Exploration of the Outside

Mou Zongsan opens a gate into the Chinese cultural interior by unswervingly directing his work at its most radically indigenous characteristics, uncompromised by ulterior elements, and therefore undistracted by any seductions of otherness or exoticism that fall short of its inherent destination — connection with the absolute Outside. That alone is authentically Chinese, Mou insists, which originates and culminates in the Way (道), cultivating an unsegregated mutual involvement of thought and being which corresponds closely to the Occidental philosophical concept of intellectual intuition. Whether approached through the Daoist, Buddhist, or Confucian strains of the Chinese cultural complex, the consistent ethnic characteristic is an interior path to exterior reality, continuous with the way of ‘heaven’ (天), or cosmic necessity. The inner voyage is the way out, but more importantly — for the Confucian current at least — it is the way to let the Outside in, making culture a conduit for the cultivation of the world.

From Mou Zongsan’s summit of philosophical intensity, therefore, no true boundary can be drawn between a project marked by extreme cultural ‘nationalism’ and an ontologically-grounded cosmopolitanism, or between a diligent restoration of tradition and a venture beyond the horizon of time. The inward path reaches out (as it fuses with the tendrils of Outsideness, which reach in).

In his essay on the Meeting at Goose Lake, Mou seeks to explain the singularity of the Chinese tradition in terms intelligible to Western philosophy:

… Kant attached only a negative meaning to noumena. Applied to Kant’s philosophy, “one mind with two gates” refers to phenomena and noumena. But it must be understood in Chinese terms, through the mainline cultural spirit of the three Eastern teachings of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism. Trying to understand the “one mind with two gates” by means of Kant’s system does not work; it must be through the Chinese tradition. This is why I say that if you want to get a handle on what China has been doing for thousands of years, you must delve deeply into the mainline of its cultural life. Thoroughly immersing yourself is the only way to understand its strengths; otherwise “cultural life” is just an empty phrase.

Metaphysical traditionalism attains extroversion through introversion, so that its “perfect teaching” is announced as a culmination of paradox. It is only at the limit of psychological and cultural inwardness that the gate of deep connection is opened, enabling cultural encounters in profundity, rather than a confusion of comparisons, facile commonalities and contrasts. Chinese and Western philosophy meet at the summit, and through the Outside, whose brink each discovers on its own distinctive path.

The paradoxical signs of the ‘perfect teaching’ guide Mou’s restoration of Chinese intellectual tradition, as it homes — or strays — to the root of acceptance and correction. In order to turn Confucianism into itself, he cultivates (discovers / invents) a third strand of orthodoxy upon which to train the luxuriant but disordered growth of Cheng-Zhu lixue and Lu-Wang xinxue: a lineage passing through the comparatively obscure figures of Hu Wufeng (or Hu Hong) and Liu Jishan (or Liu Zongzhou). It is this third thread of the tradition, he contends, that most fully develops the essential intellectual content of Confucianism, making it the true inheritor of the Northern Song ruxue legacy (Zhou Dunyi, Zhang Zai, and Cheng Mingda), which is itself the uncontested conveyor of the ancient canon. It alone consistently refuses the delusive separation of intelligence from the Way, and thus preserves the understanding of human conduct as cosmic self-realization. Within the (correctable) Lu-Wang line, this insight tends to slide into eclipse, but on the mainstream Cheng-Zhu line the slippage has become an assertive deviation — hardened into “fundamental error”.

Mou’s metaphysical traditionalism coaxes Chinese intellectual history into an immanent correction, through which its proper inwardness is reinforced as a resilient — or fusional — connection to the Outside. What is most its own is spiral immersion within the Way, where the second gate opens.

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