1 Ch21: Confucianism in the Early Edo Period



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One more thing I will add. You exhorted me to write waka. Since this is our national custom, you were sure that I would have such an inclination. . . . Five rustic poems I have written like this. My only reason for adding this poem at the end of this letter is to give you something to laugh about. I hope that you will not read it to strangers. Twice bowing, I have spoken respectfully

ikuchiyo to Feeling like wishing

iwau kokoro o You many thousands of years

Suruga naru I want to search Mount Fuji

Fuji no kusuri o That lies in Suruga

motomemakuhoshi For immortality’s drug.

{Hayashi Razan bunshã, v. 1, pp. 25b-28a; WB]

Hayashi Razan: Responses to Questions of Ieyasu

The following excerpts are from Bakufu mondÇ (Answers to Questions of the Bakufu, i.e. Ieyasu). These deal with key issues of Neo-Confucian doctrine: e.g. the underlying Unity of Confucian teaching and the age-old question of whether it is legitimate to overthrow a ruler.


Razan is referred to here by his original Buddhist name DÇshun because his position as advisor to the shogun had by long shogunal custom been filled by Zen monks. Since Razan had already renounced Buddhism, he was accused by some scholars of insincerity and expediency in accepting such a role. Thus it is not surprising that the question arises of what is legitimate discretion and what mere expediency in the practical implementation of the Way. Indeed is the Confucian Way practicable at all without compromising it? Razan asserts that it is, and invokes a somewhat idealized Ming China as a model.
Ieyasu asked DÇshun [Razan]: Is the Way still practiced in Ming China? What do you think about it?" I said that it was. “Although I have not yet seen it with my own eyes, I know it from books. Now, the Way is not something obscure and secluded; it exists between ruler and minister (lord and retainer), father and son, man and wife, old and young, and in the intercourse between friends. At this time there are schools in China in each and every place, from the wards and alleys and from the country districts up to the cities and prefectures. In all these they teach the human [moral] relations. Their main objective is to correct the hearts of men and to improve the customs of the people. Do they not then indeed practice the Way?" Thereupon the bakufu changed his countenance and spoke of other things. DÇshun, too, did not speak about it anymore.

Ieyasu said to DÇshun: “The Way has never been practiced, neither now, nor formerly. Therefore, [in the Zhongyong it says] ‘The course of the Mean cannot be attained’ and ‘The path of the Mean is untrodden.’ What do you think of this?" DÇshun answered: “The Way can be practiced. What the Zhongyong says is, I think, something that Confucius said when he was complaining of the fact that the Way was not being practiced. It does not mean that the Way cannot actually be practiced. In the Six Classics there are many lamentations like this. It is not only in the Zhongyong."

Ieyasu asked what was meant by “the Mean [Ch. zhong, J. chã]." I answered: “The Mean (or Middle) is difficult to grasp. The middle of one foot is not the middle of one jÇ (3 meter/10 yard/1 fathom). The middle of a room is not the middle of a house. The middle of a country is not the middle of the empire. All things have their own Middle. Only when you have obtained their principle, can you say that you have found their Middle [Mean]. However much they want to know the Mean, those who have only just begun their studies never obtain it, precisely because they do not know the principles. For this reason we have the maxim, valid now and formerly, that ‘the Mean is nothing but Principle.’"

In the following passage Ieyasu proposes a a relativistic standard of good and evil, citing the Madhyamika Buddhist doctrine that the Middle Way of Supreme Wisdom lies in adhering to neither good nor evil (See Ch. 3 and 5). Razan responds that the Confucian Mean, in contrast to the Buddhist Middle Way of non-discrimination, consists in making value judgements and acting on behalf of the common good, by which one achieves unity with the Way. Ieyasu cites the historic examples of Cheng Tang overthrowing the last king of Xia, and King Wu of Zhou overthrowing the last ruler of Shang, as cases of expediency [as in the “expedient means” of Mahayana Buddhism]. Razan views them as cases of legitimate discretion in acting for the Way. Thus the argument here hinges on the double meaning of the term Ch. quan, J. ken, understood by Ieyasu as “expediency” and by Razan as the legitimate exercise of discretion. The former emphasizes moral ambiguity; the latter the need to resolve the ambiguity by judgments on behalf of the common good.


