Eric S. Nelson: Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in Early Twentieth-Century German Thought

Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in Early Twentieth-Century German Thought Book Cover Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in Early Twentieth-Century German Thought
Eric S. Nelson
Bloomsbury Academic
Hardback £76.50

Reviewed by: Erik Hoogcarspel (Independent Scholar)

For those who are interested in the exchange between early phenomenology and China a new interesting study has appeared. The book is divided into nine chapters, some of which are based on articles that have been published before, most of them in the Journal of Chinese Philosophy. The first chapter describes the reception of Confucianism in Germany. It relates how different writers, such as Martin Buber, Georg Misch, Helmuth Plessner, and Karl Jaspers debated the merits of Confucianism.

The second chapter deals with different views on the meaning of life in China and Europe, as expressed in the exchange between the Chinese writer Zhang Junmai and the German vitalists Rudolf Eucken and Hans Driesch. In China, Zhang’s defence of German idealism strongly influenced Chinese philosophy in the 20th century. The third chapter is a comparison of Confucian ethics with the philosophies of Nietzsche and Max Scheler. It focuses on the concept of resentment, in the Western view often considered as caused by a lack of equality, but in Confucianism seen as a flaw in the inner cultivation of harmony.

Next follow three chapters that investigate the different aspects of Euro-centrism in the phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger. One of those aspects is the naturalistic influence of Taoist thought on the critical attitude towards technology of both Buber and Heidegger. Another aspect is the question of whether philosophy is a single historical event or a general human activity which unfolds itself in different situations and from different causes. Finally, before a concluding chapter investigates the possibilities of an intercultural philosophy, two penultimate chapters explore a confrontation of Martin Heidegger with Zen Buddhism and the relation between emptiness and language. The book is well written and further study is facilitated by many footnotes and an extensive bibliography. There is a general index for quick reference that includes subjects as well as names of Chinese and European writers.

The chapters consist of a series of philosophically-orientated historical case studies, focusing on the confrontation between Chinese and German philosophy. Against the often-quoted opinion of Husserl and Heidegger that philosophy can only be European, the author proposes a more universal concept of philosophy, assuming that philosophy is a universally human potency. The rejection of non-Western philosophy is therefore associated with the denial of humanity to non-Western cultures. For Nelson the intercultural approach also implies a rejection of essentialism, which leads to the conclusion that a multicultural or comparative approach is out of the question. There are no essences or identities of philosophy that can be compared, no inherent differences that can be listed and opposed to each other. The key word Nelson uses is ‘inter-textualism’, the dynamic exchange between texts through the ages by which they cooperate and refer to each other.

Arguably classical Greek and Roman philosophy, in which philosophy is an enquiry about the good life, is closer to non-Western philosophical discussion than our modern Western conception. Nelson complains: “Modern Western philosophy—which is simultaneously universal in its pretensions about its scope and provincial in its actual practises—has been largely indifferent, when not allergically antagonistic, to non-Western forms of thinking” (13).

The first chapter concerns the bad press of Confucianism. This prejudice is, according to Nelson, a heritage of colonial thinking. The prejudices towards Confucianism and the term itself initiated from the reports of Jesuit missionaries who stayed for some time at the court of the Chinese Emperor during the late Ming and early Ching dynasties (roughly the seventeenth century). Since then Confucianism has met with little appreciation in the West, but according to its admirers it can offer interesting ethical political insights that can be useful in Western political philosophy. Nelson mentions some philosophers who were more sympathetic. Pierre Bayle and Nicolas Malebranche identified Confucianism with the pantheism of Spinoza. Christian Wolff even had to leave the University of Jena in 1726 because of the protests of Christian theologians after he equated Jesus and Confucius in his lecture on the practical philosophy of the Chinese.

In the sayings of Confucius, the Analects (Lunyu ), he often appeals to the will of tian 天 (mostly translated as ‘heaven’; sometimes as ‘God’). Because of this translation many philosophers interpreted Confucianism as a kind of Deist or atheist ethics, and inadequate to the rational individualism of the West. Nelson argues that the critics overlooked the openness of Confucianism to critical reflection and reformation of practises and institutions along with the acceptance of the authority of the existing ethical order. Hegel was the most outspoken critic, because he thought Oriental peoples were not capable of understanding the concept of true freedom. Weber admitted that the Chinese and Islamic culture used to be more advanced than the Western, but found them incomplete, because they both lacked transcendence and final redemption. Moreover, Chinese philosophy failed in the complete rationalisation of the life-world and never rid itself of traces of magical thought. Nietzsche associated Confucian and Buddhist ethics with an altruistic ethics similar to Christendom, which he rejected. On the other hand, others were enchanted by the Chinese pure aesthetics that was supposed to be in harmony with nature. Confucius was sometimes compared to Socrates, for instance by Karl Jaspers, but Schelling makes him an anti-Socrates. In the intercultural hermeneutics of Georg Misch (in his book The Dawn of Philosophy), however, Nelson finds some well-founded argumentation for a positive reception of Confucius and of non-Western philosophy in general. Martin Buber and Helmuth Plessner elevated Confucianism beyond the scope of philosophy, because they found it too subtle and noble.

