Chapter 2: Diagram of The Western Inscription

Text of the Western Inscription 51
Comments of Chu Hsi and Others56
T'oegye's Comments57
Confucian Ethics on a New Foundation 59
The Substance of Humanity 60
Weaving a New Cloth of Old Threads 61
Principle as Objective Norm and Subjective Identity 63

The Western Inscription is the work of Chang Tsai (1020-1077), and it stands with the Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate as one of the most fundamental documents of the Neo-Confucian tradition.1 It puts flesh and blood on the bare bones of metaphysics, reflecting upon Heaven and Earth as the common parents of all creatures; stemming from a single common origin, all of creation is therefore a single body, and all people form a single great family. With the Western Inscription the level of discourse shifts from metaphysics to ethics: granted this unity which pervades the cosmos, what does it mean for the way I relate to others? How should I live, and how should I die?

Text of the Western Inscription

Ch'ien [Heaven] is called the father and K'un [Earth] is called the mother. I, this tiny being, am commingled in their midst; therefore what fills up all between Heaven and Earth, that is my body, and that which directs Heaven and Earth is my nature.2

All people are from the same womb as 1, all creatures are my companions. The Great Ruler is the eldest son of my parents, and his great ministers are the household retainers of the eldest son. By honoring those who are advanced in years, I carry out

52               Diagram of the Western Inscription

the respect for age which is due my aged,3 and by kindness to the solitary and weak, I carry out the tender care for the young which should be paid to my young.4 The Sage is at one with the character [of Heaven and Earth],5 and the wise man is of their finest [stuff]. All persons in the world who are exhausted, decrepit, worn out, or ill, or who are brotherless, childless, widowers, or widowed, are my own brothers who have become helpless and have none to whom they can appeal.6

To maintain [our awe of Heaven] at the proper time is to show the respect of a son;7 to feel joy [in what Heaven allots] without anxiety is to exemplify filial piety in its purity.8 Deviation from [the will of Heaven] is called a "perverse disposition";9 doing injury to humanity (jen) is called "villainous."10 One who promotes evil is lacking in [moral] capacity;11 he who fulfills his bodily design [by doing good] resembles [his parents, Heaven and Earth].12 Understanding the transformations [of the universe] is being skillful in carrying forward [one's parents'] activities; plumbing the spiritual exhaustively is being good at perpetuating their intentions.13 He who even in the recesses of his house does nothing shameful will bring no shame;14 he who is mindful and fosters his nature will not be negligent.15

Through disliking fine wine, the son of the Earl of Ch'ung [i.e., the sage, Yu] looked after the nurture [of his parents];16 through his development of the fine talents of others, the frontier guardian at Ying extended [his filial piety] to others of his kind.17 It was the merit of Shun that by being unceasing in his exhausting labors, he caused his father to find delight [in what was good]18 it was the reverence of Shen-sheng that caused him to await death without attempting to flee.19 Shen [i.e., Tseng Tzu] was one who, having received his body intact from his parents, returned it intact at death.20 Po-ch'i fearlessly obeyed and conformed to the commands [of his parents].21

Wealth, honor, good fortune, and abundance have as their aim the enrichment of our lives. Poverty, meanness, grief,

56              Diagram of the Western Inscription

and sorrow serve to discipline us so as to make us complete.22 In life I shall serve [my parents, Heaven and Earth] compliantly and in death I shall be at peace.

Comments of Chu Hsi and Others on the Western


Master Chu says: "Ch'eng I regarded the Western Inscription as clarifying the fact that principle (li) is one but its manifestations are diverse.23 That is, as for regarding Ch'ien as father and K'un as mother, among living beings there are none of which this is not so; this is what is meant by saying that principle is one. But among men and other living creatures which have blood in their veins, each has [particular] affection for its own parents, each treats its offspring as its own; thus how can the distinct manifestations but be diverse! [If one sees that] there is a single, comprehensive unity but with ten thousand diversities, then although the world be as a single family and China as a single person, one will not fall into the mistake of [Mo Tzu's doctrine] of universal, egalitarian love.24 [If one realizes that] there are ten thousand diversities, but a single unity runs throughout, then although there are distinctions of feelings according to the proximity or distance of relationships and the noble and the base belong to distinct levels, one will not be bound up in the selfishness of acting only for self-interest. This is the main idea of the Western Inscription.

