Confucianism and Zen (Ch'an)
Philosophy of Education
By Hsueh-Li Cheng

Journal of Chinese Philosophy
V. 12 (1985)
pp. 197-215

Copyright 1985 by Dialogue Publishing Company

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Many works on Zen (Ch'an) Buddhism have appeared in the West during the past decades. However, few deal with the Zen philosophy of education. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the theoretical foundation of Zen education.

    Confucianism appears to be quite different from Zen Buddhism. In the past Confucian scholars and Buddhist masters had often disputed and argued with each other. When contemporary scholars talk about how Confucianism and Zen might have influenced each other, usually they refer only to the fact that Zen led Confucianism to develop Neo-Confucianism. And when they discuss the relationship between Zen Buddhism and Chinese traditional philosophy, they mention only the great impact of Taoist philosophy upon Zen.

    Those scholars fail to see the extensive influence of classical Confucianism upon Zen Buddhism. Actually, Zen as the Chinese way of Buddhism has assimilated a great number of Confucian philosophical ideas into its teachings and practices. To be sure, there are certain major differences between Confucianism and Zen Buddhism, and Taoism did exercise a large influence upon Zen. But in many ways Zen philosophy is similar to Confucian philosophy, especially with respect to the issues of the basis, nature, value, necessity, method and goal of education. In this paper, I want to show that Confucianism has provided an important philosophical foundation for the formation of Zen instruction.

    Confucius (551-479 B.C.) has been revered as Wan-shih Shih-piao (the teacher of all ages) in China. Indeed, he was the first person in Chinese history to found the private school and to offer an equal opportunity for




education to all people. Mencius (371-289 B.C. ?)is the most eminent interpreter of Confucius' philosophy. He represents the orthodox line of the Confucian school. Historically, Confucius' and Mencius' teachings have been the core of the Confucian movement in Asia. Their views of education have dominated the educational life of Chinese, Korean and Japanese peoples in the past thousand years.

    This paper is designed to display that the educational life of Zen Buddhists has also been influenced by Confucius' and Mencius' viewpoints.[1] The paper will first present the Confucian philosophy of education, its metaphysical and epistemological bases and the chief goals of instruction. How did Confucius and Mencius perceive education, why did they stress its importance, and what role did they think a teacher should play? In what way should students be instructed? Then the paper will expound the Zen philosophy of education. What Confucian ideas might have inspired Zen masters to develop their teachings and practices? Similarities between Zen and Confucian views of education will be examined, and hopefully, the paper will help people have a better understanding of Zen and its relationship to Confucian philosophy.



In ancient China education was available only to the rulers and their sons. Even the nobility might not have privilege to read and study the classics. But Confucius popularized education among men of all classes. When common people came to study with him, he would not reject them. In fact, Confucius liked poor students and often praised their virtues.

    Confucius' view of education is based on the conviction that "man is born with uprightness."[2] Even immoral persons have an upright essence. So, Confucius said, "By nature men are alike."[3] He honored and respected all human beings, and for him all men were able to learn about the good and to do good. Therefore, "In education there should be no class distinction."[4]

    Mencius followed Confucius and held that human nature is originally good. Every person possesses an innate knowledge of the good and the innate ability to do good. For Mencius, all men have a conscience or mind which cannot bear to see the suffering of others. Even an evil person knows




in his heart what good is and may do good. Like Confucius, he maintained that by nature all men are alike, sages and common men essentially the same. A king is said to have sent someone to spy on Mencius to see whether he was really different from others. Mencius said, "How would I be different from others? Yao and Shun (ancient sage-kings) were the same as other men."[5] If one develops his innate good ability, he can be a sage.

    Unfortunately, human beings, Mencius contended, often fail to develop their innate ability. Consequently, they become evil and ignorant. External environment may pollute one's mind and make him evil. Yet Mencius was optimistic about human destiny. He believed that men can overcome external evil influences and restore their original goodness. In order to achieve this, one needs education. Without education men would be as wild as other creatures. But with good education, all men can become sages like Yao and Shun since by nature they are all equally good. "Therefore with proper nourishment and care, everything grows, whereas without proper nourishment and care, everything decays."[6]

    In Confucian philosophy, man is not only ontologically valuable, but also epistemologically important. Confucius said, "It is man that makes Tao great, and not Tao that makes man great."[7] Without man there would be neither education nor knowledge. When Fan Ch'ih asked about the nature of knowledge, Confucius stated, "It is to know man."[8] To be sure, Confucius used the ancient classics as teaching materials, but chiefly he wanted people to study the sages' words to know man.

