1 Ch21: Confucianism in the Early Edo Period



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As far as his learning is concerned Seika is not narrowly confined within one tradition. He has not received the transmission from a teacher. He has based himself on the Classics left over from a thousand years ago, and has resumed the strands that were broken off for a thousand years. He has progressed far, and on his own. Widely he has sought, and he resumes the learning from the distant past. From what was represented by the knotted strings, what was borne by the dragon horse and carried by the divine tortoise or stored in the walls of Confucius’ [house], up to [the writings of] Zhou Dunyi (1017-1073), the Chengs, Zhang Zai (1020-1077) and Zhu Xi, and Lu Xiangshan (1139-1193), Xu Heng (1209-1281) and Wu Cheng (1249-1333), Xue Xuan (1392-1464), Hu Juren (1434-1484), Chen Xienzhang (1428-1500) and Wang Yangming (1472-1529), etc., all books about the philosophy of Human Nature and Principle—he has studied them thoroughly and widely; he has thought them through and analyzed them clearly. In everything he makes it the basis of his learning to extend Heavenly Principles and to restrain the unruly heart. . . . Japanese scholars everywhere in the country only knew that there existed a learning [that consisted of] memorizing and reciting words and phrases; they did not yet know that the Learning of the Sages existed: a [Neo-Confucian] learning of Human Nature and Principle, of preserving [one’s mind and heart] and of scrutinizing oneself, of knowledge and action being one . . . he [Seika] was born in a country far from China, cut off by the sea, and yet he roused this one region from its blindness and deafness.



[Fujiwara Seika shã, v. 2, pp. 1-3; WB]

Fujiwara Seika: Letter to the Head of Annam

On whose behalf Seika wrote this letter is not clear from the letter itself. In the extant printed version(s), both the name of the sender and the date have been suppressed. If the letter can be read in conjunction with the ship’s oath that follows it, the sender was Seika’s patron, the Kyoto merchant Suminokura (Yoshida) Soan. Between 1604 and 1613, the Suminokura yearly sent one officially licensed trading vessel or “vermilion seal ship” to trade in Southeast Asian waters. Others maintain, however, that it was Tokugawa Ieyasu himself who commissioned the letter. Whatever may have been the case, it undoubtedly dates from 1604, and illustrates to what extent commerce and diplomacy were intertwined, and to what extent Chinese culture was the commonly shared frame of reference throughout this whole area. The “poetry and history” that are mentioned in the letter, are, of course, the two Chinese Classics the Classic of Odes and the Classic of Documents. Rites and Rightness are two of the Five Constant Virtues.

xxxxxx of Japan addresses this letter to Lord Huang, Chief of Annam. In recent years ships have like pigeons come and gone to your country, from which we may deduce the good state of our mutual relations. This is a source of deep satisfaction. In the sixth month of the year 1604, our ship and crew returned home safely. I was put to shame by your answer to my letter and by the number of exquisite gifts you sent with it. (Six mother-of-pearl shells, five rolls of high-quality white silk, two tusk fans, one flask of aromatic wax, one flask of perfume.) I have no words to describe your generosity.

In your letter you quote from the Great Learning, and say that it is all a matter of “abiding in trustworthiness,” and this one word truly expresses the essence of governing one’s house and teaching the country. Trust is an inherent part of our human nature. It moves heaven and earth, penetrates metal and stone, and pervades everywhere. How could its value be limited only to diplomatic relations and trade between neighboring countries? Is not this nature the reason why all men everywhere are the same, even though customs may differ when we travel a thousand leagues? If we look at things from this perspective, what is different are secondary things such as clothing and language. However, even at a distance of one thousand or ten thousand leagues, and even though clothes and speech may differ, there exists some thing that is not far off, approximately the same, that hardly differs. This is, I think, trust, which is one and universal.

