The "Text" or First Chapter of the Great Learning 84
Comments from Chu Hsi's Questions and Answers on the Great Learning 85
T'oegye's Comments 86
Making Illustrious Virtue Manifest 88
The Investigation of Principle 89
The Centrality of Mindfulness 92
Principle External and Internal: Things and One's Nature 93
Can Principle "Approach"? 95

The Great Learning,1 though of ancient origin, is very much a Neo-Confucian creation. It was buried in obscurity as the 42nd chapter of the voluminous compendium, the Book of Rites, and attracted little notice until it was taken up by the Ch'eng brothers and Chu Hsi; it sub­sequently became a classic in itself, its every phrase committed to memory by generation upon generation of Confucian scholars. Crucial to this de­velopment was the metaphysics of li originated by the Ch'eng brothers. When read in a traditional context, the Great Learning seems to be a rather conventional treatise on self-cultivation for rulers and noblemen; but when interpreted in the light of the philosophy of li it takes on an entirely new dimension of meaning, pointing out a path of self-cultivation which incorporates the new philosophy and leads to the ultimate perfection of sagehood.

The original text of the Great Learning as found in chapter 42 of the Book of Rites is undivided. Both of the Ch'eng brothers tried their hand at dividing and reordering it, but it is the text as finally arranged and annotated by Chu Hsi which became the orthodox version prescribed for Confucian students.2 He divided the work into one chapter of "text, " which outlines the essential steps of self-cultivation, and ten chapters of "com­mentary. " The text he ascribed to Confucius himself, as handed down to one of his leading disciples, Tseng Tzu, with the chapters of commentary being attributed to Tseng Tzu. This ascription of authorship gave the Great Learning the highest possible pedigree of authority; and though it rested upon no evidence beyond the dictum of Chu Hsi himself, his authority was such that it was generally accepted.

diagram of the Great Learning form { }

84              The Diagram of the Great Learning

This chapter begins with the first section or "text" of the Great Learning, and then takes up the discussion of mindfulness as the essential means of pursuing the practice of self-cultivation as described in the text.

The "Text" or First Chapter of the Great Learning

The Way (Tao) of great learning consists in making illustrious virtue manifest, renewing the people, and abiding in the highest good.

Only after knowing wherein to abide can [one's will] have an established direction; only after one has an established di­rection can one be tranquil; only after one is tranquil can one have peaceful repose; only after one has peaceful repose can one deliberate; only after deliberation can one attain [the highest good].

Things have their roots and their ends; affairs have their beginning and their completion. Knowing what comes first and what comes last will bring one close to the Tao.

The ancients who wished to make illustrious virtue man­ifest throughout the world would first bring order to their states; those who wished to bring order to their states would first regulate their families; those who wished to regulate their families would first cultivate their own persons; those who wished to cultivate their persons would first rectify their minds; those who wished to rectify their minds would first make their intentions sincere; those who wished to make their intentions sincere would first extend their knowledge; the extension of knowledge consists in the investigation of things.3

When things are investigated, knowledge is extended4 when knowledge is extended, the intention becomes sincere; when the intention becomes sincere, the mind is rectified; when the mind is rectified, one's person is cultivated; when one'sThe Diagram of the

Great Learning                                 85

person is cultivated, the family will be regulated; when the family is regulated, the state will be ordered; when the state is well­ordered, the world will be tranquil.

From the Son of Heaven down to the common man, all must regard cultivation of their person as the root and foun­dation. There has never been a case when the root is in disorder and the end is nonetheless well-ordered; there never has been a case in which that which is carefully nurtured wastes away, or that which is negligently tended flourishes.

Comments from Chu Hsi's Questions and Answers on the Great Learning

Someone asked: "How does one apply himself to the practice of mindfulness?"

Master Chu said: "Ch'eng I spoke of it as `concentrating on one thing and not departing [from it],5 and again in terms of being `well-ordered and even-minded, grave and quiet6 His disciple, Hsieh [Liang-tso], explained it as `the method of always being clear-minded and alert7 In terms of Yin [T'un's] explanation, it is `possessing one's mind in a condition of recollection and not permitting anything [to have a hold on it]8. . . Mind­fulness is the mastery of one's entire mind and the foundation [of correctly dealing with] all affairs. If one understands this method of applying his effort, he will understand that Elementary Learning relies on this to make a beginning; if he understands how Elementary Learning relies on it for the beginning, then as for the Great Learning's necessarily relying upon it in order to achieve the completion, he will be able to see it as the one thread running through all and will have no doubts.

