Understanding the Word as the Process of Embodiment

Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 1, 1997 - Pages 55-70

What do we mean when we say we understand the Word? Do we mean that we have a conceptual grasp of an idea? Do we mean something more? When Rev. Moon speaks of under­standing the Word, he often means it in the sense of embodiment: “Don’t understand God’s words only with your head, but know them in your heart and perceive them through your body.”[1] We can find numerous phrases of this kind in Rev. Moon’s speeches. In Exposition of the Divine Principle, a perfected human being is described as the “incarnation of the Word.[2]

In Korean text of Exposition of the Divine Principle, the term chae-hyul is used in the context of understanding the Word. [3] Though usually translated by the English word ‘experience,’ chae-hyul means both embodied experience and understanding at the same time. This term is one of several words common to Far Eastern cultures, often translated ‘experience,’ which have the connotation of knowing through embodiment.[4]Chae-hyul consists of two Chinese characters. The first character means ‘body’ and the second, ‘salvation.’ The second character consists of two parts, ‘mind’ and ‘blood.’ Understanding the Word thus means bodily experience, and it is the salvation of body. Salvation consists of blood and mind. Although I will not further pursue a speculative etymology of the term, it is quite interesting to note its construction. The insepara­bil­ity of understanding and embodied experience, which is exemplified in the meaning of chae-hyul, is a central theme of this essay. Through expository analysis, we will clarify the meaning of understanding as the process of embodying knowledge. This clarification can, I believe, elucidate what we mean by ‘understand’ when we say we understand the Word.


1. Understanding: Conceptual and Embodied

Understanding the Word is supposed to be a liberating power which can free one from inauthentic human nature, characterized by bondage to bodily desires. However, as long as understanding the Word remains only conceptual, one’s reality is left untouched. There is a great difference between what I understand conceptually versus what I am and how I am. In discussing religious or ethical knowledge, the gap between knowing and being is a serious problem.

Let’s discuss what it means to understand something from the perspective of the involve­ment of the self. There is a mode of understanding in which one is detached from what one tries to understand. One stands in the position of a neutral observer and tries to see the subject matter without involvement of the self. A typical example of this mode of understand­ing is found in science. In science, it is entirely irrelevant who you are, what you are and how you are. All that matters is the phenomena under observation, which one understands as independent things. The act of understanding means to stand as a bystander and grasp knowledge as pieces of information.

There is another mode of understanding in which one cannot separate oneself from what one tries to understand. One’s mode of being—namely what one is, how one is and who one is—is essential to what one understands. Religious or ethical knowledge is of this kind. What one can see and understand is limited, depending upon the kind of person one is. Everyone has a horizon which determines the range and scope of what he or she can know. A person’s mode of being deter­mines his horizon and the limit of his knowledge. The essential feature of this kind of knowledge is the involvement of the self.

When we speak about understanding in the latter sense, we always speak about its degrees. There are unending degrees in understanding. For example, the simple phrase ‘true love’ means drastically different things to different people, depending upon the person’s experience of love and ability to love. Understanding here is inseparable from being. Vital religious or ethical knowledge is more a matter of being rather than a matter of having. Properly speaking, one is enlightened to the knowledge.

The contrast between these two modes of understanding, that is, understanding as a neutral observer standing apart from what one understands, and understanding as a mode of being where one is essentially involved in what one understands, is roughly parallel to another distinc­tion: conceptual understanding and embodied understanding. It can be argued that one cannot draw a strict dichotomy between these two modes, as every act of understanding involves both conceptualization and embodiment to a varying degree. Nevertheless, some types of under­standing, notably of scientific knowledge, are entirely in the conceptual mode, while other kinds of understanding, notably of religious and ethical knowledge, necessarily involve embodiment. Science and religion typify these two modes of understanding in their purest form. Exposition of the Divine Principle explains the contrasting modes of knowing in science and religion in terms of truth, i.e., “internal truth” and “external truth.”[5] This essay can be seen an attempt to highlight this contrast in relation to the phenomena of understanding.

