September 20, 2006 at 3:53 am #18156
Stage VI: Acquired Conditioning Runs Affairs
As the individual’s definition of self becomes increasingly colored by a particular interpretation of the events that have occurred in life, contact with true nature is lost. This corresponds to the dampening of the fire of mingmen, which gradually becomes “encrusted” with our erroneous beliefs about our own nature and the nature of life. Day by day, spontaneity dwindles as we become creatures of habit, enslaved by mistaken beliefs and assumptions.
As stated earlier, the infant’s journey away from true self begins with laughter. Laughter is also a sign of the continuing separation from the dao later in life. The Dao De Jing tells us,
When the inferior person hears of the Dao, he roars,
If dao were not laughed at,
it would not be dao.
-Dao De Jing
Once we become unable to recognize true nature within or without, laughter and mockery may be our only response when confronted with the dao. Individuals become stuck largely in one form of emotional expression characteristic of the directionality of their constitutional imbalance. At this point, people become prisoners of their own beliefs and habitual behaviors. Every new situation encountered in life is now interpreted in relation to past experience, and the capacity to respond spontaneously has died.
Liu explains this dynamic that develops as we move through the stages of adulthood: “The influence of mundanity (yin) enters…and the influence of heaven (yang) gradually wanes. Indulgently pursuing desires, one eventually becomes subservient to them.” This acquired temperament (qizhi) can be attributed to the conditioned five elements belonging to later heaven. According to Liu, true nature (zhenxing) is found in the destiny appointed in heaven (tianming). It belongs to early heaven and is beneficial to people. Temperament emerges form acquired conditioning and is created by humans; therefore it is harmful to people. Zhuangzi advises that we must not live in a way that damages the constitution which has been decreed by heaven. He is emphatic that we should not develop what is natural to humans (temperament), for this only injures life. Only by developing what is natural to heaven (ming, destiny) does life benefit. For to do any less than fulfill our destiny is “the crime of hiding from heaven.”
Stage VII: Pure Mundanity, Nothing Celestial
Men, in time, return again to the mysterious workings.
So all creatures come out of the mysterious workings
and go back into them again.
The seventh stage of development corresponds to what may be the irreversible loss of our original nature. According to Liu,
“As [the conditioning] of later heaven runs affairs, yin [mundanity] enters and yang [celestial influence] retreats, day by day, year by year. Internally, ten thousand thoughts bring calamity; outside, the ten thousand things entice. With the inside and outside under attack, the yangqi diminishes to the point of exhaustion and the entire body becomes pure yin, the three treasures [jing, qi, shen] are depleted, and the hun and po spirits become troubled. How is one able not to die?
Ignorant people think that when their days are numbered and their destiny is cut short, this [mandate] resides with heaven, but this is not so. Man’s life depends on celestial influence (yangqi) this is personally searching for death. How could this involve [the destiny appointed] by heaven?”
This developmental stage represents a turning point in our path through life. Ultimately, the fate of all things is to return to the dao. At the seventh stage, we may “wake up” and begin on the path of returning to full self-expression. This represents a “death” of the mundane, imagined self as we rediscover our destiny, thereby returning the dao back into the world and our self back to the dao. If, instead, we continue on the path of alienation from our original nature, then yin and yang and the five elements will reach a terminal point of separation with early death becoming the unavoidable result. The alchemist Ge Hong considers people alienated from original nature to be traveling through life like “walking corpses.” The death of the physical body may also be thought of as a return to original nature as the individual’s spirit travels home to the eternal dao.
It is not inevitable that as individuals we will each irrevocably become lost in our own habitual delusions. The return to fulfilling our heaven-appointed destiny may occur at any moment. Physical illness may proceed beyond the reach of therapy so that death is inevitable. However, even in the process of dying, destiny may be fulfilled through aligning our will with the will of heaven. Remember Confucius’s statement: If a man in the morning hears the dao, he may die in the evening without regret.” Only by ignoring our destiny and turning away from the heart of heaven may we lose the way home. For destiny is the lamp, burning brightly in heaven’s heart, which may guide us ever onward toward our true selves. Destiny is the thread that, if followed, will always guide us home to the eternal dao.
The loss of original nature is implicit in human life, which ultimately follows the movements and ontogeny of the dao. Each individual has a unique nature willed by heaven, and each human life follows the basic steps elaborated here. In conclusion, I summarize the process of the loss of and return to original nature.
At conception, our primal yinqi and yangqi fuse together and heaven imprints on our jing a destiny commensurate with presiding cosmological circumstances and the merit of the individual. At that instant, a theme is born around which our life is organized until the moment of death. This theme is synonymous with our constitutional type, reflecting both the inherent virtues and challenges inherent in our path through life.
The fetus, gestating in the womb of the dao, thrives in its time of cosmic incubation. Having no “sense,” the fetus lives in a paradise beyond human comprehension. After birth, this state is retained by the infant, whose primordial endowment gives rise to the perfect expression of the virtues that govern its life. The infant is able to move through all changes in life spontaneously because its reactions to life are unblemished by the interpretations of its mind. Thus the infant exhibits the spontaneous self-becoming (ziran) inherent in the movement of the dao. Both Laozi and Zhaungzi consider this spontaneity to be the precise definition of health.
As the infant gains a personal name, the seeds of self-awareness are sown. Like a bolt of lightening, the infants first laugh illuminates the world as self is experienced for the first time as separate from the other “ten thousand things.” Eventually, the infant transforms into a child who gains knowledge about the nature of life and constructs an image of reality, which is colored by the mind’s own interpretations. Inevitably some trauma occurs, and the five elements that had been working in synchrony become unbalanced. The constitutional theme of the child’s life emerges as one of the five elemental expressions. Stuck predominately in one of the five elemental expressions, the individual begins to behave in habitual patterns consistent with the emerging constitutional type.
