The Philosophy of Comprehensive Harmony as a Spiritual Renaissance
-- Tenor of the Panel Discussion on Thomé H. Fang
【Editor’s Remark: The author, Mr. Shi Baoguo is a Ph. D. Candidate majoring in Chinese Philosophy, at the Anhui University, Anhui, China. Though apparently somewhat overlapping in contents with the “Newsletters #1” included in the same issue, this article more distinctively represents the individual perspective of the author as one of the participants at the ceremony and the panel discussion as well. It highlights the philosophical imports of Master Fang’s philosophy of comprehensive harmony; discusses on the far reaching significances and effects of the establishment of the Institute for Thomé H. Fang Studies at AU; and covers in broad outlines the spiritual essences of consummate synthesis and round-harmony or, simply, comprehensive harmony. In this sense, unlike briefings or reports of any ordinary sort, it exhibits the author’s keen observation, deep concern, and far-sighted outlook as a young aspirant philosopher-scholar. We are pleased to recommend it to our readership. -- Suncrates】
For Master Thomé H. Fang, the concepts of “Creative Creativity” and “Harmony” as embodied in Primordial Confuciansim, Daoism, and Mohism constitute the spirit of the philosophy of comprehensive harmony; and the wholistical unitive and round-harmonious mode of thought for intellectual researches thus opens up a new approach in the field of philosophical investigations. It is then significant for Anhui University to establish such a Institute for Thomé H. Fang Studies in his honor and to call for such a panel discussion on his thought: We believe it will help spread and enhance not only of the Hui-Studies but, more importantly, of Chinese culture as a whole, with a view to building up a great spiritual community for our common homeland.
Philosophy is the cream of
the time-spirit. How to develop the
time-spirit of philosophy to serve the great purpose of social construction and
development, to supply the intellectual resources for the prosperity and
harmony of our time? These are the
imperatives of each and every scholar devoted to philosophy as a career. It is in response to such a call that on
I. Philosophical Imports of “Comprehensiveness” and “Harmony”
Intellectually, Master Fang
has adventured form
Firstly, in regard of the metaphysical features in Chinese philosophy, Fang observes that “The Mohist principle of identifying all purposes of life with the will of Heaven, the Daoist attempt to bring all things within the embrace of Dao, and the Confucian endeavor to subject all the cosmic activities to the originating power of Heaven are different versions of what I have called the principle of comprehensive harmony or the doctrine of sympathetic unity in spirit.” The principle of comprehensive harmony, the principle of extensive connection and consummate unification, as well as the doctrine of all-pervasive unity are all the common characteristics of Chinese philosophy which Fang has experientially grasped from the study of The Zhou Book of Creativity. Divergent in their views on the imports of the focussed “One,” yet distinctive features of Chinese metaphysics are concretely embodied in all these three leading schools of thought.
Secondly, in regard of the moral ideals, Fang observes that the moral ideals of the ancient Chinese philosophers are grounded in the reason of Life. Such moral ideas all start from the Philosophy of Life. Fang maintains, “Morality is the essence of Life inasmuch as it is the concrete embodiment of the values of Life.” Hence, Laozi discusses the values of Life by reference to the origio et fons of Life Itself, thus grasping “morality” (in Chinese, “Dao and Its Powers”) as the unifying thread for all such specific virtues as “benevolence, righteousness, and propriety,” etc. Confucius, Mencius, and all their followers of the Han, Song, and Ming Periods attempt to expound the meaning of “benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom by virtue of Life as the endowment by Heaven.” … More concretely, Mozi approaches to universal love from the vantage-point of what Heaven is desirous after; and to the moral items from the perspective of universal love. His philosophy of human life is surely capable of tracing from the streams to the source, and vice versa. Thus viewed, all the three leading schools of Chinese philosophy – Confucianism, Daoism, and Mohism – approach to morality on the ground of one and the same principle of Life. The sympathy and empathy of Confucius, the compassion and kindness of Laozi, and the love and benefit of Mozi, are but the different names for the same fair measure. In light of the above elucidations we see how Fang succeeds in opening up the aspect of harmony for Confucianism, Daosim, and Mohism by taking Life as the main spring of morality.