86         The Diagram of the Great Learning

of things and the extension of knowledge, and thereby exhaus­tively comprehend principle as it is present in things and affairs; this is what is meant by "honoring the good inborn qualities of one's nature and following the path of inquiry and study."9 One may proceed with this state of mind to make his intentions sincere and rectify his mind, and thereby cultivate his person; this is what is meant by, "first establish that which is greater and the lesser will not be able to take it away."10 One may proceed in this state of mind to regulate the family, and properly order the state, and thereby attain even to making the whole world tranquil; this is what is meant by "Cultivate your own person in order to give ease to the people11 make much of reverence [in your own person] and the world will enjoy tran­quility."12 All of this shows that one cannot absent himself from the practice of mindfulness for a single day. This being the case, the one word, "mindfulness," how can it but be the essence of both the beginning and the completion of sage learning!13

T'oegye's Comments

Above is the first chapter of "the writing handed down in the Confucian school.14 Kwŏn Kŭn,15 who was an of­ficial in the early years of this dynasty, made the diagram of it.16 The text of the first chapter is followed by a quotation from the Questions and Answers on the Great Learning's general discussion of the meaning of Great Learning and Elementary Learning; this treatise was introduced in the text accompanying the diagram of the Elementary Learning.

It is not only the explanation of these two, however, which should be seen in combination; all of the eight diagrams which precede and follow them should also be seen in relation to these two diagrams. The two diagrams which precede these

For once the mind is established in this condition, one may proceed with this state of mind to pursue the investigation

The Diagram of the Great Learning     87

deal with the ultimate [framework]: seeking out the foundation, broadening and perfecting it, embodying Heaven and totally fulfilling the Tao. They present the ultimate goal and the basic foundation of Great Learning and Elementary Learning. The six diagrams that follow deal with applying one's efforts: understand­ing the good, making one's person sincere, exalting virtue, and broadening [the self-cultivation] project.17 They represent the field [of application] of Great Learning and Elementary Learning, that which is to be worked upon.

And as for mindfulness, it runs throughout both the for­mer and the latter; both in applying the effort and reaping its fruit, one must follow the work [carefully] and not let it go amiss. Therefore Master Chu explained it as he did, and these ten diagrams all take mindfulness as the essential. ( [Chou Tun-i's] Explanation of the Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate speaks of qui­escence rather than mindfulness [as the essential]; in his com­mentary on it Chu Hsi speaks of mindfulness in order to remedy this. [Note added by T'oegye]).

88          The Diagram of the Great Learning


Making Illustrious Virtue Manifest

"Illustrious virtue" is understood as the originally good nature of man, the fullness of principle with which we are naturally endowed. This nature can be obscured by the impurity of our psy­chophysical constitution, but it remains nonetheless intact within us; the task of the Great Learning, as interpreted in the Ch'eng-Chu school, is to describe how, by study and practice, we may restore that nature to its fully functioning and manifest condition and thus become what we are bom to be. T'oegye in the following passage presents one of the root metaphors operative in this conceptualization:

The principle with which we are endowed [as our nature] is originally one with our person, but it is circumstantially restricted by material force and obstructed by desires which consequently form layer after layer of obstruction. If in exhaustively investigating principle one is assiduous in applying his efforts, rubbing through the first layer of obstruction is extremely difficult; rubbing away the next is not as difficult as the former, and again rubbing away the next, one becomes aware that it is gradually becoming easier. The mind of moral principle continually follows and in proportion to the rubbing away process gradually becomes manifest. It is like a mirror which is originally bright but has become dimmed by repeated layers of dust and dirt. When one uses polish to clean it, at first it takes the utmost effort: one scrapes and scrubs and barely gets off one layer of dirt. How can it but be exceedingly difficult! But as one continues with a second and third polishing, the effort required gradually becomes less and the brightness gradually emerges in pro­portion as the dirt is removed. Nevertheless, people who are able to get beyond the exceedingly difficult stage and arrive at the gradually easier ones are certainly rare. And even more regrettably, there are some who arrive at the gradually easier stages and do not increase their effort in order to arrive at the point where the perfect brightness appears, and consequently come to a halt in their application [to this process]. (A, 37.26b, p. 848, Letter to Yi P'yŏngsuk)

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The basic idea here is clear and straightforward. However there are questions related to the philosophy of principle which are not ade­quately addressed by this simple image. Perhaps the most basic of these has to do with whether or not principle is totally passive in this process, as the image of the mirror would suggest. This question will be taken up below in the fifth section of the Commentary.