My earlier emissaries behaved badly. As they traveled to and fro between your country and Japan, their actions belied their words, and often they mistook the situation. Therefore I have punished them according to the law of the land. I assume that in your country you would do the same? As a rule, the complement of a ship is recruited from among the lads of the market and shop assistants, and when they see even the slightest chance of gain, they forget the shame of the death penalty. They talk too much and in their joy or anger say whatever comes to their mouths; hence, they cannot be trusted. From now on, reliable communications between our two countries will take the form of letters, and the reliability of these letters will be established by their seals. These seals will prove that they are genuine. Therefore I have given the present crew your answering letter of this summer. Please examine it carefully. I also send you a few of our local products, as complimentary presents.

In your letter, you say that “our country is a country of poetry and history, of rites and rightness, and not a place of market-goods and traders’ congregations.” Indeed, when one has to do with market-goods and trade, if one only works for gain and profit, it is really despicable. However, if one discusses this in more general terms, are not all of the four classes part of the people, even the despicable merchants? Are not all of the eight responsibilities of the state of equal necessity, even trade? Outside the scope of giving peace to the people and governing them, poetry, history, rites and rightness make no sense, and without poetry, history, rites and rightness, it is impossible to give peace to the people or to govern. This is also the fixed, inherent Nature of the five quarters—the Nature which has trust as one of its principal constituents. What your country is warning against is simply that we might lose this trust, which may bring various unfortunate results. As long, however, as our two countries have not lost this trust, one single small-minded individual should not be able to cause such unfortunate results to arise. But of course, we should be on our guard. In case such an incident should arise, both countries have their codes of punishment.

Ship Compact (Soan was sending a ship to Annam; therefore I wrote this at his request)

1. Speaking generally, the purpose of trade is to bring surplus out of scarcity, in order to bring profit both to others and to oneself. It is not harming others while bringing profit to oneself. Profit shared by both parties, even though small, is actually great, and profit that is not shared, in reality is small, even though it may look great. What one calls profit is the happy result when duties coincide. Therefore it is said that the avaricious merchant gives [only] three, while the decent merchants gives five. Keep this in mind.

2. As compared to our country, other countries may differ in customs and speech, but the heavenly-endowed principle [the moral nature] has always been the same. Do not forget what is common, do not be suspicious of what is strange, and do not ever lie or brag. Even if the foreigners would not be aware of it, we should be. “Trust reaches even to pigs and fish, and trickery shows itself even to the seagulls.” Heaven does not tolerate deception; you should not disgrace the manners of our country. If you meet a humane person or a noble person (junzi) in that country, respect him as you would your father or your teacher. Inquire into the prohibitions and taboos of that country, and adapt to its customs.

3. Between heaven that covers and earth that bears us up, all peoples are brothers and all things are in common, and all should be seen as one in their right to humane treatment. How much more does this apply to people from the same country? To people of the same ship? If there is trouble, sickness, cold or hunger, then all should be helped equally; do not even think of wanting to escape alone.

4. Raging waters and angry waves may be dangerous, but one still runs the greatest risk of drowning from human greed. Human greed takes many forms, but the greatest risk of drowning you run is from liquor and sex. Since you will be traveling together wherever you go, correct each other and admonish each other. The old adage says, “The most dangerous road lies between the bedroom and the dining room.” This is quite true. How could one not be careful?

5. Minor matters are treated in the appendices. Keep this next to your seat day and night, and mirror yourself in it.

In the year KeichÇ x, draft written by Teishi, the trade-ambassador-in charge.

[Seika Sensei bunshã, NST v. 28, pp. 88-90; WB]

Hayashi Razan: The Meeting of Minds

On the most poetical of all nights, the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in the year KeichÇ 11 (1606), Seika went to visit his friend and patron Kinoshita ChÇshÇshi. The occasion may have been Seika’s imminent departure for Wakayama, where he was going to stay, for the first time, with his patron Asano Yoshinaga. The meeting was described by Razan, who had not attended it himself, in his "Postface to the Chinese and Japanese Poems exchanged between Guest and Host on the Eastern Mountain" (TÇzan hinshu shiika batsu). It is an archetypal and idealized description of the kind of meeting that Seika and his disciples aspired to as civil and cultured persons, showing as it does that Seika and ChÇshÇshi knew the rites, knew the Classics, could compose poetry, and knew how to get drunk in style. The piece is rife with references to the Liji, the Analects, and other Classics, and with reminiscences of Su Tongpo’s two "Fu of the Red Cliff" and of poems by Li Bo. It was loudly praised by Seika, when he read it. It is a typical example of the ritualized, aestheticized life-style of the literati associated with Neo-Confucian civil culture (bun).

