gap between the two
seems to be implied and Heaven as a quasi-personal God far above can not
but inspire a profound sense of awe in C o n f u ~ i u s ~ ~
The immanent form of communion is developed later mainly in
Zhongyong. Instead of pushing Heaven a bit away as Confucius did,
Mou says, Zhongyong draws Heaven into oneself, turning it into ones
nature and at the same time transforming it into a metaphysical reality.
According to Zhongyong, Mou argues, the sage at his most sincere
moment merges completely with Heaven, leaving n o gap between the

One problem naturally arises: how does Mou define the relationship
between the two forms of communion? Are they contradictory and in-
compatible? Mous answer is no. He maintains that, bot!! historically
and philosophically, the transition from the transcendent form to the
immanent one is a natural course of event and a big development.
This assertion seems to imply that the immanent form is the more deve-
loped or advanced form and hence the one to be preferred. However,
a deeper probe into his position shows that what he tries to drive home is
not the priority of one form over the other but what he calls a real
unification of the principle of subjectivity and the principle of

objec tivity.I6
By the principle of subjectivity Mou refers to the approach that
takes as its point of departure the subjectivity of ones spiritual life, which
includes ren, cheng (sincerity), and x i n By the. principle of objectivity
he refers to the approach that takes as its point of departure the objecti-
vity of the metaphysical reality. The relationship between the two
principles is essentially that between immanence and transcendence.
It is interesting to note that Mou uses the Hegelian categories of
thesis, antithesis and synthesis t o illustrate the relationship. Hegel
explains the Christian trinity in terms of three stages: (1) God-in-Himself,
i e . Holy Father as the embodiment of the principle of objectivity exists,
or rather subsists, in Himself, ( 2 ) God-for-Himself, i.e. Holy Son as the
embodiment of the principle of subjectivity serves as the vehicle through
which Holy Father manifests Himself, and (3) 6d-in-and-for-Himself,i.e.
Holy Spirit is finally established as the unrfication of Holy Faiher and
Holy Son, of objectivity and subjectivity.
Mou explains the Confucian paradigm of perfect teaching forged
by Cheng Hao, or the Confucian trinity as we call it, along essentially
the same line of reasoning: (1) Heaven as the embodiment of the principle
of objectivity exists (or rather subsists) in itself and hence is Heavens
Way-in-itself, ( 2 ) Ren or xin as the subjective vehicle through which
Heavens Way manifests itself is Heavens Way-for-itself, and (3) The sage,
hke Confucius, who in the course of practicing ren verifies the objective
intentional meaning of Heavens Way through subjective inner experi-
ence, can be seen as the unlfication of subjectivity and objectivity, and
hence, in this sense, is Heavens Way-in-and-for-itself.6z
Leaving the intricacies of Hegelian terminology aside, what Mou
tries to convey here is a dynamic, dialectical vision in which in spite Gf the
final synthesis or fusion, Heavens ever presence is persistently under-
lined. This is made even clearer if we review briefly Mous interpretation
and evaluation of the major strands or models in Confucian tradition in

Major Confucian Models63

Mou considers the centrality of subjectivity as the hallmark of

Chinese spiritual life and Confucius as its initiator because it was Confu-
cius who opened up the gate of subjectivity. Yet, speaking of Con-
fucius model, which is known as to practice ren and know Heaven,
Mou underlines the presence of an objective Heaven:

In the course of practicing ren...Con&cius manages to know

Heaven, achieve a tacit understanding of it, fit himself well
into it, or revere and worship it ... Therefore, Confucius
emphasis on subjectivity does not mean any negation or
neglect of the objectivity of Heaven. Rather, it means that
mans deep wedging into, and his pious reverence for the
transcendent and objective Heaven ... are intensified and made
more intimate and real.64

Speaking of Mencius model, which is summarized as to fully

realize heart-mind-to know [humans true] nature- t o know Heaven,
Mou also emphasizes the crucial role Heaven or transcendence:

While for Confucius the problem of [human nature as] being

is [merely] implied in moral practice and tacitly understood
..., for Mencius the problem of human nature as being is
elevated to the transcendent level and illustrated in terms of
moral mind or benxin. 6s

In other words, Mencius, although emphasizing the function of the moral

mind as his point of departure, consciously provided human nature with a
transcendent ground and incorporates the problem of the tlanscendent
being with the problem of moral practice, i.e., the principle of objecti-
vity with the principle of subjectivity. Indeed, it is b y merging being into
activity that Mencius fully establishes the real subjectivity of humans,

Mou observes.66
Confucius and Mencius, however, did not fully elaborate on the
principle of objectivity. It was up to Zhongyong and Yizhuan t o d o the
job, namely, to start from above and explain Xing objectively, trans-
cendentally from an onto-cosmological ~tand-point.~This development,
Mou stresses, is both crucial and inevitable. It is crucial because by doing
so Heaven is duly and definitely included and absorbed in the inodel:

