In the Yi Jing (I Ching), Confucius writes, “一阴一阳之谓道”, which means —“The Two, Yin *Yang, are called The Dao”. The Two are not separate and should, therefore, be thought of as one single unit called Yin Yang.
The Chinese understand changes that take place in nature as Yin Yang; even if they may not outwardly understand the process, it is an innate part of their worldview, culture, and language.
It is not as easy for us to understand Yin Yang but with some effort, it is not far out of reach. Yin Yang is a relation-based expression of interactions that take place in and around us. It is an innate aspect of the universe and the cycles at play. We only need to make a slight shift in perspective to observe the power of Yin Yang.
*Yang is pronounced yahng.
The interactions of Yin Yang are far-reaching; constantly changing, moving, and evolving. We may consider Yin as feminine energy, but it is not female — it is cool, dark, contracting, and concealed. Yin represents a scoundrel personality type. Yang energy, on the other hand, is masculine, but not macho and not male — it is warm, bright, expanding, and unconcealed. Yang represents a respectable personality type.
As you may be able to sense from the above explanation, each expression of Yin has a counter or opposite expression of Yang. Without Yin, Yang cannot exist, and vise versa. Just consider day and night. In your mind, you can easily see the earth rotating and know that when it is daylight –Yang, for us, it is nighttime –Yin, for those on the other side of the planet. Thus, it’s easy to recognize Yin Yang in action as daylight becomes night and continues the cycle of days.
“The Western mindset has a tendency to perceive division and separation, which may cause us to falsely view the world around us through divisions and separations rather than relations and connections.”
The Perfect Heaven-Earth Balance
The balance between Heaven and Earth is the ultimate balance of Yin Yang. Earth is Yin and Heaven is Yang. The cycles in nature respond to energies engaging the moment, the elements, and circumstances. As one energy reaches a pinnacle, it will switch to the other. That could be a smooth process or an uncomfortable progression. Yin progresses to Yang and Yang becomes Yin.
“物极必反” ”When energy reaches a pinnacle it must switch”The Yi Jing
If Yin energy is continually produced, the progression moves further into Yin. At this point, Yang energy must be introduced to bring about balance. It may be understood through the example of transitioning out of Yin, —such as anger, to Yang energy —such as joy. This transition requires sensitivity to the prevailing energy and the wisdom to initiate the change by not becoming gripped or blinded by the Yin energy. which could cause a vicious cycle until it “burns out” — progressing to Yang. The cycle continues, and the wise person strives toward balance.
The Yi Jing易经
The Yi Jing was created over five thousand years ago, prior to the time the Chinese had a writing system. It began from a single-line symbolism representing The Dao. The Chinese expression 一画开天 — “The Single Line begets the universe”, refers to The Single Line or Taiji (太极) –The Dao. In the Dao De Jing, Lao Zi explains that Dao gives way to The Two: Yin Yang. Therefore, The Single Line contains all things Yin Yang, thus all of creation.
The Yi Jing is an ancient oracle based on The Single Line, the Taiji. It comprises two symbols that represent Yin as two short lines – –, and Yang as one unbroken line –. These two lines, when combined as one become The Single Line, –, Taiji or The Dao, God, the Universe, or any concept that expresses the all-encompassing, ultimate, or the concept of ’outside of which nothing exists’.
It’s important to note that there is no division within Yin Yang, rather a transition of giving way to or begetting, as the two remain one in constant flux. Therefore, we say “Yin Yang” and not Yin and Yang. The Western mindset has a tendency to perceive division and separation, which may cause one to falsely view the world around us through divisions and separations rather than relations and connections. The Chinese mindset is based on connections that are based in Yin Yang interactions established on a concept of balance of contrary elements explained in the Yi Jing.
The Yi Jing is not a book of divination, rather it is an oracle that spawns wisdom and sparks enlightenment beyond the often narrow and two-dimensional perspectives to which our conditioning binds us. The Yi Jing offers a unique way to see progressions and transgressions in our lives, relationships, and careers, from Yin –a cool and contracting perspective; and Yang —a warm and expanding perspective. It is also applicable to communications, relationship building, and negotiation practices.
War and Peace in the Yi Jing
During a conversation with Zi Gong, one of his most devoted disciples, Confucius shared the skills required for good leaders. The core of this wisdom is based on the “Yang” quality of honesty.
Zi Gong inquired, “What is required to properly govern a country?”
Confucius replied, “One must have plenty of foodstuffs, military arms, and the people must trust the government.”
Zi Gong asked, “If one of these should be done away with, which of the three would be the first choice?”
Confucius responded: “Military arms.”
Zi Gong asked again, “What if another was to be removed?”
Confucius said, “Foodstuffs.” Then he continued, “In the end, if all die, the people will not trust or support the government. Consequently, if a person is not honest or trustworthy they will not be accomplished.
