When we think about it sincerely we recognize that human development is often not on a par with economic development which is accelerating together with all the materialistic acquisitions that go along with it. Although pertinent warnings were expressed about the weaknesses of the Enlightenment project,1 strangely enough the Western pattern remains the exemplary way because it continues to fascinate due to its contribution to democratization and the freeing of people. However, emphasizing individualism, materialism, inequalities and also weakening values and emotions are not sufficiently considered to correct certain human behaviors and the abuse of the environment. These aspects are, furthermore, connected. If men do not discover their true identity and the depths of their mind-and-heart, how can they appreciate the beauty of the universe and how can they even respect this universe? Besides, man needs the universe. The universe continues the awakening and the education received within the family, allowing us to go beyond narrow ambitions and to acquire a sense of the totality. The universe symbolizes by its infinity, its simplicity and its mysterious dimension what man is destined to achieve.
To come out of misery, be free and create comfortable surroundings are natural desires especially for those who have been oppressed for a long time. However, true development calls for considering deeply human fulfillment, especially on an internal level, and relating to the natural environment. An unbalance is created between our demands for our rights and material success and our human condition which is emotional and not just physical. In our search for well being something has escaped us. We did not achieve yet the “supplement of soul/
Not respecting our environment is in fact working against ourselves and future generations; it is hurting ourselves. Struck by more and more huge accomplishments we play the demiurges who are blind to the consequences of their acts. We remember Mencius’ words: “With those who do violence to themselves, it is impossible to speak. With those who throw themselves away, it is impossible to do anything.”3
All the warnings, the rules and international declarations will not suffice to arouse a reaction and responsible involvement in people of all levels of society to avoid greater crises and more evil consequences. It seems that sometimes only catastrophes and suffering pull men out of their indifference and blindness. Mencius says: “Men for the most part err, and are afterwards able to reform. They are distressed in mind and perplexed in their thoughts, and then they arise to vigorous reformation. […] From these things we see how life springs from sorrow and calamity, and death from ease and pleasure.”4
This article aims at reacting to the distance and the fissure which have been created, especially since the eighteenth century, between nature and us; these are linked to a split which has also developed in us. Our decisions have led us to ‘err’ progressively. What we are today is above all the result of the cultural and philosophical evolution of the last two centuries which shaped our identity. During these centuries traditions were shaken and values were weakened. Man gave himself a more and more important position and pushed aside the ontological and spiritual foundations. The result produced a great disillusionment (disenchantment) which is very different from the wonderment of the beginnings of philosophy in the West and the Far East.
We are at a turning point in history. A dose of humility, clear thinking, courage and love is now necessary. Although Gabriel Marcel deplored “the decline of wisdom” and the lack of humility of some Western philosophical schools of thought, Paul Ricoeur was one of the few Western thinkers who together with Merleau-Ponty recognized the limits of Western philosophy in its initial movement and who spoke of the necessity of a meeting with Eastern thought (Chinese, Indian) for “mutual explaining/
Only a deep rooted experience allows us to really glimpse who we are and what the universe represents and to act accordingly. Then we vibrate in wonderment at a reality which presents itself and gives itself to us with generosity for the fulfillment of everyone. This experience can take different forms according to the diversity of cultures and their complementary riches. This vision, anybody having experienced it once cannot forget. […] The light which opened his eyes remains like a non changing light in the depth of the eyes and he quivers always remembering the sensation of that universal contact. […] The liberating word is here: it is not enough for man, rejecting his egoism, to live socially. He needs to live with all his heart united with the whole world which carries him––cosmically.6
Nothing is insignificant in our universe. Teilhard made his first discovery with the density of a piece of iron and then studied stones and through a huge adventure opened up to what he calls “The Heart of the
The cosmic environment is dependent on our responsible or irresponsible actions. Do we use the earth to dominate it or do we respect it? Do we think about how we pass on the earth to future generations? Are we only the conquerors or do we truly love the universe? Paul Ricoeur worried a lot because the West had not developed a philosophy of heart and emotion, a philosophy of mutual recognition and an ethics of gratitude. If we remain insensitive when forests are wiped out and animals tortured we are already vulnerable to the mutilation of our emotions in relating to other human beings. Ecology is more than a political strategy, a technical problem or an academic subject. It allows us to reconsider our relationship with beings, all beings.
This article hopes to reconnect with the beauty and meaning of the universe according to certain Korean and Chinese philosophers and sages who had great admiration for life and the universe in their changes during the day, the seasons, the year, and the generations. Since an extensive theoretical analysis is not within the scope of this article, we searched only to discover a way for the spirit to open, a sensitivity and approach appropriate to certain Far Eastern sources like the
1Cf. particularly Tu Wei-ming, International Conference on Universal Ethics and Asian Values, Seoul, October 1999, Korean National Commission for UNESCO. Korean Society for Future Studies, “A Confucian Perspective on the Core Values of the Global Community,” 362–375, also Alasdair Macintyre, After Virtue, a study in moral theory, Duckworth, 1981/1996. 2Henri Bergson, Les Deux Sources de la Morale et de la Religion, 1932, PUF, Paris, 2008. 3The Works of Mencius, Dover Publications, 1970, Book IV, Part I, Chapter X, trans. James Legge, 301. 4Ibid., 447. 5Paul Ricoeur, Philosophie de la Volonté II, Finitude et Culpabilité, Aubier, Paris, 1960, 185. 6Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, Ecrits du temps de la guerre (1916–1919), Grasset, Paris, 1965, 17–18. 7Quoted by Jean Levi in Confucius, Albin Michel, Paris, 2003, 152 (Excerpts of the Tan-kong): “Alas, I am so poor that I do not even have an old blanket used for a carriage to wrap my dog in it and to put him in the ground. However I will give him a mat in order that his head does not rest on the bare ground.”
