Thomé H. Fang and Whitehead


-- Twin Pillars of Process Thought East and West








Thomé H. Fang Institute, Inc.







Presented to


Section of Chinese Cultural Tradition


The 6th International Whitehead Conference


Salzburg University


Salzburg, Austria


July 3-6, 2006










“The wondrous Way of Heaven as embodied

                        in Chinese philosophy has already been

incorporated into my own works.”


                   --A. N. Whitehead (1861-1947)


“When there arises a sage from the East Sea,

he shares with us the same mind, the same reason;

when there arises a sage from the West Sea,

he share with us the same mind, the same reason..”


                           -- Lu Xiangshan (1139-1192)




In this short paper I wish to bring home to you an intriguing case-study in comparative philosophy, by focusing on Thomé H. Fang and Whitehead as the twin pillars of process thought East and West. Realizing the presentation time limitation, I must adopt the strategy of treating a grand topic in the most compact way (da ti xiao zuo), i.e., by cutting a long story short.


My presentation consists of the following six sections:


Section I, a historical survey of the Chinese-Whiteheadian affinity case as settled at one stroke, so to speak. It is not a matter of mere coincidence; but of impact.


Section II, a synoptic comparative review of these two towering figures, with especial reference to Fang’s most ingenious formulation and insightful hermeneutic interpretation of Chinese metaphysics in terms of the Whiteheadian language as a linguistic upaya (expedient device) with a view to attaining to the optimal

effects of communication, ranging from the philosophy of creativism as embodied in The Book of Creativity to the cosmic organissm and universal co-prehensionism as developed by the Hua Yan School of the Mahayana Buddhism in the 7th to the 11th century China.  


Section III, a contrast of East vs. West epitomized as a contrast of rule vs. exception with regard to the process perspective;


Section IV, a call for “Farewell to the modern age of stupidism” by reference to Fang and Whitehead as two great pre-existent Postmodernists of the last 20th century, on the basis of the whole bunch of fallacies which we have so unknowingly committed and Whitehead has so skillfully formulated and warned against.


Section V, a brief survey of Fang’s formulation and hermeneutic interpretation of Chinese metaphysic (creativism) and Hua Yan Buddhism in Whiteheadian terms;


Section VI, Conclusion: the lessons from a comparative study of Thomé Fang, Hua Yan, and Whitehead.



Why Thomé H. Fang? Naturally one wonders. As one of the greatest minds of contemporary China, Fang proves most congenial to the Whiteheadian way in doing philosophy and in living an authentic human life as well: For both are inspired by an organismic vision of the Whole; both are lured for perfection; both are creativity-intoxicated; both are motivated by the will to unification: both are value-oriented; both are dedicated to adventure as “search for perfections”; both are great lovers of poetry. Fang is himself a great poet leaving posterity with a treasure of approximately one thousand consummate exquisite poems as the gem of Chinese poetry. The late sharp critic Qian Zhongshu is afraid that Master Fang may be the last of the great classical poets who are going to be irretrievably lost, gone forever. We hope Qian is wrong in his predication.


Endowed with a precocious mind, Fang is a prodigal talent, a wonder child who could learn by heart the entire Book of Odes at the age of three (a Mozart in philosophy, if you like); he was born of one of the intellectually most distinguished families that has produced a galaxy of eminent scholars, thinkers, and literati in the last five hundred years during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Having been taught in his early development by several great American teachers, such as Clarence Hamilton, John Dewey, Evander Bradeley McGilvary, and E. A. Leighton, he is solidly grounded in scholarship and learning, covering four great cultural traditions of ancient Greece, modern Europe, China, and India, and combining four fields of discipline in science, philosophy, art, and religion. With such a calibre in mind, we are convinced that, for our present comparative purpose, Fang proves one of the most eligible candidates. Whitehead must feel quite surprised to learn that, though he has taught several (four, as we know) Chinese graduate students at Harvard, yet it is Fang, a young Ph. D. in Philosophy graduated from Wisconsin in (1924) at the age of 25, one he has never taught nor met in his life time, who has eventually proved himself the best Whitehead apostle in the East: He has brought the great Whiteheadian philosophico-religious insights and visions across the Pacific and spread them via his lectures and writings to the tender minds of the younger generation Chinese scholars (my humble self included); moreover, by employing the elegance, precision, and vivid expression of the Whiteheadian language, he has succeeded in rendering a great service to the West and, on that matter, to the whole world as well, by rendering highly intelligible the essentials of Chinese metaphysical ingenuity and its achievements and contributions. Standing upon the shoulders of his predecessors, Fang is thus enabled to serve as really a bridge-builder since the mid-50s linking the East and the West as a Whole.


