The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 97)

To convince Toegye further, Kobong criticises another dualistic aspect of Toegye’s Four-Seven thesis expressed in terms of original human nature and physical human nature. Using Chu Hsi’s analogy of the moon in the sky and its reflections on the water, he argues: “The nature endowed by Heaven and Earth; the physical nature refers to the physical endowment of human beings and things. If we view them from a standpoint of the moon, the Heaven-endowed nature is the moon in the sky, while the physical nature is the moon on the water. Although there is a difference between (two phrases) ‘in the sky’ and ‘on the water,’ the moon (as such) is only one. Thus, we cannot say that the one in the sky is the (real) moon, but the other one on the water is not (the real moon).” For Kobong, “the moon in the sky” is one, and “the moon on the water” can be many as its many reflections are seen on “thousands of rivers.” The reality of the moon is one; we simply have two “names” used in describing one reality of the moon from a standpoint of “different locations.” Although “the moon in the sky is the original moon, and the moon on the water is its reflection,” the former is identical to the latter. In other words, it is not that there are two different or separate moons. This moon-moonlight analogy, though obscure in itself, supports the basic Cheng-Chu doctrine that “principle is one, but its particularisations are diverse” (iil puns). The previously mentioned passage indicates that original human nature and physical human nature are simply two “names” used in describing one human nature from two perspectives. From this epistemological standpoint of “unity,” then, there cannot be two different human natures. The original human nature represents “the moon in the sky,” and the physical human nature represents “the moon on the water.”

In a systematic manner, Kobong continues further: “What Mencius referred to as the original goodness of human nature represents the moon in the Sky, but he viewed it from a standpoint of the moon reflected on the water.” In other words, Mencius spoke of human nature in itself from a concrete viewpoint of aroused feelings (the Four). Cheng I and Chu His described human nature in a context of understanding human nature combined with physical form; they referred to the physical human nature that represents the moon reflected on the water. All of them, Kobong asserts, addressed human nature in the context of aroused feelings.

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