The guest climbed the Eastern Mountain and the capital looked small [beneath it]. The host came out and bade him welcome, saying, “It shames me you have come.” The guest answered, saying “I had the time to spare.” The host begged the guest to enter first into the gate, but the guest gave precedence to the host. Eventually he accepted with a bow, entered on the right side of the host and took the eastern stairs while the host turned left and took the western stairs. Their inviting and refusing, their climbing and descending was a model of decorous behavior. When the guest first sat down on his mat exquisite wine cups and choice fruits had already been served. The host asked and the guest responded. Their words were heartfelt and sincere. Their expressions were genial and relaxed. After some time of this, pure and plentiful, a sumptuous feast was brought in, with choice chestnuts and delicious wine. The guest rose to his feet and the host bade him, entreated him, and the guest declined. And then they were satisfied, though they had not eaten much; then they were drunk, though they kept their composure.

The guest said: “It says in the Changes (Yijing) that “Waiting amidst wine and food, there will be good fortune through being firm and correct, because one is in the central and correct place”.” The host responded: “Does it not say so in the Classic of Odes (Shijing))? “I have a fine guest, his reputation is very brilliant.” It is in the second couplet of the “Crying Deer.” The guest thereupon recited the poem “They hew the trees.” (Shijing 165) The host declined.

The sun had already gone down. And then night fell. The wind blew and it rained heavily. Clouds spread and the mountains were dark, the lights faltered and the hour was late. Still the conversation of guest and host had not ended. When the day was about to break the wind died down, the clouds dissolved, and white the moon appeared. Together guest and host climbed the hall above the Grotto. The hall was high and the moon close. Heaven was dark, and when they looked up, it was as if they could climb up and reach it, as if they rode a whirling wind and were carried off, far away, where their eyesight would fail them. The guest felt in his heart the endlessness of space, but the host seemed not to notice this, so the guest also acted as if he had forgotten it. The guest composed a poem and the host recited a waka. Then, on top of the hall, wine was offered. The guest poured and they drank; then the host poured and they drank. They rinsed their cups and exchanged toasts. Exhilarated by their drunkenness they asked the moon, but what could the moon say? It was only guest and host who spoke together. What could the moon say?

[Razan-Sensei bunshã 51; II, pp. 156-58; WB]

The Synthesis of Song Neo-Confucianism in Zhu Xi

Part of the greatness of Zhu Xi (1130-1200) lay in his remarkable capacity to adapt and enfold in one system of thought the individual contributions of his Song predecessors. For this task he was well equipped by his breadth and subtlety of mind, and by powers of analysis and synthesis which enabled him, while putting ideas together, to articulate each of them with greater clarity and coherence than their originators had done. In this way he defined more precisely such concepts as the Supreme Ultimate (Supreme Pole or Polarity, taiji), principle (li), material-force (qi), human nature (xing) and the mind-and-heart (xin). Of his predecessors it was Cheng Yi upon whose philosophy he mostly built. Consequently his school of thought is often identified as the Cheng-Zhu school, and the doctrine of principle (li) is the most characteristic feature of their common teaching.

Zhu Xi likened principle in things to a seed of grain, each seed having its own particularity but also manifesting generic, organic elements of structure, growth pattern, direction, and functional use, whereby each partakes of both unity (commonality) and diversity. Unlike the analogy of the Buddha-nature to the moon and its innumerable reflections in water (in which the latter are understood to be insubstantial, passing phenomena), principle for Zhu was real both in its substantial unity and its functional diversity. Hence he called the study of principle in all things, under both aspects, "real," "solid," "substantial" learning (shi xue).

