Friday, September 30, 2011

Yin-Yang Dualism. Development of the Concept

Day & Night. Photo credit: Formilabs at dxradio
The Earliest Concept. Recognizing the Duality of Light & No-Light (Darkness)
According to Robin R. Wang at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "The earliest Chinese characters for yin and yang are found in inscriptions made on 'oracle bones' (skeletal remains of various animals used in ancient Chinese divination practices at least as early as the 14th century BCE). In these inscriptions, yin and yang simply are descriptions of natural phenomena such as weather conditions, especially the movement of the sun. There is sunlight during the day (yang) and a lack of sunlight at night (yin)."

To introduce some of the terminology this writer uses, 'lack of sunlight' can be stated as as 'no sunlight'. The duality therefore can be stated as sunlight and no-sunlight or light and no-light. For our purposes, we will call 'no-sunlight' or 'no-light' a negation of sunlight and light respectively. Sometimes, the reader will find the dualistic negations referred to with the prefix not-, for instance being and not-being.

The Coupling of Yin & Yang
"These meanings of yin and yang originated in the daily life experience of the early Chinese. Peasants depended on sunlight for lighting and their daily life routines. When the sun came out, they would go to the field to work; when the sun went down, they would return home to rest. This sun-based daily pattern evidently led to a conceptual claim: yang is movement (dong) and yin is rest (jing)." (Wang ibid)

Existential Coupling - a Zoroastrian Perspective
We will briefly interrupt our discussion on yin-yang to mention a Zoroastrian perspective. In the statement above - the one about darkness being a lack of sunlight - we noted the beginnings of a concept where one aspect of a paired or coupled element of existence - an existential pair - was described as a negation of the other rather than as an unrelated independent existence. If you wish, one aspect was described as an anti-thesis of the other.

Conceptually their is a critical difference between light-darkness duality and light no-light duality. The former may be perceived as the duality of two independent forces while with the latter duality, light is the force while no-light is entirely dependent on the presence or absence of the former. Light banishes darkness. This concept has an important practical manifestation in the wisdom-lack of wisdom duality.

In Zoroastrianism, ignorance is seen as a lack of wisdom - one also described as the darkness of the mind. Wisdom, on the other hand, is seen as the light of the mind - a form of enlightenment. The ascendancy of one automatically results in the decline, perhaps even a subordination, of the other. A good wise mind is depicted in images as one with a halo of light around it - called the farr.

Chinese yinyang and Zoroastrian dualism have points of congruence and points of divergence. Nevertheless, understanding one can help develop an understanding of the other - and each can, yes, 'shed light' on the concept of existential dualism. Metaphorically speaking, what existed before the shedding of light was an absence of the light of understanding.

In Zoroastrianism, the metaphor of the duality of light and no-light is all pervasive. It is even used to develop an understanding of the divine for divine spiritual light is one that casts no shadow - the spiritual light is a-dui, not-dual.

Yin-Yang as an Existential Duality
Light and shadow in the Pamirs. The Yin-Yang of life
"The first written record of using the two characters for yin and yang together as yin-yang or yinyang, appears in a verse from the Shijing (Book of Songs)*: 'Viewing the scenery at a hill, looking for yinyang.' This indicates that yang is the sunny side and yin is the shady side of hill. This effect of the sun exists at the same time over the hill." (Wang ibid.)

[*dating from the Zhou Dynasty (1100 or 1027-771 BCE) to the Spring & Autumn Period (770-476 BCE).]

With the association of yin-yang from darkness-light to inactivity-activity, the association of yin-yang with coupled phases of existential elements now begins to arise. By the time of the writing of the earliest (ca. 100 CE) comprehensive dictionary of Chinese characters, Xu Shen’s Shuowen jiezi, we see associations with darkness-brightness, north-south sides of a mountain, depth-height, south-north sides of a river, closed-open doors and so on.

The association of the two words as yin-yang (or yinyang) goes beyond a verbal connection. It intertwines the two parts of a duality into a classic dualist coupling. Each is dependent and defined by the other. When one moves, the other moves in unison. They are both simultaneously opposite and complementary. When one waxes the other wanes. Even when one is completely ascendant, the potentiality of the other exists. No situation in space and time between them is permanent but in flux.