    Strictly speaking, truth exists not in books but in man, and to know man is to find truth. Mencius said, "All things are already complete in oneself. There is no greater joy than to examine oneself and be sincere."[9] One's mind may be defiled by external evil conditions and innate knowledge may be lost to such an extent that it may take a long time and great effort to overcome. Yet the more life experience one has, the purer one's mind could become and the greater truth one would get. The so-called truth is the outcome of this educative process.

    Today, education is often regarded as the mastery of a skill or trade that will enable one to earn a livelihood. Children are urged to go to school so they can receive knowledge from teachers and prepare themselves for the professional labor market. But for Confucius, man's most important knowledge is of course not knowledge about technology, business or other external




things. True knowledge, in Confucius' view, is self-knowledge. Knowing should be knowing who and what one is. Education is an opening of the mind. Students go to school, in the strict sense, not to receive knowledge or anything at all from teachers, but rather, "The way of great learning consists in illuminating innate virtues."[10] Or as Mencius observed, "The way of learning is none other than finding the lost mind."[11] In The Doctrine of the Mean, we read, "What is Heaven-given is called nature. To follow nature is called Tao. Cultivating Tao is called education."[12]

    Confucian education is a kind of values education, nourishing the personality and character, concerned with the moral and spiritual quality of life. Educated persons know how to develop their higher qualities and abilities, while uneducated persons may just live according to their animal impulses. Good education should start with oneself. For Confucius, those who did not want to learn could not be taught. A teacher can help students overcome evil external negativities, but he cannot give them good nature nor can he force them to learn.

    True education, according to Confucianism, is self-education. "Self-illuminative sincerity is called nature. The self-illumination of sincerity is called education."[13] Although good teachers can provide better instruction than poor teachers, we should ultimately return to ourselves and search within to find Tao, for "Tao cannot be separated from us for a moment. What can be separated from us is not Tao."[14]

    Formal schooling is only a small part of education. The educational enterprise is the process of living from birth to death, not confined to a classroom or school. In fact the home, according to Confucianism, is the more important source of education. When an infant is born his innate ability and knowledge should be nourished and he should be trained as a filial child and as a social being, since good nature is manifested in good relationships with others. The child's dignity or goodness is shown in his filial relationships. More subtly, education is not merely a preparation for life in society, but childhood is itself an important part of life. This is why Mencius claimed, "The great man is one who does not lose his child's heart."[15]

    For Confucius, learning is not just a matter of reading books. He stressed the importance of ssu, thinking. In the Analects, we read, "He who learns but does not think is lost."[16] Mencius had the same viewpoint as he




claimed that in searching for the great Tao or truth, "If one thinks, he will get it. If one does not think, he will not get it."[17]

    To learn with thinking, according to Mencius, is to learn with mind, as "the faculty of mind is thinking."[18] It is this way of learning that makes men great and enables them to find the great Tao. Thinking in Confucianism is not, however, to be identified with abstract speculation nor is it the function solely of our brains. Rather, it belongs as well to the field of our hearts: the term ssu (thinking) is made of t'ien (field) and hsin (heart or mind). It includes the psychological, epistemological and axiological activities of the mind. What the mind likes, according to Mencius, is li (reason) and i (righteousness). To think is to do so reasonably and morally, and it is a common sentiment among human minds. If one studies without using his mind, it would be better for him not to study, and instead go to play. Confucius claimed, "Hard is it to deal with anyone, who will stuff himself with food the whole day, without applying his mind! Are there not gamesters and chess players? To be one of these would still be better."[19]

    The truth and validity of thinking, according to Confucianism, have to be seen, tested, apprehended and appreciated in actual experience. Confucian education equally emphasizes theory and practice. True understanding is obtained through a series of the practical applications. The more one practices, the better the understanding, such that Confucius thought that the older he was, the more practical experience he had, the wiser he was.

