The theme of this Conference is “Understanding China.” In Chinese, the word “lí jiě 理解” (understanding) has since ancient times crystallized demands to cross cultural barriers and build bridges between Chinese wisdom and other traditions.
After the famous Buddhist monk of the Tang dynasty Xuanzang 玄奘 translated the Vimalakīrti Sūtra, Chinese have faced the question of how to interpret the classics of other lands. Some monks proposed that these Buddhist doctrines "could only be understood through principles; and must not be interpreted by past experiences," suggesting that even though foreign cultures are sometimes not accessible empirically, we can use the truth embodied in heaven and earth to comprehend them. This tells us that as early as the Tang Dynasty and its multi-cultural coexistence, the Chinese have realized the essence of communication and made it clear that “understanding” means “to understand through principles/logos” rather than merely resorting to one’s own experience. Later in Song Dynasty, Chinese scholars refined the idea and put forward the concept "li yi fen shu 理一分殊” (the principle is unitary, but its modes are diverse). In other words, there exists universal truth in the world, but at the same time that truth comes in many guises.