The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 143)

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Feelings and the Learning of Mind-and-Heart (Simhak)

A common term for Neo-Confucianism is simhak which has variously been translated as the “school of the mind,” “philosophy of the mind,” or even “learning of the mind-and-heart.” This term was often reserved for the Lu-Wang school, an outgrowth of Neo-Confucianism identified with the Ming philosopher Wang Yang-ming (1472-1529) and his predecessor Lu Hsiang-shan (aa39-1192), chu Hsi’s contemporary and rival in the Sung period. The two have been considered to the the Lu-Wang “school of the mind” as opposed to the so-called Cheng-Chu “school of principle” (ihak) or “learning of human nature and principle” (songnihak). Although this distinction is generally convenient for us to distinguish the two schools of thought, it is misleading in a strict sense. This is because the simhak occupies a central and vital part particularly in Toegye’s Neo-Confucianism closely relating to his Four-Seven thesis. Hence, the designation of this term can also be applied to the Cheng-Chu tradition especially Toegye’s philosophy and practice of mind cultivation.

Sung Chinese Neo-Confucians originally used the term simhak as an alternative to Chan Buddhism. Its original doctrine was more explicitly expressed by the late Sung scholar, Chen Te-hsiu (Hsi-shan, 1178-1235), who emphasised the theory of self-cultivation with a strong moral dimension. In his major work, Hsin ching (Classic of the Mind-and-Heart), Chen collected brief quotations on the Confucian way of mind cultivation especially from the Four Books and Sung Neo-Confucian writings. It was recognised as one of the most important texts that contributed to the establishment of the orthodox Cheng-Chu school not only in China, but also in Korea.

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