[Chang Tsai] analogically extends the closeness of the affectionate relationship one has with one's parents [to the universe] in order to show the great compass of the impartiality of the selfless person; he takes the sincerity of one's service to one's parents as a basis for clarifying the Tao of serving Heaven. Reflecting on this, [one sees that] there is no aspect of it that

Diagram of the Western Inscription                     57

cannot be characterized as distinctions standing established, while the pervasive unity of principle extends throughout. 25

[Chu Hsi] also says, "The first half of the Western Inscription is like a chess board; the second half is like actually playing the game.26

Yang Kuei-shan27 says: "The Western Inscription [explains how] principle is one but its manifestations are diverse. It is by understanding that principle is one that one practices humanity; it is by understanding that its manifestations are diverse that one practices righteousness. As Mencius says, `Be affectionate to your parents and humane to the people; be humane to the people and value other creatures': 28 the diverse manifestations are not the same, and therefore the [kind of love] one shows cannot but have different levels."29

Yao Shuang-feng30 says: "The first half of the Western Inscription explains how man is the son of Heaven and Earth; the second half speaks of how man's service to Heaven and Earth should be like that of a son to his parents.31

T'oegye's Comments

The above inscription is the work of Master Chang Heng-ch'ü [Tsai]. At first it was entitled "Correcting Obstinacy"; Master Ch'eng [I] changed it to "Western Inscription." Ch'eng Lin-yin32 made this diagram of it. For the learning of the sages consists in the seeking of humanity. It is necessary to deeply inculcate in oneself the intention [of becoming humane], and then understand that one makes up a single body with Heaven and Earth and the myriad creatures. To truly and actually live this way is what is involved in becoming humane. One must personally get a taste [of this experience]; then he will be rid of the problem [of thinking that] it is something so vast as to be

58              Diagram of the Western Inscription

unobtainable and also will be free from the mistaken notion that

other things are identical with himself, and the inner dispositions

of his mind and heart will thus become perfect and complete. Thus Master Ch'eng says, "The meaning of the Western Inscription is exceedingly perfect and complete; it is the substance of humanity."33 And again, "When one has fully attained to this, he will be a sage."34

Diagram of the Western Inscription                 59


Confucian Ethics on a New Foundation

The Confucian tradition had always made human relationships its central concern, focusing its attention particularly upon government and family as the principal forms of human interrelatedness. The family in particular provided the paradigm for proper relationships and served as a model for government. The virtue of filial piety, the norm for the relationship of children to parents, stood at the heart of this ethics; one schooled in an affectionate and attentive relationship to parents could be expected to transfer these attitudes appropriately to other forms of relationships in society and thus become a person of jen, humanity (often translated as "love" or "benevolence"), the crowning virtue of the Confucian tradition that expressed the essence of all properly human relationships.

In the two short sentences with which the Inscription begins, Chang Tsai casts the emergent Neo-Confucian metaphysics in a form which relates directly to this ethical tradition, catching it up and reestablishing it for the first time on a cosmic level. This not only creates a new philosophical grounding for Confucian ethics, but transforms them by opening up a vision of a unity among humans and also among all creatures of a sort that the earlier tradition had granted only to the members of a single family, a single body made up of those who share the same flesh and blood. The one-body concept-it is much more than a metaphor-subsequently came to occupy an important place in Neo-Confucian thought.

The conceptualization of all creatures as forming one body stemming from a single shared origin is a powerful foundation for attitudes of selfless affection for others and identification with their well-being, i.e., humanity (jen). But it entails the danger of slipping into the kind of undifferentiated, universal love advocated by MO Tzu; this was anathema to Confucians, who were much concerned with

60              Diagram of the Western Inscription

the appropriate differentiation of love according to the different kinds and degrees of human relationships. Such fears were voiced by Yang Shih (1053-1135), a principal disciple of the Ch'eng brothers. Ch'eng I decisively settled this problem by applying a crucially important dictum to the Western Inscription: it is, he responded to Yang, a perfect expression of how "Principle is one but its manifestations are diverse."35 This dictum plays a central role in both the interpretive framework of the diagram of the Inscription and in the comments which T'oegye has drawn from various sources. While unity is indeed the central theme of the Western Inscription, looked at in this framework, one sees that differences are indeed also expressed. The Confucian doctrine of graded love, even in the new ambience, is preserved.

