We are our symbols and, without compassion, the ego can easily have us make them be our worst enemy.
I am born and bred in New Zealand. Hence I am inculcated in The Yellow Peril by our English education system and general media. So, at best, like most New Zealand people, my attitudes were formed in derision and arrogant dismissal of “Chinese culture”. At worst I have been brought up to fear and loathe “China” as the worst kind of existential threat to our English notion of “civilization”.
New Zealand’s State broadcasters rarely, if ever, play the music of China and I have grown up and matured in a state of ignorance of the history, geography and Civics of this great region of the planet. Like many billions of people, I knew of the “Ying Yang” symbol but for my first half century I dismissed it as a quaint, irrelevant artefact of some ancient, inscrutable culture, even as a heretical, diabolical religious symbol.
In 2002 I began a cartoon search for the true nature of energy – see my brief description and links in the footnotes. This cartoon journey was to radically transform my understanding of the yin~yang symbol, so much so I had it tatooed on my inner wrist in 2016.
However to this day I still remain in vast ignorance of the wisdom of the region. There is little easy access to trustworthy sources of information in New Zealand. So I have chosen three Internet sources that seem in accord with my current understanding of our psychology~ physics. I have selected a few quotes from them in an attempt to supplement and enhance my reflections on the yin~yang symbol. I acknowledge their authors in deep gratitude, especially Robin R. Wang and Stefan Jaeger.
Robin R. Wang at https://iep.utm.edu/yinyang/.
Stefan Jaeger at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/221922302_A_Geomedical_Approach_to_Chinese_Medicine_The_Origin_of_the_Yin-Yang_Symbol
Robin R. Wang
The fundamental precepts of the yin~yang symbol of existence arose at least 2600 years ago in China and there are many stories of its origins.
We are all finite (mortal ) beings and many of these stories have a common theme: the yin~yang symbol arises from our search to find patterns of meaning in existence – to “connect the dots”, to piece together our fragmented insight into the ways of the universe, to transcend the limitations ego in each of us and be sustained.
Most people in the Anglosphere are inculcated in the belief that Zhongguo (China) is an insular, monolithic culture. It is probably more helpful to imagine it as a great flux of cultures existing between the Arctic circle and the tropics.
These cultures include Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism, which all manifest considerable compassion. Thus they can provide deep insights into the human condition, into the psychology~ physics of our existence.
In particular these cultures retained sufficient compassion to complement the exclusive, acquisitive elements of the ego that exist in all human beings. The inclusive qualities of compassion such as humility, generosity and honest inquiry better enabled them to find wisdom in rigorous observation of the universe rather than in self expression.
Thus they were more able to transcend the insistent denials and delusions of the ego of reality.
Thus they were more able to embrace the principles of physics, including the great guide we know as the Conservation of Energy Principle with its reminders that all forms, including all human beings, are continually transforming as part of the continuous universal transformation.
Quotes about the Yinyang Symbol with Brief Reflections.
Quote about the profound role of our senses.
“The yinyang is something one can see, feel and grasp through the senses.”Robin R. Wang
Thoughts, including words, form a trace element of our being. We are sustained in this human form in myriad, unimaginable ways, including via our electrochemical, thermal, microbial, nuclear, gravitational and other beings.
Quote about the origins of the yin~yang symbol in our solar system
“The first written record of using these two characters together appears in a verse from the Shijing (Book of Songs): “Viewing the scenery at a hill, looking for yinyang.” This indicates that yang is the sunny side and yin is the shady side of hill. This effect of the sun exists at the same time over the hill.”Robin R. Wang
“The Chinese calendar is lunisolar, incorporating elements of a lunar calendar with those of a solar calendar. It has been in continual use in China for almost 4000 years. The calendar was important in ancient China both as a guide for agricultural activities and because regularity in the yearly cycle was a sign of a well-governed empire whose ruler was supported by the Mandate of Heaven…
…The Taichu Calendar of 104 B.C.E. set the tropical year at 365 days and the lunar month at 29 days.”https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Chinese_calendar
Close observation, careful measurement and deep reflection are reflected in accurate, sustaining calendars. These measurements vary with the place on Earth and the sun’s changing orbit over the centuries. Our modern measurement is 365.256 days. Compare the 104 B.C.E. Taichu Calendar year averaging 365.25016 days.
