Yin-Yang and Three Obediences

The ancient Chinese philosophers believed that the ultimate reality, which underlies and unifies the multiple phenomena we observe, is intrinsically dynamic. They called it Tao the way, or process, of the universe. For the Taoist sages all things, whether animate or inanimate, were embedded in the continuous flow and change of the Tao. The belief that everything in the universe is imbued with life has also been characteristic of indigenous spiritual traditions throughout the ages. In monotheistic religions, by contrast, the origin of life is associated with a divine creator.

(….) The association of manhood with the accumulation of possessions fits well with other values that are favored and rewarded in patriarchal culture expansion, competition, and an “object-centered” consciousness. In traditional Chinese culture, these were called yang values and were associated with the masculine side of human nature. They were not seen as being intrinsically good or bad. However, according to Chinese wisdom, the yang values need to be balanced by their yin, or feminine, counterparts expansion by conservation, competition by cooperation, and the focus on objects by a focus on relationships. As one of us (F.C.) has long argued, the movement toward such a balance is very consistent with the shift from mechanistic to systemic and ecological thinking that is characteristic of our time (Capra 1982, 1996).

Capra, Fritjof (2016) The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision (p. 1). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

(….) There are striking parallels between complex systems and the old wisdom of Taoism, which arose from close observation of nature and of human affairs. The Taoist world view is probably best known for its concepts of yin and yang. Yin and yang are often characterised as the female and male principles, but the Tao view is that all things in life have opposites, or polarities, that are also manifestations of yin and yang. Other examples are dark and light, yielding and resistance, intuition and rationality, contemplation and action. In the Tao view there are times for contemplation and times for action. When the world is stable it may not be a good use of energy to try to force change, but if the world is changing, particularly if it is in crisis, then small actions may have large consequences. (….) Taoism counsels that a life lived only at one polarity will be a restricted life. For a full realisation of potential we should not become stuck in an extreme, but should balance yin with yang. Taoism seems to have distilled an essence from the living world: healthy living systems do not depend on competition alone, nor on cooperation alone, but balance both in varying degrees. (Davies, Geoff. Economy, Society, Nature: An introduction to the new systems-based, life-friendly economics.World Economics Association Books Book 3. Kindle Locations 2109-2118).

(….) We can leave the question of what ‘reality’ is ‘behind’ our observations to the metaphysicians and theologians. Unfortunately many scientists became enamoured of the idea that science is in the business of ‘reading the mind of God’. It’s another distraction, unless God’s mind is very changeable and context-dependent. So too can we leave the question of ‘truth’ to others. It is apparently a shocking claim to many people that science is not in the business of revealing Truth. Rather, science is, to emphasise the difference, in the business of inventing useful stories, stories that may be rather loose or may be very precise. (Davies, Geoff. Economy, Society, Nature: An introduction to the new systems-based, life-friendly economics. World Economics Association Books Book 3. Kindle Locations 2402-2408).

— Geoff Davies (2019) Economy, Society, Nature.

[T]he external ki of women is rooted in yin, and so by their ki women are apt to be excitable, petty, narrow, and temperamental. As they live confined to their homes day in and day out, theirs is a very private life and their vision is limited. Therefore, among women compassionate and honest minds-and-hearts are rare indeed. That is why Buddhism says that women are profoundly sinful and have difficulty in achieving {buddhahood}.

Nakae Tōju (573) Learning.

My family tried to raise me as an obedient girl [according to the Three Obediences]: [my mother told me] obey your father, obey your husband, obey your son. And I asked her; if I keep obeying everyone, when does my life start?

A Young Courageous Women Breaking With Tradition

Let it be made clear that Japan has come a long way towards equality of the sexes since Fukuzawa Yukichi’s comments that follow. Progress still needs to be made. Women are too frequently relegated to subservient roles within Japanese corporate culture (e.g., serving tea, being secretaries, or both). Nevertheless, the popular Western appropriation of Eastern philosophy and religion frequently distorts it to such an extent it no longer resembles its factual meaning in historical context and is hardly recognizable. One would never recognize the original message of Lao Tzu or the meaning of the Tao by the sanitized and popularized misappropriation above as Sung-Hae Kim makes obvious:

