"Hall of Mirrors"
Photograph by Rosa Yoskovsky
Hexagram 25, Wu Wang 旡 妄, is formed of Heaven over Thunder: Thunder (Action) following the way of Heaven.
Wu means “no” or “not”.
Wang indicates falseness, untruth, deceit, a lie, to be without foundation – but also reckless, foolhardy, vain, rash, disordered, out of place. LiSe suggests “thwart” as a translation, indicating anything that goes against the grain.
Thus, the meaning of Wu Wang is to be in accord with truth; to do nothing that goes against the natural order.
Huang translates it as Without Falsehood; Blofeld as Integrity, the Unexpected; Lynn as No Errancy; Wu as Without Blame, Without Error; Karcher and Hilary as Without Entanglement; Bradford as Without Pretense. LiSe calls it Natural. Other translations include Honesty, Natural Innocence, Spontaneity. Wilhelm translates it as Innocence, which only partially reflects the meaning; there is nothing childish or naïve about this hexagram.
What are these translators trying to get at, from all these different angles?
To understand this, let's revisit the meaning of the trigram Qian, Heaven. Quoting Bradford:
“Qian … is the symbol of higher order(s) and nature... Although it is a grand design, it is self-organizing, lacking a designer. It is orderly and moves with direction, but lacks both purpose and plan.”
This sounds remarkably similar to David Bohm's concept of the “holomovement”, which brings together the holistic principle of "undivided wholeness" with the idea that everything is in a state of process or becoming. This wholeness is not a static oneness, but a dynamic wholeness-in-motion in which everything moves together in an interconnected process:
"In this view, there is no ultimate set of separately existent entities, out of which all is supposed to be constituted. Rather, unbroken and undivided movement is taken as a primary notion." (Bohm, 1988, p77)
That's the quantum physics version. We find the same idea expressed in a more relevantly personal way, as the central tenet of Buddhism: that all phenomena are arising together, in a mutually interdependent web of cause and effect.
“Our world and sense of self is a play of patterns. Any identity we can grasp is transient, tentative. This is difficult to understand from words such as selflessness or emptiness of self. In fact, my own teacher Achaan Chah said, “If you try to understand it intellectually, your head will probably explode”. However, the experience of selflessness in practice can bring us to great freedom.” (Jack Kornfield, “A Path With Heart” p200)
If this is the true nature of reality, and if the experience of it can bring us freedom, why don't more of us experience it like this?
The answer is partly biological: our animal brains interpret sensory information so as to create the illusion of a separate and more or less permanent existence; our very perceptions obscure the huge, unseen world at work behind the forms that we can see. And it is partly cultural: we (particularly in the “developed” nations) have been indoctrinated to not only believe in, but to value, autonomy and independence. The result is that we pretend we have a separate existence that must be preserved against various perils, privations and threats – and we don't even know we are pretending.
This sets us up for a fall, and the Gua Ci tells us so:
Worthwhile to persist
For one without integrity there will be suffering
And not much reward in having somewhere to go
One of the most strongly negative prognostications in the Yi is hui 悔 (remorse, regret). The etymology of the character is “to be many-hearted.” Integrity (literally, “wholeness”) consists not only of being internally unified, but in realising our unity with the world.
Grasping this as a concept is one thing. Living it is quite another, and the question posed by this hexagram is: “How can we ACT in accordance with the Dao, the undivided wholeness-in-motion?”
It's a pretty safe assumption there's no easy answer, otherwise we'd all be doing it. And yet, there have been people throughout history, and in every corner of the world, who have realised and lived this truth, and we recognise them as exemplars of human wisdom.
One of them was Katagiri Roshi. Here's what he said:
“All we have to do is just sit down and completely open ourselves to right now, right here, without being carried away by all the information in our head....This moment is very simple. So why not just take care of it with all your heart?”