Quote about the nature of creation
Robin R. Wang
Yinyang embodies the harmony of heaven and earth, manifests the forms of myriad things, contains qi to transform the things and completes various kinds of things; yinyang extends and penetrates to the deepest level; begins in emptiness then becomes full and moves in boundless lands.
Note the similarities between this ancient story and other ancient stories from cultures as geographically diverse as Hindu, Maori and, Australian Aboroginal peoples.
Observe also the significant similarities to contemporary story of the Big Bang:
“Today, the consensus among scientists, astronomers and cosmologists is that the Universe as we know it was created in a massive explosion that not only created the majority of matter, but the physical laws that govern our ever-expanding cosmos. ”
“The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model explaining the existence of the observable universe from the earliest known periods through its subsequent large-scale evolution”.
Quote about the psychology~physics of the human condition
“Despite the differences in the interpretation, application, and appropriation of yinyang, three basic themes underlie nearly all deployments of the concept in Chinese philosophy: yinyang as the coherent fabric of nature and mind, exhibited in all existence, yinyang as jiao (interaction) between the waxing and waning of the cosmic and human realms, and yinyang as a process of harmonization ensuring a constant, dynamic balance of all things.Robin R. Wang
As the Zhuangzi (Chuang-tzu) claims, “Yin in its highest form is freezing while yang in its highest form is boiling. The chilliness comes from heaven while the warmness comes from the earth. The interaction of these two establishes he (harmony), so it gives birth to things. Perhaps this is the law of everything yet there is no form being seen” (Zhuangzi, Chapter 21)…”
Existence involves paradox. As with energy, we are all vitally intimate with paradox and yet no one knows what it is. Paradox, being unknowable and unspeakable, forms perhaps our greatest existential mystery. It is inherent in all our experience of living even as it remains the secret of life.
Communication is paradox: any form is informed by all even as it informs all.
Physics is paradox: it is the ways even as it is study of the ways of the universe i.e. the act of study is the subject of study. Psychology and physics are of each other and cannot be untangled. This means the principles of the universe hold for each individual in their every action.
Quote about the nature of energy and changes of state
Thus qi, a force arising from the interplay between yin and yang, becomes a context in which yinyang is seated and functions. Yinyang as qi provides an explanation of the beginning of the universe and serves as a building block of the Chinese intellectual tradition. In many earlier texts, one may observe how yinyang generates a philosophical perspective on heaven, earth and human beings. Chapter 42 of the Laozi says that “everything is embedded in yin and embraces yang; through chong qi [vital energy] it reaches he [harmony].” It is through yinyang’s function as qi and the interaction between them that everything comes into existence. Zhuangzi also speaks about the “qi of yin and yang”: “When the qi of yin and yang are not in harmony, and cold and heat come in untimely ways, all things will be harmed.” (Zhuangzi ch. 31) On the other hand, “when the two have successful intercourse and achieve harmony, all things will be produced.” (Zhuangzi ch. 21)Robin R. Wang
Energy is the universal potential, all of which is active.
Energy continuously transforms all forms and is so bounteous it can usefully be considered a constant.
The Conservation of Energy Principle holds – energy is a universal constant and continuously transforms all.
( Compare “The law of Conservation of Energy in physics: energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another.”
All forms are finite and any form only exists while its energy inflow and outflow is in equilibrium. Without this essential equilibrium, the form transforms i.e. undergoes a change of state.
All forms are finite and any form only exists while its energy inflow and outflow is in equilibrium, i.e in harmony. In other words, without this essential equilibrium, any form, regardless of its size, is transformed and undergoes a change of state.
For instance, all forms, no matter their size and state, a subject to continuous warming and cooling.
Any form undergoes warming-up and tends to become more active and gaseous, even plasmatic, if the rate of its warming is greater than the rate of its cooling.
Conversely, any form undergoes cooling down and tends to become more inactive and solid if the rate of its cooling is greater than the rate of its warming.
