4 Directions: East South West North
4 Seasons: Spring Summer Autumn Winter
5 Elements: Wood Fire Metal/Earth Water
4 Virtues: Humanity Propriety Righteousness Wisdom
4 Characters: Mild Functional Judgemental Contracting
4 Wills: Creation Growth Maturity Storing
4 Beginnings: Empathy Modesty Shame Right & wrong
4 Birth Growth Collecting Preservation
4 Morality Flourish Advantage Firmness
4 Times: Sunrise Noon Sunset Midnight
Chu Hsi, Learning to be a Sage
Chu Hsi and NeoConfucianism
The Confucian Way of Contemplation
Chu Hsi's Family Rituals
Chu Hsi, New Studies
The beliefs of a civilization inevitably change over time influencing the
course of its history, and this is certainly true of the Chinese civilization.
During the time of Chu Hsi, (1130-1200AD), Confucian doctrine had been in
stagnation for more than a thousand years, being supplanted by Taoist and
Buddhist systems of thought. He successfully reversed this trend, infusing
new life into the value of Confucian ideals, which are based on practical
ethical principles that support harmonius community life. The essence of Chu Hsi's thought
can be summed up in two phrases: "total substance and great functioning"
and "wisdom as hidden and stored." It is his thinking on the latter
that gave rise to a unifying philosophy that is both profound and significant.
"Total substance and great functioning" refers to the functioning
of the mind. Chu Hsi believed that unless effort is made to preserve the
mind, it lapses into chaos and unintelligibility. Without constant challenges,
it becomes insulated and inflexible, declining in power and wholeness. To
preserve the mind, Chu Hsi said it must be exercised, through the investigation
of things until their fundamental principles are understood. As ones knowledge
and learning continues, one will "awaken all of a sudden" to what
is harmonius and unified, which is manifested as "total substance and
great functioning." If the mind is not properly cultivated, Chu Hsi
asserted that the extension of knowledge would deteriorate into empty learning.
It was not until the winter of his life, at the age of sixty-five, and at
full maturity of his thought, that Chu Hsi began to focus his attention
on the concept of "wisdom as hidden and stored." This idea first
originated in the "Book of Changes," a text which is said to contain
the nucleus of Chinese thought. The idea was passed down from generation
to generation of Chinese thinkers, but it was Chu Hsi who crystallized its
essence, organizing its many related ideas into a grand philosophical system
The Book of Changes describes all phenomena in the world, whether in human
affairs or the natural order, as being driven by a cyclical current of coming
and going, growth and decline. Accordingly, the material force (ch'i) alternates
between "yin," the passive and static principle, and "yang,"
the active and dynamic principle. This successive rise and fall of yin and
yang was thus used to explain all natural phenomena, such as the rotation
of the sun and the moon, the alternation of night and day and the four seasons.
It is said that the great virtue of Heaven and Earth is called life, and
the endless production of things is called Change. What drives this endless
Change is the never ceasing flow and exchange between negative and positive
principles, or yin-yang. Since the Book of Changes is a book on divination,
one hopes to discover ones fate by consulting its hexagrams.
Gradually, the separate ideas of Chinese thought started to coalesce and
become equated with each other. So, for example, the Four seasons, became
equated with the Four directions, and then to the Five Elements*. Then these
ideas merged with the ethics of Confucianism, its Four Virtues of Heaven,
the Four Wills to Life, and the Four Beginnings. Just as the four seasons
endlessly cycle, emerged the idea that even virtues of mankind would follow
a cyclical pattern too, which would be manifested in human affairs, such
as politics and economics. Li Ting-tso of the T'ang period
"equated the virtue of humanity, which is the spirit of life in the
spring, with the east and Wood; the virtue of propriety, which governs nourishment
of things in the summer, with the south and Fire; the virtue of righteousness,
which governs the maturing of things in the autumn, with the west and Metal;
and the virtue of wisdom, which governs the perserving of life in the winter,
with the north and Water. He also quoted Confucius saying, 'The man of humanity
enjoys the mountain while the man of wisdom enjoys water.'
When winter comes, things contract themselves into storage and preservation
and, as a result, become quiet. Likewise, a will for life also contracts
itself into such preservation that it leaves hardly any traces on the surface.
But the will of Heaven and Earth for life, which is ready to activate itself
limitlessly, can be seen lying deep there. The nature of wisdom as hidden
and stored is easy to understand in terms of the preservation of life in
the winter." (p203)
Mencius had described the Four Beginnings as "feelings" of: commiseration
and empathy, of shame and dislike, of modesty and complaisance, and of right
and wrong. Chu Hsi identified the Four Beginnings as functions of nature,
i.e. governing laws or principles, not feelings. Since the Han dynasty,
the Five Constant Virtues: humanity, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and
truthfulness had also been presented as elements of nature. Chu Hsi considered
the first four as all true, and declared that it was redundant to include
truthfulness as a separate entity, thus reiterating the doctrine of the
Four Virtues as originally advanced by Mencius. Thus, a correspondence can
now be made. According the Chu Hsi, since humanity, propriety, and righteousness
are manifested as feelings of empathy, complaisance and shame, respectively,
their operation in human affairs is visible. On the other hand, wisdom and
the corresponding ability to decide between right and wrong is invisible
in its operations. Thus it is hidden and stored.
From the standpoint of principles, with reference to the will for life,
"humanity is the creation of life, propriety is the growth of life,
righteousness is the maturity of life, and wisdom is the storing of life.
Wisdom is, therefore symbolized as winter in terms of the four seasons,
the limit of quietude of yin in terms of the activity and tranquillity of
yin and yang, or the hour of tzu at midnight in terms of day. It
is in wisdom as hidden and stored that all things are stored and preserved
and all forms or phenomena hide themselves. Thus it becomes clear for Chu
Hsi, wisdom has the meaning of 'being laid up in store and preservation.'"(p204)
Chu Hsi "characterized humanity as being mild, propriety as being outwardly
functional, righteousness as being strict and judgemental, and wisdom as
contracting. This is explained in terms of birth in the spring, growth in
the summer, collecting in the autumn, and preservation in the winter. According
to Chu Hsi, though the will for life may rise or fall in the spring, summer,
autumn, and the winter, it penetrates through everything. Even in severe
frost or snow during autumn or winter, there is the will of life, which
"If we fully realize the meaning of wisdom as hidden and stored, we
can appreciate why Chu Hsi attached great importance to the extension of
knowledge. When we have reached this profound wisdom after our persistent
quest for it, we will be able to solve anything. Chu Hsi considers the investigation
of things to be essential for the extension of knowledge and thinks that
one will find all principles suddenly unfold before one's eyes if one preseveres
in his quest."(p207)
The essence of Chu Hsi's philosophy of "wisdom as hidden and stored"
is crystallized in the wordmap that I have place at the top of this webpage.
While the depiction is in matrix form, actually it is an endlessly repeating
cycle. The quotes are all from Okada Takehiko's essay entitled "Chu
Hsi and Wisdom as Hidden and Stored," which appears in the book "Chu
Hsi and Neo-Confucianism" edited by Wing-tsit Chan, University of Hawaii
Press, Honolulu, HI (1986).
*My own family apparently has also simplified this to Four Elements,
in a genealogical naming rule we have used for more than 300 years.
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Book of Changes, Mac software
Last updated 9 October1998
1998 by Duen
Hsi Yen, All rights reserved.
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