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

In addition to the five articles linked to and briefly quoted below, also check out more of Charles Muller’s publications here:

The Key Operative Concepts in Korean Buddhist Syncretic Philosophy: Interpenetration (通達) and Essence-Function (體用) in Wŏnhyo, Chinul and Kihwa
Bulletin of Toyo Gakuen University No. 3, March 1995, pp 33-48. by A. Charles Muller

Korean Buddhism is distinctive within the broader field of East Asian Buddhism for the pronounced degree of its syncretic discourse. Korean Buddhist monks throughout history have demonstrated a marked tendency in their essays and commentaries to focus on the solution of disagreements between various sects within Buddhism, or on conflicts between Buddhism and other religions. While a strong ecumenical tendency is noticeable in the writings of dozens of Korean monks, among the most prominent in regard to their exposition of syncretic philosophy are W?nhyo (?? 617-686), Pojo Chinul (???? 1158-1210) and Hamheo Kihwa (???? 1376-1433).

The Composition of Self-Transformation Thought in Classical East Asian Philosophy and Religion
A. Charles Muller Bulletin of Toyo Gakuen University 4 : 141–152.

I will speak here of three notions which are crucial for a thoroughgoing understanding of the three East Asian philosophical/religious teachings of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. The first I name integrated practice; the other two are already known to modern scholarship as essence-function and interpenetration. Despite the readily observable reliance on these fundamental and unifying elements by the major masters of the three traditions, through the past century of modern scholarly investigation in the West they have been paid almost no sustained attention. While they have occasionally been identified in a fragmentary and cursory way, they have not been examined from the perspective of their role as fundamental constituents of a holistic cultural worldview, or as a set of pan-East Asian metaphysical categories which are radically distinct from basic Western paradigms, and which have retained remarkable consistency throughout the long histories and wide range of schools of thought contained in the three traditions.

Essence-Function and Interpenetration: Early Chinese Origins and Manifestations
A. Charles Muller Bulletin of Toyo Gakuen University, vol. 7 (1999)

This is the second in a series of articles on the role of the concepts of essence-function (t’i-yung 體用) and interpenetration (t’ung-ta 通達) in traditional East Asian religious and philosophical thought. The first installment of this series, entitled “The Composition of Self-Transformation Thought in Classical East Asian Philosophy and Religion.” (Bulletin of Toyo Gakuen University, vol. 4, March, 1996), was a general introduction to the two concepts. The present article treats their appearance in the earliest Confucian classics, including the I Ching, Great Learning and Doctrine of the Mean, with a special emphasis on the elaboration of the role of the concept of sincerity誠.

The Emergence of Essence-Function (ti-yong) 體用 Hermeneutics in the Sinification of Indic Buddhism: An Overview
A. Charles Muller (University of Tokyo)

This examination of the place of the essence-function paradigm 體用
(Ch. ti-yong, K. che-yong, J. tai-yū; in non-Buddhological studies in Japan,
tai-yō) in early Chinese Buddhist sources marks an attempt at re-opening
discussion regarding the earliest and most pervasive form of East Asian
Buddhist hermeneutics, with essence-function being the most widely-used
hermeneutical framework for East Asian Buddhist commentators for several
centuries. I say “re-opening” because it was a topic that received some
attention a couple of decades ago when philosophical interest in early
Chinese Buddhism was at a peak, but which seems to have fallen from
attention without ever being fully explored.

East Asia’s Unexplored Pivot of Metaphysics and Hermeneutics: Essence-Function/Interpenetration
A. Charles Muller Toyo Gakuen University

The scholarly permutations of our new-found American reflexivity, which include such modernistic and postmodernistic interpretive strategies as Feminism, Marxism, Derridaism, Foucauldianism and Barthesiansim, as well as a general demand for wider interdisciplinary awareness, all deserve praise for the breadth of scope that they have added as approaches to both the texts and the living religions themselves. Nonetheless, if we ask whether or not any of these approaches have brought us closer to communication with indigenous categories of approach to the field, our answer must remain mostly, if not completely, negative. In our efforts at the apprehension of the East Asian religious tradition, we have yet to see a serious and sustained work which does not rely almost exclusively on Western interpretive schema, whether they be modernistic or postmodernistic in nature. If anything, the postmodernistic movement has led us even further away from the possibility of attempting to interpret the East Asian traditions on their own ground, as American humanities graduate programs tend increasingly to advertise themselves as places where Asian students may come and learn (Western) postmodern methodologies for the purpose of interpreting their own cultures.

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.

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