In humankind this principle is one's moral nature, which is fundamentally good. The human mind, moreover, is in essence one with the mind of the universe, capable of entering into all things and understanding their principles. Zhu Xi believed in human perfectibility, in the overcoming of those limitations or weaknesses which arise from an imbalance in one's psycho-physical endowment. His method was the "investigation of things" as taught in the Great Learning-- that is, the study of principles, and also self-cultivation to bring one's conduct into conformity with the principles that should govern it.

In this type of self-cultivation, broad learning went hand in hand with moral discipline. The "things" that Zhu Xi had in mind to investigate may be primarily understood as "affairs," including matters of conduct, human relations, political problems, etc. To understand them fully required of the individual both a knowledge of the literature in which such principles are revealed (the Classics and histories) and active ethical culture which could develop to the fullest the virtue of humaneness (ren). It is through humaneness that one overcomes all selfishness and partiality, enters into all things in such a way as to fully identify oneself with them, and thus unites oneself with the mind of the universe, which is love and creativity itself. Ren is the essence of being human, one's "humanity," but it is also the cosmic principle that produces and embraces all things.

At the same time Zhu spoke of this teaching as "real" or "practical" learning (shixue) because it was based in natural human sentiments and could be practiced in daily life through normal intellectual and moral faculties. These were to be developed through what Confucius, and now Zhu Xi, called "learning for one's self" (meaning for one's own self-development and self-fulfillment), a learning Zhu Xi urged on all, ruler and subject alike.

In contrast to Buddhism there is in Zhu Xi a kind of positivism which affirms the reality of things and the validity of objective study. His approach is plainly intellectual, reinforcing the traditional Confucian emphasis upon scholarship. Zhu Xi himself is probably the most stupendous example of such scholarly endeavor in the Chinese tradition. He wrote commentaries upon almost all of the Confucian Classics, conceived and supervised the condensation of Sima Guang's monumental history of China, and interested himself in rites, governmental affairs, education, and agriculture. He was a dynamic teacher at the Academy of the White Deer Grotto and kept up an active correspondence on a wide variety of subjects. However, he had less interest in pursuing his "investigation of things" into the realms of what we would call natural or social science. To the last his humanism manifested itself in a primary concern for human values and ends. The kind of objective investigation which set these aside or avoided the ultimate problems of human life would have seemed to him at best secondary and possibly dangerous. Nevertheless his philosophy, which stressed the order and intelligibility of things, could in a general way be considered conducive to the growth of science in a larger sense.

Zhu's later influence was felt chiefly through his commentaries on the Four Books--the Great Learning, the Mean, the Analects and the Mencius--which he first canonized as basic texts of the Confucian school. In subsequent dynasties these texts, with Zhu Xi's commentaries, became the basis of the civil service examinations and thus, in effect, the official orthodoxy of the empire from the fourteenth century down to the turn of the twentieth century. Though subsequent thinkers arose to dispute his metaphysics, few failed to share in his essential spirit of intellectual inquiry, which involved focusing upon the Classics and reinterpreting them to meet the needs of their own time. Moreover, in Japan and Korea his writing likewise became accepted as the most complete and authoritative expositions of Confucian teaching. As such they exerted a significant influence on the entire cultural development of East Asia well into modern times.

[de Bary, Bloom, Sources of Chinese Tradition, v. 1., pp. 697-99]

Fujiwara Seika: Digest of the Great Learning (Daigaku yÇryaku)

The Digest of the Great Learning is the single doctrinal treatise that Seika is known to have written. He composed the work in 1619, shortly before his death, at the request of Asano Nagashige, who was the brother of Seika’s patron Asano Yoshinaga and at the time daimyÇ of Makabe (Hitachi). The text is largely written in Japanese, in a simple classical style with occasional vernacular forms, and was printed once, in 1630. In the first part Seika treats the Three Guidelines: to manifest luminous virtue (ming mingde); renew (love) the people (qin min); and rest in the utmost good (zhiyu zhishan), and, very summarily, the rest of the words of Confucius that constitute the first part of the Great Learning. Then, as a kind of appendix, there follow a number of quotations and paraphrases from the works of the maverick Chinese thinker Lin Zhaoen (1517-1598) on the topics of ge wu (“the investigation of things,” but not according to Seika) and “manifesting luminous virtue.” The second and third parts of the treatise form a continuous commentary on the whole of the Great Learning.


