The Taiji (pinyin, "tài jí", the 'Supreme Ultimate') is a
concept introduced in the Zhuang Zi and so has an early connection with
Taoism. However, it also appears in the Xì Cí (Great Appendix) chapter of
the Yì Jíng (Book of Changes). The Taiji is understood to be the highest
conceivable principle, that from which existence flows. In contemporary terms,
the Taiji is the infinite, essential, and fundamental principle of
evolutionary change that actualizes all potential states of being through the
self-organizing integration of complementary existential polarities. More
simply, it is the co-substantial union of yin and yang, the two opposing
qualities of all things. In order for 'hot' to exist, so must 'cold.' The
existence of 'hot,' in fact, is wholly dependent on the existence of 'cold'
and ultimately arises from it, just as the existence of 'cold' in turn arises
from that of 'hot' and is wholly dependent thereupon.
Note that as the highest conceivable principle, the Taiji is still
superseded by the Tao (Dào) itself, the inconceivable essence of reality,
which is by nature ineffable and beyond description. This 'ultimate reality'
is that which cannot be named, although through conceptualizations such as the
Taiji, the Tao can be approached.
When Confucianism came to the fore again during the Song Dynasty, it
synthesized aspects of Buddhism and Taoism, and drew them together using
threads that traced back to the earliest metaphysical discussions in the
appendices to the Book of Changes.
In Chinese concept, yin and yang are two opposing elements of the universe.
They are not two poles like good and evil, however; they are relative. For
Taoists' Taijitu Yin: associates with the dark Moon (facing away from Sun),
representing feminine nature
Yang: associates with the bright Sun, representing masculine nature
Yin and yang can also be used (in conjunction with other characters) to
indicate various parts of the male and female anatomy.
A modern example:
Yin: the traffic light on the freeway (the stillness)
Yang: the traffic that flows past that traffic light (activity)
Some Chinese, Korean and Japanese place names that still exist are named in
the following principle:
Yin: the shady north side of the mountain, the south side of the river.
Yang: the sunny south side of the mountain, the north side of the river.
Although while yin dominates femininity and yang masculinity, within the
body of either sex, there are still traces of both elements. As a result, an
imbalance of the yin-yang ratio can cause illness. This is not to say that
everyone should have exactly half of each; every individual needs to find this
balance depending on their own constitution, climate, season, occupation and
even emotional environment. And, if in perfect health, the individual should
be able to adapt to any inevitable changes.
Together, the symbolic colors of yin and yang, black and white
respectively, are combined into a circle that symbolizes Taoism for many: the
Taijitu, often known as the Tai Chi symbol or the Pictogram of the Supreme
Taoist philosophy is applied to metaphor and is used to describe thereby
the dynamic complexities of the human body's organic processes in traditional
Chinese medicine as well as the complexities of human personality (Chinese
astrology), nothing in the universe is completely yin or completely yang. It
is a basic Taoist tenet that yin and yang are artificial terms of convenience,
depending ultimately upon the observer's perspective. There is always yin
within yang, and yang within yin. This is symbolized in the yin and yang Tai
Chi circle by the two smaller circles in either side: black within white and
white within black.
Another Taoist tenet is that one extreme will always change into its
opposite, so that extreme yang turns into yin and vice versa. This is
symbolized in the yin-yang symbol by the shape of the outer swooshes, which
appear to be moving, one into the other. This principle has been extended into
the physical realm of the martial arts, where yang and yin can directly
represent the limits of balance in different directions; up and down, left and
right, forward and back; and the physical properties of full and empty, hard
and soft, active and receptive, etc. Over the centuries, the study of the
interplay between these principles has led to the formulation and refinement
of many different systems of self-defense across East Asia.
The Taiji diagram or Taijitu
, of Zhou Dun-yi. The red-colored areas are colored (whereas the
traditional version leaves them white) to show that both circles represent the
Taoji. The Taiji "falls into immanence" first as the Yin and Yang, and
then as further levels of differentiation culminating with the myriad creatures,
which are represented by the bottom circle.
The I Ching (pinyin yì jing) is the oldest of the Chinese classic texts.
Alternative romanizations of the name include I Jing, Yi Ching, Yi King.
Translations of its name into English include the "Book of Changes"
or more accurately "Classic of Change".
