Saturday, 18 June 2011

Two different approaches

 Forli Castle
Photograph by Rosa Yoskovsky

In the Brighton study group last week, we looked at the linked pair of Hexagrams 5 (XU, Anticipation) and 6 (SONG, Contention or Arguing). They are two very different ways of dealing with a situation that isn't going in the way you would prefer.

Xu is the hexagram of patient anticipation: strength (Heaven) inside, in times of danger (Water). You are either waiting for rain (Water = clouds), or you are waiting for the rain to stop. Either way, you are waiting calmly and mindfully, rather than fretting. You don't take the cake out of the oven when it’s half-baked, or pull up your peas to see if they've sprouted. Perhaps more importantly, you maintain a broad perspective, taking in both figure and ground, focus and context, while you wait for the situation to mature. You adopt an attitude of attention and appreciation, rather than prediction and control.

This hexagram represents the person who can patiently wait for the right time for action. He doesn't get distracted or nod off; but he's also not pushing the river. He stays awake to this moment; he doesn't put his life on hold, but enjoys what this moment presents to him. While we are waiting, the DaXiang tells us, we can stay tranquil and cheerful, nourishing ourselves with food and drink, and maybe even music.

Contrasted with this is Song; here the danger (Water) is on the inside, with a show of strength (Heaven) on the outside. The character shows a person in a position of authority, responsible for the distribution and sharing of private goods, ensuring that everyone gets their fair share. There's an implication of a dispute, a civil court case, that requires resolution by someone external to it... which means the people involved in the dispute were so fixated on their preferred outcomes that they were not able to resolve it themselves.

There is a clear counterpoint between the two hexagrams. The GuaCi of both begin with Fu, which carries meanings of truth, sincerity, trustworthiness – but in “Contention” the fu is zhi – blocked or opposed. Both speak of crossing the great stream, but while “Anticipation” says it is (or will eventually be) worthwhile/fortunate, “Contention” says bluntly that it is not.

The GuaCi for “Contention” also contains a wordplay on two different characters, both pronounced zhong: one means “middle”, and it says that it's good to be vigilant in the middle; the other means “end”, and this is misfortune.

So it's saying to pay attention to the process (and its fallout), rather than being fixated on an arbitrary endpoint. It's also saying to meet halfway, not to take it to the wall – and that you may need the help of the da ren, which is often translated as “great man”, and which Bradford aptly translates as “mature human being”.

Ren does not just mean “human”, in the biological sense we tend to hold in the West. The China in which the Yijing was written, like most non-European cultures, had quite a different conception of what it is to be human. In East Asian (and indeed, many other) cultures, our humanity is not given, but acquired. That is, we become persons, and in particular human persons. To quote Peter Hershock, “Personhood is not a minimal fact, but an achievement – a mark of some degree of excellence in a particular quality of 'relationship'.”

He goes on: 
“In many societies … the primary value-orienting conduct is that of cooperation or mutual contribution. Person training – that is, training in the art of conducting ourselves as persons – emphasizes attention and appreciation. In practice, this means a valorization of virtuosity or the capacity for sensitive improvisation. By contrast, conduct in most Western societies is predominantly oriented by an intense valuation of regulation or control. Instead of personal training focusing on qualities of attention, it emphasizes will and the management of activity and experience.” (Peter Hershock, Reinventing the Wheel: A Buddhist Perspective on the Information Age, p8)

Maybe that's why we have so many lawyers.

The DaXiang for Contention says that the JunZi, in undertaking the work, appraises beginnings. This could be interpreted in any number of ways. WangBi interpreted it as setting boundaries at the beginning to prevent contention from arising – and certainly it is true that transparent and clearly stated rules of governance can prevent a great deal of trouble.

But another possible interpretation is that this is an invitation to consider, from a non-egocentric place, how this situation arose. That is, what story is being played out here, and how can we tell it on in a way that is good – not just good for me, not just good for you, but good for the whole situation and everyone participating in it. That's what a DaRen would do – he wouldn't take sides, but would find the best way for the whole situation to go forward.

And the challenge here, of course, is that we tend to lose access to this impartiality when we are in the middle of a conflict. In fact, that's almost the definition of conflict: me v. them.

It takes a truly exceptional DaRen – the Dalai Lama springs to mind, and Aung San Suu Kyi, and Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela – to live under violent oppression and not get pulled into Contention.

Most of us – at least most of us reading this – face conflicts that are truly petty and trivial in comparison. In those moments when we're in the grip of an argument, might it be possible to cultivate an attitude of attention and appreciation, living our lives and waiting to see what will happen next?

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