The strength of conceptual understanding is its clarity. It pursues clear definitions and logical relationships among ideas. It establishes an independent body of knowledge accessible to all. Everyone can reach this understanding without much concern about who one is or how one is. Many Western philosophers, inspired by the advancement of modern science, formulated its spirit into philosophy. They saw the task of philosophy in bringing the clarity of mathematics and science to all realms of human knowledge. Thus mathematics and science have played a key role in the development of Western philosophy. Plato, Descartes, and Kant are a few major fig­ures who constructed their philosophies by taking these disciplines as models. In the 20th century, both Logical Positivism and Analytic Philosophy have held logic, mathematics and modern scien­ces in high esteem, setting them up as the ideal standard for all knowing.

However, one cannot pursue religious knowledge in the same way as one pursues scien­tific knowledge. If one pursues mathematical and scientific clarity when seeking for religious or ethical knowledge, one cannot gain a fruitful result. The heart of the matter is, as I stated above, the involvement of the self. One’s mode of being can open up or close one’s access to knowledge. To clarify this point, I want to discuss the relevancy of the self to knowledge and the self as the doorway to knowledge. Following that discussion, I will clarify the meaning of knowledge as embodiment.


2. The Self and Access to Knowledge

a. Heart as the Primordial Essence of the Human Being

Human beings do not exist in the same way as material things exist. For humans, how and why one exists is always an issue. The sense of being is always the center of concern. It was Heidegger who clarified this interpretive mode of being in human beings. Each one of us always understands the sense of one’s existence in a particular manner. Why do human beings exist with the essential concern for one’s own being? Certainly to-be (being or to be alive) or not-to-be (non-being or death) lies at the heart of concern for human beings. Heidegger’s analysis is interesting and has its merit. However, a detailed discussion of Heidegger’s sense of being would entail treat­ing the issue of temporality (death), and therefore lies beyond the scope of this essay.

In Unification Thought, the Theory of Original Human Nature explicates the essential trait of human existence as heart. Heart is not the kind of property one can have or lose. It is not a thing one can hold or lose as one does with a possession. Defined as “the emotional impulse to obtain joy through love,”[6] heart is the primordial basis of all conscious and unconscious activities. Heart is the basis of care and concern. People have the tendency to be either careful or careless about themselves, other people, and things because the human being is a Being of Heart. Heart constantly radiates its concern as the sun radiates light. When looking over the land, the area one can see and the limit of its horizon are determined by the area illuminated by light from the sun. Likewise, the world one can experience and the limit of one’s horizon are limited by the extent of caring and concern flowing from one’s heart. In other words, one’s world is determined by the quality of one’s love. Our world is bounded by the limit of love and heart.

Among the things with which human beings are concerned, one’s own being is the funda­mental issue. Whether one is (being or life) or is not (non-being or death) is always an issue. At the center of concern is how one is and what one is. One’s being can become meaningful or mean­ing­less depending upon the way one relates to oneself. At the root of this self-relation is the heart. It is the first primordial essence of the human being.

In everyday life, we talk about being human and inhuman. To be human designates, in essence, one’s capacity of heart or quality of love. Since heart is the essence of one’s character, being human is ascribed to a person whose heart is abundantly flowing. A person is said to be inhuman if his flow of heart is somehow disturbed and hence he cannot relate to the self and to others.

b. Authenticity and Inauthenticity

In speaking about any trait of human beings, we always encounter the crucial distinction between what is authentic and inauthentic, original and non-original, true and false. We cannot talk about love, for example, without making qualifications, distinguishing between authentic love and inauthentic love, original love and non-original love, true love and false love. Although every human being has the innate capacity of heart to give caring love, the heart’s growth to maturity can be disturbed and perverted. Perverted love can appear as excessive possessiveness or obsession toward a particular person or thing. It can also appear as an extreme lack of concern and incapacity to love.

