Understanding of I-Ching and Tai Chi by C. Guan Soo
Tai Chi, The Great Ultimate, was found earliest in the Book of Change, or otherwise known as I-Ching. Legend said that this scripture has written by the first emperor of the Zhou Dynasty – Zhou Wen Wang. Thus I-Ching is also known as Zhou-Yi.
I-Ching, or the Book of Change, with its name implies, stated that life is in constant flux of change. The word I (Yi in pinyin) means ‘change’ in Chinese. It is formed from the characters of the sun and the moon, which represents yang and yin respectively.
It has a verse stating, “Changes has the Great Ultimate, which give rise to the Two Elements. The Two Elements give rise to the Four Phenomena, and the Four Phenomena give rise to the Eight Hexagrams…”
Let’s begin with the word Tai Chi – the Great Ultimate. It actually means the earliest, the beginning… of all events and things. In some case, it refers to the Universe by ancient Chinese.
In one of the scripture, it stated that “One yin and one yang is the Way…” This means that the all changes of events and things in the universe come from this opposing, yet united forces of yin and yang.
This is why in from Tai Chi, there arises in the Two Elements – yin and yang. Take a look at the Tai Chi diagram, which is better known as the 2-Fishes diagram in Chinese. It is a circle divided into 2 sections in proportion. The circle is representing Tai Chi, or the Universe Whole, and within this wholeness, there’s the Two Elements.
The division of the yin and yang in Tai Chi means that there are 2 opposing elements, represented by the black section and white section respectively. Yet, the division is not a straight division, but a curved division – meaning that the 2 opposing elements actually accommodate each other in order to form the complete circle.
Firstly, this means that while it is divided as opposing elements – it is united in a way to form the complete wholeness. The opposing yet united forces of yin and yang became the basis of the thinking in I-Ching. And Tai Chi uses the concepts in the I-Ching, the yin and yang elements as the core concepts to explain the both physical and meta-physical aspects of the world.
Secondly, the curved division gives a sense of balance. Here, we are talking about balancing the yin and yang elements here. There’s this statement in I-Ching: “When the yin goes to the extreme, the yang is born. And when the yang goes to the extreme, the yin is born”.
Look at the 2-fishes diagram again. If you go in counter-clock wise along the diameter of the Tai Chi circle, you will find that as one element grows more and more and reach its peak, the other elements will begin to grow in replacement. For example, if you move along the diameter on the black side, you will see that the ‘half’ represented by the black will become bigger and bigger and then suddenly shrink and the white ‘half’ will begin to grow instead. This means that if one element goes to the extreme, the other will begin to set in.
What does this mean to us then?
Simple: we have to balance our life in every aspect, and do not just focus only on one or a few. We have to balance between work and personal life, between family and friends, between material and spiritual, and the list goes on. Otherwise, there will be disharmony in our lives.
Thirdly, the movement growing or shrinking of the yin and yang elements within the Tai Chi diagram suggests that life changes constantly to and from between good and bad, joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness, high and low and between any two extreme qualities. This is the dualistic principles in I-Ching.
In any events or things, there are two qualities within. There’s no such thing as complete good or perfectly bad things. It is the degree of good, or bad that matters.
Take for example, can we say that a person is good because there’s no bad quality in him, or a person is bad because he or she have never done any ‘good’ at all??? A good person may at times been guilty of small bad deeds, and a bad person may at times have some good in him or her. Isn’t it?
A good thing may have some negative side in it. And vice versa, a bad thing may have some positive side in it. It depends on how we perceive the issue. That’s the dualistic principles in I-Ching.
This goes to the next concepts. In the diagram, within each element, there’s a dot in it. The black section has a white dot, while the white section has a black dot. What does this means? We move now to the next statement: The Two Elements give rise to the Four Phenomena. This means, in the yin element, there will be yang element and vice versa, in the yang element, there will be yin element.
What does it means to us?
In any events or things, there will be some good in the bad, and some bad in the good. Just like there’s some yin in the yang, and some yang in the yin. For example, when a person wins a race, others will lose the race. There’s bad news within the good news, there’s sorrow amongst joy, there’s losing among winning and so on.
In life, there will be mixtures of good and bad, joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness, winning and losing, high and low, and it all come in a ‘package’!
Therefore, we should learn to be more give and take – and accept the nature of life as it is. Enjoy the good things, and accept the bad one bravely and gracefully. This will then help us to achieve a more balance and harmonious life.
Tai Chi’s concepts of yin and yang became influential to the ancient Chinese, and found its way into the philosophy, theories, medicine, art of war, religion, arts and the way of maintaining life. It has found its way into Daoism, which in some ways, people claimed that Tai Chi is under the idea of Daoism, which is not quite true. It should be the other way round.
Whatever it is, understanding the principles of I-Ching does help us to understand the nature of life itself to better balance and manage our ups and downs to face our daily chores and challenges. And I wish all of you success and harmony in your life. May the Energy of Tai Chi be with you!