Ieyasu said: “In both the Middle [Path] and Expediency there can be good or bad. Tang [in overthrowing the last king of Xia] and Wu [in overthrowing the last king of Shang] were vassals who overthrew their lords. Their actions, though bad, were good. As the phrase goes, ‘In taking the empire they went against the Way, and in keeping it, they followed the Way.’ Therefore, ‘neither good nor bad’ is the ultimate truth of the Middle [Way]." I answered: “My opinion is different from this. May I be allowed to speak my mind? I think that the Mean is good, that it does not have one speck of evil. The Mean is, that you attain the principles of all things and that your every action accords with the standard of rightness. If one regards the good as good and uses it, and regards evil as evil and shuns it, that is also the Mean. If one knows what is correct and incorrect and distinguishes between what is heterodox and orthodox, this is also the Mean. Tang and Wu followed Heaven and reacted to the wishes of mankind. They never had one particle of egoistic desires. On behalf of the people of the empire they removed a great evil. How can that be ‘good, though bad?’ The actions of Tang and Wu were in accord with the Mean; they are instances of [legitimate] discretion. The case is quite different from that of the usurper Wang Mang (BCE 33-CE 23), who overthrew the Former Han dynasty, or of Cao Cao (155-220), who was responsible for the fall of the Later Han dynasty. They were nothing but brigands. As for the phrase that ‘In taking the empire they went against the Way and in keeping it they followed the Way’—this [moral relativism] is applicable only to actions such as lies, deceit and opportunistic plotting. . . .

On the twenty-fifth day of the sixth month the bakufu said to DÇshun: . . . “What is that so-called ‘Unity that pervades all?’" DÇshun answered: “The heart of the Sage is nothing but Principle. Now, always and everywhere, Principle runs through all things and all actions in the world; the Sage reacts to them and acts on them according to this one Principle. Therefore it does not occur that he goes and does not obtain his proper place. To give an example, it is like the movement of spring, summer, fall and winter, of warm and cold, day and night: though they are not identical, yet they are a cyclical stream of one and the same original matter that is not disrupted for one single moment. For that reason actions in the world may be ten-, hundred-, thousand- or ten myriad-fold, but that with which the heart reacts to them is only the one, uniting Principle. With one's lord it is loyalty; with one's father, filial piety; with one's friends, trust; but none of these Principles is different in origin.". . .

The bakufu again said: “Were the wars of Tang and Wu instances of discretion or expediencey" DÇshun answered: . . .“ The purpose of the actions of Tang and Wu was not to acquire the empire for themselves, but only to save the people." . . . If those above are not a [wicked] Jie or Zhou and those below not a [virtuous] Tang or Wu, then one will commit the great sin of regicide; Heaven and earth will not condone this. . . . It is only a matter of the hearts of the people of the empire. If they turn to him, he becomes a ruler, and if not, he is a ‘mere fellow.’ [and killing him is not regicide]"

[Bakufu mondÇ in Razan Sensei bunshã; NST v.28, pp. 205-08; WB]

The Three Virtues (SantokushÇ)

This essay, attributed to Hayashi Razan by his son GahÇ, is a concise and coherent summation of the principles of Neo-Confucian self-cultivation, drawn mostly from Zhu Xi’s version of the Great Learning (Daigaku). The text, however, superimposes on that structure a concept of Three Virtues taken from the Mean (ChãyÇ): wisdom, humaneness and courage. For the author these constitute a triad of irreducible, interdependent, values governing all human affairs, but with some priority given to intellectual virtue over moral sentiment.

