Yu Young Mo (1890-1981) and Whitehead (1861-1947)
"Daseok, Yu Young Mo's Thought of Inter-relatedness
of Four Religions: Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism &
Christianity in Relation to Whitehead's Notion of Nexus"
“다석 유영모의 사교회통(四敎會通) 사상과 화이트헤드의 넥서스 개념에 관련해서”
This paper's aim is to introduce a Korean indigenous Christian lay religious philosopher, Daseok, Yu Young Mo (1890-1981) and his idea of "Sagyohoetong"(四敎會通), that is, the inter-relatedness or the inter-penetration of four religions: Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity in relation to Whitehead's notion of "nexus". Daseok is his pen name.
Whitehead's philosophy or his cosmology is called in many different names, philosophy of organism, process philosophy, Dipolar Theism, Panentheism, even contemporary sophisticated atheist because he refused the traditional personal God. His philosophy of organism is based upon his understanding of organic cosmos and on his idea of social conception of all things, According to him, all entities are inter-related from the smallest to the largest, from atom, electron to the whole universe, even to God,
Another important concept which is running in his cosmology is "nexus" in relation to his ideas of process or becoming, actual entity, concrescence, prehension and novelty, dipolar theism or panentheism.
For Whitehead, nexus means "togetherness", "connection" or "inter-relatedness. In Process and Reality, Whitehead defines: "Any such particular fact of togetherness among actual entities is called nexus", And he also said that "An actual world is a nexus" (PR, p.28); "Every nexus is component nexus; Thus nexus involves realization somewhere. This is the first use of the term nexus." In this sense, it can be said that the universe is the largest nexus of all small nexus, that is, an actual entity of all entities. In this sense, Whitehead's nexus theory can be compared to Buddhist theory of "dependent co-origination" (緣起說).
According to this theory, nothing can be happened and existed alone, All things can happen and exist in relation of all causes and effects. Therefore all things are in continuing process of becoming and decay. Thus nothing can have persistent substance or self-nature (無自性). This is the basis of Buddhist conception of Nothingness or Emptiness (Sunyata/空思想). However, they maintain that this Emptiness or Nothingness is the ground or matrix of all phenomenal things, both physical and mental. In other words, it designates the essential nature (Suchness 眞如) of all things.
Ashgagosha (in Korean, 마명/馬鳴), the second century Mahayana Buddhist philosopher of India, in his book Awakening Faith in Mahayana, defines the Suchness (or Emptiness) as "things as they really are (not as they appear), that is, reality itself. Thus Buddhist Suchness or Emptiness can be compared to Immanuel Kant's "Ding an sich" (Thing in itself). Kant mentioned that "Ding an sich" can not be known by reason. However, Buddhists maintain that Emptiness can be known not by reason but by "prajna", transcendental wisdom and by enlightenment (깨침).
In Religion in the Making Whitehead defined religion as major element of purifying human nature, that is, "force of belief cleansing the inward parts of human beings"; thus justification or purification is the basis of all religions. According to him, any religion in the world did not directly drop from heaven. It has been continuously grown with gradual growth of the world consciousness from the primitive to rationalistic stage, According to him in history there are four stages of religion; (1) ritual, (2) emotion, (3) belief, and (4) rationalization.
Whitehead pointed out two main religions as the most rationalized and advanced religion in human history, Buddhism and Christianity. He says that even today the two major religions of civilization are Christianity and Buddhism, However, he also said that if we are to judge the situation of these two religions, both are now in decline and decay. The main reason of decay and losing their strength of influence upon the world is as follows:
The decay of Christianity and Buddhism as determinative influences in modern thought, is partly due to the fact that each religion has unduly sheltered itself from the other. The self-sufficient pedantry of learning and the confidence of ignorant zealots have combined to shut up each religion in its own forms ot thought. Instead of looking to each other for deeper meanings, they have remained self-satisfied and unfertilized. <Religion in the Making, p.146>
Whitehead pointed out the key reason of decay and decline of these two advanced religions is that they shut down their doors to other religion, remained in self-satisfaction and not try of more learning from the other. Thus Whitehead suggested dialogue and mutual learning for the sake of maintaining their strength and vitality.
Now, let me say on Daseok, Yu Young Mo, He was born in Seoul in 1890, 29 years after Whitehead and died in 1981, 34 years after Whitehead. He was grown in Confucian background, from the age of 5, he read in Chinese characters Tong-gam, and then Mencius, and other basic Chinese Classics. His early foundation in traditional Confucianism was to remain with him for the rest of his life, was the source of his thought and of his understanding of religious concepts. Moreover, his Confucian thought helped him to understand the essence of the other Korean religions.
However, in 1905, at his age of 15, he and his younger brother began to attend some meeting at YMCA in Seoul which was established by American missionaries. There he first encountered Christianity and met there some of patriotic Korean Christian leaders and was moved by them and finally converted to Christianity. Although he may not originally have intended to accept Christianity, he began to read the Bible and started to attend a local Church in Seoul. And then he gradually became an enthusiastic conservative lay Christian.