Both Confucius and Mencius always have a Heaven that is

objective and transcendent. If this Heaven cannot be
excluded and yet nor included and absorbed, then there would
be no real fullness and perfectness [in the model]

The development is inevitable because if this Heaven does not develop

in the direction of a personal God [but in the direction of animpersonal
metaphysical reality] , the reahty (or substance) ofxing is bound to merge
with the metaphysical reality and the specification of the former in terms
of the latter is bound to h a ~ p e n . ~ In other words, although Heaven
has gone through a mr$imorphosis from a quasi-personal God into an im-
personal metaphysical reality, Heaven, as the embodiment of the principle
of objectivity, still plays as crucial a part in the anthropocosmic vision
as ever before. It is, indeed, the sustaining pillar of Confucian moral

The specification of [xing] in terms of Heavens Way is where

the characteristic tone of Confucian moral idealism comes
from. This tone should not in any case be erased. The very
solemnity of Confucianism and its final prevalence as an ortho-
doxy [in China] depend completely upon the principle of
objectivity in the tradition for their controlling and uplifting
principle and their sustaining structure.m

This insistence on Heavens crucial role is also reflected in Mous


critical evaluation of Neo-Confucian models. Mou divides the entire range

of Neo-Confucians of Song-Ming period from the eleventh to the seven-
teenth century into three lines or schools represented respectively by:
(1) Hu Hong (1 101-1161)Liu Zongzhou (1578-1646), whose forerunners
included the three great Northern Song Confucian thinkers Zhou Dunyi
(1017-1073), Zhang Zi (1020-1077) and Cheng Hao (1032-1085); (2) Lu
Jiuyuan (1 139-1192) Wang Yangming (1472-1528); and (3) Cheng Yi
(1033-1 107) Zhu Xi (1 130-1200). Contrary to many Confucian scholars,
he contends that the third line represented by Zhu Xi misses the true
spiritual orientation of Confucius and Mencius and therefore is not the
authentic line of Confucian tradition. The first and the second line, he
argues, represent the authentic line of both classical Confuhanisn and
Neo-Confucianism. Jointly they form one great strand and can be seen
as one circle with two-way traffi~.~
The Hu-Iiu line, relying more on Zhongyong and Yizhum, works
downward from Heaven (or the ontocosmological reality) through
human nature to Confucius ren and Mencius moral mind. The Lu-Wang
line, developed on the basis of Mencius, takes Mencius moral mind
(benxin) as its point of departure and works upward from moral mind
through human nature to Heaven.

The former works from the objective to the subjective side,

through which the objective side is manifested and actualized.
The latter works from the subjective side to the objective side,
through which the subjective side is propped up and objecti-

Both schools are orientated toward a vertically unified vision or the

trinity of rim,Xing, and xin mentioned earlier.
However, it is important to note that so far as the meaning-struc-
tures of the two lines are concerned, Mou shows a clear preference for
the Hu-Liu line over the Lu-Wang h e . This is because, in MOUSeyes,
the Hu-Liu h e , being the direct heir of Cheng Haos perfect teaching,

gives Heaven a full-fledged exposition in its paradigm, whereas the Lu-

Wang line, being only a further development of the learning of Mencius,
does not provide an adequately firm, profound and penetrating link t o
fit the moral mind into the ceaseless, penetrating metaphysical real it^."'^

Although [in accordance with the Lu-Wang line] the all-

pervasive soothing effect of the moral mind, when expanding
t o its maximum, could be made to encompass the whole
ontocosmological realm, the fullness and perfection achieved
is derived purely from the subjective side. Its objective side
has not, after .all, been firmly and fully established. Therefore
it almost inevitably gives us a sense of inadeq~acy.~

This inadequacy is underscored when Mou links it to the crucial

role of Heaven in the moral metaphysics he is all out to construct:

If the [Confucian] teaching of moral fulfillment is to imply

the existence of a moral metaphysics, the word Heaven
should not be erased, nor should its significance be curtailed.
It is noteworthy that the degeneration of later learning of
Wang Yangming was causedd precisely by Wangs inadequacy
in this point. Humans, as a result of the inadequacy, could
not have themselves firmly established and uplifted. Tey went
down the drain and became either spiritually void and
floating rootlessly or emotionally indulged and running

