The Tao begot one.
One begot two.
Two begot three.
And three begot the ten thousand things.
The ten thousand things carry yin and embrace yang.
They achieve harmony by combining these forces.
Lao Tzu: Chapter 42
The one is the beginning of being, which has its source in non-being or Tao. The two is, of course, yin and yang. The three is the three treasures: jing, qi, and shen, which can also be thought of as the three levels of existence ; spiritual, physical, and mental; which we contain within ourselves. The ten thousand things are the material manifestations or, simply, the material world.
To the Chinese, the universe is divided into polarities: yin and yang. In this way all elements are paired and balanced with each other. These elements consist of primal qualities: male and female, night and day, sun and moon, moist and dry, dark and light, fire and water. Through our awareness and experience of this interdependence, we humans remain in balance with the universe.
Originally, yang stood for the bright side of the hill; the side facing the sun. Yin stood for the shaded side away from the sun. The ancient Taoists, those natural philosophers of balance and change, used the concepts of yin and yang to symbolize the polarity of existence. Everything that exists can be identified either with yin or with yang.
The qualities of yin are darkness, water, cold, rest, inward or downward direction, stillness, receptivity, and what we think of as femaleness. The qualities of yang are brightness, heat, activity, upward or outward direction, aggressiveness, expansion, and what we think of as maleness.
Yet the yin/yang theory does not merely set opposites against one another. The well known tai chi symbol; one of the oldest symbols known to humankind and certainly one of the most powerful; shows the two primal forces of the universe, each enfolded within the other, each containing a piece of the other.
Just as all males have a female aspect, so do all females have a certain maleness (Jung’s anima and animus). There is no light which does not contain an element of darkness, and there is no darkness without its tinge of light.
It is said that yin and yang complement one another. That is, rather than opposing each other in primal struggle, they create each other, control each other, and even transform into each other. Alan Watts likens them to lovers wrestling rather than enemies fighting.
Hua Ching Ni uses another metaphor: the electrons’ tendency to propel themselves away from the nucleus of the atom; which is balanced by the force of the protons attracting the electrons to the center. Without this balance, the atom would disintegrate.
We all contain within ourselves qualities of yin and yang. The relationship of these two forces is not static, but typified by constant movement and shifting of power. At times our yin side asserts itself, at other times our yang predominates. No single aspect is right for every situation. Rather, we must recognize and be willing to work with the ever-shifting balance of power at any given moment.
Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty
Only because there is ugliness.
All can know good as good only because there is evil.
Therefore having and not having arise together.
Difficult and easy complement each other;
Long and short contrast each other;
High and low rest upon each other;
Voice and sound harmonize each other;
Front and back follow one another.
Lao Tzu; Chapter 2
By the act of contrasting we differentiate one thing from another. To the Taoists, nothing exists of itself but only in relation to something else. Even we ourselves, as independent and isolated as we often feel, exist only in relation to all other life forms on the planet. Viewed in this light, we may find solace, even strength, in the idea of the interpenetration and interdependence of all life. No man is an island, indeed.
By holding fast to this vision of unity and joyful diversity, we empower ourselves to live a life of harmonious and exciting engagement. By being sensitive to the shifting balance of our own yin/yang qualities, we are able to make proper decisions, conducting ourselves with greater integrity and foresight in our dealings with others.
The yin/yang theory is the original binary system. By combining three and then six yin or yang lines, the I Ching represents many different sets of reality; each one unique to a specific time and situation. Basically, the I Ching shows you all the forces at play in the present. In choosing how to respond to these forces, we create the future. Some I Ching teachers do not even use changing lines. They say that the future will be created in its time by how we use the present.
You might think of the I Ching as a tool for connecting to your Higher Power. Information is available to us at all times through what we might call our spiritual self or higher power. Yet most of the time we have so much static going on in our heads that we cannot access this information. By quieting our heart/minds (to the Chinese the mind lives in the heart), we are better able to hear the “still small voice within.”
Indeed, it is said that after one has used the I Ching for many years; applying oneself to meditation and to stilling the chatter of the mind; one no longer needs the I Ching; the information one needs is readily available at any time.
Until then, you will find the I Ching to be a wonderful tool for receiving information, guidance, and advice on a myriad of subjects. Just remember to approach it with a still mind and a quiet heart Ñ and its mysteries will be revealed to you as they have been revealed for thousands of years to rulers, sages, and students of spiritual cultivation.