The second chapter describes the work of Zhang Junmai (1886-1969), who introduced the principle of self-reflection of life (shengming 生命) into modern Confucian philosophy. His early work reflects the crisis of meaning that befell the Chinese during the late 19th and early 20th century when several political changes and revolutions took place and the Chinese army appeared to be no match for the Western forces. After a first attempt to assimilate the philosophy of the Western invaders, Zhang looked for concepts similar to Western ideas in the Confucian tradition. If necessary, Confucian ideas could be reformulated or adapted to match the demands of the new era. This was a hazardous strategy, because it could be seen as giving in to the foreign domination and cutting ties with the very Chinese tradition that was to be saved. Zhang wrote a book together with Rudolf Eucken, called The Problem of Life in China and Europe (Das Lebensproblem in China und Europa, 1922), which consists of an abridged history of Western philosophy, an overview of the history of Chinese ethics and a diagnostic reflection on the contemporary ethical situation in China and Europe. Nelson praises it as a nice example of a cross-cultural dialogue, in which Eucken was convinced of the need of a renewal of spiritual life in the West as an answer to the crisis of modernity that had unleashed so much cruelty in the first World War. What is at stake is reason, its nature, its relation to life, and the question of whether it is universal or restricted to the mainstream of Western philosophy.

Nelson relates how Zhang thinks that Western philosophy, with exception of German idealism and the philosophy of Eucken, has failed to integrate life and reason. Eucken maintains that life has originated from metaphysical sources. In this aspect his philosophy contains a spiritual ontology. According to Nelson, Zhang wants to counterbalance the Western will to power by the Chinese emphasis on personal ethical development. In China this message resonated with the classical philosophies of Mengzi (372-289 BCE) and Wang Yangming (1472-1529), but it did not quite fit in with the discourse in China at the time. Zhang was very much opposed to racist and nationalist ideologies, and he rejected the theory that the Han people were a group of one blood and identity. Hans Driesch, who stayed with Zhang in China for nine months, also rejected any difference of essence, nature, or substance between Eastern and Western people, or between Germans and Jews for that matter. In those days the fear of the ‘yellow peril’ (sinophobia) spread around, amongst others propagated by Kaiser Wilhelm, who had a nightmare in 1895 in which the Buddha riding a dragon was conquering Europe. In 1950 this idea was even endorsed by the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. Zhang was later forced to go in exile to the U.S.A., and his successor Mou Zongsan became one of the most important philosophers in China. On both sides of the globe, Nelson writes, xenophobia had permeated the pores of academics as well as politicians. Nevertheless, there was an opposite current of fascination with the East, both in art and philosophy. However, in the eyes of many this current became affiliated with the romantic and magical thought of theosophy and the New Age. In the meantime China had adopted Marx and Western capitalism.

The third chapter deals with the view on China of Max Scheler and Friedrich Nietzsche, who claimed that China suffered from a culture of ressentiment. According to Nelson, Scheler maintained contra Nietzsche that ressentiment (resentment being a feeling of unhappiness due to exposure to unfairness and ressentiment a complex attitude of hating life because of spite towards successful people, blaming them for one’s own misfortune) is not linked to Christendom, but to its negation and that of religion in general. It defies the basic moral character of humanity, which can be found in many places in human history, like the teachings of the Stoics and Epicureans as well as those of Taoism and Buddhism. For Nietzsche, however, ressentiment is the very source of all moralities, especially the Christian one, because they all hold that the strong are repressed for the benefit of the week. The opposite of ressentiment is self-affirmation. In Nietzsche’s book Twilight of Idols, Confucius is a preacher of ressentiment, just like Jesus and Plato, in comparison to Nero and Napoleon (84). Nietzsche claims that China is a warning, because there ressentiment merely seems to have been overcome, whereas in fact it still silently rules the hearts of the people. In Nietzsche’s view, the altruism preached by the Buddha and Confucius made the Chinese passive and fearful. This had to be avoided in Europe in order to liberate the strong and noble persons from the domination by the weak masses. Nelson does not share Nietzsche’s verdict; he is convinced that in the Analects many examples are to be found where a selfish attitude is cut short by the cultivation of sincere benevolence and altruism. In his view, earlier Confucian ethics integrates a realistic moral psychology of negative emotions such as resentment with a model of self-cultivation that is aiming at an attitude of benevolence towards others. Early Confucian ethics in general minimizes the expectation of others and maximizes the need for self-discipline, obviously because one is powerless over the other’s expectations and high expectations could lead to resentment. Moreover, the noble person earns respect by helping others. According to Nelson, this is not a matter of self-sacrifice as Scheler and Nietzsche would have it, but a matter of self-cultivation.

