Ru Men

From Wuji to Yin and Yang

Taiji TuWhat is there before the outset?  And how does something come from nothing? Those are the deep philosophical questions posed by the diagram on the left.


Wuji - unpolarizedThe initial emptiness, the empty circle, is called Wuji in Chinese (the characters on the right). In this context it is translated as "without polarity". Strictly, there is nothing, not even the boundary of the circle, but in making it the object of discussion we symbolize it. Of course we should not, because "nothing" isn't, because the name that can be named is not the true name. But we need it as a point of contrast with what is.


Taiji - great polarityAnd that is the primary axis; being and nothingness, to borrow Sartre's term. In the Chinese cosmology, progressing to the middle symbol, this is the arising of Taiji (characters on the right). This term means "great polarity" and is a reference to the basic division of phenomena into Yin and Yang. At the most fundamental level Yang is what is, present energy; and Yin is what is not, receptive context. In Taiji these two aspects are still so tightly bound that there is nothing between them, only centred rotation.

Polarization is the principle action of the universe, even the apparently empty vacuum does it! In quantum physics pairs of opposite particles, such as an electron and a positron, can spontaneously come into existence for a brief instance. The very fabric of the universe supports the arising of Taiji. As in Taiji, the virtual particles of vacuum polarization are so closely bound that, without additional energy, they cannot be separated. However, when the polarization occurs in the context of a magnetic field, interaction can happen and, as a result, the virtual pair can separate slightly.

Yin and Yang

Yin - abstract receptivityOnce Yin and Yang separate, in the final step of the diagram, the multidimensional lattice of experience quickly unfolds and the separate objects of manifest reality arise. Yin and Yang are fundamental concepts in both the Yijing and Taiji Quan. Yin (upper character on the right) literally means the Yang - abstract creativityshady side of a mound; this is the dark principle, receptive and passive, it is the background, the space that allows movement. Yang (lower character on the right) literally means the sunny side of a mound. This is the light principle, creative and active, it is the foreground, the energy that moves.

Taken together, Yin and Yang are the two primal forces that act in the universe. These two forces arise together and work together; not in opposition, but as complementary components. They are mutually dependent in a constantly shifting balance. Like the light on a hill, as the sun moves, which side is Yang and which side is Yin shifts with the passage of time. Like the positive and negative charge, one cannot exist without the other. Like day and night, both are necessary.

We take this progression, from Wuji to Taiji and then to Yin and Yang, as the fundamental model, and apply it to all the different dimensions of perception - we polarize each dimension in as many ways as arise. For example, in concrete terms, the muscles of the body are Yin when relaxed, and Yang when exerting; the body is Yin when still and Yang in movement. But movement itself can be polarized: when movement is contracting it is Yin, and when expanding it is Yang.

Yin and Yang then, are relative terms, not absolutes. Nothing is Yang in and of itself, it can only be seen as Yang in contrast with some other state, which is Yin. On the next page we explore how the Yijing represents the patterns of Yin and Yang in its symbols.