Of Yin And Yang

Know the male,
yet keep to the female;
receive the world in your arms.
If you receive the world,
the Tao will never leave you
and you will be like a little child.

Know the white,
yet keep to the black;
be a pattern for the world.
If you are a pattern for the world,
the Tao will be strong inside you
and there will be nothing you can’t do.

Know the personal,
yet keep to the impersonal;
accept the world as it is.
If you accept the world as it is,
the Tao will be luminous inside you
and you will return to your primal self.

The world is formed from the void,
like utensils from a block of wood.
The Master knows the utensils,
yet keeps to the block;
thus she can use all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 28, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking a lot about yin and yang recently; but as I read through today’s chapter, I was thinking it has been a long while since I took a little bit of time to explain yin and yang. So today, I want to devote to that. Being as most of you, that are reading this blog post, are accessing it through my tumblr blog, I want to use my tumblr icon, or avatar, as a visual representation of what I want to talk about today.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to anarchei, a fellow blogger on tumblr, for designing my tumblr icon. I am extremely pleased with the patience and effort required to satisfy my humble blog’s needs. Thanks always, anarchei!

So, let’s begin by taking a look at that familiar yin yang symbol. It begins with a circle, which, like a Venn diagram, represents everything, Within the circle you find the familiar black and white shapes, representing yin and yang. They represent perfect balance, harmony, and unity. It is a picture of fluid energy. Of change and motion. It shows how opposites interact with each other to cause everything to happen.

The colors of the spectrum that you find around the perimeter of the circle and forming the A in the center are my way of expressing that all are represented within this circle; and the A, of course, represents Anarchism. While you certainly don’t have to be an anarchist to be a philosophical Taoist, and you don’t have to be a philosophical Taoist to be an anarchist – for me, anarchism and philosophical Taoism go hand in hand.

Now that we have my explanation of my icon out of the way, let’s dig further into what is meant by yin and yang. Yin and yang are the two fundamental principles of Chinese philosophy in general, and Taoism specifically. One of these fundamental principles, yin, is negative, dark, passive, cold, wet, and feminine; while the other, yang, is positive, bright, active, hot, dry, and masculine.

Now before I go any further I want to make sure that we understand that these two fundamental principles are not at odds. One is not better than the other. They are always in perfect balance. That is the way things are.

Because they are in a state of flux, things may appear to sometimes be out of balance. But don’t let appearances fool you. That is merely an illusion. The reality is that you can’t have one without the other. Both negative and positive, dark and bright, passive and active, cold and hot, wet and dry, feminine and masculine.

These all interact with each other in such a way that balance, harmony, and unity is always the natural state of things. It is the way things are. Yes, I know I am repeating myself. I often do that when I want to make sure the point is being taken.

I keep stressing that, because I often hear yin and yang described as a tug of war. And people want to pick sides. Positive is seen as good. While, negative is frowned upon. We are often afraid of the dark, when we aren’t complaining that the lights are too bright.  And it becomes a great competition, that even has masculine and feminine at war with each other.

This is not the way things are. I think Lao Tzu explains it best in today’s chapter; so let’s take a look at that.

Lao Tzu says to know the male, yet keep to the female. Know the white, yet keep to the black. Know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal. It is in embracing both the yin and yang, equally, that we receive the world in our arms; and we become a pattern for the world. It is all about accepting the world as it is. In that way, the Tao never leaves you; and it is strong and luminous inside of you. You become like a little child. There will be nothing you can’t do, as you return to your primal self.

What does he mean by returning to our primal selves? Primal speaks of origins. Originally, the world was formed from the void, just like utensils are formed from a block of wood. Lao Tzu wants us to know the utensils, yet never forget the block. That is how we can best use all things.

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