What is the meaning of the Yin-Yang (Taiqi) Symbol?

wiseGEEK Writing Contest

The Yin/Yang Symbol: Dance of Opposites

Perhaps the most widely-recognized symbol of Daoist practice is the Yin/Yang (or Taiqi) Symbol: a circle divided by an inverted “S”, one side white, the other black, with smaller circles of the opposite color in each half.

The Taiqi Symbol in Terms of Daoist Cosmology

In terms of Daoist cosmology, this symbol belongs to the initial movement out of Unity/Wu-Chi/Dao and into vibration – into the field of opposites. This field of opposites is represented, in Daoism, by Yang-qi and Yin-qi – the primordial “masculine” and “feminine” energies, whose interpenetration gives rise to the five elements and, ultimately, the “10,000 things,” i.e. all the shapes and colors; plants, minerals and animals of the manifest world.

Yin and Yang Emerge Together

In the Daoist world-view, everything we see can be named as “Yin” or “Yang.” So, for instance, the sunny side of a mountain is Yang; the shadowed side in Yin. Sky is Yang, Earth is Yin. Expansion is Yang, contraction is Yin. This is true also with respect to the human body: the front side of the body is Yin, the back side Yang. The organs and meridians (pathways through which qi travels) also appear in Yin/Yang pairs: the Kidney is Yin, Bladder is Yang; Heart is Yin, Small Intestine is Yang.

Notice that the attribution of “Yin” or “Yang” to an object always occurs in relation to its “opposite.” What’s also true is that a given object might be the “Yin” half of a pair in one context, but the “Yang” half of a pair in another context: dawn is “Yin” in relation to the “Yang” of noon; but dawn is “Yang” in relation to the “Yin” of midnight.

The Human Mind & Pairs of Opposites

The Yin/Yang scheme is Daoism’s way of representing the tendency of the human mind to conceptualize (i.e. bring into existence) its “world” in terms of pairs of opposites, and then to enter into attraction/repulsion relationships with the “things” of this world. (In other words, to name certain things as “good” or “right” and feel a desire to acquire them; and name other things as “bad” or “wrong” and wish to avoid them.)

Daoism’s Unique Approach to This Issue

What makes Daoism’s approach to this tendency unique -- and potentially revolutionary -- can be seen within the Taiqi Symbol: while there is a pair of opposites (in this case the colors black and white) being represented, each element within that pair contains the seed of its opposite (i.e. the two smaller circles). Notice also the visual fluidity of the symbol: it is comprised of circles and curves, rather than parallel lines and right angles; which seem to imply movement, rather than stasis.

The Essential Nature of Yin and Yang

These visual attributes of the Taiqi Symbol are meant to remind the Daoist practitioner of the essential nature of Yin and Yang -- and, by extension, of all pairs of opposites. Rather than being distinct, fixes and/or rigid categories, Yin and Yang are mutually-supportive, mutually-arising, inter-dependent, and in constant motion. Each contains the essence of the other, and they are continuously transforming one-into-the-other. So, for instance: friends become enemies, and enemies become friends; summer becomes winter, and winter becomes summer; from the lowest of plains pushes up the highest of mountains, and the highest of mountains, over time, recede once again to flat plains; external action, taken to its extreme, transforms into quietude; and from the depths of stillness, movement quite naturally emerges.

Relaxing Into the Dance

To train in this kind of perception, Daoism teaches, is to become a bit more relaxed in relation to our conceptual frameworks, with the potential for not getting “stuck” in them. We come to know the manifest world as a kaleidoscope of patterns of change -- in constant motion -- and ourselves (also constantly changing) as part of this. So we can allow the pairs of opposites to appear, and to dance, without having an egoic investment in their particular shape or form.


If we are practitioners of Internal Alchemy, we invite an increasing intimacy between these pairs of opposites; finally allowing their interpenetration to be so complete that they dissolve one into the other: this is the “copulation” of Yin and Yang (or, in the language of Inner Alchemy, of the White Tiger and the Green Dragon) which – by dissolving the polarity of “self” and “other” – takes the practitioner back into the Mind of Dao, that primordial and ever-present Unity out of which the play of Yin and Yang originally emerges.

submitted by Elizabeth Reninger http://www.purplemistpoems.com