About the Taijitu

Sacred Symbol of Taoism

Free I Ching Readings
With Andrew

No doubt you have seen this symbol before. Some people call it the “yin yang” symbol. It is properly referred to as “the taijitu”. The taijitu is the sacred symbol of Taoism, as the cross is to Christianity, the crescent to Islam, the om to Hinduism, and so on.

Unfortunately the taijitu has been frequently used as an icon of popular culture and as a logo associated with commercial organizations, by people who do not know what it means. This is typically done by people who like it and think it is “cool” to use it this way, but are unaware that they are treating a sacred thing disrespectfully.

Please do not disrespect the taijitu by displaying it unaware, especially if you like it. Do display it aware of what it means, or in a manner that you would display other sacred symbols, with the same kind of love and reverence.

What Does the Taijitu Mean?

The taijitu does not represent good and evil, nor an admonishment to pursue just one polarity to the extreme. That is the opposite of what it means. While it does represent polar opposites, both poles are beneficial and necessary to the pursuit of balance. Balance, not polarity! Both polar extremes in any pair would become imbalanced or unvirtuous if only one were pursued to the exclusion of the other. The virtuous and desirable goal is to walk the balanced middle path, because it is more life affirming than either extreme.

A History of Polar Extremism Masquerading as Virtue

This consciousness of pursuing one extreme to the exclusion of the other, as if that were virtuous or desirable, originates with Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion of Persia. Zoroastrian consciousness (which is polar extremism) has, tragically, become omnipresent in western civilization; but through awareness we can understand and compensate, returning ourselves, our communities, and our world toward healing balance.

Zoroastrianism (also called Mithraism, after it's chief god) was inherited into western civilization through Judaism and the Roman empire. The Jews were conquered and exiled to Babylon and exposed to Zoroastrianism there. This period of Jewish history began about four to six centuries B.C. and lasted about 60 to 80 years. However, the Jews already had an established system of thought by that time, so to them, Zoroastrianism was only a side track, albeit an influential one.

However, Islam and Christianity were more profoundly impacted because they developed more recently. That influence through Judaism was amplified by the fostering of Christianity under the Roman empire, which had previously embraced Mithra into it's pantheon. Mithra was an archetype which influenced the conceptualization of Yahweh, Jesus, and (to a lesser extent) Allah, the monotheistic gods of pure light. Add to this the Egyptian sun god Ra, who may have been a chief influence in the development of early monotheism, and the supposed “virtue” of pure light is further reinforced.

For billions of people, over a period of two millenia or more, to worship gods who are believed to be supreme for the very reason that they are thought to embody pure light (a polar extreme) naturally reinforces a consciousness of polar extremism, and wrongly conflates such extremism with virtue. This Zoroastrian consciousness inherited via the Roman empire and Judaism into Islam, Christianity, and later Secular Humanism and the New Age movement, thoroughly permeates these systems because they grew from their beginnings with Zoroastrian consciousness at their core, and eventually permeated all of western civilization.

Even as church influence declined, beginning in the Renaissance, and continuing through the 1990's, this Zoroastrian consciousness remained, embodied in law and secular thought. Even non-religious parents most often exhort their children to “be good” rather than to do good, by which they mean to be rigidly pure, rather than to take balanced right action and adapt fluidly to changing circumstances. Secular Humanism and the New Age movement are now perhaps the most influential carriers of this persistent error.

How and Why Polar Extremism Is Wrong

It may seem counter-intuitive to think that the pursuit of light can be wrong. Please consider the following to understand why I say this. (If you are interested in a more complete treatment of the negative emotional consequences of light chasing, please also consider Debbie Ford's book, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers”.)

Polar extremism (Zoroastrian consciousness) is wrong for many reasons, and has become one of the most prevalent psycho-spiritual illnesses of our world. Directly contradictory to Taoism, which I hold as a purer truth, polar extremism is my ideological nemesis. It is unhelpful, childlike, and destructive to label everything as “good” or “evil”, and especially to think of a complex world with many nuanced shades of gray in oversimplistic and unnecessarily moralistic black and white terms, while at the same time abandoning moral judgment in substance.

Polar extremism suggests and entrenches hierarchical power, with the justification that those who are more inclined toward “good” should rightly be empowered to lead, while those who are more inclined toward “evil” should be marginalized. It encourages judgmentalism, retribution, and hypocrisy toward a disapproved “criminal” class, and permanently removes kindness and support from that class in the collective mind, forgetting that that same potential is within each of us. None of our fellow men are sub-human. That kind of thinking is not only reserved for real criminals, but for anyone who we might judge as “negative”. And yet this is all illusion, for “negative” is not evil, just as “positive” is not good, and these things are not divided into different persons as Zoroastrian thinking supposes, but rather present within all of us.

