Tag Archives: yin and yang

“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 5” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

Heaven-and-Earth is not sentimental;
It treats all things as straw-dogs.
The Sage is not sentimental;
He treats all his people as straw-dogs.

Between Heaven and Earth,
There seems to be a Bellows:
It is empty, and yet it is inexhaustible;
The more it works, the more comes out of it.
No amount of words can fathom it:
Better look for it within you.

This is a beautiful chapter that conveys so much wisdom in so few words.

I want to begin by pointing out something at the very beginning of the verse: “Heaven-and-Earth” is hyphenated, implying that it is a single entity and not something dualistic. We can interpret this as a symbol for ourselves, a combination of the spiritual and the physical combined into one being. The concept is also incorporated into the yin and yang symbol, where the two seeming opposites are actually part of the whole.

In the second stanza, we are introduced to the “Bellows” which exists between Heaven and Earth, meaning it exists within ourselves and serves as the boundary/connector between the physical and the spiritual. The Bellows is the source of breath, which is Qi (or Chi) and it the life energy that flows through us and is associated with breathing. The practice of Tai Chi improves breathing and helps practitioners connect with their life energy. The more that you practice conscious breathing, the more connected to your life energy you become, as is expressed in the line, “The more it works, the more comes out of it.”

This life energy is ineffable: “No amount of words can fathom it.” Because it exists in a space between the physical and the spiritual beings, essentially connecting the two, it cannot be expressed in words. It is beyond our comprehension.

Finally, we are entreated to search for this source within ourselves. This is the path of the Tao and the way to become a sage: to search for this source of life energy within each of us, connect with that energy, and allow it to flow freely through us.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 1” by Lao Tzu

YinYang

Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao.
Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name.

As the origin of heaven-and-earth, it is nameless:
As “the Mother” of all things, it is nameable.

These two flow from the same source, though differently named;
And both are called mysteries.

The Mystery of mysteries is the Door of all essence.

(translation: John C. H. Wu)

As I read this passage, I thought about the yin/yang symbol. I have always interpreted this symbol as an expression of duality: light and dark, male and female, positive and negative, and so forth. But this passage made me consider the symbol as a representation of the Divine, the dark being the ineffable aspect of the Divine while the light is the illuminated aspect which is manifest in our realm and which we can perceive. There is also a small amount of the hidden within the manifest, as well as a small amount of the manifest within the hidden.

This brings us to the last line. For me, I see this as the purpose of meditation and contemplation. We will never be able to penetrate the “Mystery of mysteries” in our earthly existence, but through contemplating that which is unknowable, we can open the doors within ourselves and gain a sense of the divine essence which is within us and within everything that exists.

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“The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin

LeftHandDarkness

First off, I want to say that this book is outstanding. If you have not read it, then you must add it to your list. It works on so many levels. I am only going to be able to scratch the surface of this book’s depth. There is a lot of deep symbolism woven into this beautifully vivid and well-written piece of literature.

The basic premise of the book is that an envoy named Genly Ai visits an inhabited planet to inquire whether they are open to joining an interplanetary alliance whose goal is to share culture and ideas, thereby advancing the various civilizations. The planet Gethen, which Ai is visiting, is populated by beings who are bi-gender and take on a dominant gender when time comes to mate.

Le Guin uses the ambisexual Gethenians as a Jungian symbol for unified persons. They symbolize a balance between the anima and the animus. And while they recognize the existence of duality, they have an innate sense of oneness.

Ai brooded, and after some time he said, “You’re isolated, and undivided. Perhaps you are as obsessed with wholeness as we are with dualism.”

“We are dualists too. Duality is an essential, isn’t it? So long as there is myself and the other.”

(p. 252)

Le Guin expands on the concept of opposites combined into a balanced whole, employing symbols of light and darkness, of fire and ice, of life and death, to represent the importance of a balanced duality to maintain a spiritual whole.

Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are on, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.

(p. 252)

Throughout the book, the symbol that kept coming to mind for me was the yin and yang. As I was to discover later on in the book, this was intentional on the part of the writer.

“Fear’s very useful. Like darkness; like shadows.” Estraven’s smile was an ugly split in a peeling, cracked brown mask, thatched with black fur and set with two flecks of black rock. “It’s queer that daylight’s not enough. We need the shadows, in order to walk.”

“Give me your notebook a moment.”

He had just noted down our day’s journey and done some calculation of mileage and rations. He pushed the little tablet and carbon-pencil around the Chabe stove to me. On the blank leaf glued to the inner back cover I drew the double curve within the circle, and blackened the yin half of the symbol, then pushed it back to my companion. “Do you know that sign?”

He looked at it a long time with a strange look, but he said, “No.”

“It’s found on Earth, and on Hain-Davenant, and on Chiffewar. It is yin and yang. Light is the left hand of darkness . . . how did that go? Light, dark. Fear, courage. Cold, warmth. Female, male. It is yourself, Therem. Both and one. A shadow on snow.”

(pp. 286 – 287)

As I said at the beginning of the post, there is no way I can cover everything in this book. In addition to what I mentioned, the book also explores social and political structures, how myths evolve from actual events, concepts of patriotism, and spiritual and psychological exploration. While this book falls into the “science fiction” category, to me it is much more and transcends the genre. I highly recommend this book to everyone. If’ you’ve read it, feel free to share your thoughts below.

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“The Little Vagabond” by William Blake

LittleVagabond

Dear Mother, dear Mother, the Church is cold;
But the Alehouse is healthy, & pleasant, and warm.
Besides, I can tell where I am use’d well;
Such usage in heaven will never do well.

But, if at the Church they would give us some Ale,
And a pleasant fire our souls to regale,
We’d sing and we’d pray all the livelong day,
Nor ever once wish from the Church to stray.

Then the Parson might preach, and drink, & sing,
And we’d be as happy as birds in the spring;
And modest dame Lurch, who is always at church,
Would not have bandy children, nor fasting, nor birch.

And God, like a father, rejoicing to see
His children as pleasant and happy as He,
Would have no more quarrel with the Devil or the Barrel,
But kiss him, & give him both drink and apparel.

On the surface, this seems like a poem that criticizes the Church for its doctrine of austerity. The speaker asserts that if the Church would be more festive that it would attract more followers. While this is a perfectly legitimate interpretation, I see other symbolism buried within the verse.

Firstly, I see this as a pagan song. The speaker is addressing the Mother, with a capital M. It is a sign of reverence. We also have images of ale and bonfires, which are common in pagan rituals. It is also worth noting that the Christian god is not referred to as the Father, but instead he is “like a father.”

The other thing that struck me was the illustration. At the top, God is huddled with a naked male figure. In the last two lines of the poem, we have an image of God reconciling with the devil and offering him “both drink and apparel.” I believe that this image atop the illustration is God and Lucifer together, especially since the naked figure’s skin is tinted red. Also worth noting is the position of the two figures; it is almost as if they are forming a yin/yang symbol. One could say that the two are not in conflict, but are opposite energies or archetypes that complement each other, and when brought together create a whole.

This universal symbol of God and Lucifer complementing each other then becomes a symbol for humanity. In order to reach spiritual completeness, we must find a way to balance our positive and negative energies. Both are essential and neither should be denied or excluded. It is only when we find our balance between dark and light, male and female, positive and negative, conscious and subconscious, that we will become fully realized beings.

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