Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Buddhist I Ching: Regulation

It's just a little unsettling for a libertarian of any stripe to undertake the discussion of "regulation," even if it's a concept randomly selected from the Buddhist I Ching. In this case, it's hexagram number 60.

From Thomas Cleary's translation of Chih-hsu Ou-i's commentary:

Water is dispersed by wind, regulated by a lake. When it is regulated, it does not overflow and does not dry up, so it can always provide moisture; therefore regulation is successful. If dispersal is excessive, it results in exhaustion, so it is taken up with regulation; but too much regulation results in suffering, so it is not to be held to permanently.

One can see the influence of China's native Taoism on the Ch'an (Zen) school of Buddhism here. It's very naturalistic and concerned with striking an elemental balance that's just so.

That's fine and dandy when contemplating spiritual progress. One shouldn't practice mindfulness of breathing to the detriment of development of loving-kindness. Nor should one work too hard to spread the Buddha's dharma when one hasn't applied it to one's own situation in a rigorous way.

The I Ching is meant to be taken in many levels, however, and sociopolitical is one of those levels:

Nature has four seasons, kings have laws; both of these is what is referred to as getting through by balance and rectitude.

Deference to regal authority has always been one of the aspects of the history of Buddhism with which I've had great difficulty. Especially since the legend of Gautama Buddha states that he abdicated his royal station to find enlightenment, I've been very puzzled to see the extent to which the Sangha and royalty have supported each other over the centuries, in many different cultures.

Of course, Ou-i was writing at a time and in a place where political and expressive freedom like much of the world has today was unthinkable. To the extent that he was trying to make a model for the kings to follow as beneficent monarchs, that was all to the good. Perhaps Ou-i even considered it an expedient means to the end of eventual political freedom, if he was even the slightest bit concerned with such matters. For many Buddhists through the ages, spiritual enlightenment and freedom from suffering have been paramount, and have made any political or mundane reality moot. This is one of those times that time-travel would come in handy.

The libertarian in me still believes that freedom from both mundane and spiritual suffering will best come about in an environment where people are allowed to have the maximum amount of liberty conceivable.



P.S. Thanks to these folks for making the I Ching graphics!

Linking to: Liberal Common Sense, TMH's bacon Bits, Quietly Making Noise, Imagine Kitty Magazine