The actual title, Selections Concerning the Three Virtues (SantokushÇ) refers to passages from authoritative texts, with commentary under subheadings mostly from the Great Learning. The contents draw heavily on earlier Neo-Confucians, frequent references to whom—especially the Cheng brothers, Zhu Xi, Chen Chun, Lo Qinshun and the Korean Yi Toegye—help to locate the author in one line of “orthodox” Neo-Confucian thinkers. He is critical of Lu Xiangshan, but interestingly in this work quotes Wang Yangming without critical comment. Space limitations, however, preclude the reproduction of many of these quotations and references.
(I) The Three Virtues
(1.1) Wisdom means having no doubts in one’s mind. Humaneness refers to having no regrets after making judgments or decisions. Being of firm mind and strong determination refers to courage. Wisdom, humaneness and courage are the Sages’ three virtues.1

Referring to these three virtues, Confucius states in the Analects that, “The wise have no perplexities; the humane have no worries; the courageous have no fears.2 . . .

Although distinguishable as three virtues, the three are replete in man’s mind, and thus wisdom embraces humaneness and courage. Without humaneness and courage, great wisdom would be impossible to achieve. Similarly humaneness includes both wisdom and courage;3 without the latter two virtues, perfect humaneness would not be possible. Thus, when analyzed they are three, yet when synthesized, they constitute a unified moral mind.

The Way of learning begins with completely comprehending principle and thereby attaining wisdom. What is consistent with principle is morally good, while evil invariably violates principle. Understanding the difference between good and evil gives one certainty. . . . If one doubts, one should clear them away by inquiry. By overcoming doubts, one proceeds to a trust that harbors no doubts. . . .

Without pursuing learning, one will be unable to have doubts about anything. Relative to understanding principles completely, having doubts signifies the advancement of learning [gakumon no susumu]. With doubts and misgivings resolved, one’s mind naturally becomes clear and moral principles are unobscured. Unless one resolves these doubts, however, one will never be able to discern matters with certainty. . . .

If today one principle is investigated, and tomorrow one more principle is inquired into, 1 soon one will be free of doubts. If one can thoroughly penetrate one principle, all principles will be clear even though one has not investigated matters on a large scale. Within a single principle, one can progress from one matter to ten others. When these are investigated so that one completely comprehends both the internal and external, as well as the beginning and end of the matter, then one’s understanding actually spans myriad principles.

In doing this, one moves from the outside inwards, from the surface to the interior, from the beginning to the ending, from shallow ground to the deeper and from rough outlines to more detailed particulars. When all the mind’s principles are investigated, one will have thoroughly exhausted the limits of wisdom. . . . [151-8]

(II) The Five Relationships (Gorin)

(2.1) Throughout history the five relationships, those pertaining to ruler and minister [lord and retainer], parent and child, husband and wife, older and younger brother, and friends, have existed. Since the five Ways have continued unaltered, they are called “universal Ways” [dadao/tatsudÇ]. . . .

Rulers should love their people; ministers should serve their rulers; fathers should be compassionate with their sons; husbands should manage external matters while wives ought to order the family’s internal affairs; elder brothers should teach their younger brothers and younger brothers ought to follow their elder brother’s instructions; friends should associate with one another on the basis of rites and justice. Such behavior is entirely within the sphere of wisdom, humaneness and courage. . . .

(2.2) Wisdom refers to understanding the principles of things. . . .

(2.3) Humaneness refers to loving things. If one does this as one would if thinking of oneself, then one’s humaneness will necessarily be genuine and sincere, devoid of selfishness. . . . Humaneness is, furthermore, life-giving.1 Eliminating evil is rightness [Yi/gi]. Deliberations as to whether one should kill a thing or help it should address matters of humaneness and rightness. If by killing, one eliminates evil, then there is humaneness within the right act of killing. If that is so, killing the rat is humane. If one kills thieves to admonish others against doing evil, that too expresses this same mind. To think that humaneness consists only of compassion is to think simply of “small humaneness.” To admonish one evil person and thus provide for the goodness of myriad others is “great humaneness.” Thus, while humaneness is love, one is not being humane in loving evil persons. Rather, humaneness consists in loving what is good and detesting what is evil. If one acts in this way, how could one be selfish?

