Certain aspects of Daoist and Chinese Cosmology have become “popular.” When I mention Yin and Yang, Qi, or Feng Shui, most people nod their head. However, many students, including myself, are too eager to abandon these basic notions to get to the “details,” the important part where we actually know stuff.
The engineering/mechanistic view of reality tells us that the universe is some kind of Swiss Watch, and that the significance of the universe is in the details. If we can examine all the details and measure everything, somehow this is supposed to produce insight. In the Chinese view, this is non-sense, like taking a watch apart to find the time.
Basic teachings are the key to wisdom. If we rush to expertise, we become hysterical maniacs. Master the basics, and you will flourish.
The following two blogs will zoom out again and continue to examine “the big picture,” the basics, what is called cosmology, the view of Yin-Yang and the Five Elements. To understand anything Chinese, we must understand these teachings in cosmological terms, meaning we must understand how they relate to our actual experience.
But first, I must say something about View Teachings and Astrology. Liu Ming made it a point to emphasize View Teachings. Why? We, as modern post-Christian secularized industrial engineer merchants, are far too eager to adopt techniques and methods from Asian Wisdom Traditions, as if the methods, the “doing stuff” part holds the key to “evolution/progress.” Expertise without wisdom roots is bankrupt and will fail. We must ask basic questions, again and again. If we do not start from a basic understanding of humanity, our expertise will lead us to aggression.
The ten million-billion things all fall into two categories—Yin and Yang. Forget the ten-billion; learn the two.
I have been studying and attempting to practice Asian religions for more than fifteen years now, and I have almost nothing to report. I have learned, however, that all methods, mindfulness for example, come from a certain “view” about reality. Furthermore, all methods are intended to have certain fruition based on that view. Without view, methods are meaningless and will at best produce a kind of neutral effect. If I have learned anything quantifiable, I have learned that methods are a dime a dozen. There are literally thousands of techniques of meditation, yoga, and divination. In short—if we practice a method without adopting the view, that method will not give its intended fruition; it may even be harmful.
I recently asked a friend interested in learning Tantric practice what he thought a human being was, and he replied, “a piece of shit.” And he is not to blame; our culture tells us that human beings are basically bad, and our popular media and Religion certainly reflect this view. However, the fundamental view of Tantra states that human beings are self-liberating expressions of a primordially pure enlightened essence (which is a little too profound for Daoism). If you believe that humans are basically sinful, bad, broken, greedy, and so on, then you can practice Tantric Methods, visualize chakras and channels, hold your breath, squeeze your perineum, and chant mantras for a million years and never experience liberation, because your view and your method are mismatched. When we study view teachings, we fundamentally alter our way of relating to experience, and this opens the space for transformation from the inside out.
If we adopt method without adopting view, then we supply the method with the view we already have, conscious or unconscious. In the case of Americans, this often places the individual and their problems (psychology) at the center of the universe. In this case, Astrology and Meditation become a new vocabulary for our own self importance. Chinese Astrology should make us gentle people and free us from the hysteria of self hatred and self cherishing. In the Chinese View, no individual is significant, and the goal of Astrology is to discover what we have in common, not what makes us different.
In the Chinese view, Astrology should never be used as a form of aggression, smashing our afflictions and murdering our obstructions to get one-up on the universe. Neither should the information be used to condescend and exalt us over others. Nor should it be used to obsess over details, as if the exact position of the north node of the moon will give us “answers.”
The View Teachings of Chinese Astrology, then, are of central importance to the practice and to receiving a reading. To make use of it, we must understand Chinese Cosmological View. It is easy to learn technical vocabulary and techniques; it is not so easy to change our view. And to be clear, view is not philosophy; we consider view as if it were describing reality as it actually is. Philosophy is an option—people should be kind; view is not an option—all that is compound is impermanent.
Finally, we must become aware of our eclecticism, our mixing of views. If you are an ex-Christian scientist who now believes humans are chemical skin bags, or a cultural Jew turned Buddhist, or a California Hindu-Yoga-Buddhist-Taoist-Whatever...this will have an effect on your practice. Eventually, eclecticism turns into something, usually an orthodoxy, but most often it just turns to confusion.
