Echo of the master, shadow of the Buddha : the Liezi as a medieval masters text

Wayne Kreger
The present work examines the Chinese Masters Text the Liezi, purported to be composed in the 5th century BCE, though more likely achieving its current form in the 4th century CE. It situates the claims Liezi in the intellectual and spiritual climate of 4th century CE in its role as a member of the Masters Text category, and reads the text's ontological and normative program in light of the flourishing xuanxue and prajñāpāramitā discourse of that era. Chapter One traces the evolution of the
more » ... ers Text category from the Warring States period, through the Han dynasty, and into the early medieval period, relying on the understanding of "Masters Text" offered by Wiebke Denecke in her Dynamics of Masters Literature (2010). I argue that textual authority accrued by this category serves as a sufficient impetus to create such an inauthentic document in approximately 350 CE. Chapter Two reviews the most recent contributions to the debate over the authenticity of the Liezi, and concludes that the text is certainly a 4th century CE compilation, though containing some earlier material. Chapter Three is a concise survey of the ontological and normative position of the text, with a chapter by chapter analysis of the Liezi. Chapter Four uses this analysis of the Liezi to compare the thought therein with contemporary thinkers such as Wang Bi, Guo Xiang, Ruan Ji, and Xi Kang. I conclude that the Liezi was likely compiled in an effort to argue for the ontological scheme of Wang Bi against that of Guo Xiang, and that it does not explicitly follow Ruan Ji or Xi Kang in advocating for the pursuit or practice of longevity techniques. Chapter Five compares notions of "Nonbeing" and "emptiness" in the Liezi to Buddhist speculations on "emptiness" unfolding in China up to and during the 4th century CE. I conclude that despite frequent speculation on the part of modern and pre-modern commentators, there is little conceptual alignment between the Liezi and the developing Buddhist schools.
doi:10.14288/1.0228779 fatcat:pt3smpiq5beb7c7llceo7plzf4