Nelson remarks in the fourth chapter that the reception of Chinese philosophy is flawed by inadequate translations, prejudice, and lack of familiarity with the cultural context and differences in circumstances. Intercultural philosophy is captured in a dilemma between rigorous and narrow expertise, and free, creative reading between the lines. Romantic writers contrasted Taoist spontaneity and naturalness with the alienation of the technological modernity. The image of mystic love of nature was combined with wild Orientalistic imagination. Nelson finds in Schelling the first to write an intelligent commentary on the Daodejing. Schelling describes the dao as pure potency, the link between finite and actual being. Knowledge of the dao requires practical wisdom. A milestone in the understanding of Taoism in Germany was Martin Buber’s German translation of the Zhuangzi from the English translations of James Legge and Herbert Allen Giles, which appeared in 1910. Heidegger reportedly read it several times (121). Buber’s preference for this book is quite understandable in light of his most famous book I and Thou that appeared in 1923. Zhuangzi looks in Buber’s eyes a lot like the hasidim of the Jewish tradition, of which he knew the stories all too well. Moreover, the Zhuangzi teaches through humour, contrary to the Daodejing. Ten years later, however, Buber preferred the Daodejing because of its political dimension.

Buber has, according to Nelson, a positive view on Taoism, in which to be one with the dao is to be one with the creativity of life, through non-doing (wu wei). Buber finds a drive towards the actualization of the divine in ordinary life by sensitive persons in both Taoism and Hasidic Judaism. Nelson speculates that Buber’s language of surrender, letting go and inaction anticipated and perhaps influenced Heidegger. Buber once even uses the word Gelassenheit (‘releasement’), which is quite similar to the Chinese concept of non-action (wu wei), but Heidegger claims to have found it in the work of Meister Eckhart. Interestingly enough, however, Buber expressed his concern about the threat of modern science and technology before Heidegger did, emphasizing the need for a European alternative for Taoism. He calls the Taoist writings a source of inspiration (anticipating Peter Sloterdijk’s book Eurotaoism). So in this way Buber thinks an encounter between Chinese wisdom and European rationality to be possible and even necessary. Confucianism is in Buber’s opinion too demanding for the egoist Westerners and tied up with traditional Chinese values, while Taoism looks more promising. Although there is nothing of the Zhuangzi in his writings, Heidegger seems to have taken a great interest in the book. He was inspired by it for his conception of being-with (Mitsein), natural artistry without relying on a technique, and finally the necessity of the unnecessary or the use of the useless. At the end of the second World War the Chinese scholar Paul Shih-yi Hsiao engaged with Heidegger in conversations concerning the Daodejing and they translated sections of the text together into German. Heidegger interpreted the text rather idiosyncratically; understanding other cultures was not his forte. He mentions in the collection On the Way to Language the Chinese word for way, dào, and equals it to the Greek word logos. He calls it “the secret of all secrets of thoughtful saying.” As for Buber, it serves Heidegger as a counterbalance to the threat of technology that is hanging over Western philosophy. Technology causes humans to treat each other as objects, putting all personal relations into oblivion. So for both Heidegger and Buber, Zhuangzi provided a model for non-religious aesthetic freedom. Asian philosophy does not play any part in Heidegger’s history of being; the latter is increasingly assimilated in the West through the planetary advance of the technological world-image and its destructive reduction of beings to instrumental calculation, which originates in the Greek experience of nature as physis. So what makes Asian philosophy relevant to Heidegger? According to Nelson, Heidegger tries to dismantle the history of being and reveal the origins of philosophy in order to reawaken the freshness of its origin. Heidegger insists, however, that this new beginning must come from Greek philosophy. Heidegger is explicitly opposed to the possibility of non-Western philosophy, despite his plagiarism of Taoist texts. Nelson mentions the most famous quote in that regard, which comes from a talk Heidegger gave for the Bayerischen Rundfunk (German radio) in 1952 called What is Called Thinking? (Was heisst Denken?) Asian people are not without thought, but they cannot think, because they do not understand the logos. Nelson thinks Heidegger’s decision to part with Taoist texts must have been taken in 1934, when his sympathies for Hitler increased, such that Heidegger seems never to have reconsidered this decision. Even in 1960 he called the Asian culture ‘dark’ and the ancient Greek one ‘light’. In the interview in Der Spiegel of 1966 he warns against the barbarian influence of Zen Buddhism. He is not alone in this. Even deconstructive philosophers as Derrida and Rorty stated that a non-Western philosophy is not possible. Heidegger rejected Dilthey’s thesis of the multiple origins of philosophy in his Introduction into Philosophy. His argument is that philosophy must be a unity, because there is only one real question, the question of being. This leaves very little room for discussion since Heidegger himself is the only one in the history of philosophy who has asked this question. Nelson does not agree, of course. He thinks that the point of departure for reflection necessarily is the hermeneutical situation of life itself. Whereas the ontological prejudice inhibits every possibility for a dialogue.

