Thursday, March 23, 2006

Questions or Answers?

One of the key concepts in Taoism is the idea that opposites beget each other. It's the same supposition that Hegel made in his work on the dialectics. Feuerbach and then Marx, of course, took Hegel's concept even further in the discussion of dialectical materialism. In Taoism, this conceptualization is best typified by the Yin-Yang symbol.

Beyond this idea that opposites qualify each other and are gradients toward each other on the continuum of life, there also exists in Taoist thought the notion of balance and harmony. This has gotten me to thinking lately about the interrelationships between such concepts and I'm having a difficult time wrapping my wee brain around them.

If the goal of all being is the attempt to balance between conflicting forces, what then is the balance between good and evil or right and wrong? Put another way, what do we call the dead center between light and darkness?

In one manner of speaking, such a place must contain both lightness and darkness. Yet, on the other hand, we could just as easily posit that the mid-point between these two extremes (extremes in the sense of human comprehension) may not contain either. So what exactly is it? What do we refer to it as?

And this leads me to the real ultimate human question: What is the precise middle ground between life and death? Is it embracing life while recognizing death or is it something devoid of both?

I'm not going to offer a glimmer of an answer because, right now, I don't have any. That's not to say that I don't know the answer; it's more than I'm not quite sure of the question.


  1. I think balance between two opposite things define new elements in world or nature. Stay in the middle of good and evil is sometimes impartiallity, but using one with the other defines justice.

    Stay in the middle of light and darkness depends on the side we're heading off... Sometimes we use light to see in the darkness... or we're wrong? Don't we use the shadows to detect objects, boirders and sillouettes when light's on?

    Sometimes we must consider that balance between opposites is not the middle, but the adecuate use of each opposite side by side or against the other.

  2. >What is the precise middle ground between life and death?

    ah so easy to answer: its when you are a couch potato....

    More seriously, part of the problem is how the terms get defined. Most people define life and death as opposites... which I havent experienced to be the case.

    In fact thats why I redefine life and death in several different fashions in the personal tao. To help shake that idea that they are opposites. The problem is people in modern culture are so engrossed in living (life: actively within time) and fearing living (death: transformation back into oneself and / or the universe as a whole - or perhaps as you once posted : compost) that death has become a very removed and alien concept now for many people.

    In reality defining life and death should be in terms and aspects of the same thing, but viewed within different perspectives (time vs no time as an example).

    Which gets back to my joking answer of :its when you are a couch potato....

    from a western sense the middle ground is when you are still alive, but do not live your own life rather you pass the time merely as a spectator in your own life...

    so I guess I wasn't joking around after all :) heeeeeeeee.

  3. More that each contains elements of the other and brings them about... I had a great day yesterday, even commenting that I usually have wonderful days... but apparently karma caught up, and I ended up in the emergency room last night with a high BP and a funky hearth rythym. Turned out I had no potassium in my system, so instead of giving me some potassium and sending me home, I end up spending the night in the hospital and all day today trying to get released when I felt fine, so the day sucked.

    So there is the balance between the extremes - you move from one to the other, with each containing elements of the other. Like yesterday, a great day, but getting ill last night, and today, recovering, but being held up from being released, and yet - I got to read a great book while I was waiting around...

    You can either find the suck in everything around you or look for the good stuff. Or, embrace both, and then nothing really throws you for a loop anymore. I wasn't the least bit scared or frightened last night, even though I was by myself at the hospital, with no family around for support. But today, I really missed them because I had no advocate helping me get what I needed when I was finally too tired and annoyed to be all Taoist about it.

  4. I don't speak fluent Philosophy but I will try to put my thoughts into words.

    I see life and death as well as light and darkness as absolutes and as such, they can have no middle ground. They either are or they are not. Would degrees of life be dependent on the amount of energy one expended at any given time? Even if asleep, a person is very much alive.

    Darkness is the absence of light so there can be no degrees of darkness either. If there is a dim light or a bright light, it depends on the amount of energy being expended to pruduce it.

    At my advanced age I have come to seek simple explanations for complex questions to satisfy myself that I don't have to think about it any further.

  5. Ah, the elusive center. I tend to believe that "the center" is merely an illusion, a human construct. In reality there is no such thing. Take political centrism, for instance. There are definitive characteristics of being on the left or on the right. But there is nothing concrete about what it means to be in the center. But what do I know…

    Trey, I do have a question that you might be able to shed light on..

    Is there a philosophical term to describe the following phenomenon?

    The phenomenon by which an individual criticizes a particular subject but in doing so actually furthers the goals/existence/proliferation of that subject. For instance, a guy writes a song criticizing consumerism. Then the song becomes a big hit and he sells millions of albums. Whereas his initial motive was to criticize consumerism, the sale of his song has merely become a part of the consumerist system.

    I am thinking it’s a mix between Yin and Yang, give and take, and the law of unintended consequences, but I am interested in your opinion...


  6. Trey Smith:
    If the goal of all being is the attempt to balance between conflicting forces, what then is the balance between good and evil or right and wrong? Put another way, what do we call the dead center between light and darkness?


    Lightness and Darkness, in the context of dielectics, are the wrong terms. Light and Dark are qualitative...that is, light is a 1 and dark is a zero. The proper term is something more like "grayness." As that has to do with the degree to which light and dark are mixed/averaged together.

    The problem with such descriptions of people or positions as "light" and "dark" is that it's subjective to the point of view.

    If you view yourself as "dark"...then EVERYWHERE, you see "light," and vice-versa. Relative to others, we allow emotion and prejudice to drive our views as to whom we see as "light and dark."

    The truthful statement is that we are all gray. There is no evil, there is no good. There just is.

    The Tao has this as an implicit argument...this dialectic philosophy shows that when you push one to it's height, the other one diminishes until it is reborn. Thereby defeating your assertion of yin or yang. With the swirling interaction, point and counterpoint of the two halves, you get the synthesis of the tao.

  7. The Tao doesn't take sides; it gives birth to both good and evil. The Master doesn't take sides; she welcomes both saints and sinners.

    The Tao is like a bellows; it is empty yet infinitely capable. The more you use it, the more it produces; the more you talk of it, the less you understand.

    Hold on to the center. (Tao Te Ching, #5)

    That verse says a lot; in fact there can be many interpretations. For myself I have always been opposed to dualism, for I feel it has led to a justification of evil from a human standpoint. I interpret Lao Tzu as having meant that the Tao is all, no matter what we choose to do within it; for me, yin is not necessarily the opposite of yang, but yinyang is the essence of the oneness of all things.

  8. Count on me to connect it all with a song once again, right? :)

    When I saw What is the precise middle ground between life and death? Is it embracing life while recognizing death or is it something devoid of both?, I flashed instantly on Blue Oyster Cult's "(Don't Fear) the Reaper," which does a pretty marvelous job of tackling the difference between not fearing death and embracing it. Maybe that middle ground is "Seasons don't fear the Reaper/Nor do the wind, the sun and the rain/We can be like they are."

    Or maybe we all just need more cowbell.

  9. Thanks for all of these wonderful comments. The type of question I posed has no ONE singular answer. It is a question that each of us must answer as individuals following along our own paths.

    To Commander Agi: I would suggest your read Raymond Smullyan's The Tao is Silent. In one of the later chapters, he deals with a situation almost identical to the one you posit. His conclusion may well catch a lot of people off-guard.

  10. I'm with Casey. Life includes death (e.g. we're all gradually dying), and presumably death contains life.


Comments are unmoderated, so you can write whatever you want.