Yin-Yang in Zhou-yi, I-Ching, Book of Change
The Yin-Yang concept was incorporated into Confucianism and Daoism (Taoism) around the 6th century BCE. Confucian* and Daoist texts make reference to a pre-existing book, the 'Zhouyi', which is another name for the Ye-Jing (sometimes Yijing) or I-Ching, the Book of Changes. Ye (I) means easy or simple as an adjective and change as a verb. Jing (Ching) means "canon", "great book", or "classic".

[*Note: Confucius in Chinese is Kong-zi or K'ung-tzu. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Confucius' surname Kong (which means literally an utterance of thankfulness when prayers have been answered), his tabooed given name Qiu, and his social name Zhongni, all appear connected to the miraculous circumstances of his birth."]

Wuji & Taiji. The Limitless & Absolute
According to the Ye-Jing or I-Ching:
The Limitless (Wuji) produces the delimited, and this is the Absolute (Taiji)
The Taiji produces two forms, named Yin and Yang
The two forms produce four phenomena, named:
- Tai Yin or Great Yin (Taiyin also means the Moon),
- Shao Yin or Lesser Yin,
- Tai Yang or Great Yang (Taiyang also means the Sun), and
- Shao Yang or Lesser Yang.

In the Ye-Jing or I-Ching method of visual representation, the four phenomena listed above interact in sets of three to produce eight trigrams (bagua) and further to produce sixty-four hexagrams (liushisigua).

Trigrams & Hexagrams
The eight trigrams of the I-Ching or Ye-Jing
The Ye-Jing or I-Ching is based on 8 eight trigrams and 64 hexagrams. A trigram is a symbol consisting of three lines stacked one above the other. A hexagram is a symbol consisting of six stacked lines. The hexagram can also be seen to consist of two stacked trigrams. The component lines of the trigrams and hexagrams are either unbroken (yang) or broken (yin), broken into two pieces with a space in-between. The trigrams related to eight elements of creation: Sky (heaven), wind, water, mountain, earth, thunder, fire, and lake.

Yin-Yang in Chi/Qi & Xingzhi,
The Abstract Vital Force & Concrete Existence
In the system of dualism propounded by the I Ching, the highest excellence (zhide) was associated with the goodness of ease and simplicity. Yin-Yang is seen both in the abstract vital force Chi/Qi and the concrete, Xingzhi. Perhaps the concrete is a manifestation of the abstract as a duality, and the result is a universe that is orderly, moral and gendered.

Yin-Yang in Heaven & Earth
Existential Duality Develops Further
Heaven and earth corresponded with the vast and the profound. The four seasons were simultaneously the product of both change and continuity (biantong).

The sun became the domain of yang and the moon the domain of yin. The stars the domain of the harmony (he) between yang and yin.

In the Liji, the Book of Rites and Ritual, one of the five books of the Confucian canon, ritual, Li, represents the order of heaven and earth, while music represents the harmony, he, of heaven and earth.

Origins of the Zhouyi / I-Ching
Fu Xi trigram arrangement
A traditional belief is that the principles of the Ye-Jing or I Ching originated with the mythical Fu Xi, the earliest legendary ruler of China dated to 2800-2737 BCE, to whom the 8 trigrams were revealed on the back of a tortoise. By the time of the rule of legendary Yu dated to 2194–2149 BCE, the 8 trigrams had developed into 64 hexagrams as recorded in the scripture Lian Shan Yi, meaning "continuous mountains".

The Ye-Jing or I-Ching provided a way to decode and understand the universe and the chance vagaries of life. It develops this understanding by the use of three elements: xiang (images), shu (numbers), and li (meanings). They act as the interpreters of heavenly cosmic phenomena and earthly everyday human life.