Around that time, Yu enrolled at the Hansung Foreign Language School to learn Japanese language. because many western books were translated in Japanese. Perhaps there he learned English and other foreign languages as well. It was reported that he was talented in many fields, specially in Chinese characters, so he was called one of three or five genius in Seoul at that time.
In the autumn of 1910, Yu was invited to become a Science teacher at Osan high school in Northern Korea, because he showed distinguished talent in science and mathematics, so his former high school principle recommended him as science teacher. So Yu taught there physics, chemistry, mathematics, even astrology. Astrology was his personal hobby through his whole life. Until his age of over 80, he set a telescope at the veranda of the upper floor and enjoyed the watching of the nightly stars and developed his vast scientific cosmology.
At Osan High School, at first he was an enthusiastic conservative Christian, so he influenced on Lee Seung Hoon, the school principle to convert to Christianity. However, there he had a chance to open hie eyes on the Buddhist and Taoist Scriptures by other teachers. This was the moment to open his eyes on Eastern religions, Buddhism and Taoism, including his former religion Confucianism.
Around that time, personally he had a very critical moment in his life, because his younger brother suddenly died at his age of 19, It caused him to rethink about the faith of traditional personal God, and also it caused him to study more deeply in Buddhism to overcome the sorrow and the problem of death. Another critical moment in his life was that he gave up his study in science (physics) at Tokyo in 1912, with his dream to become a professor and worldly fame. As he returned to Seoul, he rather chose a quiet hermit life.
Personally, Daseok confessed that he was attracted and influenced by Leo Tolstoi's new understanding of Christianity and by Mahatma Gandhi's religious insight and the mind of tolerance to other religions, Maybe or maybe not, Yu Young Mo knew Whitehead indirectly though, because process thought was already introduced to some of Korean intellectuals through another process thinker, Teilhard de Chardin.
From 1928 to 1963, he was invited to lead a religious lecture at YMCA in Seoul every Friday afternoon. It continued 35 years. The name of the lecture was "Yun Kyung Ban" (硏經班), "Scriptures Study Class", The Scriptures dealt there were not only the Christian Bible, but also Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist Scriptures as well. Therefore, it was a kind of inter-religious study meeting, There the Gospel John was studied most often and very importantly. Among the participants were college professors, distinguished scholars, religious leaders beyond denominations and religions, Among them were some Buddhist monks, During 35 years of his lecture, number of participants were over thousands. Some of them became his sincere disciples and followers. By them the content of his lectures with his diary were collected, translated, and published.
Through that Scriptures study meeting he developed his unique idea of God as the Ultimate One and Whole and of inter-religious unity, that is, his idea of the "inter-relatedness of four religions, Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. One of Korean Catholic priest and theologian, Jung Yang Mo mentioned that Yu Young Mo can be called pioneer of religious pluralism almost 70 years earlier than Western pluralist theologians, because his pluralistic mind appeared already in 1920.
Next stage of Yu's life marked by his decision in 1941 at 51 of his age, to commit himself to an ascetic lifestyle, eating only one meal a day and by declaring "Haehon", revocation of marriage, by stopping sexual relation with his wife. It was reported that he slept on the wood board and the rose every morning at 3 o'clock and took shower with cold water and remained long in deep meditation, just like 3rd century Christian ascetic in Egypt. It is well known that Christian ascetic monks in Egypt ate only one meal a day. In a sense, his home was a kind of small monastery. One of his disciple's brother Park Myung Ho, after visiting Daseok's home, said of his impression that he felt he met a sage or saint like Confucius or other Holy Man, because he was so polite and humble but his eyes were sharply bright.
However, Daseok continued to study on Eastern religious scriptures with the Bible more and more. He said he was a hungry beggar in knowledge. Thus he said, "Since I am badly off, so I beg for bread from here and there. Thus I am eating not only the Bible but also Confucian and Buddhist scriptures. In 1959, he translated Laotzu's Tao Te Ching, and Mahayana Buddhist Scripture, Perfection of Wisdom. And the following year he translated some of Psalms from Hebrew to Korean and numerous Confucian texts, such as Analects (論語), the Book of Changes (易經), the Book of History (書經), and Chu Don Yee's Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate (太極圖說).
In 1977, He attempted to leave home twice to die outside on the road like Tolstoi, but returned home by others almost dead. On 3rd, February 1981, he returned to God, the Ultimate One and the Whole where he admired and longed for.
Daseok did not publish any formal books, But he wrote his thought in poetic forms. He composed thousands of religious poems; most of them are written in Chinese characters and he left them with his diary. His disciples, Park Young Ho and Kim Heung Ho translated them in modern Korean with interpretations, At the international conference of the World Congress Philosophy which was held in Seoul in 2008, he and his disciple Ham Suk Hun were introduced as representatives of contemporary Korean philosopher.
Finally, I would like to say very briefly the main point of Yu Young Mo's thought of the inter-relatedness or inter-penetration of 4 religions, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and Christianity. We can recognize this inter-relatedness of those four religions by his understanding of God. He calls God, in many different names: Abba Father, the Ultimate One, the Void, Emptiness, Nirvana, the Whole, the Spirit, etc. Most typical one among them is "non-existent existing God" or "God in Emptiness".
