Disciples: Followers of Charismatic Masters


Kandice Hauf


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This article sets out a comparative and theoretical framework to contextualize the spiritual quest for self-knowledge and a moral political order of first generation disciples of the Confucian thinker and man of action, Wang Yangming (1472-1529). It begins with an analysis of discipleship as it developed under three paradigmatic masters: Confucius, Buddha, and Jesus. It demonstrates how the 16th century disciples of master Wang conformed to eight steps that disciples in these three major spiritual traditions followed. All of these disciples exhibited seriousness in their commitment to embodying their master’s transformative knowledge. A necessary condition for this process was time spent in disciplined self-cultivation with like-minded disciples. Each of the Wang disciples withdraws from family and society for certain periods, but unlike Buddhism and Christianity, Confucianism did not develop a monastic tradition. The final section analyzes how the 16th century Wang disciples address this lacuna by developing a method to withdraw which did not have to be physical, although meetings and lecture-discussions in tranquil mountain locations might be part of their program. Through the methods of withdrawal they developed these Wang disciples were able to spiritually revitalize the self without losing sight of their obligations in Confucianism to live in this world and attempt to solve the problems of this world.

Academic Division

History and Society


Comparative Methodologies and Theories | History

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