The text Seika uses is not the new text as established by the Cheng brothers and Zhu Xi, but the text as it appears in the Liji and was made fashionable again by Wang Yangming. His explanations, too, deviate from those of Zhu Xi and generally follow those of Lin Zhaoen in his Sibu biaozhai zhengyi and Daxue zhengyi. The text was printed in 1630.

Halfway through the first part of the treatise, after he has finished his explanation of the Three Guidelines, Seika makes the following claim on behalf of the Great Learning:

If one has learned this one book by heart, one will have no need of any other volumes, whether a hundred, a thousand or ten thousand. There is no Confucianism outside this work. Lectures exclusively treating the literary arts, which are so popular nowadays, are of no use to a ruler of men. Anyone who is a ruler of men need only practice the disciplining of his own heart and try to apply the teaching of the Great Learning.” [44]

One of the distinctive features of the Daigaku yÇryaku is the distance Seika keeps from Zhu Xi, which is apparent in his conscious preference for the old text of the Great Learning.

Master Zhu was of the opinion that the four characters “This is called knowing the root” are an interpolation. However, as Master Lin says in his commentary, if one reads on as the Old Commentaries say one should, it sounds like one continuous passage. He interprets it in the light of the preceding phrase. After all, “to rest in the utmost good” is the root of “manifesting one’s luminous virtue and loving the people.” “To know where to stop” is the root of “to settle” (ding), “to be quiet” (jing), “to be at ease” (an), “to think” (), and “to obtain” (de). Gewu (“to investigate [rectify] things”) is the root of “making one's intention sincere,” “rectifying one’s heart,” “cultivating one’s person,” “regulating one’s house,” “governing one’s state,” and “pacifying the empire.” To cultivate one’s person is the root of “regulating one’s house,” “governing one’s country,” and “pacifying the empire.” “Regulating one’s house” is the root of “governing one’s country,” and “pacifying the empire.” What one regards as the root thus changes, depending on what one is speaking of. Every time, one takes what preceded it as its root. No mistake was made in the old text [i.e. binding the bamboo strips]. One should reflect on this precisely.

“This is called the utmost of wisdom.” This phrase interprets gewu in such a way as to make it the central focus of the text. Here, too, Master Zhu said in his commentary that part of the text had been lost, but in the Old Text the passage is understandable as it is. There is no omission. The phrase underlines that gewu is the single most important preoccupation of the Great Learning.” [56-57]

Seika’s interpretation of the Three Guidelines, too, is hardly what one would expect from a follower of Zhu Xi. Again, Seika’s main source of inspiration is Lin Zhaoen, whose interpretation generally follows Wang Yangming.

“The meaning of the word “great” in “the Way of the Great Learning” is that others and I are one, and the outer and inner coincide. The first two of the Three Guidelines, “to manifest one’s luminous virtue and to love the people,” show that there is no discrimination between others and me; hence, others and I are one. The first two of the Three Guidelines refer to things external, but the third one, “to rest in the utmost good,” to something internal; hence, outside and inside coincide. When, therefore, you no longer make distinctions between others and yourself and between inner and outer, you will be able to know the meaning of the word “great.” The word “learning” should not be interpreted exclusively as book-learning.

The “luminous virtue” in the first of the Three Guidelines is the Five Human Relations. When the Human Relations are not correct, nothing else will be of any use. Therefore we regard it as crucial that the Way of Human Relations be clarified [illumined]. As it is said in the Classic of Documents: “Heaven has enjoined the luminous courses of duty, of which the several requirements are quite plain.”

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