by Stefan Stenudd


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Yin and Yang

Yin and Yang. Brush art by Stefan Stenudd.

The Polar Opposites of Ancient Chinese Cosmology


In I Ching, the ceaseless change is caused by the dynamics between yin and yang, the polar opposites of ancient Chinese cosmology. Yang stands for heaven and Yin for earth. Light and dark, warm and cold, and so on. Anything in the universe bascially consists of these opposites, and the balance or imbalance between them.



       Yin and Yang originally refer to the shady side and the sunny side, like on a tree: One side of its trunk faces the south and most of the sunlight, whereas the opposite side faces the north and is mostly in the shadow. That may have been the very first polarity observed by those Chinese thinkers, long ago, who came up with the idea.

       If so, that can also explain the principle that neither Yin nor Yang is ever in a completely pure state. There's always some Yin in Yang and vice versa, like the trunk of a tree gets some light also on the north side and occasional shade on its south.

       The famous image symbolizing Yin and Yang shows it by the white dot in the black field and the black one in the white field, as can be seen on the image above (a drawing I made long ago with brush and ink, in the Eastern fashion).

       This image is called T'ai chi (or Taiji), The Supreme Ultimate. The grand name is because the symbol shows the inner workings of everything in the cosmos - the dynamics between Yin and Yang.

       In I Ching, Yin and Yang are represented in a very basic way, by a line that's either solid or broken. The solid line represents Yang, and the broken one Yin:


Yang line.
Yang line.


Yin line.
Yin line.


       These are combined into eight trigrams (three lines each), which are then combined into the 64 possible hexagrams. Here are the eight trigrams:


The eight trigrams.
The eight trigrams.

More about the trigrams here.







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YIN and YANG

The basic polar opposites of the I Ching explained.


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Stefan Stenudd, author of fiction and non-fiction.

Stefan Stenudd


About Me
I'm a Swedish author and aikido instructor. In addition to fiction, I've written books about Taoism as well as other East Asian traditions. I'm also a historian of ideas, researching ancient thought and mythology. Click the image to get to my personal website.