Dynamic Balance of Opposites
Evolution of Events as a Process. Inevitability of Change
During the Warring States Period (475 - 221 BCE), the Ye-Jing or I Ching was re-interpreted from a cosmological and philosophical viewpoint - thinking that became intrinsic to Chinese culture and which pervaded notions in living, health and food preparation. The subsequent system of thinking centred on the dynamic balance of opposites, the evolution of events as a process, and acceptance of the inevitability of change. Dualism thereby became entrenched in Chinese philosophy.

Development of the Yin-Yang Symbol as
Taiji-tu, Diagram of the Great Ultimate
The Taiji-tu or Yin-Yang symbol interpreted to show how
the two manifest and interact during the day as they do
during the seasons and indeed every aspect of life.
Image credit: Sacred Lotus Arts
In subsequent years various schools emerged. For instance, the Xiang-shu focused on the images and numbers; the Yi-li was centred on meanings and reasoning; the Tu-shu was focused on diagrams and writings. From the tu, the diagrams and charts, developed by the Tu-shu school emerged the now famous tu, the Taiji-tu, the Diagram of the Great Ultimate, of ultimate power, the symbol we call the Yin-Yang symbol.

Taiji translates as "great pole" and is used in the Yin-Yang context to denote non-polarity, the state of undifferentiated absolute and infinite potentiality, the "Supreme or Great Ultimate". It is contrasted with its dual opposite, the Wuji meaning "Without Ultimate". The word was subsequently associated with "the Way" of Daoism.

The two concepts of Taiji and Wuji were associated by Zhu-xi (1130-1200 CE), a noted rationalist neo-Confucian during the Son Dynasty (960–1279 CE). But this association was disputed by others who complained that Zhu-xi unnecessarily added Daoist sage Laozi/Laotze's concept of limitless, Wuji, before Confucius' concept of Taiji.

[Compare the symbol's circle with Ras, the Wheel of Existence, at our page, God, Time & Creation in Zoroastrianism.]

The Developed Yi-Yang Dualism Concept & Taiji
By the Han dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE), Yin-Yang was identified with wuxing, the five phases of correlative cosmology. In a book from that period, the Shujing (Classic of Documents), a chapter titled the "Great Plan" identifies five material substances that have dualistic functional attributes: water, fire, wood, metal and the earth. The manifestation of duality in these materials took on various properties. One such set is that water soaks and descends; fire blazes and ascends; wood is straight and curved; metal obeys and changes; the earth accepts seeds and produces crops.

According to Joseph Adler, in a classic inter-dependent dualistic statement says that Taiji, the Supreme Polarity, "in activity generates yang; yet at the limit of activity it is still. In stillness it generates yin; yet at the limit of stillness it is also active. Activity and stillness alternate; each is the basis of the other. ...The alternation and combination of yang and yin generate water, fire, wood, metal, and earth. With these five (phases of) Qi (Chi, vital energy) harmoniously arranged, the Four Seasons proceed through them. The Five Phases are simply yin and yang; yin and yang are simply the Supreme Polarity; the Supreme Polarity is fundamentally Non-polar. (Yet,) in the generation of the Five Phases, each one has its nature."

We conclude with our earlier observation:
Yin-yang (or yinyang) intertwines the two parts of a duality into a classic dualist coupling. Each part is dependent and defined by the other. They are both simultaneously opposite and complementary. When one moves the other moves in unison. When one waxes the other wanes in unison. Even when one is completely ascendant, the potentiality of the other exists. No situation in space and time between them is permanent but in flux.

Yijing Yantra. A composite diagram using the Chinese Yijing hexagrams placed within an Indo-Aryan yantra. A yantra is a meditation tool.
The outline diagram is used in mandalas depicting Shambala/Mt. Meru. Also see our page on Airyana Vaeja, the Aryan homeland. Image Credit:
Further reading:
The Image of the Cosmos in the I Ching. The Yi-globe

Duality & Dualism pages of this blog:
» Bon, Zoroastrianism & Dualism
» Dual, Duality & Dualism. Definitions (New)
» The Two - Ta Mainyu (New)
» Yin-Yang Dualism. Development of the Concept (New)
» Yin-Yang in Daoism / Taoism. The Daodejing by Laozi. Zhuangzi (New)
» Plutarch. His Work, Duality and the Soul (New)

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