Although Chang Tsai's own philosophy was a monism of material force, his essential insight was successfully translated unto the language of the philosophy of principle elaborated by the Ch'engs and completed by Chu Hsi. "Principle is one but its manifestations are diverse," is both metaphysical and ethical and could be applied to the Supreme Ultimate as well as to this work. In Neo-Confucian thought a metaphysically grounded ethics and an ethically significant metaphysics make up a single discourse with a shared terminology. There is in fact a close relationship between the metaphysical concern to maintain a realistic pluralism with a monistic basis, and the ethical concern to maintain appropriately differentiated forms within an all-encompassing love. The dual applicability of Ch'eng I's dictum is an apt reflection of this mutual articulation.

The Substance of Humanity

The root of all evil in Confucian ethics is self-centeredness or selfish desires that cause disorder and disruption in the interrelated human community. The opposite of selfishness is jen, variously translated as "humanity," "love," or "benevolence"; in effect it is a matter of treating others with the care and concern with which we treat ourselves. The Western Inscription is considered a breakthrough

Diagram of the Western Inscription                   61

expression of the "substance of jen" because it exposes the ultimate metaphysical grounds of the human condition which make selfishness a basic misapprehension of the nature of one's existence by showing that humanity (jen) is a reflection of a universe which is truly united as a single body. This is clear in the following passage, in which T'oegye discusses the meaning of the original name of the Western Inscription, "Ting wan (Correcting Obstinacy)":

Ting means "to discuss"; it also has the meaning of settling and setting aright errors and mistakes. Wan [meaning "wicked" or "obstinate"] is the term for being not humane. [The mind of] one who is not humane is obscured and blocked up by selfish desire; he does not know the connection between himself and others or understand how to extend [to others] his mind's [innate] disposition to commiseration.36 His mind is obstinate, like a rock, and so [Chang Tsai] termed it "obstinacy" [in his title]. For Heng-ch'ii [Chang Tsai] in this inscription repeatedly reasons out and clarifies how the principle shared by oneself, Heaven and Earth, and all creatures is fundamentally one. He formulates the substance of humanity in order to break down the selfishness of the self, expand on the impartiality of selflessness, and make the stone-like, obstinate mind-and-heart dissolve and fuse with no separation between the self and others, allowing no place for the least bit of self-centered intentions between them. One can thus see that Heaven and Earth are as a single family, the whole nation as a single person, and that the suffering and distress [of others] is truly that of one's own person; [understanding this] one attains the Tao of humanity. Therefore he named [this inscription] "Correcting Obstinacy," meaning it corrects the obstinacy [of self-centeredness] and makes one truly human. (A, 7.49a-b, p. 218)

Weaving a New Cloth of Old Threads

As the multiplicity of the footnotes makes clear, the Western Inscription is a tissue of quotations from classical sources. Chang Tsai's use of these materials is a more potent tool for the transposition of the old tradition to a new key than any exposition in his own words could have been. T'oegye describes how one is to approach this work:

62          Diagram of the Western Inscription

Master Chu characterized this work as being entirely composed from the sayings of the ancients..37 In reading it, one must for every phrase investigate whence it comes, and after considering its basic meaning in its original context, move [to consider its meaning] in the context of this work; then one will recognize the inexhaustible subtlety of Heng-ch'ii's use of words and phrases. Only when both of these are evident will one be able to catch the drift [of his meaning]. (A, 7.51b, p. 219)