In Lucien Price’s celebrated Dialogues with Alfred North Whitehead, we learn that Whitehead has once humorously (and ironically) remarked of John Dewey and Confucius: “If you want to understand Confucius, read John Dewey. If you want to understand John Dewey, read Confucius.” Analogously, we may say of our subjects, in a completely positive sense: “If you want to understand Whitehead, read Thomé Fang. If you want to understand Thomé Fang, read Whitehead.”


Without Fang, the Westerner’s appreciation of Chinese metaphysical wisdom, I am afraid, would have to be delayed for an indefinite period of time! Now the karma is surely ripe. As the Buddha might put it, when the karmas are not ready, nothing would happen; when they are, nothing could stop them from happening, and happening in the way they do.


May this tribute of mine serve to celebrate such great creative minds as Mozart, Whitehead, and Thomé Fang in world civilization for the last three hundred years.




I.          Whitehead and His Relation with Chinese Thought


For students of comparative philosophy the case study of Whitehead and the Chinese views proves so intriguing that one seems to have hit upon a gold-mine. All the more intriguing is the finding when one asks: How far has Whitehead gone in his adventure of Oriental ideas in general, and of Chinese thoughts in particular? Surely, not quite far. How much do we know about his acquaintance with us, the “Chinaman” (an unfriendly term for “Chinese” prevalent in his days) and the Chinese civilization? On this subject our knowledge about him is no less meager than his about us.


But, frankly, the impression of my first reading Process and Reality in my graduate days is dramatic -- to myself at least: It seems as if I were listening to a great Chinese mind speaking perfect Victorian English, characterized by elegance, precision and “vivid expression? If any of my Western friends complains about Whitehead as hard reading, my joking but natural response is: “My good friend, you need to read Whitehead with a Chinese eye, a Chinese heart-mind (soul), or to get yourself a pair of Chinese eyeglasses!”


The following information data, meager as they may sound to be, would help highlight the few sample points for our present discussion:


(a) “The more we know of Chinese art, of Chinese literature, and of the Chinese philosophy of life, the more we admire the heights to which that civilization attained. Having regard to the span of time, and to the population concerned, China forms the largest volume of civilization which the world has seen.”[1]


Comment: Great modesty combined with great perspicuity. A self-revelatory confession about one's own limitation of knowledge concerned: Obviously he wishes to know more of China and her civilization.


(b) “In this [ultimate] general position the philosophy of organism seems to approximate more to some strains of Indian, or Chinese, thought, than to western Asiatic, or European thought. One side makes process ultimate; the other side makes fact ultimate.”[2]


Comment: A Manifesto of Process Thought in a Global Perspective.


 (c) Of such supreme masters of thought as Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, etc, Whitehead remarks that “Ultimately nothing rests on authority; the final court of appeal is intrinsic reasonableness.”[3]


Comment: What an unforgivable and unreasonable oversight if this “final court of appeal” is found missing in the Index of Process and Reality?


(d) Towards the end of World War II,  at a NewYork hospital, Whitehead received the visit of Zhang Junmai (1887-1969), a student of Henri Bergson and Rudolf Eucken, an active political figure as Chairman of the Chinese Democratic Socialist Party, commissioned with the task of drawing the Constitution of the Republic of China, finally a leading voice of Neo-Confucianism in contemporary China. China, very good! ... Very reasonable!” thus stammered Whitehead amiably and feebly.[4]


Comment: Can there be any higher tribute to China than this one uttered from the lips of Whitehead (of course not lip-sevice)! How many modern Chinese have the same perspicuity?

(e) According to Joseph Needham, “Whitehead’s philosophy of organism may be traced back to Taoist Zhuangzi--through Leibniz’s Monadology, deriving from Leibniz’s study of the first Latin translation of Taoist literature.”[5]           .


Comment: An ingenious inference based on reasonable belief! .


(f) On the Chinese classic tradition, according to He Lin (formerly Chairman of Philosophy Department, Beijing University), Whitehead openly declares: “The wondrous way of Heaven as embodied in Chinese philosophy has already been incorporated into my own works.”[6]


Comment: Thus the issue at hand is settled at one stroke, so to speak!


