Chinese Buddhism and Confucianism: From Zongmi to Mou Zongsan

  • Wing-cheuk ChanEmail author
Part of the Dao Companions to Chinese Philosophy book series (DCCP, volume 9)


This chapter sheds new light on the interaction between Chinese Buddhism and Confucianism by exploring and comparing the thoughts of the ninth century Huayan-Chan Buddhist Zongmi 宗密 and the twentieth century Neo-Confucian Mou Zongsan 牟宗三. It reveals the structural parallel between their opposing theories: both hold a doctrine of true mind as the central component, and both are influenced by the tathāgatagarbha 如來藏 doctrine of The Awakening of Faith. The former uses them to synthesize Huayan and Chan Buddhist soteriology; the latter assimilates them into his framework of Neo-Confucian moral metaphysics. Seen as a response to Zongmi’s criticism of Confucian metaphysics in general, and the shortcomings of the mandate of heaven and the lack of causal theory in particular, Mou stresses the universality of the Confucian Dao, which is supported by the Song Neo-Confucian Zhu Xi’s unified ontological principle (li). Rather than appealing to the mandate of heaven, Mou makes clear in following Wang Yangming that the Confucian Dao can be manifested by the sage through his infinite intellectual mind, which is immanent in every human being, so as to solve the problem of the highest good without postulating a transcendent god nor appealing to the karmic causality. Mou’s response, supplemented by other Neo-Confucian theories such as Xiong Shili’s and Tang Junyi’s, is a prominent example of how Confucian tradition meets the challenge of Chinese Buddhism while absorbing Buddhist influence. However, the author also points out that Mou’s Neo-Confucian philosophy provides a possibility of defending Chinese Buddhism in face of the critique raised by Critical Buddhism.


Zongmi Mou Zongsan Huayan-Chan Neo-Confucianism True mind 


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Brock UniversitySt. CatharinesCanada

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