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|
|Hyuuga Neji about to start Eight Trigrams Sixty-Four Palms|
aka Hakke Rokujuuyonshou
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:
|離 Li||火 Fire||Summer||Clinging||中女 Middle Daughter||南 South||Rapid movement, radiance, the sun.|
|坤 Kun||地 Earth||Summer||Receptive||母 Mother||西南 Southwest||Receptive energy, that which yields.|
|兌 Dui||澤 Lake||Autumn||Joyous||少女 Youngest Daughter||西 West||Joy, satisfaction, stagnation.|
|乾 Qian||天 Heaven||Autumn||Creative||父 Father||西北 Northwest||Expansive energy, the sky.|
|坎 Kan||水 Water||Winter||Abysmal||中男 Middle Son||北 North||Danger, rapid rivers, the abyss, the moon.|
|艮 Gen||山 Mountain||Winter||Still||少男 Youngest Son||東北 Northeast||Stillness, immovability.|
|震 Zhen||雷 Thunder||Spring||Arousing||長男 Eldest Son||東 East||Excitation, revolution, division.|
|巽 Xun||風 Wind||Spring||Gentle||長女 Eldest Daughter||東南 Southeast||Gentle penetration, flexibility.|
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?