    As here implied, verbal transmission of knowledge cannot be the sole method of education, a fact teachers should remember. Thus, "The superior man wants to be slow in word but diligent in action,"[20] and "the superior man is ashamed that his words exceed his deeds."[21] Unlike many Western philosophers, Confucius did not use long and systematic arguments or essays to convince others of his philosophical viewpoints. He usually gave a short statement and let his disciples ponder it and digest its true meaning and implication through their practice. This way of education is well illustrated in the Analects, the collection of Confucius' sayings. The Analects consists of various short discourses and dialogues between Confucius and his disciples. The discourse is designed not to completely explain truths, but to serve as a pointer to guide disciples to the issues and help them to open their own minds. Disciples are often left alone to develop themselves.

    Effective teaching, therefore, lies not so much in conceptual analysis




of verbal arguments as in the personal encounter between a teacher and students. Through the personal relationship a good teacher can read the minds of students and teach them according to their qualities. He would give the students things when they are ready for them and guide them to develop their inner natures. Furthermore, a good educator would not force others to follow him. He would discipline himself before he disciplines others, and teach others by what he does as well as what he says. His own living example should attract students. Confucius compared the art of education is similar to the art of government. "If a ruler sets himself right, he will be followed."[22] Like a good government, a good education would function "as the north polar star, which remains in its place while all the other stars revolve round it."[23]

    As pointed out, education, according to Confucianism, is an opening of one's mind. Yet for Mencius, the mind cannot be re-opened unless the senses are stimulated and the heart shocked by extraordinary events. Hard work, suffering, anxiety and other extraordinary things, Mencius believed, are necessary for developing one's innate ability and quality, which has been lost. The great man is one who has endured suffering and overcome misfortune; no excellence and greatness can be achieved without toil and hard times first.

    Education is viewed as a medicine for curing disease in man's mind, while no medicine can effectively cure disease unless its taste is sour and its effect painful. "If medicine does not make the Patient dazed, it will not cure his disease."[24]

    Thus, in Mencius' understanding, a good education and hard work are often inseparable, and men need occasional pain and extraordinary events to "shock" them back to a normal and healthy state.

    The ultimate objective of Confucian education is to know oneself. Its chief achievement is self-illumination and understanding human nature. In large, the aim is not to give a man a particular skill or profession, but to make him a true man in whatever he does in the world. In Confucianism knowing, being and doing are interrelated: one is or becomes what he knows and does. Goals of discipline were expressed as discovering the lost mind, seeing into one's nature, becoming a man, attaining sagehood, and living a princely way of life.

    A Confucian sage does not avoid the secular world. Sagehood is not the title of a special profession or class. Like others, a sage lives in this world,




but differs from others because he practices jen (humanity), li (propriety) and i (righteousness), and lives the princely or superior way of life within society. In summary, education is to develop a superior man. The superior man can be a family steward, a governor, a teacher, a courtier or a man of any profession.



The Zen Buddhist school was founded in China in the sixth century A.D. long after Confucianism had become orthodox Chinese philosophy and the backbone of Chinese civilization. Zen masters and disciples must have studied and known Confucian teachings, and it seems reasonable that they had consciously or unconsciously assimilated Confucian ideas into Zen Dharma. In particular, the Zen philosophy of education is similar to the Confucian view.


The Basis of Zen Education

    Like Confucianism, Zen Buddhism holds that by nature man is originally sound. It is due to the external environment that he becomes evil. Hui-neng (A.D. 638-713), the sixth patriarch of the Chinese Zen school, told a Zen monk Hui-ming. "See what at this moment thy own original face both look like, which thou hadst even prior to thy own birth."[25] Hui-neng wanted Hui-ming to show the original face before he was born because, according to Zen, originally man's mind is pure. But as soon as man is born, this innocent mind is obscured and lost. The Buddha's Dharma, according to Hui-neng, is the way back to the original state, and he seems to share Mencius' philosophy that "the great man is one who does not lose his child's heart."[26]

    Hui-neng is said to have been poor when he was a young boy. He wanted to receive education from Hung-jen, the fifth patriarch residing at Yellow Plum in Chin-chou. After Hui-neng arrived at Yellow Plum, be asked Hung-jen to accept him as a pupil at the monastery. He was asked where he came from and what be expected to get from the master. Hui-neng said, "I am a commoner from Sun Chow of Canton. I have traveled far to pay




you respect and ask for nothing but Buddhahood." The master rejected him by asking, "You are a native of Canton, a barbarian? How can you expect to be a Buddha?" Hui-neng replied, "Although there are northern men and southern men, north and south make no difference as to their Buddha-nature. A barbarian is different from Your Holiness physically, but there is no difference in our Buddha-nature."[27] Here, Hui-neng seemed to have accepted Confucius' philosophy that "in education there should be no class distinction."[28] Hui-neng's and Confucius' views appear to be based on a similar assumption of equal opportunity. The apparent difference between the two is that Confucius referred to human nature while Hui-neng spoke of Buddha- nature or Buddhahood.

