In this article, I shall talk about the birth of the 10.000 things, its meaning in connection to cosmic and personal Yin-Yang.
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Old Masters: Lao Tzu, Zhuangzi, Huainanzi
If we read the old books as, for instance, the “Lao Tzi”, the “Zhuangzi” and the “Huainanzi”, or even some of the manuscripts emerging from recent and not so recent excavations that bring to the light the way of thinking of the ancient Chinese, and what their questions about the world were, we can see that these were not dissimilar from the ones we ask ourselves today.
It is interesting to observe that the ancient Chinese came to some understanding of our reality without any of the instruments we have now and that, in fact, all we are doing now is confirming more and more, that what they said, what they felt, and what they understood was in fact, mostly correct.
To start with, let’s try and put ourselves in the place of the young Chinese - a child, not a child in terms of age, but a child in terms of knowledge - and try to imagine ourselves living in a world where we don't have access to technology, and where the only way we have to 'know' is by relying on our bare hands, our feet, our body, our eyes, our ears, our perception and meticulous observation of natural phenomena: trees and rivers, the sun, the moon, the sky, snails and dolphins, and whatnot.
We simply sit there and think to ourselves: "What is going on here?", "How does all this work?". We are called to answer to the question: "How am I going to eat, to find the food that allows me to be alive?" This is a very down to earth question.
Trial and error may work initially, but in the end, it will be insufficient when looking for constants to go by. Thus, the need to understand the laws that govern the world becomes impellent.
The hypothesis is that by knowing them, applying them in daily life and learning to work with them could yield great benefit to oneself and one’s surroundings.
How can one find out what these laws are? There is only one way: observation and recording.
Moreover, given that every human being seems to be strictly connected with nature, it becomes apparent that it is necessary to observe the relationship between human and nature, and the way the former reacts and adapts to the latter.
The infinite, endless, limitless, dark Void
Maybe, one of the reasons why still now, the Chinese put so much attention on the process of observation and self-observation comes from the memory kept throughout the centuries of this initial process of looking into what the Huainanzi calls: “The infinite, endless, limitless, dark Void (無極 lack of polarity)”
This seems to be the very condition of all human beings, condemned (or blessed?) as they are to live in a state of ‘lack of knowing’, that prompts each and everyone to embark on a path of constant search for a truth that can never be grasped in its totality.
Void is not only the starting point: “I don’t know”, but also a point of arrival: “I still don’t know”. Yet, as I shall show below, in between the two, exist small revelations, small or bigger discoveries that, although unable to provide a spheric and complete answer, nonetheless open some holes in “the unlimited darkness” that alleviate the burden of “not knowing”.
The desire to break through the darkness of the constant Void gives sense to the human effort of learning how to handle life. In this effort towards knowing, as when navigating in the open sea, there is a need for coordinates, constants that help to make sense of the phenomena and the relationship human beings have to them and that could, in addition, help the process of making sense of the laws of life.
Observing the passing of time and the phenomena attached to change, the Chinese ancestors became aware of the consistency of change: crops grow and wither, fruits mature and decay, at a regular interval throughout many returning moons, heat, cold as well as light and darkness alternate and in between one night and the other.
Life on earth is made of polarities. Polarities are a way of expressing both aspects, mother and father. The chinese call this condition "taiji, 太極 extreme polarity" All life on Earth is rooted in and is the result of its duality.
Change thus does not happen at random, it follows a rhythm dictated by something.
Between Heaven and Earth
As an infinite number of events occur in the space between sky and earth, could there be a connection between what happens above and what happens below?
In CM (Chinese Medicine) one learns that there is a connection between 'above' and 'below', but this subject is seldom talked about it in depth. Having said that, even here it will not be possible to explore all sides of this issue. One would need to write a book to cover the whole topic!
Looking at the sky above and at the surface of Earth below, a first link becomes apparent: that the sun and earth influence each other. When the sun rises light comes, heat increases, people wake up, and flowers open, and when the sun sets darkness replaces it, light decreases, people retreat, flowers close.
Additionally, the rays of the Sun hitting a lake make its water evaporate, cloud formations fill the sky, and then the rain comes, irrigating the fields, and encouraging nature’s fertility and growth.
It is clear that there are no two distinct realities, "Sky there" and "Earth here". Sky (Heaven, tian天) and Earth (di, 地) are one, they are a couple united in a creative relationship.
This is why in the old days. Heaven was called Father and Earth Mother. United in an indissoluble marriage, they come together to give life to the 10,000 things (萬物).
The Father gives vitality, the Mother gives matter, thus the 10.000 creatures resemble both Father and Mother, and amongst them, some share more qualities that pertain to the Father (they are more vital, volatile, and less compact) whilst others share more qualities that pertain to the Mother (they are slower, heavier, more compact).
So, you can imagine that the space between Sky (Heaven) and Earth, in reality, is nothing else but a huge womb in which these 10.000 things (a symbolic number indicating an infinite number of events) are born and grow and thrive and die and give birth and take and give back to the whole.
