The Theosophical Forum – January 1951

THE YANG AND THE YIN — Allan J. Stover

The disk of the Chinese Yang and Yin Monad and the eight diagrams composed of single and broken lines surrounding it are well known to many; as is the fact that the unbroken lines and the light half of the disk represent Yang or spirit, and the broken lines and dark portion of the disk represent Yin or matter.

Those who have made further inquiry may have learned that there are several interpretations of this fascinating symbol and that a lifetime could be devoted to the subject. A well informed Zen Buddhist once showed me a large volume of commentaries on the Yang and Yin trigrams of Fu Hsi with the remark — "It is very difficult and few even among the educated Chinese can understand it."

Unfortunately that which was intended as an aid to the intuition has become a maze to befuddle the intellect.

Briefly, the Yang and Yin symbolize that duality which is present throughout the manifested universe, and the philosophy of which it is a part is based upon a profound knowledge of both inner and outer nature. The word Yang (Giles, Chinese Dictionary) carries the significance of light, spirit, the positive masculine element in nature, and is representative of the expansion or outbreathing of the universe. Opposed to this is Yin, which is representative of darkness, matter, the negative or feminine element in nature and the contraction or inbreathing of the universe. Both qualities were developed simultaneously from the Great Monad, and by their continual interaction of light and darkness all things are produced and cosmic harmony is preserved.

This symbolic system of the Orient is not fancy or mere philosophical speculation, but is based upon nature herself. The researches of Baron von Reichenbach on magnetism and the vital force made during the last century, demonstrated the presence of what he called plus and minus odile in varying proportions in everything. The primitive Indians of Southern California still retained a classification of plants, animals and men, sun, moon and stars, under two divisions which they designated as solar or lunar, land or water people.

Returning to the thought of the Chinese — one man may have the quality of Yin predominant in his nature, another that of Yang, while a third may have the two nicely balanced. A man who is ill, may owe his difficulty to a congestion of Yin in his nature, and may recover if given an herbal remedy which is strong in the opposite or Yang quality, reinforcing the Yang in his system and thus restoring equilibrium.

It is not difficult to think in these age-old terms, providing we do not carry them too far, for many have doubtless known them in former lives. Students of The Secret Doctrine will see in the evolution of the trigrams the same story of the emanational unfolding from the Boundless to the complexity of a teeming cosmos, as is contained in the Stanzas of Dzyan.

The interpretation of the Yang and Yin diagrams as an ideographic system of cosmology seems to underlie the archaic philosophy as an undertone, from which the more intricate details unfold to the inquiring mind. It is well to remember that we are dealing not with words but with the elements of nature herself, as depicted in fitting combinations of unity and duality in their several interrelations. We may trace the evolution of these diagrams as they develop and increase in complexity; growing as does the world itself, from within-without, much as the stream of life descends from spiritual planes through stage after stage of physical concretion to the world as it is today.

The more one studies, the more it becomes apparent that all Creation Myths, if they be genuine, stem from the same primeval trunk of esoteric teaching. It is not surprising then if a careful examination of the Chinese Creation Myth does show the same profound significance underlying it.

In the beginning, the Illimitable, the soul or heart of Heaven T'ien Li, awakened the quality of finiteness in sleeping space and produced the "Great First" or as more often called the Great Monad T'ai Chi. The "Great First" began to move and by rotation, divided along the diameter producing the principle of light or Yang; simultaneously the appearance of light called forth its opposite or darkness which is known as Yin. The primeval Yang and Yin thus produced by their continual alternations of light and darkness brought all things into being.

In the words of Dr. Williams, "Heaven was formless, an utter chaos; the whole mass was nothing but confusion. Order was first produced in the pure ether, and out of it the universe came forth; the universe produced air, and air the Milky Way." (Dr. S. Wells Williams, Professor of the Chinese Language and Literature at Yale.)

