The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 50)

Throughout his writings, however, Chu His hardly discussed the Four Beginnings in relation to the Seven Emotions. He made a vague statement in terms of their origins: “The Four Beginnings are manifestations of li (sedan si ijibal); the Seven Emotions are manifestations of chi (chilchong si kijibal).” The term pal in this passage is rather ambiguous and means “issue forth,” “arise,” or “manifest.” So, the same statement can be translated in another way: “The Four Beginnings are issued from li; the Seven Emotions are issued from chi.” This isolated and unexplained statement in the Chu Tzu yu-lie (Classified Conversations of Master Chu) does indicate a great deal of ontological separability and conceptual distinction between the Four and the Seven. Without explaining it, Chu His might have meant that the Four Beginnings are the roots of virtue pertaining to li, whereas the Seven Emotions are not necessary so and, therefore, pertain to chi. Undoubtedly, he did not explain anything about the Four-Seven relationship and its implications for learning and self-cultivation. Consequently, this issue became the main focus of the Four-Seven debates in Korea, one that Toegye, Yulgok, and others debated extensively quoting Chu Hsi’s ambiguous Four-Seven statement repeatedly

Nevertheless, we can approach it by addressing Chu Hsi’s metaphysics of principle and material force, which has been researched and interpreted by modern scholars. Obviously, there is a remarkable convergence of opinion on the genial theme of Chu Hsi’s metaphysics. As distinguished from concrete things and phenomena that must exist “within form,” omnipresent, and so on. It is understood as the ground of being present in each phenomenon in its fullness. On the other hand, material force (chi) is the actual physical agent that brings everything into concrete existence; it always remains “within form” and determines the individuality and transformation of everything. In a moral sense, li is always good, pure, and unchanging, whereas chi is what may cause impurity and evil.

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