[KS] Names for God

Javier Cha javiercha at gmail.com
Thu Jul 31 15:11:36 EDT 2008

While I have nothing substantial to contribute to this extremely
intriguing discussion, please allow me to add a few words on the
subject of Pak Illo's "Hanonim."

The following is the sijo piece which Professor Gari Ledyard kindly
translated in his 2003 post:

Now and then with lifted head I gaze at the North Star,
And shed tears others wouldn't understand straight toward Heaven.
I humbly pray for wishes held my whole life long. Oh, Hanonim!

Sisilo melitule pukcin.ul polapwokwo,
Nom mwolonon nwunmwul.ul Thyen.ilpang.ey tiinota.
Ilsoyng.ey phwum.un stus.ul piwopnota Hanonim.a!

Professor Baker rightly pointed that Hanonim is personification of
Heaven, but I think a few more words can be added to this
interpretation. Before I get to that, I can relate to Professor
Ledyard's concerns over the validity of this source, since I've been
doing some research into the textual validity of historical sijo
pieces (that is, pre-20th century compositions). Out of Professor
Chong Pyong-uk's count of approximately 2,400 historical sijo pieces
extant today, I can claim with some confidence that save for fewer
than 100, most of these sijo are posthumous additions that "survive"
in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century anthologies. The actual
figure might in fact be far fewer than 100.

Nonetheless, Pak Illo's piece strangely strikes me as a typical work
of a sixteenth-century Neo-Confucian, for two reasons. To those of us
familiar with Korean literature would readily recognize Pak Illo for
strong didacticism of his lyrical poetry. This sijo piece seems to
attest to Pak's exceptionally strong faith in the invariability and
timeless applicability of the omnipresent "coherent principle." To
anyone who received Confucian education, the North Star should evoke
the famous opening passage from Chapter 2 of the Analects, where
Confucius asked his students to take the North Star's ability to
command the myriad stars with no apparent disturbance as model for
both self-transformation and governance (at least the Neo-Confucians
certainly interpreted this passage this way). Pak Illo's high goals,
strong aspirations, and frustration with his personal shortcomings
resonate throughout the poem. If this sijo is a later invention, it is
certainly a good one, and would make a fascinating source for those
interested in Neo-Confucian "religiosity."

With that said, I can somewhat accept this as a "typical"
sixteenth-century work. Discussion of heaven/principle/supreme
ultimate/ultimate unity as "creator" (sometimes personified, sometimes
not) was not uncommon during this period. Chang Yu (1587-1638), for
example, wrote an informal prose piece where he personified the
Neo-Confucian concept of wuji/muguk 無極 as mugukcha 無極者 -- embodiment
of the cosmos' limitless creativity. Cha 者, in this case, was clearly
not employed as literary Chinese topic marker but as personifier. On
the other hand, So Kyong-dok (1489-1546) and his followers conceived
the cosmos as undergoing ceaseless cycles between primordial and
post-creation stages ("creation" as in Neo-Confucian understanding of
kaebyok 開闢) but did not attribute this process to a personified
supernatural/transcendental force or being. I've encountered some
other examples in other munjip but can't remember readily at the

For those people who might be tempted to interpret (Neo-)Confucian
heaven as monotheistic God in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic sense,
Professor Tu Wei-ming has aptly and succinctly argued: "Heaven is
omnipresent and omniscient but not omnipotent."


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