YIN/YANG I

It took me a long time to warm up to yin and yang. The stench of religious belief and metaphysical hocus-pocus was just too strong. But I have clearly had a change of heart; though I have only really just taken them for my own purposes. And still I have not studied their uses in Chinese philosophy in any significant depth. I cannot, therefore, pretend to represent them in their traditional meanings or contexts. But that, of course, has never hindered my blabbering in other instances.

It might be good to begin by saying that there are no doubt lots of very helpful and insightful aspects to yin/yang philosophy even when embedded in the stinkiest of beliefs. And I have obviously profited from them.

Zhuangzi only explicitly speaks of yin and yang three times, and each time through the mouth of another and only in a reference to “internal yin and yang”, a principle in Chinese medical theory.

Some commentators have suggested that they are together one of the “six atmospheric breaths” (qi) upon which the sage chariots in her wandering. (1:8) For the purpose of establishing my point of departure, let’s assume that they are.

The sage wanders in non-dependence, and this renders all things and circumstances equal and interchangeable. If there were things or cosmic principles called yin and yang, the sage would have no need of them except as something upon which to “ride atop”. But she can do that with any- and everything. They are interchangeable. This is her freedom.

The existence or non-existence of a metaphysical yin and yang is therefore absolutely moot. Just as the existence of metaphysical Dao or qi (ch’i) is moot.

In my usage, therefore, yin and yang are terms descriptive of psychological orientations. They are no more “real” than any other dialectic—they “exist” only as descriptive of a relationship between things.

There is value, however, in making reference to a hypothetical yin and yang as cosmic principles, just as there is in referencing metaphysical Dao. Dao is the big Question Mark—not the big Answer. This is its value. So too with yin and yang—they are useful concepts by which to interpret the world, but only as long as we do not render them substantively “real”.

Now, after all this yanging I’m ready for some yinning.

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