The Investigation of Principle

The Great Learning traces the process of cultivation step by step back to the foundation upon which all depend: `Those who wished to make their intentions sincere would first extend their knowl­edge; the extension of knowledge consists in the investigation of things." From this investigation of things, understood as the exhaus­tive investigation of the principles of things/affairs, everything else follows; this, then, becomes a point of crucial importance in Neo­Confucian self-cultivation in the Ch'eng-Chu school.

The investigation of principle has as its aim truth, indeed, absolute truth, but it would be a fundamental mistake to confuse the objectivity of this kind of truth with the modem scientific drive for an objective and detached kind of knowledge of things. For the es­sential concern is moral, and the emphasis is on the subject rather than the object as such; that is, the essential thing is self-transfor­mation through a personal grasp, appropriation of, and realization of moral truth as the truth of one's own existence. The following passage exemplifies this process:

As for the interpretation of humanity, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom, if one only looks at their terminological meaning, though in the recitation or interpretation [of texts] one does not make the slightest error, in the end what profit is there in it? It is necessary to make the meaning of these four words one's [personal] subject matter; entering into thought on their meaning sit quietly, immerse your mind in them, and investigate them deeply, mulling them over and getting their real flavor with a personal understanding and

90              The Diagram of the Great Learning

personal examination: Humanity is in my own mind; how does it act as the character of the mind, how does it act as the principle of love, how does it act as the moral principle of a warm, harmonious, affectionate love? Right­eousness is in my mind; how does it act as the moderator of the mind, how does it act as the correct conduct of affairs, how does it act as the moral principle of judgment and discrimination? With propriety and wisdom one also ought to go through the same process. For in the original substance of the nature there are just these four. Within the undivided single principle are present ten thousand functions, as if there is a certain circumstance or intentionality but actually there is no [particular] form or location. If one does not apply himself profoundly and truly accumulate [the results of] this effort for a long time, so as to have a clear view of the broad and shining wellspring and attain [the fruits of] being constantly mindful of integrity and truthfulness in speech and liberality and reverence in conduct in the course of daily life,'18 it will be almost impossible to have the strength to extend and fulfill [this nature] with its inexhaustible responsive function. (A, 37, 25b­26a, p. 848, (Letter to Yi P'yŏngsuk)

Principle makes things be as they are and is also the norm for activity. One must attain a deep personal understanding of the nature of the deepest and truest reality of one's own being and the being of other things in order to respond in a manner faithful to that reality in the unlimited variety of situations that arise.

Expressions such as "immersion," "mull over and get the taste," "personally understand," and "personally experience" are constantly used in discussing the investigation of principle; they reflect the deep mental involvement and personal appropriation which are essential to this process. Another term constantly used is "ripening":

Master Yen P'ing's19 words to Master Chu say, "This moral principle is entirely a matter of becoming ripe in one's practice in daily life."20 What is manifested in the daily practice of activity and tranquility, speech and silence, is all a matter of heavenly principle. Only when one has become habituated to the exercise of mental self-possession and self-reflection in the context of dealing with such matters is what one knows something real; when one attains this it is true learning. The maxims of the sages and worthies are not to be considered only in the morning or during the day; during the early dawn hours when the mind is tranquil one should personally examine heavenly principle. As for one's self-reflection in the course of daily activity and what

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one does during the morning and the rest of the day, when one's personal embodiment of this in practice has become [fully] ripened, sage learning is a reality. (ŎHN 22a-b, B, p. 829)

Analytically there is a distinction between the investigation of prin­ciple and mindfulness, study and practice. In this passage one sees them function as an interdependent whole in which understanding is ripened in practice as constant mental self-possession makes daily life itself the context for deepening understanding, i.e., the investigation of principle. This process is complemented by what we would more ordinarily call study, that is, book learning. In this too, ripening is crucial, lest it be only reading and not true self-transformation through appropriating what is read:

[Kim Sŏngil]21 asked about the method of reading books. Master [T'oegye] said: It is only a matter of ripening. In all reading of books, although one may clearly understand the meaning of the text, if it is not ripened, as soon as it is read it is forgotten, and it is certain that one cannot preserve it in his mind-and-heart. After study one must further apply oneself to becoming thoroughly versed and ripened in it; only then will he be able to preserve it in his mind-and-heart and be thoroughly steeped in its taste. (ŎHN 1.7a, B, p. 792)

Ripening, then, is the profound personal understanding and appro­priation of principle through the gradual process of deep reflection and attentive experience in daily life. As an integral part of the investi­gation of principle, it signifies the holistic nature of the process, which is far removed from the type of abstract mental exercise that might be suggested by the term "investigation of principle."