Nelson explains that for Misch, as well as for Dilthey, every interpretation oscillates between the alien and the familiar, so in that case no radical difference exists between the hermeneutics of texts from one’s own culture and texts from other cultures. Philosophy does not begin at a certain place at a certain time; it happens every time a human being is confronted with the abyss of meaninglessness. It is an internal break with immediacy and an occasion for self-reflection. Nelson notes that Misch points to several stories in the Zhuangzi that serve as examples. The Analects of Confucius show in Misch’s view that not all philosophy started with the question of being. In China it started with the question of ethics. This fact suffices in Misch’s eyes to falsify Heidegger’s thesis (later he also mentions an Indian origin of philosophy). Moreover, Misch contends that the beginning of philosophy in Greece was not the question of being but the concrete self-reflexive moment of life concerning itself.

Nelson notices that Taoism takes special place in the philosophy of Misch. All philosophies are expressions of the self-reflection of life, but Zhuangzi has the final hermeneutical word. Misch thinks Zhuangzi provocatively challenges, expands and reverses life’s perspectives and horizons. His stories and paradoxes liberate one from dogmatic inhibitions and put situations into perspective through articulating life from within life itself. In the oracle book the Yijing Misch finds a logic that is different from that of Western philosophy. The book consists of comments on ideograms. The comments are generated by a detached observation of worldly situations, combined with self-reflection. It has a holistic structure, the parts are reflected in the whole, and vice versa. Each input ideogram or symbol describes a situation together with preferred strategies. Nelson, in dialogue with Heidegger, thinks this is another beginning of philosophy, one which is even more in tune with the concrete human being that lives his life, seeks to adapt to circumstances, and make sense of his existence. To make a long story short, Nelson praises Heidegger for taking an interest in Chinese philosophy, but blames him for not having understood one shred. Heidegger’s monologue about being is totally unsuitable for any kind of cross-cultural philosophy.

Classical phenomenology can be helpful for understanding Asian philosophy, Nelson admits. Returning to the things themselves opens a cross-cultural perspective, because those things are not restricted to just one culture. This has often been overlooked. Merleau-Ponty, however, remarked that: “[philosophy’s] centre is everywhere, its circumference nowhere” (164). Both Husserl and Heidegger made clear they were opposed to the idea of a non-Western philosophy, but in a few short texts Husserl wrote very positively about Buddhism (167). The first is called “Socrates – Buddha.” Here he comes to the conclusion that Indian philosophy does not go beyond the practical and ethical level; it never reaches an epistemological bracketing of the whole world as Descartes has achieved. Husserl argues that the Buddhist path pursues knowledge for the sake of emancipation, but the Socratic path leads to knowledge for its own sake. So it is only through the eyes of the Western philosopher, who is seeking knowledge as such, that Indian philosophy becomes real philosophy. According to Husserl Buddhist philosophy never transcends the natural attitude of daily life, because it is not capable of a complete reduction. Even Buddhist meditation does not transform the natural attitude.