The Taoists exchanged the metaphoric term “Heaven” (though they still used it occasionally) for a fuller term Tao 道 (literally, the way), and developed the most systematic metaphysics in ancient China. Tao is defined as the indescribable and unnameable origin of all things and the constant principle present in the phenomenal world. Because of their preoccupation with Tao and its ultimate standard that transcends all human relative values, the Taoists were the most radical critics in ancient China. What characterized them was their that man is only a tiny part of the whole transformation of Tao and man has to learn Tao from the phenomenal world. (Kim 1985, 13) (….) Traditionally Lao Tzu has been thought of as the first of the Taoists and senior contemporary of Confucius. The historicity of the person Lao Tzu is still controversial and can probably never be solved. What we have is the text of the 81 short chapters of the book Lao Tzu—now generally accepted to have been written in the fourth or third century B.C.E. (Kim 1985, 101) According to the traditional version, the first chapter of Lao Tzu begins with the indescribability of the Way (Tao 道) and the concluding chapter sums up the way of the sage (sheng-jen 聖人) who embodies the Way concretely in the world. (Kim 1985, 102) The most important term for the Ultimate in Lao Tzu is Tao. The clear definition of Tao as the indescribable ultimate source and origin of all that exists and the constant nurturing principle at the phenomenal level is the most important contribution of Lao Tzu made to the metaphysical thought of ancient China. The famous chapter 1 describes both the transcendent and the immanent character of this ultimate reality. (Kim 1985, 106) As the origin of all things, it is nameless because it is transcendent, but as the immanent principle principle of the phenomenal world, it is called the mother of the world. The concept of Tao that both transcends the phenomenal world as its source and also is present within it as the constant principle, is in fact the metaphysical elaboration of the traditional concept of Heaven. For Lao Tzu, the Tao was both the supreme principle and the absolute reality; it was the reality behind the origin of the universe. (Kim 1985, 107) Heaven (the Tao) is the ultimate reference at the beginning and the end. With its characteristically anthropocentric outlook, the Confucian sage ultimately stands before Heaven for the final judgment of his innocence and success. (Sung-Hae Kim 1985, 138)

— Sung-Hae Kim 1985, 138, The Righteous and the Sage: A Comparative Study on the Ideal Images of Man in Biblical Israel and Classical China. Sogang University.

Taoism was a religion, a metaphysics, and a philosophy that was no less concerned with “reading the mind of God” the Ultimate and Transcendent Reality which they defined as the Tao which the “sage” (sheng-jen 聖人) or “perfect man” (chih-jen) sought to live and rule according to the principles of the Way. Davies is projecting a distorted, shallow, and false Westernized view of Taoism apparently copying Capra and contrasting it with his stereotyped view of early Western ideas as exemplified in the ideas of Newton and others who saw themselves as discovering the laws of God in their scientific discoveries. When so-called scientists engage in facile story telling on topics they know little about and thereby misrepresent an entire religion or philosophy or history for mere rhetorical purposes they are unwittingly demeaning science by reducing it to scientismmyth making. In reality the Torah’s ideal of the righteous man and the Taoist ideal of the perfect man have more in common than Davies’s scientism does with real, sober, and careful science.

Historical context counts; Taoism (along with Confucianism) was a religion and moral philosophy (metaphysical theory of the universe) that was more about maintaining harmony between heaven and earth, which translated into social context meant harmony between the ruling upper class and the ruled lower-classes aimed at maintaining social harmony and civil and political stability. The real interesting aspect of Taoism was its moral precepts that were meant to guide social and economic behavior so-as to maintain social harmony. The ethical precepts have more relevance to economics than some recent Western reinterpretation of what it means to modern science. The idea that the ruler’s behavior must accord to a moral code of conduct embodied in the Way provided a basis upon which the mandate of heaven could be either considered in operation (i.e., they ruled fairly, justly, and upheld moral standards)  or not in operation (i.e., they ruled unjustly, unethically, and for selfish gain and not for the benevolence of the people). These considerations were the ancient Chinese method of determining if the ruler needed to be removed or remain in place; at least that was the theory.

When scientists spoof religion they are doing no better than when creationists spoof science. Spotting the Spoof is a critical skill required for both religionists and scientists and is best served by a sound philosophy (which means ‘the love of wisdom’) that wisely discerns the difference between facts, meanings, and values. Science and religion can only be self-critical of their facts. The moment departure is made from the stage of facts, reason abdicates or else rapidly degenerates into a consort of false logic. Science as sober science is careful; science as story telling is not. Being able to spot the spoof allows one to “distinguish between good, sober, and restrained science on the one hand, and non-empirical metaphysics, fantasy, myth and ideology on the other.” When scientists engage in story telling with little or no regard for fact or truth they are espousing an ideology “transcending the category of provisional scientific theories … [and] constituting a world-view.'” (Alexander and Numbers 2010, Biology and Ideology: From Descartes to Dawkins, Kindle Locations 4215)

For serious, historically accurate, and relevant studies of economics and religion one can look to Michael Hudson (2018) … and forgive them their debts: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption from Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year or Robert H. Nelson (2001) Economics as Religion: From Samuelson to Chicago and Beyond. Or another classic is Tomas Sedlacek (2011) Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street. From a Buddhist perspective one can look to Clair Brown (2017) Buddhist Economics: An Enlightened Approach to the Dismal Science. From a Muslim perspective one could look to Ismael Hossein-zadeh (2014) Beyond Mainstream Explanations of the Financial Crisis: Parasitic Finance Capital. For a good analysis of the failures of so-called Compassionate Conservatism see Lew Daly (2009) God’s Economy: Faith-Based Initiatives & the Caring State. No doubt there are many more.

