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Chinese ThoughtCosmological Consciousness

Chinese cosmological consciousness was first described in the texts of Zhouyi (also called Yijing). The symbolic realism of the Zhouyi presents a world of changes that are embodied in symbolic forms of what may be called an onto-cosmological consciousness. Later, in the sixth to fifth century B.C.E., the Daoist text Dao de jing presented the development of a cosmogony from the reality as void.

The Chinese metaphysical tradition is distinguished from the Western tradition by a dialectical understanding of reality as a dynamic presentation of events and things in a context of universal and profound interconnectedness. The central idea is creative change (yi, shengsheng), which manifests itself in the generation of life, in the transformation of states of being, and in the two modes of becoming referred to as yin and yang, the invisible and the visible, the formless and the formed, the soft and the firm, the creative and the receptive. Transformation (hua) of things in these two modes of becoming is the subtle creative movement of reality in growth and decline, in an interchange of vital forces (qi), which also embodies relevant forms and principles (li). Hence any event-thing in reality is both concrete and principled, both phenomenal and noumenal. The phenomenal and the noumenal cannot be separated and their unity is realized in a cosmological process that is also ontologically understood. There is no way to speak of the ontological except by referring to it as the ultimate creative source and origin of the cosmological, the taiji. Based on this understanding, we may observe several features of this onto-cosmological consciousness.

Onto-cosmological reality as a process.

Onto-cosmological reality is a process that has a primordial origin and source of abundant creativity because all the ten thousand things are generated from it by way of yin-yang interaction. This reality is exhibited in the phenomenon of heaven and earth and forms a space-time in which all things take place in the contexts or in the form of a situation: all situations are portents of future development and embody a history. The development of situations follows an implicit ordering of yin-yang interaction, difference, conflict, balance, and harmony.

In this process of onto-cosmology, the human person is conceived to be generated as arising from the best spirits of heaven and earth and thus embodies a nature of goodness of cosmic creativity, which matches heaven and earth by development of culture and morality. The thesis of unity of heaven and man (tianren heyi) is given an actual meaning and an ideal meaning: a human being is endowed with a nature and a function from heaven and earth in his birth and thus is capable of producing and creating like heaven and earth on the higher level of mind and intelligence. The ultimate goal of human life is to strive for self-realization in moral cultural creativity derived from the onto-cosmological creativity of heaven and earth.

Indeterminate and boundless creativity.

It should be noted that the onto-cosmology of yi (change) is not theological. Unlike the Greeks, who sought a creative force and a motivating value ending in a transcendent deity or power, the Chinese view of reality is creation from an internal creative source called the taiji or the Dao, not an external God. It is also unlike the Hebrew religion, which conceived God as personal and spiritual and absolutely transcendent over and above the human person, in that the ultimate reality is conceived as a spontaneous process called the Dao, and its creative indeterminateness is not confined to any personal qualities.

Perhaps it is because of the early presence of this notion of the indeterminate and boundless creativity that no personalistic religion ever came to predominate. The Chinese believer may take any and all religions as compatible and contributing to a whole of human goodness. It is also due to the early presence of this onto-cosmology that there is a lack of mythology in the early history of Chinese consciousness. This is indeed noteworthy, because almost all main cultural traditions in the world have a rich repertoire of mythological figures.

Although the Chinese onto-cosmological consciousness is not about a god, it can be described as a divine consciousness in so far as the divine (shen) suggests creativity from what is given to what is not given and from what is not to what is. It is in this sense that the Chinese notion of heaven and the taiji could also be said to be transcendent, either continuously or noncontinuously. Continuous transcendence is creativity based on what is given to produce what is not given, without excluding what is given in the new states of being. As it always links the created to the source of the creative, it is both internal and inclusive. Noncontinuous transcendence is external and exclusive in the sense that it creates things from a prior unrelated source and supervises what is created without being an integral part of it.

This may lead to the question of creation from the non-being and void, which is explicitly developed in the Daoist texts. It must be pointed out that the development of the Daoist cosmo-ontology in the Dao de jing is not separable from the Yijing onto-cosmology. In so far as the Yijing stresses the movement from the internal ontology of creativity to a dynamic and harmonious cosmology of universe, the Daoist sees the process of creative change as a comprehensive way of balancing all things and forces and as a process of return to the origin. This process and totality is called the Way (the Dao). The first Daoists were motivated by a desire to seek peace and tranquility of mind and spirit in the human person after witnessing the corruption of human cultures and morality and the destructiveness of wars. They wished to go back to a starting point where desires and greed in the human person had not yet been provoked and where people could appreciate the value in taking no action. For them, natural and spontaneous action embodied a morality, which is creative and harmonious for human life. It is in this light that they came to see the importance of understanding the void (wu). The void is without determinateness of being and is yet full of creativity of being. It is also the formless source from which all things will return. With this notion of the void, we can see how the void gives rise to being by nonaction or spontaneous action (ziran) in so far as being can be seen to arise out of spontaneity.

We must of course distinguish this view of nonbeing giving rise to being from the argument creatio ex nihilo in Christian theology on one hand and from the argument of dependent co-origination (yuanqi) from emptiness (sunyata) in Buddhist philosophy. The nihilo is absolute nothingness, and God simply creates everything from this absolute nothingness by his powerful act of creation. The sunyata is not absolute nothingness but a state of nonclinging and no-desires in the human mind. The formation of mind is from delusion of mind, so that all things we come to know come from a co-origination, which needs to be dissolved in sunyata.

Natural realism.

Compared with these two forms of creation, we must recognize in the Yijing and in Daoism a sense of natural realism that stresses different aspects of the creativity of a natural reality. The Chinese concept of consciousness is radically different from the Western scientific materialism, which reduces mind to matter, and from the Western transcendent dualism, which bifurcates the human from the divine and which separates the bodily from the spiritual. In the Chinese onto-cosmology there is no reduction but holistic correlation, no dualism but comprehensive organicism. The cosmic consciousness is not separable from the human consciousness but exists as a part of it. There is a sense of the origin and a sense of the way of development and return. There is also a sense of a potentiality for creative development from internal creativity that is both transcending and inclusive, both transforming and harmonizing. This natural realism is to be experienced as a result of comprehensive experience based on both observation and reflection. This experience is also practical and pragmatic, as what one has experienced could be applied for furthering one's life and enhancing one's pragmatic and moral actions.

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