We all contemplate, astonished, bewildered, also fascinated, the incessant turns of our inner and outer realities. We all have suffered the shocking mutations of our own soul and of the souls of others: the good-natured turns out to be a devil, and the devil, suddenly, looks at us with infinite tenderness. Nature, at times, loves us and raises us with its beauty, and, at other times, it crushes and denigrates us without mercy. The slopes of the mountains of the soul are lit and also darkened under a sky that can not be quiet. The stupid suddenly becomes a mighty sage, and the wise, or the saint, suddenly behave in the lowest, ugliest limits of the human condition.
“Yin-Yang”. Change, contradiction, interpenetration, complementarity of opposites. I believe that we are dealing with a single but also bicephalous word that, according to Chinese tradition, symbolizes the internal machinery that moves the world. But within that single word are actually dancing (always embraced, embraced even to guts of the other one, and to the guts of the other one’s guts) two beautiful dancers who were born in China, in ancient China.
And that intimate dance reflects a terrible but also fertile tension. We are not facing two opposing forces, but complementary ones. Neither of them can live without the other. They never grow or decrease together: when one of them expands it is because the other one is reduced. But these expansion and reduction immediately triggers a change to its opposite: what goes up starts to fall if it reaches its maximum, and what goes down, when it gets enough denigration, begins to ascend. Light becomes darkness and darkness becomes light. Hell becomes heaven. And hell heaven. Everything is permanently turning, changing. But, if we asume the ideas of this philosophy, we are obliged to say that it has a huge contradiction: the very reality of change and its internal logic doesn’t seem to be thought of as changeable… I will deal with this contradiction on the last part of this text.
So, installing in its consciousness, through the word, always through the word, the metaphysical reality of this eternal dance, Chinese wisdom may be able to combine hope (any hell will transmute into paradise) with prudence (beware, you should consider that everything will change; take precautions, do not relax too much in boom times). Balance. Prudence. Temperance. Middle point. Avoid extremes, excesses. Be wise…
Before presenting my ideas about the logical ballerina “Yin-Yang”, I think it might be useful to take a look a the following themes:
1.- China… Schopenhauer included an interesting chapter in his work On the Will in Nature under the title “Sinology”. In the beginning of that chapter the great philosopher deems China as a top civilized country, and does so primarily on the grounds of its high -and permanently increasing- population: 396 millions in 1857. Today that population has reached 1.400 millions of people: millions of minds and heaths and working hands which are interwoven shaping a mighty civilizational and even racial meta-human being. I am anyway quite fascinated by the fact that China’s basic civilizational program remains almost intact, and that it was coded and activated, it seems, by a family -the Shang- which gave their name to that area of the planet and which governed it between the 17th and 11th centuries BC. From that ‘family’ comes Chinese writing, which is still alive: logical dancers who emerged out of the Yellow River millennia ago and who, unlike those that appear in this philosophical dictionary, are drawn full body, not in pieces. I also find remarkable the relative self-sufficiency of China. I also see this ‘country’ as a kind of very old animal -a kind of a god- where the human individual, as such, would not have reached a determining ontological location beyond its performative function inside such animal-god. Perhaps China was always, in general, communist and bureaucratist. Except for the irruption of Buddhism (that Indian program), I do not see that this fabulous living system segregated by the Yellow River has opened its consciousness to concepts such as freedom or creativity. Taoism, while propitiating individual anarchy in the human-social realm, would set the human individual into a natural, yes, but also radically legalized flow: an unstoppable metaphysical force with which human beings should harmonize in order to be really happy. Buddhism, on the other hand, as a worldview imported from India, would offer to the Chinese mind -and heart- the concept of absolute freedom (Moksa): the possibility of leaving the wheels of Karma, the possibility of liberating from the very Tao even (if we understand the Tao as a universal law), the possibility of liberating from the very concept of “liberation”…
2.- Meanings for “Yin-Yang”. It seems extremely complicated to set a unique meaning for this/these symbols. Some scholars speak of weak (Yin) and strong (Yang), of feminine (Yin) and masculine (Yang), of dark (Yin) and luminous (Yang), of Earth (Yin) and sky (Yang). In the amazing I Ching (or Yijing according to the pinyin phonetic transcription) we find a very efficient use of two types of strokes: a) The broken stroke (or two consecutive strokes) that would correspond to the Yin concept (perhaps due to its similarity with the vagina); and b)The continuous stroke, which would correspond to Yang (perhaps because of its similarity with the penis).
