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
Dr. YUN Woncheol (State University of New
York, USA., at that time).
evening. This program is designed to
provide a reflection on the meaning
of our life. Our topic tonight is the
We would call a person who is extremely
good at something a "Master of
Tao." And to a person who is absorbed
in thinking, we would say in joke, "Are
you practicing the Tao?" Tonight,
we are to think about the true meaning
of the Tao, and how it influences our
Our guest tonight is Dr. RHEE Dongshick.
He is a psychiatrist; but has also studied
the Eastern philosophy and become a
reputable authority in it, and advocated
the significance of the Tao all over
the world, including the West. Good
evening, Dr. RHEE.
must be reasons for you, as a psychiatrist,
to have been devoted to the study of
What aspect of the Tao has
fascinated you? What does the Tao mean?
introduced me as an authority in the
Eastern philosophy, but I don't deserve
I simply happened to be
interested in the Eastern philosophical
tradition while I was studying psychiatry
and psychoanalysis in the United States,
and since then have been making an effort
to have an understanding of it.
Eastern people, including Koreans, would
regard the Western tradition as the
best, without appreciating the value
of their own tradition. I thought there
must be something significant in our
tradition when it has
a history of five
thousand years. So I began to study
Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, etc.
and found that they have suggested excellent
ways of treating mental problems. Their
ways seemed to be better than that of
the Western psychiatry or psychoanalysis.
Indeed, I think the Eastern tradition
contains an ultimate solution. In an
effort to advocate the excellence of
Eastern tradition, I made presentations
on the issue at about twenty international
conferences on the basis of my comparative
study of the Western psychoanalysis
and the Eastern tradition of the Tao.
Seen from the perspective of our Tao
tradition, the Western psychoanalysis
falls much short of the ultimate solution
provided by the Eastern tradition. For
example, there is a famous Buddhist
text called "Ten-Oxen-Pictures"
describing ten stages of practice. The
ultimate state there is that of "Herder
and Ox Both Forgotten" or, in other
words, the stage where ''There is neither
object nor subject.'' The Western psychoanalysis
can never reach it. It falls at best
in the seventh stage of the Pictures,
that of "The Ox Is Forgotten, but
the Oxherder Is Still Present."
It's because the Western psychoanalysis
never gives up its attachment to human
subject, while the highest stage can
be reached only when self-attachment
has been overcome. That's what I've
found and tried to advocate to the West.
Some specialists in the Eastern philosophy
would take the Tao as something beyond
reality, so lofty
for us to reach. But the Tao means Nature
itself or, more simply, absence of desire.
When we meet a person, we used to mistake
the impression or idea we have of that
person as what he really is. The Tao
means elimination of that kind of mistake,
and it can be achieved by removing distracting
ideas and language from subject/object
relation. Ideas and their linguistic
expressions work as a barrier between
you and the object, hindering appreciation
of the true original nature of the reality.
When that barrier has gone, the subject
and the object become one. Then you
yourself become, to say, a clear mirror
that reflects the whole Reality as It
is. This is the stage of so-called "total
penetration of the Tao" or "completely
Lao-tzu's Tao Te ching begins with a
warning against the common mistake mentioned
above: descriptions and names of the
Tao are not the true Tao itself. We
may talk about the Tao in indefinitely
various ways. But all of them are nothing
but mere indicators of the Tao or Reality.
They are like a finger pointing to the
Reality. We used to see only the finger,
not the Reality it points, and think
"That's the Tao!" This is
the fundamental illusion of mankind.
And it is desire that hinders us from
seeing the true Reality directly. Therefore
the philosophical and religious traditions
of the East, whether Confucian or Buddhist,
regard elimination of desire as their
ultimate goal. To empty the mind of
desire―that's the Tao. Empty mind can
see people and things as they truly
are. Insofar as you have desire, however
slight it may be, you can never stop
deceptive and artificial articulation
of your idea or impression of the reality―people,
things, social phenomena, etc. To mistake
one's own idea of the reality as the
reality itself―it is called ''projection''
in psychoanalysis. So called the ''Non-Doing,"
the ultimate goal of Eastern philosophy
and religious practice, refers to the
state of 'No Desire' or, in other words,
of perfect personality. It never means
''doing nothing'' or mere inactivity.