The terms "curds" and "Milky Way" are often used interchangeably in old Creation Myths, and refer to the "curds" of Space spoken of in The Secret Doctrine, as in the following quotations:

From the ONE LIFE formless and Uncreate, proceeds the Universe of lives. First was manifested from the Deep (Chaos) cold luminous fire (gaseous light?) which formed the curds in Space. — 1, 250

And again, speaking of the primordial elements, H. P. Blavatsky says:

Those were formed from "the curds of the cold radiant mother" and "the fire-seed of the hot Father" who "are one," or, to express it in the plainer language of modern science, those elements had their genesis in the depths of the primordial fire-mist — the masses of incandescent vapour of the irresolvable nebulae. —1, 543

The separation of the disk or egg of the Great Monad and the formation of the primeval Yang and Yin, in Chinese Occultism; the division of the formless mass of Chaos in the pairs of opposites in the Greek myth; and the appearance of a dot within the circle, followed by the line across the diameter as given in the Proem to The Secret Doctrine, are all statements of the same truth.

In the words of the great authority Herbert Giles:

The Yin and Yang — the primeval forces, developed the Great Monad, by the interaction of which the whole universe has been produced.

If we examine the dark and light portions of the design we find a small dark spot or "eye" in the white Yang, and a light "eye" in the Yin, for each portion of the great duality has something of the other within it. In other words, every Yang has within a bit of Yin, and every Yin its Yang. A statement which is not only true occultism but typical Chinese concept as well.

On the other side of the world, the Creation Myth of the Zuni Indians of New Mexico relates how at first all beings dwelt in the midmost center of space in the "city of mists," and how after long ages the creatures spread out in the six directions North, East, South, West, Above and Below; and how each group as they left the midmost took representatives of each of other directions with them that nothing might be lacking anywhere.

After the separation of the great egg or circle of the Great Monad, the formation of the four figures took place. The two principles Yang and Yin, placed one above the other formed the "four exemplars."


1) T'ai Yang (large Yang) symbol-1 corresponds to the sun and warmth in nature;

2) Shao Yin (little Yin) symbol-2 corresponds to the moon and cold in nature;

3) Shao Yang (little Yang) symbol-3 corresponds to the stars;

4) T'ai Yin (large Yin) symbol-4 corresponds to the planets in nature.

After the four figures, the eight are formed by adding an extra line to each design, and from the eight, sixty-four are made by multiplying successively each of the trigrams by itself and one of the other seven in turn. symbol-5 It is of interest that in the eight trigrams arranged about the egg of the Great Monad, the position of North is occupied by Earth symbol-6 while opposed to it in the South is Air symbol-7. The East is represented by the element Fire symbol-8, and in the West is Water symbol-9; the four forming a cross. Later it became the custom to transpose Air and Water for purposes of fortune telling.

To the people of old China, the Great Monad was a map of the universe, for the belt of the zodiac was also divided into quadrants which were presided over by the Four Royal Stars; the Azure Dragon in the East, the Vermillion Bird or Phoenix in the South, the White Tiger in the West, and the Tortoise or Black Warrior in the North. The nature of each of these mythical creatures was indicated by the structure of the trigrams occupying corresponding positions in the diagram.

The Great Monad was well known in Japan and Korea, and its meaning was practically identical with that in China. In Korea, the design was adopted as the national emblem and was depicted in red and blue, the colors of royalty and the East, region of the morning. The Tah-gook as it was called in Korea meant "The Kingdom of the Morning." Research has shown that the design of the Tah-gook has been used in Korea since ancient times and has suffered less change there than elsewhere.

The Chinese people lived much closer to nature than we do ourselves for they held that the veritable spirit of all life waxed and waned with the cycles of the sun and moon. Thus to be born at the time of an incoming tide was considered fortunate since it was believed that all the forces of nature were rising at that time.

From ages immemorial, Man has sensed the truth that he must live in harmony with the forces of Heaven . . . with natural law. ... To the Chinese — it is well to remember — the planets and the constellations are the abiding places of sainted heroes who rule the heavens and exert continuous influence upon the course of human destinies. . . . Climatic change is directly related to the moral
conduct of the people. Through the sun, moon and stars such climatic changes are produced.
      — Chinese Astrology, Los Angeles, Calif.

To the old Chinese as yet untouched by the blight of western civilization, nature is Father and Mother, and thus he strives to live in harmony with all that lives. It is to be hoped that something of the old wisdom survives the present turmoil of ideas.

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