From the perspective of Yin Yang we may view war as a product of Yin personality, inward contracting, cold, self-centric, and closed – the emotion of war is anger or hatred. Peace, on the other hand is achieved from a Yang personality, expanding, warm, outward reaching, and open –the emotion of peace is inclusive. In a situation of potential war, the Yi Jing guides us to recognize the importance of balancing Yin energy in order to not allow it to reach a point of a dog chasing its own tail, where the vicious cycle of blind hatred and raw greed sends us over the precipice of a waterfall, into churning waters below. If that happens, the violence of the compounded Yin energy requires time to work out its fervor and warm before balance is achieved.
War and peace in the Yi Jing can be understood through two of the 64 Gua, also known as hexagrams; the Masses Gua and the Affable Gua. The expression “比乐师忧” — “The Affable Gua brings joy and the Masses Gua brings sorrow”, tells us that potential suffering is in store when we don’t consider the wisdom of the Masses Gua and joy is in store when we follow the wisdom of the Affable Gua.
Interestingly, these two Guas are inverted one from the other achieving a Yin Yang countering effect. Both are made up of the same trigrams: Earth and Water, but they are switched. The Masses hexagram, is also called “water in the earth” and the Affable Gua called “water on the earth”. Earth represents smooth change or growth and water represents danger or wisdom.
The Chinese have a long history of war and fierce battles between both friends and foe; they understand the destruction, suffering, and loss of life and wealth war brings.
Water in the Earth – The Masses Gua
The basic wisdom of the Masses Gua is getting through a bottleneck without going to battle. When water is in the earth it tends to be constricted and experiences pressure. This warns us of potential danger; such as a situation of potential war, where there is a combination of pressures and stresses that lead to potential miscalculations or poor decision making in a battle. The leader is the single Yang Yao (burgundy line) positioned second from the bottom. The remaining five Yin Yao represent soldiers, scoundrels, and the many challenges a leader faces to gain the support of the masses and to make wise decisions about war. Decisions like choosing trustworthy Generals and officials who support in governing.
The Yao second from the top is a key position in this Gua; this position represents important leaders or personnel. But, because it is Yin energy, it exposes new challenges or problems that could lead to choosing a scoundrel, someone who is not trustworthy or may have weak strategies for success in battle.
However, winning a battle may not be as important as avoiding it. Perhaps it’s best just to ‘not lose’. Not losing doesn’t mean winning. And if a battle is won, it should not be celebrated, as it may return more challenges from the opponent. The Yi Jing suggests gliding by with a sense that the battle was not lost as better than celebrating a battle won.
仁着无敌 “A person of good character has no enemies”Meng Zi
As Confucius alluded to in his conversation with Zi Gong, the actions of a leader are watched closely by the people and it is the people who decide if the leader is to be trusted or not. If the leader does not gain the trust of the people or enlists generals who do not work for the people, it will be the beginning of their downfall.
Water on the Earth – The Affable Gua
When water is on the earth it has an expanded area to move and is not constricted like in the earth. Water nourishes the cycles of life that support existence. The Affable Gua comes after the Masses Gua, which may be following a battle fought or circumvented. It suggests that we nurture supportive relations, much like the expression “求同存异” — “Focus on the similarities and save the differences”, which supports avoiding clashes and learning the value of softer actions such as following and helping others. These are the relationships that will guide us going forward. Strong and supportive relations spawn opportunity whereas weak and shallow relations stifle growth and development.
We are all dependent on others in order to achieve our goals. If we desire others to support us, we must also support them. By doing so, we create a cycle of success based on the simple concept of “what goes around comes around”.
One major difference between the US and China is that the Chinese are more relationship-based in tasks and Americans are more task-based in relationships. What that means is Americans put more importance on the task than the individual. This is not to our benefit when engaging with China from any angle but especially from the angle of business, government, and diplomacy.
The Chinese have a long history of war and fierce battles between both friends and foe; they understand the destruction, suffering, and loss of life and wealth war brings. For this reason, the Chinese avoid conflict and value friendship and harmony in relationships.
A consequence of their long battle laden history is one of being strategic. Opportunity is to be grasped and when the Chinese vie for opportunity they fight with softness rather than force. Force only kicks in when there is no other choice, an expression from the Three Kingdoms historical novel, “逼上梁山”—“Forced up to Liang Mountain”, expresses this posture. The expressions “以其人之道还其人之身” —“Dishing back what was given”, or “以毒攻毒” —“Fighting poison with poison” also give light to a practice that can be taken advantage of when practices are not in line with expectations of goodwill and friendship.
When someone feels disrespected from their cultural perspective, it can create a myriad of responses. Many times, the initial act of disrespect may come unintended but the response is not. Therefore, the Affable Gua instructs us to be sensitive outside our own borders and walk lightly to avoid conflict, maintain social harmony and well-balanced relations.