Finally, we might note that ripening is a natural process. T'oegye is highly critical of facile theorizing and of forcing conclusions when they do not arise naturally out of the matrix of one's total understanding. He advises the brilliant Yi I (Yulgok)22 on the inves­tigation of principle as follows:

In what one investigates, sometimes one meets with complexities and intri­cacies that using all his strength he cannot get through, or sometimes one's nature happens to have a blind spot on the matter and it is difficult to force

92              The Diagram of the Great Learning

illumination and break it open. Then one ought to set the matter aside and approach another and investigate it. In this way, investigating one way and then another, there is an accumulation which deepens and ripens; the mind naturally gradually clears and the actuality of moral principle gradually be­comes manifest to one's eye. Then if one again takes up what he formerly could not successfully investigate and reflects on it, combining it for consid­eration and comparison with what he has already successfully investigated, while one hardly is aware of what is happening they will interact at the same time to produce enlightenment and understanding regarding what had not been investigated [successfully]. This is the flexible approach to the inves­tigation of principle; it does not mean that when an investigation is not successful one just puts it aside [for good]. (A, 14.21a, p. 371, Letter to Yi Sukhŏn)

The Centrality of Mindfulness

The Text of the Great Learning which accompanies the diagram describes an orderly, step-by-step process of cultivation. This was of profound interest to Neo-Confucians, and there is an extensive literature dealing with the various steps, their interconnections and the like. But of all this, T'oegye chooses for his commentary Chu Hsi's remarks concerning mindfulness, for although the word does not appear in the text, mindfulness is considered central to the meaning of the Great Learning.

Chu Hsi's remarks include a number of the phrases earlier Neo­Confucians used to describe the practice of mindfulness. Their variety reflects the fact that mindfulness is, as a technical method, a Neo­-Confucian discovery; thus the early thinkers each grappled with it and expressed it in their own way, or in various ways. A closer consid­eration of these will be postponed for the final two chapters of the Ten Diagrams, which take mindfulness as their express subject.

Why mindfulness is considered central should be evident from the discussion of the investigation of principle in the preceding section. Without a well-cultivated ability to recollect and focus one's mind, the process of sustained reflection and immersion of the mind would

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be impossible; and equally important, mindfulness is the quality of awareness which makes daily activity an occasion of continual growth and deepening in understanding, rather than just a distraction from quiet reflection or only a field for applying what is learned elsewhere. If on the one hand the investigation of principle cannot go on without mindfulness, on the other, mindfulness works to transform life into the growth process termed "investigation of principle." As T'oegye says, "Although the two are related as head and tail and are really two divisions of practice, you should certainly not concern yourself with making them separate steps. It is just necessary to take mutual advancement in both as the method" (A, 14.18b, p. 369, Letter to Yi Sukhŏn)

Principle External and Internal: Things and One's Nature

The task of "making manifest the illustrious virtue" of one's mind is intrinsically linked, in Chu Hsi's interpretation of the Great Learning, with the investigation of the principle of things and affairs. Principle, unitary and above forms, transcends the categories of internality and externality and thus provides the essential linkage between the interior realm of mind and nature and the external world of things and affairs:

The Teacher [T'oegye] quoted Master Chu's writing to instruct me [Yi Tŏk­hong]23 saying, " `Although the mind is the master of this single body, the emptiness and spirituality of its substance is such that it has charge over all the principles of the world; although principle is scattered in things and affairs, its subtle and marvelous function actually is not outside of the mind of a single individual. From the first it cannot be discussed in terms of [the distinctions of] inner and outer, subtle and coarse.'24Adding a note [T'oegye said], "Although principle is in things, its function is actually in the mind; those who would investigate principle must first of all understand what this means." (ŎHN, 4.1a, B, p. 836)

94          The Diagram of the Great Learning

The exact meaning of T'oegye's final remark on this important passage from Chu Hsi's Ta-hsüeh huo wen is cryptic, for his interpretation of the passage changed in the very last year of his life (see below, next sec.) and we do not know the date of this comment. But at least in part it addresses an issue actively discussed at this time in Korean intellectual circles: in view of the transcendent unity of principle, is there any need for an externalistic orientation in investigating it? The following passage reflects the nature of the problem and T'oegye's way of responding to it:

In terms of principle, there certainly is no distinction between the self and things, the internal and the external, the subtle and the coarse; but in terms of things, all the things and affairs of the world are actually all outside of me. How can one on the basis of the unity of principle therefore say the things and affairs of the world are all within me? It is only that the principle of every thing and affair is the principle with which my mind is endowed; it is not external because things are external, and because it is internal [it does not mean things] are internal. Therefore the former Confucians [i.e., the Ch'engs and Chu Hsi], although they say principle is in things and affai