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On the Origin and Conceptual Development of ‘Essence-Function’ (ti-yong)

Department of Education, Korea University, 145 Anam-ro, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul 02841, Korea
Department of Buddhist Studies, Dongguk University, 30, 1 gil Phildong-ro, Joong-gu, Seoul 04620, Korea
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Religions 2019, 10(4), 272;
Received: 12 March 2019 / Revised: 4 April 2019 / Accepted: 11 April 2019 / Published: 16 April 2019
PDF [684 KB, uploaded 17 April 2019]


‘Essence-function’ (ti-yong 體用), also called ‘substance-function,’ has been a constant topic of debate in monastic and academic communities in China. One group of scholars insists that the concept is derived from the Confucian tradition, while the other maintains that it originates with the Buddhist tradition. These opposing opinions are not merely the arguments of antiquity, but have persisted to our present time. This paper investigates the concept of ‘essence-function,’ focusing on its origin and conceptual development in the Buddhist and the Confucian traditions. This concept has become a basic framework of Chinese religions. Its root appears already in ancient Confucian and Daoist works such as the Xunzi and the Zhouyi cantong qi. It is, however, through the influence of Buddhism that ‘essence’ and ‘function’ became a paradigm used as an exegetical, hermeneutical and syncretic tool for interpreting Chinese philosophical works. This dual concept played a central role not only in the assimilation of Indian Buddhism in China during its earlier phases but also in the formation of Neo-Confucianism in medieval times. This paper shows that the paradigm constituted by ‘essence’ and ‘function’ resulted not from the doctrinal conflicts between Confucianism and Buddhism but from the interactions between them. View Full-Text
Keywords: essence-function; principle-phenomena; principle-vital force; ti-yong; li-shi; li-qi essence-function; principle-phenomena; principle-vital force; ti-yong; li-shi; li-qi
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Kwon, S.-H.; Woo, J. On the Origin and Conceptual Development of ‘Essence-Function’ (ti-yong). Religions 2019, 10, 272.

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