It describes an ancient system of cosmology and philosophy which is at the
heart of Chinese cultural beliefs. The philosophy centres around the ideas of
balance through opposites and acceptance of change.
The book is also known as Zhou Yi (zhou yì; alternately Chou I), the
"Changes of Zhou", in ancient Chinese literature which indicates the
book was based on work from Zhou Dynasty.
The I Ching symbolism is embodied in a set of 64 abstract line arrangements
called hexagrams (guà). These are each composed of six horizontal lines (yáo);
each line is either Yang (unbroken, a solid line), or Yin (broken, an open
line with a gap in the center). With six such lines stacked from bottom to top
in each hexagram, there are 26 or sixty-four possible combinations and thus
Each hexagram is made of two trigrams. There are 8 possible trigrams.
Each hexagram represents a state, a process, a change happening at the
present moment. When an hexagram is casted, it is possible for one, many or
all of the lines to be determined to be moving, ("old", or
"instable") lines, i.e. their polarity is in the process of reversal
and thus the meaning of the hexagram is completed and the "target"
hexagram resulting from these changes is also considered.
Note that because the lines in the hexagrams are traditionally determined
by biased random-number generation procedures, the 64 hexagrams are not
equiprobable if generated in these ways.
There are a few formal arrangements of the trigrams and hexagrams with a
traditional context. The ba gùa is a circular arrangement of the trigrams,
traditionally printed on a mirror, or disk. Legend states that Fu Hsi found
the ba gùa on the scales of a tortoise's back. More about this later.
Components of Hexagrams
The solid line represents yang, the masculine, creative principle. The open
line represents yin, the feminine, receptive principle. These principles are
also represented in a common circular symbol (?), known as taijitu (???), but
more commonly known in the west as the yin-yang (??) diagram, expressing the
idea of complementarity of changes: when Yang is at top, Yin is increasing,
and the reverse.
In the following lists, the trigrams and hexagrams are represented using a
common textual convention: horizontally from left to right, using '|' for yang
and ':' for yin. Note, though, that the normal diagrammatic representation is
to show the lines stacked vertically, from bottom to top (i.e. to visualize
the actual trigrams or hexagrams, rotate the text counterclockwise 90°).
There are eight possible trigrams (?? ba guà).
||| Force (qián) = heaven
::: Field (kun) = earth
|:: Shake (zhèn) = thunder
:|: Gorge (kan) = water
::| Bound (gèn) = mountain
:|| Ground (xùn) = wind
|:| Radiance (lí) = fire
||: Open (duì) = swamp
The first three lines, the lower trigram, are seen as the inner aspect of the
change that is occurring. The upper trigram, the last three lines, are the
outer aspect. The change described is thus the dynamic of the inner (personal)
aspect relating to the outer (external) situation. Thus, hexagram 04 :|:::|
Enveloping, is composed of the inner trigram :|: Gorge, relating to the outer
trigram ::| Bound.
Traditionally it was believed that the principles of the I Ching originated
with the legendary Fu Hsi. In this respect he is seen as an early culture
hero, one of earliest legendary rulers of China (traditional dates 2852
BC-2738 BC), reputed to have had the trigrams (ba gùa) revealed to him
supernaturally. Before the Zhou Dynasty, there was other literature on the
"Change" philosophy, e.g. Lian Shan Yi (Lián Shan Yì) and Gui Cang
Yi (Gui Cáng Yì). The philosophy heavily influenced the literature and
government administration of the Zhou Dynasty. It was refined over time and I
Ching was completed around the time of Han Wu Di (Hàn Wu Dì) during the Han
Dynasty (circa 200 BC).
