What is Yin and Yang?
Yin and Yang is a fundamental concept in Chinese philosophy and Korean philosophy, as well as in traditional Oriental medicine. According to Taoism, Yin and Yang are two opposite, yet complementary forces that govern the dynamics of the Universe, everything from the minutest microbes to the largest galaxies. According to Taoist cosmology, Yin and Yang exist in all things and all phenomena in the Universe. The term Yin refers to the shady side of a mountain and the term Yang refers to the sunlit side of a mountain. However, they do not remain fixed and even change into one another. Think of it this way: As the Sun travels west, the shady side becomes sunny and the sunlit side becomes shady.
They nurture and restrain each other
While Yin and Yang refer to polarities in all aspects of the Universe, they are not dualistic opposites of each other. In order to clearly understand these two forces, it is important to distinguish this Eastern concept from the traditional Western notion of duality.
According to Taoism, nothing is purely Yin or Yang. Everything consists of varying degrees of Yin and Yang. When one becomes extreme, it is replaced by the other or simply transforms itself into the other. Think of the four seasons. In spring and summer, the temperature continues to rise and the warmth of the sun continues to intensify until the summer peaks. Once the heat reaches its climax, it slowly decreases. The temperature begins to go down and the seething heat starts to lessen its grip on earth. Nature prepares itself for harvest and repose.
According to Taoism, spring and summer are Yang, while autumn and winter are Yin. Yang gains momentum in spring and reaches its peak in summer. Once Yang becomes extreme in summer, it starts to lose momentum. As the summer nears the end, equilibrium is achieved between these two forces. As the autumn starts, it is the energy of Yin that begins to prevail. Yin continues to intensify until its power peaks in a freezing weather in winter. After Yin reaches its zenith in winter, its power begins to decrease and ultimately it gives into Yang and thereby, spring starts anew again.
Yang is ascending, expanding and warming energy that promotes development and growth, while Yin is descending, contracting and cooling energy that promotes condensation and maturity.
Almost everything in the Universe can be understood in terms of Yin and Yang. If there is light, there is darkness; if there is a man, there is also a woman; if there is noon, there is midnight; if there is warmth, there is cold; if there is summer, there is winter; if there is life, there is death. In general, anything that is active, light, expanding, dry, warm, external, ascending tends to fall under the category of Yang, such as the sky, the sun, men, day, fire, spring and summer. Conversely, anything that is inactive, dark, contracting, moist, cold, interior and descending tends to fall under the category of Yin, such as the earth, moon, women, night, water, autumn and winter.
Yin and Yang are interdependent and can be discerned when they are contrasted against each other. There is warmth because there is cold, and a man exist because there is a female counterpart. If there were only one gender, we would not have terms like “male” or “female.”
While almost everything can be explained in terms of Yin/Yang, their qualities should be understood to be relative, instead of being absolute. For example, between skin and blood, skin is Yang and blood is Yin. However, between blood and bone marrow, blood is Yang and bone marrow is Yin.
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A balance between these two forces is essential for the existence of all matter.
Let us think of a balloon. The shape of a balloon is made possible because of a perfect balance in Yin-Yang proportions. In case of a balloon, Yang represents the air that is expanding and pushing the surface of the balloon, while Yin represents the rubber that is contracting to retain the air inside. If this balance is broken, the balloon will either burst or shrink.
Let us also think of the earth. The earth is surrounded by air that has a tendency to ascend and expand. Yet, the air is restrained by the planet’s gravity that pulls everything to the core. Due to the perfect balance between the air, which is Yang, and gravity, which is Yin, the earth can remain in existence.
As you see, this simple principle of balance applies from a balloon to a planet. The same principle applies all the way to our solar system and galaxy!