In the yin~yang symbol is a story of the creation of life;
the duality (paradox) we experience in existence;
assurance we can transcend the immoral dictates of the ego with compassion;
and subtle, cosmic reminders that all things pass and nothing lasts forever.
We are our symbols and this matters because they simultaneously reflect and generate our worldview, for better and for worse. Thus it is wise to explore our most potent symbols to ensure they best align with the principles of physics and sustain humankind.
Revelations from this inquiry challenge beliefs we hold dear. So it is helpful to appreciate how subtle these matters involving the human condition are and how they are best understood in compassion.
This is because they always involve that mercurial, ingenious, acquisitive, deceitful element of our being: the human ego.
The ego or the “I” is born of the division of our consciousness with self-consciousness and it thrives in division and alienation. Thus the nature of the ego is such that it is relentless in its denial of reality – this being the continuous, universal transformation, the cosmic flux we are all part of.
Without compassion, the ego can easily have us be our own worst enemy, no matter how wise our individual psyche, no matter how civil our society, no matter how profound our religion.
It is the compassionate element of our being that allows us to embrace our perceived errors and limitations so we are able to learn from them, enjoy greater truth and be more in harmony with the universal ways.
The Doughnut Economics symbol and the Te Reo Maori Doughnut inspired this exploration, which now includes the Yinyang symbol, the Greenhouse World symbol and my own attempt to create a wise, sustaining symbol: the Mobius Loop of Life.
First draft July 2021
**Footnote re Cartoon Revelation of Yin~yang symbol.
In 2001 I concluded all our self-styled “Energy Experts” were lethally ignorant of the nature of energy and created a cartoon character called Bonus Joules as a symbol of “energy efficiency”. I characterized it as an open and generous character in contrast to our prevailing English culture’s belief that “energy efficiency” is about using less energy i.e. deprivation and loss.
I sent the cartoon character forth to search for the truth and, after about 120 cartoons became aware Bonus Joules always had a pompous and overbearing companion on this journey of exploration. So I created such a character, called it Junk Joules, and sent them forth together into Chapter Five – Land of The Other. One day, after about 50 cartoons, I was walking past my drawing table and suddenly realized that together they formed a “Yin Yang” symbol.
Now I knew nothing about the meaning or origins of this famous symbol and did a search. I was elated to discover its ancient, empirical origins in our solar system because this indicated the cartoon search was revealing true insights into the nature of existence i.e. energy efficiency is sustaining practice involving the constant search for harmony with the flows of energy, not deprivation and loss. In other words, the English notion of energy is fatally flawed.
I had not seen the yin~yang symbol had been staring me in the face for weeks on end. It had been literally at the tip of my drawing pen all that time. This experience supports the accounts of how the yinyang symbol was gradually realized in China too as a psychological phenomenon and wise guide to existence.
See below Bonus Joules and the Knowledge Economy Chapter 4 Energy Rules!
Eye to Eye with the Other
Bonus Joules meets the Great Knowing Unknown.
The Minister of Energy is in panic as “energy fails THE ECONOMY”. An official suggests consultants are called in. Fascinating! Energy is as large as existence. Our own universe pulses with a myriad of energy forms. This is the test. Has the Minister of Energy taken human form or is a human claiming to be transcendent of life?
So the “Minister of Energy” is but a human. What drives a person to assume such a title” Vanity? Ignorance? Power seeking? Money? I have little time to reflect on the wonder of human folly. The door bursts open. I am swept along in a swelling tide of eager Ministers and officials. We congregate on the steps of Parliament. Already the consultant has arrived.
The consultant feels very familiar to me. It is as though I have known this being all my life. The consultant is obviously well known and on first name terms with the Honourable Members of Parliament and officials. They seem a little overawed and their faces shine with excitement. Expressions of gratitude and platitudes flow.
I stand alone, largely unseen. Some blink, puzzled, as though they see through me to my shadow. A few pause as though they see an apparition in front of them, and then walk through me. I stand at the centre of conversations that flow around me and never truly touch me. Suddenly I am embraced in a huge hug.