Of all the citations listed above, we find He Lin’s testimony the most convincing. Whitehead’s affinity with Chinese thought has proved to be not a matter of mere coincidence. No less deeply impressed was He Lin with Whitehead’s sound view towards history and tradition:


To the question he raised on the study of histories of philosophy, Whitehead replied: “For a student of philosophy, the study of histories of philosophy is indispensable. I myself often talk about Plato and Kant, and I often read their works. But, mind you, under no circumstances shall we be bound by tradition, so as to allow our own thinking today be dominated by the old sayings of those ancients, ages ago.”[7]


Further, as we have learned from Thomé H. Fang, during Whitehead’s ten years tenure as professor of mathematical physics at London University, for approximately a period of ten years until his departure for Harvard in 1924-25, he had purchased a large number of classic works on religions of China and Indian, and read them voraciously.[8]  As the proverb goes, we can tell a person by the friends he keeps, as by the books he reads; moreover, as Fang adds, by the way he uses his money. Whitehead is likened to Sudhana (“a character of all-around capabilities”) in the Avatamsaka S­­utra, of whom Fang speaks highly as typical of what we term “value-orientation” and “value­-realization”  For both have exemplified the true spirit of adventure as “search for perfections”­ by visiting and consulting 53 men of great learning in various worlds for Sudhana; and by crossing various fields from mathematics, to logic, science, arts, philosophy, and religion, and calling for integration of all isolated systems of thought into a consummate unification under the Vision of the Whole for Whitehead.



II.        Thomé H. Fang and Whitehead: Twin Pillars of Process Thought East and West


Whitehead has taught only a handful of Chinese students at Harvard in the 30s: such as Xie Youwei, Shen Youding, He Lin, Wing-tsit Chan; Fang was not one among them; for he had returned from US back to China in 1924 -­subsequently after he had graduated from University of Wisconsin at Madison -- just before Whitehead’s arrival at Harvard in 1925. Paradoxically, it is this brilliant young Ph. D. at the age of 25, one whom Whitehead had never taught nor met in his life time, yet who, as one of his sincere admirers and appreciators in the East, is able to stand upon his shoulders, by demonstrating a splendid grasp of the great Whiteheadian philosophico-religious insights and visions and applying the elegance and precision of the Whiteheadian language to accomplish a Herculean task:  Early in 1939, at Chung King -- the war time capital of China -- Fang received the formal visit by Dr. Servapelli Radharkrishnan, heading the Indian Delegation of Culture and Education, and accepted the latter’s most friendly challenge, and invitation as well, to play the same role for China as he did for India: by serving as spokesman for the philosophical and cultural heritage of their nation, respectively.


In his Preface to The Chinese View of Life (echoing The Hindu View of Life of Radharkrishnan and The Greek of Life of Lowes Dickinson), Fang explicitly acknowledges:


“In some places I have intentionally adopted a language which sound somewhat like that of H. Bergson, Lloyd Morgan and A. N. Whitehead who, if coming into closer contact with ‘that large volume of civilization’ in China, might breathe creative life into the same utterance.”[9]


            ”Philosophy’ is an attempt to express the infinity of the universe in terms of the limitations of language.”[10]  So deeply and proudly sighs Whitehead. “The real difference between languages,” remarks emphatically Ernst Cassirer, “is not a difference of sounds or signs but one of ‘world perspectives’ (Weltansichten)[11]


For philosophical expression the choice of language is of decisive importance. Fang’s intentional adoption of a Whiteheadian language, both for adequate expression of Chinese and Buddhist views as well, is a wise choice well grounded on such an awareness: The Chinese-Whiteheadian affinity, if thought through, is more an affinity in world perspectives than one in “sounds or signs.”


As shown in Fang’s first book Science, Philosophy ‘and the Significance of Life (1927, 1936), he seems to have fully endorsed to Whitehead’s broad conception of philosophy: “Philosophy is not one among the sciences with its own little scheme of abstraction which it works away by perfecting and improving. It is the survey of sciences, with the special object of their harmony and of their completion.”[12]


To treat the present subject within the allowed span of time, we shall be content with being able to highlight, however sketchily, the meta-level considerations on the grounds that make possible such a unique phenomenon of the Whiteheadian-Fangian feast, a thought gourmet, a tour de force in 20th century comparative philosophy.