First, Yu Young Mo discovered the common ground for the unity or harmony of these four religions, That is his understanding of the Ultimate Reality of these four religions, According to him, the essence of each religion, or the ground of fundamental teachings of each religion shows their understanding of the "Ultimate Reality" even though the terminologies of expression or the ways of interpretation are various and different.
In Confucianism they call their Ultimate Reality as Heaven or Shangti (上帝/Supreme God) or Great Ultimate (太極) or Non-Ultimate (無極), or the Ultimate One (窮一). Yu Young Mo seems to perceive that Confucianism is one of typical monotheism. However, in Confucianism there was certain trend of change or progress in understanding of God. Even Confucius himself prefers to call God as Heaven instead of the Shangti (上帝, the Supreme Ruler). By Neo-Confucian scholars, the Ultimate Reality has been understood and called as Great Ultimate (太極) or Non-Ultimate (無極), or Li (理). It seemed that Neo Confucianism, in a certain sense, sets out to build a philosophy of religion with functioning as philosophy as well as religion by a synthesis of the Confucianism of Confucius, Mencius, Taoism, and certain aspect of Buddhism.
In Taoism, they call Ultimate Reality as Tao (道). In Tao Te Ching (道德經), Lao-tzu defined as follows: "Tao which is named or explained in words is not Tao, According to Lao-tzu, Tao is essentially nameless, that is, indescribable and incomprehensible just as the mystics usually say that their experiences of God as the Ultimate Reality are ineffable and indescribable. Thus, it corresponds to Meister Eckhart's idea of the 'Godhead'. Therefore, Tao is infinitely transcendent even though it is mystically immanent in all things. Yu Young Mo understood the Tao of Taoism in the sense of void, From the perspective of Taoism, Yu appreciates that Buddhist term, 'Nothingness or Emptiness is nothing but the 'void' or 'empty' (空/虛) which is inexpressible.
In Buddhism, their Ultimate Reality is called Emptiness or Nothingness. In a sense, Buddhism can be called a philosophy of Emptiness (Sunyata). However, it is truly not easy to grasp the real meaning of the Emptiness. According to T.R.V. Murti, a distinguished Mahayana Buddhist scholar, the Buddhist emptiness is nothing but the Absolute or the Ultimate Reality of which we cannot describe. According to Nagarjuna (in Korean, 龍樹), 2nd century Indian philosopher and the founder of the Madhyamika School (中觀學派) of Mahayana Buddhism, Emptiness is neither being nor nonbeing, nor being and nonbeing at the same time, and neither nor being and nonbeing at the same time. Thus for him, Emptiness (Sunyata) is beyond any natures or attributes conceived by men. Accordingly, it signifies the Absolute, namely, Ultimate Reality. It seemed that Yu Young Mo deeply understood this point, the true meaning of Emptiness which signifies Ultimate Reality.
Recently, one Ph. D. dissertation and one Th. D. dissertation are written on Yu Young Mo's philosophical and theological thought. One is by Dr. Yoon Jeong Hyun, a Korean Anglican priest, presented at Birmingham University, England, in 2002, on the title of "The Non-Existent Existing God: An East Asian Perspective with specific Reference to the Thought of Ryu Youngmo." Another one is by Dr. Park Myung Woo, a Korean Protestant Minister, presented at the University of Edinburgh, England in 2001, on the title of "Building a Local Christian Theology in the Context of Korean religious Pluralism: A Critical Analysis of the Theology of Ryu Youngmo (1890-1981)".
In my view, because Whitehead in his cosmology synthesized the philosophical-religious insight of the East and West, the above mentioned religious and philosophical thoughts of those religions might be included in Whitehead's dipolar theism, specially in his idea of God as creativity and God's primordial nature. Whitehead explained that God's primordial nature is "the unlimited conceptual realization of the absolute wealth of potentiality. Thus it seems very close to Buddhist concept of Void or Emptiness, because it also denotes the absolute wealth of unlimited potentiality. At the same time, the essential nature of the Great Ultimate of Confucianism and the Tao of Taoism also denotes creativity or the ground of all beings.
Applied to Whitehead's nexus theory and to Yu Young Mo's conception of Inter-relatedness, we can come to recognize that not only of four religions but of all religions on earth are mutually inter-related directly or indirectly. because any religion in the world could not been existed alone, and all religions are on the way of mutual influencing. Thus it means that any religion on the earth is not perfectly independent.
Therefore, we have to try to open the door of one's own religion to others and to try to learn from others in order to be more matured as Whitehead suggested. As we know well, Paul Tillich said that the best way of today's mission is not conversion but dialogue, because dialogue may bring mutual understanding and mutual transformation. This may be the toughest burden to bear for all of us today because dialogue between different religions is the most difficult task. However, it would be the best way and no other way of today's world peace and global harmony.
From this respect, it can be said that both Whitehead and Yu Young Mo greatly contributed for the dialogue between East and West and between Christianity and other religions. Accordingly, we have to be very careful not to become narrow minded dogmatician of any religion or denomination but to become a global minded (in other words, spiritually enlightened), tolerant person. Thank you all.