Yin and yang
In Chinese philosophy, the concept of yin-yang (simplified Chinese: 阴阳; traditional Chinese: 陰陽; pinyin: yīnyáng), which is often called "yin and yang", is used to describe how opposite or contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world; and, how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.
The concept lies at the origins of many branches of classical Chinese science and philosophy, as well as being a primary guideline of traditional Chinese medicine, and a central principle of different forms of Chinese martial arts and exercise, such as baguazhang, taijiquan (t'ai chi), qigong (Chi Kung), and I Ching.
Everything has both yin and yang aspects, (for instance shadow cannot exist without light). Either of the two major aspects may manifest more strongly in a particular object, depending on the criterion of the observation.
In Daoist philosophy, dark and light, yin and yang, arrive in the Dàodéjīng (道德經) at chapter 42. It becomes sensible from an initial quiescence or emptiness (wuji, sometimes symbolized by an empty circle), and continues moving until quiescence is reached again.
For instance, dropping a stone in a calm pool of water will simultaneously raise waves and lower troughs between them, and this alternation of high and low points in the water will radiate outward until the movement dissipates and the pool is calm once more. Yin and yang thus are always opposite and equal qualities.
It is impossible to talk about yin or yang without some reference to the opposite, since yin and yang are bound together as parts of a mutual whole (for example, there cannot be the bottom of the foot without the top).
A way to illustrate this idea is to postulate the notion of a race with only men or only women; this race would disappear in a single generation.
Yet, men and women together create new generations that allow the race they mutually create (and mutually come from) to survive.
Classically, when used in place names, yang refers to the "sunny side."
In the same way, yin would be the opposite, the "shady side." Yin means that a place is on the north slope of a mountain (or on the south bank of a river). For example, Huayin is on the north slope of Mount Hua.
Symbolism and importance
The relationship between yin and yang is often described in terms of sunlight playing over a mountain and a valley. Yin (literally the 'shady place' or 'north slope') is the dark area occluded by the mountain's bulk, while yang (literally the 'sunny place' or 'south slope') is the brightly lit portion.
Yin and yang applies to the human body. In traditional Chinese medicine good health is directly related to the balance between yin and yang qualities within oneself. If yin and yang become unbalanced, one of the qualities is considered deficient or has vacuity.
These are then combined into trigrams, which are more yang or more yin depending on the number of broken and solid lines (e.g., ☰ is heavily yang, while ☷ is heavily yin), and trigrams are combined into hexagrams (e.g. ䷕ and ䷟).
The relative positions and numbers of yin and yang lines within the trigrams determines the meaning of a trigram, and in hexagrams the upper trigram is considered yang with respect to the lower trigram, allowing complex depictions of interrelations.
The term is commonly used to mean the simple "divided circle" form, but may refer to any of several schematic diagrams representing these principles, such as the swastika, common to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Similar symbols have also appeared in other cultures, such as in Celtic art and Roman shield markings.
Taijiquan, a form of martial art, is often described as the principles of yin and yang applied to the human body and an animal body. Wu Jianquan, a famous Chinese martial arts teacher, described Taijiquan as follows:
- Various people have offered different explanations for the name Taijiquan. Some have said: – 'In terms of self-cultivation, one must train from a state of movement towards a state of stillness. Taiji comes about through the balance of yin and yang. In terms of the art of attack and defense then, in the context of the changes of full and empty, one is constantly internally latent, not outwardly expressive, as if the yin and yang of Taiji have not yet divided apart.' Others say: 'Every movement of Taijiquan is based on circles, just like the shape of a Taijitu. Therefore, it is called Taijiquan.
The Legalists had attempted to standardize Chinese thought by burning the books of rival schools and by making it a capital crime to speak of Confucius, Lao Tzu, or Mo Tzu. Rather than reject alternate ways of thinking, the Han attempted to fuse all the rival schools of thought into a single system.
The concepts of Yin-Yang and five elements are thought to have developed separately in ancient times and it is not until the Han Dynasty that we find them linked together in the school they retrospectively named Yin-Yang.
The Five Elements are discussed in the Great Norm chapter of the Book of History but there is no comparable discussion on Yin-Yang. These concepts appear in the later texts as 'given' ideas that are then developed as ways of 'explaining' all phenomena.
Tung built up a body of correspondence that related the complementary principles of Yin-Yang to all phases of creation. Yin was related to the ideas of female, moon, cold, water, earth, autumn, and winter. It is also nourishes and sustains the 'myriad things'. Yin and Yang continue to succeed each other and as each 'force' reaches its extreme it becomes the other, thus producing a never ending cycle. This constant progression was used to explain the process of growth and change in the natural world.
The study of the [[Wikipedia:Hexagram (I Ching)|hexagrams]], and their interpretations, enabled a scholar to understand the activities of the universe, which, once expanded, reveal the endless process of universal change.