    Like Confucius, Hui-neng popularized [Buddhist] education among men of all regions and classes. And like Mencius, be maintained that one possesses innate ability and innate knowledge from the very beginning. By nature all men are able to learn. If they were not it would make no sense to try to educate them. Both Confucianists and Zen Buddhists call this innate nature hsin (mind or heart). For both, education is impossible without the mind.

    Mencius named this mind liang-hsin (innate mind). It is the most important or precious part of a human being and makes him a true man or superior. Similarly, Zen Buddhists hold that the mind or heart is the most precious part of human life. They often call it Buddha-mind. Thus the bodhisattva is superior to the arhat because the bodhisattva nourishes and possesses Buddha-mind, which cannot bear to see the suffering of others and intends to save or help all sentient beings. This is a superior mind.

    According to Mencius, the mind. which is originally pure, is often underdeveloped or polluted by external evil conditions, and consequently men experience all sorts of evil and suffering in life. But Confucianists are optimistic about the discovery of the originally pure mind. Zen Buddhists hold a similar view of the human condition. The mind is originally pure and yet is clouded, and hence the Tao is lost. Han Shan, a great Zen master of the sixteenth century, stated,

"The first step you should take in Zen work is to forget about all understanding and knowledge and concentrate on one idea. Firmly believe that your self-mind is originally pure and clear,




without the slightest trace of any existence-bright, perfect, and ubiquitous throughout the entire universe."[29]
"Concerning this great matter, the Tao, everyone has possessed it from the beginning. It is always with each of you. The difficulty is that from the very no-beginning-time the Wonderful Illumination has been covered over by seeds of passion, streams of thought, the flow of conceptualization, and deeply rooted habitual thinking. Therefore, we have never been able to grasp the actual realization itself, but instead have wandered among the shadows of delusory thoughts about mind, body, and the world. This is why we have been ever roaming in Sangsara."[30]

Like Confucianism, Zen Buddhists are optimistic about the restoration of the original mind through education, as Han Shan claimed,

"Fortunately, in this incarnation, through the help and instruction of teachers, the Prajna seed within you has had an opportunity to grow. Thus your religious aspirations and your determination have been awakened."[31]

    Knowledge, according to Confucianism, is to know man. Whether one can find truth depends on the mind: "If his mind is upright, the pupil is clear; if it is not upright, the pupil is dull."[32] Zen masters have taken a similar viewpoint, as is illustrated in the story of Fa-t'a, a Zen monk. Fa-t'a is said to have read the Sadharmapundariika Suutra (Lotus of the Good Law Suutra) three thousand times, but still could not understand the Dharma in the scripture. He went to see Hui-neng for instruction. Hui-neng proclaimed, "There is nothing wrong in the Sutra...whether Sutra-reciting will enlighten you or not, or benefit you or not all depends on man...If one's mind is dull, the Lotus Sutra turns him round; if it is clear, one turns round the Sutra.''[33]

    Man or the mind, according to Confucianism, is the source of truths: "All things are already complete in oneself. There is no greater joy than to examine oneself and be sincere."[34] This mystery can hardly be expressed by language; rather, truth has to be appreciated by actual experience in life. Zen also holds that truth does not exist in books, but in the mind. Han




Shan observed, "There is nothing outside the mind, nothing which can be worked upon...Those who determine to practice the Dharma should believe firmly the teaching of Mind-only. Buddha said, 'All the Three Kingdoms are mind, all ten thousand Dharma are conscious.' All Buddhism is nothing but an exposition of this sentence."[35] Like the Confucian superior man who "wants to be slow in word but diligent in action,"[36] Zen masters are slow to speak and urge their disciples to "go and wash your dishes."[37]


The Nature of Zen Education and the Role of Zen Masters

Like Confucianism, Zen holds that education is an opening of the mind. Teaching is not to give new information but to remind oneself and others of the knowledge within. A master's role is not to force disciples to receive; instead, it is to know when the opening will occur and how to bring it about from his own experience.