From the first contact with Chinese sources like the
We need especially in uncertain times to stop, to temporarily stop writing, researching and thinking in order to look at what is around us, not to take advantage of it but to welcome it. To stop and reunite with the silence of the universe from which nevertheless emanates a music which we had not suspected. To stop ourselves. To get a glimpse of what man misses. To glimpse the sacred. Every instant awaits with a new experience, completely human and at the same time beyond human.
Although we look for shortcuts always quicker and more modern, the detours in research are far from being a loss of time and the strangeness of texts and traditions which are less familiar both historically or geographically opens for us other ideas in order to act more correctly. Certain pages of the
Experts gave and continue to give their reports on the serious ecological situation of our planet. Humanity is confronted with an increase of natural disasters. Nevertheless scientists mention the capacity of the earth to regenerate;those responsible state that in the long term the great ecological evils can be overcome if men themselves change their attitudes and how they act. That is why if on the one hand effective intervention is necessary in certain situations, Far Eastern wisdom teaches us also the importance of stepping backwards, of “not acting” and contemplating in order to implement a richer human fulfillment connected to the love of this planet and this universe.
In their research to understand life the sages of the
Fu Xi, who is a symbol of Far Eastern sages, meditated deeply and saw the world: “Fu Xi looked upward and contemplated the images in the heavens; he looked downward and contemplated the patterns on earth. He contemplated the markings of birds and beasts and the adaptations to the regions.”10
Far Eastern thought very early considered particularly the first look, the first emotion and the first thought. It is the passage from calm to movement, from silence to the beginning of sound, from non-action to action. “The seeds are the first imperceptible beginning of movement, the first trace of good fortune (or misfortune) that shows itself. The superior (profound) man perceives the seeds and immediately takes action.”11
Drawing the first line of a hexagram symbolizes this beginning which is hardly perceptible. Our distance from the natural environment, industrialization and urbanization diminished the freshness of our first contacts with nature. It seems that our condition is getting worse and yet new starting points are possible as the Hexagram “Return” shows “Things cannot be destroyed once and for all. When what is above is completely split apart, it returns below. […] Return is the stem of character. Return is small, yet different from external things. Return leads to selfknowledge.”12
The consideration of this first imperceptible beginning or of this return which is hardly visible applies to all our experiences in relationships with others and with the universe: first meeting, first creative movement or first step to return. It is then that we have to search for the correctness of our emotions. We find in the
Thus the centre of deep heart and the harmony of emotions when they begin to show themselves, as we come in contact with things, will bring about the fulfillment of all beings.
The words of Arthur Waley are known: “The Chinese were in love with nature”14 since Antiquity and that showed itself in the early appearance of landscape painting, while in Europe we had to wait until the Renaissance. Furthermore the Chinese were very early excellent astronomers but in a particular way. Their observations were linked especially to the development of a calendar for the advancement of human activities. Thus the study of the universe or of nature was not centered on pure scientific knowledge but was centered on the deep comprehension of what moves the universe and on what helps the fulfillment of man.
Thus this article wants to reread and interpret relating to our time certain Chinese source inspirations like the
Our hypothesis is that those who contemplated and observed the beings of the universe as mentioned in the
Confucius appreciated the
We see that according to the ancient Chinese vision, the universe and man respond to each other, are in “mysterious correspondence” to use the expression of Yulgok in his commentary on the
Thus man shares the life of the cosmos, “Man would not know how to see himself outside of humanity, nor humanity outside of life nor life outside of the universe. ” 24
The Far East expresses sometimes in a laconic way the mystic power of certain Western visionaries such as in these words of Mencius: “All things are already complete in us (me)”25 and “benevolence,
Beyond the complexity and certain realities difficult to explain, the universe allows us to sense the welcoming heart. We find in the
We do not reach the loving heart of the universe because we have a utilitarian mentality and we have not learned yet the language of modesty. Our ears are not yet well tuned. Tseu-k’i said to Yen: “Perhaps you have heard the music of man but not that of the Earth; perhaps you have heard the music of the Earth but not that of Heaven.”31
The Chinese character for landscape (山水) in art is expressed by the characters mountain and water which we find among the eight trigrams at the base of the hexagrams of the
The disciple Hsu said “Chung-ni (Confucius) often praised water, saying, ‘O water! O water!’ What did he find in water
Here it is the life enriching activity which is stressed. We read in the
However this unceasing activity requires the other dimension of calm as the
However, balance and the Mean are important for a righteous action. That is why Mencius reflecting on the notion of time, for example the time to stop, calls Confucius the sage who corresponds to the precise moment, the sage who knows the exact value of time in relation to the righteous action and to the fulfilment of being.37 A whole meditation could be pursued on this notion of time, this time which sometimes seems to us too short and sometimes too long. It is easy to rush into feverish daily activities thinking that we are accomplishing a lot and often we are in agony having to wait for a response, a sign, the indication to advance. We feel we fail by waiting, but if we hurry we ruin what is most important. Here we remember the surprising saying of the
What progress would we make in all domains if these words became for us a source of inspiration and action! When man embraces all things and contributes to world order, he cannot err.
