The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 134)


Yulgok comments on three thinkers such as Lo Chin-shun, Hwadam, and Toegye, especially praising Lo’s conception of the union of i and ki in things and phenomena:

Recently, I have examined the sayings of the three masters such as Cheng-an (Lo Chin-shun), Toegye, and Hwadam. Cheng-an is highest, Toegye is next, and Hwadam is lowest. Cheng-an and Hwadam have have a strong taste of independent and original thinking, whereas Toegye has a strong taste of following, and depending on, others. Cheng-an saw the whole thing, but there is still something incomplete in his vision. He did not want to believe in Chu Hsi… Consequently, there may be excessiveness in his words; that is, there are some flaws in his view that i and ki are one. In reality, however, he did not consider i and ki as one thing. It is only that, because what he viewed is incomplete, his words are, in some cases, mistaken or excessive. Toegye, by contrast, believed strongly in Chu Hsi and tried very hard to search out Chu Hsi’s instruction. The physical endowment of Toegye’s nature is refined, detailed and minute. What he studied is deep and accords with Chu Hsi’s opinions.

Yulgok means that, although Toegye’s scholarship is highly respectful, he did not quite understand i and ki penetratingly. What Toegye understood is not clear, and his hobal theory “neglects the inseparability of i and ki.” On the whole, however, Yulgok still prefers his sincere way of learning over Hwadam’s independent thinking:

Although Hwadam was brighter than others, he lacked dignity and solemnity. In the process of his reading and his investigation of principles, he did not care about words and texts, while formulating many independent opinions… He cleverly saw the mystery of the inseparability of i and ki. So, he was not the same as those those (like Toegye) who simply followed others… But he also had some flaws in acknowledging ki as i… As regards Toegye, there is a strong taster of imitating and copying others; therefore, his words are restricted by prudence, Hwadam has a strong taste of independent thinking, but his words are imprudent. Being prudent leads to fewer errors. Hence, one should rather follow Toegye’s approach than Hwadam’s independent thinking.

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