Abrupt, Sudden and Primal Unity

One of my favorite parables from the Inner Teachings of Chuang Tzu is the story of Abrupt, Sudden and Primal Unity. This version is from The Essential Tao, as translated by Thomas Cleary:

      The lord of the south sea was Abrupt; the lord of the north sea was Sudden. From time to time Abrupt and Sudden got together in the territory of Primal Unity, and Primal Unity treated them very well.
Abrupt and Sudden planned to repay Primal Unity’s kindness.
They said, “People all have seven openings, through which they see, hear, eat, and breathe; Primal Unity alone has none. Let us make openings in Primal Unity.”
So every day they gouged out a hole. After seven days, Primal Unity died.

In some English renderings of this parable, “Primal Unity” is translated as “Chaos” – which, from an Eastern philosophical perspective is much the same thing. Primal Unity (or Original Unity) is the nothingness that contains everything (the ten thousand things), but in an undifferentiated state… What we in the West might call “chaos”.

There is much focus in Liuhebafa, and in Taoist practice in general, on “sealing the container”, done in part by closing the orifices of desire so that we cease to yearn for things outside of ourselves. This enables us to amass and ultimately transform our energies rather than letting them constantly leak away into the mundane world. The Liuhebafa movements #3 (Close Door and Push Away Moon) and #66 (Contain Chi and Open All Gates) each directly reference this goal of sealing the container right in the movement’s name. Sealing the container is one of the prerequisites for our return to (yes, you guessed it) Primal Unity. Apparently Abrupt and Sudden missed that lesson. 😉

This Chuang Tzu parable always reminds me of what Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden: “If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life… for fear that I should get some of his good done to me – some of its virus mingled with my blood.”

May you be swallow piercing clouds,
Kim Goldberg

Text and image (c) Kim Goldberg

About Kim Goldberg

Kim Goldberg is a poet, journalist and the author of 8 books of poetry and nonfiction. Latest titles: DEVOLUTION (poems of ecopocalypse), UNDETECTABLE (her Hep C journey in haibun), RED ZONE (poems of homelessness) and RIDE BACKWARDS ON DRAGON: a poet's journey through Liuhebafa. She lives in Nanaimo, BC. Contact: goldberg@ncf.ca
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