The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 110)


In his second letter to Ugye, Yulgok enclosed an interesting diagram of the Four and the Seven, called the Simsongchong to (Diagram of Mind, Human Nature, and Feelings), articulating his view of the Four-Seven relationship in terms of mind, human nature, and feelings. He drew a large circle and indicated it as representing the mind as a whole. In addition, a small inner circle at the centre of the large outer circle represents human nature. This circle represents what he calls the unmanifested state of the mind or the mind before feelings are aroused. In other words, as “the centre of the mind with no evil,” human nature “constitutes i.” In the light of Mencius, the Doctrine of the Mean, and Cheng-Chu teachings, this diagram presents three basic points of Yulgok’s argument: first, “human nature, in its unmanifest state, is originally good without being mixed with any evil”; second, “the mind (as a whole) refers to what is conditioned by physical endowment with various differentiations of purity”; and third, “when the mind is stimulated by external things, feelings issue from it, giving rise to either good or evil.”

Furthermore, the Four, as the good side of the Sevens, are placed on the top of the Seven because they, Yulgok argues, “serve as the beginnings of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom.” Speaking from a perspective of emotional harmonisation emphasised in the Doctrine of the Mean, he also asserts that the Four are “good feelings” that always attain their “due degree and measure” after they are aroused. The Four are taken as a set of good feelings that already exist inside of the Seven. The Seven, like the Four, are considered as originating in “the goodness of moral principles.” But Yulgok asserts that they can “end up serving diametrically opposite ends, thereby doing injury to the virtues.” In other words, “evil feelings” arise when one neglects the original goodness of human nature, and this is due to one’s failure to harmonise the Seven according to their due degree and measure. It is incorrect to say that human nature, which refers to “the unmanifested state of the mind,” has both good and evil. If “it is called ‘equilibrium’ before the feelings of pleasure, anger, sorrow, and pleasure are aroused,” one cannot say that human nature includes both good and evil. The reason that the mind of an ordinary person is confused and disorderly is “due to its confinement to physical and material desires.”

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