The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 125)


“The original i” (pinyon chi i) is “one,” “undifferentiated,” and “purely good”; however, when it rides on ki, it generates myriad transformations due to the limiting role of ki. In the physical endowment of human nature are both good and evil; thus, we both good and evil in feelings. Yulgok continues to argue:

The original essence of i is one; however, when it flows and circulates, its particularisations are diverse. It is wrong to seek for the original i only while neglecting the i that flows and circulates. We have to consider and understand most seriously the four character (Cheng-Chu) doctrine that “i is one, but its particularisations are diverse.” Knowing only “the oneness of i,” but neglecting “the diversity of its particularisations,” the Shakyamuni Buddha referred to the action and function (of i) as human nature. Knowing only “the diversity of i’s particularisations,” but not comprehending its oneness, Hsun Tzu (fl. 298-238 B.C.E) took human nature to be evil, and Yang Hsiung (53 B.C.E.-18 C.E.), in the latter period, consiered human nature to be a mixture of both good and evil.

In this passage, Yulgok points out that Hsun Tzu and Yang Hsing understood only particular principles without realising the oneness of i. This is, he asserts, the reason why Hsun Tzu said that “human nature is evil” and Yang Hsiung said that “good and evil are mixed in human nature.” Here, Yulgok also makes an interesting point that Mencius singled out only the original substance, without including the i that rides on ki (in things and phenomena) and, therefore, could not win Kao Tzu’s full agreement.

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