The dynamic concept of the complementarity of opposites (described below) plays a fundamental role in the Andean culture, informing not only their relationship with Nature and the Cosmos, but also their relationships with each other, and the relationship of energies within themselves. The complementarity of opposites has a role equal to that of ‘ayni’ (see the posts Ayni, Ayni Revisited) in the Andean Cosmovision, in fact, as we will see (in a future post), it must.
When I decided to write about the complementarity of opposites I meant to offer it as a way to better understand and tap the potential of some of the Andean meditations. I began by dusting off my understanding of the complementarity of opposites from my study of Taoism (many years ago). I then returned to those writings about the Andean Cosmovision where the concept of the complementarity of opposites was emphasized (Allen, Bolin, Sharon, and my notes of don Americo Yabar). Finally, I set forth to use the former to inform my writing about the latter.
Writing about something is an excellent way for me to refine my thinking about it. I found that as I began writing about this topic it started opening up into new territory for me, and I began to get glimpses at just how profoundly the traditional Andean culture integrates this concept into their experience of reality. While Taoism had long been my favorite philosophy of the underlying dynamics of the Cosmos I could never get a good handle on how to incorporate it in a meaningful way into my everyday life, and here is a culture that exemplifies how to live it. I had seen it as a way to inform the relationship of the various facets of our own energy, but as with just about everything in the Andean Cosmovision, it applies as well to our relationships with each other and our relationship with the Cosmos. I would like to take several posts to explore this in some detail. In this first post I will cover the basics of the complementarity of opposites.
The basic idea behind the complementarity of opposites is that opposite concepts define each other, and in fact, they cannot exist without each other. ‘Dark’, for example, defines ‘light’ and ‘light’ defines ‘dark’. If only light existed then we would not understand what dark was, and without dark to contrast it with we would not understand what light was either. Consider a mountain sitting in the sunlight. If there is a ‘sunny side’ of the mountain there must also be a ‘shady side’ of the mountain. If all the mountain is in sun then there is no ‘sunny side’ and ‘shady side’, if all the mountain is in shade there is no ‘shady side’ and ‘sunny side’. The sunny side and shady side of the mountain define each other and cannot exist without the other. Along similar lines ‘up’ and ‘down’ cannot exist without each other, if everything were somehow up then there would be no down, and if there is no down there cannot be an up that is above it. ‘Good and ‘evil’ define each other and rely upon each other to exist. If only good existed we would not understand evil, and without evil to contrast it to we cannot understood good.
In Taoism the primary complementary and opposite energies of the Cosmos are ‘yin’ and ‘yang’, they define each other and can only exist together. The complementary natures of yin and yang are expressed in a variety of ways, such as female/male, dark/light, yielding/aggressive, intuitive/logical, and so on. The following, familiar, Taoist image is often used to express the relationship between yin and yang. While the symbol is Taoist rather than Andean I would like to present it here as a visual reference for some things I would like us to consider about the Andean approach.
Here is my interpretation of the yin/yang symbol, tailored to serve as the foundation for what I want to say about about Andean Cosmovision. The circle as a whole represents the Cosmos, in the figure the Cosmos is divided into the complementary energies of yin and yang, which are represented by the dark and light pollywogs of the circle. The two smaller circles (of black within the white and white within the black) show that yin and yang are not absolutes, that a situation that is very yin also contains a germ of yang and a situation that is very yang also contains a germ of yin.
It is clear in looking at the figure that the dark and light parts define each other, the boundary of one area establishes the boundary of the other. That there is a distinction (a boundary) between the two is important, for without a boundary between white and black we get the following (Figure 2) which I like to call the ‘undifferentiated grayness of the void’, where neither white nor black exist. It is also significant that the boundary between yin and yang in Figure 1 is curved. The boundary could be drawn as simply a straight line (Figure 3), but by drawing the line curved (the way it is in Figure 1) suggests movement, that the two pollywogs of yin and yang are dancing around each other, for the Cosmos is not static but always flowing and changing, and a situation that is now yin may become yang and one that is yang may become yin.
And now, consider this. When we divide the Cosmos into two dynamic opposites the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. If, for example, we divide the Cosmos into ‘male’ and ‘female’ we can then list which attributes are male and which are female, but we also have what emerges from the interaction of male and female energy (these are known as ’emergent properties’). Emergent properties cannot be found in the list of what it is to be female and what it is to be male, they arise from the dance between the two, this is also known as ‘synergy’.
Some of the complementary opposites that play an important role in the Andean Cosmovision are :
- male / female
- domesticated energy / undomesticated energy (‘salka’)
- the vertical dimension / the horizontal dimension
- the energy on the right side of a person (‘paña’) / the energy on the left side (‘lloqe’)
- the energy of day / the energy of evening
- heavy energy (‘hucha’) / light energy (‘sami’)
- the traditional ways / the Christian ways
- the visible world (‘kaylla’) / the invisible world (‘tiqsi’).
In future posts I will examine how the dance of these opposites shape the Andean Cosmovision and some of the meditations that arise from it.Share...