heaven earth, yin yang

yin and yang in huainanzi chapter 3

‘When Heaven and Earth were yet unformed, all was ascending and flying, diving and delving. Thus it is called the primal beginning. The dao begins in the nebulous void. The nebulous void produces space-time; space-time produces the primordial qi.

A shoreline (divides) the primordial qi. That which is pure and bright spreads out to form heaven; the heavy and turbid congeals to form earth. It is easy for that which is pure and subtle to disperse, but difficult for the heavy and turbid to congeal. Therefore, first  heaven is completed, and then earth fixed.

The combined essences of heaven and earth produce yin and yang. The successive essences of yin and yang cause the four seasons. The scattered essences of the four seasons create the ten thousand things.’

Elisabeth Rochat: We must always remember that in translating a text like this it is possible to use the present tense. This idea is timeless. So we can say that the dao begins in the nebulous void. The nebulous void  produces space and time, or the ability to have a place and a moment of time. Space and time (yu zhou 宇 宙) here are not an abstraction, but more the ability to be in a specific place (the north or the south), or a specific moment of time (a day in spring or in autumn, with its specific quality of qi). It is impossible to translate this in any other way but space and time, but it is not exactly the same as the conceptual notion we have in the West. For the Chinese, the whole of nature comes into this concept of space and time, and that potentiality of space and time produces the primordial qi. It is not yet concrete, it is more the possibility of various divisions of qi making specific places and moments of time. Qi appears, and the shoreline divides the primordial qi, so the qi is no longer in oneness but has a kind of determination. When there is differentiation, division or limits taken by the qi, there will also be yin and yang. 

‘That which is pure and bright spreads out to form Heaven. The heavy and turbid congeals to form Earth.’

Pure and bright is pure yang (qing yang 清 陽). Heavy and turbid (zhong zhuo 重 濁) alludes to the yin without naming it. There is a movement of qi which is clear, rising up and spreading out to form heaven, whereas what is heavy and turbid will congeal, concentrate, condense to form earth. This is a kind of cosmogenesis, from the first appearance of qi there is a division, a limit, called here a shoreline, a determination and a movement of opposition. And through that, through the opposite movements of qi, heaven and earth take form.

The ease of heaven is within the yang movement of qi, and the difficulty is within the more compact, the heavy. Sometimes heaven is called easiness, and earth difficulty, because when there is difficulty it is usually because of some kind of knot or contraction. The yang qi soar and rise with ease, so they accumulate to form heaven. It is an accumulation through this easy spreading out. But the earth, the turbid, is more compact. This is a way of showing the difference of stature between heaven and earth. There is a precedence, heaven is first. We see the same thing with the hun (魂) and po (魄) at death, when the hun fly away faster than the po.  For the hun it may take just a matter of hours, for the po it may take years to fully disperse.

‘The combined essences of Heaven and Earth produce yin and yang.

This is the first appearance in this text of yin and yang, though of course they were already suggested in the double movement of the qi. The clear and bright are the yang, the heavy and turbid the yin; the yin concentrate as a compact mass and the yang diffuse and spread the qi. Once the exchange occurs between heaven and earth making the yin yang qi, ‘The quintessential essences of yin and yang become the four seasons.’

When the yin yang qi exist between heaven and earth, a differentiation by four is possible, which is the pattern for all forms and the taking of form.

‘The scattered essences of the four seasons create the ten thousand things.’

Scattering in all directions, yin yang qi are manifest in the ten thousand beings. This is the actual taking of form. Fire and water, sun and moon appear as manifestations of yin yang in heaven and earth.

(Excerpted from Yin Yang in Classical Texts; Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée)

Comments are closed.