<Editor's Note> This is the interview of Prof. RHEE Dongshick with announcer in the TV talk show
aired on Dec. 8, 1990 on the Korea Educational Broadcasting System (EBS). It was translated by
Dr. YUN Woncheol (State University of New York, USA., at that time).
MC Do you mean that to empty the mind by eliminating desire from it is the Tao?
RHEE Yes. To empty the mind―that's the Tao. Then you can see the Reality as it truly is.
MC It seems that the idea of the Tao has been a major topic in our tradition all through its history. How did our ancestors understand its meaning?
RHEE As I've said, and as Mr. MUN Il-p'yong pointed out in his book Korean Culture, the idea of Tao is so deep and lofty that even our ancestors rarely had full understanding of it. To see the Tao, you must first perfect your personality by, above all, eliminating all desire and thus emptying your mind. In any time and any place, few people succeed in attaining perfect personality. This was also true with our ancestors.
MC Is there anything like the idea of the Tao in the Western philosophy or thought?
RHEE Plato said in Phaedo and other dialogues that to see the Truth the mind should be purified first.
The term ''catharsis'' refers to that kind of purification. He also said that the body should be overcome. Here ''body'' means, above all, emotion or desire. Socrates also said that the Truth could be reached only after death. On the other hand, Buddhism insists that so-called ''the concern in life and death'' should be overcome, and only then the mind can be emptied. That's the common aspect of the Western and the Eastern traditions. But the Western tradition has put emphasis on intellectual pursuit as the major method of purifying mind. All the Western civilizations have been based on that idea. Psychoanalysis is not an exception. But according to the Eastern tradition, intellect generates none other than illusory ideas and deceptions. Therefore the Eastern tradition insists that we should go beyond intellectual thoughts.
MC It seems to me that there is no big difference between the West and the East in their understandings of the deepest nature of life, although their life styles may appear to be different.
RHEE I must say you are right, but with some reserve. Some sectors of the Western philosophy has come close to the idea of the Tao, especially through Eckhart's mysticism and psychoanalysis in this century. As of today's movement, so-called the third psychology, the humanistic psychology the fourth psychology, or the transpersonal psychology completely comply with the idea of the Tao, at least in their theories. For an example, the humanistic psychology insists that the highest mentality can be attained only when self-attachment is overcome or, in other words, when the ego is transcended; and that kind of mentality is in the state being one with the universe. In this way, the concepts of the humanistic psychology appear to be very close to the Eastern idea of the Tao. Actually, some psychoanalysts began to be interested in Zen as early as 1930s and were much influenced by it.
MC Then would you please make a comparison between the idea of the Tao and that of the Western psychoanalysis?
RHEE Both in the Eastern tradition of the Tao and in the Western psychoanalysis, the very first step is to pull out everything in your mind so that it is emptied of any emotional residue. At first, in most cases, negative emotions so far oppressed would be expressed. When all of them are pulled out, then you get into the state of so-called the 180 degree as expressed by the Buddhist saying, "The mountain is not a mountain, the stream in not a stream."
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※ Ten-Oxen-Pictures illustrate the process of purification of mind. Pictures of this site are Ten-Oxen-Pictures of Songgwangsa Temple.