The Sacred Books of China Pt. 1 (SBE Vol. 3)

The Sacred Books of China Pt. 1 (SBE Vol. 3)

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Part I: The Shu King the Religious Portion of the Shih King The Hsiao King

While submitting here some prefatory observations on the version of the Shri King presented in this volume I think it well to prefix also a brief account of what are regarded as the sacred books of the religions of China. Those religions are three Confucianism, Taism and Buddhism.

I begin with a few words about the last. To translate any of its books does not belong to my province and more than a few words from me are unnecessary. It has been said that Buddhism was introduced into China in the third century B.C. but it certainly did not obtain an authoritative recognition in the empire till the third quarter of our first century. Its texts were translated into Chinese one portion after another as they were gradually obtained from India but it was not till very long after words that the Chinese possessed in their own language a complete copy of the Buddhist canon. Translations from the Sanskrit constitute the Principal part of the Buddhistic literature of china though there are also many original works in Chinese belonging to it.

II. Confucianism is the religion of China par excellence, and is named from the great sage who lived in the fifth and sixth centuries B.C. Confucius indeed did not originate the system, nor was he the first to inculcate its principles or enjoin its forms of worship. He said of himself (Analects, VII, i) that he was a transmitter and not a maker, one who believed in and loved the ancients; and hence it is said in the thirtieth chapter of the Doctrine of the Mean, ascribed to his grandson, that ‘he handed down the doctrines of Yâo and Shun, as if they had been his ancestors, and elegantly displayed the regulations of Wan and Wan, taking them as his models.’

In fulfilling what he considered to be his mission, Confucius did little towards committing to writing the views of antiquity according to his own conception of them. He discoursed about them freely with the disciples. of his school, from whom we have received a good deal of what he said; and it is possible that his accounts of the ancient views and practices took, unconsciously to himself, some colour from the peculiar character of his mind. But his favorite method was to direct the attention of his disciples to the ancient literature of the nation. He would neither affirm nor relate anything for which he could not adduce some document of acknowledged authority. He said on one occasion (Analects, III, ix) that he could describe the ceremonies of the dynasties of Hsiâ (B.C. 2205—1767) and Yin (B. C. 1766—1123), but did not do so, because the records and scholars in the two states of Káu, that had been assigned to the descendants of their sovereigns, could not sufficiently attest his words. It is an error even to suppose that he compiled the historical documents, poems, and other ancient books from various works existing in his time. Portions of the oldest works had already perished. His study of those that remained, and his exhortations to his disciples also to study them, contributed to their preservation. What he wrote or said about their meaning should be received by us with reverence; but if all the works which he handled had come down to us entire, we should have been, so far as it is possible for foreigners to be, in the same position as he was for learning the ancient religion of his country. Out text-books would be the same as his. Unfortunately most of the ancient books suffered loss and injury after Confucius had passed from the stage of life. We have reason, however, to be thankful that we possess so many and so much of them. No other literature, comparable to them for antiquity, has cçme down to us in such a state of preservation.

But the reader must bear in mind that the ancient books of China do not profess to have been inspired, or to contain what we should call a Revelation. Historians, poets, and others wrote them as they were moved in their own minds. An old poem may occasionally contain what it says was spoken by God, but we can only understand that language as calling attention emphatically to the statements to which it is prefixed. We also read of Heaven’s raising up the great ancient sovereigns and teachers, and variously assisting them to accomplish their undertakings; but all this need not be more than what a religious man of any country might affirm at the present day of direction, help, and guidance given to himself and others from above. But while the old Chinese books do not profess to contain any divine revelation, the references in them to religious views and practices are numerous and it is from these that the student has to fashion for himself an outline of the early religion of the people. I will now state what the books are.

First, and of greatest importance, there is the Book of Historical Documents, called the Shü and, since the period of the Han dynasty (began B.C. 202), the Shu King. Its documents commence with the reign of Yao in the twenty-fourth century B. C., and come down to that of king Hsiang of the Kau dynasty, B.C. 651—619. The earliest chapters were not contemporaneous with the events which they describe, but the others begin to be so in the twenty- second century B. C. The reader will find a translation of the whole of this work without abridgment.
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Part I: The Shu King the Religious Portion of the Shih King The Hsiao King

While submitting here some prefatory observations on the version of the Shri King presented in this volume I think it well to prefix also a brief account of what are regarded as the sacred books of the religions of China. Those religions are three Confucianism, Taism and Buddhism.