3.- Yin-Yang in Chinese philosophy. This concept reached a decisive place in the thought of Zou Yan (305-240 BC). But its philosophical development was driven mainly by Dong Zhongshu (179-104 BC), a Han-era thinker who wrote a work whose title -of astonishing beauty- was something like Luxuriant Dew of the Spring and Autumn Annals (Chunqiu fanlu). In this work a model of totality is shown in which the Earth, the sky and the human being are intimately connected.
4.- Yin-Yang in the I Ching (or Yijing). The fundamental idea of this mighty book is that of change. Everything changes. And that change would be produced by the interaction of the Yin-Yang opposites. The I Ching is a strange, beautiful and abyssal being that has been part of my life for many years. I use the translation of Richard Wilhelm, with the brilliant introduction of Karl Jung. With this book, within this book, I have lived and leaded decisive moments of my life. The introduction made by Jung is part of the masterpieces of the philosophical art. I think that, for the subject that concerns us now, there are two fundamental symbols: Qian and Kun. The first is pure Yang, is active and refers to the sky. The second is pure Yin, which is passive and refers to the Earth. We can think of the duality between the Mediterranean goddesses of the Earth and the gods of heaven. We can also think of the purusa-prakriti duality of the Indian Samkya. But from the Chinese worldview (at least that which is implicit in the Yin-Yang doctrine), it is not possible to speak of dualisms: within the goddesses of the Earth there would be gods of heaven. And vice versa. All together, interwoven, inter-fertilized.
5.- The diagrams. The best known is the Taijitu (literally “symbol of the highest, most extraordinary”). It is a symbol that shows polarity and movement; and that also appears, with few morphological differences, in the Celtic, Etruscan and Roman cultures. As far as China is concerned, I believe that a great philosophical expressiveness has been achieved by including within each color a circle of the opposite color, which, according to the Chinese sages, could always be subdivided into another diagram of two interlaced colours. And so on to infinity. To infinity. This must not be forgotten. But it would be better, in my opinion, to try a diagram in which within the Taijitu would appear a symbol that represents its absolute other… ‘that’ that is completely outside of that human and cosmic wheel and, therefore, of all its laws. I think that this would be the true symbol of “the highest”, and it should encompass what is presented to consciousness, and also consciousness itself (that infinite void).
6.- Some sources on Chinese philosophy. I suggest these two internet sites:
– www.sacred-texts.com (created by John Bruno Hare).
– www.sino-platonic.org. This last site is edited by Victor H. Mair (Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania) and offers a large number of essays on Chinese culture in general.
I also recommend these works on Chinese philosophy:
– Feng Youlan: A History of Chinese Philosophy, Princeton University Press, 1952 (translation of Derk Bodde).
– Marcel Granet: La pensée chinoise, Paris 1934.
– Needham, Joseph: Science and Civilization in China, Cambridge University Press, 1954-2016 (7 volumes in 25 books).
– Bauer Wolfgang: Geschichte der chinesischen Philosophie. Konfuzianismus, Daodismus, Buddhismus, München 2001.
– Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy (ed. Antonio S. Cua, Routledge, 2002).
