“The theory of Yin and Yang is an element that has been part of the philosophical current of Taoism (and ancient Chinese philosophy in general) for thousands of years but also, recently, has been incorporated into western pop culture and the New Age beliefs. In fact, we have even tried to incorporate this concept into holistic therapies not based on psychology or medicine based on scientific evidence.”
Yin and Yang in Taoism
When we speak of the theory of Yin and Yang, we are not referring to a scientific theory, but to a framework of thought related to the tradition of Chinese philosophy several thousand years ago. It is, to put it in some way, a theory very blurred and supported by very abstract concepts, something normal considering its antiquity. In addition, the concepts of what Yin and Yang are can not be understood without taking into account what Taoism is and what the historical context in which the fundamental ideas of this philosophy appeared was.
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Although Taoism as a cohesive religion appeared around the third century AD, the writings on which it is based are attributed to a philosopher known as Lao Tzu who is believed to have lived approximately in the sixth century BC. However, as in the case of Homer, it is not clear whether it is a mythical character or not: its name means “old master”, something from which it is easy to relate it, for example, to one of the archetypes of The ones Carl Jung talked about.
The original Taoism was a philosophy based on metaphysics that addresses issues both about what is the nature of what exists (animals, humans, seas, rivers, stars, etc.) and what must be done, ie the moral . According to the writings attributed to Lao Tzu, what is right to do emanates from the natural order of things, so nature and morality are one thing. To act badly, therefore, is to “deviate” from the path through which the change in nature takes place when it remains in harmony.
The road: Tao Te King
With what we have seen so far, we have many of the basic ingredients of Taoism: the concept of change, the concept of harmony and the idea that the bad thing is to deviate from the natural “way”. In fact, the name of the only book attributed to Lao Tzu is known as Tao Te King: tao means “way” and you, “virtue”.
Following the ideas of Lao Tzu means accepting that nature changes constantly, that there is a path or path through which this change occurs in harmony with nature, and that virtue is not to alter this harmony, to let the world change. itself. Thus, the way in which this “path of virtue” is to be followed is called wu wei, which means “no action”. Do not alter what flows naturally, so to speak.
If Karl Marx understood philosophy as a tool to change the world, Lao Tzu held the opposite idea: the path of Tao is not to alter the universe from personal desires and goals based on need; One must be guided by simplicity and intuition while renouncing ambitions.
After all, philosophizing about the Tao can not lead to anything good, because it is conceived as a metaphysical entity that is beyond the human intellect, and trying to reach its essence from thought could damage the natural order of the universe, what sustains everything that exists.
The eternal complements of Yin and Yang
Like the Greek philosopher Heraclitus (and all the pre-Socratic philosophers in general), in the writings attributed to Lao Tzu, much emphasis is placed on the process of change, which makes everything around us constantly transform, including what seems to be immobile.
How to explain that within the same things there seems to be both change and permanence?
Lao Tzu resorted to the idea of duality and cyclical changes to explain it. For him, everything that exists and what we can see contains two states between which a balance is established: day and night, light and darkness, etc. These elements are not exactly opposite and their reason for being is not to destroy the other, but rather they are complementary, since the one can not exist without the other.
The concepts of Yin and Yang, belonging to ancient Chinese philosophy, serve to refer to this duality that Chinese thinkers saw in everything. A duality in which each state contains a part of its complement, because both are co-dependent; Ying and Yang is the way in which Lao Tzu expresses the change that surrounds everything, which shows the transition between what has been and what will become.
In Ying and Yang a duality is represented in which it is very difficult to separate the two elements that compose it. In fact, in its visual representation it is much easier to understand the set that these elements form than each of them individually, something that denotes that they are not exactly the two extremes of something, but two elements of a totality.
More concretely, the Yin refers to a state in which things are cold, wet, soft, dark and feminine, and Yang represents the dry, the hard the luminous and the masculine. For ancient Chinese philosophy, this duality would be present in all things, and if it is so abstract and ambiguous, it is precisely because it tries to encompass everything.
The human nature according to the Tao
Taoism was not born as a religion in which the rules descend from one or several deities that offer preferential treatment to the human being; In this philosophy, people have the same rank as any other element of the cosmos. That means that they are subject to cyclical changes like everything else, and that there is no immutable essence in them that makes them more important than the rest. That is why Lao Tse’s book emphasizes the need to maintain a low profile and to follow the path with simplicity.
According to the Tao Te King, all the changes that may occur in a human being are also expressed by this logic of the complementary Ying and Yang. So harmony is about making sure that Yin and Yang stay in that perfect balance.
However, this only makes sense within the framework of traditional Chinese philosophy and specifically in Taoism. Outside the philosophical scope this idea of harmony does not serve to describe neither the reality nor the human mind in scientific terms, or at least not by itself.
Theory of Yin and Yang in alternative therapies
Some forms of alternative therapies (ie, without sufficient scientific basis) use the idea of Yin and Yang as a theoretical element in which to support claims about the healing power of certain practices. The ambiguity of the original Taoism is mixed with all kinds of statements of a specific nature about the effects of carrying out one activity or another, as if Taoism and Chinese philosophy were a guarantee of therapeutic practices to be applied in particular situations.
That is, a series of affirmations about practices that work for specific problems (of the style of “if you do taijiquan will age more slowly”, etc.) are mixed with totally abstract statements (of the style of “virtue is in harmony”) . That is why the appeal to Chinese philosophy in general and to Yin and Yang in particular to justify the usefulness of certain strategies is not appropriate in psychotherapy, which relies on concrete solutions to specific problems.