Although often modern thoughts insist on conflict, contradiction, the mask, falsehood, the spirit of the sages of the
8“The Great Treatise,” Part I, Chapter XI.2, trans. Richard Wilhelm, Princeton University Press, 1976, 316. 9“Discussion of the Trigrams,” Wilhelm, 262. 10“The Great Treatise,” Part II, Chapter II, trans. Richard Wilhelm, 328. 11“The Great Treatise,” Part II, Chapter V.11, trans. Richard Wilhelm, 342. 12The Book of Changes, Hexagram 24, “Return/The Turning Point,” “The Sequence,” “Appended Judgments,” trans. Richard Wilhelm, 504. 13The Doctrine of the Mean, Chapter I, 4–5, trans. James Legge. 14Arthur Waley, An Introduction to the Study of Chinese Painting, Grove Press. New York, 1958, 137. 15Marie-Ina Bergeron, L’Eternelle Féerie—L’image, Guy Trédaniel Editeur, 1989. 16Marie-Ina Bergeron, La Chine et Teilhard, Jean-Pierre Delarge, éditeur, Paris, 1976, 58. 17The Analects of Confucius, 10.18, trans. James Legge. 18The Book of Changes, Hexagram 61, “Inner Truth,” “Nine in the second place,” trans. Richard Wilhelm, 237. 19The Classic of Changes, Columbia University Press, 1994. 20The Book of Changes, “The Creative,” “On the Hexagram as a Whole,” trans. Richard Wilhelm, 376. 21Yulgok chŏnsŏ, Edition of the Academy of Korean Studies, IV, 1988, Yŏksuch’aek, Book on the Changes and Numbers [易數策], 14.49A. 22Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Seuil, Texte établi par Louis Lafuma, Paris, 1962, fragment 201(206), 110. 23Milieu Divin, 48/49. 24Phénomène humain, 28. Texts presented by Marie-Ina Bergeron, La Chine et Teilhard, Parole d’homme, Jean-Pierre Delarge, éditeur, 1976, 26. 25The Works of Mencius Book VII, Part I, Chapter IV, trans. James Legge, 450. 26The Works of Mencius Book VI, Part I, Chapter XX, trans. James Legge, 420–421. 27The Book of Changes, “The Great Treatise,” Part II, Chapter VIII, trans. Richard Wilhelm, 349; also Chapter VII, 345: “Those who composed the Changes had great care and sorrow.” 28The Analects of Confucius, 5.12, trans. James Legge. 29The Analects of Confucius, 17.19, trans. James Legge. 30The Book of Changes, “The Great Treatise,” Part I, trans. Richard Wilhelm, 298–299. 31Tchouang-tseu, Oeuvre Complète, traduit par Liou Kia-hway, Gallimard, 1969, “La Réduction Ontologique,” 35. 32The Analects of Confucius, 6.21, trans. James Legge. 33The Works of Mencius Book IV, Part II, Chapter XVIII, Legge, 324. 34The Book of Changes, “Hexagram 29,” The Abysmal, “The Image,” trans. Richard Wilhelm, 116. 35The Book of Changes, “Hexagram 52,” Mountain, trans. Richard Wilhelm, “The Sequence,” 652; “Commentary on the decision,” 653. 36The Book of Changes, Hexagram 33, “Retreat,” trans. Richard Wilhelm, “The Image,” 130: “Mountain under heaven. The image of retreat. Thus the superior (profound) man keeps the inferior (small) man at a distance, not angrily but with reserve.” 37The Works of Mencius Book V, Part II, Chapter I, Legge, 371–372: “When it was proper to go away quickly, he did so; when it was proper to delay, he did so; when it was proper to keep in retirement, he did so; when it was proper to go into office, he did so: This was Confucius.” 38The Book of Changes, “The Great Treatise,” Part I, Chapter X. 6, trans. Richard Wilhelm, 316. 39The Book of Changes, “The Great Treatise,” Part I, Chapter IV. 3, trans. Richard Wilhelm, 295.
Different from China, Korean Thought sources are more hidden and less known but reveal their riches if we know how to be patient. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, after the tragedies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries many people are turning towards Asian countries, Korea included, admiring it for its economic development. However, a greater effort has to be made to appreciate Korean cultural values.
During the second half of the twentieth century Korea became westernized and in the end forgot a lot of its own tradition as Professor Park Chong-Hong, who knew both Western and Eastern philosophies well, mentioned in the past. As we are confronted today to certain excesses of world modernization, the time seems to have come to reconsider development in the larger framework of human fulfillment and our relationship with the universe. Instead of decrees and slogans we need examples like the sages of the
In this second part we want to meditate together with Korean philosophers. Our hypothesis is that, if the Koreans received a lot from the Chinese tradition, not only did they take it seriously and did their best to put it into practice, but they particularly enriched the internal dimension of emotion which we urgently need today to take care of ourselves, others and the universe.
Let us note that Korean Confucian Thought really flourished under Neo-Confucianism especially from the sixteenth century. That is why we are drawn to Yi Hwang, T’oegye and Yi I, Yulgok for this ecological reflection. It is necessary to emphasize as we set out that Neo-Confucianism, or precisely the study of human nature and principles, is not only a reaction to Buddhism but rather a return to Confucian Classical sources to re-appreciate the problems of that time in Korea and China. In its original movement, Neo-Confucianism confronted the present without losing the inspiration of the Classics. One of the Classics which particularly enlightened this movement was the
When we consider the simple, self-effacing and deep love of nature, the example of Yi Hwang, T’oegye (1501–1570) naturally comes to mind. His penname includes the character ‘retreating’, not with the meaning of not acting, but in order to grasp reality and one’s responsibility while enjoying nature. T’oegye encouraged his students to spend time near rivers, plants and flowers before become absorbed again in study or activities, sensing certainly an uplifting presence which inspired him.
