Article 24 Masculine and Feminine Take One
(edited from initial July 21st version)
As contemplated and systematized extensively in the Chinese yin-yang theory tradition, it seems we live in a world that always has two sides. In Buddhist philosophical jargon these are called ‘form’ and ‘formless.’ There are many other such pairs such as:
masculine and feminine
inner and outer
higher and lower
forward and backward
heaven and earth
visible and invisible
mind and body.
Although there are always two sides, and although each is inseparable from its symbiotic mate, they always remain different, just like electricity’s positive and negative. So they are not two, but neither are they one.
Again, we in the land of the visible and living cannot see what is in the land of the invisible and not living. Now of course there are no end of stories of those who have crossed over or with deep insight have seen through the ‘illusory veil of the material plane’ and so on, but leaving that sort of thing aside, let us agree to keep things simple: for example, in terms of body there is inside and outside. You might then argue: ‘but if we cut open the body we can see inside, so where’s your separation gone to then?’ Well, what you are looking at is no longer inside, you have made it outside. Put another way: can you expose the inner experiences of sight and hearing by digging behind the eyes or ears? No. Either you will extinguish those faculties by damaging the organs or you will find nothing. You can examine brain matter and nerves all you like, but you will not find sight or hearing in any physical matter because such things dwell in the inner, experiential mind realm, not the outer body realm of matter.
In this way our experience is actually part of the invisible, the intangible, just like sight within or beyond the eyeball or mind within or beyond body. Mind, then, is the invisible part of the equation which affords us the ability to experience, and most likely is also that which is a sine qua non of being alive at all. But even though it is an indispensable part of life, that doesn’t make it a thing with particular location, substance or dimension. Whether you look at it from the perspective of how we experience things or in abstract deductive terms, we always have the two that are neither one nor not one.
So leaving aside legalistic quibbles, we can agree that generally speaking there are always two sides at play, such as visible and invisible, inner and outer, form and space. Now these latter seem like somewhat abstract philosophical principles but they are directly experienced in everyday life. With form and space, for example, all around we see forms: plants, animals, ourselves, rocks, buildings and so forth, all of which are in perpetual motion; if they are all in motion, then there must be something – let us call it space – that is accommodating all such phenomena, something they are moving through, as it were, and yet isn’t really there, much like fish moving through ocean except here the space is entirely intangible without properties like boundaries, particular location, distance or time, and never changes from moment to moment. In the philosophical jargon, it is described as ‘unborn and undying, limitless and without characteristics’ all of which are bundled into the shorthand term ‘formless.’
Now comes a third aspect, namely that each couple has unique particularities, energies, vectors, character, atmosphere and so forth which were described as qualities in the Realm of Speech article. Perhaps we can define such qualities as aspects of our inner experience of outer phenomena, our personal invisible realm aspect of the outer visible realm.
So two gives birth to three, the third being the many and varied qualities emanated by the first two. This is like a human couple: you have a man and a woman – the two – and then you have their relationship or manifestation together as a couple, a third element. This, I believe, is why the Chinese invented trigrams very early on because this third aspect is always there and so must be included in any language describing and interpreting reality, our experience albeit starting from a yin-yang binary postulate. Put another way: we have mind and body and the third aspect – which is the combination of the two – is our experience of them. So this third aspect is where the rubber meets the road, the spice in the sauce, the mojo.
And now all that has been laid out, we can later on explore various colourful aspects of experience without needing to reference so much philosophical-sounding verbiage. I especially find the masculine-feminine dynamic of interest because it is very close to human bedrock experience so less abstract and also quite fascinating when you take time to examine it, not necessarily in terms of current political controversies, though they are bound to come up in any discussion of the topic these days, but just as qualitative experiences and perspectives, how they work together, how they differ, blend, attract, repel, dance – or whatever. The photograph at the top naturally demonstrates many of the principles touched on in this article. We can see
• male and female hands – in embrace
• each enfolding and being enfolded by the other
• the male palm facing down from above with the female palm facing up from below yet
• with his thumb on the bottom and hers on the top
• their seamless complementarity
• the black background accommodating all, a formless void container of the form which is
• the two hands in embrace featuring passion, colour, living tissue, connection, warmth, heart, life.
So there’s a lot going on in this simple photograph; just as there is a lot going on with all and everything all the time. This reminds me of two probably related poems, the first from Auguries of Innocence by Blake and the second by Alfred Lord Tennyson::
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
Flower in the Crannied Wall
by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
(Which link has an interesting critique by a Zen master who makes some excellent points but in so doing misses the sense of wonder and appreciation in Tennyson’s simple, yet pithy, composition.)