The basic shift, of course, is the transposition of the filial piety tradition to a cosmic context. The second part of the Inscription in particular weaves together cosmological references from such works as the Book of Changes with well-known passages dealing with filial piety. The modern reader can easily get the basic meaning, but it is difficult to recapture the original savor of Chang's suggestive juxtaposition of phrases that had deep meaning and broad connotations for his Confucian readers. A good example of this is T'oegye's comment on "Understanding the transformations [of the universe] is being skillful in carrying forward [one's parents'] activities; plumbing the spiritual exhaustively is being good at perpetuating their intentions":

The Book of Changes, in the Appended Remarks [pt. 2, ch. 3] says, "Plumbing the spiritual exhaustively and understanding the transformations [of the universe] is the fullness of virtue." The Doctrine of the Mean [ch. 19] says, "Filial piety is being good at perpetuating others' intentions and being skillful in carrying forward others' activities." The Doctrine of the Mean, in speaking of "others," meant to refer to one's parents, but [Chang Tsai] has here changed these words so that, although the saying still refers to parents, the referent is Heaven [rather than human parents]. His meaning here is profound and marvelous! (A, 7.55b, p. 221)

The Western Inscription, elegant, inspirational, and endlessly suggestive, occupies a permanent place as one of the most fundamental expressions of Neo-Confucian ethics. But the impact of the new metaphysics instigated a further, many-faceted exploration of the cosmic significance of jen. This led to developments only foreshadowed here; we will see the culmination of this development when we take up Chu Hsi's Treatise on Jen in the seventh chapter.

Diagram of the Western Inscription                 63

Principle as Objective Norm and Subjective Identity

Principle, or, in more traditional terms, the Tao, serves as the objective norm of the way things should be, and as we have seen in the Western Inscription, the unity of principle establishes an objective, cosmic ground for an ethics of selflessness in human relationships. But T'oegye notes that the Inscription should not be read in a merely objective, non-personal sense:

[Chang Tsai] employs the terms people use to refer to their own persons; all who read this work should consider these ten [first person pronouns] not as references to the self of Heng-ch'ii, nor put them off as referring to the self of others: they must all be seen as indications of one's personal responsibility for what is one's own affair. Only then will one be able to grasp how the Western Inscription is fundamentally a formulation of the substance of humanity .... Heng-ch'ii also regards humanity as something that, although [it means] being as one body with Heaven and Earth and all creatures, must nevertheless first come from the self as its fundamental source and master; one must attain a personal realization of the interrelatedness of the self and others in the unity of principle. When the disposition of commiseration which fills the heart penetratingly flows forth, unblocked by anything and with nothing which it does not encompass, then this finally is the true substance of humanity. If one does not understand this principle and just broadly considers humanity as a matter of Heaven and Earth and all creatures being as a single body, then what is called the substance of humanity will be something vast and distant; what connection will there be with one's own body and mind! (A, 7.50a-b, p. 218)

There is a world of difference between looking at principle as something objective, "out there," and realizing that it is actually the substance of one's own being, the heart of one's own identity.38  The first section of the Western Inscription brings this out naturally because filial piety is fundamentally based in the question of a proper understanding of one's own identity.38 But systematically it is broadly founded on the metaphysics of principle, which locates principle both in the realm of objective norms and in one's own nature as the substance or basis of personal consciousness and identity. We shall see that T'oegye's

64              Diagram of the Western Inscription

emphasis here on the absolute necessity of a personal grasp and personal experience runs throughout his discussion of study and the investigation of principle. In this framework, understanding the universe and what is proper in the conduct of affairs is also, ultimately and most urgently, a matter of understanding oneself.39


2. Diagram of the Western Inscription

1. On Chang Tsai, see first section of Introduction. The Western Inscription was originally ch. 17 of Chang's Cheng-meng, and was entitled "Correcting Obstinacy" (Ting-wan); Ch'eng I, fearing that this obscure title would cause problems, changed it to "Western Inscription," a reference to the fact that it was inscribed on the western window of Chang's lecture hall. It was included in the second chapter of Chu Hsi's Chin-ssu lu (see Wing Tsit Chan's translation, Reflection of Things at Hand, pp. 76ff. ) and is also presented, along with Chu Hsi's commentary and annotations from other sources, in HLTC, chüan 4. T'oegye's careful phrase-by-phrase analysis of its sources and meaning, the Sŏmyŏng koch'ung kangŭi (Lecture on the Sources of the Western Inscription) appears in TGCS, A, 7.49a-62a; this lecture was originally presented by him from the Classics Mat before king Sŏnjo. His comments indicate that he was using the HLTC material. English translations of the Western Inscription are to be found in Wing Tsit Chan's Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, pp. 497-500, and Derk

