Dao
, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 57-79

Zhu Xi’s Spiritual Practice as the Basis of His Central Philosophical Concepts

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Abstract

This article attempts to connect three aspects of Zhu Xi’s 朱熹 (1130–1200) life and work: (1) the “spiritual crisis” he experienced in his thirties; (2) his identification of Zhou Dunyi 周敦頤 (1017–1073) as the first true Confucian sage since Mencius; and (3) his concepts of taiji 太極 and li 理. The argument is that (1) the spiritual crisis that Zhu Xi discussed with Zhang Shi 張栻 (1133–1180) and the other “gentlemen of Hunan” from about 1167 to 1169, which was resolved by an understanding of what we might call the “interpenetration”of the mind’s stillness and activity (dong-jing 動靜) or equilibrium and harmony (zhong-he 中和), (2) led directly to his realization that Zhou Dunyi’s thought provided a cosmological basis for that resolution, and (3) this in turn led Zhu Xi to understand (or construct) the meaning of taiji in terms of the polarity of yin and yang; i.e. the “Supreme Polarity” as the most fundamental ordering principle (li 理).