In the past 50 years a "Modernist" history of the I Ching has
been emerging, based on context criticism and research into Shang and Zhou
dynasty oracle bones, as well as Zhou bronze inscriptions and other sources
(see below). These reconstructions are dealt with in growing number of books,
such as "The Mandate of Heaven: Hidden History in the I Ching", by S
J Marshall, Columbia University Press, 2001, and Richard Rutt's "Zhouyi:
The Book of Changes" from Curzon Press, 1996. Scholarly PhDs dealing with
the new view of the Book of Changes include the dissertations by Richard Kunst
and Edward Shaughnessy. These and other scholars have been helped immensely by
the discovery in the 1970s by Chinese archaeologists of intact Han dynasty era
tombs in Mawangdui near Changsha, Hunan province. One of the tombs contained
more or less complete 2nd century BC texts of the I Ching, the Dao De Jing and
other works, which are mostly similar yet in some ways diverge significantly
from the "received" or traditional texts preserved by the chances of
history. The tomb texts include additional commentaries on the I Ching,
previously unknown, and apparently written as if they were meant to be
attributed to Confucius. All of the Mawangdui texts are many centuries older
than the earliest known attestations of the texts in question. When talking
about the evolution therefore of the Book of Changes the Modernists contend
that it is important to distinguish between the traditional history assigned
to texts such as the I Ching (felt to be anachronistic by the Modernists),
assignations in commentaries which have themselves been canonized over the
centuries along with their subjects, and the more recent scholarly history
aided by modern linguistic textual criticism and archaeology. Many feel that
the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but, for instance, many
Modernist scholars doubt the actual existence of Fuxi, think Confucius had
nothing to do with the Book of Changes, and that the hexagrams came before the
Integrity in Original Philosophy: "Schools of Thought"
Before we examine some common misunderstandings of classical concepts let
us address the notion of "different schools of thought", the primary alibi
used to excuse and defend conflicting theories, philosophies and methodologies.
As in any field, many professionals gravitate to and employ techniques
with which they personally resonate. Physicists, for instance, sometimes
engage exclusively in work with particle accelerators. Some others may
be deeply interested in fluid dynamics or astrophysics or purely theoretical
physics. This does not change the laws of physics. This does not produce
different universes with different physical laws based on differing "schools
I paraphrase Einstein: For laws of physics to be valid, they must be
true for everyone in every part of the universe. The observations of individuals
may vary depending on their point of view however, -- even though the observations
are as valid as is their individual point of view -- this still does not
change the laws of physics.
Chinese medicine was and is not immune to this phenomenon. Ancient masters
of Chinese medicine also engaged in this kind of "specialization". Tung's
Acupuncture is a prime example. Tung, a fine acupuncturist in his own right,
traveled throughout China recording the favorite techniques and "tricks"
of the best doctors in the land. This resulted in a work entitled "Tung's
Acupuncture", a compendium of classical and non-classical points and techniques
for which he developed a separate nomenclature and numbering system in
order to tie these "tricks" together in a coherent, understandable and
The point is there is no such thing as Tung's Acupuncture. It should
more properly be called "Chen's and Ching's and Ping's and Cheng's and
Zhen's and Zhao's, (etc.) Acupuncture: A Book Of Techniques Based On A
Complete Coherent System That Is Called Chinese Medicine, Compiled By Ching-chang
Tung". Other examples are: Korean Hand Acupuncture, Craniopuncture, Auriculopuncture,
the Japanese Systems, American Acupuncture, Constitutional Acupuncture,
Energetic Layer Types, Trigger Point Therapy, "Various" Kinesiology, Micro-systems
-- the list goes on and on as if there were a different "biology" for each
system. There are not different biologies that respond to different systems.
The message that must be taken here is -- Chinese medicine is a complete
coherent, integral, interdependent and independent system of health care
that must be understood within its own context, in whole, not in part,
if it is to be mastered. It was born out of Daoist philosophy, which is
at the heart of Chinese medicine and contains the original, guiding ideas
that nurtured it into existence. Anything else is merely a fragment, no
matter how elegant or seductive it may seem, it is only a specialty that,
when studied in a vacuum, is merely a facet that will not reveal the jewel
that produced it.
As stated, since there are already many introductory books, our purpose
in this work is not to present the entire field of Chinese medicine. In
fact, we shall be at pains to avoid any redundancy. Instead, we will attempt
to fill the gaps, supply the missing pieces, restore the guiding ideas
and, where ever possible, correct misinformation when certainty about the
error is assured.
Symbols and Objects
To be faithful in the small is to be faithful in the large. What does this
mean? It means if we are going to represent Chinese medicine faithfully
and accurately, in order to gain and keep the respect the field rightfully
deserves, we must look after the smallest details. We must be certain of
what we say. We must be certain that there is consistency, continuity and
integrity in the laws, rules, philosophy and even in the symbols we use
to portray these ideas and concepts. (Lest you think I'm "nitpicking" consider
what one might think of the other scientific disciplines if they were inconsistent
with their symbols, say, physics equations or electronic schematics. c.f.