    This view of Zen education is well illustrated in the story about a great master, 'T'zu-ming (986-1040), and his disciple K'e-chen. Once K'e-chen came to see T'zu-ming for instruction. The master asked, "What is the fundamental principle of Buddhism?" Answered the disciple:

"No clouds are gathering over the mountain peaks,
And how serenely the moon is reflected on the waves!"

    T'zu-ming appeared to be angry and shouted, "Shame on you! To have such a view for an old-seasoned man like you! How can you expect to be delivered from birth-and-death?" The disciple was frightened and asked for more instruction. T'zu-ming said, ''You ask me." So the disciple repeated the same question, "What is the fundamental principle of Buddhism?" The master stated,

"No clouds are gathering over the mountain peaks,
And how serenely the moon is reflected on the waves!"

    The disciple's mind is said to have been immediately open. In Zen, nothing new is given, and yet a new person is born.[38]

    Zen learning is a process of changing a person. It is discovering an




original ability or quality which has been forgotten or lost. Its outcome is a new viewpoint of the same old things. This mode of learning was well expressed by Zen master Ch'ing-yuan (?-A.D. 740) as follows:[39]

"Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it is just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters."[40]

    Traditionally, both Zen and Confucian disciples have honored and respected the authority of teachers. They believe that good teachers indeed produce good students, yet both Zen and Confucianism hold that education should start with oneself. In order to have effective and successful instruction, one should be eager and determined to learn. A monk Shen-kuang visited Bodhidharma (A.D. 470-543), the first patriarch of Chinese Zen Buddhism, and asked the master to teach and enlighten him. But the master paid no attention. Shen-kuang was not disappointed, for he seemed to agree with Confucius' saying that those who are not eager to learn cannot be taught. He continued to show his eagerness and determination by standing in the midst of the snow. Gradually the snow buried him to his knees. The master finally paid attention and talked with him, but still did not accept him. Shen-kuang did not give up his desire for instruction. He is alleged to cut off his left arm with a sword and presented it to the master. In this way Shen-kuang showed his eagerness to be instructed and at last convinced Bodhidharma who we may say, seemed to act in accordance with the Confucian principle that "I do not enlighten those who are not eager to learn."[41] Like a Confucian disciple, Shen-kuang believed that the mind is what needs to be purified, and told the master, "My mind is not yet pacified. Pray, master, pacify it." The master said, "Bring your mind here, and I will have it pacified." Shen-kuang hesitated for a moment and told his master that he had searched for the mind but could not find it. As a good teacher, Bodhidharma caught this crucial moment and declared, "There! It is pacified once for all." Shen-kuang was enlightened at once and later changed his name




to Hui-k'e. Eventually he became the second patriarch.[42]

    For Confucianism, formal schooling is only a small part of education, and the educational enterprise involves one's whole life. Similarly Zen holds that learning can take place in every aspect of one's life. Truth is found not only in meditation hall or lecture room, but rather is better found in the round of daily life. Unlike Indian Buddhists, Zen Buddhists do not search for truth in the midst of logical arguments or systematic essays. They are as pragmatic and practical as Confucianists. Tao is to be found in concrete experience. So Nan-ch'uan (748-834), a great Zen master, said, "Everyday-mindedness is Tao."[43] The expression is found in this poem:

"Drinking tea, eating rice,
I pass my time as it comes;
Looking down at the stream,
Looking up at the mountain,
How serene and relaxed I feel indeed."[44]


The Method of Zen Education

    Perhaps the most challenging and incomprehensible aspect of Zen education is that Zen masters often deliberately gave disciples a hard time. Zen writings abound with stories of beating, kicking and shouting at disciples. Here are few instances:

1.    A monk asked Ma-tsu (707-786), a great Zen master during the third generation after Hui-neng, "What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the West?" Ma-tsu said, "Bow down to me, first." As the monk was bowing down, the master gave him a vigorous kick in the chest. The monk was at once enlightened. He stood up, clapped his hands, and, laughing loudly, cried, "Oh, how wonderful this is, how marvellous this is! Hundreds and thousands of Samadhis and infinite wonders of the Truth are are now easily realized on the tip of a single hair!" The monk later told others, "Since I received that kick from Ma-tsu, I have always been cheerful and laughing."[45]