We feel in these lines how T’oegye found sources for his thought in contact with nature. Nature lived in him, calmed him, allowed him to find moderation, joy and gentleness guiding the clear-mindedness of his mind-and-heart and of his will. Rather than studying in a complicated way, what is necessary is to appreciate what is important. The essential principles can be seen in ordinary life. Mildness,43 peacefulness and simplicity in harmony with nature can help us today. In the
We remember that T’oegye in his youth ruined his health studying the
It is not surprising that T’oegye chose as the first diagram of his study The Ten
It seems that one of T’oegye’s joys was to strive to reach the unique fundamental principle between the Self and the things of the universe beyond the narrowness of the “I” as can be seen in his reflection on Zhangzai’s
T’oegye made his own Zhangzai’s approach according to which despite his littleness it is possible for man to enter into the cosmic dimension of self. As Tu Wei-ming mentions: “(In the immensity of the cosmos) not only a place exists but an intimate place for each one of us. We are all, in fact, the guardians and cocreators of the universe. In this unitary vision of man, an Ontological chasm between the Creator and creature seems inconceivable.”51
This unitary relationship within the cosmos is brought about by the ‘ren’. T’oegye meditates like this in Diagram two of his
T’oegye was fascinated by the lofty
Life itself is a constant object of meditation for man who tries to make sense of it through symbols like the five trigrams in the
Reflecting on ecology is not only discussing about ideas and planning but rediscovering the deep meaning of life, changing oneself in contact with men and women who lived taking full responsibility for a higher good. Thus Gandhi helps us with these words: “Be the change that you want to see in the world” and Albert Schweitzer is an example in having embodied what he designated as fundamental : The Teaching of Reverence for Life.58
However human tasks in this world are difficult to accomplish as T’oegye often complained:
T’oegye attached great importance to reverential respect (mindfulness) in order to solve the complex problems of the human condition.60 Following Zhu Xi, he considered that the ten diagrams that he presented held reverential respect as essential. This major concept for T’oegye is the opposite of the models of “Prometheus” and of “Superman” with which modernity has burdened us and which disturb the genuineness of our relationships with others and the universe. In a time when we have lost to a great extent the sense of the sacredness of life, of our activities and of our relationship to the universe, T’oegye’s attitude moves us. Although his scholarship was one of the most advanced in his time and although he invested a lot of energy in administrative positions in his country, he hardly dared to speak,61 asking that people reprimand his inaccuracies and he worried about his limitations. “Beginning early in my life I feared more the heart’s anxiety than the danger of tigers. […] If we understand that the heart is misled and lost, that is where the heart is found.”62
In his letters T’oegye often speaks of ‘an illness’ of the mind and heart which he cannot undo. Thus for him one of the guiding threads between all beings on a cosmic level is the mind-and-heart, the fundamental human emotion which springs up in diagrams six, seven and eight. This feeling has weakened today. It is a surprising reality that emotion connects beings while reason separates because it analyses. Paul Ricoeur speaks even of a ‘mystery of emotion’, knowing the unbreakable link of my existence to beings and to being through desire and love.63 We remember T’oegye’s reflection, “The mind (-heart) of each person is the mind (-heart) of heaven and earth. And the mind of the self is the mind of thousands of people. Originally there is no distinction between the inner and the outer or the here and there.”64
How is that possible? Through emotion. Thus when a part of my body suffers, my whole body suffers and when an element of the universe is damaged, the whole universe feels it. Thus T’oegye urges us through diagrams six, seven and eight to develop the heart which is our weak point compared to our intellectual brilliance.
Depth expresses itself sometimes in certain lines of poems which crystallize the experience of a whole life65 as we see in Gaston Bachelard’s inspiration. T’oegye exclaims: “The eye is like a clear mirror and the mind-and-heart is like the sun (眼如明鏡 心如日).”66
Seeing is linked with brightness and purity; feeling and understanding are linked with luminosity and heat. Hence the symbol: “The heart is like the sun.”
We cannot develop here the study of this symbol of a mirror usually used for the heart which Paul Demiéville explained in depth through different facets of Taoism, Buddhism and even Christianity. Commenting on Zhouang Zi, Demiéville writes:
According to T’oegye: “The eye is like a clear mirror (眼如明鏡).” To really see is difficult. We know from experience that because of our activities and our preoccupations we often do not see the beauty of nature or the goodness of human actions. Only when we stop do we see the magnificence of the orchid or the greatness of an act of forgiving. In the
Confucius: “In regard to the use of his eyes, the profound man is anxious to see clearly. In regard to the use of his ears, he is anxious to hear distinctly.”70 Thus there is in the Confucian tradition exercising the spirit and the senses to come into a higher vision. We find in Teilhard an echo: “To see! You could say that all life is there.”71
“The mind-and-heart is like the sun (心如日)”?a surprising expression of T’oegye. T’oegye criticized Wang Yang-ming and Buddhism and yet in the framework of Neo-Confucianism he gave an important place to Heart and to the culture of Heart. There is one sun which shines on and gives life to our planet. There is one Heart rooted in Heaven’s Heart which allows the relationships between all beings. The closer we get to the purity of the
The longing of T’oegye is to get back to daily practical life where everything is finally decided because in the Confucian spirit75, what counts is refining, realization and fulfillment. If we think again about the
T’oegye shows us that from the beginning of a day the real direction of our action is involved:
Meeting T’oegye, who is in himself representative of Far Eastern wisdom, we cannot but humbly recognize that we have let down our original nature and that we have to learn to renew the link of fraternity with all things. We have insisted so much because of the modern world on the rights and individual freedom that sympathy for people and things has faded and moved by diverse ideologies we have become insensitive to the beauty and the unique value of life, of all life.
Yulgok’s approach is complementary to that of T’oegye, T’oegye embodying more the example of retreating when it is time to retire and Yulgok (1536–1584) embodying more the example of committing oneself when it is time to get involved. T’oegye philosophized and acted calmly, in a gentle way; Yulgok confronted obstacles energetically. However, they were equally courageous, clearminded and sensitive to man’s suffering and the injustice of situations, although in different ways. In fact, despite the age gap, each saw the other’s value because of their depth and their cosmic vision.