The other short text is a review of a translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, the collection of middle-length discourses of the Buddha. Here the Buddhist teachings are said to be parallel to the highest achievements of Western civilization. Western philosophy can come to a breakthrough of its own predicament of degeneration by the confrontation with the Buddhist teachings. The adoption of Buddhist philosophy by the West or a possible fusion of Western and non-Western philosophy is still out of the question. So here too Husserl sticks to his paradigm of the historical uniqueness of Western philosophy. He justifies his position by pointing to the unique development of science in the West, which he sees as a result of a unique theoretical attitude. Husserl also published three articles in the Japanese journal Kaizō (167). In these he articulates a sense of an intellectual and spiritual crisis; he calls for a renewal by returning to the origins of philosophy. The Japanese are invited to join in, because Japan is becoming a new branch of European culture.

Nelson describes how other phenomenologists even went a step further (172). Stanislaw Schayer published a comparison between the phenomenological method of reduction and Buddhist meditation. He found the Buddhist method of reduction even more radical than the one Husserl practised. Dorion Cairns, who worked closely together with Husserl and his assistant Eugen Fink, also claims that the various phases of Buddhist self-discipline were essentially phases of phenomenological reduction; both consist of an analysis of the structure of subjective consciousness. In both cases the interdependence of consciousness and world is revealed. So while the phenomenological method appears to have strong affinities with Buddhist meditation, their framework and goals are radically divergent. Husserl aims at a fundamental philosophy that has to become a new foundation for science, which he sees as a logical result of a development that started with the ancient natural philosophers. Within this framework he could not recognize genuine philosophy in the Indian and Chinese cultures.

Nelson accepts that cultures have each their own histories, but he thinks that the encounter between different cultures can create new individualities, that histories may intertwine. The problem he finds with Husserl is the priority of a life-world which is not phenomenologically neutral, but tainted by historical and ideological bias. In Heidegger’s mature thinking technology and globalization are pathologies of the culmination of the history of Western metaphysics. The only solution is a new beginning, which means a return to the Greek origins of philosophy, because the West is appointed by history to be in the lead.

Nelson mentions an essay by Heidegger about the differences between French and German philosophy, called “Ways of Speaking.” Here Heidegger mentions the confrontation with the other that articulates by mutual understanding the differences and the identity of each participant. He called it a strife for the sake of understanding. An example of this would be the dialogue with Count Kuki about the translatability of the Japanese word ‘iki’ entitled “A Dialogue on Language: Between a Japanese and an Inquirer” (‘Aus einem Gespräch von der Sprache‘, in the collection ‘Unterwegs zur Sprache‘). Nelson makes clear that Heidegger is not very interested in the understanding being mutual. The latter maintains that ‘iki’ is untranslatable and reproaches Kuki for not being true to his own culture. In other words, Kuki doesn’t play the part Heidegger had mind for him. Japanese are (according to Heidegger) unfit to understand the concept of aesthetics because the Japanese language is incommensurable with the German one. (Quite a risky claim for someone who does not speak any Japanese, I would say!) So the reason for the dialogue seems to be rather enigmatic. Heidegger maintains that a genuine dialogue is anticipated, but obviously impossible as well. Heidegger opens a dialogue, but only to prove the impossibility of any mutual understanding!

Nelson describes very well how attempts of Martin Buber to interpret Eastern texts are a gust of fresh air into the heavy atmosphere of East-West dialogue. Buber was attracted by the laid-back attitude in these texts and he thought they could teach Westerners to go easy on consumerism. Heidegger knew Zen-Buddhism from the introductory works of Suzuki and other anthologies. According to Nelson, Buber moved away from the Eastern philosophies later in his life because he shifted from mysticism to ethics. In Buber’s work on Hasidism Nelson finds, however, many comments on Zen. He notes that Buber rejects full transcendence, because it is selfish to merge into a mystic state and leave your neighbours behind. Nevertheless Buber writes about the Buddha with sympathy, but he does not want to follow him all the way. According to Buber, the Jewish experience is fundamentally different, because it celebrates the divine while being exiled in the world. He remains, however, true to his principles and keeps the dialogue with other philosophies open, stressing their validity and good intentions.

Nelson also relates the criticism of Keiji Nishitani, member of the Japanese Kyōto school, a philosophical movement famous everywhere but in Japan itself. Nishitani wrote an essay called “the I-thou relation in Buddhism,” in which he describes the profoundly dialogical character of the Zen kōan. Nishitani criticises Buber for keeping the interpersonal dialogue on the level of just words and not touching the level where the communication between Zen master and pupil really takes place. He claims that Buddhism developed an ethics that transcends the self; Zen ethics is therefore an ethics of encounter where the care of the other is paramount. What Western commentators on Zen didn’t realise according to Nishitani, was that the irrational and seemingly unethical utterances of Zen masters were meant to break through the cultivation of personal idols, they are not academic philosophical statements.

