The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 154)

From the same standpoint of self-cultivation, Toegye emphasises, in his Four-Seven thesis, that a self-pissed state of mind should be maintained by “concentrating on one thing without departing from it,” as well as by preserving its internal “refined” state. The whole process of cultivating reverential seriousness involves the external method of “concentrating on one thing” and the internal method of “being cautious and self-watchful.” As Toegye argues further, “Neither of these can be neglected. Regulating the exterior to nourish the interior is an even more urgent matter.” Furthermore, his disciples report: “The master’s learning is that which takes the effort of (holding fast to) reverential seriousness; it penetrates the beginning and end and pertains to both substance and function.” To attain what the Doctrine of the Mean calls the centrality of the mind before the issuance of feelings, one must cultivate kyong and develop a way of continuous mind cultivation. In this way, the substance and function of the mind can become united: “The centrality )of the mind) can be grasped, while the mind concentrates on its state of refinement and single-mindedness.”

According to Toegye, the Cheng-Chu doctrine of “holding fast reverential seriousness” (chigyong) means that reverential seriousness is “the master of making efforts to preserve the mind-and-heart.” Another quotation deserves our attention here: “To abide in reverential seriousness, one has to remain at the centre of the myriad things and make sure that reverential seriousness and the myriad things do not deviate from one another…Even for a single moment, one cannot neglect reverential seriousness.” Self-cultivation requires quite-sitting meditation as a key practice to “collect the body and the mind according to moral principles”; “If the self is dispersed and not collected, one’s body and mind will be in darkness and disorder, while moral principles cannot be united together.” Such a method is a way of experiencing the tranquil interiority of one’s mind by keeping it in a quite and peaceful atmosphere. For the practice of “self-reflection” and “self-correction,” simhak serves as the basis for controlling and overcoming distracting thoughts, feelings, and desires; therefore, Toegye’s simhak is more of a contemplative approach that involves, the exercise of “suppressing selfish human desires” and “preserving Heaven’s principle.” In the Songhak sipto, Toegye proclaims that self-cultivation is impossible without the virtue of kyong, the motivating and nourishing power of simhak. Ah he writes further, “When one is sincerely able to hold fast to kyong and very clear on the distinction between principles and desires, one’s effort of preserving (the mind) and nourishing (human nature) will be deep. If the effort of mental self-examination and self-correction is sincerely and profoundly continued for a long period of time, then the state of refined single mindedness will be attained.”

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