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Chapter 5: the Chinese after-life

Yin and Yang souls,

and the disintegration of the embodied personality

"After death, when this small troop of colourless spirits [that make up the personality] was dispersed, how could they possibly be gathered together and reformed into a unity?"
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The Taoist conception of post-mortem personality fragmentation

The Chinese Taoists, like the ancient Egyptians, were greatly concerned with ensuring the survival of the individual after physical death.  Their metaphysics was based on the ancient Chinese conception of the polarity of Dark and Light, Negative and Positive, Yin and Yang; the two fundamental principles in the Cosmos.

According to the Chinese, just as the Cosmos consists of and comes about through the interaction and interchange of Yin and Yang (as superbly illustrated in that magnificent Chinese Oracle, the I Ching - pronounced "Yee Jing"), so, in a similar way, the human personality consists of and comes about through two principles or "souls", a Yin soul and a Yang soul, which are welded together during life, but separate at death.  Their separation means the end of the personality as such, even though the Yin and Yang principles survive.  One Jungian writer, Cary Baynes, summarises the matter as follows:

 "In the...bodily existence of the individual...are...two... polarities, a p'o soul (or anima) and a hun soul (animus).  All during the life of the individual these two are in conflict, each striving for mastery.  At death they separate and go different ways.  The anima sinks to earth as kuei, a ghost-being.  The animus rises and becomes shen, a spirit or god."
[Cary Baynes, ed.; Richard Wilhelm and C.  G.  Jung, The Secret of the Golden Flower, (Harcourte Brace Jovanovich, 1962), p.64]

and likewise also in Confucian thought

Ts'ai-wu said, "I have heard the names kuei and shen, but I do not know what they mean."

The Master said, "The [intelligent] spirit is of the shen nature, and shows that in fullest measure; the animal soul is of the kuei nature, and shows that in fullest measure.  It is the union of kuei and shen that forms the highest exhibition of doctrine.

"All the living must die, and dying, return to the ground; this is what is called kuei.  The bones and flesh molder below, and, hidden away, become the earth of the fields.  But the spirit issues forth, and is displayed on high in a condition of glorious brightness.  The vapors and odors which produce a feeling of sadness, [and arise from the decay of their substance], are the subtle essences of all things, and also a manifestation of the shen nature."

Book of Ritual 21.2.1

from Readings from World Scriptures - by Prof Andrew Wilson

So we have two fundamental principles: the lower, instinctual, dark principle which after death becomes a ghost or evil spirit ("the conscious spirit which after death is nourished on blood", as Lu-tsu puts it [p.28, Ibid]); and a higher, light, spiritual principle, which after death becomes a daimon (shen).

Sometimes the Chinese sages used other pairs of terms, such as shin and kwei [J. J. Poortman, Vehicles of Consciousness - the Concept of Hylic Pluralism, vol 1, p.274].  And sometimes, as with the Egyptians, they postulated a multiplicity of principles; as many as three superior or yang souls (hun), and seven inferior or yin souls (po).

Yet for all this, the Chinese philosophers often had a rather pessimistic view of post-mortem existence.  As one writer, speaking of the multiplicity of souls, explains:

 "In life, as in death, these souls were most indefinite, vague, and feeble.  After death, when this small troop of colourless spirits was dispersed, how could they possibly be gathered together and reformed into a unity? ...(T)he body is unique, and serves as the dwelling place of all these spirits...."
[Henri Maspero, Le Taoism, Paris, 1950, p.17, quoted in D.  Howard Smith, "Chinese Concepts of the Soul", Numen, V, p.177]

Here we see the contrast between the Egyptian and the Chinese position. For the Egyptians, bodily death means the release of the separate soul-principles, all of which maintain their identity.  Thus the person has not one but half a dozen simultaneous after-life existences.  But for the Chinese, although death likewise means the release of the separate soul-principles, this constitutes the end of the person as such, for "how could they possibly be gathered together...into a unity?"

But the problem is not one of contradiction but complementarily.  Both say the same thing; they only approach the matter from a different direction; the Egyptian from the perspective of the after-life, the Chinese philosopher and Yogic Taoist from the perspective of this life.


Taoist efforts towards personality-immortality

The ancient Egyptians considered the preservation or continuation of the personality of the deceased as a social function.  The deceased family would provide offerings to ensure the departed one's continued existence, whilst the state, in the form of the priesthood, would provide the religious impetus: prayers and in some cases, initiation.  Thus everything was provided from without.

The Yogic Taoists on the other hand approached the problem from within.  As with the Buddhists, they felt that one should rely on no-one except oneself.  One's only hope lies with whether one can transforming the personality while one is still alive, to "crystallise" it so to speak, so it no longer would disintegrate at death.  In this way, they developed techniques to attain immortality by constructing a kind of immortal spirit body, some-times referred to as the "Immortal fetus".  These techniques involved the retention of the vital force (ch'i), or "circulation of the light", and various other processes of spiritual transmutation.

But if we assume that the Higher Self is immortal in any case, it could be supposed that what these Taoists were striving for was the immortality of the personality; which is presumably the same thing as the Sufi-taught Russian-Armenian Sage G. I.  Gurdjieff taught.

Gurdjieff's teaching was that man is not immortal, but man can attain immortality, and that this can be done either on the physical (or etheric) level - "the way of the fakir" - the emotional level - "the way of the monk" - the intellectual level - "the way of the yogi" - or all levels simultaneously; the so- called "Fouth Way".

In the Yogic-Taoist and the Gurdjieffian paths there is no reference to Divine guidance from without, as the individuality is now developed to the degree that it can survive unaided in the after-life environment.



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