228              Notes to pp. 51-52

Bodde, tr., History of Chinese Philosophy, by Feng Yu-lan, vol. 2, pp. 493-495; my own translation is indebted to both.

2. "What fills up all between Heaven and Earth" and "that which directs" are references to Mencius 2A: 2, a famous passage which describes man as possessing a "vast, flowing passion nature" (hao-jan chih ch'i), which, if nurtured on righteousness, fills up all between Heaven and Earth.

3. Reference to Mencius, 4A; 12.

4. Reference to Mencius, IA: 7. T'oegye notes that the pronoun translated by Bodde as "their" should really be understood as "my" and I have followed his interpretation. Cf. TGCS, A, 7.53a, p. 220. "My" young and aged would ordinarily refer to one's family members; here my family is extended to include all persons.

5. Changes, Commentary on Ch'ien hexagram.

6. Reference to Mencius, IA: 5.

7. A combination of references to the Book of Odes (hereafter, Odes), #272 and 244 respectively.

8. A combination of references to Changes, Appended Remarks, pt. 1, ch. 4, and Tso chuan (Tso's Commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals), 1.1.

9. A combination of references to Analects, 4.5, and the Classic of Filial Piety, ch. 9.

10. A combination of references to Analects, 15.9, and Mencius, 3B: 9.

11. Reference to Tso chuan, 6.18.

12. A combination of references to Mencius, 7A: 38, and Mencius, 5A: 6.

13. Each half of this sentence combines references to Changes, Appended Remarks, pt. 2, ch. 3, and Doctrine of the Mean, ch. 19.

14. A combination of references to Odes, #256 and # 196.

15. A combination of references to Mencius, 7A: 1, and Classic of Filial Piety, ch. 4. Mencius, 7A: 1 is a key reference point for Neo-Confucians, for it links Heaven and man's nature and, in the phrase here quoted, sums up the essence of self-cultivation.

16. A combination of references to Mencius, 4B: 20 and 4B: 30.

17. Tso chuan, 1.1. Ying Kao-su, by the example of his own filial piety to his mother, caused Duke Chuang to repent and be reunited with his own mother, whom he had sworn never to see again.

18. Mencius, 4A: 28. According to tradition the father of the sage, Shun, was a depraved villain who repeatedly attempted to kill his son; however, he was finally won over by Shuns constant filial piety.

19. Book of Rites, T'an kung, pt. 1: 3. Shen Sheng, when falsely accused of attempting to poison his father, Duke Hsien of Chin, committed suicide rather than flee.

20. Tseng Tzu was a disciple of Confucius particularly noted for his filial piety. Analects 8.3 tells how on his death bed he called his disciples to view his hands and feet, witnessing that he had fulfilled his filial duty to preserve his body intact. The Classic of Filial Piety, though of later origin, was traditionally attributed to him.

21. Po-ch'i was a prince who accepted his father's expulsion of him even though it was caused by the machinations of a stepmother who wanted him replaced by her own son. Wing Tsit Chan (Reflections, p. 78, n. 221) has traced the story to the annotation of the eulogy at the end of Ch'ien Han shu, ch. 79, where it is referred to the Shuo yüan; he notes that it is not to be found in modem editions of the Shuo yüan.

22. Reference to Odes, # 253.

23. Ch'eng I applied this dictum in answering doubts about the Western Inscription expressed by his pupil, Yang Shih. Cf. below, note 27, and Commentary, "Confucian Ethics on a New Foundation." The correspondence between the two on this question may be found in HLTC, 4.12a-13b. A translation of Ch'eng's letter appears in Chan, Source Book, pp. 550-551.

