Heaven and Earth are not humane. They regard all things as straw dogs.
The sage is not humane.
He regards all people as straw dogs.
– Tao Te Ching, 5
Favor and disgrace make one fearful
The greatest misfortune is the self
What does “favor and disgrace make one fearful” mean?
Favor is high; disgrace is low
Having it makes one fearful
Losing it makes one fearful
This is “favor and disgrace make one fearful”
What does “the greatest misfortune is the self” mean?
The reason I have great misfortune is that I have the self
If I have no self
What misfortune do I have?
So one who values the self as the world
Can be given the world
One who loves the self as the world
Can be entrusted with the world
—Tao Te Ching, 13
If Heaven is the element providing the Earth with its creative seeds, then the Earth is the womb where those seeds will grow. Nothing can exist unless there is harmony between Heaven and Earth. While a father is like Heaven, a mother is like the Earth, and the child can only exist as a result of their harmonious alliance. Heaven is the light and the Earth is the darkness. Only their unity can ensure life itself.
The biggest fault in the minds of humans is how they try to discriminate between darkness and light, good and bad, this and that, and so on. They ignore the fact these opposites need each other to exist, and this delusion ruins the balance of Heaven and Earth. The dark night exists so the light-filled day can exist as well. We need to become tired to rest, and we need to feel hungry before we eat. Ugliness is there so that we can appreciate beauty. How can we appreciate beauty without ugliness, goodness without malignity, and fullness without hunger? We face obstacles in life so we can enjoy success in the end. How relieving would rest be without being tired at all?
This is why darkness is the emptiness where creativity is needed. Absence explains the meaning of presence, and this is where creation takes place. We all move around, creating and learning things, during the day so our minds and souls can turn daytime experiences into fuel for our self-improvement while resting at night. How could men survive without women? Would winter be possible without summer, sleeping without being awake, resting without moving, growing old without youth? Certainly not, and for this reason presence gives its meaning to life, just like a light glowing in the dark.
The human mind, because of its ignorance, seeks only light or dark with constant greed. It struggles to comprehend the fact that they can exist together. The most significant reason behind this failure is how our spoken language and minds can only operate with duality. Just like the whole of existence, human existence is dependent on duality too. The essence of material life is generated by duality, and we function like computers operating with the binary digits 0 and 1. Computers start signaling errors because they cannot comprehend that something could be both 0 and 1 or neither of them. Just like computers, our minds cannot comprehend the concepts of “both this and that” or “neither this nor that.” In the end, our minds prefer one thing to the other. The mind puts good against bad, success against failure, happiness against misery, ugliness against beauty, and so on. We eventually suffer from greed and misery more and more each day.
When one side of a duality is dominant, whether it is thought to be the good or bad side, it damages the balance of Heaven and Earth. That is why the secret of a harmonious union lies in creating light within darkness and darkness within light. The light shining inside the darkness makes us real human beings. To be honest, this is real human nature. This real nature, which consists of both darkness and light, is also an excellent expression of virtue as a constituent of the whole universe.
State 1: Darkness and light can express themselves in four different ways. The first one is called light inside darkness. In our physical world, it shows itself as a woman, rain, winter, peace, quietness, relaxation, silence, loosening, intuition, coolness, sleep, serenity, and death.
A woman does not only consist of female energy or female elements. She also embraces male qualities in herself, and the light within the darkness of the female or male energy creates the woman. The female body carries both female and male hormones in harmony. When this balance is disrupted, problems arise.
Winter, in which everything stays stable, is a relaxation period carrying a potential for growth in itself. The seeds rest beneath the surface and try to gain energy before growing upwards with the beginning of spring. However, winter is not a stagnant period or a death. All these states should be considered as a kind of regression before moving forward and as a stage where darkness holds the light in itself like a cocoon. This state is just like exhaling before inhaling. Just like the cycle of exhaling and inhaling, darkness and light together trigger a continuous motion with the dark and light seeds inside themselves.
Light growing inside darkness is just like the spring. As light starts growing inside darkness, it starts creating life too. Nature would not revive and restart the cycle of life without the light growing inside the darkness.
Even being effortless and spontaneous requires effort and force initially. Before writing properly, we try to learn letters and write them down correctly. It is the same with reading. We start reading the words after considerable struggle and effort. Afterwards, we start reading entire sentences. Our eyes first read individual letters, then syllables, and then words. Then as the effort reaches its peak, it becomes effortless. At this point, our eyes start reading properly without any effort to break down sentences into words, syllables, or letters, yet we need to make a lot of effort to reach this point of effortlessness. For this reason, effort and effortlessness (darkness and light) coexist in the nature of reading, as it does in the nature of everything.