While criticizing John Dewey’s metaphysical position in A History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell becomes better aware of his own position, so much so that he admits, with perfect candor, that the difference between philosophers is fundamentally a matter of temperance towards analysis or synthesis. Russell is analysis-oriented whereas Dewey is synthesis-oriented. As far as his general position is concerned, Fang belongs to the same grand camp as Dewey, Bergson, and Whitehead, surely not without a Neo-Hegelian tincture and tonality. Generally, the distinguishing marks for the synthetic type of minds are (1) the organismic vision of the Whole and (2) the will to unification.[13] But to be added specifically for our present case are (3) the search for Perfection, (4) the drive towards Harmony (“Apratihata” in Sanskrit), and (5) the lure for Beauty, etc. All these can be said to have been derived from a “value-centric outlook” in general, hence a commitment to a value-centric philosophy of Nature (as natura naturans). For Whitehead, “if something exists, it possesses value.”[14] His epigrammatic formula “Good matters because of Beauty” is often cited as the ground to pronounce (inadvisedly) the whole system of his philosophy of organism an aestheticism, mainly because ‘Beauty’ is taken in a too narrow sense. So is the case with Cassirer’s whole system of philosophy of culture being titled “comprehensive aesthetics.” So is the case with Fang with whom some leading contemporary Neo-Confucianists are fond of taking issues on the priority of ethical or aesthetical value, except the late Professor Tang Junyi, one of Fang’s early students, who calls for the consummate state of all values integrated.


III. Process Perspective -- an exception in Western philosophy --proves a rule in Oriental philosophy


In Fang’s 1969 East-West Philosophers’ Conference paper “The Alienation of Man in Religion, Philosophy and Philosophical Anthropology,” he pays such a high tribute to Whitehead as to hail him as an “exception in Western philosophy.” For it is typical of Western philosophers that whenever they speak of Being, they “usually deposit it as something given beforehand”; “There is no genuine becoming in any being which has been laid out beforehand.” Thus, Fang continues:


“The reason for this is that Western ontology has been grounded on a formal logic fixed in formulas of static identity. Plato in later dialogues, especially in The Sophists, Bergson in Creative Evolution, Whitehead in Process and Reality, and Heidegger in Being and Time are exceptions. These exceptions, however, prove the rule which always applies in Oriental philosophy.”[15]


This being the case, there is little wonder that the wondrous way of Heaven as taught in Chinese philosophy finds its parallels in Whitehead’s works, especially Process and Reality, beginning with his process view of Reality, and culminating in his dipolar theory of God as both Primordial and Consequent. Much of his treatment of God and the world, as found in the concluding chapter of Process and Reality, echoes the Confucian Commentary to the Appendices to the Book of Creativity. Since it is a topic which has already been covered in my early work, there is no need to go into any details here.[16]


IV.       Fang and Whitehead: Towering Pre-Existent Postmodernists


The most valuable Whiteheadian legacy is to be found in his formulation of the fallacies committed in Western tradition, some persistent since the time of ancient Greece, some prominent in the last three hundred years: to mention a few: faI1acies of vicious bifurcation of nature, of misplaced concreteness, of axiological neutrality, of simple location, of isolated system, of perfect dictionary, or perfect definition, etc.

In his Preface to Process and Reality Whitehead has listed nine technical fallacies prevalent in 19th century philosophy. They are:(i) distrust of speculative philosophy; (ii) trust in language as adequate expression of proposition; (iii) the mode of philosophical thought which implies, and is implied by, the faculty-psychology; (iv) the subject-predicate form of expression; (v) the sensationalist doctrine of perception; (vi) the doctrine of vacuous actuality; (vii) the Kantian doctrine of the objective world as a theoretical construct from purely subjective experience; (viii) arbitrary deductions in ex absurdo arguments; (ix) belief that logical inconsistencies can indicate anything else than some antecedent errors.


For our present purpose, we wish to point out that Fang has, in the main, endorsed himself almost entirely to the refutation of all these fallacies, of which some prove still dominant in the intellectual climate of our times; nay, some are deeply rooted in our mindsets! The price for certain fallacies is to be paid with human tears and blood, e.g., the fallacy of vicious bifurcation in the form of Arian or non-Arian as a form of racialism so viciously committed under the Nazi rule and Hitler!


Process philosophers of the world, united!

Just as the Vijñ­ana-Vadian Buddhists call for “the successful transformation of consciousness into wisdom,” similarly process philosophers like Fang and Whitehead call for “the successful transcendence beyond fallacies towards wisdom.” The end-results of fallacies spells stupidism par excellence; conjoint efforts are needed to initialize human awareness so as to create a New .Philosophy Towards Wisdom. It is long overdue to declare: “Farewell to Stupidism!”

