1 Ch21: Confucianism in the Early Edo Period



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These texts were ascribed to famous Confucians, especially Fujiwara Seika and Kumazawa Banzan. If Seika knew of this body of lore, he never acknowledged it, but Banzan went out of his way to deny authorship. Both had reasons to distance themselves from it, for the flaws, from a Confucian perspective, were all too evident: this TendÇ (“not a god, not a Buddha, and the lord of everything between heaven and earth”) has far too much freedom. Whether in conscious opposition to this body of lore or not, Seika defined tendÇ as identical with Principle (li), which was standard Neo-Confucian doctrine. The Way of Heaven was also obsessively ethical. In this respect it has a close kinship with the morality books (Ch. shanshu, J. zensho) that had wide popularity in sixteenth-eighteenth century East Asia. (See Sources of Chinese Tradition I, pp. xxx.) Both genres have connections to Neo-Confucianism that are at once close and problematic.

Philosophically speaking, the intervention of an anthropomorphic entity such as TendÇ between act and retribution was unnecessary: every action invited an immediate reaction, as part of an automatic, unending chain. Volitional intercession by deities had no place here. Since, anyhow, they could do only what was right, it was unnecessary to hypostatize their existence. Conclusion: the doctrines were aimed at the uneducated, in an attempt to wean them from their mistaken beliefs in gods and magic. They leaned heavily on Confucian notions, but these are quite distinct from the acknowledged vernacular treatises of well-known Confucian scholars.

First-rate intellectuals never stooped to take issue with TentÇ thought. For the most part they ignored it. A minor journeyman of letters, however, one Takigawa Nyosui (dates unknown), went out of his way to publish a detailed criticism of Shingaku gorinsho. This book, The Learning of the Mind-and-Heart According to Takigawa (Takigawa shingakuron), was published in 1660. Together with the appearance of the first printing of Shingaku gorinsho in 1650, this is another reason to place the formulation of this body of thought around 1630 to 1640, although Kumazawa Banzan asserts that the book existed already before his birth in 1619. The Kiyomizu monogatari, which dates from 1638, on the other hand, contains a discussion that shows in what sense the subject was debated. The authenticity of Honsaroku was also under discussion. There, however, considered opinion eventually settled for Masanobu’s authorship. The reasons are explained by Muro KyãsÇ (1658-1734), a Confucian scholar who worked in the employ of the bakufu, in his preface of 1725.

Perhaps because it was judged to be authentic as to its authorship, Honsaroku retained its mystique, and its reputation of being a “secret” book containing useful knowledge for the rulers. Shingaku gorinsho, on the other hand, became a book for children in the second half of the eighteenth century, suitably illustrated to capture their attention.

Excerpts from The Learning of the Mind-and-Heart

and Five Relations (Shingaku gorinsho)

The Way of Heaven is the lord between heaven and earth. Because it has no form, it is invisible to the eye. It is, however, the work of Heaven's Way that the four seasons follow each other without fail in the order of spring, summer, fall, and winter, that people are born, that flowers blossom and fruits ripen and that the five grains grow. The human heart, too, has no form, and yet it is the lord of the whole body and it reaches everywhere, up to the end of the nails and the very tips of the hairs. This human heart has come down from Heaven and become our heart. Originally, it was one with [the Way of Heaven]. All things that exist between this heaven and earth all exist within the belly of Heaven's Way. It is the same as for instance the fishes living inside the huge sea. The water penetrates everywhere, even inside their fins. Yet the fishes have no idea of getting out of the water and diverting themselves on the other side of the water. Heaven completely fills the whole of the human heart. For that reason, if you have one compassionate thought, this single thought will communicate itself to Heaven, and if you think ill, this evil will communicate itself to Heaven; for that reason, “the superior man is watchful over himself when alone.”

