Ecological thinking in Huainanzi Ch. 1

More nerding out on the Huainanzi. A few select pages on the topic of yinyang thinking as ecological thinking.

When the Huainanzi was composed there was popular debate at the time as to whether or not human nature was essentially good or bad, changeable or fixed. The answer given here is “both.” Human nature is described as a matter of ecology, that all things have a natural propensity, an inherent form and function tied to an appropriate location within the environment that allows them to adapt to the conditions there. This applies to both to external matters of humanity and as well inner cultivation.

Ultimately, although one’s “physical form and innate nature cannot be changed, and propensity and locale cannot be shifted,” humans are like wild horses in that we can equip education and experience to train and refine ourselves with diligence. Huainanzi chapter 20.10 is dedicated to the topic, discussing there that humans posses qualitites given by nature, and therefore society needs laws, institutions, standards, and education in order to guide and teach them to find the correct path. This is the same belief echoed in the Neijing, where it likewise makes claim that humans are naturally predisposed to certain characteristics good and bad, but all of us have the opportunity to order our qi such as to become free-flowing, happy, content, and civil. In both the Neijing and Huainanzi great emphasis is given to the idea that we must identify our authentic nature and position ourselves appropriately in the environment so that we may adapt to the location and to the times. Both books also like to use the idea of a human as a tree to convey this idea of constitutional disposition and interaction with heat, cold, dryness, and humidity over time. “If you plant a mandarin orange tree north of the Yangzi, it will transform into an inedible orange.”

“Wild beasts stomp on solid ground in order to run.
Serpents and dragons live in the water.
Tigers and leopards live in the mountains.
This is the nature of Heaven and Earth.”

“Each accords with where it lives
in order to protect against the cold and heat.
All things attain what is suitable to them;
things accord with their niches.
From this viewpoint, the myriad things definitely accord with what is natural to them, so why should sages interfere with this?”

And on the ecology of sageness….

“The physical body is the abode of vitality;
the vital energy is the source of vitality;
and the spirit is what regulates vitality.
Therefore, sages ensure that each rests in its appropriate position, preserves its specific functions, and does not interfere with others.”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s