Thirdly, in regard of the artistic ideals of the ancient Chinese philosophers, Fang observes that all forms of art originate from an intimate appreciation of the Greatness of Life -- Its Beauty and Its Sublimity. All cultivations for beauty, all achievements in beauty, and all appreciations of beauty are the expressions of the same creative impulse of human Life. Therefore, the Confucians stress on “indulgence in the arts” and “the consummate perfection in unity of good and beauty.” Confucius’ aesthetical impulse as exhibited in his passionate love of poetry and music is solely for the purpose of an intimate experience of the creative Life in the universe. Confucius urges us to sample, by confluence with the cosmic creative Life, the flavor of the Great Peace of the universe as the ultimate goal for our human sympathetic aspirations. Zhuangzi stresses the importance of “grasping the reason of all things on the ground of Cosmic Beauty.” For Fang, “The great beauty of the universe consists in the confluence of universal Life in its continuous process of creation. And the way in which we go home to its depths is to enter into the sympathetic unity in spirit with everything such that man and the universe will be indivisibly one so as to establish the same vital rhythms of perpetual creativity.” In other words, “The beauty of the universe is to be comprised within Life and its exuberant vitality; the beauty of Life is to take shape in the mode of concordant creation.”
Fourthly, in regard of the doctrine of the exalted individual, Fang observes that the universal Life is endowed with the great spiritual Urge towards the state of consummate perfection. Man shall therefore be fully aware that he too has inherited the same spiritual Urge for perpetual self-transcending and self-rectification so as to be enabled to help fulfill the nature of all things. The Confucian sage is one who, after the exaltation of his worlds, shall never forget to spread far and wide the great virtues of Creative Creativity of the universal Life, with a view to helping -- with loving kindness -- the others to transcend themselves. The Daoist sage is one who is richly endowed with the spirit of ethereal flexibility and spontaneous freedom, able to take the realm of non-Being as the fundamentum; yet it is nonetheless imperative that, after attainment to a certain height in the course of self-transcendence, he is not supposed to remain drifting over there for good. Rather, down he must go to save the world! The Daoist sagely character is one who is skillful in “saving man and saving the world as well.” Finally, he comes to actualize the ideal of “Let no one be abandoned! Let nothing be abandoned!” Likewise, all Mahayana Buddhists believe that those of supreme excellence, after the experiential realization of the inward Buddhahood built within, they are not supposed to ignore their supreme commitment to the universal salvation of all beings, sentient and non-sentient alike. Thus we see that in Fang’s eyes, it is always the case for all the schools of Chinese philosophy that “their metaphysical doctrine of Dao as Fundamentum, their moral source and origin, their artistic ideals, or their ideal personalities, are all grounded in the universal Life of the universe, and the harmony of creative creativity is seen to be the intrinsic fundamental characteristics of Chinese philosophy.” In sum, Master Fang’s ideal of comprehensive harmony has concretely and vividly exhibited the imports of the Philosophy of Life characterized in terms of Creative Creativity and Harmony.
II. Significances of the Panel Discussion
Master Thomé H. Fang is a
contemporary Chinese philosopher with international stature and influence. He
was born in Tongcheng (Zongyang),
(1) Master Fang is a native worthy of the
(2) Master Fang is an important symbol for the philosophy
and culture both of the mainland
(3) Master Fang, in his own words, is “a Confucian by family tradition, a Daoist by temperance; a Buddhist by religious inspiration; moreover, … a Westerner by training.” Though the nature of his philosophy can be hardly pinned down or verbally labeled, yet he is nonetheless extremely helpful for the enhancement of Chinese culture so as to build up a spiritual community for our common homeland;
(4) Master Fang has succeeded in effecting an organic
synthesis of the Bergsonian philosophy of Life and the process philosophy -- in
the form of organism -- as embodied in the The
Zhou Book of Creativity, all culminating in his philosophy of Life as
Reality. It stands as an exemplar for the philosophical interflow between
(5) Chinese philosophy emphasize the human spirit as
predominant. A philosophical Renaissance
(6) “Comprehensiveness” and “harmony” are both of cardinal importance in Master Fang’s philosophy of Life as perpetual creation. Hence, the highest philosophical world of vision consists in the reinforcement of human-centric creativity. Thus it is necessary to absorb extensively the miraculous power of creation of the heaven and the transforming power of pro-creation of the earth.