~ ~ ~

The equality of men and women Fukuzawa Yukichi 1885, 9–10, 45– 6 (11– 13, 39– 40)

Confucius said, “Whenever there is work to be done, the young will take on its burden; whenever there is wine and food, the old will be the first to enjoy it” [Analects ii. 8]. Borrowing this saying to describe men and women in Japan, “Whenever there is work to be done, women will take on its burden; whenever there is wine and food, men will be the first to enjoy it.”

Women of our country have no responsibility either inside or outside their homes, and their position is very low. Consequently, their sufferings and pleasures are very small in scale. It has been the custom for hundreds and even thousands of years to make them as feeble as they are, and it is not an easy matter now to lead both their minds and bodies to activity and to vigorous health. There are animated discussions on the education of women. No doubt education will be effective. When taught, women will acquire knowledge and the arts.

(….) I once compared the present efforts in schools for the education of women in Japan to caring for a dwarf pine in a pot and hoping it will grow into a big tree. Without doubt, fertilizer is important in a tree’s growth. When it is administered in proper measures and moisture and temperature are controlled, the pine will put out branches and leaves in profusion and their green luster will be beautiful. However, that beauty will be limited to the beauty of a potted plant. One can never hope for its growth into the sublimity of a hundred-foot giant. To rectify the sad state of women’s ignorance, the use of school instruction and such means will not be in vain. A woman may become well versed in science or in literature, even well informed in law. Such a woman may well compete with men in the classroom, but when she returns home from school, in what position does she find herself? (Heisig, James W.; Kasulis, Thomas P.; Maraldo, John C.. Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook (Nanzan Library of Asian Religion and Culture) (p. 601). University of Hawaii Press. Kindle Edition.)

At home, she owns no property of her own, and in society she cannot hope for a position of any consequence. The house she lives in is a man’s house and the children she brings up are her husband’s children. Where would such a person, without property, without authority of any sort, and with no claim on the children she bears, and herself a parasite in a man’s house, make use of the knowledge and learning she acquired? Science and literature will be of no use. Even less would her knowledge in law serve her. The normal reaction of the general public is to regard a woman who discusses law and economics as liable to bring misery upon herself. (Heisig, James W.; Kasulis, Thomas P.; Maraldo, John C.. Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook (Nanzan Library of Asian Religion and Culture) (pp. 601-602). University of Hawaii Press. Kindle Edition.)

(….) On top of all this, suppose that school education were Confucian or Buddhist, and taught such sayings to the effect that women and tools are irredeemable, or that it is a virtue for women to lack wisdom, or that the five faults that women are liable to and the three obediences[8] they must observe are proof that women are sinful by birth. Such education is less than useful, for it serves only to oppress women and to beat into them a kind of “modesty” and “reticence,” resulting in the deformation of even their physical organs—ears, eyes, nose, and tongue. Yet some educators never realize the results of their training. They have veritably been doing nothing but hindering the healthy development of women’s minds and bodies.

(….) Confucianism characterizes men as yang (positive) and women as yin (negative); that is, men are like the heavens and the sun, and women are like the earth and the moon. In other words, one is high and the other is humble. There are many men who take this idea as the absolute rule of nature, but this yin-yang theory is the fantasy of the Confucians and has no proof or logic. Its origins go back several thousand years to dark and illiterate ages when men looked around and whenever they thought they recognized pairs of something, one of which seemed to be stronger or more remarkable than the other, they called one yang and the other yin. For instance, the heavens and the earth looked very much like the ceiling and the floor of a room. One of them was low and trampled on with feet, but the other was high and beyond reach. One was classed yang and the other yin. The sun and the moon are both round and shining; one is very bright, even hot, while the other is less bright. Therefore, the sun is yang and the moon is yin. This is the level of the logic behind this theory and we today should regard it as no more than childish nonsense. (Heisig, James W.; Kasulis, Thomas P.; Maraldo, John C.. Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook (Nanzan Library of Asian Religion and Culture) (pp. 602-603). University of Hawaii Press. Kindle Edition. Bold Added.)

This theory simply attached itself to people’s minds with not much of a basis. On seeing a pair of similar objects, one somewhat superior to the other, they classified the first in the yang category and the other in the yin category. Then they would think up ideas to embellish their theories. That was all. Therefore, between men and women, there never existed any such distinctions as yin and yang. The idea itself being fictional to begin with, there could not have been any actual features to suggest such a theory. But some scholars of the Confucian trend must have felt like belittling women, and for no other reason than their own prejudice, classed women as yin. It was a great nuisance on the part of women to have been thus involved in an empty theory which extended to the sun and the moon and heavens and earth, and which had nothing to do with women’s relations to men. It was truly a misfortune for women to be thus made victims of the Confucian scholars’ ignorance of science. (Heisig, James W.; Kasulis, Thomas P.; Maraldo, John C.. Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook (Nanzan Library of Asian Religion and Culture) (p. 603). University of Hawaii Press. Kindle Edition. Bold Added.)

8. [The five faults are indocility, discontent, slander, jealousy, and silliness. The three obediences are obedience to one’s father while in his care, obedience to one’s husband when married, and obedience to one’s son after one’s husband’s death. Emphasis added.]

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