Key Chinese Concepts





The Fundamental and the Incidental




The two characters translate directly as two different parts of a plant: namely, the root-system and foliage. The extended meaning is an important concept in Chinese philosophical discourse. The term can be understood in three different ways: 1) ben (本) refers to what is fundamental or essential, while mo (末) means what is minor or incidental – two qualities that differ in value and importance. 2) Ben refers to the existence of the world in an ontological sense, while mo represents any specific thing or phenomenon. 3) In Daoist political philosophy ben is a state in which rule is exercised by not disrupting the natural order of the world, while mo refers to moral standards and fundamental principles governing social behavior. In any ben-mo relationship, ben is most important and plays a dominant role, while mo exists thanks to ben. On the other hand, it is only through the vehicle of mo that ben exerts its influence. Thus the two, though different, are mutually dependent.


引例 Citations:






Zixia’s students can clean, receive guests, and engage in social interaction, but these are trivial things. They have not learned the fundamentals. How can this be sufficient? (The Analects)


◎崇本以举其末。(王弼《老子注》) (崇尚自然无为之本以统括道德礼法之末。)


One should respect, not interfere with, the natural order of the world, and apply this principle when establishing moral standards, social norms, and laws and regulations. (Wang Bi: Commentaries on Laozi)







Buddhist Wisdom




The term is the transliteration of the Sanskrit word prajñā, meaning wisdom. It refers to the supreme wisdom with insight into the nature and reality of all things. Buddhism teaches that such wisdom surpasses all secular understanding, and therefore is the guide for achieving enlightenment or the essence of the effort aimed at reaching Nirvana and attaining Buddhahood or bodhisattvahood. This wisdom has no form, no appearance, and cannot be expressed in words. It can only be achieved by undertaking a variety of accessible Buddhist practices.


引例 Citations:


◎般若无所知,无所见。(僧肇《肇论》引《道行般若经》) (般若这种智慧不是普通的知识,它超越一切具体的见闻。)


Prajñã is the wisdom that surpasses all common or ordinary knowledge and specific understandings. (Sengzhao: Treatises of Sengzhao)


Selected from Key Concepts in Chinese Thought and Culture published by Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.