Modern physics maintains that matter is energy, always pulsating, moving, restless. But what is energy? We cannot but use analogies that contrast matter as solid, stable, and unmoving. Even our notions of moving and unmoving are inadequate because nothing remains unmoved if we look at everything as energy.
The traditional yin-yang symbol of Taoism offers a representation of perpetual movement, but this perpetualness or indefiniteness of movement, is presented as patterned and symmetrical, whereas our experience of the universe is that eents occur assymetically. At least that is our perception, and we call it serendipitous, or the result of building pressures or conditions. Ultimately, our definitions of events must remain open and causes, meanings, and effects undefinable. This gap dogs both science and imagination.
Also representative of “perpetualness” are the enormous cycles of Buddhist kalpas wherein time and beings inexorably move, however slowly to our consciousness, however “assymetically” to our limited consciousness, a grand movement from one state or bundle of identifiableness to one less definable, to another that becomes definable, and so forth. In this vaguely “scientific” expression, the kalpas perhaps allow Westerners to accept and demythologize reincarnation to the point of tolerance, even prescience, if not literalness. But the disturbing lack of finality implied by energy, even slowed but never resolved, is foreign to conventional thought, especially Western thought.
In contrast to Eastern tradition, Western thought is bound up with the linear and with progress, lines and spirals in a great chain of being. Here the expressions of the past (theses) transmute into new uptakes (antitheses) and work themselves into new expressions (syntheses).
With Enlightenment thought, progress became material, social, and cultural. Hegel made his idealism — wherein the real is rational, necessary, inevitable, right, and the rational is real — manifest itself in history as necessity. Marx inverted the same dialectics by recognizing that the real is rational only insofar as the material conditions sustain it, but that the real is neither right nor necessary, and can change or be changed. In contrast to the aberrations of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes in the 20th century and beyond, not, in fact, strictly Western, Marxist dialectics do describe Western structures, but only because they assume the given Western thesis of progress and linear transformation built into the structures, built into the entire mentality of Western thought. The dialectics work best applied only to the West, in fact, and only falling short of accounting for a Western version of change and materialism that outstrips the historical conditions that could not foreseen in the 19th century, except, perhaps, by the very proponents of an unbridled material progress that had no social component.
Why has Eastern tradition refused change and progress? — referring to a now nearly moribund tradition, however. Spengler called this disinterest in change the “changlelessness of non-history.” He speculated that the excitement in the West, for example, over the steam engine in the 19th century, was experienced by China — in the Bronze Age, around 4000 BCE! An often cited example contrasting East and West is China’s use of gunpowder for fireworks contrasting vividly with Alfred Nobel’s dynamite soon weaponized for warfare (against his civil engineering interest) and Albert Einstein’s atomic research turned into bombs. Both men regretted the change, the development, the progress applied to their creativity. Nobel went so far as to consult with pacifists throughout Europe, eventually creating a peace prize which itself has become distorted and weaponized.
Did the attitude of “changelessness” arise consciously from a rejection of history, a rejection of time and place, of geographical or cultural factors? Perhaps the mountain landscapes of ancient China or the primordial forests and seas of ancient Japan suggest a philosophy of nature that spiritualizes beings, makes of beings a holiness, so that they are representations of the eternal even as they chart their lifespans? Lifespan is the yin-yang cycle, but on a larger scale; it transpires as a foreground, wherein the backdrop is the living silence and solitude of mountains, rivers, forests, sky that appears unchanging and eternal. To ancient Chinese, mining mountains, damming rivers, felling trees, were all arrogant and evil acts. The least intervention with nature was considered the wisest course. Nature extended not only to the beings of our environment but to the actions of individuals.
Contrarily, in the West, from the beginning, the coveting the gold in mountains, draining swamps and channeling rivers for commerce, felling trees for limitless fuel, poisoning the land of enemies by sowing salt (or depleted uranium), and building towers and missiles to scratch and scrape the skies above are signs of progress, not hubris. The West has closed the openness of eons, charted and graphed the universe between Big Bang and Entropy, scoured the heavens with SETI readings, but fails to understand its own motives, its own self-destruction and its willful destruction of other peoples and of nature. The linear depiction of time and history in Western thought transcends religion, for both scripture and science maintain the same cosmology.
But what underlies all that is living? At a minimum, it is the sensitive wave that science calls energy, that neither recedes nor goes forward without returning. Ancient and Eastern peoples treasured the root, the source, the origins, but Western civilization dispenses with the lessons of the past, even the recent lessons, on an inexorable and mad propulsion into the future. Dropping the inheritance of the past, ditching behind it the too slow nature and the too sluggish time, the West leads the world into a darkness.
The ancient philosopher Chao Chih-Chien noted that
Those who cultivate the Tao ignore the twigs and seek the root. This is the movement of the Tao — to return to where the mind is still and empty and actions soft and week. The Tao, however, does not actually come or go. It never leaves, hence it cannot return. Only what has form returns.
That primordial energy, that source of Something and Nothing, as Lao-tzu says in chapter 40 of the Tao te ching, underlines everything:
The Tao moves the other way
the Tao works through weakness
the tings of this world come from something
something comes from nothing