“Luminous Virtue” [as in the Great Learning] is what has separated itself from Heaven, dwells in our hearts ever so brightly, does not contain even the slightest trace of wicked feelings, and is in accordance with the Way of Heaven. Sages are those in whom this Luminous Virtue is manifested spontaneously, as if they had been born with it from Heaven. Furthermore, after we have been born as humans, there is what is called human desires. Human desires we call those deep feelings of greed that are swayed by what we see and hear. If these human desires grow strong, Luminous Virtue will decline. Your appearance will still be human, but your heart will be the same as that of a bird or an animal. Luminous Virtue may be compared to the bright body of a mirror. Human desires are what clouds it. If you do not polish this mirror every day and every night, the dirt of human desires will accumulate and you will lose your original mind-and-heart. Luminous Virtue and human desires are our ally and foe respectively. If human desires are victorious, our ally Luminous virtue will not have an easy time of it.



The Five Human Relations are those between ruler and minister (lord and retainer), parent and child, husband and wife, older and younger brothers, and friends. They are, in other words, what man practices every day and every night. A child serves his parents and does his best to be as filial as possible, and parents in raising their children teach them the Way and make them learn practical accomplishments. A retainer is single-minded in the service of his lord, and does his best to be as loyal as possible, to the extent of offering his life, while a lord must feel about his servants as he feels about his own hands and feet. Since heaven and earth are the beginning of husband and wife, the husband must be compassionate towards her and teach her, and the wife must follow her husband’s instructions; the relations between husband and wife should be harmonious, and they should be compassionate and generous towards each other. Younger brothers must respect their elders, they must correct each others faults and exhort each other to do good. In your dealings with your friends you must be ever so dependable, and be careful not to lie. The Heart of the Way instructs us to practice these Five Human Relations. If, however, you do not do this sincerely and with all your heart, but only go through the motions, Heaven will know that it is lying, and what you did will have been in vain. Study will help you to practice this Way. If you practice this Way, in the end it will help you to illustrate your Luminous Virtue. If you polish the Luminous Virtue of your heart and practice the Five Human Relations with emotion, you will receive the blessings of Heaven, your children and grandchildren will assuredly (flourish, and you will) after death return to the Original Realm of Heaven. Heaven, however, will ruin the children and grandchildren of those who rebel, and after their death, their hearts will not return to Heaven, but will wander halfway and will become one with the birds and the beasts. Because this is the way it is, in Confucianism they fear Heaven and consider it most important to practice the Way.

[A feature of the Way of Heaven, as distinct from its basic Confucian ethics, was its attempt to find common ground with ShintÇ as an aspect of its popular syncretism. Thus ShintÇ is identified with the virtues of natural simplicity and honesty, rather than with its theism and supernaturalism.]


Amaterasu Æmikami is the mistress of Japan, but her temple is thatched with no more than miscanthus. Her offerings are unhulled rice. By not embellishing her dwelling and by not taking fancy things for food she expressed her compassion with the people of the realm, and because he followed her decrees and thus practiced the Way, Emperor Jinmu could hand down the empire to his children and grandchildren from generation to generation and they flourished during I know not how many thousands of years, until the cloistered emperor Go-Shirakawa.

The emperors of old personally took the hoe into their hands and worshiped Heaven; in the new year, they deigned to begin the ploughing of the sacred ricefields and requited the people for its hardship. The emperor of the Engi Period (901-923) took off his clothes on a cold night and lamented how cold the people everywhere in the country must feel.

In ShintÇ, honesty is everything, and to commiserate with the people is regarded as its final intention. When at the top one person is honest, the myriad people below will be honest, too. When at the top one person is greedy, the myriad people below will be greedy, too. The poem says, “If only the heart /is in accordance with /the Way of Sincerity, / then the gods will protect you, /even if you do not pray.” With the “Way of Sincerity” is meant the sincerity of the Way of Heaven. To pray for oneself, presenting gold and silver to the gods and Buddhas, is a most foolish thing. Even men who have only a small part of the Mind-and-Heart of the Way do not accept dishonest presents and bribes. Will then the gods and Buddhas accept them, if you present such gifts to them? When you are personally honest and practice charity to others, and worship Heaven according to the ritual and in all sincerity, the gods will protect you, even without your prayers.