To approach the texts of Yulgok or T’oegye is to set out on a hermeneutic task of relearning to read and to “taste”, it is working on re-discovering the meaning of these texts. This work is even more complex than for Chinese texts. We wonder: “What have these Korean Neo-Confucian texts of the sixteenth century to do with the modernization of the twenty-first century and with the serious ecological questions which are today endangering man’s future?” If these texts are presented as museum pieces they will remain dumb, but if we discover the key to reading them, their message will become precious.
Our hypothesis is that as in the case of T’oegye the texts of Yi I, Yulgok not only pass the test of time, but they guide us as we mature, confronting the complex challenges of humanity’s global evolution. However, an intensive exploration of Yulgok’s work is necessary. Yulgok was not an ordinary Neo-Confucian as an old Buddhist monk he met in the Kŭmgang Mountains said to him. Yulgok, then still young, was considered to be a living Buddha (生佛). He was, moreover, in harmony with the spirit of Laozi, whose
In a clear and concise way, Yulgok gave his all not only on the level of thought but also through action. For him the reason for the success of an accomplishment was to invest all his energy from the moment of setting his will to the attainment of the highest level of wisdom that was possible. He still fascinates and inspires us because he not only worked out a particular kind of thought that could develop into orthodoxy, but his vision embraced rich aspects of diverse thoughts. His motivation was creativity, the quest for truth and relationships between researches which seem to differ. He succeeded in this comprehensive approach because he embodied Confucius’ words: “My doctrine (Tao) is that of an all-pervading unity.”78 Yulgok guides us to the depths of unity having probably understood Zhuang Zi, who said that the schools debate opinions endlessly because they have left the original unity with the Tao.79 The tradition on which Yulgok leaned was not dried up but dynamic and open-minded: “The wise and spiritual personalities of ancient times having made a connection with Heaven established standard norms for humanity and from there they passed on the Tao tradition.”80
Yulgok understood the intention of the sages who wrote the
Showing thus how much he responded with enthusiasm to the all embracing vision and the depths of the
Having reached the heart of the dynamic of the
The ordinary way of the world is elevating. We are drawn to position, honours, and famous names. But Laozi says that the Tao does not have a name. Yulgok by his life gave the example of voluntary deprivation through his admiration of the Classical sages, his Buddhist experience and his appreciation of Taoism evident in his poems. For him it was not a question of words but of putting into practice and a true fulfillment in harmony with the cosmic reality. That is why he used the character
Yulgok did his best to explain the most difficult questions of the human condition without cutting off from the entirety of the cosmos and society. The future of the cosmos and that of man are deeply linked. Yulgok expressed this relationship of a mysterious exchange between Heaven and men:
Meditating on the
The point of departure of Yulgok’s thought and actions is nature and the cosmos but not in the sense that he had a materialistic tendency or an aesthetic affinity. If man cuts off from his ontological and cosmological roots, he cannot enter into the full comprehension of his condition nor into the process of his transformation. Confucius already said: “Without recognizing the ordinances (will) (of Heaven), it is impossible to be a superior (profound) man (不知命無以爲君子也).”91
The cosmos is for Yulgok a place to experience, to meditate on, a place for a unique discovery where man can open his mind to the diversity, the depth and the value of principles and also to the dynamics and maturation of life. It is a place we approach with great expectation but also with great respect. It is at the same time a place where we come and we go, and which we do not own.
The rising of the sun, the appearance of things, energy, primordial energy. These poetic lines were found in a letter he sent:
Like the sages who composed the
Yulgok was fascinated from an early age by the beauty of the universe: “the mountain crests covered with snow”, “the waterfalls which rush down shaking the earth”, “the sea in its vastness.” How to respond to this majesty, to nature’s power? Although there was a time when Yulgok was tempted to live as a hermit, he decided to return to society. “I still have not finished my relations with the world.” Even if he was absorbed in action, he kept the vision of vastness, mystery and the reality of the universe-cosmos. What is special about Korean and Chinese cosmology is that it is not just about passive contemplation where you reach an indifference to the troubles of the world but it is an active cooperation with the creative forces of nature, which are not only natural physical forces but also the manifestation of an internal spiritual energy acting in man and the cosmos. Energy at the heart of things. Unity of a reality where phenomena are real. “I also participate in the three Ultimates.” Yulgok wrote. Astonishing expression: “If men do not take as their model this cosmic achievement it is like they give up on themselves.”
The cry of Yulgok who often expressed how man can so easily be corrupted (“polluted heart”) aspires to an original purity symbolized by ‘stainless water’, ‘pure energy’, ‘mysterious heart of Heaven’, ‘Heaven’s truth may become depraved and false.’ In the thought of Yulgok everything converges towards the mind-and-heart and springs from it. Man is at the heart of the universe and (becomes) the heart of the universe. He reflects the mysterious heart to which he is inextricably connected. The desire of the heart for the original source in all its beauty and its purity is often an inexpressible suffering.
There is a heart wrenching in Yulgok between the absence of light and maturity in society and the fulfillment of man which he called
Touched by the internal beauty seen through the cosmic experience, Yulgok found in himself the capacity to set his will in order to accomplish fully his destiny as a man. Correcting oneself, cultivating oneself, constant practice, perseverance are necessary to go in the direction of what was glimpsed: “There is this saying from of old: He who wills it will succeed in what he undertakes (古語曰有志者 事竟成 […] )” and:
Unavoidable foundation of:
Yulgok’s work which allies the internal treasures of a whole tradition of wisdom and the ardent concern of the most down to earth realities can inspire new expressions of wisdom and noble culture to confront the considerable challenges of our time like that of the environment. Yulgok is an example of decision, of courage, of perseverance combined with a lofty vision and aprofound feeling for all beings, accepting hard effort, suffering and thinking only of fulfilling.
