Yin Yang And The Five Elements of Tao
Scientists have demonstrated that everything is made of energy; atoms and matter. Our bodies are made from the same elements that float around the Universe and also attracts and emits the flow of electromagnetic energy in the atmosphere.
To develop ourselves as individuals and improve all aspects of our life, we must learn how to navigate through dark aspects of our personality to find the light of wisdom. To do this, we have to balance the male and female aspects of our unconscious and conscious mind to find harmony. When we do this, happiness and success unfolds naturally and easily.
This idea is expressed in the black and white swirls of the yin yang symbol. Also known as the Taijitu, this ancient Chinese symbol is the principle symbol of Taoism and is used to express the duality of everything in nature. In many ways, it shares similarities with the sun and moon symbolism we discussed in the previous chapter.
For example, yin is the dark swirl and is associated with female energy, the night, the moon and ‘the shady side’ or rather what Carl Jung called the Shadow Self. We find the same meaning in yin as we do in moon symbolism. In China, the moon is considered as the carrier of human emotion.
Yang is the white swirl and represents the male principle and is associated with the day, the sun, fire, strength and ‘the provider of all things which brings it in line with sun symbolism.
Together with the male and female aspects of our nature, left and right brain, and positive and negative energies, the Taijitu and all the other principle symbols used by organised religions describe the dual nature of the unconscious mind that influence the good and bad aspects of our true nature.
When writing about the Shadow Self Carl Jung warned about its dangers. In his book, Aion, which was published towards the end of his life in 1951, Jung noted:
“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognising the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.”
Just as the law of duality explains that everything in existence has an opposite to maintain balance, yin and yang cannot exist without one another. It is being able to balance yin and yang energies that enable you to live in harmony.
But nothing is completely yin or completely yang. The white dot in the black swirl and the black dot in the white swirl signify that everything has opposing forces that are relative to one another. Whilst the opposing forces are all part of the same principle that attract and complement one another, the energies behave in different ways and produce different results. In essence, the male energy, yin, starts an action, and yang, the female energy completes it.
As we have seen in all other religious symbols so far, the overriding connotation of the Taijitu is the need to balance the male and female aspects of our nature. Furthermore, the Tao explains we have to learn from both the yin and yang aspects of nature. And the similarities do not end there.
Tao Te Ching: Chapter 42
“The way begot one
And the one two;
Then the two begot three
And three all else.
All things bear the shade on their backs
And the sun on their arms;
By the blending of breath
From the sun and the shade
Equilibrium comes to the world.”
From what you have read in earlier chapters, do you recognise the reference to the Big Bang/Brahman/God/Allah (“the way”), and atoms – “the one” (protons) and “two” (electrons). Not to mention the reference to sun and moon in relation to light and shadows. ‘From the sun and the shade equilibrium comes to the world.’
Note how the Taijitu is also encased in a circle. As explained above, all religious cultures use the circle to symbolise ‘spirit’ – the nothingness where energy is boundless and unlimited, the zero-point of creation.
Chinese mythology also describes yin and yang being born from chaos when the universe was first created. It is said the opposing forces existed in harmony at the centre of Earth and from this union came a cosmic egg which produced the first human.
Taoists believe the Universe is made from vibrations, energy and matter all of which behave differently in relation to yin and yang energies. As science can establish, energy is in a constant state of flux and can change the course of its flow at any time.
The I Ching, a manual on divination and commonly known as ‘The Book of Changes’ expresses the ever-changing relationship is a code to show how positive and negative energies are responsible for the constant flux of life. When the imbalance is too great, disasters occur.
We see the same principles in the Yin Yang symbol – notice how the opposing forces decrease as the other increases. The same principle applies with the flow of electromagnetic energy that runs through your body. When this energy is imbalanced or blocked, illness, disease, aches and pains occur.
The principles of yin yang are not only described in Chinese religions and philosophies, but is still practiced in eastern medicine to this day. Acupuncture and reiki are the most well-known forms, but there is also exercises you can do by yourself including Tai Chi, Qi Gong, martial arts and yoga.
The principle proponents featured in the five elements of Taoism was a theory proposed by cosmologists in the 4th Century BCE. He believed that life cycles pass through five stages of wood, fire, earth, metal and water which continuously interchanges according to yin yang principles.
Each of the five elements relate to critical organs, chakras and specific personality types of moods. The archetypal symbols can therefore be used to determine your psychological and physiological functioning.
The five phases complement one another and is best remembered by starting with the most masculine element (wood and fire) and working your way to the most feminine of elements (water):
Wood feeds fire. Fire creates earth. Earth bears metal. Metal collects water. Water nourishes wood.
Notice how the process creates and destroys. Again we see how religion uses symbolic tools to express the cyclical patterns of nature which includes the flow of energy through our bodies. Destructive cycles are required to breathe new life.
The five elements of Taoism
Fire is the strongest of the masculine energies. Character traits associated with this energy are love, leadership, insight, dynamism, warm-heartedness, intuition, reason and expressiveness. But it can also cause anger, jealousy, frustration, regret, loss of love and vanity.
Fire is associated with the heart and the small intestines. Signs that you have too much fire are digestive problems and heart disease. Fire types redden easily and should avoid alcohol as the liver powers the heart.
Wood is also a male energy, but regarded as less masculine as fire, yet is needed to feed a fire and is thus associated with new beginnings. Its season is spring.
Qualities shaped by wood are taking bold actions to initiate new projects, good decision making, idealism, imagination, the ability to create change, compassion and competition. The challenge is to control the negative characteristics of fire and channel the energy into creating change.
In traditional Chinese medicine, wood is connected to the gallbladder, the spleen and liver. Avoid greasy and fatty foods.
