The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 136)

Practical Implications for Toegye

Current scholarship on Korean Neo-Confucianism, especially in Toegye’s thought, has made a significant contribution to our growing understanding of the subject. But most works, including those in English, are concerned primarily with the philosophical and historical patterns of Toegye’s Neo-Confucianism; modern interpreters of Toegye have been impressed mainly by his philosophical writings, calling him the Korean synthesiser of the Cheng-Chu school.

However, what is not yet clearly articulated is the moral and spiritual dimension of his thought, which is closely related to the basic philosophical motifs of Toegye’s Four-Seven thesis. The chapter addresses this neglected, but crucial, area in the context of his interpretation of principle (i) and what he emphasises as the “learning of the mind-and-heart” (simhak) and “learning of reverential seriousness” (kyonghak). Because Toegye often presented his own experiences and insights in his later years, we shall look at a few previously untranslated materials as well, especially those from his philosophical works and biographical accounts compiled after his debate with Ki Kobong. In short, this chapter argues that the centrality and vitality of Toegye’s Four-Seven thesis intensify the Neo-Confucian path to self-tranformation with an ethic-religious quest for sagehood. To analyse such a topic is significant for a broader and deeper comprehension of not only Cheong-Chu Neo-Confucianism in general, but, more important, Toegye’s Four-Seven thesis and its implications for self-cultivation.

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