Our brief review of Mous evaluation of the major Confucian models

as he defines them seems to convince us that Heaven, either in its quasi-
personal or impersonal form, has never been absent from his anthropo-
cosmic vision.
There is no doubt that compared with Zhu X,Mous emphasis is
on the subjectivity principle. He takes subjectivity as his point of depar-

ture and lets the subject penetrate into the object and absorb the object
into the ~ubject.~ Nevertheless, his ultimate goal is not merely the
exaltation of subjectivity as such but the unification of subjectivity and
objectivity. Indeed, he even sees the historical development of Chinese
Confucianism in terms of the balancing of the two principles: from the
preConfucius ancient tradition to Confucius and Mencius, to Zhongyong
and Yizhuan and later Cheng-Zhu, and then to Lu-Wang, the pendulum
seemed to swing back and forth between objectivity and subjectivity until
the emergence of Cheng Haos perfect teaching model, which was later
inherited and developed by the Hu-Liu line. It seems reasonable to
assume that in the dynamic, dialectical unification process of Heaven and
humans, Heaven as the embodiment of the principle of objectivity, while
gradually and largely retreating to the background, never loses its uplifting
and inspiring effect. It lurks behind and exudes a transcendental
affmity for the myriads of thmgs, carrying and moving forward with them
in an extremely profound way.m
One question, however, naturally arises: If the ever presence of
Heaven is assumed, how can we account for the trinity of Heaven, Xing,
and xin Mou reiterates? Why does the oneness of tian, Xing, xin not
necessarily imply the dissolution of Heaven in the trinity, and hence
its absence from his anthropocosmic vision? This question brings us to
Mous theory of the double meaning of Heaven, human nature, and
ming (order or fate), a point that Mou stresses from time to time but is
often unduly neglected by some of his readers.

The Double Meaning in Tan, Xin, Xing, and Ming

Most of the major categories discussed in this article, including xin,

Xing, and ming, according to Mou, all have a double meaning that is
derived from the double meaning of tian as the ultimate ontocosnological
Heaven, Mou maintains, has two sides: it can be viewed and under-
stood in terms of either li (principle) o r qi (vital force). For example,

when Mencius says fully realize ones heart-mind (xin) and know human
nature (Xing) so as to know Heaven, Heaven, along with xin and Xing,
is understood essentially in terms of li. It refers to the ultimate metaphysi-
cal reality and is used in its positive sense. In this context, Mou asserts,
tian, Xing, and xin can be one. But when Mencius says conserve ones
heart-mind and nurture ones true nature so as to serve Heaven, he is
talking about humans as actually existing beings and Heaven also as qi-
bearing and -imbuing. In this case, Mou maintains, xin and Xing,
because of [the incongruity between] the limitations of actually existing
beings on the one hand and the pervasive extension of qi on the other, can
not be one with Heaven.79

Indeed, it is only in the merging of the two sides [of Heaven]

that the full significance of Heavens solemnity and transcend-
ence lies. This Heaven cannot be completely immanentized.
What can be completely immanentized is the Heaven that
is understood as li

The qi-oriented meaning of Heaven is based on the pervasiveness

of qi as something that is distinct from li However, although q i and Zi
are distinguishable, they are also inseparable. More important, Mou does
no characterize li, as he believes Zhu XI does, as mere being that lies
out there behind qi and accounts for the way qi exists.81 Li is
characterized by Mou as both being and activity at the same time and
qi as the trace of l f s activity-the concrete, actual manifestation of the
transforming function of lib Li, accordingly, can be said to cause and
create q i
But lis creation is not creation ex nihilo. It creates only in the sense
that it enables what already exists to go on living forever in a robust way
without withering away. Without li functioning as the transcendent
norm, Mou contends, the myriads of things that exist, allowed to run
their own natural course, could easily decay or run wild, ending in non-
existence. But on the other hand, the myriads of things that exists are

nothing but the trace of 113 own activity. [What li does] , Mou says,
is, in the last analysis, creative generation that helps myriads of things
fuLfX themselves. It is creative generation that fulfds, or fulfilling
function that creatively generate. Apart from fulfilling creativity there
would be no creativity at all, Mou asserts.83 What Mous theory of
fulfilling creativity highlights is the integration of li and q i or the
oneness of substance(t0 and function boung), with li serving as the
original substance that plays the positive and generating role and qi as
the trace of its activity. Strictly speaking, it is on the basis of this
theory that the ever presence of Heaven in his anthropocosmic vision is
Heaven, as the metaphysical reality consisting of li and qi, possesses
a double meaning or a dual dimensionality. Sometimes, it discloses more
of its li dimension, in which case, Heaven, once merging withxin andxing,
becomes fully immanentized. Sometimes, it discloses more of its q i
dimension. Then, Heaven, incapable of being totally immanentized,
remains transcendent. Since the two dimensions, according to Mou,
inter-penetrate each other and are actually one (or symbiotic, t o borrow
a term from David Hall and Roger Ames), Heaven could in n o circum-
stances be expelled from Mous anthropcosmic vision without rendering it
totally distorted. This point will become even clearer if we examine
further the double meaning of ming and Xing.
So far in this article ming and Xing are used in the sense typically
exemplified in the opening sentence of Zhongyong: What Heaven man-
dates (ming) is nature (Xing). Both xmg and ming are understood here in
terms of li They are what Mou respectively calls li-Xing (Xing linking t o li)
and li-ming (ming linking t o li). This usage of xmg and ming is typical
of the mainstream of Confucian moral idealism. But when Xing and ming
land themselves on q i Mou says, xing becomes qi-Xing (Xing linking t o

