The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 157)

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According to his disciples, Toegye’s “mind-and-heart was bright and transparent like the moon and rice.” A man of peace, purity,and benevolence, he was regarded as a moral and spiritual practitioner who “united the inner and outer life” and “made no distinction and separation between himself and mind cultivation especially when he was alone at night. Criticising Wang Yang-ming’s method of self-cultivation, he clarifies the Cheng-Chu form of quite sitting and mind cultivation: “The learning of quite sitting comes from the two Cheng masters, and I doubt if it is really Zen. For Li Tung nd Chu Hsi, it was the foundation of simhak, but it is not Zen.” Toegye, therefore, recommended the Cheng-Chu simhak of “self-examination” and “self-reflection,” emphasising the realisation of Heaven’s principle and the cultivation of reverential seriousness with a single-minded determination and concentration. As he says in his lecture to the king, “This is the true learning. It is not enough to read the teachings of the sages and worthies in the morning or afternoon. when the mind-nd-heart is tranquil at night, one must experience Heaven’s principle in oneself. Every morning and afternoon one should examine what one has done and put self-examination and self-reflection into practice. Once you get used to such a practice, you will realise the truth of the learning for sagehood.” For self-cultivation, Toegye practiced quiet sitting as a contemplative activate that may be described as what Julia Ching calls a form of inner concentration. As he says, “When my spirit is clear and my material force is undisturbed, I am austere and solemn, and my mind-and-heart naturally holds itself firm without me having to grasp it.” In the context of his Four-Seven thesis, one who can calm the activity of the mind, can realise in oneself Heaven’s principle or the “unmanifest” state of the mind prior to the arising of the feelings and thoughts.

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