Taoism > Yin and Yang

About Yin and Yang


yin yang graphsA short statistic of the keywords searched for over the Net will show a huge interest in the yin and yang meaning. This is partly due to the fact that yin and yang reminds one of a concept hold dear by Westerners: polarity or complementarity. But let's step further and see what we already know about yin and yang.

In Shambhala Dictionary of Taoism we read that yin and yang are "two polar energies that, by their fluctuation and interaction, are the cause of the universe". (p. 216).

yin yang patterns of interactionSo they seem to be basic principles or forces that produce what we call "universe". In Chinese, "universe" is said 10000 things (wan-wu) - that is, all that it is and it is not or could be. This "universe" is made of the interaction of yin and yang.

Yin and yang appear in the commentaries on I-ching (Book of Changes) and the Spring and Autumn Annals, over 2000 years ago. In I-ching we read that Tao itself seems to be composed of these principles.

In Annals we find that yin and yang "separate and merge again". I don't think we are wrong if we call this continuously merge and separation "interaction", as above - another word hold dear by our Western culture.

Moreover, both yin and yang may be simply features of things or cosmic phenomena, or of people and different kinds of action, or human attitudes, or mere energies. Concerning the natural phenomena, we find them in lists of polar characteristics such as male and female, day and night, rotation of seasons, and so forth. In short, everything may be ranged under the influence of yin and yang.


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Finally, in the Chinese classic medicine yin and yang refer to energies and functioning modes of organs and body. It is said that the healthy state is brought by the right balance between yin and yang. Thus, man must choose the right food and nurture a psychic equilibrium in order to acquire health and longevity.

Let's conclude with Alan Watts that the yin-yang ideograms:

    Indicate the sunny and shady sides of a hill, and they are associated with the masculine and the feminine, the firm and the yielding, the strong and the weak, the light and the dark, the rising and the falling, heaven and earth... (Alan Watts, Tao: The Watercourse Way, Pantheon Books, 1975, p. 21).

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