Movements - 37

TOI-GYE is the pen name of the noted scholar Yi Hwang
(16th century), an authority on neo Confucianism.
The 37 movements of the pattern refer to
his birthplace on 37 latitude,
the diagram represents " scholar".

Yi Hwang (1501-1570) best known by his honorific name T'oegye, is one of the two most honored thinkers of the Korean
Neo-Confucian tradition.  His fully balanced and integral grasp of the complex philosophical Neo-Confucian synthesis
woven by Chu Hsi during China's Sung dynasty marks the tradition's arrival at full maturity in Korea.  His "four-seven
debate" with Ki Taesŭng established a distinctive problematique that strongly oriented Korean Neo-Confucian thought
towards exacting investigation of critical issues regarding the juncture of metaphysics and their all-important application
in describing the inner life of the human heart-and-mind.

T'oegye was born of a relatively modest aristocratic lineage in the village of Ongyeri, near Andong in Kyŏngsan province,
about 200 kilometers southwest of Seoul.  He took the civil service examinations and served in government for a number
of years, but his true longing was for a life of quiet study, reflection, and self-cultivation.  He retired from office in his late
forties to pursue his dream, and the following two decades were a period of tremendous productivity in spite of frequent
recalls to office as his fame as a scholar and teacher grew.

Neo-Confucianism was adopted as the official orthodoxy at the foundation of the Chosŏn dynasty in 1392. The rich
synthesis of a metaphysical system of Taoist proportions, meditative cultivation of consciousness reminiscent of
Buddhist practice which Chu Hsi and other early Neo-Confucians wove about the core of traditional Confucian concerns
for government and proper social ethics provided wide scope for varied and uneven development. During the first
century activists in government focused on institutional reform while far from the capitol scholars in the countryside
concentrated on the more meditative and self-cultivation oriented features of Neo-Confucian learning.  The differing
orientations crystallized into bloody clashes and purges by the end of the fourteenth century as young men steeped in
moral rigorism began to move from the countryside into government.  

T'oegye's comprehensive grasp of Chu Hsi's thought clarified the balance between activity and quiet, government and
retired self-cultivation, and by the end of his life it was his disciples who were moving into high government positions. A
year before his death he crystallized and presented to the king his understanding of the way metaphysics and
psychological structures inform ascetical theory and  eventuate in the conduct of daily life. This work, the Ten Diagrams
on Sage Learning (Sŏnghak sipdo) became one of the most famous and influential works of Korean Neo-Confucianism.  
After T'oegye it was no longer possible to deny the legitimacy of intensive, almost monastic devotion to study and
meditative self-cultivation when the situation permitted, nor to ignore that the proper fruition of such formation should be
the proper conduct of government and the ordering of society.

On the level of philosophical theory T'oegye left a lasting imprint on Korean Neo-Confucianism, for his "four-seven
debate," carried on in correspondence with a younger scholar, Ki Taesŭng (1527-1572) established the problematique for
Korean thinkers for centuries. In particular, it centered Korean Neo-Confucian reflection on questions relating to the
interface of metaphysics and psychological theory.  For T'oegye and other self-cultivation oriented Neo-Confucians, this
was a topic of intense concern: in the framework of Neo-Confucian thought, a proper, metaphysically grounded
understanding of the structure and functioning of the psyche explains human perfection and imperfection; it is thus the
foundation for any theory for the practice of spiritual cultivation.
was a Chosun dynasty Neo-
Confucian scholar and literati Clan
(眞寶李氏, 진보이씨); his courtesy
name (字, 자) was Gyeongho (景浩, 경
호); his pen name (號, 호) was Toegye
(退溪, 퇴계); and his posthumous
name (諡, 시) was Munsun (文純, 문
순). In 1534, he passed the civil
service examination (科擧, 과거) in
second place (乙科, 을과), and
served on various bureaucratic
posts. As for his philosophical
contributions, he is most
remembered for his Neo-Confucian
metaphysics debates with Ki
Daeseung (奇大升, 기대승, 1527-1572)
and his founding of the Dosan
Confucian Academy (陶山書院, 도산서
원) in 1570, which would produce
many scholars and literati. Today,
most Koreans recognize him as the
figure whose face graces the 1000
Won Korean currency note.

In the poem below, Yi Hwang
describes his thoughts during the
Start of Spring, or Ipchun (立春, 입
춘), one of the 24 solar terms. It falls
on February 4th on the Gregorian
calendar and varies on the
traditional Lunar calendar, as
Ipchun begins when the Sun
reaches the celestial longitude of
315 and ends when it passes 330

正月二日立春 정월이일입춘

Second Day of the First Month,
Start of Spring

黃卷中間對聖賢 황권중간대성현
虛明一室坐超然 허명일실좌초연
梅窓又見春消息 매창우견춘소식
莫向瑤琴嘆絶絃 막향요금탄절현

Within these yellow-stained
volumes, I encounter the saints and
In the empty but bright single room,
I sit solitarily.
The plum tree outside my window
again sees the news of Spring’s
Facing my jade zither, I do not sigh
over a broken string.