Yin - Yang: The Illusion of Difference?

edited June 2008 in Tools of Taoist Thought
[chref=1]The Way that can be spoken of
Is not the constant Way;
The Name that can be named
Is not the constant Name.[/chref]

Over the past year, I've buried my nose in a few Taoist books. I've heard them describe so many things -- "how" Taoists are Taoists, what kind of people they are, and so forth.

For example, I've heard the analogy that those who follow the Tao are like cats falling from trees -- they relax themselves in the face of whatever they're experiencing. "Be like water; never resist," they say.

And yet, are they not trying to speak of the Way which cannot be spoken? Everything I've read I hold against those very first verses, and sometimes it seems contradictory. To say that we must always "relax" and never "resist" sounds like too rigid of a rule -- very un-Tao-like to me. If there is non-resistance, than there must be resistance, because they create each other and sticking to either one is unhealthy.

I have my own ideas about the "solution" to this dilemma, but I want to hear what yours are first.


  • edited December 1969
    As the year roll on I have increasingly come to see yin and yang as representing the illusion of difference. I can trace the beginning of this back to my brother’s death, the news of which provoked within me a serious quandary – what was life; what was death, really? Then one day, riding the bus home from work, I suddenly felt they were the same. It floored me. It defied all the experience of my senses. Thinking back on it, perhaps my mind added up plus one and minus one came up acutely, truly empty. (kind of like +1-1=0).

    As the decades passed I began noticing a curious inside-outside dynamic. It first occurred to me as I considered the ‘macho’ male image, and recalled experiences I’d had with ‘tough guys’. Under the hard exterior lurked a scarred little boy. In principle, I see this as a kind of balancing act. What we see on the outside is the counterbalance of what exists on the inside. The more yin inside, the more yang we see on the outside, and visa versa. Of course, pulling particulars (small scale examples) out of this principle is muddy and dicey to say the least. I find it works best to just leave it in a fuzzy principle realm.

    Of course, when being as self honest as possible, I have found the principle at work throughout my life. The more inwardly insecure I’d feel, the more external merit I would seek. With age has come a ‘settling down into myself’, which I imagine happens to everyone. One thing I notice now is that as my inward extremes moderate, the drive for outward compensation wanes as well. Sometimes I notice no difference at all, and I’m content.

    Which brings me back to yin, yang, and the illusion of difference. I suppose I’d have to say that my perception of difference, of yin and yang, are products of my biology. Words represent perception and perception originates in neurobiology. That doesn’t diminish the profound mystery; it actually intensifies it. Seeing ‘reality’ this way makes ‘reality’ and ‘illusion’ oddly the same... 'profoundly the same' (玄同). Chapter 10 is particularly poignant in this regard: ‘[chref=10]When your discernment penetrates the four quarters are you capable of not knowing anything?[/chref]’ (明白四达,能无知乎). It still floors me. It still defies all the experience of my senses. The great river flows and the currents carry me along the way.
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