So, in between the two ‘parents’, there is a whole space filled with movement and matter. Here is where life happens.
Birth of Seasons
Looking at the sky (Heaven) above and the Earth's surface below, they could also observe a certain rhythmicity. For instance, they could see that if they counted the nights that passed, a certain number of nights (or sunrises, or sunsets) marked a period where all phenomena seemed to have similar characteristics.
A certain block of ninety consecutive nights (or sunrises, oo sunsets) seemed to be characterized by growth, seeds coming through the ground and blades of grass growing into bushes, flowers blooming, tall trees, bushes, windy days and the buzzing of insects. They called it "spring". Another set of more or less ninety consecutive nights (or sunrises or sunsets) seemed to have again similar characteristics: a lot of heat, fruit dressing in deep colours and ripening on trees, people feeling hot and sweaty, scorched grass. This, they called ‘summer’.
And then another time would come, and so on and so forth: each period of ninety consecutive nights (sunrises, sunsets) would have more or less the same kind of qualities. Indeed, their universe functioned in an orderly manner: a certain quality of phenomena would stop at some point to give way to another, only to return again, at a given interval. The 10.000 creatures are born, grow, mature and die in a continuum, orderly and foreseeable.
The North Star, The Big Dipper and changes on Earth
Looking up in the sky (Heaven), the Chinese ancestors noticed a very bright star, the brightest star of all, just at the end of the celestial horizon. The Polar or the North Star. It did not appear to move as did all the others rotating around it.
Close to it, a set of stars forming a spoon-like shape made of 4 stars and a tail made of 3 stars (We now know it as the Big Dipper or the Plough) The tail of this constellation appeared to move gradually from right to left in relation to the central North Star marking certain changes on Earth.
When the tail changed position, two things happened: in between two nights, the degree of light gradually changed and in a sequence of several moons the climatic changes called Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter occurred, marking respectively the 24 hours and four seasons. Thus Sky (Heaven) and Earth not only form a unity, but also set the rhythm of change in time, and the cycles of growth and decay no earthly creature can escape.
However, despite the diversity of the observable phenomena, constant remain the interchange and the working together. Ultimate oneness, one whole cycle, in which different aspects exist.
The principle of ‘resonance’
It means that when it's cold, we wear more clothes. When it's dark, we go to bed, when it's light, we get out of bed, and we become active in the same way as nature becomes much more active.
And other living beings become more active or less active, depending on the time of the year, but nonetheless, they also follow nature's rhythm.
The Chinese express this really beautifully. They say: “The way of the human being his nature.” But then go further. They also say that “the way of nature is sky (Heaven)”. The latter has been demonstrated above.
We look at the Big Dipper, and we understand why we have seasons and the changing in the light in a day. And then, the Chinese go even further by stating that: “The way of Heaven is Dao 道”. It is a syllogism. If the way of human is nature and the way of nature is Heaven, then in following nature, humans also follow Heaven.
Following nature's rhythm
What does this mean? It means that when it's cold, we wear more clothes. When it's dark, we go to bed, when it's light, we get out of bed, and we become active in the same way as nature becomes much more active. And other living beings become more active or less active depending on the time of the year, but nonetheless, they also follow nature's rhythm.
So what is the message? That to know how I function, I need to look at nature. And the Chinese say that really beautifully, they say: human beings understand and regulate their life is by imitating nature.
But they go even further. They also say, nature regulates itself is by imitating Heaven. We've just seen it. We look at the Big Dipper, and we understand why we have seasons and the changing in the light in a day. And again, the forefathers of Chinese thought go even further. They say: Heaven regulates itself is by imitating DAO.
What is DAO?
But what is Dao? Dao is "that which cannot be named", more akin to the nature of Void than anything else. Yet Dao also means ‘path’. Indeed, if no other understanding is possible, at least it can be understood as such: the path of the 10.000 things. Ten Thousand thing, but one way for all.
Dao reflects the Chinese term ‘Tian Li – 天理, Heavenly Principle" that, not only sets the fundamental starting point of all life, but also sets its primary law, namely that all beings imitate Dao. How? Accepting Void as source, origin, and Tian Li as principle, as it is made visible in nature.
All beings thus resonate with Dao.
So far, it is clear that between all the 10.000 things and Dao there is no division, but instead, there's identity and sameness. They say “Tian Ren He Yi 天人合一 , Heaven and the human being are one”.
This is the first law of life and also, the first law on which the whole of Chinese medicine stands, as indeed this means that disease is nothing els but the departing from the Way, the disobedience to the natural laws. To do medicine, one has to look at how this happens, and precisely at where the continuum is interrupted.
The "Huangdi Neijing - Suwen" 5, says it really clearly: to heal we need to heal the root, that is the relationship between Heaven and Earth within us, the yin yang one nucleus within us. (to be cont.)
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