Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Committing Yang

Scott Bradley

Every act of assertion is in some sense yang. This act of presuming to communicate my ideas to you is yang. And for this reason it must expect to receive yang in return. Yang elicits yang. In the human sphere, this is the nature of the case.

Since the egoic self-identity is essentially yang in the form of self-assertion, the most common form of elicited yang is negative in character. This is 'negative', not in a moral, but in an oppositional sense. The self is defined by what it is not. Thus, in the presence of ideas not its own, the self automatically seeks that way in which it differs from these ideas. This may be in the form of content (disagreement) or in the form of presentation (it could have been better said).

Have you ever read something with which you were so much in agreement that you felt simultaneous elation and emptiness? This is so right! And I am now left with nothing to say.

But yang can also be expressed positively. Agreement with what one reads, especially if one does not have a predispositional antipathy for the author, can be a means of affirming one's own yang. We are together in this. We are a part of a movement of like-thinkers. We are making our voices heard.

This is to be human. This is the way we are. This is not a call for the silence of the yangs. Only it would wish to suggest that in understanding the dynamics of our responses to the world, we might be enabled to do so in a more transcendent way.

The Taoist sage is largely portrayed as one who offers no yang and thus receives none. Ironically, it is not the negative which he most wishes to avoid, but the positive, the praise and the power. There is one passage in the Zhuangzi where a sage chides himself for having been identified as such. "What crime have I committed," he mourns, "that I have been singled out as wise?!" Another sage, once identified, flees to the mountains where he is eventually smoked out of his cave so he can rule the nearby villagers.

These stories may be extreme and have probably contributed to the common charge against Taoism that it is quietist. Perhaps it is; for it sees in yin the remedy for the excessive manifestation of yang in the human sphere. My guess is that, in the actual world, these theoretical sages were a yin with the impact of yang. Perhaps the most assertive of all ideas are those to which yang cannot arise.

I would imagine, if ever I were to meet a sage, it would be this quality of eliciting no yang which would confirm him to me as such.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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