Much religious and ethical knowledge concerning human conduct appears in the form of commandments. This knowledge has a prescriptive dimension. Its prescriptions operate in the gap between how one ought to be and how one in fact is. Furthermore, the distinction between authenticity and inauthenticity applies to all aspects of human life because of this pervasive and deep gap between how one ought to be and how one is. In the individual, this gap appears is the conflict between the normative prescriptions which religious and ethical knowledge provide and one’s bodily desires which try to fulfill their own goal while disregarding these normative com­mand­ments. In this sense, as it is often said, man is half divine and half beast. In the midst of this inner conflict, a human being has the capacity to understand the normative dimension of life and to try to regulate himself according to it.

In Unification Thought, the Theory of Original Human Nature explains that the human being is a “Being of Logos,” which includes both norm and the rational expression of freedom within the norm.[7] This is the second primordial essence of the human being. From Plato onward, the conflict between the normative prescriptive dimension of being and the factual reality of being (which is often driven by excessive bodily desires) has been the underlying problem of moral philosophy. On one side, there is a cluster of terms such as mind, spirit, reason and soul, and on the other side, terms such as body, flesh and appetites. Although the sense of each term is slightly different due to its varied historical and philosophical contexts, taken together these terms can be seen as describing the two factors which constitute human beings. Unification Thought’s Theory of Original Human Nature explicates the human being as a United Body of sungsang (internal nature) and hyungsang (external form). All kinds of mental, spiritual, conscious and unconscious activities belong to the former, and all kinds of bodily manifestations such as the physical desires belong to the latter.

Simply speaking, man is seen as the unity of the spiritual and the physical. The problem particular to humans is disunity, disharmony, conflict, and struggle between the two. One of the essential tasks of religious and ethical knowledge is to bring these conflicting elements into unity and harmony. Everyone desires to be good, but everyone cannot be truly good so easily. It is a fundamental fact that there is a huge discrepancy or conflict between what one truly wants to be and what one in fact is. On the spiritual or rational side, one understands, and even desires, to be what one “ought” to be. On the physical side, one is often driven or controlled by physical desires. The question of authenticity and inauthenticity can be seen, in the present context, as the question of unity or disunity between the spiritual and the physical or the mind and the body.

c. The Reign of Good

Whether or not human beings desire to be good is a perennial question. Such moral concepts as good, just, and right lose their power and effectiveness unless one presupposes the fundamental propensity of human beings for goodness. If human beings did not have a funda­mental orientation for good, moral teachings and religious doctrines would have no practical effect. However, it is a primordial fact that every human being always tries to be good or just. No matter what one does, one always tries to justify one’s action. If a defensible reason is not avail­able at the time of the action, one finds and creates a reason afterwards. We notice the bare fact that human beings look for a reason to justify even the most evil act. Every war in history was declared in the name of justice. Both sides give their own reasons to fight, their leaders appealing to the people’s sense of justice. Human beings want and need a justifiable reason to kill others.

The question is this: Why do humans care about being good or just? The fact of justifica­tion discloses this primordial propensity of the human being. One necessarily cares about being good or just. As discussed previously, man as a Being of Heart and a Being of Norm. In this light, the desire to be just and right stems from the human being’s primordial essence.

Many philosophers have recognized the human being’s fundamental orientation towards the good. All human acts, whether they are good or bad, are performed within this fundamental orientation. The orientation towards the good is unshakable, regardless of particular acts. It tran­scends all particular instances. Plato recognized the transcendent character of the good and made it an integral foundation of his architecture of thought. From Plato onward, the call to the good, whether it be the voice coming from the inner depth of one’s soul or the command of reason, has been recognized as transcending the experiential reality of human life.

Although under the reign of good, in the sense that everyone invariably tries to give justi­fi­able reasons for their actions, human beings are immersed in a serious conflict between what one “ought” to be and what one in fact “is.” We can easily have a conceptual understanding of higher ideals and all kinds of religious and ethical knowledge as pieces of information. In other words, we can understand the Word with the head. However, if someone asks you if you have truly understood it, you will hesitate to answer. Why?

d. Zen Understanding of Language

Let’s go back to the phrase I quoted at the beginning of this essay: “Don’t understand God’s words only with your head, but know them in your heart and perceive them through your body.” To move from “understand God’s words only with your head” to “know them in your heart… and through your body” is not simply a matter of increasing one’s degree of understand­ing in the sense of conceptual clarity and comprehensiveness. Rather, one must move from under­standing in concept to understanding in one’s being—embodiment. For example, “benevolence” can never be adequately understood without being benevolent. This is like the contrast between knowing and being/becoming. The radical difference between understanding a concept and under­standing as being, becoming or embodiment has been clearly recognized by religious teachings such as Zen.