So far, I have discussed these view teachings by exploring the questions—what is a human being and what is the Universe? Within these basic questions, I have begun to explore fundamental view teachings on Character, Freedom, and Fate. I have also been hinting at the “Big Picture,” by discussing Hun Tun, the view that reality is an unknowable chaos, and that all we can observe is temporary cyclical patterns of movement. But how do these view teachings relate to our actual experience?
Take a moment and ask yourself—what do I actually experience?
The Chinese would answer—Qi. What is Qi? Qi is not substance; it is non-abiding movement. We experience movement, and all movement has a direction.
Modern new-age spirituality often talks about oneness. And the term non-dual often implies a kind of pretentious sophistication—that non-duality is the “highest” teaching. However, oneness and non-dual in the Chinese view are meaningless and say nothing about our actual experience. What we experience is dual movement alternating in a polarity. Like the poles of a magnet, this duality is inextricable yet defined by two-ness.
Life is splendidly dualistic. In most traditions, dualism is problematic. Duality is somehow a kind of evil, a misunderstanding, a delusion, rather than something that actually defines the natural world. Duality is the closest image we have to the natural world, and it is not mistaken.
This alternating image of the natural world is known as Yin and Yang, which is probably the most famous Chinese idea. To understand anything Chinese we must understand Yin-Yang. As I mentioned in the beginning, our tendency to obsess over details often causes us to overlook the big picture, but I assure you—if you study Yin-Yang theory, it will irreversibly change your life. It describes the whole of our experience, not through details, but through understanding that everything, absolutely everything, is in an alternating process of change.
The Yin-Yang symbol is now plastered on everything from surfboards to sauerkraut labels, so the idea is at least familiar. The popular understanding, however, tends to miss the point. Popular literature often splits Yin and Yang into two lists. On the Yin side you see words like—negative, dark, contracting, descending, cold, heavy, and substantive. On the Yang side you see the opposite terms—positive, light, expanding, ascending, hot, light, and active. And this is all true. But it is not the point.
I once mentioned Yin-Yang in conversation, and a friend asked “which one is push and which one is pull?” The Chinese answer is yes! In other words, it depends. We describe Yin and Yang only to get a basic understanding of their qualities. But they are a continuum. Our experience flows along an alternating continuum. This continuum is circular. We can identify something as Yin, and this means it is turning into Yang. We can describe something as Yang, which means it is turning into Yin. They constantly transform into one another as a kind of cyclical wave pattern.
Let’s take “cold” as an example. We can generically identify cold as Yin. But no temperature is static. A refrigerator can maintain a cold temperature, but this is strenuous (Yang), requiring energy. Cold in this case is in a tenuous state of Yang produced through effort. If the refrigerator breaks down, and it wants to, cold disperses and temperature warms. The heating process in this case is Yin because it is the natural release of strenuous energy. In other words, Yin and Yang cannot be pinned down in absolute terms like hot/cold; nothing can. Everything is not how it appears. Each appearance can be temporarily described as Yin or Yang on the Yin-Yang continuum.
Our actual moment to moment experience also alternates along the same kind of wave pattern. Any experience you can identify is turning into another kind of experience. Identifying confusion, for example, is clarity. Our emotions are never static.
We experience suffering, discontent, and disease when we believe our experience is static. But our experience is never stable; nothing is stable. We exhaust ourselves trying to make things stable and secure when their natural state alternates. This is the true wisdom of Yin-Yang. If we are upset, we are actually moving in the direction of contentment, only sometimes we have to go a little further down before we start moving up again. We may be elated in the thralls of a peak experience, but this means we are moving towards depression; you can only go “up” for so long. Experiences like happy and sad are identifiable through their contrasting opposite, and we vacillate through emotions all the time. The more we understand our experience as naturally alternating the more we can relax. Knowing that sadness is already moving in the direction of happy, we can learn to enjoy both, for they are each natural and tell us something about our experience. We develop equanimity only when we accept that nothing is static and that all movement is circular; we then begin to host the whole process.
In Chinese Astrology, this movement is called self-resolving. Yin-Yang is the basic pattern of movement, and it is a self-resolving pattern. This means there are no “problems” to fix. Everything coming apart is also coming together. If we have this big view, we do not need to panic when our life falls apart (panicking a little is okay). Something needs to fall apart for other things to come together. This is the natural cycle of everything from the vastness of galaxies to our very breath.\
We do not try to inhale; exhalation naturally resolves with inhalation—this is Yin-Yang. You cannot find a distinct point when inhalation becomes exhalation (go ahead, try!) because they are a continuum.
