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Taoism (Daoism): An Introduction to the Yin Yang of Taoist Philosophy
Taoism, along with Confucianism, is one of the two major religions/philosophies indigenous to China. In contrast to schools of thought that seek to escape life (Buddhism, et al), Taoism cherishes life. The Taoist perspective emphasizes the 'interpenetration' of all things and reality's fundamental nature of change and transformation. Interpenetration says that all things are intimately connected, mutually arising and co-defining. The creativity behind existence is known as Tao (Dao), which translates to "way" or "path," and the process through which Tao brings about reality is described in the Dao De Jing:
Dao gives birth to One.
One gives birth to Two.
Two give birth to Three.
Three give birth to Ten-Thousand.
Ten-Thousand beings carry Yin on their backs and embrace Yang in their front,
Blending these two vital breaths to attain harmony.
The Dao, origin of all, nameless nothingness that we attach a name to in order to refer to it, gives birth to the One, the undifferentiated something that some may think of as Nirvana. The One then splits into all the polar dualities (hot and cold) represented by the Yin Yang, and Three arises when the Two unite to form the Supreme Ultimate—Yin, Yang and the Supreme Ultimate. From the Supreme Ultimate is born the Ten-Thousand (countless) manifestations of reality.
The evident harmony of the universe can be directly attributed to the interactions of the twin set of fundamental, mutually complementary forces of nature. These forces are referred to by the Daoists as Yin Yang, and it is through their interplay that the symphonic flow of Dao is revealed.
Yin is passive; it is understood to be a reflexive force that sustains and regulates. As the feminine principle, it is associated with night and the moon. Yang is active; it takes the initiative and is constantly trying out new forms. As the masculine principle, it is associated with day and the sun. It is important to note that there is interdependence between them. They may be likened to the opposite poles of a magnet; as one pushes, the other pulls. Notice I said opposites, not opposing; the poles of a magnet function in accord with each other. Without Yin, there would be no Yang, and vice versa. As such, there is a oneness about them that is represented by the outer circle of the taijitu (literally "diagram of the supreme ultimate").
It is also important to recognize that neither Yin nor Yang is ever absolutely expressed, and since everything is manifested through them, nothing is ever absolutely expressed. All things evidence the duality of Yin and Yang. In the early stages of development, the human embryo is genderless, or perhaps more precisely, its potential is not limited to either gender. Eventually, either Yin or Yang will become dominant, and the sexual organs of the fetus will develop accordingly, but the person who matures from this fetus will forever have both feminine and masculine qualities. Everything in life is like that: influenced to some extent or another by both of these elemental agencies of nature. Nothing is purely Yin or purely Yang. Even Yin and Yang are not absolute expressions of themselves; everything is relative. This relativity is denoted in the taijitu by the small portion of Yin found within Yang and the small portion of Yang found within Yin.
A point that might elude us because of our Western conditioning is the fact that Yin does not compete with Yang, nor does Yang combat Yin. Their relationship is not the Western-archetypal, eternal quest by one force to conquer the other (Satan vs. Jesus). That would be folly; one cannot exist without the other. The whole point of Yin and Yang is that, like a dancing couple, there must be a give and take between them if they are to match step with the music of Dao. The inner line of their icon emphasizes their co-dependence. It separates, yet joins them. It is through Yin that Yang is defined, just as it is through Yang that Yin gains meaning. Their simple emblem symbolizes the ongoing effort to strike a balance as Yin tirelessly fills the void perpetually created by Yang’s incessant activity. Together, as each plays its role, alternately taking prominence with the other’s support, they seek the “way.”