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Tongshu 通書 Adler, Joseph


Zhou Dunyi's Tongshu 通書 (Penetrating the Scripture of Change) is less well-known than the Taijitu shuo but is no less important for an understanding of Zhou Dunyi's thought. (For a brief account of Zhou Dunyi see the Entry Description of the Taijitu shuo.) The two works are very different in format: the Taijitu shuo is a single coherent essay, while the Tongshu as we have it today (in Zhu Xi's rescension) is composed of forty shorter, aphoristic, mostly independent pieces, each one with a title added by Zhu Xi. Furthermore, the central idea of each -- taiji 太極 (Supreme Polarity) in the Taijitu shuo and cheng 誠 (being authentic) in the Tongshu -- is not found at all in the other. Nevertheless, there are several important overlaps and no significant inconsistencies between the two texts, and I agree with Zhu Xi that they are products of the same author. "Penetrating the Scripture of Change" is a loose translation of the title, which more literally means "penetrating writing" or "penetrating the book." Zhu Xi averred that the original title was "Yi tongshu" 易通書, or "Book Penetrating the Yi," and most scholars have accepted that, as the text does refer to and quote the Yijing 易經 frequently. In fact it contains brief commentaries on nine of the sixty-four hexagrams of the Yi. While the Taijitu shuo is a philosophic cosmogony, situating human beings and in particular sages in the metaphysical and cosmological natural order, the Tongshu focuses in more detail on sagehood. Relying on both the Yijing and the Zhongyong 中庸 (Centrality and Commonality), it defines sagehood as "being authentic" (cheng). This term, usually but inadequately translated as "sincerity," has both a psychological and metaphysical meaning. On the simplest level it means having consistency between one's inner state and outward behavior. On this level "sincerity" is a somewhat superficial but adequate translation. However, even in the Zhongyong it is clear that cheng has a deeper meaning than "sincerity," and for this reason I translate it as "being authentic," in the sense of being real or genuine (shi 實), true to one's innate moral nature (xing 性) and fully embedded in the Way (dao 道), or fully aligned with li 理, the natural/moral order. Another major theme of the Tongshu is the importance of learning (xue 學) in the cultivation of sagehood, exemplified by Confucius' favorite disciple, Yan Hui 顏回.

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