Zen is founded on the insight that conceptual understanding never leads one to the authentic realization of enlightenment. Zen, like other Far Eastern traditions, recognizes the limits of language and what language can do. Language can lead one to a certain point, but it can never be the final vehicle to the authentic realization of the Buddha’s truth. Recognizing the inadequacy of language, Zen teaches that one can understand enlightenment only by being enlightened. Enlight­en­ment can be known, but only when all attempts to conceptually understand enlighten­ment have given way. The Buddha’s truth is accessible only by being the Buddha.[8]

In Zen, understanding is a matter of awakening or realization. One is awakened or opened up to truth. It is a change in one’s most primordial way of being. It does not matter how many pieces of information one knows; it is a matter of one’s mode of existence, or how one is. Since the shift from conceptual pursuit to ontological change is a radical step that one cannot easily recognize, Zen consciously tries to shut off the paths of conceptual pursuit. The ultimate goal is to realize the original experience of the Buddha himself. Unless one has the same original vivid experience of the Buddha’s truth, which is not fully expressible by language,[9] one cannot have the slightest understanding of the essence of the Buddha’s truth.

Zen’s demand that one leave off from all conscious efforts at knowing extends to all ego-centered modes of self-knowledge. Therefore, Zen requires the elimination of all kinds of bodily drives, as these lead to a fixation on the ego. Our drives predispose us to a particular interpreta­tion of the world. Western philosophers have explored this insight, which in its most radical form means that one’s interpretation of the world is totally rooted in one’s drives. For Nietzsche, under­standing is essentially interpretation based upon the Will to Power—a drive to be stronger and to dominate others. Freud interpreted the world based upon the sexual drive. For Marx, understanding arises when one takes the perspective that social reality is rooted in economic interests and material needs. Zen, on the other hand, teaches that we should eradicate ego-centered self-consciousness and bodily desires all together. By denying bodily desires, Zen undermines conceptual knowledge in a broad sense.

We have seen how Zen highlights the concept of knowing as embodiment; however, this concept is not limited to Zen. In order to fully explicate the meaning of understanding as a matter of being or embodiment, I must take one more step.

e. Understanding as the Dis-covery of Truth

What does it exactly mean to say that one is awakened to truth or that one is enlightened to truth? To push the question further, what is understanding? What does it mean to say that one understands something? More precisely, what does it mean to say that one knows that the Word is true? One cannot convey this kind of understanding to someone else as if it were a thing. One can assist another person on the path to understanding, but understanding in itself is a happen­ing which must take place within the person. Like a flash of light, understanding takes place suddenly. My understanding is not his understanding and his understanding is not my under­standing. In this sense, each understanding is a particular event which belongs to each person.

If understanding is primarily an interior event, then perhaps the truth was always present within the self, or at least is always accessible to the self. This notion was captured by philoso­phers in a variety of ways. Augustine, for example, wrote of the “inner truth” or the “teacher within.” When one hears words from outside, one consults with the inner truth within, and then says “Yes, it is true” or “Yes, I see.” Teachers outside of oneself can assist one’s under­standing, but understanding itself happens when one consults the teacher within. The true teacher is not one who utters words to another, but is the inner truth within oneself. Augustine says, “But, referring now to all things which we understand, we consult, not the speaker who utters words, but the guarding truth within the mind itself, because we have perhaps been reminded by words to do so.”[10] Due to his Christian background, Augustine identified the inner truth with Christ within. There is only one true teacher, who is Christ within. So he continues, “Moreover, He who is consulted teaches; for He who is said to reside in the interior man is Christ, that is, the unchange­able excellence of God and His everlasting wisdom, which every rational soul does indeed consult.”[11]

One cannot understand something which is totally foreign to him. Here arises an age-old philosophical question concerning the possibility of philosophy. What is the locus of philosophi­cal truth? If philosophical truth exists in some form within a person and the person has access to it, why does he have to seek it? If, on the contrary, truth does not exist within a person in any form, how and why can one make a judgment in deciding which philosophical claim is true? One must have a certain criterion for truth within oneself. The question is perplexing. It seems one has philosophical truth within oneself or at least has access to it, yet still is searching for it. Why should one have to seek something one already has?