In truth, we all possess the full potential for yin and yang. In nature, it is not beneficial nor desirable to suppress either potentiality, because doing so would create life-disaffirming imbalance. The natural world is dynamic and vigorous. Attempts to engineer nature through artificial means may even result in suppressed potentialities vigorously reasserting themselves, resulting in an outcome where that which was suppressed initially is more dominant in the end than it would have been, had balance been sought. The balanced and healthy twin goals are either to (1) bring yin and yang into a life-affirming balance, or (2) accept that, in the ebb and flow of the river of life, there is a right time for both yin and yang to express themselves fully, each in it's own turn, after which the balanced center is once again gracefully and perfectly reestablished.

Even real criminals should not be marginalized. They only lacked the opportunities, kindness, and support that they needed and deserved—sometimes for a lifetime—in a very distorted world. To discard those who have already suffered the most, without working to correct the system that caused them to pursue unvirtuous action and caused their suffering, is tantamount to convenient scapegoating and wearing blinders to real cause and effect.

Zoroastrian consciousness hypocritically fails to look within, assigning to oneself every good intention, and to others every “evil” outcome. Instead, when we recognize the potential for darkness within ourselves, and the potential for light in all members of the human family, we are then more likely to become accepting, understanding, and universally connected.

Zoroastrian consciousness encourages polar extremism of every imaginable kind, the opposite of healing balance, by wrongly identifying many positive and necessary poles with “evil”, and this has become a sickening and unnecessary plague upon our world. In truth, every pole is “good”, and none are “evil”, for each pole of a given spectrum offers an opposing anchor, and we need these pairs of anchors in order to hold the tension of opposites, in order to be able to identify the balanced center of each spectrum. For example:

  • If light is good, then Zoroastrian thought asserts that dark must be bad, but in truth night offers moisture just as day offers warmth.
  • If feeling is expansive, then reason must be repressive, but in truth reason can liberate us from error.
  • If feminine is sublime, then masculine must be base, but in truth, the gifts of healthy mature masculinity (such as honor, courage, and justice) are more needed than ever.
  • If love is pure, then fear must be corrupt, but in truth fear protects life by telling us when to evade danger.
  • If kindness is right, then anger must be wrong, but in truth anger helps us protect justice and defend boundaries.
  • If joy is high, then grief must be low, but in truth grief means to celebrate beauty and reclaim life.
  • If alkaline foods are thought to improve health, then acidic foods must impair health, but in truth both extremes impair health, and alkaline foods can only improve health when one's body is too acidic.
  • If absolute acceptance is gratifying, then moral discipline must be judgmental, but in truth all the great evils flourish in the absence of moral discipline.
  • If subjectivity of ideas is liberating, then objectivity of ideas must be dogmatic, but in truth, there are both subjective and objective matters.
  • If it is wise to reserve judgment because perception is inherently untrustworthy, then clarity and taking a stand for truth must be an illusion, but in reality reservedness can inhibit problem solving, and perception can be made trustworthy through mental rigor.
  • If a liberal political party is socially just, then a conservative one must be unjust, but in truth social justice is sometimes hijacked for profit by those claiming to uphold it.
  • If a conservative political party is morally upright, then a liberal one must be decadent, but in truth, moral backbone is sometimes sacrificed for profit by those claiming to demonstrate it.
  • If material abundance is pleasant, then conservation of resources must require unpleasant sacrifice, but in truth, sustainable practices are possible, in which there is enough for everyone by reducing waste and unnecessary extravagance.
  • If hard work produces sufficiency, then rest (laziness) must produce poverty, but in truth overwork is sometimes merely an addiction, sufficiency is also accessible through the practice of Wu Wei, and poverty is caused by bank usury and a shortage of opportunities.

Natural Balance is Healing

Life is best affirmed by allowing for all polarities, or seeking a balance between them, not by celebrating and pursuing one half while judging and trying to constrain the other. So please celebrate balance with me by seeking the healthy life-affirming center point between each pair of polar extremes, not by choosing and pursuing one to the exclusion of the other.

One of the great beauties of Taoism is that it gives the world a much needed healing alternative to the sickening consciousness of polar extremism. We have an opportunity to help heal the world with natural balance! This is a core message of my beloved taijitu. Thank you for honoring it, or at least not dishonoring it unaware.


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