Tran's quote at the introduction).
Lets look at some examples:
Nothing is more familiar, even to the non-student of Asian thought,
than the Taijitu. Although he may not be able to name it he can certainly
recognize it as familiar. But which of the following best represents the
philosophical idea it is supposed to portray? Indeed, what is the philosophical
idea it is supposed to portray?
Figure 1 seems to represent a clockwise flowing motion with the yang
portion ascending and the yin portion descending; Figure 2 is similar but
implies an anti clockwise motion; in Figure 3 it appears yang is descending,
yin is ascending and the flow is anti clockwise.
The answers: firstly, none of them. Secondly, regarding what it does
represent, let's digress slightly to the original meanings of yin and yang.
Antedating any philosophical connotation to yin and yang were their
original reference only to the shaded side and sunlit side of a hill or
mountain. They later took on more metaphysical and emblematic usages in
the hands of the Daoists.
Since Daoist science is a product of the direct observation of the universe
it didn't take long for these handy terms to provide symbols for all polar
opposites. Neither was there any resulting contradiction to other natural
phenomena or philosophical discussion of such, e.g. at its maximum, yin
can transform into yang and yang into yin; simply watch the sun traverse
from the sunny side to the shaded side, and at noon, they reverse.
The notion that any qualitative symbol of Daoist science was "thought
up" and these priests went scurrying about trying to find phenomena to
fit them is decidedly a Western problem. For those thoroughly inculcated
with the Greek/Western model this epistemological mode continues to be
the stumbling block preventing any logical or useful grasp of Chinese medical
science as a whole.
The process of Western science looks something like this:
Hypothesis/theory (guess) -> experiment (experience) -> Laws. (Quantitative)
Whereas the process of Eastern science follows thusly:
Natural phenomena (laws) -> experience (experiment) -> Thesis. (Qualitative)
Both yield highly accurate information about totally different aspects
of reality. The point is -- Eastern science never created terms in hopes
of finding natural events to fit them to. Natural events were observed
and fitted themselves quite "naturally" into qualitative standards of logically
stringent categories (Yinyang and Wuxing).
Five phase symbology (may we please drop the terms "theory" and "element")
is a perfect example of this irritating tendency to "alter to make fit"
or "rephrase to make sense". This is also why many writers and practitioners
find the five phases so stubbornly resistant to Western "scientification"
and so, frustrated, abandon it (except in the very few cases where it behaves
physiologic quantification). In doing so they have thrown out the baby
and kept the bath water. Five-phase science is not "too rigid" to be useful,
the rigidity is in the minds of the cerebral stenotics that won't expand
to include it, to understand it within its own context. To quote Vartan
Gregorian quoting Sheraton "in looking for predigested ready-made answers,
they have failed to undergo the fatigue of judging for themselves".
One can read in the introductions of the various textbooks, the authors'
stating the problem...
"Westerners, brought up in modern [read Western] scientific
tradition, often have difficulty in grasping the concepts of Chinese medicine......Much
of English literature, including that produced in China, omits the apparently
irrational, while reformulating in inexact Western medical terminology
much of what is acceptable..."
Then, in the body of the very same textbook, go on to state:
"Conspicuous shortcomings are also to be found in five-phase theory...certain
aspects...provide valuable guides...other aspects are unclear and are therefore
incompatible with modern [read Western] medicine...the accurate aspects
must be preserved, and the inaccurate ones eliminated."
-[From "Fundamentals of Chinese Medicine" pages 17-18: Paradigm Publications,
They have fallen pray to their own caveat. Polarized in the Western
mode, they omit the "apparently irrational" and state "inexactly"
the remaining bits after a thorough cleaning with Occam's razor.
We won't have that problem. We will present Chinese medicine whole and
in the Daoist context -- the only way in which it can be understood.
But nor can we rely on the books from China, as stated by the above
authors, and as evidenced by the quote below in the definition of "Jing":
"Owing to this jing qi (whether it be generated right in
the Kidneys themselves, or otherwise extended to these), Kidneys are somehow
involved in, or even responsible for, the process of Reproduction.