One answer to this question is that although a person has truth or has access to truth, that truth or access to truth is somehow covered up. Therefore, one must be opened up to truth. Here, understanding a truth is a ‘dis-covery,’ or in a sense, ‘taking off the cover.’ [12] The theme that under­standing is essentially a process of uncovering is already implicit for Socrates. For Socrates, philosophical activity is limited to assisting the partner in the dialogue so that he is led to a certain awakening or enlightenment. The limited task of the philosopher is to be an assistant, which Socrates called “midwifery.” A midwife is one who helps in the delivery of a baby from the mother’s womb. Here, teaching is assistance, and understanding is a realization or awakening which takes place within dialogue partner.

If we turn our attention to the 20th century, we can find a similar theme in Heidegger. Heidegger turns our attention to the notion of truth as disclosure or uncovering. Behind this lies his insight that man exists in untruth or in inauthenticity. Human beings must be opened up to truth and their inauthentic cover must be taken off in order to return to the authentic mode of being. The phenomena of truth emerges from this process of un-covering, by which we change from an inauthentic mode of being to an authentic mode of being. Truth, in religious and ethical knowledge, has this essential function of turning one from inauthenticity to authenticity. One meaning of truth is that which serves for the “restoration” of the authentic self and the world. Although I do not pursue this theme further, the phenomena of truth within oneself can be seen in the conscience. Rev. Moon’s exposition of conscience as the teacher within, expressed in such phrases as “conscience is greater than teachers,”[13] has a direct bearing on this notion of truth.


3. Understanding as the Embodiment of the Word

Understanding truth in the sense of opening to truth is a kind of awakening or enlighten­ment. To be awakened to truth is very different from simply having knowledge as pieces of information. It is a change of one’s whole being. For example, how does one understand humility? Knowing that humility is a virtue is radically different from being humble. Properly speak­ing, one cannot understand what it means to be humble without being humble. To be authentically virtuous is neither having a mere pretension of virtue nor knowing the definition of each virtue. It is to act and live as being such.

Let us take another example. How does one understand the ethical commandment which says, “Your mind and body must be united in such a manner that you can control your lust and listen and follow the voice of your conscience.” This is a basic common principle running through the major moral philosophies of East and West. You will find it in the West in Plato, Augustine, Kant, and many others, and in the East in Confucianism and Buddhism. But how can one truly understand this commandment? Surely, understanding comes by continued practice. Yet in the midst of our faltering efforts, can one truly understand what this state of unity entails? The only way to understand its true meaning is to be it. One notices that there are degrees of understand­ing here. To the extent that one embodies the unity of mind and body, one can understand what such unity means. The more united one is, the deeper its sense discloses itself. A person is opened up to the truth of the Word to the extent that he embodies the Word.

Understanding truth is experiential, but it is not the same as general experience. Truth has an indisputable and compelling quality. It simply demands us to accept it, whether we like it or not. Ordinary experience lacks this quality. No matter how profound and intense a particular experience may be, experience which lacks the understanding of truth is different from experience which involves the recognition of truth.

From this sense of understanding in the context of the authenticity and inauthenticity of human beings, we conclude that truth enlightens by turning a person’s being from the inauthen­tic mode to the authentic mode. At the heart of understanding lies recovery or restoration of authentic being. Understanding here has the sense of ontological change. Using a religious vocab­ulary, we assert that understanding truth is salvation. God’s Word is for human beings; it is some­thing to be received gratefully; it is no mere object to be manipulated or subjected to scien­tific study. Therefore, it is not surprising to see that the Chinese character for chae-hyul, which I took up at the beginning of this essay, includes as one element the sign for salvation.