No longer able to move and function spontaneously, the child begins to react to life in a way consistent with its own interpretations. lowly becoming a creature of conditioned habit over time, the child grows into an adult who has lost touch with original nature. Increasingly distanced from true self. the adult’s yin and yang continue to separate, with death of the real or imagined self the inevitable result. The inner tradition of Chinese medicine may provide a vehicle through which we may glimpse a memory of the forgotten self.
As with every concept in Chinese physiology, Liu’s seven stages are functional and do not correspond to precise physical stages in life. Only the first stage, the fetus, conforms to a precisely defined physical manifestation. At the instant the fetus emerges from the womb and takes its first breath, it becomes an infant. These first two stages are well defined, but the delineation time between the other stages is not so clear. To try to determine the exact moments of transition would be like trying to discern the instant a kitten becomes a cat. Like the dynamic transitioning of the five elements, the subsequent stages blend into and overlap one another. They do not necessarily occur over long periods of time; they may occur at any time in a life, even instantly and simultaneously. One may die in a state of ignorance at the age of 90 or at 23.
The stage at which mundane conditioned influences conquer our store of primordial qi and lead to morbidity and death differs with each individual and depends on a wide spectrum of inherited attributes and acquired circumstances. For example, an individual with a poor inherited endowment may be overwhelmed in life by an initial insult of relatively small magnitude. This may lead to serious physical illness (cancer) or spiritual illness (taking one’s own life) at a fairly young age. But given a different endowment, the insult might slide away without harm like water of a duck’s back, as in the case of an infant who is born fully realized as a Tibetan monk (tulkhu) or a boddhisatva. According to Buddhist teachings, this infant became a sage in a previous life and made a conscious decision to reincarnate to help humanity. The evolutionary forces supporting such a child may be so strong that when a traumatic life events occurs, original nature is lost, but returned instantly.
Given these general considerations, there are correspondences between Liu’s seven stages of life and specific ages that I have discerned in my clinical practice. The stages manifest differently in each life depending on the patient’s relative level of awareness.
The life of the fetus (stage I) is governed exclusively by early heaven. During this time, the fetus incubates and develops in a way governed by internal processes initiated at conception. Even though subjected to external input from its environment, the infant’s (stage II) development after birth continues to be guided by the influence of early heaven. The infant may be said to have become a child (stage III) at that point in life when its personality begins to emerge. In my experience this happens between the ages of 2 and 3. At this stage, a tendency towards a given type of emotional expression is seen, but the child is not yet stuck in that form of expression.
At some point, generally between the ages of 4 and 12, a life event occurs of such magnitude that he or she cannot fully recover spontaneous function. At this moment, the child makes its initial interpretations regarding its own nature (who “I” am) and the nature of life itself (“Life is not safe,” in the case of the fire constitutional type). The constitutional type generally becomes evident at this point. Later in life the individual may have no memory of the event that triggered this reaction because it occurred at such a young age. The initial interpretation made by the child does not conform to reality and thus causes a separation between yin and yang, which is described by Liu’s fourth stage. Liu’s fifth stage generally follows soon afterward and may be concurrent with the fourth. It is during these tow stages, ages 12 to 18, that habits take hold and young adults continue to build an imagined self, defining themselves and the world by what they believe to be true rather than by being true to their original nature.
Between the ages of 16 and 21 (stage IV) a second traumatic event often occurs that reinforces the effects of the original trauma. Generally this involves the death of a parent or grandparent, or some difficulty associated with emerging sexuality or an inmate relationship. Later in life, the individual may think of this event (rather than the first, which happened too early to remember) as a defining moment that shaped who he or she is. Pushed deeper into habitual reaction, the adult has now reached Liu’s sixth stage, where acquired conditioning now governs life and the primordial influence of early heaven has been extinguished.
At about 30 to 40, another life trauma often occurs (stage VII). This has two possible results. It may reinforce the first two traumas, thus driving the individual more deeply into habitual dysfunction. IN this case, one proceeds on the path to ruin, interpreting the event as further proof of one’s thesis of who one is and how life is. Or, the pain caused by the event may offer a glimpse of the lost self. One may realize the falsehood of one’s interpretations and question who one really is and, in the seventh step, return to one’s original nature. But if the individual retreats from the opportunity afforded at this last juncture, the seventh stage leads to morbidity and death.
What if an infant is born with physical symtomatology? These symptoms are “constitutional” in the sense of representing an inborn weakness present from conception. Genetic defects such as a cleft palate fall into this category. But symptoms such as losing touch with our innate nature generally begin to manifest in Liu’s fourth and fifth stages. Acne, asthma, or headaches, for example, may begin at this time. Generally, they are easily treatable using Chinese medicine because the patient’s primordial endowment as a guiding influence is still easily contacted during this period.
But by the sixth stage, symptoms have become too materially manifest to be reversed entirely. They may be well managed with treatment but often return if treatment is stopped. By the seventh stage, physical symptomatology becomes irreversible and generally must be handled with lifesaving interventions, such as western medications and surgeries. These types of conditions may include heart disease, atherosclerosis, and degenerative conditions of the spine or nervous system. It is important to note that, even at this late date, our awareness of true self may return in a moment. However, the return of the primordial influences upon which this awareness is based will, in all likelihood, not have the force to effect enough change to materially alter the general course of physical pathology.
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