Go-Shirakawa broke completely with Amaterasu's decrees and Yoritomo took the empire. Outwardly he behaved as if he were practicing charity and establishing the Way, but in his heart he had seized All-under-Heaven and had used it for his own pleasure. In retribution, the place where he died is not known with certainty. Moreover, Yoritomo's son Yoriie was killed by his younger brother Sanetomo and Sanetomo was killed by his nephew. Thus within forty-two years Yoritomo's children had perished and they had lost All-under-Heaven. Such is the punishment of Heaven for those who do not know the Way and do not fear the Way of Heaven, who harass the people and glorify in their own splendor.

[Shingaku gorinsho (text from Yamamoto ShinkÇ, Shingaku gorinsho no

kisoteki kenkyã, p. 123-38); NST v. 28, pp. 257-64; WB].

Understanding the Way of Heaven

Preface to the Honsaroku

The contents of this book were originally written by Honda Sado-no-kami Masanobu, the councillor of Ieyasu. At one time [Tokugawa] Hidetada asked, “Have you ever reflected about the reason why countries are ordered or in disorder, why lords of men stay in power or perish, and why the myriad people are in straitened circumstances or content?” Masanobu answered, “In these past years, these matters are the only thing I have thought about, day and night. I have inquired about them with wise and talented people and tested [my ideas] on the people of the world, and I have obtained in my heart one principle.” When thereupon Hidetada ordered him “To write down this principle and show it tohim,” Masanobu wrote it down in kana, so that it would be easy for Hidetada to read, and presented it to him. After he had read it, Hidetada thought it really superb and excellent, put it into his private library, and from time to time consulted it. The draft of this book, however, went to Masanobu’s second son Honda Awa-no-kami Masashige, the councillor of Matsudaira Kaga-no-kami, and no one else ever saw it. Masashige’s councillor, Toda yugei-no-suke, at the age of over seventy retired, took the name of Unsai, and went to live in Kyoto in Zaimoku-chÇ east, south of NijÇ. When he was living there in seclusion, he once happened to talk about this book, in the heat of a party, to my friend Miyake Genga (Buddhist name: Keiun), a Buddhist friend. Genga entreated him strongly to lend him the book, and he made a copy and sent it to his son KÇhaku. Because I begged him earnestly, he had no words left to refuse and lent me the book. It is of course a book that one should not show to all and sundry. Honda Sado-no-kami had two sons, the eldest of whom is KÇzuke-no-suke, and the second, Awa-no-kami; Toda yãgei-no-suke is a nephew of Masanobu’s wife. The title Honsaroku has been give later, by Genga. When Masanobu presented it to Hidetada, it had of course no title.

Someone remarked: “Masanobu lived for many years a retired life in Suruga, and originally he was Ieyasu’s falconer. Little by little he rose in his lord’s service, and eventually he became Ieyasu’s councillor.”

Understanding the Way of Heaven

The Way of Heaven is no god, and neither is it a Buddha; it is the lord between Heaven and Earth, but it has no body. The Mind-and-Heart of Heaven fills the myriad things and reaches everywhere. You may compare it to someone’s heart that, though invisible to the eye, becomes the lord of the body, and even the rule of the empire and the state originates from this heart. The original heart of the Way of Heaven makes it its basic intent to create peace everywhere between Heaven and Earth, bring quiet to the myriad men and cause the myriad things to grow. Again, the one who holds the empire is called the Son of Heaven. The Way of Heaven has selected someone whose heart and capacities are sufficient to enable him to govern the realm, and has made him the lord of Japan. I have asked questions about the principle of the Way of Heaven as well as I could to all erudites in Japan, but the Shinto scholars combined Tendai and Shingon Buddhism with the Way of Heaven, and Zen scholars collected the teachings of Bodhidharma and regarded those as its essence. Present-day Japanese Confucians denigrate Buddhism, but essentially they have become identical with Zen. In this way I spent several years, without becoming any clearer about the principle of the Way of Heaven. When I heard about the government of China, I noticed that in China it had happened often that someone, without using sword and dagger, brought order to the more than four hundred provinces and passed them on to his sons and grandsons from generation to generation. In Japan, too, from the Age of the Gods onwards, the emperors have from generation to generation governed the realm and transmitted it to their descendants. But why during these last years the empire has known no lasting order and rulers perished after one or two generations, was something I did not understand, and that remained unclear to me. (pp. 275-78).

