Sunday, 15 January 2012

Tong Ren, Da You, and the Occupy Movement

"Role Play"
Photo by Rosa Yoskovsky

Last week in the Brighton study group we looked at Hexagrams 13 and 14, as a pair.

Hexagram 13, Tong Ren, is about fellowship, community, our connections with each other. Tong means “together”: to come together; gathering together, uniting. Ren means “human”. This is about the way that people connect to form a community or a society. The emphasis is not, as in Hexagrams 7 or 8, on leadership; it is rather on the recognition of what each person is, and how they participate in the fabric of society. The Da Xiang reads “The junzi, according to kind and family, distinguishes the beings”. In other words, we differentiate or identify people; we find out who they are and how they are. But the context is inclusive, for the Gua Ci tells us:
Fellowship of men at the frontier:
Worthwhile to cross the great stream
Worthy of the junzi's persistence.
In other words, reach out to people beyond your usual borders, find out what they are like, get to know them, recognise how they are the same as you, appreciate how they are different, make meaningful connections. Realise that you are kindred spirits who can differentiate your differences and find a common thread.

Hexagram 14, Da You, by contrast, is about wealth. Da means big, or great. You means “to have”, to possess, acquire, gain; to be rich, and also to offer. In ancient times, it meant a good harvest, perhaps the most universally useful type of acquisition, and da you referred to a “best harvest”.

There is no inherent conflict between these hexagrams. In the China of the zhouyi, the pursuit and acquisition of wealth made sense only when it benefitted society. We might think of Tong Ren as the system of relationships that make up society, and Da You as the energy flowing through that system.

These two hexagrams, taken together, raise a lot of interesting questions that are profoundly relevant to our times. What do we do when we have more than we need? How to we avoid arrogance, greed, or complacency? How do we avoid inciting envy in others, or getting hooked into envy ourselves? How can we honour the complex web of life that produced the abundance? How can we use this wealth for the common good?

Although these are worthwhile questions in any age, it would appear that in our time, the system of relationships that makes up society is organised in such a way as to channel most of the energy through a very limited segment of society. Rather than being permeated with a sense of abundance, most of our society is racked with a sense of lack, of disenfranchisement, of being marginalised and alienated.

Furthermore, our social system in the “developed” world is structured so that it alienates us – from each other, from nature, and ultimately from ourselves.  This was not the dream of the Global Village.  Widespread (in some countries, almost universal) economic migration has torn apart extended families; communities barely have time to form before they are reconstituted, so that many of us have never had the experience of a “village” of people around us whom we know well enough, over enough time, that a self-organising community can emerge. Real communities, which evolve in an organic way, embedded in their natural environment, have a better chance of being organised so that each person's talents are best used, and each person's interests are best served. This takes time. Community is connection sustained over time.

The vast chasm between such an ideal and the current reality is precisely what is being highlighted by the Occupy Movement, which is expressing in the most inspiring terms the fundamental values of human connection (with both each other and the natural environment that sustains us) and the realities of scale (“think global, act local”). 

Michael Stone has described the Occupy Movement as a collective awakening to the fact that our corporations and governments are the products of human action, that they aren't serving us, and that it is in our power and in our interest to replace them. He observes that it is "not just about economics, it's about ecology and our love for what we know is valuable: community, healthcare, simple food, and time.... We are not fighting the people on Wall Street, we are fighting this whole system."

The Occupy Movement invites us to bring a fresh view to the relationship between human connection (Tong Ren) and wealth (Da You),  and to redefine wealth itself, away from the endless accumulation of goods and back to a focus on the things that genuinely make life worthwhile: community, family, satisfying work.

1 comment:

Mary Oak said...

A cogent expression of how those ancient hexagrams underlie what we are facing today in the crisis of values that underlies the Occupy Movement and other forms of questioning the structures we live in.