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Kaibara Ekken (1630–1714)

KAIBARA EKKEN
(16301714)

Kaibara Ekken, or Ekiken, a Japanese Confucianist influential in popularizing Confucian ethics among ordinary people, was born in Fukuoka. The son of a physician, he became a doctor himself, then left medicine to become a Zhu Xi neo-Confucianist. His teachers in Kyoto were Kinoshita Junan (16211698) and Yamazaki Ansai. At thirty-nine Kaibara returned to Fukuoka, where he spent the rest of his life in the service of the Kuroda fief. Blessed with an extraordinary capacity for work but little originality, he wrote on many subjects. He became an important botanist with the issuing of separate books on the vegetables, the flora, and the medicinal herbs of Japan. His books on education were pioneering works in pedagogy; Onna daigaku (The great learning for women), the standard book on women's ethics in the Tokugawa era, is attributed variously to him and to his well-educated wife. His books were a great success. Unlike most Confucianists, who wrote in Chinese, he wrote in Japanese; furthermore, his teaching was highly practical, applying Confucian morality to everyday life. His pedagogical ideas were not equalitarian (he assigned to women the role of mere submissiveness and obedience to their husbands), and his botanical studies were not at all scientific in the modern sense, but he played an important role in spreading education.

Kaibara's philosophical importance today rests on his Taigiroku (The great doubt), in which he aired his dissent with the official doctrine of the Zhu Xi school. Kaibara was also critical of the "ancient learning" school of Confucianism and its scholars Itō Jinsai and Ogyū Sorai, and of the Wang Yangming school, the rival of Zhu Xi. Kaibara disagreed with Zhu Xi Confucianism in his elevation of ki, the material force, over ri, the principle immanent in all things. For him ki is the "great limit" or the "ultimate" and is an all-pervading life force. Kaibara does not distinguish the original form of human nature from its acquired form; contrary to Zhu Xi, he is an optimist in his view of man and of the natural world. His cosmology is characterized by cosmic love that embraces all men, born as they are of heaven and earth. Man's indebtedness to nature is limitless, and for him the Confucian virtue of jen, "humaneness," comes close to being a religious benevolence, first toward nature and then toward men. His practical bent, however, makes it difficult to clarify his position, which seems to be one of eclectic doubt rather than critical inquiry. In administrative matters Kaibara opposed imitating Chinese ways; rather he was an ardent patriot, loyal in support of the emperor.

See also Chinese Philosophy; Itō Jinsai; Japanese Philosophy; Ogyū Sorai; Wang Yang-ming; Yamazaki Ansai; Zhu Xi (Chu Hsi).

Bibliography

Kaibara's works are available in Japanese in Ekken zenshū (Complete works of Kaibara Ekken), edited by Ekkenkai, 8 vols. (Tokyo, 1911). A secondary source in Japanese is Inoue Tadashi, Kaibara Ekken (Tokyo, 1963).

See also O. Graf, Kaibara Ekiken (Leiden: Brill, 1942); S. Atsuharu, "Kaibara E. and Onna daigaku," in Cultural Nippon 7 (4) (1939): 4356; and W. T. de Bary, Ryusaku Tsunoda, and Donald Keene, eds., Sources of Japanese Tradition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), pp. 374377.

Gino K. Piovesana, S.J. (1967)

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Kaibara Ekken

Kaibara Ekken (1630–1714). A Japanese Confucian scholar of the early to mid-Tokugawa period. As an advocate of ‘practical learning’ (jitsugaku), Kaibara wrote many popular works encompassing a wide range of interests: philosophy, moral education, health and diet, and the natural sciences. Although originally a follower of the orthodox Chu Hsi school of Neo-Confucianism, he established his own independent, critical position, often compared to the school of Ancient Learning (Kokugaku). For example, in his major work, the Taigiroku (Record of Grave Doubts), Kaibara attacks Chu Hsi's overreliance on Buddhist and Taoist teachings. He saw an inherent unity between the Confucian ethics of the early sages and Japanese Shinto, while rejecting Buddhist ideas, such as the application of honjisuijaku.

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"Kaibara Ekken." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 27 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Kaibara Ekken." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/kaibara-ekken

"Kaibara Ekken." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved May 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/kaibara-ekken