qz) and ming becomes qi-ming (ming linking to qi).114

Qi-Xing was known among Neo-Confucians as qizhi zhi Xing
(material nature) and li-Xing as yifi zhixing (moral nature). The former
is formed by the conglomeration of qi and can be seen as a material
structure born and given by the physical world of nature. It is a class
name, referring to the nature of human beings as an animal species and is
empirical. The latter is the result of the absorption by the human indivi-
dual of li understood as the transcendent principle of realization, as
both being and activity. It refers to human nature as endowed by
Heaven and therefore is morally creative (or moral creativity itself) and is
transcendent. The former includes physiological traits, talents, disposi-
tions and temperament and varies with individual persons. The latter
includes Mencius four beginnings as manifestations of Xing and is
universal to all humans.86
The material nature of an individual, being born and given, is
fated. In this sense it can be seen as part of the ming in qi-ming,
because the ming in qi-ming is also used in the passive sense of fate
and is beyond the control of the individual. The ming in li-ming, on
the other hand, is used in its positive sense. It means what our own
true nature orders (ming) ourselves to do. More specifically, it refers to
what constitutes our bits as assigned by our own nature, which we
ourselves simply cannot help doing. It implies the autonomy of will
and is close to what Kant means by imperative command.
According to Mou, the reason why Qi-ming is beyond ones control
is that there is an unbridgeable gap and, hence, an irreducible incongruity
between the infinite, unlimited quantity and complexity of the qi Heaven
and Earth possess on the one hand and the limited quantity and comple-
xity of the qi the individual life is able t o capture and appropriate on the
other. As a result, Heaven and Earth run a majestic course of their own
that is often incongruous with the way the individual does. The former
creates an on-going momentum (shi) and a circumstantial opportunity
(ji)that is uncontrollable by the inlvidual and does not necessarily match
his course of life. In other words, Heaven imposes on the individual life
a kind of transcendent constraints or metaphyorical limitations, as
Mou calls it, which is popularly called fate.

Awe, Tension, and Tragic Sense in Confucianism


However, fate in the Confucian tradition is not simply the result

of the interaction of mechanical forces, because the qi in qi-ming is not a
lump-like, pure qi. It interpenetrates with and saturated by Zi, or
rather by shen-li (i.e. spnit-principle, spirit here referring to the inscrut-
able, superbly ever-functioning of Heavens principle) and takes the latter
as its original substance (benn). In other words, fate, frustrating as
it may be in many cases, is an integral part of the all-generating Heaven
and therefore is awe-inspiring :

Therefore, the transcendent constraints qi forms for us

acquire a solemn and sublime significance that makes it
worthy of awe. So, in each individuals life, when en-
countering the constraints, one would inevitably feel infinite-
ly sad and sigh. Even a sage cannot help but heave a sigh
before he dies (Luo JinxTs words).w

Sagehood, as we all know, is exceptionally hard, if not impossible,

to achieve. A sage, according to the Confucian tradition, is one who is
as deep and profound as an abyss, as all-embracing and vast as Heaven,
who matches Heaven and Earth in their virtue, matches the moon and the
sun in their illumination, matches the four seasons in their orderly course,
and matches ghosts and spirits in their [comprehension of the] vicissi-
tudes of fortune^."^' A sage, after going through myriads of tribulations
and trials, eventually manages to achieve such a sublime goal. He should
feel peace, if not contented, at the end of his lifes journey. Yet, even a
sage can not suppress his sigh when looking back and examining his whole
life before does he regaret? Given the anthropocosmic vision described
above, the sigh, with all the regret and sadness it carries, comes from an
acute sense f the transcendent constraints Heaven imposes on
humans- despite their equally acute sense of the infinite moral potentials
Heaven endows in his true nature. The sigh gives relief to a deeply hidden
anthropocomic tension, an all-embracing pathos, and a tragic sense, none
of which can be easily expressed in words.