Before he reaches the concluding chapter, Nelson presents a comparative analysis of emptiness. According to Nelson both Zen and Heidegger came close to primordial experience through a dismantling of conceptual thinking (228). In Heidegger’s work the deconstruction discloses an original experience of being; in Zen there is the disclosure of original mind and self-nature. Nelson thinks that there still remains a trace of reification in Heidegger’s concept of nothingness. Since Parmenides, he claims, nothing comes from nothing, so we need God or being in order for something to exist. Western philosophers understood Buddhist emptiness either as a self-contradictory concept or a nihilistic void. Heidegger is said to question these suppositions. He returns to Leibniz’s question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” The answer in the Western tradition, where nothingness is conceived as the absence of being, seems to need a third term, God, who transcends both and is the ground. Heidegger speaks of an uncanniness at the moment when existence is experienced as slipping away. Like death, it is an abyss that cannot be anticipated. According to Nelson, Heidegger is looking for a new language that is not re-presentational, but he tries to do this by asking questions about metaphysics. Zen practises a way of speaking without speaking, which is not referential but performative. Emptiness is not a thing, because it is empty of itself. Nelson sees an affinity with Heidegger’s groundlessness of the ground. In Zen language is self-deconstructing, it is performative, it indirectly enacts a reorientation of human dwelling through various strategies by the anecdotal and the shocking. Zen’s emptiness and Heidegger’s nothingness approach each other, according to Nelson, in emphasizing the original groundlessness and temporal impermanence of human existence.

One of the pitfalls of an intercultural hermeneutics is that no philosopher can cover all points of view exhaustively on their own. There is the risk of purifying the other so much that it becomes sterile. Nelson sees a beginning of cross-cultural hermeneutics in Dilthey’s philosophy of worldviews (which was criticised by Heidegger in his article the era of world views, “The Age of the World-View” (Die Zeit des Weldbildes, in the collection Holzwege)) and the comparative work of Georg Misch. Nelson hopes for an intercultural hermeneutics that keeps apart from nationalistic bias, gives ample room for the opponent to expose his or her points of view, is sensitive to complexity, and critically reflexive.

Nelson’s book is quite informative and covers most of the interchange that took place between Zen and Germany in the beginning of last century. Many more Buddhist schools existed in Japan and China of course, but those did not take much part in the exchange. Nelson does not mention what happened in this area in France or Great Britain, so the picture he offers is not quite complete. It is also not as neutral as he likes it to be. Confucianism has become the official philosophy of the ancient and new empire, but this was and is mainly for political reasons, not because it is philosophically more interesting than its competitors. It is diverse, its history is rich with reorientations and discussions, as is the history of Chinese Buddhism. The recent upsurge in praises of Confucianism might have a nationalistic bias, therefore Confucianism is often erroneously presented with an unequivocal message.

On a few occasions Nelson makes disputable claims. Confucius did not advocate equality, but a natural hierarchy.  This was one of the main topics of the so-called mo-ru discussions between his followers and those of Mozi. To call Li (禮) “appropriate practices, socially oriented individual self-cultivation, and learning and self-reflection” (17), seems a modernistic rationalisation, as it usually means ‘rites’. Mozi called it a waste of time and money, because it required the payment of lots of musicians and people walking around with funny hats. Another example is the obligation of a three-year mourning period following the death of a parent: this could mean ‘bankruptcy’. In Chinese texts many things are not as they appear to be and philological research remains very important. The Confucian texts are not the sayings of a single historical wise man; most of them are from different sources and from a later date. And the history of Zen is not quite like the monks themselves think it is. Nelson leaves these problems out of the discussion, but they are part of the exchange between East and West. The discussion between Zen and Heidegger is incomplete, because the latter wrote like he did not have a body, whereas Zen monks are sitting motionless for hours at a stretch, training their body and mind to be one. It is also a pity that Nelson did not follow up on his own suggestions and pay more attention to the carefully executed Husserlian reductions and genetic phenomenology. This could have been more fertile than a discussion about nothingness.

Nevertheless, this book offers lots of valuable information and entries for further research. It is well-written and has all the tools for easy reference and an impressive bibliography.