Category Archives: Taoism

Sanity and vision

The world is overrun with visionaries and sane people.

What is lacking is:

  1. vision which respects sanity, and
  2. sanity which recognizes vision.


Too often, sanity poses as vision, exotically paraphrasing the same old content in the language and gestures of vision. Why? Because the sane know what the truth is, but they find the truth bland and wish to spice it up a little.

Too often, vision is ignorantly parasitic. It lives off the conditions provided by sanity while denouncing the sanity that provides it. Why? Because the visionary knows the truth about truth, and cannot go back to the stunted “truth” of the sane.

But neither the truth nor the truth about truth is true enough to support community.


We need sanity, not because it is more objectively true than vision, but because it is stable, more communicable and therefore more readily sharable.

We need vision, because things are true as far as they go but they are never true enough for long.


Human beings need each other — commonalities and differences, alike.

We hate this. Otherness confronts us with the fact of finitude. Individuals longs to be infinite.


Re-spect: re– ‘back’ + specere ‘look at.’
“How does this world we share look through your eyes?”

Re-cognize: re– ‘again’ + cognoscere ‘learn.’
“Can you show me a new way to see this world we share?”

Re-duce: re– ‘back, again’ + ducere ‘bring, lead.’
“The world exists as I comprehend it.”

Com-prehend: com– ‘together’ + prehendere ‘grasp.’
“I am objective.”

Ob-ject: ob– ‘in the way of’ + jacere ‘to throw.’
“The world is reducible to material, to the being of the object.”

“Do you understand that under every object stands an experience, and upon this does an object exists as an object?”

Is experience essentially individual?


Synesis means we stand together and see the world as together.
The subject who sees — we — is active. We see together.
The object of sight — the world — is passive.  The world is seen as together.

Synesis recognizes that the solid togetherness of the world is only apparent.
We can see this solid togetherness differently if are open to being shown.

Synesis respects the truth that we human beings need solidity.
The solidity of the world is scaffolding for the solidarity of people.

Synesis is solidity through solidarity and solidarity through solidity.

Both the solidity and the solidarily of synesis long for infinity and pursue it.
This means sometimes solidarity and solidity must be renounced, for the sake of  synesis.
Synesis is essentially self-sacrificing and self-affirming.


On this liquid ground of experience we stand together in understanding or we sink under the surface as dissolving individuals.


Vision opens sanity. Sanity stabilizes vision.


Earth and heaven

This is yet another attempt at a comprehensible, practical and understandable account of the trigram (of the I Ching).



Observations are unified in comprehension (com- “together” -prehendere “grasp”). Comprehension is objective.

Yin earth is that which is observed without comprehension. (Chaos.)

Changing yin earth is the first glimmer of comprehension of that which is observed. (Birth of a paradigm.)

Yang earth is the comprehension of that which is observed. (Normal science.)

Changing yang earth is skepticism toward comprehension of that which is observed. (Scientific crisis.)



Understanding unifies experience. Understanding is subjective. (Under all “objects” stands that by which the objects exist to us. See the first line of the Dhammapada, or verse 29 of the Gospel of Thomas or anything by any famous philosopher whose name begins with the letter H.)

Yang heaven experiences the world in a unified and sustained understanding. (Nobility.)

Changing yang heaven begins to doubt, and experiences the world in increasingly incoherent and wavering understanding. (Loss of faith. Danger of reactionary hubris.)

Yin heaven doubts, and experiences the world in fragmentary and fleeting understandings. (Akrasia.)

Changing yin heaven begins to understand, experiences the world in increasingly unified and sustained understandings. (Insight.)



Action is animated by understanding and directed by comprehension:

Yang man acts upon the world instinctive sureness.

Changing yang man acts upon the world with wavering instincts and diminishing confidence.

Yin man withdraws from the world and abstains from action.

Changing yin man learns how to act upon the world.

Blind to darkness

A question can be seen as a kind of intellectual darkness waiting to be illuminated by an answer.

Philosophy is not about illuminating darkness. It is about turning one’s head and making visible new regions where darkness and light can exist to one who asks and answers. It is about discovering new questions one has never thought to ask. And when the answers change the character of one’s spontaneous (pre-interpreted) lived existence — when the changes are authentically subjective, meaning the change is experienced as a transfiguration of the world (as opposed to a modification of one’s psychological attributes or one’s opinions about this or that fact, however fundamental that fact is) — philosophy crosses over its line into religion.

Where the sciences answer darkness with light, religion answers with vision questions philosophy raises from blindness.


As long as a science or philosophy does all its own asking and answering it remains sterile. Fertility requires otherness.


The best seem to speak only to their own kind. Nobody else understands them.

