The Significance of Shendu in the Interpretation of Classical Learning and Zhu Xi’s Misreading

Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 13 (3):305-321 (2014)
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According to recently excavated bamboo and silk material, the idea of du 獨 in the concept shendu 慎獨 does not refer to a spatial notion of dwelling in solitude or a solitary dwelling; rather it is the state before having made contact with external things, or the state “before feelings are aroused” (weifa 未發) of the inner heart/mind. It refers to internal thoughts and volitions, or “casting aside external sensations” (sheti 舍體). Shen 慎 should be glossed in accordance with the Erya 爾雅 (Approaching Elegance), rendering it as “sincerity” (cheng 誠). Shendu then means to “cause one’s will to be sincere” (chengqiyi 誠其意). Zheng Xuan 鄭玄, in explaining shendu as being “cautious of the actions one performs in private” (shen qi xianju suowei 慎其閒居所為), completely strayed from the original meaning as found in the bamboo-silk texts. Zhu Xi 朱熹, seeing the insufficiencies of Zheng Xuan’s interpretation of shendu, broadened the meaning of du, and in particular added a spiritual meaning to it. However, due to influence by Zheng Xuan, Zhu Xi still preserved some misreadings of the term; especially in his interpretation of shendu in the Daxue 大學 (Great Learning) and Zhongyong 中庸 (Doctrine of the Mean). Considering that the Neo-Confucian methods of cultivation embodied in the ideas of “abiding in reverence and enriching the self” (jujing hanyang 居敬涵養), and “being refined and focused” (weijing weiyi 惟精惟一) actually accorded more with the original meaning of shendu, Zhu Xi’s misreading of shendu is indirectly related to the loss of its original meaning due to the broken transmission of the ancient texts



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The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu.Burton Watson (ed.) - 1968 - Columbia University Press.

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