The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 168)

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Sagehood and Learning Sincerity
(Songhak)

According to Yulgok, one can neither nourish one’s ki nor harmonise one’s feelings and emotions, unless one cultivates sincerity (song). In the Songhak chipyo he argues that sincerity is the basis for the Neo-Confucian learning of sagehood (songhak). Sincerity is viewed by him as the fundamental virtue for nourishing ki, and the learning of “self-cultivation and governing people” must be founded on it. In fact, he identifies the learning for sagehood with “learning for sincerity” (songhak), which constitutes the whole theme of his Songhak chipyo.

The locus classicus for the Confucian idea of sincerity includes the Great Learning, Doctrine of the Mean, and Neo-Confucian writings especially those by Chou Tun-i (1017-1073). According to a famous credo in the first source, for instance, one should cultivate sincerity to investigate things, to rectify the mind-and-heart, to regulate one’s family, and to bring peace and order to the world. In other words, the virtue of sincerity means the source of intellectual, ethical, and socio-political development. Affirming sincerity as sagehood itself, the Doctrine of the Mean states: “Only those who are absolutely sincere can transform others.” An absolutely sincere is the way of human beings. A sincere person is one who hits upon what is right without effort and apprehends without thinking. Such a person is a sage. One who tries to be sincere is a person who chooses the good and holds fast to it.”

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