Comparing Confucianism with Christianity, Mou observes that like

the Christian God, the Confucian Heaven is creativity itself. Like Chri-
stianity, Confucianism contains a certain element of a personal God, at
least in Confucius and Mencius. It also contains the subjective feelings of
calling for Heavens help, especially when one is in distress, which
could have been developed into prayer. He even affirms the existence of
the concept of revelation in C o n f u c i a n i ~ m . But
~ ~ he says:

Objectively, Confucianism does not focus their consciousness

completely on transforming Heaven into God, making it stand
up formally and deriving its doctrines thereof. Subjectively,
or does it make the catling for Heavens help stand up
formally, in which case the calling would have been trans-
formed into prayer. Not that Confucianism does not have
the two aspects [of God and prayer], but that it simply wants
t o have their weighty impact ~elieved.~

The attempt to relieve the impact is not arbitrary. It is dictated by

the very structure of Mous anthropocosmic vision. It is because, Mou
explains, the center of gravity of Confucianism does not fall on God and
prayer ....[but] on how humans are to realize Heavens Way.IW

Confucianism does not start from God and say Gods intention
is so and so. It starts from how to realize Gods intention or
Heavens Way. This is what we mean when we talk about
emphasizing subjectivity. Once the gate of subjectivity is
opened, the above [or the transcendent] and the below
[or the immanent] can interpenetrate each other, which is
what we mean by the inter-penetration of subjectivity and
objectivity with moral practice as its center ... The objective
God and the subjective feelings of calling for Heavens help
are thus completely absorbed in and subsumed by how to
realize Heavens Way and hidden in the infinite process of

moral fulfilment.%

Meanwhile, Mou refutes the conflation of Confucianism with ex-

clusive secular humanism96 and specifies Heaven, if only figuratively, as
the ultimate destination of humans spiritual journey:

It is generally acknowledged that Christianity is God-based

and Confucianism is humanity-based. That, however, is not
to the point. Confucianism does not take the actual finite
humans as its base and cut them off from Heaven. Its em-
phasis is on how to realize Heavens Way through the
awakening of humans, i.e., through the full realization of their
true nature .... The process of fully realizing one true nature
so as to know Heaven, however, is an infinite one. It steers
its course straight toward the summit of the transcendent

The journey to Heavens summit is not only awe-inspiring but also

surely full of tension. Mou disagrees with those who associate Confuci-
anism with facile optimism. Mou observes that the critics say: Humans
have evils. But Confucianism optimistically claims that human nature is
good and believes that humans can overcome their evils. Christianity
is not so optimistic. It believes that evils are not so simple and that
humans, being not strong enough to overcome them, need to pray for
Gods grace.9a But Mou says this is not at ah to the point either:

We believe that evils are infinite, many of which are un-

doubtedly beyond human awareness. Therefore, the process
of realizing Heavens Way is ifmite... Since Confucianism
emphasizes the realization of Heavens Way, its emphasis does
not fall on Gods grace and the calling for help, but ongongfu,
on overcoming evils step by step, on eliminating evils step by
step. But, as the evils in the ocean of life are infinite,gongfu

is also infinite and so is the process of achieving sagehood.

Confucianism is not unaware of the tremendous difficulties
involved. This is why Luo Jinxi says: The real Confucius
cannot help but heave a sigh before he dies. But we cannot
stop short because of the difficulties and shift the responsi-
bility to others. But in principle, reason [or moral rationality]
can eventually overcome evils, just as God can eventually
overcome Satan. Whatever burden God bears in Christianity
is borne in Confucianism by the disclosing [or presentation]
the infinite reason [or liangzhi] in an infinite process.99

In a speech at a a Christian school of theology in Taiwan, after com-

paring Christianity with Confucianism, Mou concludes on an apologetic
but forceful note:

Not that the Chinese or Confucians are optimistic and believe

that things are all easy, or that they slush the tension
between man and Heavens Way or God and let it recede and
wither away, but that the center of gravity has been shifted.
It has been shifted to how to fully realize ones true nature
and practice ren so as to realize Heavens Way. All the tension
is hidden there and it is there that the infinite solemnity of the
consciousness of Heavens revelation is also hidden.

Mou, however, never forgets to stress the positive role of material

nature. He definies material nature in terms of two functions: the actua-
lization as well as the constraining function.

The concrete actualization of xingri (the substance of Xing)

can never be separated from material nature .... Even if the
material nature has been thoroughly transformed and purified
and conforms completely with xingri, the latter still has to
actualize itself through the former .... Theis is the positive

significance of material nature. But the positive and the

passive function always go to gether: to actualize is to
constrain. lo

Therefore, we should not, Mou admonishes, over-emphasize the constrain-

ing function of material nature. We should, instead, simply fonow the
dictates of our moral nature and break through the constraints and make
ones moral life flow into the infmite. Tu Wei-ming also stresses the
opportunity to transform structural limitations into instruments of
self-realization. He is arguing in his own way for his mentos position
when he says:

