The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 132)


From a standpoint of concrete phenomena, however, i is limited by the diverse activities and purities of ki. What is limited in things is the limitedness of ki. The following passage from his seventh Four-Seven letter illustrates this point further:

In a dry tree, there is a ki of a dry tree; in dead ashes, there is a (particular) ki of dead ashes. How can there be things with only form, but no ki? Since the ki of the dry tree and dead ashes is not the same as the ki of the living tree and fire, it cannot flow and move because its living energy is disintegrated. In regard to the fact that i rides on ki, the i of the dry tree and dead ashes is limited by their ki and, thus, become a (particular) i of the dry tree and a (particular) i of the dead ashes. If viewed from the standpoint of i-in-itself, although i is in the dry tree and dead ashes, it is still the same as the undifferentiated i. Although the ki of the dry tree and dead ashes is not the same as the ki of the living tree and fire, the i of the dry tree and dead ashes is, with respect to substance, the same as the i of the living tree and fire.

What Yulgok is indicating here is that i is the reason for the manifestation of ki and that it plays the role of riding on the activity of ki, nourishing and transforming all cosmic phenomena. the cosmic production and transformation is possible only by ki. Without i, however, there can be no activity and manifestation of ki. Yulgok theory of “i is penetrating and ki is limited” (tong kiguk) corresponds to his understanding of the mutual relationship of inseparability and harmony between i and ki on which he based his moral and psychological philosophy of mind, nature, and feelings. For him, the pervasiveness of “penetrating” i implies transcendence, whereas the particularisation of “limiting” ki implies cosmic transformation. Such a theory indicates some influence of both philosophical Taoism and Hua-yen Buddhism; this is never a surprising finding because Yulgok himself claimed that he had studied them seriously in his early years.

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