All that being said, we still have Freedom, meaning we can resist natural cycles. Our culture has an immense prejudice toward Yang in the form of activity/productivity. This prejudice, I think, comes from a kind of general unnamed anxiety, stemming from many diverse factors. Christian linear time/original sin, mechanistic God is dead scientism, rugged mercantile individualism, 200+ years of war and aggression…fear and anxiety lurks beneath the surface of American culture. Our culture does not support us (my Dad once received a $300,000 bill for a two week hospital stay), and we rarely support one another (who are your neighbors?).
I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted just being an American. Our culture operates on the notion that progress is infinite. We are constantly trying to “improve” everything, and we are expected to be “productive” all the time, reflected in the standard 40 hour work week, which depletes us, leaving little to no time for anything but recovering from exhaustion. No one can work 40 hours a week and be healthy. Everything we do is work—we work at work, work on our relationships, work on our bodies, work on spiritual practice, work hard play hard. And we are at war with everything, trying to destroy cancer with aggression in the fight against death. All of this is excessive Yang, and it’s exhausting.
Because we have Freedom, we can resist Yin-Yang through Yang force, and we can resist our Fate, but not for long. Our excessive productivity depletes us and causes all kinds of illness and disease. Our standard of health is often, “just get me back to work.” Yin is weakness, and we hate weakness. Trying to be strong, strong, strong all the time is like a bridge with no sway; it will crumble in an earthquake.
According to Classical Yin-Yang theory, they are not equal, but they are a balance. Americans want everything to be equal, so we exalt yang. The universe, however, is about 98% Yin and 2% Yang, which is just enough to make it move. Very little actually requires effort. Most of what we do requires no effort—digesting, circulating blood, breathing, thinking, hearing, seeing, and so on. The planets revolve around the sun with no effort. These are natural process which the Chinese call Ziran, which means “of itself so,” in other words, Yin. We barely need to “do” anything; we are already flowing in a spontaneously arising self resolving universe. And everything that we identify with is actually a complete mystery of spontaneity.
I have no idea how I form thoughts, how I speak, how I remember. It would take a thousand years to describe in technical language the complexity of digesting a sandwich, and yet I do it without effort. Yang is the tiny push of a ball at the top of a hill that sends it rolling. The key to balance is learning when to apply just a little effort, which sets things in motion. But if we are applying effort all the time, we actually deplete Yang, which is limited (2%), and we become ill, sometimes so ill that death is the only Yin resolution.
Yin-Yang is both movement and rhythm, and movement implies that nothing abides. There is no “thing” that moves. How could there be? Qi is not a substance, a thing that moves—it is movement itself. Yin tends toward substantive, and in the process of this tendency it is already alternating toward dispersal. The constant alternating quality of movement is cyclic and rhythmic, and there is no end to this rhythm. Our culture has a linear view of time, and we are therefore terrified of death. Any tradition which has a beginning has an end. We imagine that in death we somehow “stop.” But nothing stops. And there is no first movement, because there would have to be something before it to generate it, ad-infinitum. And no amount of time deregulates the movement from Yin to Yang; the sun may be ancient, but its energy will disperse.
So how does this all apply to Astrology? First, our Character tends towards Yin or Yang. I am a Yang Fire Tiger, for example. Meaning, I tend towards the Yang impulse. Second, our Fate has Yin and Yang aspects. Meaning, some things we are fated to “do,” and some things are fated to happen of themselves. In general, our Fate cycles according to Yin-Yang. But these are the “details.” Without understanding the basic view that EVERYTHING is Yin-Yang, then trying to understand our Character and Fate is crazy making. We have to ask ourselves these basic questions again and again.
Every possible detail falls into either Yin or Yang, and the two are always turning into one another. We cannot make use of Astrology and fate calculation if we are hysterical over details. We study Astrology to see the cyclic pattern of our life, and Yin-Yang is the fundamental dynamic of all patterns. Without Yin-Yang we get lost in the details, and we miss out on true wisdom.
In my next blog, I will discuss how the Yin-Yang cycle further differentiates into the five-phases/elements. See you then.
Tiger's Play--the View Teachings of Chinese Astrology
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