What is the root of polarity in man and the universe at large? We are a soul/body entity; no different from the fount of our existence. There must be one primal source of the life-force animating everything. We know that electricity and magnetism are dual in operation, comprising positive and negative charges or energies. Neither could exist were only one pole active, but when both powers function the potential bipolar system receives a form of expression; that is, it comes to birth. Our earth is a magnetic ball, the duality operating from the north and south poles, the globe itself being the condensation, as it were, of a magnetic field which surrounds and extends a distance from it. Within this arena of flowing forces there is a continuous interplay of attraction and repulsion of small particles, these minute elements being also polarized. On the cosmic scale so are our sun, the other stars, and various newly recorded phenomena such as quasars and pulsars. The very problematic aspect of gravitation may be due to our blindness to the duality of which it is one side. But the whole operation of polarity is really the One as it manifests itself through the qualities of spirit and substance.
The Chinese classics term this duality as yang and yin, the primal manifestation within hun-tun, an egg-shaped, subjective form or idea in a condition of chaos, i.e. in an unorganized state — not disordered or in total confusion as we define the word today. This egg of heaven-earth essence at the moment of 'creation' divides into two — yang, the limpid, objective heaven, and yin, the turbid, objective earth. The Indian scriptures tell us that at the beginning of any new cycle of existence there first appears the Divine Germ of a universe. Then, energies pour through it as laya center or neutral passageway, to condense into dualities of spirit and substance.
Since what seem to us to be units of matter are really aggregates of yet smaller components, such as electrons, protons, etc., we may safely assume that the elements of these, too, on their own planes of experience, are dualities of spirit and substance. Thus we come to the thought that everything that is tangible to us acts as a duality; and also that even the atom is not something hard and fast, but is really the expression of an atomic life — a being functioning through its own kind of consciousness and a material vehicle.
If we turn our focus from the small to the large, we find the heavenly bodies exhibit motion — this was for the Greeks a sign of life. Since the motion seemed to be regulated, exact and harmonious between them, these old philosophers called the various sky 'travelers' theoi or gods. They also distinguished between the celestial body and the entity within it. The sun's orb, for instance, was Helios, and its indwelling spirit Apollo. After we consider all available evidence, we cannot but conclude that the idea of bipolarity is universal. The flow and ebb of our ocean tides but repeat the outbreathing and inbreathing rhythm of the creative deity, the Father-in-Heaven; or the sweeping into active life of countless universes born of the unmanifested potential that infills the vastness of Space.
We ourselves are like molecules in that immensity. Even in our physical part we see dualities — there is the automatic side: our breathing and heartbeat cycles; the circulations of blood, lymphatic and other streams in the body; our responses to the daily and seasonal rhythms, such as day and night, summer and winter. Then there is the volitional facet of our selves, compounded of willpower and the faculty to receive, send out and reflect on thoughts; and, above all, creative imagination, the dynamic aspect of our being that quite obviously cannot be a mere property of matter.
The human mind also functions as a polarity as it inclines to the spiritual factor in our nature or to the other pole of mechanical reasoning which often degenerates into rationalizing and literalism. The old Egyptian terms of Ba and Ab — the immortal soul and its reflection indicate the mirror-image quality of the mind's poles. But beyond these are more refined qualities of being originating nearer to the universal divine.
Life is a unity; and while it finds expression as a polarity of spirit and substance, the two blend together, for they consist of numberless streams of beings, multitudes of consciousnesses whose substantial vehicles are themselves made up of entities of lesser degrees of expression, large or small relative to any one stage. This term relativity, given a specific meaning in physics, but applied here with a philosophic connotation, supplies a key to the problem of one life and many living beings. For life is all-permeating. Its currents flow through beings everywhere, and it uses one basic pattern to manifest, the differences between them being merely due to scale proportions. In other words, living beings are lesser or greater particles animated by consciousness — we have no evidence at all that there exist any strands of unconnected life forces. The earth, for example, is a biosphere of entities interlocking to make a whole, all deriving their sustenance from the planet.
But when we limit our view of life to the polarities through which it operates, we lose sight of its inherently unitarv nature. As instance of this is our habit of referring to life and death — by placing these two natural occurrences in this way, willy-nilly we come to perceive them as opposites, and from there it is a short step to assume that when we 'die,' there is an end to life for us. It may be the end of a chapter, but not the end of the whole book. In this case the pair of opposites rather comprises birth and death, for we are born into the earthly phase of life and we die from it, but life itself is a continuum. In like fashion day and night may be separate phenomena to us, but the globe as such merely turns upon its axis and for it the process is one unbroken motion.
Similarly, if we concentrate on the polarities of electricity or magnetism, we see only half of the picture. We have been able to utilize these forces, and as a result achieve a spectacular technocracy. But this knowing how to accomplish the feat does not give the answer to why the polarities are, nor what it is that expresses itself through the two complementary aspects.
Taking this all in all, we can see why the notion of separateness is and has been the one heresy for the Buddhists. One of their great scriptures deals with the subject of the 'Void,' and space is shown to be full of consciousness, while our so solid-seeming material world is 'empty,' because its appearance deceives us — as the electron-scanning microscope makes quite clear. A piece of wood or metal is really mostly holes! This duality of "the fullness of the seeming Void and voidness of the seeming Full" is a subject upon which many ancient sages have reflected without exhausting the theme.
The universe we are aware of through our senses, and any instruments we may use to aid them, is but one tiny segment of Infinity. Strange as it may seem to those of us reared on the view of vast, 'empty' spaces in the cosmos, there can be no gaps anywhere; so when solar or planetary systems seem to begin out of nowhere, it may well be that there has been an outpouring from a different range or wave length of spirit-substance than we are at present familiar with. All the 'black holes' in space, the quasars and pulsars, the areas from which our radio-telescopes pick up radiations though we do not yet have visual readings from there, acquire places in a cosmos that has limitless expressions of quality and substance.
Lao-tzu's classic Tao-teh-king on the face of it deals with polarities in human conduct and approaches to life. It presents the way of wu wei, usually translated as "not striving," but this is surely too passive an interpretation for a work that has had a strong impact for more than two thousand years. Dr. Isabella Mears, by breaking down the components of the ideograph into their elements, shows the term has another meaning. Wu wei then yields the thought of "striving through the power of Inner Life," or through the "Spirit in man." Lao-tzu's philosophy is not based on a quietist or negative point of view as the critics make out. Rather he juxtaposes 'inner life' and 'possession,' the thirst for things outside us. The theme of Life for him is not a mere quiescence, but an inner calm which is the opposite of the pomp and show, materialism and ownership, that many people desire and pursue.
Awareness of this inner life requires strenuous steadfastness, for it is oriented to the good of all, not the self-centered achievement of an individual. When Lao-tzu counsels against the trappings of power and material success, he is speaking of the orientation of our endeavors in Life. We may lose ourselves in the multimyriad polarities, or we may find ourselves in the One Life.
(From Sunrise magazine, July 1971; copyright © 1971 Theosophical University Press)