2.    Once Huang-po (died 850) paid reverence to the Buddha in the sanctuary. A disciple asked him, "When Zen says not to seek it through the Buddha, nor through the Dharma, nor through the Sangha, why do you bow to the Buddha as if wishing to get something by this pious act?" "I do not seek it," replied the master, "through the Buddha, nor through the Dharma, nor through the Sangha; I just go on doing this act of piety to the Buddha." The disciple grunted, "What is the use, anyway of looking so sanctimonious?" The master gave him a slap in the face, whereupon the disciple said, "How rude you are!" "Do you know where you are," exclaimed the master; "here I have no time to consider for your sake what rudeness or politeness means." With this another slap was given.[46]

3. Lin-chi (died at 867) had already spent three years in the monastery of the famous Huang-po. But he had never had a chance to talk with the master. One day he was encouraged by the chief monk to see the master. Lin-chi asked, "What is the gist of Buddhism?" As soon as he spoke, the master gave him twenty blows of the stick. In sorrow he returned to the chief monk. The later encouraged him to see the master again. Lin-chi went back to ask the same question two more times. But each time he received twenty blows of the stick. Lin-chi was perplexed and decided to leave the monastery. Huang-po told him to see the Zen master Ta-yu. Lin-chi asked Ta-yu for what mistakes he had deserved severe beatings from Huang-po. Ta-yu said, "Huang-po is kind, like a mother...How stupid of you to come here and ask me these silly questions!" Then Lin-chi was awakened."[47]

    Zen masters' instructions here appear to be an unorthodox discipline. By what philosophical ideas did they develop these methods of education? It




seems to me that their "unorthodox" methods may have developed from or been related to "orthodox" Confucian philosophy. As we have seen, according to Mencius, the mind is often so polluted that extraordinary means are necessary to purify and discover it. No excellence and greatness can be achieved without toil and hard times first. Zen masters seem to share his thesis that "men for the most part err, and are afterwards able to reform. They are distressed in mind and perplexed in their thoughts, and then they arise to vigorous reformation."[48] So, the Zen masters deliberately perplexed disciples by taking these methods they intended to "stimulate the minds"[49] of disciples and "harden their nature"[50] so as to enlighten them and make them great Zen Buddhists.

    Mencius saw education is a medicine for curing disease in the mind and thought that "if medicine does not make the patient dazed, it will not cure his disease."[51] Zen Buddhists seem to agree. After Lin-chi had twenty blows of the stick from Huang-po three times, Ta-yu told him, "Huang-po is kind, like a mother...How stupid of you to come here and ask me these silly questions!" And we see why the disciple of Ma-tsu proclaimed, "Since I received.

    Zen education, like Confucian education, is the equal emphasis of theory and practice. Knowledge is to be obtained not merely by reading books or scriptures; it has to be learned through practice. Hui-neng told Fa-t'a. "he who recites the Sutra with the tongue and puts its teaching into actual practice with his mind 'turns round' the Sutra. He who recites it without putting it into practice is 'turned round' by the Sutra."[52] Practice here refers neither to the performance of religious rituals nor to the observance of spiritual asceticism. It rather means working in our daily life.

    The master Pai-chang (749-814) asked all monks to obey the rule of "a day without work-a day without eating."[53] The reasons why Zen Buddhists value the importance of rice-planting, farming, wood-cutting and other manual work are not only economical and ethical, but also metaphysical and epistemological. Metaphysically, work can stimulate one's nature and save him from mental inactivity. Epistemologically, truth must be tested by its practical application. No truth can be apprehended and appreciated without experience, the actual practice of what one learns. nature and save man from mental inactivity. Pai-chang and other Zen Buddhists seem to understand well what Confucius meant when he said, "Is it not a pleasure to learn and to practice repeatedly




what has been learned?"[54]

    Teachers should teach students through their living example. Thus Zen masters usually work alongside disciples in farms and gardens; they are engaged in all sorts of manual work. Good teachers can make use of working opportunities and offer students practical lessons. Thus, a monk Sui-hsin served the master Tao-wu for a period of time. One day the monk told the master, "Since I came to you, I have not at all been instructed in the study of mind." Answered the master, "Ever since you carne to me, I have always been pointing to you how to study mind." "In what way, sir?" "When you brought me a cup of tea, did I not accept it? When you serve me with food, did I not partake of it? When you made bows to me, did I not return them? When did I ever neglect in giving you instructions?" Sui-hsin kept his head hanging for some time, while the master said, "If you want to see, see directly into it. but when you try to think about it, it is altogether missed."[55]

