The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 144)

In Korea, Toegye often spoke of the term simhak. In his Four-Seven debate with Kobong, he emphasised it in the context of self-cultivation. His extensive use of it is evident also in his other writings such as the Songhak sipto. In the opening lines of the Simhak to (Diagrammatic Treatise on the Learning of the Mind-and-Heart), the eighth of the Songhak sipto, Toegye states: “This diagram is a collection of the famous sayings of the sages and worthies on simhak.” He also spoke of simbop (system of the mind-and-heart), tohak (school of the Way), and chewing chi hak (learning of the emperors and kings). In his Yukcho so (Six-Article Memorial), he argues: “To establish the foundation of government is to carry out the learning of the sages sincerely. The essence of the system of the mind-and-heart in the learning of emperors and kings comes from the great Shun’s mandate to his successor Yu.” Furthermore, “the learning of the emperors and kings is the essence of making the system of the mind-and-heart excellent and transmitting the school the school of the Way.” Toegye’s Songge Won Myong ihak tongnok (General Records of the School of Principle in the Sung, Yuan, and Ming Periods) refers to simhak as ihak and songni hak as well.

Given his compelling commitment to transmitting Cheng-Chu orthodoxy in Korea, it was obvious for Toegye to use Chen’s Hsin ching as a standard text for lectures at the court, holding it in great veneration. When his students asked him to compare it with other Confucian classics, he ranked it along with the Four Books and Hsing-li ta-ch jan (Great Compendium of Human Nature and Principle), as well as with Chu Hsi’s Hsi’s Hsiao hsueh (Elementary Learning), Chu Tzu ta-chuan (Great Compendium of Master Chu Hsi), and Chin-ssu lu (Reflections on Things at Hand). In his Simgyong huron (Epilogue to the Classic of the Mind-and-Heart), Toegye, in fact, affirms his own faith in Chen’s Hsin ching as his “divine spirit” and “parents.” According to the “Onhaeng nom (Toegye’s Words and Acts), ever since his encounter with the Hsin ching in his early dye, it had been a continuous source of inspiration for his learning of the mind-and-heart throughout his life. He explicitly told his students in the following words: “Only after I had obtained a copy of the Hsing ching, did I finally understand the foundation of simhak and the refinement and subtlety of the method of the mind-and-heart. Therefore, I trust this book as my divine spirit and revered it as my stern father.”

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