(Translation) 聖學輯要 修己 正心章 (部分)

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Introduction

Yi I (1536-1584), also kwon as his pen name Yulgok, was one of the most prominent Confucian scholars of the Chosŏn Dynasty. He was born into a yangban family in Kangnŭng, Kangwŏn Province, and received comprehensive education, including Buddhist and Daoist texts, from childhood on. He passed the preliminary civil service examination at the age of 13 and received top honors on several civil exams until finally entered officialdom in 1564. He held a numerous influential governmental positions and produced a considerable literature.

Sŏnghak chibyo (Essentials of the Sages’ Learning) was compiled in 1575 and soon became an essential part of Confucian education in Korea. In the context of the Learning of Zhu Xi, sage refers to a person who reaches the ideal point of maturity through the preservation and cultivation of heaven-bestowed nature. This meaning of sage later expanded to the model behavior and politics of the sovereign, as we can see its usage in the title of the book, Sŏnghak chibyo. In this book, Yi I proposes the fundamental principle and methods of politics as well as the importance of self-cultivation.

(to be continued)

Original Script

Classical Chinese English

臣按, 未發之時, 此心寂然, 固無一毫思慮, 但寂然之中, 知覺不昧, 有如沖漠無朕, 萬象森然已具也, 此處極難理會, 但敬守此心, 涵養積久, 則自當得力, 所謂敬以涵養者, 亦非他術, 只是寂寂不起念慮, 惺惺無少昏昧而已. ○或問, 未發時, 亦有見聞乎, 臣答曰, 若見物聞聲, 念慮隨發, 則固屬已發矣, 若物之過乎目者, 見之而已, 不起見之之心, 過乎耳者, 聞之而已, 不起聞之之心, 雖有見聞, 不作思惟, 則不害其爲未發也, 故程子曰, 目須見, 耳須聞, 朱子曰, 若必以未有見聞爲未發處, 則只是一種神識昏昧底人, 睡未足時, 被人驚覺, 頃刻之閒, 不識四到時節, 有此氣象, 聖賢之心, 湛然淵靜, 聰明洞徹, 決不如此, 以此觀之, 未發時, 亦有見聞矣. ○又問曰, 常人之心, 固有未發時矣, 其中體亦與聖賢之未發無別耶, 臣答曰, 常人, 無涵養省察工夫, 故其心不昏則亂, 中體不立, 幸於須臾之頃, 不昏不亂, 則其未發之中, 亦與聖賢無別, 但未久而或頹放, 或膠擾, 旋失其本體, 則霎時之中, 安能救終日之昏亂, 以立大本乎. ○又問, 延平先生於靜中, 看喜怒哀樂未發之謂中, 未發, 作何氣象, 朱子曰, 李先生, 靜中體認大本, 此說何如, 臣答曰, 纔有所思, 便是已發, 旣云體認, 則是省察工夫, 非未發時氣象也, 故朱子晚年定論, 以體認字爲下得重, 此不可不察, 但學者靜坐時, 作此工夫, 輕輕照顧未發時氣象, 則於進學養心, 必有益, 是亦一道也. (From 栗谷, 『聖學輯要』)

(by Jong Woo Park)

In your minister’s scrutiny: in the phase before the arousal of feelings, mind is in complete silent and not a single thought exists. Even in the middle of calmness, awareness is being without unclear. It is like that there is no sign of emptiness and darkness and yet all the phenomena are solemnly equipped. This stage is extremely hard to understand. If one maintains one’s mind with reverence and cultivate [oneself] for a long time, one will eventually obtain the power. It is not that there are other ways to maintain and cultivate [one’s mind] with reverence. Keep the mind in calm and do not arouse any thoughts to the point of not having any amount of obfuscation.

Someone asks, “Can we perceive times when mind has not been aroused?” Your minister replies, “When you see things and hear sound, if you think in accordance with [what you have seen and heard], this is truly the case of the phase after the arousal of feelings. If things pass before the eyes and you see them without raising the consciousness of seeing them or if you hear something with your ears without the consciousness of hearing it--so you see and hear something and yet do not produce any thoughts--, there will be no harm for the phase before the arousal of feelings.” Therefore, Master Cheng brothers said, “Eyes should follow things that you see and ears should follow things that you hear.” Master Zhu said, “If one considers not having seen or not having heard of as the phase before the arousal of feelings, one would argue that a person in a fuddled state has a sign of such phase right when he, who is lack of sleep, is suddenly alerted by someone and cannot discern time and place. The mind of the sages is extremely clean, calm, bright, and interpenetrable. It is never like that [of a man in a fuddled state.]” If we consider it, there are things seen and heard of in the phase before the arousal of feelings.

Someone also asks, “The mind of ordinary people should have the phase before the arousal of feelings. Is there any difference between the central substance of [the ordinary people’s mind] and the sages’ phase before the arousal of feelings?” Your minister answers, “Because ordinary people do not learn how to cultivate and introspect, their mind is unclear and chaotic. The central substance of their mind is not erected. If there were a lucky moment when they were not unclear and chaotic, the core of their phase before the arousal of feelings would not be different from that of the sages. However, not long after their [mind] would become unkept, undisciplined, boisterous, and clamorous. They would soon lose the root of substance. So, in this critical moment, how could they be safe from the disorderly and chaotic mind so as to establish the great root?”

Also asks, “In a calm mode, Teacher Yanping[1] called center (zhong) as the observation of the phase before the arousal of the feelings of joy, anger, sorrow, and pleasure. Then, what might be the phase before the arousal of feelings? Master Zhu said, ‘Teacher Li, in a clam mode, embodied the great root.’ What do you think about it?” Your minister replied, “If there is a little thing that is thought, it is already the phase after the arousal of feelings. [Master Zhu] already mentioned embodiment, which was a learning of introspection. It has nothing to do with the phase before the arousal of feelings.” Therefore, in Master Zhu’s treatise, written in his latter years, he considered the word, embodiment, extraordinarily important. We should consider this. If a scholar sits in meditation, study this learning. If we briefly look at the phase before the arousal of feelings, it will be useful to advance learning and cultivate mind. It will be another way.

Discussion Questions

1. How does Yi I’s explanation of the phase before the arousal of feelings differ from/similar to Buddhist explanation of the sudden enlightenment and gradual cultivation (ton’o chŏmsu)?

2. Is Yi I's emphasis on meditation practical in governing society and educating elites, including the sovereign?

3. Read a passage from Tasan Chŏng Yagyong’s Taehak kong’ŭi (1814). Compare and contrast Yi I’s method of being sage and Tasan Chŏng Yagyong’s understanding of sage.

Further Readings

References

  1. Li Tong 李侗 (1093-1163). He is Zhu Xi’s teacher.

Translation

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Further Readings