Finally, Kidneys are believed to even possess mental aptitude, affecting
such feats as memory, temperament, behavior, fright, fear and other emotions.
REMARKS -- Despite their acknowledged importance, even versatility,
it can be readily discerned that this notion of mental aptitude is even
more farfetched than the notion of effecting or influencing Reproduction."
-[From "Chinese Medical Terminology" Frank Liu and Liu Yan Mao, The
Commercial Press, Ltd. 1980].
Even the marginally informed acupuncturist has an understanding of the
tremendous responsibility Kidney energetics have with reproduction and
Just as absurd as tossing out all or part of the five phases is the
assumption one can practice only "five-element acupuncture" or "jing-luo"
or "zangfu" acupuncture. These concepts simply don't make any sense. They
come from the ubiquitous Western habit of reductionism i.e. cardiology,
neurology etc. In the individual patient, one cannot treat an aspect in
isolation of the whole. This even goes beyond the level of the individual.
I am in no way making a metaphysical statement when I say the biota is
contiguous with the cosmos... the flapping of a butterfly's wings will
affect the weather of the world, the weather of the world inductively blends
with the health of the biota. We are a "piece of the action".
Objects out of Symbols -- Matter out of Energy
Pick your favorite translation of the Daotejing... verse 21.
My 'cut-to-the-chase' translations:
1) Qualitative translation:
2) Quantitative translation:
Things only come into existence according to the laws of Dao.
The Dao is elusive and intangible,
from within the Dao comes the image (xiang),
from within the image (xiang) comes the object (wu).
How do I know this is so? Because it is so.
Examining these terms (xiang and wu) yields some fascinating
insights. Xiang, the same term used in the Chinese composite for "energetic
anatomy" (zangxiang, internal organ image) is also the term used to describe
the symbols (bagua, eight divinatory symbols) of the "I Ching". The xiang
of the I Ching are, in turn, made up broken and solid lines (xiao) representing
various combinations of yin and yang. Xiao means likeness or resembling
(like the taijitu, these xiao are other symbols for yin and yang).
As we say in the west,
Xiang itself refers not only to the symbolic representation of
an object but includes the object itself as well. Interesting term.
Wu means matter, the real thing, substance.
We can easily define separately the words: concepts, shapes, fields,
functions and structures, energy and matter. But finding hard boundaries
between them in physics and Chinese medicine is at best useless if at all
possible. The notion that matter even exists (as such) is rapidly becoming
unpopular in modern physics. I recently heard that quarks, for instance,
can now spontaneously turn themselves into electrons and vice versa. Clinically
there is no useful distinction between an organ, its field or Bao (energetic
envelope), its structure, its channels, its sphere of influence or for
that matter, its symbols, its xiang and wu....
Ancient Daoist philosophy: "Yin creates yang, yang activates yin" --
modern Einsteinian physics: "Matter tells space how to curve, space tells
matter how to move".
The Xiang and Wu of the Five Phases
(Here is a diagram of the five phases and their
(Here is another one for a comparison)
Anything that comes into existence has a beginning, a middle and an end.
A sentence, a paragraph, a book. Morning, noon, night. Fertilization, gestation,
birth. Birth, maturation, death. To go from a "here" to a "there" (xing).
One does not have to spend a long time on the planet to observe this immutable
To expand this idea somewhat to better fit in the real world, a sine
wave can quite accurately represent a qualitative schema of yang and yin
coming into and going out of existence. Further, if we qualify every significant
point of change in this wave: its beginning, its growth, its transformation,
decline and end, the result is five points on each aspect of the wave (see
below). We can also give each of these points ambiguous poetic emblems
so they might be used to categorize and qualify similarly behaving phenomena,
phenomena that show experientially that within their own categorical emblems:
Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water demonstrate resonant relationships.
That is, all things which lend themselves to one of these five qualities
also share a kinship of resonant relationship with all others in that category.
(That's what all those Five-phase concordance charts are about -- differential
If we examine another graphic representation of the five-phases commonly
found in old Daoist texts we find the transformational force of "earth"
in the center providing temporal impetus to the other forces (see below).