(2.4) Courage refers to stoutheartedness which conforms to rightness. Acting immediately when one perceives what is morally good is courage. Being hesitant, lazy or unsure whether or not one should do something, even when one knows what is right, is not courage. . . . Wisdom consists in understanding humaneness and courage. Humaneness consists in not casting off wisdom and in preserving courage. Courage consists in practicing both wisdom and humaneness. Of the three virtues, wisdom, humaneness and courage, not one should be omitted! From the beginning, they have constituted the sincerity of man’s whole mind.

(III.) A Discussion of Principle and Material Force

[Razan’s discussion of this topic and the related one later of the Four Beginnings and Seven Emotions reflect his familiarity with the views of Lo Qinshun and Yi Toegye.]
(3.1) The successive alternation of yin and yang is called the Way. What issues from the Way is morally good, and that which completes the Way is called the nature. Classic of Changes1

Both before Heaven and earth have opened up, and afterwards, principle always denotes the great Supreme Ultimate. When the Supreme Ultimate moves, it produces yang; when it is still, it produces yin. Yin and yang together make up the “one, originating material force.” Once they have divided, they become two. When they have divided again, they become the five processes [wuxing/gogyÇ]. The five processes are (1) wood, (2) fire, (3) earth, (4) metal and (5) water. These five processes create everything.

When they combine and form things, man is one of their products. Skin comes from earth; hair comes from wood; the vital fluids come from water; man’s skeleton and muscles come from metal; and, man’s energy comes from fire. Regarding man’s five organs: the essence of fire, wood, earth, metal and water form his heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys respectively. Thus do the five processes conjoin to create the human body. The active, animated aspect of man is referred to as material force. Principle refers to what is naturally replete within material force. This principle is the Supreme ultimate. It is called the Way.

The master of the physical form created by the intermingling of principle and material force is called the mind.1 Since this mind contains the original principles of the great ultimate, it is empty and open [Xukung/kokã] like Heaven. Lacking both shape and sound,2 it consists simply of moral goodness, and is void of any evil.

Yet in material force, both purity and pollutants, good and evil coexist. Due to the heterogenous nature of material force, when people are created, selfishness, excessive desires and evil emerge as well. For example, when the eyes see beautiful forms, the mind might think of evil. Or, when the mouth says something, or the hands and feet touch something, it is much the same. Always, selfishness and excessive desires arise from material force. . . .

(3.2) The four beginnings come out of our principle while the seven emotions come from material force.3

The four beginnings are the first manifestations of humaneness, rightness, ritual decorum and wisdom. The seven emotions refer to the feelings of pleasure, anger, sorrow, joy, love, hate and desires. Since man’s mind-and-heart is simply moral principle (dÇri), humaneness, rightness, ritual decorum and wisdom emerge from it. As material force consists of both good and evil the seven emotions emerge from them. Thus the seven emotions are both good and evil, while the four beginnings are purely good, without any evil. If the seven emotions arise in conformity with moral principles, then they are consistent with humaneness and rightness. When influenced by one’s ever fluctuating material endowment, the seven emotions arise in accord with selfish desires and may be contrary to moral principles. Due to this evil tendency, one must discern the manner in which they arise. If the seven emotions run contrary to moral principle, they will inevitably lead to evil.

Moral principle, by itself could hardly produce activity. If combined with material force to form the mind, principle is capable of motion and activity. . . .

While moral principle and material force are two aspects of being, whenever material force exists moral principle also exists. Since moral principle is, in itself, formless, it has no place to dwell unless material force exists. Moral principles do not exist apart from material force. It is not that today material force exists and tomorrow moral principle comes into being. When either exists, the other exists simultaneously. Material force is that which capably moves moral principle, while moral principle is that which preserves order within material force. When one understands that the mind-and-heart is formed from these two, one can manage one’s material force with one’s mind.