Our lives tend to go from ignorance toward knowledge, and then back to a sort of “ignorance” caused by dogma. When we are newborns, we are in a deep darkness. As soon as the light inside the darkness starts to grow, we find ourselves craving to learn. We learn continuously. We also do the same thing during the learning processes of arts or philosophy. At first, we move intuitively with a little light within our ignorance. We know something, but we don’t know what it is. If this state were only a kind of ignorance born from darkness, then we would not know what we knew, and we would not need to learn. However, as the small light within the darkness grows bigger, we make more effort to start learning. We learn continuously, and then the light shines brighter as the darkness recedes. Knowledge dominates intuitions, while learning and knowledge replace ignorance. As the light reaches its peak, the darkness shrinks, and we become masters of our subjects with full technical competence. However, this state is still insufficient because the knowledge has still not turned into an effortless state and the intuitions have declined. When we stop being aware, the darkness inside the light grows slowly, both darkness and knowledge reach the same level, and we reach an effortless wisdom on our chosen subjects. Knowledge and intuition is now united to make a person complete in the field he or she was studying.
State 2: Reality has a dual nature, namely darkness and light, and the second state within this nature is defined as darkness inside darkness. In our physical world, this state shows itself as stability, sickness, laziness, floods, depression, misery, sadness, fear, shrinkage, reservation, rigidity, and intolerance.
If the darkness in the dual system of the universe reaches an extreme level, a rotting corruption begins with stability and stagnation underneath.
For instance, it is good to take a rest, but if you rest too much, your muscles become damaged from atrophy. Instead of exhausting yourself in the first place, you should have rested moderately. This holds movement and stability together, allowing both body and mind to relax. However, staying in bed for long periods or resting constantly makes you feel more exhausted rather than relaxed. I’ve witnessed this in many depression cases. Aside from many other reasons, depression can occur because of long periods of inactivity, or depression itself may cause inactivity. In such cases, people should force themselves to be active, speed up their bodies’ metabolisms, have contact with other people, and limit their sleep periods to 8 hours, no matter how tired they feel. This is the only way they can make the effects of depression less severe.
Universal law tells us, “A moving object tends to move, whereas a stationary object tends to stay stationary.” According to this universal law, if one side of a contrast does not include the opposing element, it becomes excessive and tends to terminate itself. For this reason, the state of darkness inside darkness could be defined as being like a stationary object that remains stationary. Entropy, the second law of thermodynamics, states that an object in this universe moves toward decay and corruption with the universe itself. This law of thermodynamics is insufficient to define reality, however, because it states only one side of the contrast. Contrary to this law, there is another one stating that an object in this universe tends to grow and improve, along with the universe itself, yet neither of these states is desirable on its own.
When the balance of darkness and light is well established, another state occurs in the universe. Only discovered by physicists recently, this state is regarded as the state of organisms balancing themselves. These organisms create the harmony between darkness and light so they can renew and repeat themselves. Imagine you have a wound on your hand. If the wound were there according to the law of entropy, it would never heal and only worsen. However, the harmony of darkness and light helps the wound to mend itself. The broken tail of a lizard also follows another law while renewing itself.
Allowing the darkness inside darkness to grow bigger leads to an inactive and stable state. Although constant pleasure, rest, and total devotion to our beliefs may seem nice, it only causes the darkness to grow bigger. The damage that religious fanatics inflict on the world is an example of this situation.
The same applies to our mental states as well. If your mental state is always calm, it leads you to stability after a while. This is one of the obstacles facing people interested in spiritual disciplines. While trying to live in a constant peace and quietness, they drag themselves to a hazardous state of stability. This constant quietness leads to stability, and the darkness prevents them from seeing reality. The story of Bodhidharma is a good example of this situation.
After Bodhidharma traveled from India to China to spread Buddhism, he saw that the Buddhist monks in Shaolin Temple did nothing other than meditate all day long. He said the monks sat lazily all day, which would destroy their health eventually. In reality, the monks were destroying their health on the way to their spiritual enlightenment, yet there was not a single enlightened person in the temple. These words of Bodhidharma were criticized, and it was even claimed that Bodhidharma had physical and worldly obsessions that were against Buddhist beliefs. He therefore drifted apart from the other monks to study and meditate profoundly. Nine years later, he returned with two exercises that would activate the monks’ bodies and, more importantly, let the light shine inside the darkness of the monks. These two exercises were called Muscle/Tendon Changing and Brain/Marrow Washing. The first exercise balances the darkness and light in the body, and the second one helps a person become enlightened using the energy supplied from the balance achieved in the first exercise. Later, the monks who applied these exercises reached enlightenment and inner peace. As a result, Shaolin Temple became the sacred shrine of enlightenment for many years. However as the years passed by, the monks once again fell into laziness. This time the Taoists, known to be flexible, used Bodhidharma’s doctrine and preserved it, because they knew how important the balance of darkness and light was.