This corresponds well with reality and to Chinese medical terms. The earth's
orbit round the sun is the temporal impetus that transforms wood-spring,
fire-summer, metal-fall and water-winter. The biologic yinyang earth system:
Spleen and Stomach, constitute the middle jiao and the body's impetus to
transform matter (food) into energy, directs the sapors and provides the
system with nutritive qi.
Wood is birth, potential action, as Manfred Porkert states. Fire is growth,
actual action. Metal is decline (a movement toward consolidation) potential
struction (structure). Water is death (consolidation) actual struction.
Please keep reminding yourself that these are universal ambiguous emblems
of qualitative standards of temporal transformations. No one said this
will be easy, but I am not going to short change you.
We can superimpose any number of corresponding phenomena over these
emblems. The four known forces of modern physics fit quite nicely:
Wood, in other words, is where things begin, birth. No matter how handy,
original or convenient it might be to place fire at the top of the diagram,
it distorts and dilutes the philosophical and scientific foundation of
the concepts represented. Placed at the top of the graphic as it needs
to be to reflect the underlying idea we find the familiar drawing:
To elaborate let's return to the first question of the proper representation
of the taijitu. It is fundamental to Chinese medicine (and common sense)
that the "heavenly" forces (yang) descend and the "Earthly" forces (yin)
ascend to intermix dynamically as the biosphere. If we represent this given
faithfully we arrive at the following:
From above the potential yang grows to its maximum. From below the potential
yin grows to its maximum. Flowing clockwise with time. The potential yin
in yang and yang in yin indicated by the small opposites complete the picture.
The birth of yang or wood, spring, beginning, issues out of "heaven"
and grows in amplitude and into fire, summer. Accordingly yang, at its
maximum, declines and settles into winter, the expansion of yin represented
undisputedly by the emblem "water". When drawn correctly and superimposed
the emblematic continuity and integrity of these two scientific symbols
In Chinese medicine, there are actually only two seasons: winter and
summer (yin and yang). Spring (wood) is the transition between winter and
summer and fall (metal) the transition between summer and winter. Earth
is the transformative force of all change, from one state to another, the
fifth force, and the missing piece of the "Unified Field Theory" puzzle.
This should also provide clues about physiological energy and its subtle
intermixes, transformations and momentums resulting in life and its pathologies.
There are finally, the two commonly accepted representations of the
bagua also called the eight trigrams or eight divinatory symbols of the
The bagua represent directionality and space. As ambiguous emblems, they
also have the same universal applicability inherent in the taijitu and
the wuxing. Unfortunately, a complete discussion of the further implications
of these symbols is beyond the scope of this short work.
At the creation, it may be somewhat easy to imagine that all matter
and energy were created. Perhaps not so easy to imagine is that simultaneously
all space was created too.
For the sake of this introduction we simply say this diagram provides
the necessary completion of the symbols needed to represent qualitatively
the concept of space or directionality, certain mathematical divisions
of cyclical biologic events and the physiological substrates through which
they are mediated. We will explore completely their medical significance
in relation to the Eight Curious Vessels, the phases of the moon, and the
energetics of the menstrual cycle in detail later.
With both positive and negative aspects shown (yin and yang), the wuxing
and the bagua diagramed, we can superimpose these upon one another to represent
(qualitatively not quantitatively) space (compass points, position or directionality)
and time (temporal events, days or seasons) and matter (yin) and energy
(yang). Without violating Western or Eastern physics we can say matter-energy
and space-time. That is -- phenomena and somewhere for it to occur:
The laws of the universe that exist today remain unchanged from the
principles, laws, rules, and environmental influences that the Chinese
contemplated 5,000 years ago. There is nothing particularly esoteric or
difficult to grasp, although it is from a completely different contextual
point of view. We have the same physical laws in modern America that existed
in ancient China: momentum, inertia, gravity, electromagnetic, weak and
strong nuclear forces, other properties of physics, laws of fluid dynamics,
and properties of cosmology that are relatively unchanging. The the only
barrier to understanding Chinese medicine the way the ancient Chinese did
is apprehending the context in which they observed the universe.
The beauty of this is that the universe is still here to observe.
Chinese medicine can be studied, it can be learned, it can be mastered.
I don't believe it can be taught. We must invent, create, discover, intuit
Chinese medicine, as new for ourselves, in our own consciousness -- to
understand it whole, in the original philosophical framework from which