Nei-yeh (Chinese Self-Cultivation Manual)

7. Heaven, Earth, & Humans: Ruling Principles & Processes

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1  For Heaven, the ruling principle is to be aligned (cheng).

2  For Earth, the ruling principle is to be level.

3  For human beings, the ruling principle is to be tranquil (ching).

4  Spring, autumn, winter and summer are the seasons of Heaven.

5  Mountains, hills, rivers and valleys are the resources of Earth.

6  Pleasure and anger, accepting or rejecting are the devices of human beings.

7  Therefore the Sage (sheng):

8  Alters with the seasons, but does not transform,

9  Shifts with things, but does not change places with them.

Commentary

Verse 7 introduces an important traditional Chinese metaphor. It consists of a trio of concepts: Heaven (t’ien), Earth (ti), and Humans (jen). As an indication of the metaphor’s significance, the I Ching’s hexagrams are divided into 3 parts that correspond with this division.

In order to avoid confusion with Biblical Heaven, Roth translates the ideogram for t’ien as 'the heavens'. We prefer simply 'Heaven', the traditional word choice. This term has already entered the Western lexicon. For instance, Wilhelm employs Heaven for t’ien in his famous translation of the I Ching. Another familiar instance of this word-choice is the 'Mandate of Heaven (t’ien)', a well-known Chinese idiom.

In these contexts, Chinese tend to employ Heaven as a technical, not descriptive, term. For instance, Heaven and Earth symbolize above and below, while humans are in the middle. Rather than exclusively descriptive terms that are associated with our physical planet, the ‘heavenly’ firmament of constellations, and people, the Heaven-Earth-Human has a consistent symbolic meaning that borders upon the technical. For these reasons, we will employ the word 'Heaven' as the translation for t’ien.

The first three lines identify some of the symbolic meanings for these terms. These meanings are only casually related to their actual meanings.

 

Lines 1-6:

  1  For Heaven, the ruling principle is to be aligned (cheng).

  2  For Earth, the ruling principle is to be level.

  3  For human beings, the ruling principle is to be tranquil (ching).

  4  Spring, autumn, winter and summer are the seasons of Heaven.

  5  Mountains, hills, rivers and valleys are the resources of Earth.

  6  Pleasure and anger, accepting or rejecting are the devices of human beings.

 

This song-poem delineates the ruling principle behind each of these principles/processes: Heaven aligned (cheng); Earth level; and Humans tranquil (ching). Further Heaven consists of seasons; Earth has its geography; and Humans have anger and pleasure (emotions) that they can accept or reject.

The Heaven/Humans/Earth triad tends to symbolize the interactions between fundamental natural forces and humanity. The Nei-yeh associates the triad with three basic self-cultivation processes – aligning, stabilizing and tranquilizing, i.e. calming. Associating them with this all-encompassing triad further emphasizes their importance. In developmental fashion, the next verse explains how these processes are crucial if we are to attract jing to our core, and presumably become Sage-like.

The rich symbolism of the triad can be interpreted in many ways. Here is one plausible interpretation of the initial lines of the current verse. The term cheng (alignment), in its raw form means to be upright in the sense of vertical. Connecting the symbolic dots: Heaven symbolizes vertical in parallel opposition to Earth’s ‘level’, i.e. flat. Humans, in a plant-like fashion, cultivate tranquility to reach vertically to Heaven, while rooting in the flat Earth.

Each principle also has a significant feature that is also important. Heaven has its invariable seasons that organize time; Earth has its unchanging geography that organizes space; humans have the ability to choose, in this case whether or not to cultivate emotional tranquility. In other words, we can choose to organize our thoughts.

Lines 7-9:

  7  Therefore the Sage:

  8  Alters with the seasons, but does not transform,

  9  Shifts with things, but does not change places with them.

 

The verse ends by stating that the Sage is able to flow along with the seasons without being transformed by them. He shifts but does not change place.

What does this mean?

The text identifies the characteristics of Heaven, Earth and Humans that distinguishes them from each other.  While Heaven and Earth go through seasonal transformations and topographical/material variations, as is their nature, the Sage adapts to them.  By adapting, he avoids the emotions of the non-Sage, and thus maintains the constancy of the tranquil Tao in his heart-mind, the essence of his humanity. Alignment and balance are acquired as a result of his tranquility.

Summary

Verse 7 identifies the ruling principles of Heaven, Earth and Humans: alignment (cheng), balance, and tranquility (ching). The verse also identifies their significant features: Heaven has seasons; Earth its geography; and Humans have choice.

 

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