Wednesday, December 02, 2009 12/2/09 - the great beginning

In today's excerpt - for the ancient Chinese,
God did
not create the heaven and the earth, it just
happened. And man came from the worms of the
decaying Pan Gu's body:

"Though by no means a godless people, the
ancient Chinese were
reluctant to credit their gods - or God -
with anything so manifestly
implausible as the act of creation. In the
beginning, therefore, God did
not create heaven and earth; they happened.
Instead of creation myths,
China's history begins with inception myths
and in place of a creator it
has a 'happening situation.' Suggestive of a
scientific reaction, part black
hole, part Big Bang, this was known as the
Great Beginning.

"According to the third-century BC Huainanzi:
'Before Heaven and Earth had taken form all
was vague and amorphous. Therefore it was
called The Great Beginning. The Great
Beginning produced emptiness, and emptiness
produced the universe. The universe produced
qi [vital force or energy], which had limits.
That which was clear
and light drifted up to become Heaven while
that which was heavy
and turbid solidified to become earth ... The
combined essences of
Heaven and Earth became the yin and

"A more popular, though later, version of
this genesis myth describes the
primordial environment as not just amorphous
but 'opaque, like the inside
of an egg'; and it actually was an egg to the
extent that, when broken, white
and yolk separated. The clear white, or yang,
ascended to become Heaven
and the murky yolk, or yin, descended to
become Earth. Interposed between
the two was the egg's incubus, a spirit
called Pan Gu. Pan Gu kept his feet
firmly in the earth and his head in the
heavens as the two drew apart. 'Heaven
was exceedingly high, Earth exceedingly deep,
and Pan Gu exceedingly tall,'
says the Huainanzi. Though not the creator of
the universe, Pan Gu evidently
served as some kind of agent in the
arrangement of it. ...

"Less relevant still in Chinese tradition is
the origin of man. In another
version of the Pan Gu story, it is not Pan
Gu's lanky adolescence which
suggests a degree of personal agency in the
creative process but his posthumous
putrescence. In what might be called a
decomposition myth, as
Pan Gu lay dying, it is said that:

" '[his] breath became the wind and the
clouds; his voice became the
thunder; his left eye became the sun, and his
right the moon; his
four limbs and five torsos became the four
poles and the five mountains; his blood
became the rivers; his sinews became geographic
features; his muscles became the soils in the
field; his hair and beard
became stars and planets; his skin and its
hairs became grasses and
trees; his teeth and bones became bronzes and
jades; his essence
and marrow became pearls and gemstones; his
sweat became rain
and lakes; and the various worms in his body,
touched by the wind,
became the black-haired commoners."

John Keay, China, Basic Books, Copyright
2009 by John Keay, pp. 25-27.


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