The concept of “Creative Creativity” originates from The Zhou Book of Creativity, such as: “The great virtue means daily renovation”; “Yi means Creative Creativity.” “The great virtue of Heaven and Earth is called Creation.” (cf. The Zhou Book of Creativity, Conspectus.) Here the concept of “Creative Creativity” in the sense of “perpetual creation” signifies a vigorous magnificent Urge of Life –vivacious and incessantly self-creating. In other words, Creativity is the root and core of the universe. The Confucian adherents to the Philosophy of Reason have elaborated and expanded the concept of “Creative Creativity” and have applied this “great virtue of creative creativity” in nature to the realm of human spiritual activities. The “human creativity” is thus transformed into the humanistic concept of “ren” in the sense of “daily renovation” or “perpetual creation,” modeling after the virtue of Qian the Creative. Such a temper of mind is extremely helpful for the implementation of the “harmonious societies” and the “One Harmonious World” echoing the UN call for “peaceful development.”
By establishing his Life-centric ontology, Master Fang has made a great contribution to contemporary Neo-Confucians’ project to “reconstruct the Confucian metaphysics” reflective of their cultural position: “Upholding our traditional values for synthesis with new trends of Western thought” – indeed quite a project rich in contents. The contribution of his thought is observed to be concretely embodied in the following three aspects:
(1) Make a new experimentation with Chinese philosophy in the contemporary contexts by combining the rich legacy of Chinese philosophy with the Western and employing the method of synthetic creation, with a view to reconstructing the tradition of patriotism, culturally speaking;
(2) Adopt an all-embracing and all-impartial attitude and outlook as manifest in equal treatment of all schools of thought. For instance, we may emphasize Confucianism, but not to the exclusion of any other schools. Unlike Fung Yulang who “follows up” the Philosophy of Reason to formulate his New Philosophy of Reason, and unlike Mou Zongsan and Xiong Shili who “follow up” the Philosophy of Mind to formulate their New Philosophy of Mind, istead, Master Fang himself advances his brand new theory sounding in keynote neither Confucian, nor Daoist, nor Buddhist -- as beyond them all; but both Confucian and Daoist and Buddhist -- as embracing them all.
(3) Interfuse philosophical ideas and sentiments with philosophical Reason. Establish the world of comprehensive harmony in metaphysics in contradistinction to the Western antipathetic systems of multi-dualities marked by contradictions and oppositions. Make “comprehensive harmony” shine forth in Chinese philosophy.
Some attending scholars spoke from their twenty years of experiences in studying Master Fang to illustrate the establishment of this Institute and the calling for this panel discussion today as an event with extraordinary significance. Their observations can be chiefly summed up as follows:
(1) The Fang Studies in mainland
(2) In regard of the research contents, there could be divergent points of emphasis. For instance, the phenomenon of Master Fang’s unity of scholarship and personality constitutes itself an excellent theme for in-depth study. So touching and inspiring is his uniquely devotional way of spreading and enhancing the traditional Chinese philosophy and culture. It is deeply comparative in character to use the Western languages as media to expound Chinese thought and metaphysics and their close bearings on the development of the individuals.
(3) Henceforth, on the path of research we have a long way to go. Inasmuch as Master Fang’s thought is of such a massive dimension, it is not an easy task to approach it from the viewpoint of taking “learning as a matter of public instrument.” There might be divergence in understanding, and naturally controversies would ensue.
