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From the “Alternative School of Principles” to the Lay Buddhism: On the conceptual features of modern Consciousness-Only School from the perspective of the evolution of thought during the Ming and Qing Dynasties

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The best representatives of the self-reflection of xinxue 心学 (the School of Mind) and its development during the Ming and Qing Dynasties are the three masters from the late Ming Dynasty. The overall tendency is to shake off the internal constraints of the School of Mind by studying the Confucian classics and history. During the Qing Dynasty, Dai Zhen had attempted to set up a theoretical system based on Confucian classics and history, offering a theoretical foundation for a new academic movement that gradually suspended issues studied by the School of Mind. But the suspension of these issues does not mean they were resolved. For Peng Shaosheng, xinzong 心宗 (the Doctrine of Mind) has emerged from a bottleneck in the development of the Confucian yi li zhi xue 义理之学 (doctrine of meanings and principles): The only way to find the transcendent connection between the doctrine of meanings and principles and the Dao was through the internality of belief. In this case, the Lay Buddhists, represented by Peng Shaosheng, Wang Dashen and Luo Yougao, as lixue biepai 理学别派 (Alternative School of Principles), played the role that the School of Mind had undertaken in the late Ming Dynasty, thus becoming a shelter for the Confucian doctrine of meanings and principles. To a certain extent, the revival of weishixue 唯识学 (the Consciousness-Only School) during modern times was simply a continuance of the “Alternative School of Principles”. It took over the Lay Buddhist theme of the doctrine of meanings and principles of the Qing Dynasty and tried to construct a new pattern of learning for Confucian classics that matched up with the doctrine of meanings and principles, offering a model of integration for the reconstruction of the Confucian tradition.


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