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The Living I ChingUsing Ancient Chinese Wisdom to Shape Your Life
By Ming-Dao Deng
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Ming-Dao Deng
All right reserved.
The dawn when someone first mapped the changes was so early that we can no longer distinguish legend from fact. Like someone squinting at a desert horizon, shapes flicker and fade, and we fear we are seeing our own wishes more than the robes of a far-off person.
When one figure is pointed out as a king named Fu Xi, we strain to see him. He remains ever-distant. If each year between him and us were a yard, he would stand more than forty-eight hundred yards away.
Some have colored his outline with their own stories. In the most flamboyant folk legend, Fu Xi is the brother of Nu Wa, the woman who created people from river mud. Those early humans lived simply, hunting deer and gathering berries. One day, all was almost destroyed when the gods of fire and water battled for control of the earth. Fire set all the forests ablaze. When the gods' blows broke a hole in the northwest quadrant of heaven, the heavenly river gushed out, brimming valleys and flooding mountains. Nearly all the early people died. Struggling to save them, Nu Wa repaired heaven by melting stones of five different colors, plugging the hole with glistening jewels.
This woman whobirthed our ancestors, who nursed and taught them and who made heaven whole again, was half-woman and half-snake. The legends say Fu Xi was such a being too -- a man with a serpent's body instead of legs. He had a man's intelligence and skills -- in some ancient murals, he's shown with a try square -- yet the serpent's body points to a more primitive and limbic body. He has eyes to see the stars, hands to measure his world, but a body fully in touch with the earth.
Scholars scoff that Fu Xi is a mirage. They say he seems large because he merely represents a group of people who established early civilization on the banks of the Yellow River. They question whether a single "primitive" person could be the father of advanced wisdom. Yet during that time, cultures already existed in other parts of the world. Cities stood along the Nile River. Cuneiform writing recorded transactions in the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Cities in the Indus River valley were rich with copper and bronze vessels.
Perhaps it is possible, then, to give some credence to what the traditionalists believe: Fu Xi was a ruler. He observed the moving stars and changing moon above. He observed the patterns of the earth below, learning the habits of birds and animals, and turning the soil with his hands. He helped create written language, and he knew tallying and calculation. Most important, Fu Xi began the long effort to understand change.
So let us agree that Fu Xi is too far away for us to see him clearly. Let us agree that we are looking through layers of myth, legend, historical fact, and philosophical ideas. If each year was represented by a yard, some forty-eight hundred yards would separate us from him. At that distance it would be hard to distinguish one layer of air from another. Even if we could walk toward Fu Xi, those layers would be disturbed by our very presence.
Nevertheless, we can learn from the stories of Fu Xi -- even the tale that he was half-snake. A snake's sleeping coils have tremendous potential. They might be nest, spring, or strangulating muscle. The snake's coils are a circle enclosing an empty center. In the same way, the moment before all movement is empty -- pure future waiting to explode.
That is how we understand our origin today: an emptiness with a past so unknowable that we cannot name it, a power so great that the future springs from it. We call this wuji -- a void with neither light nor shadow.
Wuji means "no limits?' Think of the highest beam in your house -- the high point of every rooftop, the limit of every building. If we can imagine that which needs no ridgepole, that which no roof could contain, that which has no inside and no outside, we can begin to grasp what no limits means.
Wuji is at the center and the beginning of our pilgrimage. As we make our pilgrimage, we are reproducing the entire evolution of this world. It began from nothing, as we begin from nothing -- as each of us begins our mornings from nothing. Whenever we create -- and that might be something as simple as deciding what to do next or as involved as composing music -- we begin from nothing.
Thus, saying that wuji is at the center of all things is not some impenetrable philosophy. It is a state we are all familiar with each day.
This truth is valid on any scale. The origin of the universe must also be nothing. If we wish for an irreducible source for our world, then only nothingness can be that source. Every other assertion -- whether we credit a god or any other intervening force -- leaves open the question of further investigation. If this world was made by gods, then who made the gods? Only nothingness can satisfy the question of origin. Being came from nonbeing. Nothing but nothingness can answer the question.
Some people believe that as long as we can split distinctions into the smallest parts, we will find the origin of the world. This reductive process will never be satisfying. Just as we cannot parse the distance to Fu Xi, we cannot find the ultimate origin of our world in the pieces of the world. If we try to split things into tinier particles, we will find smaller parts to separate in turn.
Taking the world down to its finest subatomic level does not necessarily tell us about the way things work. We can suggest how all the pieces of the world fit together, from the simplest atom to the most complicated social structures, but we also need to know how those pieces function as a whole. We cannot understand a . . .
Excerpted from The Living I Ching by Ming-Dao Deng Copyright © 2006 by Ming-Dao Deng. Excerpted by permission.
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