On the very issue over the classification of Master Fang’s philosophical affiliations, whether as belonging to Neo-Confucianism or Neo-Daoism, basically a consensus is thus reached, that inasmuch as all such labels as “new” or “old” may tend to lead to controversies of parochialism; instead, we should concentrate on the enhancement and development of Master Fang’s philosophical spirit and insights, rather than wasting our time on debating over such insignificant or even trivial issues. It is characteristic of Chinese philosophy that, in sharp contrast to the outward transcending type of metaphysics of the West emphasizing on the conquest of Nature, it exhibits a purely inward transcending type of metaphysics stressing on the fulfillment of nature, human and cosmic. Such a typically Chinese metaphysics, as Fang sees it, shows three common characteristics for various schools of thought: (1) doctrine of pervasive unity (as a unifying thread running throughout all schools of Chinese thought) -- though taken in multifarious significations; (2) doctrine of Dao – a common idiom imbued in each system with richness of difference in meaning; and (3) doctrine of the exalted individuals – emphasizing on the exaltation of the human individual into the ever higher realms of existence various conceived. The Chinese philosophers, though collectively representing a combination of poet-sage-prophet, are intent upon bespeaking themselves as quite uniquely: (a) the Daoist in the capacity of a poet; (b) the Confucian with the charisma of a sage; and (c) the Buddhist in the hope of becoming a prophet. They really belong to different types of man: The Daoist is a typical Space-man; the Confucian is a Time-man; the Buddhist is a Space-man and Time-man with an alternative sense of forgetting; and the Neo-Confucian aims at becoming a concurrent Space-Time man. However different they are in temper, they all tend to take the world as a whole in its ideal regard so as to make it fit in with their ideals of moral edification, aesthetic flight of creative imagination, or the vehement desire for spiritual enlightenment. In order to tackle the problem of historical genesis of Chinese philosophy – especially the primordial Confucianism – in the classical age, Master Fang tries to lay stress upon the states as depicted in The Book of Propriety, the contents of the “Grand Matrix of Ninefold Categories” as embodied in The Book of Ancient History, and the Doctrine of Perpetual Creation as embodied in The Zhou Book of Creativity as fitting in perfectly with the Doctrine of Exalted Individuals.
III. Spiritual Essence of Consummate synthesis and Comprehensive Harmony
It is from the global perspective that Master Fang considers any philosophical problems, there has been no issue on the process of transformation from the West to the East; the relation of East and West should be one of interaction for creative synthesis; both sides should take the approach of comprehensive harmony. It has been said of Fang’s last posthumous work Chinese Philosophy: Its Spirit and Its Development as “the cream of his philosophical writings.” – “grounded in profound experience of life, aimed to explore and expound all the metaphysical subtleties and heights, and embodied in spiritual display and system-building.” “The outcome of a lifetime dedication to conscientious scholarship and ten years of labor of love, a Herculean product of first-rate scholarship and penetrative insight, it stands towering as a monumental masterful exposition of the distilled wisdom of Chinese philosophers since the ancient time. It thus covers a span of four millennia of continuous and spontaneous growth and development -- indeed a long story of spiritual heritage with traceable linkages of transmission, and with myriad streams of thought in substance as skillfully interwoven with contextual lucidity. It abounds in celebrated sagacious thematic sayings in close succession, and in expressly stated claims well justified. The book, as a whole, is so well documented throughout that it remains solid, unshakable, and mountain-firm.”
Also, with respect to the practical application of Fang’s thought, e.g., in ethics and education, it has been pointed out that Master Fang’s concept of “comprehensiveness” generates the theory of continuous education by “placing the cultivation of character as fundamental and putting the needs for teaching and learning on top priority.” His followers’ attempt to solve the problem of conflicts by way of education has already become a working and workable practice. Master Fang’s celebrated disciple Rev. Ching Kung has addressed a series of lectures on “Happiness of Life,” with the view to creating a moral climate of mellowness and simplicity and to augmenting the care and concern for the practice of propriety and its rituals in our conduct of life.
What is meant by the great beauty of the universe? It means the “good” in the assertion “Man is originally good.” It however can be changed into “Man is originally creative.” “The Creative” proves capable of universal application. Make the “pristine, original creativity” approximate the goal set for “exalted individuals.” The statement “An old State as Zhou is, yet its destiny hinges upon daily renovation” in The Book of Odes derives from the same source as the thesis of “creative creativity depending on daily renovation” in The Zhou Book of Creativity. All these great traditional ideas find their points of contact – as resonant -- with the modern calls.
