Zhu Xi
& the Transmission of the Way
 
From Yao to Now
[With the decline of the Zhou dynasty], the sage Confucius appeared, but being unable to attain the position of ruler-teacher by which to carry out government and education, he could do no more than recite the ways of the sage kings and pass them along, in order to make them known to later generations. ... [Among his disciples] it was only Zengzi who got the essential message and wrote this commentary [i.e. Daxue 大學 (The Great Learning)] to expound its meaning. Then, with the death of Mencius [whose master, Zisi, was Confucius grandson and Zengzis pupil], the transmission vanished. ...
Yet Heaven’s cycle goes on turning, and nothing goes forth without returning [for a new start]. The virtuous power of the Song Dynasty rose up, and both government and education shone with great luster, whereupon the two Cheng masters of He’nan appeared and connected up with the tradition from Mencius [that had been long broken off]. ...
 
 
Although I am not very clever, it was my good fortune through indirect association [with a teacher among the followers of the Cheng brothers] to hear about this. [Introduction to the Great Learning, Sources of Chinese Tradition, 723-4; cf. Introduction to the Doctrine of the Mean, Sources of Chinese Tradition, 732-4]
 
 

Classic Text: The ancients, wishing clearly to manifest luminous virtue to all-under-Heaven, first put in order their own states. Wishing to govern their states, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated [disciplined] their own persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their minds-and-hearts. Wishing to rectify their minds-and-hearts, they first made their intentions sincere. Wishing to make their intentions sincere, they first extended their knowing. The extension of knowing lies in the investigating of things and affairs. ... Things being investigated, knowing can be extended; knowing being extended, the intentions can be made sincere; the intentions being made sincere, the mind can be rectified; the mind rectified, the person can be cultivated [self disciplined]; with the self disciplined, the family can be regulated; the family regulated, the state can be governed; the state governed, all-under-Heaven can be at peace. [Sources of Chinese Tradition, 727]

Zhu Xi’s Comment: “The extension of knowing lies in the investigation of things” means that if we wish to extend our knowing, it consists in fathoming the principle of any thing or affair we come into contact with, for the intelligent [spiritual] human mind always has the capacity to know [learn], and the things of this world all have their principles, but if a principle remains unfathomed, one’s knowing [learning] is not fully utilized. Hence the initial teaching of the Great Learning insists that the learner, as he comes upon the things of this world, must proceed from principles already known and further fathom them until he reaches the limit.
 
After exerting himself for a long time, he will one day experience a breakthrough to integral comprehension. Then the qualities of all things, whether internal or external, refined or coarse, will all be apprehended and the mind, in its whole substance and great functioning, will all be clearly manifested. This is “things [having been] investigated.” This is the utmost of knowing. [Sources of Chinese Tradition, 729]


Zhu Xi on “Knowledge” and “Action”
The efforts of both knowledge and action must be exerted to the utmost. As one knows more clearly, he acts more earnestly, and as he acts more earnestly, he knows more clearly. Neither of the two should be unbalanced or discarded. It is like a person’s two legs. If they take turn to walk, one will be able gradually to arrive at the destination. If one leg is weak and soft, then not even one forward step can be taken. However, we must first know before we can act. This is why the Great Learning first talks about the extension of knowledge, the Doctrine of the Mean puts wisdom ahead of humanity and courage, and Confucius first of all spoke of knowledge being sufficient to attain its objective. But none of extensive study, accurate inquiry, careful thinking, clear sifting, and vigorous practice can be omitted. [A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, 609]
 
 
 

Significance: Represents (in theory) the actual words of Confucius, who is regarded as a great sage because he preserved the Way at a time when it was in danger of being extinguished. By transmitting the teachings of the sages to later generations, he allowed the Way to be passed on to ...
 

Significance: Refined the teachings of Confucius by focusing on the question of human nature. By including Mencius as the third of the Four Books, Zhu Xi was implicitly adopting Mencius claim that human nature is good as one of the fundamental principles of Neo-Confucianism.
 

Why was the Mean written? Master Zisi wrote it because he was worried lest the transmission of the Learning of the Way (daoxue 道學) be lost. When the divine sages of highest antiquity had succeeded to the work of Heaven and established the Supreme Norm [of governance], the transmission of the Succession to the Way (daotong 道統) had its inception. As may be discovered from the classics, “hold fast the Mean” is what Yao transmitted to Shun. That “the human mind is precarious” and “the mind of the Way is barely perceptible,” that one should be discriminating [with regard to the human mind], be one [with the mind of the Way], and should “hold fast the Mean” is what Shun transmitted to Yu. Yao’s one utterance is complete and perfect in itself; but Shun added three more in order to show that Yao’s one utterance could only be carried out in this way. ...