Of all the fore-mentioned fallacies, it is the one of vicious bifurcation that has impressed Fang most, and of which he has made the most frequent use while criticizing some undesirable portions of Western philosophy. For Fang, another fascinating point of departure for construction of a philosophy proper is Whitehead’s critical refutation of isolated systems, calling for their integration, unification, and completion. Whitehead is heard to have sighed deeply but nobly: “Human beings as we are, we are doomed to play the role of God, as co-worker with the Divine!” To this grand view the Chinese mind is not foreign; for it is found in the Primordial Confucian doctrine of cosmic identification and cosmic participation (參贊化育), the Heavenly work must be done via the human hand instead; we are the junior agents of Heaven (手代天工).


V.         Fang’s Creative Hermeneutics of Chinese Metaphysic and Mahayana Buddhism in Whiteheadian Terms


In the Whiteheadian terminologies Fang seems to have located a sort of linguistic upaya (expedient device) which he has successfully applied to accomplish two Herculean tasks in the world of comparative philosophy. One is his ingenious formulation and interpretation of the metaphysical principles as embodied in The Book of Creativity; the other, his insightful elucidation of the essentials of the Hua Yan (Avatamsaka) philosophy.


All great synthetic minds of the modern time, from Bergson to Dewey and Whitehead, aim to construct an adequate metaphysics. But the point is: what is the adequacy criterion? and even what is metaphysics? For Whitehead. metaphysics (or speculative philosophy, as he calls it) “is the endeavour to frame a coherent, logical, and necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted.” “Metaphysics is the method productive of important knowledge.”[17]


His critic Stephen C. Pepper comments on the requirement for the “logical” as not free from the logician’s bias; but, likewise, he sees in metaphysics an “art of interpretation.” They may differ in their interpretation of “interpretation”! A hint, however, can be found in Whitehead’s view of cosmology as the foundation of religion.  Analogically, metaphysic can be viewed as the foundation of the ways of authentic living as well as of being human. Or, with Husserl, the phenomenological method is meant for conversion and transformation of personality! Instead of “the style is the person,” let us claim “metaphysics is the person.”  By “interpretation” is meant “interpretation in deeds, not merely in words”-- that is, by effecting an actual occasion out of significance.


Next, we consider the adequacy criterion for construction of metaphysics. Modern logicians like Alfred Tarski have laid down a threefold requirement: “coherent, independent, and complete,” The last one was abandoned as a result of the Gödel Theory of Incompleteness. The second is found reflective of a certain atomistic mentality. Comparing and contrasting these relevant views, we may advance a revised definition as follows: “Metaphysics is the endeavor to frame a coherent, interdependent, and open system of general ideas in terms o[which every element of our experience can be interpreted.” This revised modified version proves less controversial, nevertheless. So much for metaphysical and methodologically considerations.


            As.a metaphysics in this revised sense, Fang’s early .formulation in the Whiteheadian language the Chinese position in terms of six principles can be viewed as adequate. They are: (1) Principle of Life; (2) Principle of Love; (3) Principle of Creative Advance; (4) Principle of Primordial Unity; (6) Principle of Equilibrium and Harmony; and (6) Principle of Extensive Connection. Each is further elucidated with a set of explanatory categories.[18]  His later formation is much simpler: ( 1) Principle of Life; (2) Principle of Creative Advance; (3) Principle of Extensive Connection; and (4) Principle of Creative Life as Process of Value-Realization.[19]


The same adequacy criteron applies to Dewey’s metaphysical position. According to Professor Joseph S. Wu, it comprises the following six principles: (1) Principle of Quality; (2) Principle of Continuity; (3) Principle of Interaction; (4) Principle of Relational Outlook; (5) Principle of Genetic Function; and (6) Principle of Emergence of Novelty.


Another great American process philosopher Stephen C. Pepper, founder of contextualism, who aims to refine Dewey and revise Whitehead, applies the Occam’s razor strategy to the formulation of essential principles of contextualism as a world hypothesis in terms of (1) Principle of Change and Novelty; and (2) Principle of Quality and Context! Even just the principle of Quality and Context would do. That is all! For Pepper, the simpler the better!


VI.       Fang, Hua Yan, and Whitehead -- Enlightening Lessons


The first thing a student of comparative philosophy should always bear in mind is that comparison itself is aimed as a method of discovery, and comparative study is not a matter of parallels hunting, as playing the majiang-games. Metaphysics should be best approached not as a set of doctrines of this or that form of isms, rather it should be pursued as a method and, as Whitehead recommends emphatically, “a method productive of important knowledge.” This being the case with metaphysics, how much more so with comparative metaphysics? In comparative studies of any field, due recognition of similarities is not as important as due appreciation of differences. Difference provides contrasts,  and contrasts are indispensable as the “mode of synthesis.” Thus observes Whitehead - rightly.