What is the cause of this, and what is the effect? Nobody understands because nobody wishes to understand. But, maybe the wish to understand has never been awakened simply because they haven’t been asked to understand. For sure, the wish to understand doesn’t want to wake up — but who ever thanks someone for waking them when they’re trying to sleep?


Calling someone a scientist’s scientist or an artist’s artist or a musician’s musician — this is usually considered a complement. I hope someday soon it will be considered a devastating criticism.

Are there any poets left who are not poet’s poets?


Collective solipsism is not much better than individual solipsism.

There are even forms of collective solipsism that encourage individual solipsism.


Years ago I knew someone who insisted that there is no essential difference between the understanding of a technical manual and understanding a poem.  This failure to distinguish between different orders of understanding makes knowing what a self is impossible. It reduces subjectivity to psychological terms — that is, it forces subjectivity into objective thought-forms. This failure always has a peculiarly moral character — it seems to originate in need rather than incapacity. Perhaps it originates in the fear of a need.


Sight knows only what is visible. Experience knows only what has been experienced.


Negation does not produce the negative. If negation is possible, the negative is already gone. Philosophy has already occured and cannot be undone. Innocence is irretrievably lost.

Greek Triad

Episteme is grasped theoretically.
is understood dialectically.
is developed practically.

Knowledge is the unified, differentiated manifold of episteme, sophia and phronesis.


This is another restatement of the Triad. Earth supports. Heaven encloses. Man stands between. The Tao stands behind, within and beyond – approachable but inexhaustible.

Christian cred

Think about these statements:

“Bear with me.”
“Please hear me out.”
“It will all make sense in the end.”

Why are these requests necessary? When are they made?

To what feeling in the listener is the speaker responding?

What kind of appeal is being made? Do we owe it to another to give him a full hearing?

When is the appeal denied? Is it a matter of credibility?

What is the experience of denial?


To read the Synoptic Gospels of the New Testament is to experience the most pluralistic religious vision ever recorded, from the most accutely and radically pluralistic people who ever lived. In what other scripture is the same story is recounted three different times from the point of view of three different people? It would have been easier and more obvious to collapse them into one univocal account, but instead the three experiences, three meaningful visions were presented together in a three-in-one synopsis – syn– (together) –opsis (seeing). [* See note 1 below]

I like to think of pluralism as a kind of parallax vision, that allows us to see hyper-dimensionally. With one eye you see a flat picture. With two eyes working in concert we see depth. Our so-called “inner eye” draws out the dimension of meaning. With a pluralistic synopsis we see meaning together – we share meaning and have community. We gain understanding, which the Greeks called synesis.


By the time Jesus began teaching his distinctively Jewish universal vision of life, the Jewish tradition had survived and overcome numerous cultural crises. They had dominated and been subjugated, had won their home and lost it. They knew belonging and alienation, and they knew both sides of power.

Most importantly they knew that knowledge of experience means to know an experience from the inside. Experiencing is inseparable from that which is experienced, and this means, to use a common visual analogy, that  experience is inseparable from its vision, as how the world looks from that experience. (One of my favorite Jewish thinkers, Edmund Husserl called this “intentionality”: seeing and seen are inseparable, as are hearing and sound, feeling and sensation, etc. [* See note 2 below].)

The Jews knew better than anyone that power is something that can be seen, but even more, it is a way of seeing – of life and the world as a whole. Power has its own kind of vision. When an emperor sees himself, or his court, or a rival power, or he looks upon a conquered enemy or slave, that emperor sees something radically different than the slave regarding the same situation. Power is something different, powerlessness is different. A palace, a body, a tree, a poem… everything is the same in a sense, but things are deeply different. The same goes for a stranger, expat, wanderer, outcast or outcaste.

Out of necessity, the Jews had to develop a way of preserving themselves as a tradition within these conditions. That meant living on a line between provoking attacks from the outside and simply dissolving from cultural self-indifference or self-disgust. They had to internalize their strength. They had to find dignity in their vulnerability to escape the indignity of weakness.

There was no way such a response to such a universal problem was going to stay contained within a small ethnic tradition forever. Whether it was Jesus or Paul, somehow the radical insights of Judaism went universal.


A series of words derived from the Latin word credere, “believe, trust”:

  • Credit
  • Credential
  • Credence
  • Creed
  • Credo

A series of words derived from the Old English word agan, “believe, trust.” :

  • Own
  • Owe
  • Ought (originally past tense of “owe”)

A series of words derived from Latin auditor, from audire, “to hear”:

  • Audit
  • Audition
  • Auditorium
  • Auditory
  • Audio


An example of divergent accounts from two of the Synoptic Gospels (which some scholars believe were adapted from yet another lost Gospel, “Q”, possibly a compendium of sayings similar to the (in)famous Gospel of Thomas).

