JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

Section I. Philosophy of the East.

IN this section we shall treat first of Philosophy among the Chinese; then of the philosophical systems of India; next of the Philosophy embodied in the Medo-Persian religions; and lastly of the Philosophy embodied in the religions of the other nations of Western Asia.

1. Philosophy among the Chinese.

§ 3.

1. The sacred books of the Chinese are called Kings (y-King and Chou-King). Fohi is regarded as the founder of a religious civilization among them. To him the authorship of the y-King is ascribed. The precise period at which he lived has not been determined. He is credited with having discovered the eight primordial kua -- at once elements of written language and symbols of the primary agents which are at work in all the transformations of nature. In their first significance they give rise, by transposition and multiplication, to the 40,000 characters of the Chinese syllabic alphabet; in their second significance they contain the elements of all physical science, as their combinations represent the processes by which material bodies are formed. "This combination takes place in four figures, the complete symbols in which represent perfect and active being; the incomplete symbols, imperfect and passive being. As three lines are united to form each figure, we have eight figures in all, four with a preponderance of the perfect, representing aether, pure fire, pure water, and thunder; four with a preponderance of the imperfect, the expressions for wind, water, mountains, earth."

2. Turning now to the religious notions of the Chinese, we find that they regard Heaven and Earth as the primary powers. "The thing of greatest excellence in the universe is Heaven -- the object, consequently, of divine homage. Next in excellence comes the centre of the earth (China), for here the opposing principles are maintained in that equilibrium on which the existence of the world depends. Man is the link that binds Heaven and Earth together. His duty is to preserve harmony in the world. The fixed, unbending law, according to which the life of man must be fashioned in the fulfilment of this duty, emanates from the Sovereign, who, in the 'Empire of the Centre,' is the 'centre' in the strict sense, and who, as 'Son of Heaven,' is in immediate relation with the celestial order. The law thus given is a rule of domestic or family life. The Emperor is the father of his people. In union with him they form one great family, which is subdivided into smaller family groups." Obedience to domestic law, the thorough observance of the family ordinances, whether general or particular, is the fundamental obligation of all members of the "Empire of the Centre." On this obedience depends the maintenance of harmony and equilibrium in the world. Violations of this obedience must be rigorously punished by the Emperor, that order may be restored.

3. It is clear that these religious notions contain no element of speculation. We have in this circumstance an explanation of the fact that there is no genuine speculative Philosophy of Chinese origin. There was no basis for such a Philosophy in the religion of the people. Wherever we discover products of abstract thought among the Chinese, we shall find, on inquiry, that these have been received from without. The Chinese seem to have been incapable of an independent effort of speculation. This is evident even in the man whom they regard as their greatest sage, the reputed author of the lesser Kings -- Confucius.

4. Confucius (Kung-fû-dsû), who lived about five hundred years before Christ, turned his whole attention to the principles of moral law. His career was that of a great reformer of the moral life of his nation. His teaching was wholly practical. It exhibited no tendency to abstract speculation. Even in his practical theories he was not original. His merit is that he collected and reduced to orderly arrangement the principles of morality which already governed the popular mind. His teaching was, in brief -- self-restraint and moderation. "Harmony and concord among reasoning beings is the primary requirement of reason. This concord is possible only when each man restricts himself to a determined sphere of action, and in all his actions maintains a fixed standard, beyond which he will not pass, and short of which he will not fall. Only that which is done in this wise is good and just; what departs from this rule, on the one side or the other, is ever and always bad. The wise man is a man of action, but always within his own determined sphere, always observing that law of moderation which secures him against any violation of the general harmony."

5. About the time of Confucius, Laotsee promulgated a peculiar teaching at variance with the popular religion. The tenets of his system, however, point to India as the place of its origin. His doctrine, the exposition of which is contained in the book Taoking, assumes the existence of one primary being, infinite and unchangeable, which he names Tao -- Reason. In itself this being is an indeterminate unity; but it is, nevertheless, the primary source of all determinate being. From it the latter, in all its forms, emanates, but only to return to it again. "The end of all human effort is the supremacy of the spiritual man's nature, freedom from passion, the undisturbed contemplation of the Eternal Reason, and ultimate union with the Primary Being in untroubled rest and deliverance from all corporeal motion." The votaries of this doctrine form the sect of the Taosee.

6. Last in order comes the teaching of Fo, or Foö. This doctrine is nothing more than a degenerate form of Buddhism, and is supposed to have reached China from India (according to others, from Japan) about the sixty-fifth year of the Christian era. The leading principle of this system of doctrine may be stated thus: "Strive to annihilate self. In the measure in which you cease to exist for self, you begin to be one with God, and to enter again into his being. All activity is evil; complete inactivity -- absolute rest -- is the only supreme perfection. The nearer the sage approaches the state of the plant or the stone, by closing the avenues of sense, the higher is his perfection." This, it is manifest, is a theory of absolute Quietism.

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