Take for example the sinicization of Mahayana Buddhism in China. Apart from the Chan tradition, D. T. Suzuki has spoken highly of Zhi Yi and Fa Zang, founders of the Tian Tai and Hua Yan Schools:


Zhi Yi was a great Buddhist philosopher, and Fa Zang was still a greater one. The latter marks the climax of Buddhist thought as it developed in China. Fa Zang’s systematization of ideas expounded in the Buddhist Sutra-group known as the Gandavyuha or Avatamsaka (Kegon in Japanese and Hua Yan in Chinese) is one of the wonderful intellectual achievements performed by the Chinese mind and is of the highest importance to the history of world thought. …


Zhi Yi and Fa Zang are minds of the highest order, not only in China but in the whole world.”[20]


This passage justifies perfectly the claim that, were Buddhism to be put on equal par with the philosophical affinity between the Chinese and Western process positions, it must be made Chinese enough. The phenomenon of the very existence of the Hua Yan and Tian Tai Schools bears the most eloquent witness to the case in question. Even in the words of J. Takakusu, another great Buddhist scholar of Japan, the Hua Yan School is “indeed a glory of the learned achievement of Chinese Buddhism.”[21]

In concluding this section we may add that, by thus sinicizing Buddhism, the Chinese genius has rendered the Mahayana Buddhism all the more Mahayanaic and the Hua Yan School (literally, the “‘Flowery Splendor”) all the more hua yan (splendid), in the sense that it is made closer to the original teachings of the Buddha himself. The Chinese genius of synthesis or creative appropriation has helped consummate Buddhism and has charted out a route to the goal of a world philosophical synthesis at the same time. Perhaps Suzuki may not be fully aware of how right his judgement was when he said that Zhi Yi and Fa Zang were minds of the highest order not only in China but in the whole world. Indeed, they are. Their achievements are of the highest importance to the history of world thought, because they have essentially anticipated by more than a millenium such a great mind in the West as Whitehead, “the culminating unification of the entire Western tradition.”[22] (as hailed by the late professor Albert William Levi.)


The sinicization of Buddhism in China takes a long course of several hundred years, beginning with Hui Yuan of the 6th century, going through Du Shun, and culminating in Zhi Yan, Cheng Guan and Fa Zang of the Tang Dynasty in the 7th to the 11 th century.  Hui Yuan’s epoch-making contribution consists in his advancement of the doctrine of Universal Relational Origination, which Du Shun calls doctrine of Infinite Relational Origination (“wujin yuan i” in Chinese). Du Shun’s crucial importance consists in his great synoptic vision whereby he has succeeded not only in appropriate relegation of the Hua Yan doctrines according to various phases undergone through; but, more significantly, in his being able to sum up the entire Hua Yan philosophy under a few grand principles, particularly, the doctrine of Three Grand Views of (1) the True Void; of (2) the inter-penetration of Reason and Events: and of (3) universal co­-prehension.


The following citation from my early works serves for the purpose of sampling:


This new “doctrine of infinite co-prehension” is the Chinese philosophy of infinitude, originating in I-Ching: the Book of Creativity and developed by Zhuangzi, in Buddhist dress. Du Shun is such a great philosophical mind with synoptic vision that he is able to stand on the shoulders of his precedessors, particularly Hui Yuan. The great significance of his contribution to Chinese Buddhism lies in (a) relegation in proper order of the essentials of various doctrines into a well organized comprehensive system and (b) three grand views of the dharma-dhatu. As regards the former program of proper relegation of.Buddhist doctrines through critical classification, we need only mention that ten tenets are subsumed in a masterful fasion under five principles:24 (1) the existence of dharmas (events) and the non-existence of atman (substantive self-nature), c_rresponding to the teaching of the Hinayana School (which includes six tenets) ; (2) samsara as nTrvana, i. e. , samskrita as asamskrita (process as reality), correspQnding to the fundamental teachings of the Mahayana Schoo_ (3) interpenetrativeness of reason and dharmas (events), corresponding to the consummatory teachings of the’ Mahayana School; (4) transcendence beyond words and contemplation, corresponding to the abrupt teachings of the Chan (Zen) Sect of the Mahayaana School; (5) the Hua Yan samadhi (meditation on the coalescence of subject and object as the consummate_wisdom), corresponding to the round (perfect) teachings of the Mahayana School. Thus it is seen that on the basis of these five categorical principles Du Shun has re legated into proper order all the essentials of Buddhism, both of the Hinayana and the Mahayana Schools, and that the Hua Yan position is characterized by all those “fundamental, abrupt, consummatory, and round, i. e. , perfect” phases of Mahayana Buddhism. In sum, the Hua Yan School represents theoretically the culminating unification of the entire Buddhist tradition.


