Yin-Yang (yin =umbral, yang = bright)
This is the Chinese idea that all transformations arise from a dynamic interaction of two basic and complementary modes of existence.
The Yin-Yang cosmology harkens back to ancient Chinese philosophers (c. 500-200 BCE) who saw the world as an organic totality, where subject and object, self and other are essentially interrelated.
As John S. Major puts it:
The cosmos was “organic”; everything was related to and affected by everything else, without regard for mathematically or mechanically demonstrable cause and effect. No distinction was drawn between physical and mental phenomena, or between the “human” and “natural” worlds.¹
The Chinese characters Yin and Yang originally referred to the dark and bright sides of a sunlit riverbank.
A definite Yin-Yang school of philosophy arose around 305-240 BCE, attributed to Tsou Yen. By the time of Confucius, the Tsou Yen school had acquired scholarly and philosophical significance. Yin represented the Earth and, according to this schema, the associated elements of darkness, passivity, femininity, negativity and destruction.
Yang came to be associated with Heaven and all the associated elements of light, activity, masculinity, positive forces and creativity.
Kevin at GreatVessel.com adds:
I think the feminine and passivity were actually Confucian additions. Confucius was pretty much a misogynist.
A core quality of Yin in the bright and shadow / strong and subtle paradigm, was of manifestation.
A very good example of this is procreation – the man fertilises (Inspiration / Yang) but the woman manifests the life in growing the embryo. Seen like this Yin is very powerful and not at all passive. (Though of course it can be passive at times).
Similarly all the running about working and commuting or whatever that many of us do in the modern world is actually manifestation and is Yin energy activity, not Yang as many suppose.
I am not sure equating the quality ‘destruction’ to Yin entirely does the quality justice. Yin manifests and un-manifests by withholding nurture. So a harsh frosty spell cutting back the verdant growth is very Yin.
Destruction is much more a Yang principle. The lightening which the ancient Chinese believed shook into being the new was a ‘positive Yang Force whereas over done it becomes the lightening which strikes down the tree.
Both Yin and Yang therefore have positive and negative valences which are not to be confused with good and bad. That hard frost which clears the ground makes way for new growth too.
Similarly Yin is not the negative of Yang (another bit of spin implied by Confucians) – The two exist in creative harmony.
Studying the Dazhuan (The Great Treatise approx. 3rd Century BCE) clarifies a lot of this as does studying the First two hexagrams of the Yijing which are the two exponents of these principles.
The Yijing predates Ying Yang theory… indeed the Ying Yang principle probably grew out of it and in turn replaced the shadow / light names within it. This is certain when one realises that all of the hexagrams are in pairs (in the King Wen sequence which is the one commonly used). Thus hexagrams 1 and 2 are a pair as is 3 and 4 etc. It only takes cursory study to see that these are in fact Yang / Yin pairs. Pairs of inspiration and manifestation. The King Wen sequence is between 1600 and 1200 BCE depending on which historian you subscribe to.²
Apart from the ongoing scholarly debates, perhaps most important from a contemporary perspective is the idea of dynamic complementarity. The two complementaries of Yin and Yang are said to be in a constant interplay and all phenomena arise through their interaction.
One interesting aspect of this process occurs when one modality eventually flows into its apparent ‘opposite,’ which in the field of psychology C. G. Jung called enantiodromia.
The Yin-Yang idea has become a part of pop culture. Almost everyone knows its basic message. This is, perhaps, because the Yin – Yang cosmology underscores the unity of mankind and nature, as well as the importance of transformation. In fact, for the ancient Chinese the idea of change was key, as we find with the oracle of the I Ching (Book of Change), from which Yin-Yang theory likely developed.
¹ John S. Major in The Encyclopedia of Religion. Eliade, Mircea (ed). New York: 1987, Collier Macmillan, Vol. 15, p. 515.
² See full comment » https://earthpages.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/yin-yang/#comments