4. Understanding and Being

Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”[14] Understand­ing the Word as embodiment is an experience of freedom. To the extent that ethical or religious knowledge is embodied, its prescriptive element is no longer experienced as obligatory. At that point, one can experience the unity of knowing and being.

An important philosophical discussion of this topic is the transformation of being in Nietzsche’s Three Metamorphoses. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche describes three meta­mor­phoses of spirit: from a camel, to a lion, to a child.[15] A camel carries a burden and follows all its master’s commands of “Thou shalt.” For Nietzsche, this is a metaphor of the Christian life. In the desert, the camel becomes a lion, which has a free spirit. A lion says “I will” and does as it wishes. A lion refuses to carry the burden of obligation or to follow the command “Thou shalt.” It wants to think and act according to its own free spirit. The lion represents a thinker in modern times. But the lion is not the last stage. The lion becomes a child. Nietzsche says:

He once loved “thou shalt” as most sacred: now he must find illusion and caprice even in the most sacred, that freedom from his love may become his prey: the lion is needed for such prey. But say, my brothers, what can the child do that even the lion could not do? Why must the preying lion still become a child? The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a fist movement, a sacred “Yes.” For the game of creation, my brothers, a sacred “Yes” is needed: the spirit now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers his own world.[16]

Nietzsche’s metaphorical language must be carefully interpreted as with all other parts of his writings. However, within the context of the current discussion, it suffices to note that Nietzsche posits a child as the final stage in the development of spirit. Needless to say, since Nietzsche does not give us a conceptually clear explanation for what he means by each image he presents, we must interpret each image. As it is often said, each has his own Nietzsche.

A Nietzschean child says “yes” to all, whatever destiny may come upon him. To be accurate, he makes the absolute affirmation that his being is his destiny.[17] The Nietzschean child exists; there is absolutely nothing this child must confront or try to overcome. At the stage of the camel, his being was denied under the ethical commandments. As the lion he was free, but not as free as one might think he is. Though a free spirit, a lion is still a seeker filled with ego-centered consciousness. A child exists as he is. His being is absolutely affirmed without any hindrance. Since there is no conscious attempt of overcoming something, a child has “forgetfulness.” He does not have a self-conscious ego-centered self like a lion, whose ego is the center of his activities. A child simply “is” and plays. His activities are not a burden that one “must” achieve with conscious effort. A child acts and does things as play. The heart of this playfulness is the absence of ego-centered self-consciousness (i.e., in forgetfulness and joy). A child does things in joyful play. So the Nietzschean child “is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a fist movement, a sacred ‘Yes.’”

We can see a specific parallel between the Nietzschean child and the unity of being and knowing. When ethical and religious knowledge is still a burden, one’s mode of being falls behind one’s conceptual understanding. One knows conceptually, but one’s being is untouched by that knowledge. However, once ethical or religious knowledge is understood in the sense of embodiment, one’s being is totally transformed. The knowledge is then no longer a burden to labor under, but is the articulation of one’s being itself. One is free from self-conscious effort at overcoming. In this state, one is “forgetful” of the ego-centered self. One may find an example of this unity in the exercise of authentic love, which involves the element of forgetfulness.[18] Another example is Zen, which in aiming for the embodiment of knowledge, trains one to leave off all conscious attempts at knowing. For this reason, Zen sees forgetfulness as an indispensable step towards enlightenment.

Finally, understanding of the Word in the ontological sense means its embodiment in the context of the structure of mind and body. Therefore, religious and ethical knowledge is invar­iably displayed by one’s manner of presence and one’s behavior. It is one’s manner of presence and behavior that exhibits one’s mastery of the essence of Zen. The extent of understanding is not measured by one’s conceptual knowledge, but in being and doing.[19]


5. Truth and Embodiment

Embodying the Word can be seen as the process of transformation from an inauthentic mode of being to the authentic mode of being. There remains, however, a decisive question for which none of the philosophies discussed above give an adequate answer. How is such a movement from inauthenticity to authenticity possible? In other words, how is it possible for a person to return to his or her authentic mode of being? To put the question in a different manner, why should a human being be able to understand truth or to be enlightened by truth? This question concerns the possibility of being open to truth.

