Charles Muller on interpenetration (通達) and essence-function (體用)

Exclusive reliance on Western modes of interpretation need not in itself be harmful. But it appears as if it can be, as we can see a distinct tendency in recent works on East Asian religion, and especially East Asian Buddhism, to regard the object of study in a disparaging manner. To, for example, wrap up the texts of the entire East Asian Ch’an/Sŏn/Zen traditions as being little other than rhetorical devices, or to report on the East Asian religious traditions by concentrating on examples of how poor East Asian Buddhists supposedly were at grasping the implications of their own writings. Or, on the other hand, to suggest that now that ten percent or so of the East Asian canon has been rendered into English, it is time to stop expending our energies in the effort of translation and interpretation, and rather devote ourselves toward the investigation of living traditions. Over its first century of existence, Western scholarship on the East Asian religions has tended toward two extremes: naive acceptance (seen during earlier periods of scholarship) or a subtle, but nonetheless perceptible arrogant downlooking, in which the leading figures of the tradition are seen as being wholly preoccupied with sectarian motivations, and either hopelessly simple-minded or untrustably deceptive.

子曰。學而時習之、不亦說乎。 (Analects 1:1)

Note: The construction (Y) 不亦 (X) 乎 means, “isn’t Y X?”, or, more wistfully, “Y … isn’t it X?”


The Master said,
“Learning, and then frequently practicing, isn’t it a pleasure?”
“To have one’s friends visit from afar, isn’t it a joy?”
“To be unknown without resentment, isn’t this [the sign of] a person of great virtue?”

“Does Heaven speak?” (Analects 17.17)

From The Analects, 17.17. In the Analects 17.17 (the numbering varies), we have a very interesting “saying” of Confucius with a meaning that is pretty easily gleaned from a literal translation of the characters. At least that’s how it seems to me. Presumably someone with a deeper understanding of Classical Chinese (and that certainly wouldn’t […]