40Expression used by the Master of Zhu Xi (1130–1200), Li T’ung (Li Yen-p’ing) (1093–1163). 41These are two fundamental values of Neo-Confucianism for the cultivation of the Self. The former indicates more the widening of knowledge and of the development of human nature. The latter indicates more a deep consideration of the Self within experience. 42T’oegye, Chasŏngnok (自省錄), Letter 1, “Answer to Nam Shi-po,” presented by Ch’oe Chung-sŏk, Kugakcharyowŏn editions, 1998, Original, 37; translation into Korean, 42. 43Yijing, Hexagram 57, “The Gentle,” “Appended Judgments,” trans. Richard Wilhelm, 680: “The Gentle shows the exercise of character. Through the Gentle one is able to weigh things and remain hidden. Through the Gentle one is able to take special circumstances into account.”; “The Judgment,” “The Gentle. Success through what is small.” 44Yijing, Hexagram 58, “The Joyous, Lake,” “Commentary on the Decision,” 686. 45Yijing, Hexagram 1, “The Creative,” “Nine at the top,” 10: “Arrogant dragon will have cause to repent.” 46Complete Works of T’oegye, 3, T’oegyehak yŏn’guwŏn (1992), Original, 58, 48B. 47To Become a Sage, the Ten Diagrams on Sage Learning by Yi T’oegye, trans. and with commentaries by Michael Kalton, Columbia University Press, 1988. 48Yijing, “The Great Treatise,” Part I, Chapter XI.5: “There is in the Changes the Great Primal Beginning, tai-chi/taeguk.” 49To Become a Sage, the Ten Diagrams on Sage Learning by Yi T’oegye, “Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate,” trans. and with commentaries by Michael Kalton, 42. 50T’oegye’s Selected Works, Minjok Munhwa Ch’ujinhoe edition, Seoul, 1979, 1, “Commentary of the Western Inscription,” Korean Translation, 162, Original, 522. 51Tu Wei-ming, “Neo-Confucian Ontology: A preliminary interrogation,” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 7, 1980, 101. 52To Become a Sage, the Ten Diagrams on Sage Learning by Yi T’oegye, trans. and with commentaries by Michael Kalton, Columbia University Press, 1988, 58. 53In’gŭk (人極), means that the tai-chi (太極), is reflected in man. 54T’oegye, Chasŏngnok, Letter 5, “Answer to Chŏng Cha-jung,” presented by Ch’oe Chung-sŏk, Original, 65, translation into Korean, 69. 55Reference to The Works of Mencius, Book II, Part I, Chapter VI. 56This makes us think of The Book of Changes. “The Great Treatise,” Part I, Chapter V. trans. Richard Wilhelm: “The Tao possesses everything in complete abundance: this is its great field of action. It renews everything daily: this is its glorious power. As begetter of all begettings, it is called changes (生生之謂易).” Richard Lynn in the Columbia University translation puts: In its capacity to produce and to reproduce we call it “change.” 57T’oegye, Chasŏngnok, Letter 8 “Answer to Chŏng Cha-jung,” presented by Ch’oe Chung-sŏk, Original, 78–79, translation into Korean, 82. 58Albert Schweitzer, The Teaching of Reverence for Life, Holt, Reinehart and Winston, 1965: “The elemental fact, present in our consciousness every moment of our existence, is: I am life that wills to live, in the midst of life that wills to live. The mysterious fact of my will to live is that I feel a mandate to behave with sympathetic concern toward all the wills to live which exist side by side with my own. The essence of Goodness is: Preserve life, promote life, and help life to achieve its highest destiny. The essence of Evil is: Destroy life, harm life, hamper the development of life.” 59T’oegye, Chasŏngnok, Letter 9, “Answer to Chŏng Cha-jung,” presented by Ch’oe Chung-sŏk, Original, 85, Translation into Korean, 88. 60To Become a Sage, the Ten Diagrams on Sage Learning by Yi T’oegye, trans. and with commentaries by Michael Kalton, op.cit., “The Diagram of the Great Learning,” quotation of Zhu Xi, 85:“Mindfulness (kyŏng) is the mastery of one’s entire mind and the foundation [of correctly dealing with] all affairs.” 61Chasŏngnŏk, Introduction, first sentence of T’oegye: “The ancients did not speak lightly because they were concerned that their words would not match their actions.” This refers to The Analects of Confucius, 3.22. 62T’oegye, Chasŏngnok, Letter 11, “Answer to Chŏng Cha-jung,” presented by Ch’oe Chung-sŏk, Original, 95/97, Translation into Korean, 100/103. 63Paul Ricoeur, Philosophie de la Volonté/The Philosophy of the Will, 105: “The universal function of emotion is to connect; it connects what knowledge divides; it connects me to things, beings, being; while the whole movement of objectivism aims at confronting a world; emotion unites the intention which puts me outside myself and the affection by which I feel I exist. Thus emotion is always below or above the duality of subject and object.” 64Quoted by Tu Wei-ming, “Yi Hwang’s Perception of the Mind,” The T’oegyehak Study Institute, no. 19, Seoul, 1976, 462. 65Gaston Bachelard, L’Intuition de l’Instant, Stock, 1931/1992, 103. “Poetry is an instantaneous Metaphysics. A short poem has to give a vision of the universe and the secret of a soul, a being and objects–all at the same time.” 66T’oegye chŏnsŏ, T’oegyehak Yŏnguwŏn, Seoul, 1998, 101 (no. 161). 67Paul Demieville, Choix d’Etudes Bouddhiques (1929–1970), Leiden, 1973, “Le Miroir Spirituel/The Spiritual Mirror,” 137. 68T’oegye, Chasŏngnok, Letter 12 “Answer on the discussion concerning the joy in encountering the mountain and the joy in encountering water according to the writings of Kwŏn Saeng-homun,” presented by Ch’oe Chung-sŏk, Original, 105, Translation into Korean, 107. 69In T’oegye, Chasŏngnok, Letter 13 “Answer to Kim Ton-sŏ, Puryun,” Original, 110, Translation into Korean, 123. The Works of Mencius, Book VI, Part I, Chapter XV.2, trans. James Legge. 