The true greatness of Du Shun as a chorismatic founder of a new sect in Buddhism lies not so much in his establishment of the Hua Yan School in China that opened up a new path in philosophy and religion as in his being able to formulate synoptically his far reaching insight and great vision into a few key-premises whereby the entire course of the subsequent movement of this school is charted out and its central themes defined accordingly. As J. Takakusu well observed, “The foundation-stone of the Kegon (Hua Yan) doctrine was laid down once for all by the famous Du Shun.”[23] This very foundation-stone is none other than the “three grand views of dharma-dhatu”as Reality­in-hself: namely, (1) the true void as the ultimate reality-in-itself; (2L the interpenetrativeness of reason and events and (3) the dovetailing of all events in theform of comprehensive co-inherence and universal co-prehensions. The subsequent progress of the Hua Yan School consists of further elucidation and elaboration of the insights implied in Du Shun’s three grand views, particularly by his immediate successors, Zhi Yan, Fa Zang, Cheng Guan, and Zong Mi. It is therefore no exaggerating to say that the entire tradition of the Hua Yan system consists of but a series of footnotes to Du Shun, its progenitor, whose towering stature in the world of speculative philosophy remains unsurpassed. As regards the theoretical scheme of the Hua Yan philosophy, such as the doctrine of the fourfold realm of dharmas (events), doctrine of perfect harmony of sixfold characteristics of all events, and the ten tenets on profound mystery (as the subdivisions of the five principles mentioned above), no detailed account will be attempted here. To illustrate the striking similarity between Whitehead and the Hua Yan system, one may take as an example the doctrine of the fourfold realm of dharmas. The whole universe, according to this doctrine, is a fourfold rea.1m of events by virtue of co-inherence and co-­prehension: It involves (a) the differential realm of events; (b) the intergrative realm of reason; (c) the interpenetrative realm of reason and events; and (d) the interlacing realm.


So much for sampling the flavor of Whitehead and the Hua Yan sentiment of life!


VI.              Conclusion & Suggestion


No comparative study on any topic is complete without certain critical reflections. In spite of our great admiration for Whitehead as prophet-type of philosophical mind, he is not free from the critical acumen of his contemporaries. To mention a few: (1) Charles Hartshorne, as he told me in 1978, feels not happy with the platonic ghosts still lingering on Whitehead’s thought in the shape of Eternal Forms; (3) Stephen C. Pepper finds “logical,” as ‘a requirement for any adequate metaphysics, is typical of Whitehead’s logician’s bias (Cf. Pepper, Concept and Quality): (4) Lewis E. Hahn my Dissertation Advisor at SIUC, sharing the same sort of complaints with me, finds Process and Reality “unnecessarily complicated” as a book; and (5) Thomé Fang’s over-all evaluation of the Whitehead phenomenon is expressed not without a touch of regret.         .


Fang recommends the comparative studies on Whitehead and Hua Yan as the most challenging and fruitful. His words sound at once inspiring, methodical, and sagacious:


“Let me suggest you one more subject for studies that will enable you to arrive at important end-results in your future research project. In order to be fruitful, I think, it is the philosophy of organism as developed by Whitehead in the modern times. Make a comparative study of it with the Hua yan Philosophy as developed in China -- in regard to their ontologies, their methodologies, their schemes of general ideas, their categories of thought, and finally their entire systems as a whole. If you can really attain to such end­-results, surely yon can cut yourself a great figure in philosophy.”[24]


Finally, Fang pays his high tribute not without a touch of regret for Whitehead:


“For instance, Whitehead, the best philosophical mind in our modern philosophy, in Process and     Reality, attempts to fully develop the same great vision of “Apratihata” as developed in Hua Yan. Unfortunately Whitehead is unable to read Chinese. Were he able to, and favored with the opportunity to study The Hua Yan S­utra (Avatamsaka), The Hua Yan Grand Views of the Dhamadtu, The Hua Yan Profound Mirror of Reality (Dhamadatu), Searches for the Profundities of the Hua Yan Sutra, Elucidations on the Profundities of the Hua Yan Sutra, Collected Major Commentaries to the Hua Yan Sutra, certainly he would all the more admire the comprehensivity and ultimate wondrous profundities of the Hua Yan perspective. He would of course understand the golden age of the Hua yan Philosophy in China, dating from the 6th century onwards until the 11th century, as anticipating much of the formation of his own philosophical thought by several hundred years, in terms of thoroughness and height.  So amazing that it is simply inconceivable for our modern Westerners.”[25]


But, on the other hand, Fang says, what if Whitehead had mastered Hua Yan, especially Du Shun’s “Three Grand Views of the Dhamadatu,” his Process and Reality would have been cut at least by ha1f!”[26]




[1] Alfred North Whitehead, -- Science and the Modern World (New York: The Free Press 1967), p. 7.


