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The Buddhist Elements in the Early Thought of Liang Shuming

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posted on 2023-01-19, 11:25 authored by Yim Fong Chan
Submission note: A thesis submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts to the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce, La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia.

This thesis is a study of Liang Shuming’s early thought from 1913 to 1924. Through close textual analysis, I seek to show how Buddhist elements play a significant role in Liang’s thought and how those elements help to synthesize philosophical ideas and systems from Yogācāra Buddhism, Confucianism, and Henri Bergson. These elements are crucial in Liang’s thought as they ultimately led him to form the conviction that the ultimate goal of human life is Buddhist emancipation from desire. I argue that the Buddhist elements can be found in three major areas of Liang’s thought: his model of cultural development, his views on life philosophy, and the concept of zhijue (intuition). This study is divided into four chapters. In chapter one, I discuss the relationship between Liang Shuming’s intellectual development and the historical background of the May Fourth Movement, followed by highlighting the cultural crisis that crucially informed Liang’s response. Chapter two focuses on examining Liang Shuming’s model of cultural development, which was his attempt to advocate wholesale Westernization whilst preserving Confucianism and Buddhism. My contention is that the model can be made comprehensible only when his Buddhist worldview is sufficiently considered. In chapter three, Liang’s three phases of cultural development are presented as an evolution of the “self”, which reflected his perception of the nature of life. As Liang thought that life is full of suffering, which is based on a Buddhist worldview, his life philosophy was an attempt to relieve human suffering gradually. In chapter four, I will discuss Liang’s application and modification of Yogācāra epistemology, which was his attempt to examine the ultimate ground of human existence. Liang’s ultimate aim was to safeguard Confucianism and Buddhism from criticism during the New Culture Movement by establishing a sound metaphysics for them both.


Center or Department

College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce. School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Thesis type

  • Masters

Awarding institution

La Trobe University

Year Awarded


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