In the Fayan (« Master Words ») of Yang Xiong, written two thousand years ago, the chapter entitled « Questions about the divine » begins laconically:
« The question is about the divine.
– The heart.
– What do you mean by this?
– Immersing itself in the sky, it becomes heaven. Immersed in the earth, it becomes earth. Heaven and earth are divine clarity, unfathomable, and yet the heart plunges into them as if it were going to fathom them.”i
The divine is indefinable, unintelligible. However, the heart does not care. It tries to form an idea of it, by its impetuous and passionate way of searching for it. It knows that it has no chance of grasping it in its essence or in its existence, in heaven or on earth. Yet he does not hesitate, he throws himself into the bottomless abyss, as if he could reach the bottom.
The heart knows that it cannot reach a bottom that is bottomless. But it rushes into the abyss. It drowns in the immensity, and by guessing the immensity, it becomes immense. It immerses itself in the sky and grasps the sky in itself, it enters the earth and everything in it becomes earth, it jumps into mystery, and mysteriously metamorphoses into mystery.
Only by plunging into the abyss does it discover that it becomes an abyss, and that it has always been an abyss, that it is still an abyss, and will be even more so.
All knowledge of the divine begins with the as if it were possible to know this knowledge. The as if carries the faith of the heart forward or backward. The as if carries the heart beyond what it is and beyond what it knows.
Why does the heart bet on the as if?
Yang Xiong explains it in a commentary on the Tài Xuán Jīng (« The canon of the supreme mystery »):
« The heart hidden in the depths, beauty of the sacred root. Divination: the heart hidden in the depths, the divine is not elsewhere.”ii
Compact, unmistakable style.
In Chinese, « divine » is shen, 神. This ambiguous word also means soul, spirit, mystery, alive, and even God.
« Heart » is xīn 心. Three tears around a blade. Three moons on the mountain. Three gods near a tree.
Shen is xīn. Xīn is shen. The heart drowns in the divine. The divine drowns in the heart.
This idea is classical in Confucianism. It is found in the Mengzi, which quotes Confucius, and Yang Xiong takes it up again in this form:
« The divine in the heart of man! Summon it, it exists. Abandon it, it disappears.”iii
It is the idea, therefore, that the holy man makes the divine exist in the world through his action. He stands on the border between heaven and man. Participating in both worlds, he fills the gap between them.
Yet another image:
« The dragon is writhing in the mud. The lizard basks there. Lizard, lizard, how could you understand the dragon’s aspiration?
– Must the dragon have this desire to rise into the sky?
– When it’s time to rise, it rises. When it is time to dive, it dives. There is both rising and diving at the same time.”iv
When it comes to research, no time form basking in the sun. Or in the mud.
iYang Xiong. Master Words. Les Belles Lettres. Paris, 2010, Ch.5, 1, p.39
iiIbid. p.39, Note 1
iiiIbid. Ch5, 3, p.40
ivIbid. Ch5, 5, p.40