LU XIANGSHAN (1139–1193) was the literary name of Lu Jiuyuan, also known by the style name of Lu Zijing. A pivotally important thinker in the Southern Song period (1127–1279), he contributed to the forging of the intellectual movement of what came to be known in the West as neo-Confucianism, whose cultural mission was no less than the revivification and redefinition of the Confucian Way (dao ). By reformulating and extending the teachings of Mengzi (391–308 bce) on the mind-heart and human nature, Lu Xiangshan is supposed to have initiated the so-called "learning of the mind-heart" (xinxue ) within the neo-Confucian tradition, as opposed to the "learning of principle" (lixue ), first espoused by Zheng Yi (1033–1107) and later elaborated by Lu's good friend and intellectual nemesis, Zhu Xi (1130–1200). Passionate about the neo-Confucian enterprise, Lu argued that the fulfillment and implementation of the Way could not be achieved through the discursive and external pursuit of bookish knowledge. Rather, it hinged on the realization of the goodness of the mind-heart through virtuous actions and practical deeds.
Lu was born in the Jiangxi province into an elite family that had migrated from the north. The distinguished social pedigree of the Lus as local magnates notwithstanding, his family's material fortunes had been gradually dwindling. By the time Lu came into the world his family no longer owned land, but they were by no means poor, thanks to a prosperous business in medicines. Even though, from the generation of Lu's great-great grandfather to his father's, none of the Lus had held government office, the family continued to produce scholars of great repute, and its social and genealogical luster in the locality remained burnished. Lu Xiangshan himself secured the highest degree of jinshi (literally, "a presented scholar") in 1172. While Lu served studiously and successfully in a succession of official appointments on the local level, he was always engaged in teaching and lecturing. Late in his life, he led the White Elephant (Xiangshan) Academy in his home province, where, as an inspiring thinker and popular teacher, he attracted thousands of pupils and admirers. Although Lu did not write prolifically, he established an estimable scholarly reputation by dint of his profound views on learning and moral self-cultivation.
In his debate with Zhu Xi at Goose Lake temple in 1175, Lu famously declared that his program of learning was focused, direct, and "easy," in that it sought the illumination and revelation of one's intrinsic, original mind-heart (ming benxin ) before the broad quest for extrinsic knowledge. By contrast, Lu found Zhu's project to be distracting, circuitous, and in the final analysis "fragmented," insofar as it considered the indiscriminate amassing of external know-how to be prior to the development of an enveloping, guiding inner vision. Lu also found fault with Zhu's dualistic metaphysical scheme of principle (li ) and material force (qi ), wherein the former was conceived as the supreme ontological entity of pure possibilities, and the latter the source of concrete things and their movements. Accordingly, Zhu's philosophical anthropology identified principle solely with human nature (xing ), associating emotions (qing ) with material force while recognizing the mind-heart (xin ) as the vital link between nature and emotions, to the extent that it was the faculty endowed with the most subtle of material forces. Consciously in contention with this finicky architectonics, Lu's philosophy was propelled by the rage for an all-embracing unity and oneness, which he ascertained in his ontological conception of the mind-heart.
Whereas Zhu presupposed the inadequacy of the mind-heart in the absence of the guidance of principle qua nature, Lu asserted pristine humanity in terms of it. In fact, he posited the oneness of principle (endowed in humanity by heaven) and the mind-heart: "The mind-heart is one and principle is one." Lu construed the perfect truth of reality as a unity, inasmuch as "the mind-heart and principle can never be separated into two." For Lu, this unity was what Confucius had in mind when he made the oft-quoted statement that "there is one thread that runs through my teachings." Similarly, it was what Mengzi referred to when he stated that "the Way is one and only one." In other words, humanity was the same as the mind-heart and principle, which Lu further elucidated in terms of Mengzi's theory of innate goodness. This mind-heart/principle is the source of the sense of horror and commiseration when one sees a child about to tumble into a well; it is that which makes people ashamed of shameful things and makes them deplore the deplorable. It constitutes filial piety, respect for elders, the sense of right and wrong, and the virtues of rightness (yi) and reverence (jing ). To put it another way, the mind-heart consists of the four moral sprouts (siduan ) that define the goodness of nature: the sense of compassion, the sense of shame, the sense of humility, and the sense of right and wrong. Since all goodness and all things are already complete within us, Mengzi rightly admonished us that there is no greater joy than the examination of oneself in an effort to realize one's authentic self.
