Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ziporyn on Yin-Yang II: Who Was on Top?

Scott Bradley

It might be remembered from our discussion on the Laozi that at least one version previous to our received version was clearly more favorably disposed to the Confucian virtues and might be said to have evinced a form of "pre-ironic proto-Daoism". The irony of philosophical Daoism consists in its prioritization of Mystery — it suggests a way to most happily live as honestly admitting that life does not admit to any fixed and sure explanations. Its knowing is not-knowing; its dao is not-Dao.

We find a similar, but opposite, reversal of priority in the hexagrams of the Zhouyi (The Book of Changes). The present edition begins with the six unbroken lines of Yang; this is call Qian, and represents pure Yang, Heaven. Ziporyn points out that both tradition and archeology tell us that there was a much older version in which the first hexagram was the six broken lines of Yin; this is called Kun, and represents pure Yin, Earth.

This reversal of priority might, Ziporyn suggests, have been a conscious attempt to counter the influence of the ironic tradition "which places the source of all being in the hyper-motherliness of Dao, a la Laozi."

Archeology reveals that the earliest religious expressions focused on the mystery of our emergence from nowhere as represented by images of the pregnant female. Primitive humanity was in awe of the Mysterious Female, the Earth-Mother, just like Laozi. But then God showed up, and he explained it, told us that he Yang-ed it all, and we should follow his example and go into all the earth and Yang it all up. And we have.

Yang is not evil, needless to say. We are Yang. Existence is Yang. But existence arises from and returns to non-existence, Yin. The most honest and fulfilling way to live our Yang is thus in the context of our embedding in Yin. Shenzi, who suggested we be as passive as a rock, might be said to have gone overboard on Yin. Most conceptions of God make of him pure Yang and thus leave us with nothing else. The Yin-Yang construct addresses the need for balance. Philosophical Daoism suggests the most authentic and fulfilling way to do our Yang-ing, that is our living, is as informed by Yin, and this helps us avoid Yang-ing everything — ourselves, others, and the very Earth — up.

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