EXPLORATIONS OF CHINESE METAPHYSICAL CONCEPTS: THE HISTORY OF SOME KEY TERMS FROM THE BEGINNINGS TO CHU HSI (1130-1200)
Statement of the Problem. A key concept in Neo-Confucianism, "pienhua ch'i-chih chih hsing" (changing the nature found manifest in materialized lifebreath) was previously inadequately explained.
Procedures and Methods. Component ideas were identified and the historical development of each was analyzed to provide a fully grounded understanding of the whole concept.
Results. T'ai-chi or transcendent li (pattern-source) is potential and ground for all being and pattern (li) in the world. T'ai-chi actualizes itself on multiple levels of potentiality-and-actuality from primary yin and yang, which are only actualized to the extent of having the simplest attributes, on down to concrete things, which have relatively little potential remaining. All levels are characterizable in yin-yang terms. The yin-yang pattern of being in the world is hsing (nature). The actuality of being in the world is ch'i (lifebreath). Ch'i exists in fractions of different degrees of substantiality corresponding to various levels of potentiality-and-actuality. Relatively more substantial fractions are called chih (substrate). Chih evolves ch'i, and ch'i condenses to form chih. Ch'i-chih is dual-phase ch'i chih. To transform ch'i chih (connoting character) is to transform its yin-yang pattern on multiple levels of potentiality-and-actuality with the intent of influencing the ch'i (connoting activity) of a being by modifying its chih (substrate). Psychological change involves transmutation of one's ontological underpinning (a clear consonnance with Chinese alchemical tradition). The hsin (heart, mind) is a resonant "structure" in levels of potentiality-and-actuality ranging from the concrete to the t'ai-chi. Appropriateness of the yin-yang status of those levels determines limits on one's inner moral motivations and ultimately of one's ground of being and the ground of all being and ethical value, the t'ai-chi. The final goal of spiritual transformation (pien-hua ch'i-chih chih hsing) is to facilitate awareness of the core source of ethical being.
Conclusion. Previous interpretations that called pien-hua ch'i-chih chih hsing 'changing the physical nature' or 'changing the characteristics of the stuff composed of material force' can be usefully broadened to incorporate the ideas discussed above.