Because we are earth-bound, we are limited. We are unique

human beings in a particular time and space, and we each
encompass and encounter a unique human condition. How-
ever, our embedment in a specific earth-bould condition does
not prevent us from taking part in the communal and, indeed,
divine enterprise of ultimate self-transformation.03

The message seems obvious: We are fated, and yet we shall forge
on. The question, however, persists: Is the message optimistic or pessi-
mistic? The key note it strikes seems to be self-reliant and optimistic.
Yet, when Confucius says, Do it even if you know it is impossible to
accomplish, a tragic note threatens to emerge visibly. If we read it in
connection with the masters cherished disciple Zeng Zis saying about
taking ren as ones burden and carrying it until one dies,1 the hidden
tragic sense is unmistakable indeed: you are doomed to commit your-
self to a fruitless effort endlessly until your death.
In fact, Li Zehou, perhaps the most original thinker in China main-
land, reads even a Sisyphean sense of tragedy into this famous saying of
Confucius when he comments on the well-known Chinese writer Lu Xun
(1 88 1-1 936). Li highly praises the metaphysically flavored solitariness
and pathos that accompanied Lu Xun until h i death. Camus Sisyphus

might very well be appreciated by Lu Xun, he observes. But Lu Xun,

k immediately adds, is certainly different from Sisyphus, for after all,
he is rooted in the Chinese soil. Therefore, Lu Xun, Li affirms,
although pessimistic, is still indignant; although expecting nothing, still
forged ahead. Nevertheless, Li detects in Lu Xuns profound tragic
sense, the sedimented pathetic ethos of Confucianism:

Perhaps, this [typically Lu Xuns sentiment] stemmed from

Confucian tradition: Do it even if you know it is impossible
to accomplish or Just because ail that is required by righte-
ousness has been exhausted, humanity is thus a~hieved?~

Mou traces the source of Confucian tragic sense again to the indis-
pensabl role of qi in his anthropocosrnic vision. Speaking of the positive
and negative function of qi, he says:

Our body is of course a constraint and you can commit suicide

and destroy it if you are sick of it. But it has its own
function: namely, the Way or Truth must actualize
itself through this life of yours. This is the tragedy inherent
in man and where mans sublime pathos lies.

This observation lead us to a basic doctrine in Mous anthropocoo

mic theory: the dialectical relationship between the finite and the infinite.
Humans, according to Mou, are doomed to be both finite and infinite.
They possess both divinity and animality. This is both the source of the
value and solemnity of human life and the root of its trouble and tragedy.
All teachings, philosophical and religious, Mou contends, have their
limitations, because the life of the sages who formulate the teachings are
actual human lives and are limited in many ways.lm A lengthy quote
from Mou is justified in this connection:

The infinite is always manifested through certain [finite]


path, or an actual life (the life of an individual), but it is also

limited by it. This is a necessary and inevitable paradox. So,
there must be a dialectical process that could break through
the limitations. Knowing that each teaching is only one path
[among many] and, hence, knowing oneself, one should not
assert oneself and exclude others. In other words, although
being limited, one is not limited by the limitations and there-
fore is unlimited. Only by way of the penetrating power that
belongs to the unlimited can the infinite mind present itself.
Once having presented itself, the infinite mind by itself
containss infinite meanings and infinite virtues, all of which
mutually inter-fuse and inter-penetrate and are not mutually
exclusive. Not only that one meaning does not exclude the
other, but that this very one meaning penetrates the entirety
of meanings and have them subsumed in itself. This is what is
meant by great interpenetration (dufong). But it is t o be
noted that great inter-penetration is not a teaching at all.
It is the mutual penetration of all perfect, full teachings.
The teaching has come to a point where it has no form of
teaching: The meaning having been appropriated, the teaching
is forgotten. All we have is a real life doing what it ought t o
do, an infinite mind flowing in an absolutely undifferentiated
way as such. Regarding this flowing in an absolutely undif-
ferentiated way as such, this doing what ought to be done,
I really know not whether it belongs to Confucianism, to
Buddhism, to Taoism, or to Christianity?08

This remarkable remark by Mou provides much food for thinking for
comparative philosophers and theologians It leads us one step further
and engages us in philosophical reflection that touches upon a realm that
is shared by all great spiritual traditions. If Tianren heyi in this context
can be visualized as tranquil, harmonious, blissful, tensionless, it can also
be seen as dynamic, awe-inspiring, tragic and full of commotions. In fact,

it suggests a spiritual realm that is packed with paradoxes. This is an area

of inquiry which, although also essential to a thorough understanding of
the concept of fianren hey4 is largely beyond the scope of this article
and had better be left for later discussions.