I begin with a few words about the last. To translate any of its books does not belong to my province and more than a few words from me are unnecessary. It has been said that Buddhism was introduced into China in the third century B.C. but it certainly did not obtain an authoritative recognition in the empire till the third quarter of our first century. Its texts were translated into Chinese one portion after another as they were gradually obtained from India but it was not till very long after words that the Chinese possessed in their own language a complete copy of the Buddhist canon. Translations from the Sanskrit constitute the Principal part of the Buddhistic literature of china though there are also many original works in Chinese belonging to it.

II. Confucianism is the religion of China par excellence, and is named from the great sage who lived in the fifth and sixth centuries B.C. Confucius indeed did not originate the system, nor was he the first to inculcate its principles or enjoin its forms of worship. He said of himself (Analects, VII, i) that he was a transmitter and not a maker, one who believed in and loved the ancients; and hence it is said in the thirtieth chapter of the Doctrine of the Mean, ascribed to his grandson, that ‘he handed down the doctrines of Yâo and Shun, as if they had been his ancestors, and elegantly displayed the regulations of Wan and Wan, taking them as his models.’

In fulfilling what he considered to be his mission, Confucius did little towards committing to writing the views of antiquity according to his own conception of them. He discoursed about them freely with the disciples. of his school, from whom we have received a good deal of what he said; and it is possible that his accounts of the ancient views and practices took, unconsciously to himself, some colour from the peculiar character of his mind. But his favorite method was to direct the attention of his disciples to the ancient literature of the nation. He would neither affirm nor relate anything for which he could not adduce some document of acknowledged authority. He said on one occasion (Analects, III, ix) that he could describe the ceremonies of the dynasties of Hsiâ (B.C. 2205—1767) and Yin (B. C. 1766—1123), but did not do so, because the records and scholars in the two states of Káu, that had been assigned to the descendants of their sovereigns, could not sufficiently attest his words. It is an error even to suppose that he compiled the historical documents, poems, and other ancient books from various works existing in his time. Portions of the oldest works had already perished. His study of those that remained, and his exhortations to his disciples also to study them, contributed to their preservation. What he wrote or said about their meaning should be received by us with reverence; but if all the works which he handled had come down to us entire, we should have been, so far as it is possible for foreigners to be, in the same position as he was for learning the ancient religion of his country. Out text-books would be the same as his. Unfortunately most of the ancient books suffered loss and injury after Confucius had passed from the stage of life. We have reason, however, to be thankful that we possess so many and so much of them. No other literature, comparable to them for antiquity, has cçme down to us in such a state of preservation.

But the reader must bear in mind that the ancient books of China do not profess to have been inspired, or to contain what we should call a Revelation. Historians, poets, and others wrote them as they were moved in their own minds. An old poem may occasionally contain what it says was spoken by God, but we can only understand that language as calling attention emphatically to the statements to which it is prefixed. We also read of Heaven’s raising up the great ancient sovereigns and teachers, and variously assisting them to accomplish their undertakings; but all this need not be more than what a religious man of any country might affirm at the present day of direction, help, and guidance given to himself and others from above. But while the old Chinese books do not profess to contain any divine revelation, the references in them to religious views and practices are numerous and it is from these that the student has to fashion for himself an outline of the early religion of the people. I will now state what the books are.

First, and of greatest importance, there is the Book of Historical Documents, called the Shü and, since the period of the Han dynasty (began B.C. 202), the Shu King. Its documents commence with the reign of Yao in the twenty-fourth century B. C., and come down to that of king Hsiang of the Kau dynasty, B.C. 651—619. The earliest chapters were not contemporaneous with the events which they describe, but the others begin to be so in the twenty- second century B. C. The reader will find a translation of the whole of this work without abridgment.

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