If one’s being were not already in some manner connected to truth, understanding of truth or returning to authenticity would be impossible. One would not bother with the constant quest for self-justification. One probably would not even care about the truth at all. The fact of one’s fundamental concern for truth is what allows the movement from inauthenticity to authenticity to occur. This concern is always present, regardless of one’s particular situation. To judge something as untrue, evil, false, or unjust is possible only because one has a prior engagement with truth. Otherwise, one would not even care about such matters. Where does this fundamental concern or orientation come from? One what grounds can we assert that human beings have a primordial engagement with truth?

For this decisive question, Unification Thought gives a definitive answer. Unification Thought understands beings as “individual embodiments of truth.”[20] More than anything else, this conception defines the primary sense of being in Unification Thought. All beings are understood as manifestations of truth, and each being is the manifestation of truth in its particular manner.

This conception of being as manifestation of truth is a decisive insight. If all beings are manifestations of truth, the world in which we live and are a part is also nothing less than a manifestation of truth. The world can be portrayed as the world as truth. If we speak in a dynamic mode, the world is a series of events which which occur as the work of truth.

For human beings who in fact exist in an inauthentic mode, the restoration of authentic being means becoming an embodiment of truth. The restoration of one’s authentic being is the process of manifesting truth or embodying truth. One authentically exists to the extent that one makes oneself a being which manifests or embodies truth.

We have said that prior engagement to truth explains why people are necessarily concerned about truth. Distance from one’s own authentic being is at the same time one’s distance from truth. The conception of being as individual embodiment of truth naturally implies that to the extent one authentically exists, one exists in truth and as truth. The more one tries to truly exist, the more one must exist truthfully, and vice versa.

Notice that the conception of being as individual embodiment of truth includes the notion of authentic individual selfhood. The more one tries to exist in authenticity, the more one can find one’s authentic and unique self. Every human being is a unique individual. The restoration of authentic being is at the same time the restoration of the self’s own uniqueness.

In this essay, I have focused on the question of embodying the Word as it concerns human beings. However, the conception of being as individual embodiment of truth extends to all beings, human and non-human. The world this conception presents us is marvelous. The world in which we live and of which we are constitutive parts is nothing but the manifestation and the embodiment of truth. Truth manifests itself as the world.

Please note, however, that the popular conception of being which we take for granted as an unexamined assumption of everyday thinking is quite different from this notion of being in Unification Thought. Today, the primary model from which we take our conception of being is the material object existing within the space-time continuum. Being in its primary sense is understood in its materiality without any intrinsic values. Material existence is presupposed prior to our existence, and we come to “add on” or “impose” values upon it as our “subjective” coloring. Accordingly, reality is identified with materiality while values are locked up in the sphere of “subjectivity,” with the implication that they are unreal. Truth means nothing more than the regularity observed of physical phenomena. This narrow conception of truth cannot begin to approach the meaning of truth as understood in most religious and ethical traditions.

What is wrong with this popular view? The heart of the problem lies in its conception of being. This popular view fails to see the essential tie between truth and being. A complete critique of this view, which is beyond the scope of this essay, would require examining the conception of time and space together with the conception of being. Unification Thought’s conception of being as the embodiment of truth radically (from its root) overcomes this popular conception of being. It exhibits the primordial tie between being and truth, and thereby explains the phenomena of understanding as the process of embodiment of the Word.

Understanding as embodiment is endless in its depth and extent. For religious knowledge in particular, where understanding God’s Word is a matter of life and death, the way to unders­tand­ing requires that we embody the Word in our being. While conceptual knowledge exposes our inner conflict and leaves us burdened by the Word as prescriptive command­ments, embody­ing the Word means that our entire being is transformed. We have also noted how this under­stand­ing of truth is distinct from mere experience, no matter how intense. Other kinds of exper­ience lack truth and permanence. The permanence and compelling quality of embodied knowl­edge is not revealed in the testimony of others; it is only realized by discovering the authentic self within. It is a mode of knowing where knowing and being are one and the same.



[1] The Way of God’s Will (New York: HSA-UWC, 1980), p. 193.

