Yin and Yang — Two Sides of the Coin

Balance is Everything

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The Balance of Yin/Yang

Relativity is a feature of Taoism that compares and identifies opposites as two parts of a whole. While the west would consider good and bad to be two opposing absolutes, the Tao focuses on the idea that everything is relative to the perspective in which a thing is viewed.

What might seem to be the long way around might end up being shorter in the end.

The Yin/Yang concept advocates balance in everything.

  • Yuval Noah Harari discusses this in his excellent book, Homo Deus.
  • In the modern world, there are both parts of this concept and he illustrates this as Humanist vs Science views.
  • The Yang of science is balanced by the Yin of humanisim. The Yang gives us power while the Yin gives us meaning and ethical judgment.

Yang is reason, Yin is emotion.

Harari describes the humanist view of life as a string of experiences. Humanism sees life as a gradual process of inner change from ignorance to enlightenment through experiences. Experience develops discernment and our moral experience sharpens.

In modern society, people often only see the Yang — the reason and logic of their world. There is a need for more balance toward the Yin energy of emotion.

The Tao Te Ching

is a classic Chinese text written by Lao Tzu. It is considered the main text of Taoism and has strongly influenced eastern religions including Confucianism and Chinese Buddhism.

The written text dates from the fourth century BC but the sayings are thought to have originated earlier and passed down as part of a story telling tradition.

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When you read a book written in another language, the translator is a very important person.

Victor H. Mair was the translator of the version I have. He’s a respected American sociologist and professor of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania.

This translation of the Tao Te Ching is based on the discovery of ancient manuscripts at Ma-wang-tui in Hunan, China (1973). These thirty six manuscripts were written on silk and included two nearly complete texts of the Tao.

His focus was on preserving the spiritual mystery of the Tao Te Ching so that the reader remains able to interpret the meaning their own way.

Did Lao Tze exist?

The historical existence of the author, Lao Tze (meaning Old Master), is widely debated and many believe that the Tao is a collection of sayings that may be attributed to one or more old masters.

Some believe the sayings originate from travelling philosophers who travelled the Chinese empire, bringing their ideas to followers.

Several features of the Tao support this theory of oral tradition. They are frequent repetition of phrases and metaphors in the text.

This book has an introduction by Huston Smith. He believes the Tao influenced all of East Asia’s mystical consciousness, providing it with a distinct social emphasis.

Another of Huston Smith’s books is discussed here:

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The Power of Te

The Tao brings social and moral concerns to the forefront by placing Te (integrity or power) at the centre of discussion.

It presents a strategy where rulers control people by keeping them uneducated and passive.

The author relates the book to the Bhagavad Gita, through the similarities between Indian Yoga and Chinese Taoism.

Taoism is a philosophy that stresses living simply and honestly and in harmony with nature.

It is often referred to as The Way.

The First Principle is a basic idea that everything in Nature is all part of the same whole.

A couple of major themes are presented in the Tao.

One is water and another is wu wei.

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Wu wei can be translated as no wasted motion.

It’s the way the Tao suggests we behave in human affairs. Wu wei can also be described as no interference or letting things follow their natural course.

This concept is found to apply to daily actions in life, as well as governance, warfare and commerce. For a leader it might mean relying on delegation to others and having trust that they will follow through.

This counsel is found in Chapter 17; “The supreme rulers are hardly known by their subjects”. For an individual it could be performing work without an ulterior motive for doing it.

Water is used as an analogy to describe how the Tao succeeds in the end.

Water is yielding, and patient. It can be gentle and respectful and makes room for the rocks in the stream. It accommodates by becoming the shape of the container it is poured into and it seeks the lowest level, so it is humble. Over time, water carves deep valleys into mountains.

This analogy is clearly seen in Chapter 78; “Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than water. Yet, to attack the hard and strong, nothing surpasses it.”

In the same way, the Tao gives council. If you align your daily life to the flow of the Tao with the philosophy of wu wei, you receive grace and vitality in complete balance.

The Tao Te Ching encourages people to live without attachment.

It is a source of comfort, direction and beauty for those who delve deeply into this popular text.

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