24. Mo Tzu (fl. 479-438 B.C.) was a philosopher who expounded a doctrine of universal, egalitarian love. His school was one of the chief rivals of the early Confucians, and it was in response to it that Mencius clearly enunciated the Confucian doctrine of graded love. See Mencius, 3B: 9. On Mo Tzu and this doctrine, see Chan, Source Book, pp. 211-217.

25. Chu Hsi's Commentary on the Western Inscription, HLTC, 4.lOb-l la.

26. Ibid., 4. 2 I a.

27. Kuei-shan was the honorific name of Yang Shih (1053-1135), a pupil of the Ch'eng brothers who became a leading Neo-Confucian scholar. T'oegye in his "Sin mu ch'e yong pyŏn" (Discourse Against the Theory That the Mind Does Not Have Substance and Function), TGCS, I, 41.19b, p. 920, criticizes his inclination for lofty and abstruse theorizing.

28. Mencius, 7A: 45. This is the classical locus for the Confucian doctrine of "graded love. "

29. HLTC, 4. l lb. "Righteousness" in a Confucian context is not an abstract virtuousness, but the characteristic of acting in a manner appropriate to the given situation, and hence is correlated with the diversity of principle.

30. Shuang-feng was the honorific name of Yao Lu (fl. 1256), and his courtesy name was Chung-yüan. He' was a leading disciple of Chu Hsi's son-in-law, Huang Kan. An account of him appears in T'oegye's Ihak T'ongnok (Comprehensive Record of Neo-Confucians), 9.40b, TGCS, B, p. 501.

31. HLTC, 4.24a-b.

32. The honorific name of Ch'eng Fu-hsin (1279-1368); his courtesy name was Tzu-hsien. A Yüan dynasty scholar, he was best known for a book of diagrams, the Ssu-shu chang t'u (Diagrams of the Chapters of the Four Books), a work upon which he spent some 13 years, and which T'oegye obtained about 1560. As is clear from comments he makes in chapter 8, T'oegye held Ch'eng in high esteem, and two more of his diagrams appear in chapters 6 and 8. There is an account of him in T'oegye's Ihak T'ongnok, 10.31b-32a, TGCS, B, p. 519.

33. I-shu, 2A, 2a. In the Chin ssu lu, Chu Hsi attributes this saying to Ch'eng Hao (see Chan, Reflections, p. 79).

34. A paraphrase of I-shu, 18. l lb, a saying of Ch'eng I.

35. See above, note 23.

36. Commiseration is the active manifestation of the character of jen, humanity, which Neo-Confucians view as one of the constitutive qualities of man's nature. This is based upon Mencius' famous discussion of the goodness of human nature in terms of the "Four Beginnings," of which commiseration is the first: "The disposition of commiseration is the beginning of humanity" (Mencius, 2A: 6). For a discussion of the Four Beginnings and their relationship to man's nature, see below, chapter 6.

37. Reference to YL, 98.12b.

38. In the Confucian tradition, self-understanding could not be ultimately separated from a consideration of the conditions of one's origin and growth as a human being. One originates as an extension of the existence of one's parents and could not have survived without their care. If one understands oneself in this way, there is no place for a self-enclosed conceptualization of one's existence, as in the modem formula, "I have my own life to lead." Rather, filial obedience and service are founded upon a self-identity which includes one's dependence/interdependence on a transpersonal community participating in and transmitting a single life-force. In this view, "my life," rightly understood, cannot be separated from "our life."

39. This will be taken up with the topic of "the investigation of principle" in chapter 4. In general the question of objective vs. subjective emphasis is a critical issue in Neo-Confucian thought. The school of the Ch'eng brothers and Chu Hsi tries to maintain a delicate balance between the two; its chief rival, the school of Wang Yang-ming (Shou-jen, 1472-1529), which picked up and developed the thought of Chu Hsi's contemporary, Lu Hsiang-shan (Chiu-yüan, 1139-1193), emphasized the subjective side and thus moved in a sharply different direction. T'oegye vigorously opposed this development and wrote several essays in which he was harshly critical of Wang Yang-ming (see TGCS, A, 41.23a-32b