Lu Chiu-yuan

Lu Chiu-yuan (1139-1193) was a Chinese thinker, public official, and man of letters. He is regarded as the representative of the idealistic wing, as distinct from the rationalistic wing, of Sung-dynasty Neo-Confucianism.

Lu Chiu-yuan, better known in China by his literary name as Lu Hsiang-shan, had a remarkably original mind which was noticeable from his childhood. At the age of 4 he asked his father, "Where would one find the limit of heaven and earth?" Later he detected a difference between the Neo-Confucianism of Ch'eng I and classical Confucianism and raised the query, "Why is it that Ch'eng I's words do not seem to agree with those of Confucius and Mencius?"

In the course of his study of the ancient classics when Lu Chiu-yuan was 13 years of age, he came across the term yü-chou (universe), on which the commentary said, "The four directions together with what is above and what is below are called yü; the bygone past and the coming future are called chou." With a sudden enlightenment, he came to the realization of the great infinitude which man shares with the universe, and he recorded: "The universe is nothing other than my mind and my mind is nothing other than the universe…. Whenever sages were to appear they would still have nothing other than this same mind and this same Truth…. This Truth manifests itself as yin and yang in relation to heaven, as firm and pliable in relation to earth, and as benevolence and righteousness in relation to man. Hence benevolence and righteousness are the original mind of man."


Neo-Confucian Debate

The first meeting between Lu Chiu-yuan and Chu Hsi, spokesman of the rationalistic wing of Neo-Confucianism, took place in 1175 at the Goose Lake Monastery in northern Kiangsi. At the outset a poem by Lu Chiu-yuan was presented, and Chu Hsi felt greatly displeased, particularly with the following couplet: "The endeavor in the easy and the simple will forever increase; while the pursuit of the piecemeal will after all prove ephemeral." Here lay the central difference between the two thinkers. The objective of both was to achieve enlightenment and sagehood. However, to Chu Hsi the procedure called for patient investigation of individual things and affairs, leading to a gradual understanding of the truth, while to Lu Chiu-yuan, on the other hand, the one and only important thing was to "let a man first firmly establish the nobler part of his constitution," as "Truth is nothing other than the mind and the mind is nothing other than the Truth." Consequently Chiu-yuan advocated the procedure of personal cultivation through contemplation and reflection, leading to sudden enlightenment—a procedure which Chu condemned as copying Ch'an Buddhism (Zen). The participants at the 10-day debate parted friends, but their philosophical positions remained unreconciled.

Lu Chiu-yuan was so convinced of the unitary principle of the mind that he put little value on book learning and scholarship. He said, "The Six Classics are but footnotes of my mind," and he did not write a single book. He was, however, a brilliant lecturer and conversationalist. At the invitation of Chu Hsi, Lu Chiu-yuan delivered a lecture to the students at the White Deer Grotto Academy, and all listeners, including his host, were genuinely moved by his eloquence, sincerity, and penetration.

Contrary to expectation, Lu Chiu-yuan was also a man of affairs. He cultivated horsemanship and archery in his youth, when he learned about the national humiliation at the hands of the Chin invaders. In 1191 Lu Chiu-yuan was appointed magistrate of the strategic and populous Chingmen district of the present Hupei Province. During his administration of less than 2 years many improvements were introduced—reduction of taxes and official extravagance, easy access by the people with their grievances and speedy settlement of lawsuits, building of the city walls, and suppression of lawlessness and banditry. In the midst of all these activities, he still found time to deliver lectures on civic duties to the people and minor government officials. In 1217 the posthumous title of Wen-an was conferred on him, and in 1530 his tablet was admitted in the Confucian Temple.


Further Reading on Lu Chiu-yuan

The only volume devoted completely to Lu Chiu-yuan is Siu-chi Huang, Lu Hsiang-shan: A Twelfth Century Chinese Idealist Philosopher (1944), a doctoral thesis that contains translations from the Chinese, with explanatory introductions, of selected passages of the Complete Works of Lu Hsiang-shan. Chapters on Lu Chiu-yuan are in Fung Yu-lan, A History of Chinese Philosophy, vol. 2 (trans. 1953); Chia-sên (Carsun) Chang, The Development of Neo-Confucian Thought (2 vols., 1957-1962); and Wing-tsit Chan, comp. and trans., A Source Book on Chinese Philosophy (1963).