Tian-di-ren in the foundational naturalism of the Heguanzi

Foundational naturalism holds true that Nature creates mathematics (not the other way around), and that the physical world must act in accordance with the normatively prior dictates of its mathematical entities (the periodicity of Yin Yang). In the Huang Lao system one finds that certitude is less a matter of science, intuition, or discursive reasoning (realization of emergent truth) as it is one of mathematics and mediation (discovery of and subsequent conformation to transcendent Truth). There are 360 degrees in a sphere, as a small example, regardless of one’s angle of perception, race, gender, or nationality. Thus there are 360 time segments in a cycle of yinyang. That the epistemological foundation for the eternal order of tian shi (nature’s timeliness) is rooted in mathematical correspondence is as central to the development of Yin Yang cosmogony as was the belief that a mother and child love one another implicitly.

In the following passages from the Heguanzi we see that when discussing heaven-tian and earth-di we are speaking not of their material form but rather their inner essence: “What we call tian is not the azure qi; what we call earth is not conglomerated soil. When we say tian we mean that which lets things be so without suppression; when we say di we mean that which makes things even and cannot be disordered” (8/1b/5).

It then goes on to state that “The sun reliably rises and sets, north and south have their extremities–these are the models for measurement. The moon reliably waxes and wanes, there is a constancy to the advancement and withdrawal–these are the models for calculation. The stellar formations not deviating from their orderly progression, alternating without interference–these are the models for positions [of one’s ritualism/appointed ministers/daily affairs]. Heaven (in this case the Dao itself) illumines the three in order to fix the one [appropriate action].”

It is thus that the patterned constancy of the natural order may serve as the model for the sagely mediation between the imperfect and ephemeral affairs of humanity (ren dao) and the eternal cycles of the natural order (tian dao); the Golden Rule vs finding it in every contingency. The sage as both an arbitrator and detective of the Way is presented in a number of texts associated with Huang Lao philosophy such as the Neiye, Guanzi, Huanglao Boshu, Heguanzi, and the Huainanzi. During the Warring States and early Han periods this view represented a counter current to the positivist emergent philosophies of Confucius and Lao Zi, the extremism of Qin Legalism, as well as the socially popular macrobiotic hygiene and longevity practices typically associated with xian-cult practices of the late Warring States and early Imperial era.

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