Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ziporyn on Yin-Yang VI: One Plus Words Makes Two

Scott Bradley


So far, we've seen the Yin lines (broken) and Yang lines (unbroken) together as representing No and Yes respectively. Next they are combined to make four possible dyadic combinations, and this introduces a structural representation of temporal transition; nothing is quite so simple as Yes/No, Right/Wrong, or Fortunate/Unfortunate.

Next come the trigrams, the combining of three lines, resulting in eight possible combinations. After this, come the hexagrams, the combing of the trigrams into sixty-four possible six line combinations. "Going on from here," Zhuangzi might say, "even a master mathematician would get lost." Personally, I get lost at eight, by which I mean, not only are the meanings of the various permutations beyond my ability to comprehend, but more importantly, interpretations at this point begin to tend suspiciously toward the quasi-"spiritual", or as I like to say, they descend into the realm of hocus-pocus. I learned my lesson in the four dyads: Things get too complicated to "know" real fast.

Still, there's much of interest and value in the whole, for those willing to spend their time with it. Regarding the eight trigrams, one curiosity is in their interpretive groupings. There is, of course, the pure Yang (three Yangs=Father) and the pure Yin (three Yins=Mother), but then there are the "children"; of the six remaining, the three "Yang" trigrams are the "sons", and the three "Yin" trigrams are the "daughters". What's curious is that two Yins and one Yang make a "Yang trigram", while two Yangs and one Yin make a "Yin trigram". Thus, the minority element defines the whole. Why is this so?

Ziporyn explains this as exemplifying the socio-politically representative character of the trigrams themselves. Their socially qualitative character takes precedence over the quantitative. One Yang rules over two Yins, whatever their arrangement, and this is as it should be. Two Yangs ruling over one Yin is decidedly disharmonious and inauspicious, and is thus Yin. The bias is decidedly for the Yang. (Daughters are inauspicious and sons auspicious, and however much one may attempt to abstract this deep-rooted philosophical sentiment from actual sons and daughters, it is difficult to see how it does not affect real-world behavior.)

Here we begin to get sucked into the essential Confucian conservatism. The hierarchical, pyramidal status quo is mandated by Heaven and since harmony is the good, taking one's place in that structure, however benighted one's circumstances might be, is the harmonious thing to do. (Admittedly, Confucianism does allow for regime-change if the current Emperor is not delivering harmony, but one Emperor is just swapped for another.)

Still, there are other (more beneficial) ways in which these interpretations might inform our practical living. We might consider, for example, how two Yangs and one Yin might speak to how being of “two minds” is harmful. The reader might explore further, if so inclined.

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

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