[2] Exposition of the Divine Principle (New York: HSA-UWC, 1996), pp. 179, 181.

[3] For example, we can find the use of the word in the Korean text Wolli Kangron (1970), p. 552, and the Japanese Genri Koron (1995), p. 599. In the English Exposition of the Divine Principle (1996), p. 407, this word was not translated as an independent term; rather its meaning was incorporated into the English phrase as a whole. An old version of Divine Principle (New York: HSA-UWC, 1973), p. 532, translated this word as ‘experience.’

[4] For example, tai toku (in Japanese pronunciation), which is usually translated as ‘experience,’ means ‘embodiment’ or ‘knowing through embodiment.’ Tai toku consists of two Chinese characters: tai means ‘body’ and toku means ‘gain’ or ‘obtain.’ This term is also often used in the Korean text of Exposition of the Divine Principle. Another example is tai ken (Japanese pronunciation), which means ‘bodily experience.’

[5] Exposition of the Divine Principle, pp. 3-6, 103.

[6] Essentials of Unification Thought, the Head-Wing Thought (Tokyo: Unification Thought Institute, 1992), p. 17.

[7] Ibid., pp. 102-3.

[8] This ontological reading of Zen Buddhism is most evident in Dôgen, a 12th century Zen master and founder of Soto Zen school in Japan. In his major work Shôbôgenzô, one of the most philoso­phic­ally rich works of Zen literature, one can see Dôgen’s ontological reading of Buddhist teaching. For example, he reads a classical teaching “Mountains, rivers, grasses, trees all have Buddha nature” as “Mountains, rivers, grasses, trees all are Buddha nature.” Here, the Buddha’s truth is understood not as something one can have or lose as if it were a possession. Existence itself is possible by Buddha truth. There is no being whatsoever without the Buddha’s truth. All sentient beings are nothing but the disclosure of the Buddha’s truth and their existence exhibits it.

[9] Language has an explanatory function which is fully exhibited in the sciences. But language also has a suggestive function which is exercised in art such as poetry. Both science and poetry convey truth in a certain sense, but they do so in a different manner. Zen stands on the awareness that the original experience of the Buddha’s truth is expressible only by suggestive use of language. Beyond that, language cannot convey its authentic meaning.

[10] Augustine, Basic Writings of Saint Augustine, vol. 1, ed. by Whitney J. Oates (New York: Random House, 1948), p. 390. In On the Teacher, Chapter XI “We do not learn through the words which sound outwardly, but through the truth which teaches within us,” and Chapter XII “Christ the Teacher within,” Augustine gives insightful analysis on the phenomena of understanding within the context of analysis of language.

[11] Ibid.

[12] For Heidegger’s analysis of truth as disclosedness or uncoveredness, see section 44 “Dasein, disclosedness, and truth” of Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), pp. 256-273.

[13] HSA-UWC Dendo Shuppan Kyoku, Hokan Shurenkai Mikotoba Shyu (Tokyo: Kogensha, 1994), p. 81. Chapter 1 “Let’s Discover the Authentic Self” has rich philosophical insights including the theme of conscience as the teacher within.

[14] John 8:32

[15] Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part I, chapter 1, “On the Three Metamorphoses.”

[16] The Portable Nietzsche, ed. & transl. by Walter Kaufmann (New York: Viking Press, 1968), p. 139.

[17] The “holy yes” is linked to another key concept of Nietzsche’s, “love of destiny.” The primary sense of destiny for Nietzsche is not some predetermined fate imposed by God or powers from outside. One’s being is already a destiny. When this affirmation of being is discussed in a temporal context, it is linked to Nietzsche’s other enigmatic concept of “eternal recurrence of the same,” where his idea of eternity emerges.

[18] Authentic love is said to be absolute giving without a trace of self-interest. Disguised altruism has a hidden self-interest at its core. The forgetfulness of the self characterizes and distinguishes authentic love from disguised love.

[19] This is also true for Confucianism. In Confucianism, the active presence of the teaching is measured by one’s being and doing.

[20] Exposition of the Divine Principle, p. 28.