Nothing — Yin Yang Series


How to be in balance

So, let’s continue playing with the yin / yang concepts. Last week, I talked about the “look” of the symbol, and made a passing attempt to help you to see the wholeness contained in the symbol.

yin yang

No Division

To recap, Western minds like to divide things up — me / not me, good / bad, right /wrong. We see the yin yang symbol, and think, “Divided.”

The symbol fights against this interpretation by incorporating the colours into each “side,” so that (traditionally) the black “side” contains a circle of “white,” and vice versa.

This is a key understanding.

I impress myself with the prevalence of little bits of wisdom that I see. Yesterday, I was watching TV, and a commercial for skin cream came on. One of the people, while rubbing on the goop, said, “Nothing is as good as this.”

Nothing is as good as this!

My mind went, “Whoa! Zen!” Then, “They just came up with the perfect line. They just negated all of their claims about the product. They said, “Our product is good, but using nothing is just as good.”


White and black blend to make the whole

We seldom think of nothing as “good,” as nothing seems like, well, nothing. It’s like “emptiness,” or “Be empty” Seems nihilistic. Nope.

Nothing is a yin element, and combines elegantly with “something,” which is the yang element.

Unless we can see and hold on to both, all the time, we are doomed to be caught in the “Aren’t I something!” trap.

What is, is, and what is, is everything. And nothing. I know. Hard to get your head around, right?

I tackle this in my book, Half Asleep in the Buddha Hall, in a chapter concerning the Tao te Ching. (The word Tao means “The Way.” Oh. More information! When Buddhism came to China, it merged, in a sense, with Taoism, and became Zen. Or so the story goes.)

Tao te Ching, in a nutshell

The key idea to grasp is that mental formations (judgements) are not real. What we think about a thing, and the thing itself, are different. We grasp this by letting go of our clinging to what we think, and give ourselves over to “being present with.”

In this, nothing is everything.

Chapter 11 (an elegant translation by S. Mitchell)

We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.


The outer is impossible without the emptiness within

Coming into balance is the point of all of this.

The above “chapter” of the Tao, far from extolling emptiness (the center hole, the void in the cup, the space inside a house) over substance, (the wheel, the cup, the house) instead invites us to see.

Our eyes, as Westerners, always fall to the outer.

To the cup, and not the void. To how someone appears, as apposed to the depth of their soul. The invitation is to see the totality, not to stare into the void.

So, we might need to push ourselves a bit (or a lot!) here. In Tao 22, we read,

If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
give everything up.

This pushing against our nature allows us to actually experience the “other side,” and then, to bring all things into harmony.

Like last week’s golf analogy. I had to learn and practice a “clean swing” for many hours, before incorporating it into my game.

Or, I had to spend years dancing with my yin energy, to balance my 32 years of excessive yang-ness. Patience is required!

Dangers along the Way

What I find interesting in all of this is how many people get a glimmer of this, and immediately think they can teach it to others. Yet, as I look at their lives and relationships, there’s nothing but turmoil, impreciseness, and a real pull to be “special.”

I see this as excessive yang, and prescribe having a breath, and fixing their own stuff before starting with others. To do this requires giving up control, or trying to direct the path of others.

I was getting ready to write today, and got a blog missive through Shambhala Sun. I’ll give you the link, and quote the 3 main paragraphs:

1. Don’t deceive yourself. In the Ten Grave Precepts we vow to “refrain from lying” and yet in the early stages of our practice we might interpret this admonition dualistically to mean not lying to others. In truth, every time we lie we lie to ourselves, and were the only one we consistently fool! Others are seldom conned by us for as long as we con ourselves. At its most profound level, my greatest self-deceit is the deceit of self, with all my ego-reinforcing views. In daily life, this teaching reminds me that unless I practice consistently and devotedly on a cushion, I cannot practice at the kitchen sink. Without practice, my views devolve into either self-congratulation or self-criticism, and both are deceptions. Practice starts with me.

2. Don’t make excuses for yourself. The list of all the people and things I can, and do, blame is endless. Don’t get me started! Blaming external, or even internal, conditions for what I do or don’t do is dualistic. As long as I’m casting blame elsewhere, I am reinforcing my own wrong-headed view as separate. Taking this teaching at its most profound level, I must begin to see that any excuse for myself is a self-deception. The power to change is only mine. The power to practice is only mine. Waking up is up to me. The responsibility for my life begins and ends with me, and only when I stop excusing myself does my life benefit everyone and everything.

3. Take responsibility for yourself. If you’re like me, you might imagine yourself to be the most responsible human being on the planet! But that’s not responsible enough. To take complete responsibility for yourself is to no longer deceive yourself, no longer make excuses for yourself, and thereby serve the entire world by waking up. At its most profound level, taking responsibility for yourself means taking responsibility for everything. In these three little instructions we thus find both the seed and the fruit of continuous practice.

Same idea. The proof of who you are is staring you right in the face. It’s in your relationship to others, and mostly in how you relate to yourself.

We lie to ourselves, and make excuses for ourselves, all the time. Fine.

The key is that we notice, accept this this is so, and then change what we are doing!

In other words, I don’t care how wise someone sounds. I look at their peace of mind, the congruence of their bodies (how they use their body, energetically) and how they relate to others. If they are out of balance, or trying desperately to be in control, I laugh and walk away. I find self deception boring.

This week, focus on your level of balance — how you balance yin and yang, whether you are eliminating judgement and “rightness” and “specialness” from your thoughts and deeds. Notice how you are embracing and dancing with emptiness. Explore the 3 key points, above, and get on with your walk.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Go to the top of this article, click on the title, and leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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