The Tai Chi Symbol

First there was Emptiness. The tai chi symbol itself was used by the Taoists and dates back to the 14th century BC and possibly earlier. As if that wasn’t old enough, it’s necessary to go back even further—much further--to appreciate this symbol and its meaning. In fact, according to Taoist lore, we have to travel back to the very beginning, to the time of emptiness, when there was only the infinite void.

The void, being a void, was empty. At the same time, it also contained all possibilities. However, these possibilities could not be manifested or created into form.

The Tai Chi Creative Force. The ability to move from simple possibility to actual manifestation and form is possible through the creative force of tai chi. Tai chi is the force or place of raw, undifferentiated energy. From this place, opposing or complementary forces can arise.

Yang and Yin Energies Arise. Out of the void, and through the separation and differentiation of the tai chi creative force, two primordial and complementary energies arose: the yang and the yin.

Yang. The yang energies are associated with the radiant light of the sun as well as its fiery heat. Yang energies are expansive and shoot outward.

Yin. Yin energies are associated with the dark of the moon and closing inward for rest, regeneration, regrowth, and creativity.

Complementary Energies. Yin-Yang energies are often thought of as dualities or polar opposites. Dark-light, cold-hot, female-male, matter-spirit, earth-heaven, down-up, soft-hard, closing-opening, and yielding-aggressive are other ways of characterizing these forces. However, one can also think of these energies as complementary, and sharing a common source.

Both are equally good. One cannot exist without the other. Neither is better than the other. This equality and interplay between the yin and the yang is depicted by the equal sizes of the dark swirling yin and that of the swirling white yang.

Yin to Yang and Yang to Yin. In the symbol, yang energy is always present within the yin, as represented by the small white circle engulfed in the black. Likewise, the swirling yang energy contains a seed of dark yin energy. Just as a child can go from tears to smiles in seconds, yang energy can quickly change into yin energy, and vice versa.

Constant Change. The amount of yin is constantly changing. So is the amount of yang. Both are constantly shifting in a cosmic energy dance.

Cycles of Change. Going back to the tai chi symbol, successive slices yield ever-changing amounts of black and white, yin and yang. This, like the circular shape of the symbol, shows the cycles of change—the movements from yin to yang, and yang to yin.

This is like the constant shift of the earth between day and night, summer and winter.

The tai chi creative force and humans. Changes in the balance between the yin and yang are also reflected in the lives of humans. The idea of tai chi provides a way for an individual to balance and to integrate yin and yang and everything inside—at the mundane to the spiritual levels.

The movements of tai chi forms--with gentle rhythms of expanding and shrinking, opening and closing, yang and yin--are a way to maintain balance within one’s self and one’s world.

Practicing the physical moves of tai chi is a way to access and to implement the possibilities contained within the tai chi force--including that of personal enlightenment.

At its simplest and deepest, the tai chi symbol is a symbol of existence and the process of creation. It holds a reminder of the very best that each of us can create, for ourselves and for the world.

Next: Read about tai chi terms and concepts in a Tai Chi Dictionary.