The earliest mention of the Great Ultimate or Tai Chi was in the Book of Change or I-Ching. According to legend, it was the Zhou dynasty’s first emperor, Zhou Wen Wang, who wrote it. Thus, I-Ching is also referred to as Zhou-Yi.
In Chinese, the “I” in I Ching means ‘change’ and hence as its name implies, the I-Ching asserts that life is a never ending series of changes. It is derived from the Chinese characters of the sun and the moon that respectively symbolizes yang and yin (positive and negative).
The I Ching has a passage that states, “The Great Ultimate has Changes that brings about the Two Elements. From the Two Elements comes the Four Phenomena while from the Four Phenomena comes the Eight Hexagrams, etc.”
The Great Ultimate or Tai Chi actually means the genesis, the beginning, or the earliest of all things and events. Some ancient Chinese people refer to it as the Universe.
In the I Ching, there is a part that says “The Way is the one yin and one yang.” This implies that everything and every event that has occurred, is occurring, and will occur in the universe, is due to the united and yet opposing energies of yin and yang.
This explains why Tai Chi engenders the Two Elements of yin and yang. If you carefully observe a Tai Chi diagram, which in Chinese, is referred to as the Two-Fishes diagram, you would see a circle separated into two equal sections. Tai Chi represents the circle, which is the entire Universe, and within this circle, there is the Yin and Yang or the Two Elements.
In Tai Chi, the separation of yin and yang implies the Universe has two opposing elements, which is symbolized by the black (yin) section and white (yang) section. However, the separation is a curved and not a straight separation implying that the two contrasting forces actually complement each other that helps to shape a whole circle.
Initially, this suggests that while these opposing forces are divided – they are also united in a manner that brings about a total completion or wholeness. The united and at the same time, opposing energies of yin and yang form the foundation of the philosophy of I-Ching. The concepts of I-Ching are used in Tai Chi, with the yin and yang forces being the most basic concepts to illustrate both the world’s meta-physical and physical aspects.
Secondarily, the curved separation implies that the Universe is in fluctuating balance or more specifically, the yin and yang elements in the Universe are in fluctuating balance. This is reflected in the I-Ching that states “The yang comes into being, when the yin becomes extreme and vice versa”.
Observe again the I-Ching diagram. If you go in a right direction around the diagram, you will notice that as one element grows more and more and attains its peak and the other elements start to grow in place. For instance, moving along the black side’s diameter, you may notice that the black becomes bigger and bigger and then suddenly decreases and the white this time starts to grow bigger and bigger then suddenly shrinks. This implies that as one force becomes extreme, the other force will start to grow.
Its Meaning in Life
In life, the dynamic behind yin and yang interaction simply means we need to have balance in all aspects of our lives, and not only applied on one or just a few. We need to have balance between the spiritual and material, between friends and family, between personal life and work, etc. The list is long. If not, disharmony will rule our lives.
Thirdly, within the Tai Chi diagram, the decreasing and growing changes of yin and yang suggests that a person’s life is in constant flux and this implies there is constant shift between low and high, sadness and happiness, sorrow and joy, bad and good, etc. In I-Ching, this is the principle of dualism.
There are always dual principles at play in all things and events. In life, there is no such thing as absolute bad or absolute good. What really matters is the amount of bad or good.
For instance, just because someone has no bad quality in him means that he/she is completely good or if a person has no good quality means that he/she has never done any ‘good’ at all. At some point in time, a “good” person may have done small bad deeds, and sometimes, a bad person may have acted or have performed small good deeds.
Also there may also be a negative side to some good things and conversely, some bad things may have positive sides in them. It all boils down to how we perceive the situation. This essentially is the meaning of the dualistic principles in I-Ching.
Going forward, each element in the I-Ching diagram contains a dot that is opposite its color. The white section has a black dot while the black section has a white dot. What does this mean? According to the I-Ching, From the Two Elements come the Four Phenomena. This verse implies that there is always an element of yang within the element of yin and within the element yang can be found some elements of yin as well.
It’s Importance in Life
The dot with an opposing color to a force it is in means that there always will be some opposing aspects in any things or events. Thus, in bad, there always will be some element of good and some good in bad, just like there’s some yang in the yin and yin in the yang. This is most clearly observed in sports where someone will win while others will lose. In good news, there will some bad news within, within joy, there’s some amount of sorrow, among winning, there’s also losing, etc.
People will always experience a blend of high and low, victory and defeat, joy and sadness, and good and bad in their lives. In life, positive and negative always come in one package.
If we want to truly learn in life, we need to give and take – and acknowledge the nature of life for what it is. Graciously and bravely accept the bad and revel in the good things. Doing so will help us live a more harmonious and balanced life.
The yin and yang principle of Tai Chi became a significant influence to the ancient Chinese. It was eventually integrated into their lifestyle, arts, religion, art of war, medicine, theories and philosophy. It has also become a part of Daoism, which some erroneously claim is where Tai Chi actually sprang from. The reverse is actually true.
Knowing the concepts of I-Ching can help people better understand and appreciate the nature of life itself which can help them face daily challenges and chores in a much more manageable and balanced way. Wishing you good fortune, harmony and success in your life and to paraphrase Obi-Wan-Kenobi, may the Force of Tai Chi be with you…always!
Nelya de Brun is a licensed acupuncturist in Boynton Beach, FL., practicing acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and Western medical pathology. She is also the founder of Classical Oriental Medicine, LLC.