Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wen Tzu - Verse 153

from Verse One Hundred Fifty-Three
Of the energies of the universe, none is greater than harmony. Harmony means the regulation of yin and yang, the division of night and day.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
One concept that is addressed again and again in the writings of philosophical Taoism is this idea of balance and harmony. However, I sometimes worry that the first concept, balance, may lead some people to get the wrong idea.

Too often, people envision balance as a scale in which both sides are equal. If one side loses a bit, then the other side loses a likewise amount. If one side gains a small measure, then the other side gains by the same proportion.

In terms of Taoist thought, the word balance should be understood in the same light as the word harmony. While things fit together in a balanced way, this does not mean everything is of the same number or same weight.

To illustrate this notion, think of harmony in terms of music. Some choral groups engage in complex harmonies and the result is an emotive piece of majestic music. At times, the tenors or sopranos may be louder, while the baritones and altos are softer. Yet, it all fits together to create one masterpiece!

In this same vein, the natural world exhibits harmony. Some days the sun reigns supreme over the land and, on other days, terrible storms pummel the earth. If we focus on the individual elements of our weather, they can often seem mightily out-of-balance. It is when we look at climate as a whole that we can see the synchronicity.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.


  1. If you've never encountered the work of Steve Miller & Sharon Lee, I highly recommend them. Even if slightly romantic sci-fi with magical overtones isn't your thing, believe me, you will like it. They write the sort of books you can finish, sigh, flip back to page one, and start reading again.

    All this to say, that the culture in their main storyverse has a very refined concept of Balance with a capital B. The quick-and-dirty explanation is that it's a tradition of revenge in kind, for when one person or group has wronged another. The actual goal, however, is to restore the honor of all the parties involved. And the main characters tend to be people who understand this, for great justice. :D

    Social landscapes are in their own way less predictable and more dangerous than any storm-tossed waterway or sunbaked desert. Wild nature keeps its own balances, and they are often harsh. Human nature can be harsh, also. Yet we have the ability to create balance within ourselves; as we attain wisdom we are able to smooth emotional waters or drop a cool shower across an intellectual desert, keeping balance while causing the least possible harm.

  2. Also, the concept of balance and harmony is a dynamic one. The trick is to find balance in movement. Nothing is static, there is no ultimate balance. (At least not in our earthly existence.) The taiji is always moving. Music is more than just a moment of a beautiful is always moving.

  3. Fiat Lex,
    Thanks for the book recommendation!!

    Very astute point!!


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