1. The term anthropocosmic vision is borrowed from Tu Wei-ming. See Tu,

Cenwafiry and Cornrnondify (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989), 102-107.
2. See. for example, Li Minghui Dungdai mxue zhi ziwo zhuanhua (The self-
transformation of contemporary Confucianism) (Taipei: Zhongyang yan-
jiuyuan, 1994), 129-148, in which David Hall and Roger T. Ames usage of
transcendence is discussed. See also, Ames response in his Chinese Trans-
cendence, or Turtles all the Way Down? (forthcoming).
3. The range of scholars the term xinrujia covers varies greatly. See, for
example, Yu Yingshi You ji feng chui shui shang lin (Still remember the
ripplingwaves caused by breezes) (Taipei: Sanmin shuju, 1991). 57.
4. Zhang Hao, Playing God: Deification of Man in the Radical Thought of
Twentieth Century (forthcoming); Zhangs part in A Roundtable Discus-
sion of The Trouble with Confucianism by Wm. Theodore d e Bary, China
Review Intemationd, Spring 1994, 15. Liu Xiaofeng has similar views
although from a Christian perspective See Liu, Zhengiiu yu xiaoyao (Salva-
tion and being carefree) (Taipei: Fengyong chuban gongsi, 1980), 130-36.
5. See Liu Shu-hsien, Mou xiansheng lun zhide zhiijue y u zhongguo zhexue
(Intellectual intuition and Chinese philosophy discussed by MI. Mou), in
Mou Zongsan xiansheng de zhexue yu zhuzuo (Mou Zongsans philosophy
and works) (Taipei: Xuesheng shuju, 1978). 757-59.
6. See, for example, Liu Xiaobo, Xuunze de pipan (A selected critique) (Shang-
hai: renmin chubanshe, 1988), 155-199. Even Li Zhehou, the target of Lius
book, shares the same idea to some degree. S e e Li, Zhonkpuo gudai sixiang
shilun (Collected essays on intellectual history of ancient China) (Beijing:

renmin chubanshe, 1986), 260.

7. See Liu Xiaofeng, zouxiang shizijia shung de zhenli (Toward the truth on the
cross) (Hong Kong: Joint Publishing CO.,1990), 319, 358-59. See also his
Zhengjiu y u xdoyao, 133.
a. This view is widely advocated by mainland scholars Even radical rebels like
Liu Xiaobo also holds this views See Liu, Xuanze de pipan, 170.
9. Zheng Jiadong, Liuing yu lixiang: zhongguo xiandai renwen zhuyi zhexue
de jiben jingshen (Reason and ideal: the basic spirit of contemporary
Chinese humanist philosophy), Xinhua wenzhai (Beijing), (1) 1993, 31-32.
10. David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames, Thinking rhrough Confuciur (Albany:
SUNY Press, 1987), 328, 12.
11. See Mary Tucker and John A. Grim, ed., Worldviews and Ecology (New
Jersey: Buchnell University Press, 1994)
12. Mou objects to the translation of Xing into nature. Xing actually covers
the essential nature not only,of humans but also of myriads of things For
convenience sake and for the specific purpose of this article, we use humans
true nature, or simply human nature for its translation.. For the meaning
of Xing, see Mous Xinnyu xingn (The substance of the heart-mind and the
substance of human nature) (Taipei: zhengzhong shuju, 1968). VoL 1, 87-100.
The book is cited as XYX later on in this article.
13. For the two meanings ofming see later part of the article. it can be translated
either as fate or destiny or as order or mandate
14. See Li Minghui, Dangdai mxue zhi ziwo zhuanhuu, 129-138; Roger Ames,
Chinese Transcendence, or Turtles All the Way Down?
15. Mou Zongsan, Zhongguo zhexue de tezhi (The distinguishing features of
Chinese philosophy) (Taipei: xuesheng shuju, 1975), 20. The book is cited
as ZZDT in this article later o n
16. See Robert Neville. Behind the Masks of God: An Essqy Toward Comparative
Theology (Albany: SUNY Press, 199 11, 1.
17. See David Hall and Roger Ames, Thinking through Confucius, 12-13. Their
formulation has much influence. See, for example, Carine Defoort, The
Transcendence of Tinn,Philosophy East and West, April 1994, 347-8.
18. ZZDT, 27.
19. Ibid., 19.
20. Ibid., 15.
2 1. X Y X 21.
22. Ibid., 22 1-22.
2 3. ZZDT, 12.