    Unfortunately, many disciples, especially beginners, cannot see Dharma directly. So certain pedagogic devices are needed in order to help them to know the truth. The reading of Buddhist sutras, particularly the kung-an (koan), is one of these important devices. The kung-an is similar to the Analects in the sense that they are the collections of short and unconnected words of masters, and short and unconnected dialogues between masters and disciples. Like Confucius' saying, Zen masters' statements are brief and precise. They are not designed to be a logical exposition or complete description of truth, but serve as pointers to lead one to see truth. Disciples are supposed to study one issue or saying at a time, meditate and apprehend it through practice. If this is done persistently, the kung-an may help to open the mind.

    Like Confucianism, Zen holds that the mind is the spring of knowledge. If the mind is correct, everything can be achieved; if the mind is incorrect, nothing can be done. When learning occurs, the student learns with his mind and the teacher teaches with his mind. The real process of learning is a mind-to-mind communication. Zen teaching is the heart-to-heart transmission. The master Tsung-mi (780-840) had a good statement about this: "the real truth is nothing else but one's own mind. Thus. .. the real teaching must be transmitted directly from one mind to another."[56]




The Goal of Zen Education

    The chief objective of Zen learning is to know oneself: "For the truth is not in what you hear from others or learn through the understanding. Now keep yourself away from what you have seen, heard, and thought, and see what you have within yourself."[57] The Zen way of knowing oneself has been stated by Zen masters as discovering the original mind, showing the original face before birth, directly pointing; to the mind of man, seeing into one's nature, becoming a Buddha, attaining Buddhahood and finding Buddha-nature. If the linguistic terms "Buddha," "Buddha-nature," and "Buddhahood" are changed to the words "man," "human nature," and "sagehood" respectively, we will find that philosophically Zen ideas of education resemble Confucian ideas.

    Knowing oneself, for Zen and Confucianism, is to know one's mind, for the mind is the essence or nature of man. To be sure, the Zen notion of the mind has been greatly influenced by Indian Yogacara Buddhism. However, like Mencius, Zen masters hold that one's original mind is under-developed and defiled by passions and other external things. All instructions of the scriptures and teachers aim at the discovery of the mind. The achievement of this is called wu (enlightenment). The master Han Shan stated:

    "Previously, the Buddhas and the Patriarchs who incarnated this world, through the use of thousands of words and various methods, preached either the Doctrine, or Zen. All their teachings were nothing but instruments to crush the habitual clingings' infecting human thought. There is no Dharma in the sense of something real or concrete in that which they have handed down to us. The so-called practice or work is merely a method for purifying the shadows of our habitual thinking and flowing thoughts. To concentrate all one's efforts to this end is called 'work'. If suddenly the surging thoughts stop, one clearly sees that his self-mind is originally pure, genuine, vast, illuminating, perfect and devoid of objects. This is called Wu', Satori."[58]

    The original mind is one's original nature, which makes man what he really is. This nature, for Zen, is the Buddha-nature. If anyone is to




awaken from suffering and become a Buddha, Hui-neng said, "The enlightenment is your own nature. Originally it was entirely pure. Only avail yourselves of this mind and you will immediately become a Buddha."[59] So to see into one's nature is to attain Buddhahood. This Zen teaching is succinctly stated in a famous Zen poem:

"A special transmission outside scriptures;
No dependence upon words and letters;
Direct pointing at the mind of man;
Seeing, into one's own nature, and the attainment of Buddhahood."[60]

    Like a Confucian sage, a Zen Buddha is not a superman or supernatural being who withdraws from this secular world and lives in heaven. Rather he is an ordinary man who does ordinary things, aware that everyday-mindedness is Tao. He represents a new or perfected inner state of man, Zen does not aim at transforming human beings to super-beings, like Confucianism, it makes man the true man. No matter what his profession, a true man is the one who lives the unattached or enlightened way of life in this world.

    Zen resembles Confucianism in many other ways whose discussion is beyond the scope of this paper. I hope I have sufficiently shown that the Zen philosophy of education has genuine Confucian sources.