(3A.3) It would be incomplete to talk about the nature of man and things without including material force. Similarly, it would be unintelligible to talk about material force without including nature. It is mistaken to consider them as two different things.1

Accounting for moral principle’s endowment within man is problematic if one only discusses moral principle without discerning its relation to material force. Conversely, the myriad things will hardly be discernible if one simply discusses material force without acknowledging moral principle. Nature is principle.1 Nature should be discussed in conjunction with material force. It is mistaken to divide them.

Man’s nature is originally good. In reply to the question, whence evil? One should reply that human nature is like water.2 It is clear. . . .

Material force is also comparable to water. Although originally calm, water becomes wavy when windblown. Depending on an area’s topography, water can bring floods. While it originally tends to flow downward, water can be lifted upwards by water carts. Though originally clear, when it flows into mud and mire, it becomes dirty. And, while water is able to support boats, it can also sink them. Despite all of that, when it returns to its original state, water’s fundamental nature is to be clean and calm.

Thus there are disparities in material force. “Disposition of the material force” (Qishi/kishitsu) refers to that part of the omnipresent material force which people receive as their physical form. Disparities exist among “dispositions of material force” too. . . .

Yet by studying and learning, one can reform one’s disposition of the material force, and change it from evil to good.3 While the disposition of the material force with which one is born is fixed, one should not abandon it, leaving it as it is. Rather, if one studies, even the foul parts will become clear just as water returns to its original nature. Likewise in man dullness becomes bright, ignorance becomes wisdom, weakness becomes strength and evil becomes good, all through study. . . .

(3.8) The human mind is precarious while the mind of the Way is subtle. Be discriminating, be unified and hold fast to the Mean. [Classic of Documents] 4

These are words from “The Counsels of Great Yü.” While the mind is essentially one, its active, moving aspect is called “the human mind” (Jin no kokoro], while its moral aspect is called “the mind of the Way” (dÇ no kokoro). When cold, one thinks of warm clothing, when hungry, one thinks of food. Eyes long to see beauty; ears long to hear interesting sounds; noses long to smell pleasant odors. All desires are produced by “the mind of man.” “The mind of man” has many selfish tendencies, yet harbors few concerned for the common good (Çyake). Since it easily tends towards evil, the above passage states that “the human mind is precarious.” “Precarious” refers to the real insecurities which confront the mind when faced with choices between good and evil, right and wrong.

When moral principles prevail in the mind, though one may think of food and warm clothing, one might still be willing to endure hunger and cold and decline food and clothing if they are not gotten in a moral way. . . .

“Be discriminating” means discerning and manifesting “the mind of the Way” so that selfishness is not mixed in at all. “Being unified” means to preserve and correct the mind at all times. If, by being discriminating and unified, one can make “the mind of the Way” the master and make “the mind of man” follow it, then even precarious situations will become simple, subtleties will become manifest, and all matters will naturally accord with moral principle. Preserving and not losing “the mind of the Way”refers to “holding fast to the Mean.” “The Mean” is another term denoting the moral principles which are provided in both the substance and functioning of man’s original mind.

The above passage was a teaching which Shun gave to Yü when he yielded his position [as ruler] to him. A discussion of it is also found in Zhu Xi’s “Preface” to the Doctrine of the Mean.1 . . .

(3.11) From the great vacuity (taixu), there comes the concept (mei) of Heaven. From the transformation of material force, there comes the concept of the Way. From the unity of the great vacuity and material force comes the concept of the nature. From the union of the nature with consciousness comes the concept of the mind.

[Correcting Youthful Ignorance2]

The great vacuity is Heaven. Due to its limitlessness and infinitude, it is called “the great vacuity.” From it, both moral principle and material force emerge. Because this naturally occurs, “the great vacuity” is referred to as Heaven as well. Heaven consists of the material force of yin and yang. It brings cold and hot, night and day, wind and rain. It creates man and the myriad things. While Heaven is entirely principle, since it is not separated from the material force of yin and yang, it is referred to as material force.

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