Monday, July 27, 2015

Yin and Yang Defined

Yin and Yang

The above symbol of yin and yang is actually called Tai Chi.  Tai Chi means “the supreme ultimate reality.”

There is also a concept called Wu Chi.  Wu Chi looks like this:

It is just an empty circle, void, meaningless.  It also comes to represent chaos or non-order or the inconceivable.  It is only when this wu chi divides itself into two distinguishable poles (yin and yang) do we derive meaning, form and order.

Yin is classically written like this 阴.
Yang is classically written like this 阳.
The Chinese characters yin and yang are both comprised of two separate characters.  The character yin has the character for moon 月 in it.

The character of yang has the character of sun 日 in it.  This gives us an important clue into what these two words are meant to signify.

When literally translated, yin means “the shady side of the hill.”  Yang means “the sunny side of the hill.”  The yin side, or shady side, is associated with things that are at rest, introverted, calm, receptive, passive, cold and dark.  The yang side, or sunny side, is associated with activity, extroversion, excitement, unrest, creativity, chaos, action, heat and light.

To the casual observer the yang side of things may seem preferable, but it is important to point out that these two opposites depend upon each other.  They need each other to define their very existence.  All things are relationships.  What is up without down?  What is pleasure without pain?  What is awake without asleep?

Though our culture puts a high emphasis on activity and action, without rest and calm we will get ill and burnout.  Furthermore, what does a picture of a black bear at night drawn on a black piece of paper look like?  Nothing.  There is nothing to see.

However, if we put that picture on a white piece of paper we know instantly what it is.  In other words, we need a concept of ugly in order to distinguish beauty.  We need a concept of a hard day so we can appreciate a good day.

We live in a world of opposites joined together inexplicably in a great mysterious union.  This forms a mutual alliance between these two seemingly opposed energies.

Yin and yang are not a duality.  By duality we refer to the way Western Culture and the English language creates a kind of opposing duality in one’s mind.  Things are always good or bad, up and down, pretty or ugly, happy or sad.  This is not the way the Chinese language is constructed.

All seemingly opposite phenomena are really different sides to the same thing.  Day and night are always dependent upon each other to give the other meaning.  You cannot have saints unless you have sinners.  These seemingly opposing things are really united, inexplicably.

Trying to live a life only on one side of this balanced equation is a formula for disaster and disease.  Flowing within this inherent structure that comprises the phenomena of existence is a useful piece of advice.

As we will see, these two basic types of qi are further subdivided into the 5 Chinese Elements and then even further divided (though this is beyond the scope of this book) into the 8 Trigrams of the Ba Qua and then further into the 64 Hexagrams of the Ba Qua.  The division keeps going and going until the numbers reach so high into infinity that their very hugeness renders them obsolete and meaningless once more.  Try to conceive of a trillion of something.

Things cease to have meaning after they grow beyond a certain size, so we are plunged back into the Wu Chi from which once again yin and yang are formed and the process repeats itself.

“To shrink something, first allow it to expand.  To expand something, first allow it to shrink.”
– Lao Tzu

Our conscious mind is similar to this process.  Before we are born our conscious mind is present but it is empty, just like Wu Chi it is formless, a vast sea of potentiality but lacking a fixed point of reference from which to distinguish its' self.  As we prepare for our birth, our conscious mind begins to move and thrash.

As we open our eyes for the first time we are blinded by LIGHT.  In defense, we shut our eyes quickly.  Because we have seen light we now know darkness.  We take our first breath.  Air rushes into our lungs and then rushes out.  In and out. Yin and yang.  We feel hot, cold.  We learn good and bad.  The two poles of yin and yang are firmly established.  The world of Tai Chi becomes manifest with our senses and the dangers of separateness begin to take root.

“In separateness lies the world's greatest misery;
in compassion lies the world's true strength.”
                                                                  ― Siddhārtha Gautama

As we gain more knowledge and experience, our conscious mind expands and further subdivides, separates and categorizes.  Our attention is spread out into worrying about our careers, relationships, money, our health, bills, etc.  Our conscious mind just keeps spreading and dividing and growing larger and larger.  As time goes on we feel spread thin and tired.  Nothing seems very clear anymore.  Right and wrong become confused and indistinguishable.  Our consciousness has grown like a weed and now obscures the original garden of simple yin and yang.  Life has plunged itself into a modern, meaningless void.

Realizing that our conscious mind has gotten “too big for its own britches” is our signal that ENLIGHTENMENT is fast approaching.

Enlightenment is a word often associated with Zen yet widely misunderstood in American culture.

Enlightenment means liberation from one’s self.  It means that we have realized that something has gone wrong and we vow to bring this wrong back into balance and harmony.  This realization is the state of enlightenment.  The active participation in rebuilding of one’s self.  Enlightenment is a spring cleaning.  It is the embracing of change on all levels.  It is an affirmation of life.  Enlightenment is the conscious act of saying yes to life, I will play!

Recognizing the mess and chaos usually stirs a person into trying to clean it up.  We try to find a way out of this growing confusion and convolution.  So we grasp onto religion and meditation or mind/mood altering drugs as a way to resolve or deal with this frightening mess.

However, the very thought of this Enlightened moment where we recognized the mess plunges us right back into to spreading and dividing our consciousness.  Then the second enlightenment hits “Holy shit!  There is no way out of this flippin’ mess!!  And the harder I try to clean it up, the worse it becomes!”

This is a KEY turning point in our conscious evolution.  Knowing we are stuck.  At this point, we must put on the brakes and stop moving forward grasping at more and more understanding.  We must start to move backward along the path we just traveled.  Unlearning as we go.
We move backward towards our original understanding of yin and yang when the world was first distinguishable to us.  Moving forward only causes more confusion and subdivision.  Only by moving backwards, by stripping away and simplifying our lives can we arrive at this final enlightened state of being.  We moved from a state of complexity to a state of simplicity.  It is only then that we gain the understanding and insight we seek.

Everything is yin and yang.  The linear mind longs to move forward, progress, onward, bigger, better, faster.  This leads to only more confusion.  Man is overworked.  He builds a computer to lessen his load.  However, with the spare time now available, he works harder, makes more progress, and gets tired again.  Invents a faster, better computer.  Work becomes easier again.  With the spare time, he takes on more projects, and more work, soon he is worn out again, a newer, better computer is invented…on and on and on it goes…

The solution is to move toward the beginning.  Simplify.  Stop making complexity where there is none.  Life is simple, easy and free for the giving.  All that we need to do is step into the dark forest and realizing that there is no path, we make a path where one never existed.  This is the call to adventure that, in effect, IS life, traveling an unknown path, rich with surprise, mystery, suffering and joy.  Leaving a fresh wake behind us where other travelers will point and say, “That was her path.  Well traveled!”  

If we could only remember this.  We all knew this truth inherently at one time in our lives but quickly lost sight of it.

An Orphean boy once said “The instructions for life are scratched onto our mother’s wombs when we are still yet to be born.”  Like ancient cave paintings pointing us toward the direction of the roaming herds, we knew the way.  But somehow we forgot the instructions.  We hastily exited the cave, directionless.

Regain this valuable insight.  Search your mind, it is still there.

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