These two passages are taken from Jesus’s famous Lord’s Prayer, his instructions on how to pray.

Matthew 6:12: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Luke 11:4: “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.”

In Matthew 6:12, the Greek word used was opheilema. [* See note 3 below.]

In Luke 11:4, the Greek word was hamartia, which means literally “missing the mark”.


Out of time. Darn. I’ll finish this post if there’s any interest. [* See note 4 below.]


* NOTE 1:  To call the New Testament inconsistent as some atheists do is to miss the point. To argue over which meaning is the right meaning as the fundamentalists do is to betray the point. To behave as though a plurality of possible meaning implies that all meanings are equivalent and that it is meaningless to discuss them… to go skeptical on that basis, and to ask cynically, rhetorically “what is truth?”… to wash one’s hands of the responsibility to engage dialogically in pursuit of understanding… that’s complicity in the conflict.

* NOTE 2:  Intentionality in Husserl’s sense is a core religious insight, expressed in a variety of forms, from the Jewish Star of David, to the Chinese yin-within-yang and yang-within-yin, to the Greek Janusian herms (with Hermes’s head fused to the head of a goddess, often Aphrodite), to the Hermetic hermaphroditic Androgyne, male on the right, female on the left, sun on the right, moon on the left. Listen for the inside-outside symbolic structure and you’ll find it everywhere. This capacity to hear and understand the form-language of symbol is what I believe is meant by “having ears that hear.”

* NOTE 3: Opheilema seemed like it might have a connection with the name “Ophelia” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I looked it up on Wikipedia to see if there was an etymological connection. According to Wikipedia, “the name ‘Ophelia’ itself was either uncommon or nonexistent; the only known prior text to use the name (as “Ofalia”) is Jacopo Sannazaro’s Arcadia.” It seems fairly obvious the name is a combination of opheilema and philia, love – “love debt” – love unrequited.)

* NOTE 4: Etymology of “interest”: ORIGIN late Middle English (originally as interess): from Anglo-Norman French interesse, from Latin interesse ‘differ, be important,’ from inter– ‘between’ + esse ‘be.’ The -t was added partly by association with Old French interest ‘damage, loss,’ apparently from Latin interest ‘it is important.’ Also influenced by medieval Latin interesse ‘compensation for a debtor’s defaulting.’

Reading hexagrams

I am still working on being able to read a trigram or hexagram like a sentence. A sentence, of course, is not an aggregate of words, but a sequential whole developed through the inter-illumination of the parts. The I Ching is a typology of 4,096 situations, each situated between past and future situations. I’d also like to learn to read any situation as a hexagram.


Heaven yao: meaning
Yang understanding – stable: unity; changing: discord
Yin understanding – stable: dividedness; changing: attunement

Man yao: practice
Yang action – stable: participation; changing: doubt
Yin action – stable: reflection; changing: experiment

Earth yao: theory
Yang comprehension – stable: system; changing: inconsistency
Yin comprehension – stable: flux; changing: hypothesis


A hexagram is a stack of two trigrams. Reading from bottom to top, it goes earth-man-heaven, earth-man-heaven. However, it can also be read earth-earth, man-man, heaven-heaven. (I enjoy relating these two interpretative rhythms to the simplest form of the Bulerias rhythm: 1-2-3, 1-2-3 / 1-2, 1-2, 1-2. Here’s a more complex variant  to listen to if you like flamenco, or perhaps a less complicated bastardization will do.)

My current understanding is that a hexagram represents a situation in terms of a perspectival duality: the lower trigram representing the part regarding the whole, and the upper trigram representing the whole regarding the part. In respect to the lower trigram, the upper trigram is transcendent, and merely intuited. What appears to fall cleanly within a perspective – objects – can be comprehended. What is itself comprehended by a containing perspective is aware of this containment by way of intuition. The intuition situates the contained subject within the larger subjectivity.

(Note, however, that this vision is a deep prejudice of mine, and I don’t prevent it from overpowering and subsuming other views. An example of this way of seeing: I do not believe two people negotiate directly with one another. Each negotiates with a subjectivity they share, and it only appears that the negotiation is between two parallel entities, one person with another. Being nests. The negotiation is between comprehension and transcendence.)


This is not exactly on topic, but it’s close enough to include here. My boss said something in a meeting last week that struck me: “Unity, not uniformity.”

Greek to Chinese

Changing yang
Order to primordial flux

— x —
Changing yin
Primordial flux to order


Pure yin: Borderline personality.

Pure yang: Autistic personality.


Epicureanism: Protection of fledgling order. The edge of changing yin. The cradle.

Tragedy: Unconditional faith in the interchange: receptive, active, sacrificial, creative participation in the movement. The edge of changing yang.