70The Analects of Confucius, 16.10, trans. James Legge. 71Words of the Phénomène Humain/Human Phenomenon, 25, quoted by Marie-Ina Bergeron, La Chine et Teilhard, Jean-Pierre Delarge, éditeur, 1976, 65. 72To Become a Sage, the Ten Diagrams on Sage Learning by Yi T’oegye, trans. and with commentaries by Michael Kalton, “The Diagram of the Admonition on Rising Early and Retiring Late,” 194 : “The foundation being established, as day breaks… sitting erect, compose your body and recollect your mind, making it as luminous as the rising sun.” We find also this poetic verse in T’oegye’s Selected Works, Minchok munhwa ch’ujinhoe edition, Seoul, 1979, 1, Original, 478; Korean translation, 54: “The paper window shines in the sun, its brightness is like my heart.” 73Introduced by WM. Theodore de Bary in The Message of the Mind in Neo-Confucianism, Columbia University Press, 1989, 69. 74Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, Réflexion et Prière dans l’espace-temps, Seuil, 1972, 9 et 17: Evoking the cosmic God he said: “Vast and enveloping like matter but warm and intimate like a soul, God is the center that exists everywhere” […] “Center in which everything meets and that expands in all things to bring them back to itself.” 75The Analects of Confucius, 7.3: “The leaving virtue without proper cultivation; the not thoroughly discussing what is learned; not being able to move towards righteousness of which a knowledge is gained; and not being able to change what is not good: these are the things which occasion me solicitude.”; The Analects, 15.29: “To have faults and not to reform them, this, indeed, should be pronounced having faults.” 76Throwing a glass bottle in a forest seems an insignificant action but if many people do this in a dry summer the sun can set this forest on fire. The forest is threatened with destruction by an irresponsible attitude. 77To Become a Sage, the Ten Diagrams on Sage Learning by Yi T’oegye, trans. and with commentaries by Michael Kalton, Chapter 10, 194. 78The Analects of Confucius, 4.15, trans. James Legge. 79“There ensued great disorder in the world, and sages and worthies no longer shed their light on it. The Tao and its characteristics ceased to be regarded as uniform. Many in different places got one glimpse of it, and plumed themselves on possessing it as a whole. […] The case was that of the scholar of a corner who passes his judgment on all the beautiful in heaven and earth, discriminates the principles that underlie all things, and attempts to estimate the success arrived at by the ancients. Seldom is it that such an one can embrace all the beautiful in heaven and earth, or rightly estimate the ways of the spiritual and intelligent; and thus it was that the Tao, which inwardly forms the sage and externally the king, became obscured and lost its clearness, became repressed and lost its development. […] The students of that later age unfortunately did not see the undivided purity of heaven and earth, and the great scheme of truth held by the ancients. The system of the Tao was about to be torn into fragments all under the sky.” based on James Legge’s translation: http://oaks.nvg.org/zhuangzi31-.html#33 (accessed May 21, 2011). 80Yulgok chŏnsŏ, Edition of the Academy of Korean Studies, V, 1985, Sŏnghak chibyo, Compendium of Sage Learning (聖學輯要), 26.2A. 81Yulgok chŏnsŏ, Edition of the Academy of Korean Studies, IV, 1988, Yŏksuch’aek, Book on the Changes and Numbers (易數策), Original, 14.49A: “三聖一心” 82Yijing, “The Great Treatise” Part I, Chapter XI.1, trans. Wilhelm, 316. 83Daodejing, Chapter 38, translated by Victor Mair, Bantam Books, 1990: “The great man resides in fruitful reality not in blossom ornament.” 84Daodejing, Chapter 78. “He who bears abuse directed against the state Is called ‘lord of the altars for the gods of soil and grain’; He who bears the misfortunes of the state Is called the ‘king of all under heaven.’” 85Yulgok chŏnsŏ, Edition of the Academy of Korean Studies, IV, 1988, Sŏngch’aek, Book on Sincerity (誠策), Original, 6.15A. 86Yi I, Yulgok, Kongmaeng ŏnsŏngdo kunnyŏŭi (孔孟言性道軍旅疑) Complete Works, Academy of Korean Studies, IV, Original, 14.61B–63B. 87Yulgok chŏnsŏ, Edition of the Academy of Korean Studies, V, 1985, Sŏnghak chibyo, Compendium of Sage Learning [聖學輯要], 22.5B. 88Yulgok chŏnsŏ, Edition of the Academy of Korean Studies, IV, 1988, Yŏksuch’aek,Book on the Changes and Numbers [易數策], Original, 14.49A. 89Yulgok chŏnsŏ, Edition of the Academy of Korean Studies, IV, 1988, Chŏndoinsa, Book on the Tao of Heaven and on Human Activities [天道人事策], IV, 6.9B–6.10A. 90Yulgok chŏnsŏ, Edition of the Academy of Korean Studies, IV, 1988, Kidoch’aek, Book on Prayer, Original, 5.7B. 91The Analects of Confucius, 20.3. trans. James Legge. 92Yulgok chŏnsŏ, Sŏnggyun’gwan University Press, Seoul, 1958/1986, 1, Poetry, Original, 1.22B. 93Yulgok chŏnsŏ, Edition of the Academy of Korean Studies, III, 1987, Tap Sŏng Howŏn, Letter to Sŏng Ho-wŏn, Original 10.22A. 94“The Great Treatise,” Part II, Chapter V.11, trans. Richard Wilhelm, 342. 95Heaven, man and earth. 96Yulgok chŏnsŏ, Sŏnggyun’gwan University Press, Seoul, 1958/1986, 1, Poetry, 8. 97Zhongyong, Chapitre XX.18. 98Zhongyong, Chapitre XXV.2. 99Zhou Dun-I, Penetrating the Book of Changes, trans. Wing-tsit Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, Princeton University Press, 1973, 465. 100Yulgok chŏnsŏ, Edition of the Academy of Korean Studies, II, 1984, Manŏn pongsa [萬言封事], Ten-Thousand Characters Memorial, 5.26A–B. 101Yulgok chŏnsŏ, Edition of the Academy of Korean Studies, V, 1985, Sŏnghak chibyo, Compendium of Sage Learning [聖學輯要], 21.6A.