[Honsaroku, NST v. 28, pp. 275-78; WB]


Principles of Human Nature, in Vernacular Japanese

(Kana shÇri) ca. 1630


This work, traditionally attributed to Fujiwara Seika, is of uncertain authorship. It is a synthetic work, combining several strains of thought current in sixteenth and early seventeenth century Japan—Neo-Confucian, Buddhist, Shinto and even Christian—and incorporating much material from earlier texts such as the “Learning of the Mind-and-Heart and Five Human Relations” (Shingaku gorinsho). A principal ingredient is the doctrine of “The Way of Heaven” (tendÇ) which emphasizes how the ruler and his surrogates are answerable to Heaven, here conceived theistically as a judge upholding the moral order, with the latter expressed as principles intrinsic to the mind-and-heart of both the natural order and human nature. In this way the more theistic conception of the Lord of Heaven in TendÇ thought contributed a dynamic religious element to the moral rationalism of Neo-Confucianism expressed as Heaven’s principle (tenri). Here it takes the form of personal retribution for one’s good and bad deeds, as seen in the morality books that circulated in sixteenth and seventeenth century East Asia. (See Sources of Chinese Tradition, Ch. 24.)
The core teaching of the Mind-and-heart derives from Zhu Xi’s formulation of the 16-word Method of the Mind-and-heart enunciated in his preface to the Mean (Chung yung zhangzhu) as a way of governance (legitimate succession) handed down from the sage kings, Yao and Shun. (See SCT, Ch. 21.) This “method” had undergone successive adaptations in late Song and Ming China, and, as “The Way of Heaven,” spread to Korea and out through the sea lanes of East Asia. In sixteenth century Japan Zhu’s “succession to the Way” coalesced with the Sun Goddess’ mandate to the Imperial line, emphasized in Primal Shinto (Yuiitsu Shinto). (See Sources of Japanese Tradition, v. 1, Ch. 15.)
The “Five Human Relations” are those stressed by Zhu Xi as the prime moral obligations (the natural affective response of one’s moral nature to the constant universal, human relations) and do not directly correspond to the prevailing political or social relationships in seventeenth or eighteenth century Japan. Nevertheless, in different versions and editions, these teachings became widely disseminated in the Edo period, and texts containing them were said to have been found in many peasant households. Moreover, the “Learning of the Mind-and-heart” later popularized by Ishida Baigan, is based on the same Neo-Confucian teaching of Zhu Xi as found here, not on Wang Yangming. (See Ch. 25B).
The preface (not reproduced here) contains a poetic soliloquy on the passing of the seasons and their blossoms, but instead of dwelling simply on evanescence, emphasizes the underlying order in a living, changing universe and urges the practice of the Confucian virtues as the way to accord with this natural order.
(1) The Way of Heaven (TendÇ )

“Heaven’s Way” is the master of Heaven-and-earth. Yet owing to its formlessness, Heaven’s Way is imperceptible.1 Nevertheless, one sees the operations of Heaven’s Way in the way the four seasons follow one another without disorder, the way in which mankind is created, the way flowers bloom and bear fruit, and the way the five grains grow.

The human mind is also formless yet it is the master of the body.2 This mind extends throughout the body, even to the tips of one’s fingernails and ends of one’s hairs. Though a division of the mind of Heaven, the human mind functions as our mind. Originally, the human mind and Heaven were one body. Heaven and earth’s womb conceived all things in the world just as the ocean’s womb conceived all fishes. Just as water pervades even the fishes’ fins, so does Heaven’s mind pervade man’s mind. Thus, when one thinks compassionately, that thought communicates with Heaven; when one conceives of evil, that too communicates with Heaven. Therefore, the gentleman is cautious even when he is alone.1

(2) Luminous Virtue (meitoku)

Luminous virtue [the moral nature] comes from Heaven, too, and forms part of our minds.2 Being exceptionally luminous, this virtue harbors not even a modicum of wickedness.

