Thursday, June 14, 2012

You Must Balance Your Yin And Your Yang

Ever since I can first remember recognizing the yin-yang symbol, I've been interested in it.  When it was first introduced to me so very many years ago, its symbolism simply meant a balance between darkness and light, where within each there is exists a small part of the other.  No darkness without light, and vice versa.  I always had the impression that somehow, through bringing balance to one's yin and yang, one achieves internal peace, though I never quite understood why.

Well, even without any actual deeper understanding of the symbol, I've managed to doodle some version of this little guy on pretty much every notebook that I've had, as well as on homework assignments, chalkboards, whiteboards--pretty much on every surface that I can find to write on.  Deciding to have more than just a superficial association with it, I've taken some time to do bits of research here and there about it (read: looked at the same few Wikipedia articles again and again), read a bit of the Dao de Jing (didn't really understand it; need to read it again), and have looked into more of the philosophy behind the yin-yang.  Much of what follows will be personal conjecture/opinion, so if you have your own opinion, feel free to leave a comment and we can have a discussion!  Here's some of what I've gotten so far (again, Wikipedia heavy!)

The Yin and the Yang refer to more than just specifically darkness and light—they represent complimentary yet polar opposites in nature: female/male, darkness/light, low/high, cold/hot, water/fire, earth/air, birth/death, etc.  Through their interaction, the world (meaning not just the Earth, but the Universe in its entirety) exists as we see it (the five elements and ten thousand things) and made whole.  Male and female produce new life, darkness and light produce our cycle of days, cold and heat produce the range of temperatures that make life sustainable, etc etc.    
The 5 elements (fire, earth, air,
water, wood) and their associations

The two eternal partners lie within a circle, which itself apparently represents the Tao (or Dao).  I just learned of this today while reading about it!  It's interesting, because I've never once actually noticed the circle being as a distinct component of the whole symbol. I just always took it for granted as being a part of the symbol itself and that the yin and yang together make a circular figure.  This is even more interesting to me, as the tao itself (as I have interpreted it) is at its base naturally that way: it's not a distinct part of the world, it simply represents everything that is.  Here we have the same trend—the circle isn't really a distinct part of the symbol.  It simply just IS the symbol, within which yin and yang dance their way through creation and destruction.

Out of these comes the concept of bringing balance to the world, both internal and external to oneself.  The way that it works (I think) is that the yin and yang represent the balance that the world should possess.  Note that that's not really making a moral statement in the sense that action X is intrinsically bad or intrinsically good.  Instead, if you were to attach any sort of moral code to this, it'd be that actions should strive to move toward and maintain balance throughout the world and balance within oneself.  It is through that balance, then, that one achieves what is Good.

The taijitu/yin-yang and ba gua
Accompanying the yin and yang are 8 trigrams composed of solid and broken lines called the Ba Gua.    In all the years that I spent drawing yin-yangs on various media, I never once suspected that it had partners.  However it does, and I first noticed the existence of these trigrams while watching the popular anime series Naruto.  To be briefish about it, Naruto is a story about ninjas, friendship, and the turbulent, militaristic world within which they all live.  Within this world, there are adults and kids practicing various types of jutsu (ninja-related martial arts and what is essentially magic) of which there are three types: ninjutsu (the tangible "magic" component to the series utilizing one's internal energy, or their chakra, to manifest changes in the physical world), genjutsu (types of mind control that, while not tangible, are still quite devastating), and taijutsu (various styles of hand-to-hand combat).  Amongst the taijutsu users there are two general schools: Strong Fist users (most people) and Gentle Fist users (a very select group).  Strong Fist users employ hard punches, kicks, and other physical techniques with the purpose of causing great external, visible damage (e.g. broken bones, dislocated joints, knock outs).  Conversely, Gentle Fist users practice what looks like combative Tai Chi, and use a combination of precise, flowing, open-hand strikes and focused amounts of chakra to cause great internal damage (e.g. damaging internal organs, blood flow, chakra flow).

Hyuuga Neji about to start Eight Trigrams Sixty-Four Palms
aka Hakke Rokujuuyonshou
One of the Gentle Fist users, Hyuuga Neji, is an adept at Tai Chi and developed a technique called the Eight Trigrams Sixty-Four Palms technique (Hakke Rokujuuyonshou).  When he performs this technique, a projection of the taijitu and ba gua appears beneath him, and if his target is within the range encompassed by that circle he proceeds to thoroughly rock their shit (it really is quite lovely to watch).  Forgive the digression.

Anyway, I saw that a few times and I thought to myself, "huh, that's interesting.  What are those symbols around that yin-yang?  Is that some taoist thing?"  From there I abused Google, as is my nature, and through various jumps of topics found out quite a bit which I had not known before.

I first found out that these symbols were called the ba gua.  I further found that the symbols each had names and that these names had different associations depending on the system with which you're defining your taijitu+ba gua combination.  The one seen above is the King Wen (Later Heaven) system, while the other one that I know of (all praise and honor is to Wikipedia) is the Fuxi (Earlier Heaven) system.  According to Wikipedia, the symbols and their associations in the King Wen system are as follows:
 Li火 FireSummerClinging中女 Middle Daughter南 SouthRapid movement, radiance, the sun.
 Kun地 EarthSummerReceptive母 Mother西南 South­westReceptive energy, that which yields.
 Dui澤 LakeAutumnJoyous少女 Youngest Daughter西 WestJoy, satisfaction, stagnation.
 Qian天 HeavenAutumnCreative父 Father西北 North­westExpansive energy, the sky.
 Kan水 WaterWinterAbysmal中男 Middle Son北 NorthDanger, rapid rivers, the abyss, the moon.
 Gen山 MountainWinterStill少男 Youngest Son東北 North­eastStillness, immovability.
 Zhen雷 ThunderSpringArousing長男 Eldest Son東 EastExcitation, revolution, division.
 Xun風 WindSpringGentle長女 Eldest Daughter東南 South­eastGentle penetration, flexibility.
As I had said earlier, each trigram is made up of three parts (as is indicated by the designation of TRIgram), where each part is a broken (representing yin) or solid (yang) line.  Here, we see where the various combinations of yin and yang producing the different components of nature, people, and existence in general.  Why it's only 3 lines per ba gua symbol is beyond me, but that's the way it's done.  Maybe as I read more about this and taoism (which is another article in and of itself), I'll learn why.

On top of all of THAT, the eight trigrams can be configured together into 64 more combinations called hexagrams (probably why the technique is called Eight Trigrams 64 Palms Technique, but I digress), each representing a different philosophical concept.  I won't list them all here, but I will provide a link (link).  Together with the ba gua and the taijitu, you have all of life, the Universe, and everything.

I think that I'll end this already-lengthy article right here, as I've hit what I consider to be the major points of what I've learned about yin and yang.  In the future, I hope to explore more about these symbols, the various ba gua configurations, taoism, and zen in general.  Maybe, with all of these at my back, I can move one step closer towards true understanding of existence and peace.

Isn't that what we all want anyway?

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