[2] A N. Whitehead, Process and Reality, Critical Edition by David  R, Griffin and Donald W. Sherborne (New York: The Free Press, 1978), p. 7.


[3] Ibid., p. 39.


[4] Cf. Mou Zongsan, The Learning of Authentic Living: Collected Papers (Taipei: San Min Books Co., 1971), p. 47.


[5] Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1969), VoL II, pp. 291-303. Needham is also quite impressed with the philosophy of organicism as developed by Zhuxi (1130-1200) in 12th century China.


[6] Cf. He Lin, Lectures on Contemporary Western Philosophy, p. 104, cited in Wang Sijun and Li sudong, He Lin: A Critical Biography (Nanchang, Jiangxi: Bai Hua Zhou Press, 1995), p. 20-21.  He Lin studied with Whitehead at Harvard in 1929; and often attended the Saturday evening receptions held at the Whitehead’s. Once, he and two other Chinese graduate students, Xie Youwei and Shen Youding, visited their revered mentor.  As he recalls, Whitehead expressed his concern with the situation of philosophy in China then in the late 20s; and his disapproval of men like Hu Shih, the great John Dewey disciple in China, for his uncritically negative attitude towards the Chinese classical tradition:


“Whitehead asked them about the situation in the Chinese philosophical circles, referring to a young scholar (by name ‘Hu Shih’) who came for a visit, not long ago. He found Hu had gone too far in his attitude -- one of wholesale abandonment -- towards the Chinese traditional culture. He was wondering if the Chinese people now are still reading the works of Laozi, and Kongzi (Confucius). For him, as culture has continuity, the establishment of any new culture can not be done by breaking away from the classic tradition.  Moreover, Whitehead told them, the wondrous way of Heaven as embodied in Chinese philosophy has already been incorporated into his own works.”


[7] Ibid.


            [8] Thomé H Fang, Lectures on the Hua Yan Philosophy (Taipei: The Liming Cultural Enterprises, Co., Ltd, revised edition, 2005), Part I, p. 71; old edition, pp. 30-31.


            [9] Thomé H Fang, The Chinese View if Life: The Philosophy if Comprehensive Harmony (Taipei: Linking Publishing Co. Ltd., 1986). P. iii.


[10] Paul A Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy if Alfred North Whitehead (New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 1951), p. 14.


[11] Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1944, 1966). p.120.


[12] A N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, p. 87.


[13] Cf. Ibid., p. 86, for Whitehead’s keen observation on the romantic poet Shelley as “an emphatic witness to a prehensive unification as constituting the very being of nature.” In Chinese philosophical terminology ‘prehensive unification’ is called ‘hushe jiaogan; pangtong tonghui(互攝交感,旁通統貫).


[14] John Goheen, “Whitehead’s Theory of Value” in Paul A Schilpp, op. cit., p. 438.


             [15] Thomé H Fang, Creativity in Man and Nature: A Collection if Philosophical Essays (Taipei: Linking Publishing Co., 1983). P. 85.


[16] Interested readers are therefore referred to my early paper “A Summit Meeting in Metaphysics, Religion and Philosophical Anthropology,” Proceedings of the First International Conference in Sinology, Academia Sinica, 1980, Section of Philosophy and Thought, Vol. II. pp. 117-182; an updated and expanded version (2005) is available on www.Thomé


[17] A N. Whitehead. Process and Reality, p. 3.


[18] Cf. Fang, The Chinese View of Life, pp.


[19] For details consult Thomé H Fang, The Chinese View of Life, pp. 44-52; and Chinese Philosophy: Its Spirit and its Development, pp. 106-112.. It is interesting to note that concise as the later version is, Western readers (e.g., Dr. Lewis E. Hahn) still prefer the early version for a fuller account. Both versions are based on Fang’s short essay “Three Types of Philosophical Wisdom” (1937), of which am English translation is available for participants at this session. See Supplementary Reference Materials, “Why Thomé H Fang?” pp. 60-64.








[24] Fang, Lectures on The Hua Yan Philosophy, old edition, Vol. I, p. 412-3.


[25] Ibid., Vol. II, p. 283.