Muro Kyūsō (1658–1734)

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Muro Kyūsō was a Japanese Confucianist who was instrumental in defending the Zhu Xi school of Neo-Confucianism as the official learning of the Tokugawa government. Born in Edo (Tokyo), he was a pupil of Kinoshita Junan (16211698) in Kyoto. In 1711 he became, through the recommendation of the scholar-statesman Arai Hakuseki (16571725), the official scholar of the Tokugawa government. He was commissioned to compile the Rikuyu engi-tai (Outline of principles of Confucianism) that in 1724 became the standard textbook on Zhu Xi's doctrine for all official schools. Muro in his early years was not a follower of the Zhu Xi school; as he tells us in his Shundai zatsuwa (Conversations at Surugadai), it was only at the age of forty, after a long period of doubt, that he embraced Zhu Xi's thought. The doctrine was then under heavy attack by such of the "ancient learning" scholars as Yamaga Sokō, Itō Jinsai, and Ogyū Sorai. Muro believed he had been chosen to defend the teaching of Zhu Xi, and to this task he dedicated the rest of his life with unsparing zeal.

Muro's ideas are not strikingly original, but they have the power of sincerity and conviction. Typical are his denunciations of hypocrisy, a trait not so uncommon among formalist Confucians, and his insistence upon virtue as springing from the inner self; two of his favorite maxims were "Be true to the self" and "The root of evil lies in the innermost recesses of the mind." His ideas on the Godhead bear a similarity to the Christian conception of the attributes of God. The deity (or deities) is omnipresent and omniscient. He stressed self-vigilance and the realization of heavenly reason in human life. The heavenly order was to be reflected in the social one, thus consolidating the immutability of Tokugawa society. His sense of the indebtedness (gi ) and the gratitude (on ) man owes to Heaven, the earthly lord, the parent, and the teacher was bound to foster obedience rather than self-assertiveness. Muro opposed the scholars of the "ancient learning" school, who, with others, supported the emperor; Muro stood solidly for the Tokugawa government. He was also critical of Buddhism and Shinto. But the tide was against him; especially in vain was his effort to preserve the ancient spirit of the samurai who more and more assimilated into the merchant class.

See also Chinese Philosophy; Itō Jinsai; Japanese Philosophy; Ogyū Sorai; Virtue and Vice; Yamaga Sokō; Zhu Xi (Chu Hsi).


Muro's Rikuyu engi-tai (Outline of principles of Confucianism) was published in Kyoto in 1722. His Shundai zatsuwa (Conversations at Surugadai) is available in Nihon rinri ihen (Library on Japanese ethics; Tokyo, 1903), edited by Inoue Tetsujirō, Vol. VII, pp. 81122; it has been translated by G. W. Knox as "A Japanese Philosopher," in Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan 20, Part I (1893): 28133. See also W. T. de Bary, Ryusaku Tsunoda, and Donald Keene, eds., Sources of Japanese Tradition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), pp. 433442.

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

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Muro Kyūsō (1658–1734)

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