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Can an Understanding of Guodian Manuscripts Help Bridge Divisions in Chinese Buddhism?

2009年03月31日 16:13:00 佛教在线 点击:0

Kenneth W. Holloway(郝乐为)

Assistant Professor of Department of History,
Florida Atlantic University, USA

When Buddhism arrived in China, it was transformed by Chinese culture, and Chinese culture was similarly transformed by Buddhism.  Our ability to understand religion in pre-Buddhist China has been dominated by the study of Religious Daoism, but the problem is that this religion itself was quite new to China in the Han Dynasty.  Previous studies have preferred to focus on ancestor worship, or notions of obviously religious figures such as Shangdi.  Confucian texts and the Dao de jing, have received little attention when isolated from their more explicitly religious counterparts of neo-Confucianism and Religious Daoism.  The discovery of lost bamboo manuscripts at Guodian provides a new opportunity to understand the religious landscape of China prior to Buddhism.

My first book Guodian: Newly Discovered Seeds of China’s Religious and Political Philosophy argues, “The goal of religion in Guodian texts is to propagate a belief in the moral value of harmonious unification.  This unification involves faith that morals have a physical existence in our bodies that is transformative both to our actions and to the actions of those we encounter.”1  In Guodian, this harmony is spread by individuals who embody morality when their words or even appearance touches others.  This propagation was possible because these moral individuals have undergone a physical transformation that produced a voice like a bronze bell, and skin like jade.

As we are now working to heal the disharmony amongst the various sides of Buddhism in our world today, a better understanding of religion in early China could provide a basis for these discussions.  It is hoped that a clearer understanding of religion in pre-Han China can help us better understand the common ground among the various traditions within Chinese Buddhism.

Spreading Harmony

Harmony in Guodian is built by individuals who have succeeded in developing morality within their bodies.  The importance of embodiment is significant since it underscores the individual side of building unity.  The first element necessary for understanding religion in Guodian is to analyze the practices involved in unification.  This understanding is facilitated by the specifically measurable ways in which morality is described as being spread in the texts.  In “The Five Aspects of Conduct,” morality is said to spread from one person to another through either seeing or hearing a noble person.  Becoming a sage, for example is said to involve “hearing the way of the noble man,” which in turn helps you resemble jade.  “Having keen hearing you will hear the way of the noble man; hearing the way of the noble man you will resemble jade sounds; resembling jade sounds you will be formed; being formed you will be ?? 2 sagacious.” 聪,则闻君子道,闻君子道则玉音,玉音则形,形?? 则圣. The process of developing sagacity involves conversion by another individual.  This is significant because when individuals are central to the process of assisting in the transformation of the morals of those he or she encounters, we have a situation that is difficult to distinguish from clergy spreading religion.


1、Kenneth Holloway, Guodian: Newly Discovered Seeds of Chinese Religious and Political Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 12
2、These numbers in black circles represent the ends of the bamboo strips from Guodian.
3、Holloway, Guodian, 133




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