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.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 28, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, Lao Tzu revealed the great secret of the art of living, for good and bad individuals living together in community with each other. And, he talked about how the Master embodies the light. Today, he uses the principles of yin and yang to expand on this theme of embodying the light.
So, let’s begin by taking a look at the familiar yin yang symbol. It begins with a circle, which 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.
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.
If we were to include the good and bad from yesterday, and remember that isn’t a moral judgment, it is merely referring to whether you are good or bad at something, I suppose we would say that bad is yin and good is yang. But I want to be careful here. Because I don’t mean to suggest that yang is good and yin is bad. Yin and yang are opposites, but they aren’t at odds with each other. One is not better than the other. They are always in perfect balance. That is why if you are bad at something you should seek out someone who is good at it. And if you are good at something you should seek out someone who is bad at it. A master and an apprentice. That is how things balance out. That is the way things are.
Because the way things are is always 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 eternal 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, bad and good.
I want to make sure I am being clear that yin and yang are not in some tug of war where people need to pick sides. We are always being told to be positive. While being negative is frowned upon. Often people are afraid of the dark, when they aren’t complaining that the lights are too bright. Men are excoriated if they appear too feminine, while women are excoriated for appearing too masculine. The Tao achieves balance, harmony, and unity by using the principles of yin and yang. It isn’t up to us to choose sides. Some of the time I am more yin and some of the time I am more yang. I am not out of balance because of it.
This has been my long-winded way of explaining what Lao Tzu is saying when he says to know the male, yet keep to the female, To know the white, yet keep to the black, to know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal. Lao Tzu wants us to embrace both yin and yang, equally. That is how we receive the world in our arms. That is how we become a pattern for the world. And, that is how we come to accept the world as it is.
Do we want to embody the light? This is how we do it. If you receive the world, the Tao will never leave you; and you will be like a little child. If you are a pattern for the world, the Tao will be strong inside of you; and there will be nothing you can’t do. If you accept the world as it is, the Tao will be luminous inside you (there is that light) and you will return to your primal self.
What does Lao Tzu mean by returning to our primal selves? Primal speaks of origins. And, remember the Tao is always moving through us bringing us back to our beginning. The world, itself, is formed from the void. Just like utensils are formed from a block of wood. Lao Tzu wants us to understand what the Master understands. Know the utensils. But keep to the block. Then, you can use all things. Whatever the situation brings. Whatever people or circumstances cross our path on this journey of life.