Each of these opposites produces the other.
Two important features of the relationships between opposites:
- There is some sort of correlation between the individual components of different pairs of opposites. During the day it is light and warm, the sun is out, and people are active.
- One opposite has certain distinctive relationships with the other in any given pair. They can be seen as two alternating states of development or two aspects of a cyclical movement through time.
Day changes into night, and night into day; summer changes to winter and winter into summer; activity is followed by rest, rest supports activity, dormancy is followed by growth which is followed by decay, etc.
Second, since the one principle produces the other, all phenomena have within them the seeds of their opposite state, for example, sickness has the seeds of health, health contains the seeds of sickness, wealth contains the seeds of poverty, etc.
Third, even though an opposite may not be seen to be present, since one principle produces the other, no phenomenon is completely devoid of its opposite state. One is never really healthy since health contains the principle of its opposite, sickness.
Some points about the interrelationship between yin and yang:
- Any given frame of reference can be divided into Yin-Yang pairs (i.e. pairs of opposite factors).
- Yin and Yang are descriptive terms; they are not nominative. Yin-Yang terminology is used when describing the nature or characteristic tendency of one thing with reference to another. Linguistically, it often appears that these terms are used as nouns, however it should always be understood that Yin-Yang are adjectives and do not refer to any concrete or existing thing.
Taking Expansion-Contraction as an example, it is impossible for the mind to conceive of pure, 100% expansiveness without any trace of the contracting force. Whatever is conceived would simply expand to infinity, i.e. out of existence.
They are always complimentary.
The normal, healthy, functional, durable existence of everything in Nature depends on the mutual enhancement and beneficial interaction of opposite forces. Day and night; summer and winter; work and rest; man and woman.
On one level, when there is an antagonistic relationship between opposites this leads to destruction.
The soil produces crops for mankind; and man cultivates the soil.
Wherever there is a 'front' there will also be a 'back'; the bigger the front, the bigger the back.
There are no advantages without some disadvantages; there are no disadvantages without some advantages.
Spring into summer, summer into autumn, autumn into winter and winter into spring... At the extremes of Yin or Yang, there is great instability and the change from one opposite to the other is rapid and inharmonious.
- Normal physiological conditions (i.e. Homoeostasis) require the avoidance of extremes of Yin and Yang.
One can develop tolerance to extremes only by gradually introducing them to the body, but there is still definite limitations to the body's tolerance to extreme factors (e.g. heat, cold, deprivation, etc.).
- Each Yang factor can be further subdivided into a pair of Yin-Yang factors ad infinitum. Each Yin factor may also be further subdivided in the same way. Life forms can be divided into simple and complex; complex life can be divided into warm- or cold-blooded;
- Nothing should be rejected.
There are no 'bad' things.
These five elements represent a dynamic process, not the 'elements' that come together to produce things. The five elements are not physical substances; they represent cyclic movements. There are two orders of the five elements:
- Overcoming, where fire is overcome by water, water by earth, earth by wood, and wood by metal, producing the series, fire, water, earth, wood, metal.
These lists are generally given with the elements arranged in the order of production. Here are just a few of the major correspondences, which relate to both the natural world—in the case of the seasons and directions and the human world of 'discrimination' ND in the case of tastes and emotions.
Here we have the three most important concepts of Chinese thought brought together, Yin-Yang, wu hsing and ch'i. Ch'i has a wide variety of meanings, we can speak of yin ch'i tang ch'i, the ch'i of each of the five elements, the ch'i of social order, the ch'i of the individual.
Each element is said to flourish when its ch'i is yang and to decline when its ch'i is yin, thus seasonal changes are caused by the flourishing and decline of Yin-Yang. This shows the cyclic nature of the perpetual motion of all changes.
The Confucians used it to develop political and ethical ideas while the Taoists concentrated on the direct relationship between individuals and nature. Both the public and the private areas of life were covered with these concepts.
As it is the way of nature to process through periods of flourishing and decline so it is with human affairs. The patterns of nature are reflected in both the life of the individual and of the wider society.
The scholars concentrated on the metaphysical and cosmological aspects of these ideas, while the 'ordinary people' used them to give authority to the various forms of divination that developed over the years.
All phenomena can be understood using Yin-Yang and the five agents: the movements of the stars, the workings of the body, the nature of foods, the qualities of music, the ethical qualities of humans, the progress of time, the operations of government, and even the nature of historical change.
All things follow this order so that all things may be related to one another in some way, for example, one can use the stars to determine what kind of policy to pursue in government.
Tsai, A. (2004). Where does the Yin Yang Symbol come from? Online. Available: http://chinesefortunecalendar.com/yinyang.htm [2004, June 24].