The doctrine of the exalted individual advocates that the world of human Life advances with the magnificent flux and transformation in the mode of perpetual creation as exaltation towards ever higher realms. Such a doctrine is capable of solving the three heavy blows on man since the modern time. These are: (1) The astronomical blow – the heliocentric theory makes man no longer the center of the universe; (2) the biological blow – the ape theory of man’s genesis drags man down from his exalted status as “the paragon of all creatures” to that as “a member of the animal kingdom,” thus man has at once lost all his “human dignities”; (3) the Freudian method of psychoanalysis, or the depth-psychology based on the sex-instinct theory, starts from the subconscious aspect to explain the human instincts and impulses, according to which man becomes the most irrational beast. These three heavy blows have made man feel no longer noble and great, but base and small. We should therefore establish a humanistic height-philosophy (based on a humanistic height-psychology), displaying and developing the “human rational deliberation, rational control, and rational determination in choice makings,”
Some attending scholars discuss on the project of building up the harmonious societies in light of the comprehensive mode of thought in the Hua Yan (Avatamsaka) principle of One-Many Interfusion as Fang interprets. They hold that though equally well versed in the three schools of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, Master Fang is especially fond of the Avatamsaka–Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism. According to him, we may well apply the Hua Yan (Avatamsaka) thought as a guidance for the world. The philosophy of metaphysical Buddhism can be fully applied to the conduct of our daily life, fulfilling the goal set for the pacification of the world by way of the cultivation of character and the governance of the State. To illustrate in concrete terms: (1) After having attained to the stage of Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, the Buddha himself realizes that though all creatures, sentient and insentient alike, are endowed with the Tathagata-Wisdom, yet they are nonetheless filled with illusory ideations; we need therefore education to disperse clean and clear up any such silly attachments and illusions. (2) The doctrine of dharma-datu origination in The Avatamsaka-Sutra is helpful for effecting the harmony of human nature and human soul, by which to advance our current task for building up the “harmonious societies.”
Master Fang is the sixteenth generation descendant of Fang You (1418--1487), Imperial Inspecting General of the Ming Dynasty -- Fang Yizhi, the great Enlightenment philosopher of the later Ming Period, being his fourteenth generation, and Fang Bao, the First Patriarch of the Tongcheng Literary Movement of the Qing Period, being his sixteenth generation ancestral uncle, respectively. He is really a distinguished figure in the history of contemporary Chinese philosophy. He has devoted all his life to the career of intellectual pursuits. Open-mindedly has he synthesized various schools of learning, culminating in perfect blend and fusion of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism, in masterful grasp of the philosophies and cultures of East and West, and in construction of a trenchant and comprehensive thought-system of his own. Besides, he is deservedly hailed as a poet-philosopher of the highest order. The unique charisma of his combined personages of poet and philosopher has cut quite a figure of himself as a splendid vista in contemporary intellectual history.
Today, we are gathering together here celebrating the establishment of the Institute for Thomé H. Fang Studies at the Anhui University of his native place; we believe that by following his great ideal of “comprehensive harmony” and developing its philosophical spirit, surely we will be able to deepen our Fang studies and make great contribution to the development of the enterprise of Chinese philosophy. This Institute has set the following tasks on agenda: (1) recruiting by invitation expertise scholars on Fang Studies--both at home and abroad -- to serve as Fellows; (2) publishing a periodical journal for the Institute, tentatively entitled The Great Fang whose content-selections would be guided by “comprehensive harmony” extending from the studies of Fang’s philosophy and thought to those of other philosophers and thinkers, as well as the related fields of history of philosophy, intellectual history, and comparative culture; (3) collecting by acquisition all Master Fang’s published works -- both at home and abroad -- and actively promoting the publication of his complete works in mainland China; and (4) preparing for the call for a Symposium celebrating on Fang’s 110th Birth Anniversary to be held at the most appropriate timing in the up-coming year 2009, so that all the Great Fang experts can gather together here on our campus, thus enabling the spiritual illumination of philosophy to shine upon ourselves, humankind, all things, the world, and the universe.”
 Cf. Suncrates (George C. H. Sun), Tr., Thomé H. Fang, Chinese Philosophy: Its Spirit and Its Development (
 Jiang Baoguo and Yu Bingyi, A Study of Thomé H. Fang’s Thought (
 Thomé H. Fang, The Chinese Philosophy of Life (Taipei: The Liming Cultural Enterprise, Inc., Ltd., 1982), p. 202.
 Ibid., p. 44.
 Li Chunjuan, “The Theoretical Affiliation of Thomé H.
Fang’s Philosophy,” Nanking University
 Shi Baoguo, “Upholding Our Traditional Values for
Synthesis with New Trends of Western Thought, ” The Light Daily,
 Zhang Yongye, “On Thomé H. Fang’s Chinese Philosophy: Its Spirit and Its Development,” The Anhui Studies of History, 1995, No. 2.
 Suncrates (George C. H. Sun), “Translator’s
Introduction,” Thomé H. Fang, Chinese
Philosophy: Its Spiirit and Its
. Editorial Committee, The Cultural History of