The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 131)


Yulgok also formulates an original theory of his own: “i is penetrating and ki is limited” (tong kiguk).” This theory systematises the entire Cheng-Chu metaphysics of i and ki; also, it serves the basis of Yulgok’s Four-Seven thesis. Yulgok explains it in his sixth letter to Ugye:

Why is it said that “i is penetrating”? I has neither beginning nor end, neither priority nor posterity; therefore, what is unmoved is not prior and what is moved is moved is not posterior. For this reason, as i rides on the circulating movement of ki, it makes irregularities and nonuniformities. But its original mystery exists everywhere. where ki is partial, i is also partial. What is partial is ki, not i; what is complete is ki, not i. I exists everywhere, even in dregs, ashes, excrement, soil, and dirt, each having its own nature. Yet, i suffers no injury in its original subtly. This is what I meant by saying “i is penetrating.” Why is it said, “ki is limited”? Ki already involves it physical form and traces; therefore, it has beginning and end, priority and posteriority. The foundation of ki is profoundly one, clear and pure. Why should there be the ki of drug, ashes, excrement, soil, and dirt? Since ki moves without cease, ascending and descending, flying and fluttering, it becomes irregular and uneven and, thus, produces the myriad changes…This is what I meant by saying “ki is limited.”

Yulgok means that metaphysically speaking, i is a transcendent and universal principle whose “mysterious” and “subtle” nature is one, unconditioned, and indeterminate, existing in all phenomena.

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