24. Ibid, 12, 78.

25. Ibid., 20-21.
26. bid., 38.
27. bid., 19-20, 21.
28. Ibid., 53. See also XYX, 219-220.
29. ZZDT, 95.
30. ZZDT, 60, 64. See also XYX, 219-220.
31. ZZDT, 92.
32. ZZDT, 27.
3 3. ZZDT, 94.
34. ZZDT, 3Cb31.
35. For the full meaning of moral consciousness, see XYX, 324.
36. See XYX, 25-26.
37. See XYX, 27.
38. Trinity is used here in a loose sense. See also XYX. 557.
39. The term is borrowed from Tu Wei-ming. See Tu, Hurnaniry and Self-Cul-
rivarion (Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1979), 112. For Mous classi-
fication of NeoConfucians, see XYX, 42-62, 562.
40. XYX, 42, 35.
41. XYX, 48, 44.
42. Mou Zongsan xiansheng de thexue y u zhuzuo, 639-40.
43. ZZDT, 12.
44. The Mencius, 7 A: 1.
45. XYY 58.
46. XYX, 328.
47. It is important to note that M o u differentiates the two meanings o f j i which is
mostly rendered as be or be identical with or be equal to. This is the
meaning of Ji when used in what Mou calls the analytical or differentiated
way of saying things B u t in the %on-analytical or undifferenhtedway0f
saying things, ji is used as a metaphysical, heuristic tern that carries the
meaning of perfection and fusion, and is not used for a factual statement
or predicative proposition See XYX, 320, 470, 459.
48. XYX, 31.
49. Yuanmng here is roughly translated as perfection and fusion According to
Mou, yuan (round) means perfect and with nothing left out and rong
(fusing) means inter-penetrating and without any obstruction in between.
See XYX, 458.
50 XYX, 394.

5 1. XKX,395.
52. Tu Wei-ming makes a similar but very apt observation when he interpreted
rionten heyi as [We need] both to transcend [this world] and t o dive deep
into it. A tension is involved and the intexaction is continuous See Tu,
Rujia chuantong de xiandai zhuanhua (The modern transformation of Con-
fucian tradition) (Beijing: Zhongguo guanbo dianshi chubanshe, 1992), 21 3.
5 3. ZZDT, 20.
5 4. Tu, Rujia chuantong de xiandai zhuanhua, 2 12-13.
55. ZZDT, 27.
56. ZZDT, 34.
57. ZZDT, 35.
58. Tu Wei-ming, Centrality and Commonality. 94.
59. Whether there is a sense of awe in C o n f u c i a n h is a controversial issue. Cheng
Chung-ying, for example, excludes awe from the Confucian sense of the
numinous Instead of awe, he says, there is calm and clarity. See,
Cheng, New Dimensions in Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism, 415.
60. ZZDT, 35.
61. See ZZDT, 40-51.
62. ZZDT, 40-5 1.
63. Model is used here in a loose sense to denote the gist characteristic of a
64. XYX,21.
65. XYX,26.
66. XYX 26.
61. XYX,31.
68. XYX,48.
69. XKX,35.
70. ZZDT, 58.
71. XYX,49.
72. XYX 48.
73. XYX 413.
74. XYX,48.
75. XYX,48.
76. Mou Zongsan, Zhexue shqiu jiang (Nineteen lectures o n philosophy) (Taipei:
xuesheng shuju, 19831, 79.
17. See ZZDT, 49;XYX,346-1.
78. XYX, 22. Mods remark is intended for Confucius But he makes clear in the
same page that the depersonification of r i m later does not affect the salient

position of transcendent consciousness nor the reverence and piety for

79. XYX, 27,28.
80. XYX,526.
81. See XYX, 370.
82. XYX, 366.
8 3. X Y X 366-1.
84. XYX, 355. See also XYX, 505.
85. For Mous d e t d c d view on qi-Xing, see related chapters in Caixingyu xuank
(Talent and metaphysical theory).
86. ZZDT, 53-59; XYX, 87-100,2942.
87. X Y X 504-505.
88. XYX, 5 2 5 ; Mou, Zhexueshijiujmng; 8.
89. For t h e relation betweenqi and sheng and li. see XYX, 469-477.
90. X YX, 5 25-6.
91. ZZDT, 35,76.
92. ZZDT, 95-96; 99-100.
93. ZZDT, 96.
94. ZZDT, 96.
95. ZZDT, 96-97.
96. The term is borrowed from T i Wei-rning See Tu, Centrality and Commona-
lity, 87.
91. ZZDT, 97.
98. ZZDT, 97-98.
99. ZZDT, 98.
100. ZZDT, 101.
101. XYX, 510.
102. XYX, 5 11.
103. Tu Wei-ming, Centrality and Commonality, 103.
104. The Analects, 8: 1.
105. Li Zehou, Z h o n g p o xiandm sixiang shilun (Collected essays on intellectual
history of contemporary China) (Beding: dongfang chubanshe, 1987), 115,
117, 119.
106. Mou. Zhexue shyiu jiang, 8.
107. See Ibid., Lecture One.
108. Mou Zongsan xiansheng de zhexue y u zhuruo, 722.


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