Now I will try to organize my ideas, my intuitions, about the “Yin-Yang” logical ballerina:
1.- Yin-Yang. Permanent (and also metaphysically regulated) change. But, if we do really philosophize (if we do really think) we discover that change is impossible, illogical. As it is impossible -illogical- the movement (let’s remember, let’s not stop doing so, Zeno of Elea). In fact, everything that happens seems to be impossible (maybe because everything that happens is purely magical, the masterpiece, the outcome of the unlimited power and creativity of a prodigious magician). In any case, in order to just testify about changes, an observer should remain immutable (precisely the one who affirmed that something has changed… the one who is supposed to have noticed that the reality surrounding him has changed). But that observer, according to the Chinese tradition, at least as far as I get, and, even according to the current world view of Physics, is also constantly shaken by the great dance that moves everything. Therefore, there would be no place to locate (even to think) a fixed point from which to affirm that, a few minutes ago, there was not a hawk in the sky and now there is.
2.- Changes occurs only in Maya (in the magical spectacles of our conscience, or “mind”, or “brain” if you like). Change is fantasy (chemical-biological fantasy, for those who do not want to abandon the neurophysiological worldview). And there, only there – in that fantasy- it is possible to visualize the tension of complementary opposites. However, this tension seems to me finally linguistic (like everything that can appear in sentences): the Yin-Yang presupposes a certain structure of words. It is said that Yang would be the luminous slope of a mountain, and Yin the shadowy one. But “mountain” or “hillside” are the result of a certain mental form: they are the product of one of the infinite ways of cutting out what is presented as real. The opposite of something requires assuming the ontological reality of that something. Think of the possible tension between God and the Devil (which requires a theism), or of the tension between matter and antimatter (a tension only possible if the models offered by current Physics are assumed to represent reality).
3.- Changes and their internal logic only happen in the theatres of consciousness. They are artistic needs. They are necessary for it to happen -for us to feel- a world in our consciousness. In meditation state [See], and, certainly, not only in that state, it may happen that we realize that we are always still, ‘there’, immutable, in a meta-spatial and meta-temporal workshop, utterly capable of any Creation (Creation with capital letter). In meditation state we are aware of our infinite quietness and unchangeability. We become aware that we are that immobile Being which Parmenides considered the true, only reality.
4.- The model of totality implicit in the doctrine of Yin-Yang presupposes a legaliform metaphysics. I have the feeling that most of the Chinese philosophical approaches (except those derived from Buddhism, which is an ‘imported’ wisdom) offer ideas in order to optimize the position of human beings within an already regulated cosmos. I do not see in Chinese philosophy-sotoriology a quest for transcendence. The Chinese sage wants to optimize his stay in immanence. The Chinese seek accommodation in a changing cosmos that changes according to an order that the wise must detect, but not modify, erase or re-create. In general, system-escapes are not sought, but optimization in the system. Confucians seem to be willing to incorporate human society and even its bureaucracy into a cosmic and sacred whole. Taoists, in general, seem to reject that radical pure-human-socialism, but they also seem to aspire to a fusion with a kind of cosmic-natural-metaphysical bureaucracy. In both cases, individual freedom seems to be meaningless. We are facing legaliform metaphysics. Buddhism -that Indian sotoriology- would perhaps be the only form of freedom (of freedom in the absolute sense) that the Chinese spirit would have known. It could be said that Chinese wisdom is an imposing Apara-Vidya [See]. And, as far as I get, that “inferior wisdom” of China is based on the search for balance -harmony- inside a universe of changing but also metaphysically ‘coded’ forces; and also on the search for techniques that allow channeling, for the benefit of human beings, those same forces.
5.- From the worldview of modern neurophysiology we should consider the hypothesis that Yin-Yang schematizes, in a rudimentary way, the functioning of the two parts of the human brain and their physiological, vital needs (energetic needs if you want), to stay balanced [See “Brain”].
6.- I return to the possibility that I pointed out before: to draw a Taijitu (the classic Yin-Yang diagram) in which its own opposite is shown. I mean the opposite of the whole model of totality that that symbol wants to subject.
The Yin-Yang system allows human being to survive inside a cosmos, inside a cosmos of words, but it does not allow to see beyond. In order to see beyond the theatres of our consciousness we have got to be silent. To be the silence.
In any case, I hope to have time enough so as to contemplate with calm the majestic flutter of Chinese civilization: that huge, astonishing butterfly.