1.    It should be noticed that in this paper the term "Confucianism" or "classical Confucianism" chiefly refers to the teachings of Confucius and Mencius.

2.    Analects, 6:17.

3.     Ibid.,17:2.

4.    Ibid., 15:38.

5.    Mencius, 4B:32.

6.     Ibid.,6A:8.

7.    Analects, 15:28.

8.    Ibid., 12:22.

9.    Mencius, 7A:4.

10.    The opening statement of The Great Learning.

11.     Mencius, 6A: 15.

12.    The Doctrine of the Mean, 1.

13.     Ibid.,21.

14.    Ibid., 1.

15.     Mencius, 4A: 12.

16.     Analects, 2: 15.

17.     Mencius, 6A: 15.

18.    Ibid.

19.     Analects, 17:22.

20.    Ibid., 4:24.

21.    Ibid., 14:29.

22.    Ibid.. 13:6.

23.    Ibid., 2:1.

24.     Mencius, 3A:1 the Book of History, "Charge to Yueh." Cf. Legge, trans., Shoo King, p. 252.

25.    D.T. Suzuki, Zen Buddhism (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1956), p. 71.

26.     Mencius, 4B: 12.

27.    Suutra Spoken by the Sixth Patriarch on the High Seat of the Treasure of the Law (also called The Suutra of Hui-neng), trans., by Wong Mou-lam (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Buddhist Distributor Press), pp. 12-13.

28.     Analects, 15:38.

29.    Garma C.C. Chang, The Practice of Zen (New York: Harper & Row, 1959), pp.

30.    Ibid., p. 111.

31.    Ibid., p. 112.

32.     Mencius. 4A: 15.

33.    The Suutra of Hui-neng, p. 26.

34.     Mencius, 7A:4.

35.    Garma C.C. Chang, Ibid., p. 111-113.




36.     Analects, 4:24.

37.    Chang Chung-yuan, Original Teachings of Ch'an Buddhism (New York: Vintage Books, 1971), p. 145.

38.    D.T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, first series (New York: Grove Press, 1961), pp; 311--312.

39.     Philosophy here is also influenced by San-lun Maadhyamika Thought. For the discussion of this, see Hsueh-li Cheng, "Zen and San-lun Maadhyamika Thought: Exploring the Theoretical Foundation of Zen Teachings and Practices," Religious Studies, 15(1979), pp. 359-360.

40.     Ching-te-ch'uan-teng-lu (Record of the Transmission of the Lamp), Taisho 2076 in volume 30.

41.     Analects, 7:8.

42.    D.T. Suzuki, Zen Buddhism, pp. 64-66.

43.    Chang Chung-yuan, Ibid., p. 101.

44.    D.T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, first series, p.264.

45.    Garma C.C. Chang, Ibid., p. 27.

46.    D.T. Suzuki, Introduction to Zen Buddhism (New York: Grove Press, 1964),p.52.

47.     Heinrich Dumoulin, A History of Zen Buddhism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963), pp. 118-119. Garma C.C. Chang, Ibid., pp. 27-28.

48.     Mencius, 6B:15.

49.    Ibid.

50.    Ibid.

51.    Ibid.

52.    The Sutra of Hui-neng, p. 70.

53.     Heinrich Dumoulin, Ibid., p. 103.

54.     Analects, 1:1.

55.    D.T. Suzuki, Zen Buddhism, pp. 131-132.

56.    Chang Chung-yuan, Ibid., p. 86. For the detailed discussion of the Zen doctrine of the mind-to-mind communication, see Hsueh-li Cheng, "Zen, Wittgenstein and Neo-orthodox Theology: The Problem of Communicating Truth in Zen Buddhism," Religious Studies, 18 (1982), pp. 133-149.

57.    D.T. Suzuki, The Essentials of Zen Buddhism (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1976), p. 299. See also D.T. Suzuki, Zen Buddhism, p. 141.

58.    Garma C.C. Chang, Ibid., p. 111.

59.     Heinrich Dumoulin, Ibid., p. 91.

60.    D.T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, first series, p. 176. This poem is traditionally attributed to Bodhidharma. D.T. Suzuki and Heinrich Dumoulin correctly point out that this cannot be Bodhidharma's work. However, they fail to see that it reflects Confucian philosophy.