That which accords with Heaven’s Way is called luminous virtue. One who can manifest this luminous virtue brilliantly as though he himself were born in Heaven is called a Sage.

Selfish human desires (jinyoku) are produced solely from within man. The selfish mind of desires (yokushin) refers to that mind which profoundly distorts what man sees and hears. When selfish desires rise, luminous virtue declines; when it predominates over one’s physical self, then one is the same as the birds and beasts.3 Luminous virtue assumes a form like that of a bright mirror, while selfish human desires assume the form of a clouded, overcast mirror. Unless one polishes the mirror of one’s luminous virtue day and night, selfish human desires will accumulate and one will lose one’s original mind (honshin). Luminous virtue and selfish human desires are adversaries [tekimikata]. If one side prevails, the other side is bound to lose.

(3) Sincerity (makoto)

Sincerity means having no deception, no artifice.4 Sincerity is the original substance of Heaven.1 Sincerity also consists in the consistent order of the progression of spring, summer, autumn and winter. That human beings give birth to human beings, that plum trees produce plum trees and that cherry trees produce cherry blossoms is also due to sincerity. In Heaven’s doings, there is not the least bit of deception or artifice. Thus, Heaven’s Way is called sincerity. Since our minds come from Heaven, if we can refrain from deception and artifice, then we will be in accordance with Heaven. However, when deceptive, we turn our backs on heaven and bring about the destruction of our posterity. Loyally serving those who rule, filially serving our parents, and acting compassionately towards others constitutes the source of sincerity.

(4) Reverent Seriousness (kei)

Whether serving one’s ruler or one’s parents, reverent seriousness refers to quieting the mind2 and cautiously reflecting on significant matters, as if one were [serving] an important guest.3 Whether serving friends or inferiors, one ought to be cautious, without any wickedness in one’s mind. In all affairs, seriousness refers to doing what one is doing carefully, without negligence. . . . If one can embody within one’s heart the real truth of seriousness, without departing from it, one’s countenance will be peaceful. Naturally, one can then serve them faithfully.

The above discussion of Luminous Virtue, Sincerity and Reverent Seriousness concerns self-control of the mind.

(5) Humaneness (jin), Rightness (gi), Ritual decorum (rei),

Wisdom (chi) and Trustworthiness (shin)

These are the virtues which one should practice day and night, morning and evening.

Humaneness means treating others compassionately.

Rightness means acting in accordance with the principles of the myriad things, without being unreasonable

Ritual decorum means respecting one’s superiors and [graciously] receiving one’s subordinates.

Wisdom refers to one’s compassionate understanding. While humaneness means treating others compassionately, humaneness does not consist in unnecessary kindness or compassion. While it is a breach of etiquette to be stingy, going to excess is another breach. Compassionate understanding, or wisdom, refers to complying reasonably with principles.

Trustworthiness refers to being honest, i.e., not being deceptive.1 If one is humane, but is not trustworthy, or if one is just, polite and wise, but is not trustworthy, then one’s goodness is in vain.2 Heaven takes sincerity as its original substance; thus, men should make it the marrow of their moral practice. If this is done, one will form one body with Heaven.

(6) The Five Relationships (gorin)

The five relationships refer to those relationships between ruler and minister, parent and child, husband and wife, elder brother and younger sibling, and friends. These are integral to daily moral behavior.

One who serves a ruler does not begrudge any orders. Rather, he is totally conscientious. Also, a ruler should sympathize with his ministers as if they were he. If a modicum of deception dwells in one’s mind, then one turns one’s back on Heaven.

In serving their parents, children should be completely filial. Parents should teach their children the Way, and treat them compassionately.

The relationship between husband and wife is comparable to that between heaven and earth: a husband should be kind to his wife, and a wife should respect her husband. There should be no hatred between them.

An elder brother should be kind to his younger sibling, while a younger sibling should respect his elder brothers.

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