Lu also identifies the mind-heart with the Way (dao ) that fills the universe. With reference to heaven, the Way is yin and yang, and with respect to earth, it may be described in terms of strength and weakness. Most significant, as regards humanity, the Way is the fundamental virtues of ren and yi. The former is the very human faculty or human-heartedness that defines humanity; the latter is the corresponding ability to act rightly and righteously. These two cardinal virtues, at once the embodiment and manifestation of the Way, are the original mind-heart.
To the extent that principle, or the Way, inheres in the mind-heart, which is our heaven-endowed moral nature, the quest for the Way must begin with the inward look toward the mind-heart, purposefully seeking to build and nurture what Mengzi calls the "greater part of our being." Lu was fond of saying that what he taught came spontaneously from deep within his being, such that "the six classics are annotations on myself," just as "I am annotations of the six classics." The thousands of words that he uttered were nothing other than expressions that issued from within him. Small wonder that he rejected Zhu Xi's program of learning, whose point of departure was "following the path of inquiry and learning" (dao wenxue ), or seeking erudition through broad investigations of things. Such an epistemological premise was fundamentally flawed. Lu maintained that true understanding and knowledge of reality stemmed from and began with "honoring moral nature" (zun dexing ), that is, the critical reflection on and examination of the self distinguished by the mind-heart. To learn, in its essentials, is to seek to return and preserve the mind-heart, which may be lost or obscured as a result of aggrandizement by undue and excessive desires. Therefore, no amount of empirical knowledge and experiential learning would enable human flourishing if, to begin with, people do not recognize that the mind-heart, endowed with innate moral nature and embodying the entire universe, is the locus of knowing and acting. To honor moral nature is to establish the moral, and indeed transcendent, goals and purposes of learning. Otherwise, study is a misguided, undirected, and ultimately irrelevant adventure of the mind that yields no meaningful moral-ethical consequences—namely to uplift oneself through empathy with and amelioration of others in the human community.
Because Lu appealed directly to the mind-heart, recommended deep introspection of the inner self through meditation and quiet-sitting, and espoused an "easy" method of cultivation that apparently spurned words and texts, since the time of Zhu Xi he has traditionally been considered to be a speculative thinker much preoccupied with the abstruse and recondite quest for spiritual enlightenment in the Chan Buddhist mode. As Zhu Xi's teaching came to be consolidated and accepted as orthodoxy, such characterization took hold. In point of fact, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Lu's effort to locate the ontological center of being and reality in the mind-heart bespeaks his earnest desire to concentrate on the moral-ethical agency of every human being. The unmitigated focus on the mind-heart points not to its self-referential capacity in an other-worldly sense, but rather to its ineluctable verification and validation through this-worldly practical learning, beginning with self-cultivation, which is in turn expanded into transformative deeds as they are brought to bear on community and society. As Lu takes pains to point out, principle is not some transcendent metaphysical entity out there; it is the ritual complex and order forged in history. At the same time that principle, embodied in the mind-heart, reveals our innate moral conscience and consciousness, it is manifested in the proper workings of social relations, rites, institutions, and laws. Principle is order-conferring and assent-eliciting insofar as it is understood not only cosmologically but also morally, socially, and historically. It is no accident that the towering Ming-dynasty thinker Wang Yangming (1472–1529), who expanded Lu's philosophical anthropology anchored on the mind-heart—and who thereby rekindled attention to and interest in this Song master's views—propounded the powerful injunction that knowing and acting are one.
In brief, the religio-philosophical mystique of Lu's holistic conception of the mind-heart as all-encompassing reality lies not in its putative vertical identification with some transcendent ideality, but in its horizontal association with the immanent (hence human and social) world of quotidian moral actions.
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On-Cho Ng (2005)