Yin-Yang – Concept, origin, principles, applications and symbol

We explain what yin-yang is, the origin of this concept and its applications. Also, what is its principle and how is it symbolized.

Yin Yang
The yin-yang proposes a vision of the world as a binary organization.

What is yin-yang?

The yin-yang It is one of the fundamental principles of Taoism or Daoism, a philosophical doctrine of Chinese origin, whose roots can be traced back to the 4th century BC. C.

Its terms mean “dark” (yin) and brilliant” (yang), given that express the duality that governs the elemental forces of the universe, which oppose and complement each other. It is commonly represented by the taijitu, a traditional circular emblem of two colors: black and white.

According to this philosophy, the opposing forces complement each other, giving each other balance:

  • The yin represents darkness, earth, feminine, north, left, cold, wet, passivity and absorption.
  • The yang represents the light, the sky, the masculine, the south, the right, the hot, the dry, the activity and the penetration.

Such a universal duality is, according to the philosophy of the Tao, the generating principle of all things.

Then both aspects (yin and yang) would be in balance in the universe and also within all things, including people; so that any notion of purity, stillness or absolutism is completely impossible. Furthermore, any aspect of existence can be seen through the perspective of the opposite, reversing its fundamental polarity.

This view of the world as a binary organization is common to many other philosophical currents, and often has correlates in fields of knowledge such as mathematics (as in the principle of Poincaré’s Duality) or even in traditional Asian medicine.

Origin of the yin-yang concept

The exact origin of the notions of yin (陰) and yang (陽) is unknown. Its traditional Chinese characters help to clarify the mystery, although they suggest that they can be formed from certain dualities in nature, such as hot and cold seasons, as suggested by the sinologist Marcel Granet (1884-1940). Because, both concepts likely originated in ancient Chinese agrarian religions.

In fact, in the oracular book I Ching (from around 1200 BC), known as the “book of mutations”, this type of dualism is already referred to in numerous aphoristic texts, in which the concepts of strength / weakness, rigidity / flexibility are organized or masculine / feminine through continuous and discontinuous lines, thus forming suitable diagrams for divination.

On the other hand, yin-yang appears among the doctrines of Confucianism, although its greatest importance resides in Taoism, in whose fundamental book, the Dào Dé Jiing (c. 400 BC), is explained in detail.

If this is true, it would have been the sage Lao-tse or Laozi, in the 6th century BC. C., who would have created this principle, as part of the formulation of Taoism.

Yin-yang principle

The yin-yang principle can be explained in the following propositions:

  • Yin and Yang are opposites and complementary, that is to say, that absolutely everything in the universe has an opposite that complements it, that gives it its reason for being and defines it, without for this reason being “pure” notions: there is a bit of yin in all yang and vice versa .
  • Yin and Yang are interdependent, that is, they cannot exist without the other, in the same way that there cannot be day without night.
  • Yin and Yang are inside everything, or what is the same, absolutely everything in the universe can be divided into its yin aspects and its yang aspects; but, at the same time, any of these aspects can also be divided into its own yin and yang aspects, and so on ad infinitum.
  • Yin and Yang are continuously consumed and generatedIn other words, they are at the origin of all things, forming a dynamic equilibrium: if one increases, the other decreases, and vice versa, in such a way that what we perceive as “imbalance” is only circumstantial and temporary.
  • Yin and Yang can be exchanged, that is, they can become each other, since yang exists in all yin and yin exists in all yang. There is always a remainder of one in the other.

Applications of the yin-yang concept

yin yang martial arts apps
Martial arts understand combat as a dance of opposites.

The concept of yin-yang can be applied conceptually to numerous areas of human knowledge, as a perspective to understand things based on the dualities that are their own and that constitute them. Thus, it is common to find it in:

  • Traditional chinese medicine, who understands the disease as an imbalance between yin and yang that can be remedied by restoring balance. Thus, for example, conditions related to yin would be treated with foods associated with yang.
  • It also applies to the doctrine of martial arts, who understand the collision of bodies during combat as a dance of opposites whose energies are also complementary.
  • Can be used to think human relations, up to a point, as long as a complementarity and reciprocity between opposites or between different personalities is sought in this way, which allows achieving a loving balance.

Yin-yang symbol

yin yang symbol
There are many versions of the yin-yang symbol.

As we have said, yin-yang is usually represented by the taijitu (太極 圖), a circular diagram in which two shapes stand out (“Fish”, in Chinese: 鱼), one black and one white, each of which has in its center a circle in turn, but of the opposite color. There are many versions of this symbol, but the most famous is the xiantian taijitu (先天 太極 圖) or “early taijitu.”