Monday, September 15, 2008
Yin Yang Symbol
Nowadays, rare is the Westerner who cannot recognize the ancient symbol of the yin-yang. This image of two fish circling one another is central to the Taoist philosophy, that of balance and simplicity (World Cultures, par 4). The symbol itself, at its most basic, represents the complementary nature of the sexes, and their interdependance. The eyes of the fish also indicate that in the masculine is to be found the feminine, and vice-versa.
Taken further, the yin-yang can be said to represent all the opposite principles in the universe. In addition to masculinity, yang represents the sun, creation, light, Heaven, etc. Yin, likewise, represents the feminine, the moon, completion, cold, darkness, Earth, etc. Hence, things are imagined to begin with yang and end with yin -- without the other, existence simply cannot truly be said to, well, exist (World Cultures, par 5). Reality consists of cycles, opposing forces of change and stability in the universe. Additionally, all things have within them the seeds, the potential, of their opposite state -- happiness can lead to anguish, darkness must eventually become light, etc.
These concepts are very important to Ursula K. Le Guin's novel The Left Hand of Darkness. Of course, there is the obvious relevance: being ambisexual, every Gethenian has aspects of both the masculine and the feminine. For them, the genders become one in balance.
There is more to the relevance of Taoism for the book than merely gender, however; according to Taoism, the harmony that is meant to exist between all things in nature and all things in heaven can be discovered by anyone at anytime (Hoff, 2-5). Things naturally exist in a state of balance -- the only time they become imbalanced is when humankind interferes with their natural processes, when abstract and arbitrary rules are imposed upon it. The goal of a Taoist is to achieve a harmony between himself and the natural world. Only then can the Taoist (or anyone, for that matter) find peace.