Experts from numerous disciplines agree that the ecological situation of our planet is very serious and that it is important to act quickly as we do not have a lot of time.102 Although we know these problems, we are changing very little. Why? According to these experts, it is because we have decided on progress at any cost, on a certain form of economic development and consumption, on the continuation out of habit of a system which uses and wastes non renewable energy and produces waste which is sometimes uncontrollable and harmful.103 Other forms of energy are possible; solar energy would suffice for our needs. A new economic conception, freed from greediness would slow down pollution and other disasters. Although we change constantly in order to be more up to date in technology, ideas and fashions, we do not change our mistakes about certain essential problems. In fact we are hardly allowed to speak about these weaknesses.
Contrary to what we might think, experts unanimously point out that the solution to this deadlock is in becoming aware of our irresponsibility and our attachment to our own interests. We have cut off our relationships with nature, which is not only material to be exploited. We believe ourselves to be superior to it. The great majority of environmental problems are caused by man, so the solution is in man. “We have to become more human, more caring, more kind, slower and smarter, more frugal, treating life with humility and respect,” some say. So it is the scientists who are calling us to rediscover ancient wisdom!
Care, authenticity, humility, frugality are unchangeable values to relearn and to live today. This article is limited to certain aspects of the teaching of the
We are humiliated today by the civilization that we have developed and which in many ways turns against us. It is not a loss of time to stop and evaluate what needs to be corrected and to be accomplished in a positive way. We are far from “the opus” about which Teilhard spoke which ought to include the dimension of heart105, we are far from “the co-creation” spoken of by Tu Wei-ming106 linked to a sense of sanctity and the sacredness of man and the universe.
We cannot fulfill ourselves at the cost of nature and the cosmos but in harmony with them. We act impulsively as if the earth was our property. We give nature no rights legally. In fact the earth is entrusted to us. It prospers if we love and respect it and deteriorates if we treat it badly. Only a conscience that is more acute allows us to find again a sense of wonderment and a feeling of gratitude towards nature. The deforestation and the expanding of deserts actually reflect the dryness of our souls. We have in our hands the power to make life more fruitful or to bring about death.
The universe is not only a source of wonder but education. We have a lot to learn from the universe, infinitely vast and infinitely minuscule, in order to put in place forms of energy and techniques which reflect the marvelous achievements that are taking place under our eyes in the vegetal and animal kingdoms where neither robot nor machine exist; but perhaps more urgent than finding new forms of energy is to work on ourselves in order to become more “human.”
At this turning point of history when we are faced with the complexity of the world and its innumerable challenges, we need more than ever to rediscover the fundamental sources of being and of life, sources of the conscience, moral sources. We consider too often as treasures transient things and pay very little attention to the real treasures.
The real treasures are this universe which has been given to us and mind-andheart of which we become aware a little more each day. We can contemplate untiringly a water source which begins in the depth of a mountain because it symbolizes the mystery of this gift of life. It is only when there is a lack of water that we can really feel its value.
It is even more difficult to appreciate the sources of the mind-and-heart which are easily neglected and presented as utopian, outdated and irrelevant to the contemporary issues. The sources make us hear the voices of courageous men.107 They are one of the important keys of our culture and of our capacity to cope with the challenges of our time. That is why the Korean and Chinese sources which were preserved by many sacrificial and visionary men are for us today treasures if we know how to receive them and rediscover their meaning to complete our present task.
102Scientific Documentary, “The 11th Hour—Turn Mankind’s Darkest Hour into its Finest,” produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, 2007. 103For a long time chemical, plastic and nuclear waste, among others, still remain a serious problem not yet resolved. 104Yijing, Hexagram 15, “Modesty,” “Commentary on the Decision,” trans. Richard Wilhelm: “It is the way of heaven to make empty what is full and to give increase to what is modest. It is the way of the earth to change the full and to augment the modest. […] It is the way of men to hate fullness and to love the modest.” 105Teilhard De Chardin, Pierre, The Future of Man, translated by Norman Denny, Harper & Row, 1964, 178: “Humanity is building its composite brain beneath our eyes. May it not be that tomorrow, through the logical and biological deepening of the movement drawing it together, it will find its heart, without which the ultimate wholeness of its powers of unification can never be fully achieved? To put it in other words, must not the constructive developments now taking place within the Noosphere in the realm of sight and reason necessarily also penetrate to the sphere of feeling (emotion)?” 106Tu Wei-ming, International Conference on Universal Ethics and Asian Values, Seoul, October 1999, 369: “The sanctity of the earth, the divinity of the body, the beatitude of the family and the sacredness of the community are encoded in human nature anthropocosmically defined. There is spirituality in all matter because any matter (Sun, moon, star, animal, tree, or rock) is a specific configuration of the vital energy. There is, therefore, consanguinity between us and all other modalities of being. Self-cultivation, intended for the full realization of our nature, is none other than the transformation of our earthly, bodily, familial and communal realities into all-embracing expressions of ourselves as the co-creators of the cosmic process.” 107The Analects of Confucius, 16.8, trans. James Legge: “The superior (profound) man stands in awe of the words of the sages. […] The mean man makes sport of the words of sages.”