In Chinese cosmology, wood types are associated with the white tiger, hare and dragon. Tigers are associated with qualities of personal strength, courage and patience.
But tigers also have a dark side and are connected with emotions, thus the lower conscious mind. Old feelings of fear can surface so don’t give up too easily even in moments of unpredictability.
The dragon is the essence of spirit and a symbol of transformation. They represent the flow of energy that connects with the divine and regenerates in accordance with thoughts, emotions and actions. It is the alchemist’s mercury which passes from the zero point through your body to the earth chakra and back to absolute consciousness.
The hare is a symbol of procreation, immortality and diligence, but is also associated with impatience and haste. The attributes of the hare are ambitious, virtuous and creative, and whilst this energy can bring new beginnings, you have to be careful not to become greedy.
Earth can exist in either the yin or yang state and represents unity and balance. This makes sense considering the flow of energy ends at the earth – about 3 metres below our feet – before returning through our bodies and back to source.
Personality traits associated with the earth element are practical, reliable, stable, honest, kind, pensive and empathetic. A strong earth element helps you to accept your circumstances are the way they are supposed to be and gives you the inclination to expand your knowledge.
Traditional Chinese medicine relates Earth to the stomach, spleen and pancreas. Too much Earth energy can develop into stomach disorders and problems with indigestion together with a weak immune system.
Metal is considered a feminine energy, but less feminine than Earth. Because metal is extracted from the earth it can also exist in yin and yang state.
Qualities associated with this element include inner strength, focus, independence and fluency of speech. When flowing well, you will feel determined, empowered, less opinionated and able to let go of the past.
Because metal is associated with grief, insecurity and lack of confidence, being unable to let go of the past and trust in your ability can result in problems with the lungs and colon.
Metal is also associated with the monkey, phoenix and dog. In Chinese astrology, dog types are prepared to sacrifice things in life, stay loyal and be honest with themselves – qualities you need to develop new habits and transform your character traits.
You are probably already familiar with the fable of the phoenix rising from the ashes. The phoenix is the rooster in Taoism and represents rebirth and transformation, thus representing the start of a new cycle, just as the metal phase is associated with the return of energy from the Earth into the body.
Furthermore, the phoenix is associated with working hard and following the rules – staying true to the plan to learn new habits that will bring about change.
The monkey is associated with being quick-witted, versatile and lively, and displays great depths of bonding and understanding. Characteristics of the monkey are agility in movement and mind which gives you the ability to solve problems and not shy away from what you have to do.
Taoist symbolism shares close similarities with Buddhism. It’s interesting to note in the 16th Century Buddhist novel, Journey to the West, the main character Tang Monk is protected by a monkey who wards of demons and defeats six bandits. He then eats the Elixir of Immortality prepared by the wise sage Lao Tzu and becomes immortalised in a mountain (the body) for 500 years (the 5 senses/elements).
This is an analogy of overcoming old temptations in order to preserve the new, pure energy to manifest in your body and subsequently in reality through your actions in association with the psychological and physiological conditions of your energy.
The character’s name, Sun Wukong means ‘Awakened to emptiness’ and he has the power to shift-shape and transform into 72 things – the cabalist number of God and used prevalently in other religions, most notably, the 72 disciples sent by Jesus and the 72 disciples of the Chinese philosopher, Confucius.
The number 72 is attributed to the 72 forms of God – thus 72 energies that manifest as creation. Furthermore, in gematria, 7+2 = 9, the number of absolute consciousness where cycles end and begin again with the number 10 or 0. Thus Sun Wukong – awakened to emptiness – is the voyage of energy from the source, down to earth and back to source.
Water is the most feminine of the fine elements, but also the most powerful because of its ability to destroy and create. Furthermore, because water is highly adaptable, it’s essential nature gives you the ability to go with the flow of life and fit comfortably in whatever surroundings you find yourself.
The qualities of character associated with water are creativity, sensitivity, reflection, persuasion, calmness, effectiveness and a desire for life. As a receptive quality the water element has the capacity to attract.
Water is also associated with emotional traits. When imbalanced you can be indecisive and suffer from anxiety or other fear-based emotions. The challenge is to overcome fear and confront the internal battle for change within yourself.
In Chinese medicine, water is connected to the kidneys and bladder. Signs that the water element is imbalanced are urinary problems, bladder infections and prostrate difficulties.
The element of water is also associated with the boar, rat and ox. Boars are also linked to fertility and common characteristics in boar types are people that are courageous, self-reliant, strong, sociable, diligent and determined – qualities you need to adopt to go with the flow of life.
But because water is so closely linked with female yin and emotions, you have to guard against falling into the negative attributes pigs are often associated with; laziness, greed and aggressiveness.
Because of its ability to reproduce easily, rats are also a symbol of fertility and also represent wealth and abundance. That doesn’t necessarily mean material wealth, but the richness of life you can achieve when blessed with an abundance of inner wisdom. The symbolism of rats is therefore closely related with water.
In China and other eastern religions, the ox is associated with strength, patience and steady toil. Because the animal was also used in sacrificial ceremonies, it bears a close relation to agricultural fertility. Agriculture is symbolism for nurturing growth.
Interestingly enough, of the terrestrial animals associated with the four cardinal points, the ox takes up the central position which is related to the spiritual plane. Tao and Buddhist teachings both feature the analogy of the ‘Herding (or taming) of the Ox’ to reflect the stages initiates pass through when engaged in the Great Work to heighten consciousness.
Throughout Asia, the ox is considered as a paradox; when untamed, the animals are unpredictable and considered dangerous, whereas when they are tamed they are disciplined and powerful. In this respect, oxen share similarities with water.
The sages therefore used the ox and water to symbolise the qualities you need to develop and expand conscious awareness and take life in your stride. When you are disciplined and control your emotions, you can handle anything life throws at you.