State 3: The third state between darkness and light is called darkness inside light. In our physical world, it shows itself as vividness, light, man, energy, motion, joy, happiness, love, flexibility, and tolerance.
A man does not contain only male energy or male elements. He embraces female qualities in himself as well. The darkness, or female energy, inside the male energy creates the man. The male flesh carries both male and female hormones in harmony, and when this balance is lost, problems arise.
Light could also be described as being active and awake. However, as motion increases vividness, it also brings deterioration. For example, let’s suppose we run to be healthy and active. At first, the body starts to warm up and becomes invigorated. If we keep on running, the body’s vividness increases. Then as the body reaches a certain point of rhythm and temperature, vividness reaches its peak. However, while the vividness increases, the darkness also grows, and exhaustion then arises. If we ignore this and continue running, the body will start damaging itself because of the power of light (the excessive motion). This example shows us another law between contrasts: “A contrast turns into its opposite when it reaches its own extremes.” The above example about running explains this situation very well. As you may know, if you run to extremes, you will feel exhausted and collapse in a heap in the end. This situation is defined as the wrong method of transformation.
In reality, contrasts should constantly follow one another, so life and continuity can develop. Yet, a contrast should carry part of itself during its transformation to the other side. In other words, we must avoid exhaustion while running. Likewise, we must avoid languishing while resting.
All of us must have experienced a situation involving sidesplitting laughter for hours, and such things are great fun in the beginning. After a while, however, you start to become apathetic, showing very little or no emotion. Therefore excessive action turns into its opposite, resulting in a state of inactivity.
The state of darkness inside light tells us about moderation. Being awake is good, but one should also sleep when needed. It is good to eat, but gluttony will give you an upset tummy. Sex is one of the great pleasures in life, but excessive sex will damage both your body and your mind. Both physical and mental flexibility is very helpful, but excessive flexibility will prevent you from establishing a strong base in your life.
As the Zen masters say, enlightenment is to eat when you feel hungry, drink when you feel thirsty, and go to the toilet when you need to.
For this reason, activity should be balanced with stability and, likewise, light with darkness. As soon as this balance is achieved, action will occur harmlessly. However, the greed in human nature is the biggest obstacle preventing light inside darkness. Greed causes harm while trying to increase the joy of pleasure, so activity must be balanced with stability, just like stability should be balanced with activity. Knowing where to stop is always wiser than being constantly active.
State 4: The fourth state between darkness and light is called light inside light. In our physical world, it shows itself as discomfort, rush, arrogance, hatred, anger, immoderation, excessive desire, extreme heat, domination over other people’s lives, oppressiveness and noise.
If light, being one side of the dual nature of the universe, reaches an extreme point, a kind of annihilation occurs resulting from excessive activity and extreme expansion.
For instance, countries always rush for economic growth. A country’s growth rate is calculated on a yearly basis, which determines its credit ratings. If its growth rate is good enough, it is defined as a developed country. Today’s economy relies on constant growth rather than balance. However, the continuous quest for growth results in deterioration and eventually causes economic crises.
Let’s consider another example. Fire needs fuel to continue burning. A certain amount of fuel will sustain a fire for a finite period of time. However, a constantly growing fire needs more fuel, so if we want a big fire, we should also consider that we will need larger quantities of fuel.
Every human being and every state starts life with a certain amount of fuel. The more conservatively you consume your fuel, the longer your life energy lasts. Therefore, the light should shine moderately to last longer. Each of the four stages of darkness and light is under the effect of a particular virtue or lack thereof. The state of light inside light refers to a presence with constant development. In this case, the lack of virtue in the light inside light state can be thought of as greed, while its virtues are contentedness and thrift.
When something is not used, it deteriorates. On the other hand, it runs out if overused. If we live a stable life without any pleasure, we lock ourselves up in darkness. Then again, if we live with a constantly growing craving for pleasure, we end up being worn out by excessive light. Therefore, a state, no matter how pleasurable it is, becomes hazardous when it is excessive. The lack of wisdom in the light inside light state refers to excessiveness, while the lack of wisdom in the darkness inside darkness state refers to inadequacy.
In the human body, these states reflect themselves in different ways. The state of darkness inside darkness causes excessive inactivity, slowing down the cardiovascular system and mental activity. During this process, some health issues can occur, such as depression, coldness in the extremities, varicosis, gastric and digestive diseases, low blood pressure, and excessive weight gain. On the other hand, the state of light inside light results in neural and cardiac diseases, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, high blood pressure, nervous temperament, weight loss, and so on.
Darkness and light should exist together harmoniously for our health, happiness, and spiritual improvement. As mentioned earlier, each state of darkness and light has its own wisdom, and these wisdoms make us real human beings. Without developing on these wisdoms, we cannot change our current situation, so we must aim to become real human beings for the sake of ourselves and the reality we live in.