As I have maintained, the mind in its empty spirituality [pure intelligence and consciousness] is one and only one. But if we make a distinction between the human mind and the mind of the Way, it is because consciousness differs insofar as it may spring from the self-centeredness of one’s individual physical form or may have its source in the correctness of one’s innate nature and moral imperative. This being so, the one may be precarious and insecure, while the other may be subtle and barely perceptible. But humans all have physical form, so even the wisest do not lack this human mind; and all have the inborn nature, so even the most stupid do not lack the mind of the Way.
 
 
These two [tendencies] are mixed together in the square-inch of the mind-and-heart, and if one does not know how to order them, the precariousness becomes even more precarious, and the barely perceptible becomes even less perceptible, so that the sense of the common good [impartiality] of Heaven’s principle [in the mind of the Way] is unable in the end to overcome the selfishness of human desires. “Be discriminating” means to distinguish between the two and not let them be confused. “Be one [with the mind of the Way]” means to preserve the correctness of the original mind and not become separated from it. If one applies oneself to this without any interruption, making sure that the mind of the Way is master of one’s self and that the human mind always listens to its commands, then the precariousness and insecurity will yield to peace and security, and what is subtle and barely perceptible will become clearly manifest. Then, whether in action or repose, in whatever one says or does, one will not err by going too far or not far enough. [Sources of Chinese Tradition, 732-3]
     

    Classic Text

    Chapter 1
    What Heaven has ordained is called [human] “nature” (xing ); to follow that nature is called the Way. To cultivate that Way is called “instruction.” The Way cannot be departed from for even an instant. If it could, it would not be the Way. Therefore the noble person (junzi 君子) is cautious in regard to what may still be invisible and apprehensive about what is yet inaudible. Before the feelings of pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy are aroused, is called [the state of] centrality (zhong ). After these are aroused, if they preserve equilibrium (centrality; zhong ) it is called [the state of] harmony. Harmony is the universal path.
    Zhu Xi’s Commentary: ... Pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy are human feelings. In their unaroused state they are human nature. Not being one-sided or partial, they are spoken of as in a state of centrality. If they are aroused and all attain due degree, they represent the correctness of the nature; manifesting no perversity, they are in the state of harmony. The great root and trunk of all is the nature as Heaven’s imperative, and the principles of all-under-Heaven derive from this, it being the substance of the Way. Whether in the past or the present, it is the common resource of all, this being the function of the Way. [Sources of Chinese Tradition, 735-6]
     

    The Way of Heaven
    Chapter 20
    Sincerity (cheng ) is the Way of Heaven. To think how to be sincere is the Way of man. He who is sincere is one who hits upon what is right without effort and apprehends without thinking. He is naturally and easily in harmony with the Way. Such a man is a sage. He who tries to be sincere is one who chooses the good and holds fast to it. [A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, 106-7]
     
    Heaven, Earth & Humanity
    Chapter 22

    Only those who are absolutely sincere can fully develop their nature. If they can fully develop their nature, they can then fully develop the nature of others. If they can fully develop the nature of others, they can then fully develop the nature of things. If they can fully develop the nature of things, they can then assist in the transforming and nourishing process of Heaven and Earth. If they can assist in the transforming and nourishing process of Heaven and Earth, they can thus form a trinity with Heaven and Earth. [A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, 107-8]
     
     
    Zhu Xi on Book Learning
    The beginner is sure to have lapses in his inner mental attentiveness. But as soon as he’s aware there’s been a lapse, he’ll arouse his mind. Awareness of the lapse then leads to the resumption of inner mental attentiveness. What I hope is that people, in reading, will grasp moral principle for themselves. If they read all day long, their minds won’t become reckless, but if they get involved in affairs and things, their minds will easily become submerged. If you understand this, then in reading you’ll grasp moral principle for yourselves, and you can return [to the right path]. ... When one’s original mind has been submerged for a long time, and the moral principle in it hasn’t been fully penetrated, it’s best to read books and probe principle without any interruption; then, the mind of human desire will naturally be incapable of winning out, and the moral principle in the original mind will naturally be safe and secure. ... When the mind isn’t settled, it doesn’t understand principle. Presently, should you want to engage in book learning, you must first settle the mind so that it becomes like still water or a clear mirror. How can a cloudy mirror reflect anything? [Zhu Xi: Learning to be a Sage143-5]